Living Tradition
Editor: Msgr. John F. McCarthy, J.C.D., S.T.D.Distributed several times a year to interested members.
Associate Editor: Rev. Brian W. Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D.  Not to be republished without permission.
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No. 12 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program July 1987
The Pontifical Academy of the Immaculata - by Brian W. Harrison
E. Lio, Humanae Vitae and Infallibility - reviewed by Brian W. Harrison

by Brian W. Harrison

As we enter more fully into the Marian Year 1987-1988, an organization is being spoken of around Rome which will be unfamiliar to most of our readers - and indeed, unfamiliar in recent years even to many in Rome who are well acquainted with Church affairs. This is the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculata, which made the news recently when it was announced that the Holy Father John Paul II had named his compatriot, Cardinal Andrea Maria Deskur, as the Academy's new President. After the Pope himself, Cardinal Deskur is the highest-ranking Polish official in the Holy See, and was formerly head of the Vatican's Council for Social Communications. In order to find out more about this recently-publicized Marian initiative, Living Tradition's associate editor, Fr. Brian Harrison, interviewed the Vice-Secretary of the Pontifical Academy, Fr. Alfonso Pompei, a priest of the Conventual Franciscan Order.

Q. Father Pompei, during this Marian Year in particular, many Catholics will be interested to know that there exists a Pontifical Academy dedicated to Our Lady under the title of her unique privilege - the Immaculate Conception. Is the Academy a recently created organization?

Fr. Alfonso Pompei, O.F.M. Conv.: No, I wouldn't say that. In fact, our history dates back more than a century and a half, to 1835. In that year a priest working here in Rome, Fr. Vincenzo Emili, organized a group of students from the Gregorian University and Rome's diocesan seminary into a society in honour of Our Lady as the Immaculata, with the aim of promoting Marian devotion and theological studies.

Q. So it was originally a kind of youth organization?

Fr. Pompei: Yes, although it did not remain limited to seminarians. Within a little more than a decade it was flourishing and producing such excellent fruits that in 1847 it was recognized by the Holy See as "The Academy of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary."

Q. That was still several years before Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith. Did his solemn definition in 1854 give a boost to the Academy?

Fr. Pompei: Yes, I think we could say that. In fact, in that year the Academy was given its permanent seat in the monastery of the Conventual Franciscans here in Rome at the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles. We've been in charge of the Secretariat of the Academy ever since. Within a decade of the definition of the Immaculate Conception the word 'Pontifical' was added to the Academy's title, and Pope Pius IX added his own name to the membership roll.

Q. Has the Academy remained a strictly Italian organization? Many of our readers are from the United States, where Our Lady is the national Patroness under her title of the Immaculate Conception.

Fr. Pompei: Having been founded in this city, the Academy has been largely Roman and Italian, but by no means exclusively. Many distinguished churchmen from other countries have been members of the Academy, including Cardinal Francis Spellman, Archbishop of New York. The American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also contributed to our activities. He was not, I believe, a Catholic, but was deeply interested in Catholic literature.

Q. Yes, he made a fine English translation of Dante's Divine Comedy among other things. The Academy is not a purely clerical organization, then?

Fr. Pompei: Not at all. Right from the beginning there have been devout lay people who have joined or contributed to the Academy - some of them very prominent. In the early years we even had a Head of State - King Francis II of the Two Sicilies - as a member.

Q. It's interesting that a renowned poet has been involved with the Academy. Is this an indication that your activities have been literary as well as devotional and scholarly?

Fr. Pompei: Very much so. The word "Academy" might tend to suggest a rather limited range of interests: scholarly theological articles about Our Lady in learned journals - that sort of thing. However, while that aspect has certainly been important for us, we have always tried to promote the honour of the Immaculata in a broad range of cultural and pastoral activities: scholarship, devotion, and the fine arts as well. One of the traditional activities of the Academy has been an annual celebration within the Octave of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which would include lectures, choral and solo singing, and the recitation of poetry in honour of Our Lady.

Q. Has this cultural and pastoral interest of the Academy extended to the more popular level as well?

Fr. Pompei: Yes, in fact the Academy has been playing an integral part in what has now become probably the best-known annual manifestation of popular Marian devotion here in Rome - the celebration on 8 December in Piazza di Spagna.

Q. Could you tell our readers a little more about that?

Fr. Pompei: This has been a feature of Catholic life in Rome for nearly half a century now. In 1938, with the approval of Pope Pius XI, the Academy began to organize the garlands of flowers at the monument to the Immaculate Conception (in Piazza di Spagna) on the Blessed Mother's feast-day. Traditionally, the Pope comes to lead the prayers personally, along with civic and Church leaders in Rome - and of course a great concourse of people. In the years since 1950, when Pius XII solemnly defined the Assumption of Our Lady, this has become a still larger and more popular event.

