Vol 19, No 2, 2012

Vatican II, Humanae Vitae and the Renewal of Moral Theology

Gerald Gleeson


The Second Vatican Council taught that "in matters of faith and morals the bishops speak in the name of Christ, and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent." Yet, by and large, the faithful have not accepted the teaching in Pope Paul VI´s encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) that contraception is incompatible with Christian marriage. This essay will situate the debate over the ethics of contraception in the context of Vatican II´s call for the renewal of moral theology. It will then engage with recent developments in Catholic theology that make Paul VI´s teaching more accessible than it was in 1968. The reception of Humanae Vitae continues to be a critical test case both for the credibility of Catholic moral teaching and for the methodology of moral theology.