Aleteia logoAleteia logoAleteia
Wednesday 12 June |
Aleteia logo
separateurCreated with Sketch.

Is a change coming to Church teaching on contraception? Pope weighs in

This article is reserved for Aleteia Premium members

Kathleen N. Hattrup - published on 07/30/22

Pope Francis considers the development of Church doctrine on his return flight from Canada.

In certain Catholic circles, there’s talk of Pope Francis changing the teaching of Paul VI’s document on contraception, Humanae Vitae, a document which will mark its 55th anniversary next year.

The rumors are mostly linked to a book that presents the talks from a three-day conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life in fall of 2021. The book was published last month by the Vatican publishing house, called Etica teologica della vita: Scrittura, tradizione, sfide, pratiche (Theological Ethics of Life: Writing, Tradition, Practical Challenges).

A Jesuit scholar commenting on the book said a papal encyclical might be forthcoming called Gaudium Vitae (The Joy of Life).

On the plane from Canada to Rome, the Pope was asked for his thoughts on if the Church’s teaching on contraception needs development. “This is something very timely,” he began, in reply.

Doctrinal development

The Pope then went on to explain that “dogma, morality, is always on a path of development, but always developing in the same direction.”

He cited Vincent of Lerins and “a rule that is very clear and illuminating” from the 10th century, his principle that doctrine is ut annis consolidetur, dilatetur tempore, sublimetur aetate.

This theologian maintained that doctrine does not stay still but is “consolidated by years, enlarged by time, refined by age.”

In this context, the Pope said, theologians have a duty to research and reflect. “You cannot do theology with a ‘no’ in front of it,” he said.

Instead, it’s the teaching body of the Church, the Magisterium, that redirects theology if it has gone astray.

Then it is up to the Magisterium to say no, you’ve gone too far, come back, but theological development must be open, that’s what theologians are for. And the Magisterium must help to understand the limits.

Regarding the issue of contraception, the Pope showed he was aware of the chatter about the Pontifical Academy for Life book.

On the issue of contraception, I know there is a publication out on this and other marital issues: These are the Acts of a congress, and in a congress, there are hypotheses, then they discuss among themselves and make proposals. We have to be clear: those who participated in this congress did their duty, because they have sought to move forward in doctrine, but in an ecclesial sense, not out of it, as I said with that rule of St. Vincent of Lerins.

Then the Magisterium will say, yes it is good or it is not good.

The Pope said that this dynamic and principle applies to many issues, and gave two recent examples, that of stockpiling atomic weapons and the death penalty.

To be clear: It’s ok when dogma or morality develops, but in that direction, with the three rules of Vincent of Lerins. I think this is very clear: a Church that does not develop its thinking in an ecclesial sense, is a Church that is going backward.

Tradition vs traditionalists

In this regard, the Pope returned to a concern he has voiced about “traditionalists.”

This is today’s problem, and of many who call themselves traditional. No, no, they are not traditional, they are people looking to the past, going backward, without roots – it has always been done that way, that’s how it was done last century. And looking backward is a sin because it does not progress with the Church.

Tradition, instead, someone said (I think I said it in one of the speeches), tradition is the living faith of those who have died. Instead, for those people who are looking backward, who call themselves traditionalists, it is the dead faith of the living.

Tradition is truly the root, the inspiration by which to go forward in the Church, and this is always vertical. And looking backward is going backward, it is always closed. It is important to understand well the role of tradition, which is always open, like the roots of the tree, and the tree grows… A musician used a very beautiful phrase. Gustav Mahler used to say that tradition in this sense, is the guarantee of the future, it is not a museum piece. If you conceive of tradition as closed, that is not Christian tradition… it is always the sap of the root that carries you forward, forward, forward.

So for that reason, regarding what you are saying, thinking and carrying forward faith and morals, as long as it is going in the direction of the roots, of the sap, that’s ok. With these three rules of Vincent of Lerins that I mentioned.

Read this article
for free!
Create your free account to access all Aleteia articles and have the opportunity to comment.
Read for free by registering

CanadaFamilyPope Francis
Support Aleteia!

Enjoying your time on Aleteia?

Articles like these are sponsored free for every Catholic through the support of generous readers just like you.

Thanks to their partnership in our mission, we reach more than 20 million unique users per month!

Help us continue to bring the Gospel to people everywhere through uplifting and transformative Catholic news, stories, spirituality, and more.

Support Aleteia with a gift today!

Top 10
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.