Q. It seems noteworthy that the 1985 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, in assessing the events in the Church since Vatican Council II, stressed the value of popular devotions such as this, as a means of building up the faith of a Catholic people. Those of us, from English-speaking countries, most of which are culturally Protestant rather than Catholic, are often unfamiliar with a distinctively Catholic celebration which involves even the civic community as such.

Fr. Pompei: That's true. Unfortunately, in some areas there was a sharp decline in such devotions - especially Marian devotion - in the years after the Council, even though this was not at all the wish of the Council Fathers. This tendency left its impression on our Academy of the Immaculata as well: our activities have become somewhat diminished in recent years.

Q. In what respects?

Fr. Pompei: Well, for instance, one of our activities was the organization of a competition every year among all the theological faculties of Rome for the best essay or small thesis in Mariology. Monetary prizes were awarded, and it was a very worthwhile encouragement for sound theological reflection about Our Lady and her role in the economy of salvation. Unfortunately, after 1970 this lapsed - from a certain lack of interest. In fact, the Academy itself has been without a President now for a good many years, until John Paul II's recent nomination of Cardinal Deskur to fill that position.

Q. Has the Holy Father given a new mandate to the Academy - any fresh directives as to what he would like to see achieved?

Fr. Pompei: Nothing really specific - the Pope has left it up to us to decide on particular activities. But he certainly wants to encourage us and has made it clear that he is hoping for a definite contribution on our part to the current Marian Year.

Q. Has the Academy planned some special activities, then, for the Marian Year?

Fr. Pompei: Yes, indeed. Just now we have been busy meeting with Cardinal Deskur, and the first item on our agenda is participation in the 23rd International Marian Congress to be held in Kebelaer, Germany, from 11 to 19 September this year. The Pontifical Academy will be sending a delegation of four members to the Congress. As the year goes by there will be further contributions. Another part of our responsibility is to be the Roman 'point of contact,' so to speak, for all the Marian shrines in the world dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. We help to keep up communication between them and to encourage their life and activities.

Q. That would include America's national shrine, then, in Washington, D.C.?

Fr. Pompei: Correct. And also two more of the most famous Marian shrines in the entire world - those of Lourdes and Fatima. They're both dedicated to the Immaculate Conception.

Q. Since the Conventual Franciscans have a major responsibility in the life of the Academy, I should imagine that St. Maximilian Kolbe, who belonged to your institute, has provided much inspiration. He had a great devotion to the Immaculata.

Fr. Pompei: He certainly did. St. Maximilian's spirit - his whole approach to the importance of Our Lady - provides a great example for what we are trying to do in the Pontifical Academy of the Immaculata.

Q. How would you sum up that approach?

Fr. Pompei: There are many facets to St. Maximilian's Marian thought and devotion, but one thing is very clear: devotion to Mary, for him, is never something merely academic, theoretical, or contemplative, but a great stimulus to Christian activity in all spheres of life. You could say that there is a certain marked awareness of the struggle between good and evil - between Christ and Satan. Mary Immaculate is the one who crushes the head of the serpent - the one who by her perfect purity communicates to fallen humanity the abundance of grace won by her divine Son on Calvary. In St. Maximilian's time this involved, among other things, the idea of resisting the inroads of anti-Christian forces in society - freemasonry, for instance. Today we could say that this problem is even more widespread: secularism (or laicism) is even more deeply rooted than it was half a century ago. The supernatural or divine dimension tends to be excluded from the life of individuals, families, and societies. The Immaculata by her purity inspires us to uphold purity - purity in our lives and purity in our Catholic faith. In short, doing all we can to promote the triumph of divine grace in the modern world - the grace which comes to us through the mediation of Mary Immaculate - this would be the kind of vision and goal which animates our Pontifical Academy.

Fr. Harrison: Thank you very much, Father Pompei. I'm confident our readers will pray for your most important apostolate, which enjoys such strong backing from the Holy Father himself.

Fr. Pompei: Thank you, Father.

BOOK REVIEW: Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità: il Concilio, Paolo VI e Giovanni Paolo II,
by Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M. Published in Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, l986.

Reviewed by Brian W. Harrison

        This is undoubtedly one of the most important theological works to be published in Italy during the last year; yet so far it has received very little attention. Apart from a sympathetic review in the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, by Cardinal Luigi Ciappi, the personal theologian to the Supreme Pontiff, this book - the title of which means "Humanae Vitae and Infallibility: the Council, Paul VI and John Paul II" - has been greeted with silence by the theological journals and Church news media.

        Why should a volume of almost a thousand closely-printed pages - written by a highly-respected theologian (a Vatican II peritus, in fact) and dealing with one of the really "burning issues" of our time - be treated in this way? Perhaps because this particular burning issue is considered by many to be rather too hot to handle.

