- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: The Catholic University of America Press; First edition (October 1, 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0813207401
- ISBN-13: 978-0813207407
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,011,624 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Humanae Vitae, a Generation Later Paperback – October 1, 1991
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Presents a comprehensive review of Pope Paul VI's encyclical on birth control . . . and the controversy which resulted. Smith discusses with great thoroughness: the beginnings of the debate; the Christian understanding of marriage and procreation; . . . the aftermath of Humanae Vitae and the 'revision' of natural law. . . . -- Theology Digest
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Janet E Smith is a Catholic philosopher with an essential premise. Living with a respect for God would seem to imply a willingness to seek an understanding of and conformity to the will of God, particularly, as she explores in this book, on the matter of contraception. If this is not what we seek, then our questioning may be the sort designed to avoid rather than find answers.
The very attempt to develop this purified sense of the will of God is viewed as upsetting to a great many contemporary Catholics, embarrassed by their faith and angry at those resistant to popular trends. So intense is this anger, that on occasions of her public lectures on the subject of contraception, even on Catholic university campuses, Ms. Smith has been greeted with rude, at times vitriolic, interruptions to her speeches, situations she has always met with unflappable grace and dignity. Because she is always seeking a faithful receptivity towards the mind of God as a first principle, she refuses to be unkind in return.
Honest philosophers have always sought to know what is natural and implicit in God's design. Ms. Smith is committed to making a case for what ought to be obvious to people of authentic faith: that the human design, particularly that of women, is not arbitrary or accidental, and not in need of repair or reinvention. It is complete in every detail the image and likeness of God. Contraception is not consistent with our inherent design as women and men living with a respect for God, and Ms. Smith bravely invites us to consider this. Perhaps then we can be freed from being angry towards our own best interests
In the first chapter Dr. Smith gives a very brief historical overview of the Church's consistent condemnation of contraception whenever the issue arose. It was not until 1930 that the Anglican Church's Lambeth Conference "broke ranks with nearly the whole of the traditional Christian opposition to contraception" when it permitted its use by married couples "for grave reasons." Pope Pius XI responded with an encyclical entitled `Casti Cannubi' that reiterated the opposition, encouraged elevated notions of conjugal love and parenthood, and explained that confining conjugal acts to known infertility periods, for right reasons, was morally permissible. Some Catholic theologians began opposing the teaching in 1963 and by 1966 it was the major moral issue troubling the Church. Smith claims this came about because of the development of the Pill and social changes rather than from philosophical deliberations. She spends the bulk of the chapter examining the arguments of a papal commission divided over the issue in the years just prior to `Humanae Vitae.'
Smith begins chapter two by stating, "`Humanae Vitae,' depends on a Christian understanding of the nature or meaning of marriage and in particular on a Christian understanding of the importance of the marital gift of having children" (p.36). She then examines Catholic teaching on this matter as found in `Casti Cannubi' and relevant portions of the Vatican II document `Gaudium et Spes.' In these documents she notices the beginnings of a shift in terminology and emphasis, from focusing on the "ends" of marriage to more "personalist values" (i.e. goods that benefit the human person as distinct from values that protect other goods --- such as the good of society or respect for the laws of nature).
In chapters three and four she analyzes `Humanae Vitae' itself. Chapter three reviews how the encyclical deals with arguments advanced in favour of contraception, especially those based on the principle of totality (i.e. "that under certain circumstances it is morally permissible to sacrifice the good of a part for the good of the whole"). She claims that most have misunderstood the type of natural law argument used in the teaching and so in chapter four concentrates on four arguments against contraception based on these natural law principles. One argument, in syllogistic form, is: "(1) It is wrong to impede the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to the generation of a new human life (2) Contraception impedes the procreative power of actions that are ordained by their nature to the generation of new human life (3) Therefore, contraception is wrong" (p.99). Smith gives expansive explanation to each argument; in this particular case pointing out how it doesn't simply condemn contraception as the violation of a physiological act but as violating its integrity as a "human act." She points out how the argument depends on a recognition of the "intrinsic worth of human life" that affects both how we treat living human beings and the very process by which they come into being. She also addresses arguments that say there is no difference between contraception and natural family planning.
Chapter five presents theological considerations. It looks at scriptural foundations for the teaching. While no explicit "Thou shalt not contracept" reference can be made (just as no explicit condemnation of the direct bombing of civilian sites can be found) nevertheless four biblical themes "provide strong evidence that contraception does not fit within God's plan for human sexuality. These are (1) the extreme value given to procreation, (2) the portrayal of sterility as a great curse, (3) the condemnation of all sexual acts that are not designed to protect the good of procreation, and (4) the likening of Christ's relationship to His Church to that of a bridegroom to his bride, a union that is meant to be a fecund relationship, one that will bring forth many sons and daughters of God" (p. 130). The first point is highlighted early in Genesis (1:27-28), where man is created male and female to image God in His creative powers (p.130). Smith also explores the encyclicals use of the term "munus" (i.e. mission) as relating to God's wanting to share the goods of His kingdom and entrusting spouses with the mission of participating with Him in the work of bringing new life into the world. She also looks at the authoritative nature of `Humanae Vitae' and the role of conscience.
Chapter six begins the consideration of the aftermath of the encyclical and the arguments of early dissenters. Chapter eight gives an exposition of Pope John Paul II's justification of the teaching in terms of conjugal love as a total self-giving that requires self-mastery of one's passions. The appendices include a new translation of the encyclical, a commentary on the text, and a critique of the work of some leading theological exponents of the teaching.
Smith's work is exceptional. She presents the arguments of her opponents fairly and is not party to caricatures or character assassinations. Her own arguments are sound and, I think, convincing. But, alas, I fear in this area especially, human intellects are guided more by the will than vice versa; which in turn is easily overpowered by the concupiscent passions. The ideological battle was early lost. We have, almost literally, sown our seed to the wind and now reap the whirlwind. Man has always had difficulty maintaining a high, unselfish view and standard in sexual relations. Frank Sheed once observed that "men have shown only too clearly that what they do not reverence, they will profane." Conjugal love has been drastically profaned and with it marriage, family, relations between the sexes, even the intrinsic worth of human life. We are so far gone I do not see how sanity or sanctity will ever return.