Humanae Vitae’s Vital Insight for Evangelicals

Humanae Vitae’s Vital Insight for Evangelicals July 30, 2018

It’s become the norm for married couples the age of my wife and I to put off children for about half a decade. When these peers find out she and I are celebrating our seventh wedding anniversary with three kids, they often respond the way fans respond to Catholic comedian Jim Gaffigan on finding out he has five children: “Well, that’s one way to live your life.”

Millennial couples have traveling to do. Dogs to pamper. Degrees to finish. Children aren’t seen as natural fruits of marriage but as decisions that need to be justified. The default after you leave the altar is childlessness. If you have your first baby barely a year after the wedding, as my wife and I did, well, something must have gone wrong.

Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI issued one of the clearest reminders that fruitful young marriages mean something has gone right, not wrong. In his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, he argued that Christians (who have spent centuries resisting ideology that would decouple sex from marriage), should also resist the new ideology symbolized by artificial contraception, which decouples sex and marriage from children.

I am Protestant, not Roman Catholic. I also don’t entirely accept Paul VI’s conclusion that no means of family planning save fertility awareness are morally licit. But standing on the other side of the Sexual Revolution, it’s impossible to describe Humanae Vitae as anything but prophetic, particularly in how it links the rise of contraceptive sex to the objectification of human bodies, the upsurge of sexual licentiousness, and the assault on marriage, itself. What God has joined together, man has attempted to put asunder, and the consequences have been disastrous.

Christians who consider the moral stand of this half-century-old encyclical extreme should understand that it is modernity, not Humanae Vitae, advancing the extreme and unprecedented position. In asserting an “inseparable connection” between sex and children—a connection “established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break,” Paul VI was expressing the consensus of the Christian Church throughout the ages, both Catholic and Protestant. Luther, Calvin, and the other fathers of the Reformation unequivocally held the same position as the Roman Catholic Church on sex and procreation. It is we who have deviated in seeing children not as gifts and natural fruits of marital love to be welcomed, but as consumer choices that play second fiddle to travel, pets, and career. We are the radicals.

Some will say that welcoming children into a new marriage places great stress and financial burden on the couple. And they’re right. I speak from experience. But children are half of what marriage is for. If you didn’t marry with an openness to children, you didn’t marry for God’s reasons. Running, after all, is half of what legs are for. It’s also stressful and burdensome (again, I speak from experience). But I don’t know anyone who would take an anti-running pill.

This article was originally published at as part of a symposium on the fiftieth anniversary of Humanae Vitae.


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