Humanae Vitae

A Precious Gift for the Church and for the World

Reflections of Father Roberto Colombo and Bishop Semeraro on the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical on conjugal love
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“This is a very precious gift that Blessed Paul VI has given to the Church and to the world: a light cast on the truth of human love, that “whole” truth that the Bible, starting in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, has revealed to woman and man, binding marital love to the generation of the life of each one of us, according to the rhythms of fertility that God has inscribed in the female body.” Father Roberto Colombo, an ordinary member of the Pontifical Academy for Life and professor of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Rome, stated this, recalling the 50th anniversary of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, published on 29 July 1968.

“Humanae Vitae—Father Colombo continues—has not only indicated the path in the truth of the love of married couples in their lives as spouses and parents, but it has prophesied and theologically prepared the anthropological and ethical judgment of the faithful with regard to the biotechnological interventions that break the unity between the act of love and the procreative act.”

Paul VI was well aware of the “revolutionary” character of Christian morality, recalled Monsignor Marcello Semeraro, secretary of the council of cardinals in an intervention, so much so that the Pope, in his address to the UN on 4 October 1965, had said: “Respect for life ought to find its loftiest profession and its most reasonable defense. Your task is so to act that there will be enough bread at the table of mankind and not to support an artificial birth control that would be irrational, with the aim of reducing the number of those sharing in the banquet of life.”

Nearly three years later, Humanae Vitae will repeat that the solution to the demographic problem is found in a “laws which will assist families […] by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.” (no. 23).

Fifty years after its publication, “we are still faced—Bishop Semeraro writes—with what might be considered its nodal point; the one that, as St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI often repeated, can be called ‘prophetic.’

We find it in no. 9 of the Encyclical, where Paul VI highlights the characteristic features and exigencies of married love.

It is worth quoting the passage with its four points: This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment. It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself. Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible [...]. Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being.”

27 July 2018