The First Modern Pope

This past Sunday saw the canonization of Pope Paul VI. Paul, as has been said in this column before, was a truly prescient man. His biographer, Peter Hebblethwaite, described Paul as “the first modern Pope” and indeed he was. He was the first pope in recent history who suffered direct attacks for his consistent defense of natural law as well as calumny against his own person.

Pope Paul’s 1968 encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” is correct. When the conception of human life is in any way mitigated, then human life itself, in all of its aspects, becomes devalued. Pope Saint Paul VI was prescient in his prediction of what would occur in our society if the sexual act between a man and a woman was to involve artificial birth control. The Pope stated that contraception would “open wide the way for conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.”

Pope Saint Paul VI warned that contraception could lead men to “forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

Pope Saint Paul VI was correct – a contraceptive mentality leads to an abortive mentality. A contraceptive mentality leads not to the greater dignity of the human person, but to a profound functionality of the human person and to a misunderstanding of the roles, both unique and special, of man and woman. In the fifty years since its release in 1968, “Humanae Vitae” has told the truth about the human person and needs to be read and understood by every single Catholic.

Paul has suffered attacks on his own character in 1976 by a salacious journalist and patiently endured them. He remained a model of dignity and grace. In St. Peter’s Square on April 18, 1976, Pope Saint Paul VI called the charges “horrible and slanderous insinuations” and humbly asked for prayers on his behalf.

This first Pope to visit the USA (1965) as the Pope has been canonized. Perhaps we should read more about his life and thought to understand the state of the world. Perhaps we should pray through his intercession of this first modern Pope for guidance in these all too post modern times. To learn more about “Humanae Vitae,” follow this link:


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