The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 12:49:55

Confusing papal documents

Katie van Schaijik, May 21, 2019

I had a funny experience this weekend on the plane home from Dallas, where we'd gone to see baby number 4 graduate from college.

With ToB talk prep on my mind, I've had several documents open on my computer for weeks, including John Crosby's "On Proposing the Truth and Not Imposing It: John Paul II's Personalism and the Teaching of Dignitatis Humanae", Familiaris Consortio and Casti Connubii.

According to (bad) habit, I read piecemeal, a few paragraphs at a time. Then I pick up something else. It takes a while for me to get through a whole article or encyclical. 

So there I was, reading Familiaris Consortio, clipping great quotes, like this one:

God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image and continually keeping it in being, God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

Then I decided I really should finish the Crosby article before anything else, so I switched to that. Lots of great quotes in there too, like this:

Everyone knows how deeply committed [John Paul II] is to the teaching of the Church on the moral disorder of contraception, as set forth in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae. But he has not tried to uphold this teaching simply by “laying down the law,” simply by demanding obedience, by threatening punishments, and the like. He thinks that that is just the approach that makes the moral law seem to people to cramp their freedom. He has throughout his pontificate taken a different approach. On one occasion he said: “it is not enough that this encyclical be faithfully and fully proposed, but it also is necessary to devote oneself to demonstrating its deepest reasons."

ToB, as we know, is exactly an extended and comprehensive papal demonstration of the deepest reasons for the Church's teaching against birth control, among other things.

Having finished that article, I went back to Familiar Consortio. As I read it, though, I started to feel uneasy. "This is unusual language for John Paul. I hadn't remembered this." It spoke of "grave sin" and abominations and offenses against nature and shamefulness and such. It took me aback. I even started thinking, "Have I been wrong?" "Do I have to revise my thesis? Could it be that John Paul's mode and rhetoric are not as far from pre-Vatican II Popes as I've been claiming so confidently?" Then I came across a paragraph I recognized well:

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

Instantly, I knew what had happened. I was accidentally reading Casti Connubii (promulgated by Pius XI in 1930) not Familiaris Consortio. :)

My thesis is safe. Phew.