Discerning the Meaning of Humanae Vitae
The landmark encyclical Humanae Vitae is frequently viewed in isolation from its context. This essay addresses this lapse by understanding the encyclical in light of the history which preceded its publication, as well as factors that followed it. The full story includes the carefully nuanced position of the majority report of the pontifical commission, the meaning of responsible parenthood in Gaudium et Spes, and the fact that Paul VI did not intend Humanae Vitae to be the last word on the meaning of conjugal morality. Nevertheless, the intrinsic link between the unitive and procreative dimensions of conjugal morality posed by the encyclical is maintained and developed in subsequent papal teaching. The major contribution of Pope Francis to the discussion is the principle of discernment as applied to the reception of the encyclical’s teaching.