        What might be called the conventional wisdom of theologians over the last two decades is that the decision against contraception handed down in Paul VI's 1968 Encyclical Humanae Vitae belongs to the "authentic" ordinary Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, it is presented as "non-infallible" teaching, in which the Magisterium does not give us any absolute guarantee that the teaching is immutably true and therefore forever irreformable. This seems to be the view most commonly taught in seminaries and theological faculties, here in Rome as much as anywhere else.

        A decade after the Encyclical appeared, the American theologians John Ford and Germain Grisez published a lengthy article arguing that this view is inadequate, and at best a half-truth ("Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium," Theological Studies, Vol. 39, No. 2, June 1978, pp. 258-312). Ford and Grisez reminded Catholics that according to the teaching of Vatican II (cf. Lumen Gentium: 25) there are three modes in which infallible doctrinal teaching can be presented by the Magisterium: by the Pope alone, by the Pope and Bishops assembled together in an Ecumenical Council, or by the College of Bishops (including the Pope as its head) even when they are dispersed throughout the world. According to Ford and Grisez, the Church's teaching against contraception is a classic example of this third mode of infallibility transmitting the doctrine of Christ. That is, while they do not claim that Humanae Vitae is in itself an ex cathedra, infallible definition, Ford and Grisez maintain that the teaching which it contains is infallible and irreformable, by virtue of having been taught constantly and definitively, over a period of many centuries, by a consensus of Popes and Bishops around the world - a consensus which was virtually unanimous until the early 1960s. Any single instance of affirming this doctrine might not in itself be authoritative enough to give us an absolute assurance of its truth; but the cumulative or combined weight of so many affirmations over an extensive period of time does give us that kind of assurance. An analogy might be drawn with a single strand of wire, which might be snapped without great difficulty in isolation, in comparison with several hundred such strands bound together into a thick cable. Their combined strength is now powerful enough to resist the strongest pressures. This sort of collective exercise of the Church's infallibility is commonly referred to as her universal ordinary Magisterium. Those who dissent from Humanae Vitae, or who at least have doubts about its permanently binding validity, have tended to ignore Ford's and Grisez' carefully argued and well-documented article. (Fr. Francis Sullivan, S.J., however, has criticised their thesis in Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church, Dublin, Gill & Macmillan, 1983, pp. 143ff. The present writer has replied to Sullivan in Living Tradition, No. 2, December 1985, pp. 3-6. Grisez himself has done so at much greater length in The Thomist, Vol. 49, No. 2, April 1985, pp. 248-287 - "Infallibility and Specific Norms: a Review Discussion").

        In his recent work, Fr. Lio goes a step further than Ford and Grisez. He argues that Humanae Vitae does not need the supportive corroborative testimony of other papal and episcopal statements in order to assure Catholics that its doctrinal position regarding contraception is immutable and irreformable. In what may well be the most formidable challenge to dissent that has so far appeared since the Encyclical was promulgated nearly twenty years ago, Fr. Lio has amassed argument after argument, and document after document, to maintain that Humanae Vitae, art. 14, contains an ex cathedra definition of the intrinsic immorality of contraception: that is, an exercise of papal infallibility as solemnly defined by Vatican Council I, in the Constitution Pastor Aeternus.

        Fr. Lio is scarcely a newcomer to these questions. Born in the same month as the present Holy Father (May 1920), he has been teaching moral theology since 1951, and played an important role in the drafting of the passages in Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes which deal with conjugal morality. He has published many books and articles, including Humanae Vitae e Coscienza (Humanae Vitae and Conscience), which appeared in 1980 as part of the same series which includes his new book on Paul VI's Encyclical. Fr. Lio, a close adviser of recent Popes, is a Professor of Moral Theology at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome.

        Why two sizable volumes on the authority of Humanae Vitae? According to Fr. Lio, the problem has been that many in the Church have been maintaining that the Encyclical, although an authentic exercise of the Magisterium, should not be seen as binding on Catholic consciences, and much less as an infallible and irreformable pronouncement. The first of his two books in this series from the Vatican publishing house was written with the intention of responding to the first of these two positions, while the new - (and larger) - work sets out to answer the second - that which sees Humanae Vitae as non-infallible and subject to change by some future Pope.

        The central argument of Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità could be summed up as follows. A prevalent error amongst even well-intentioned and orthodox Catholics, says Fr. Lio, is the idea that in order for a papal pronouncement to be infallible, in terms of Vatican I's conditions, it has to be a dogmatic definition: that is, the highest possible exercise of papal authority. Examples of this from the last century or so would be the dogmatic definitions of Mary's Immaculate Conception and Assumption by Popes Pius IX and Pius XII respectively. In a dogmatic definition we find a particularly solemn form of words (called the modus definitorius in Latin) employed in order to affirm that such-and-such a doctrine concerning faith or morals is revealed by God, and is a part of the Church's deposit of faith. As such, it must be believed with the assent of divine and Catholic faith, and wilful doubt or denial of such defined dogma is formal heresy, carrying with it the juridical consequence of excommunication - placing oneself outside the Church.

        However, Fr. Lio points out, it simply is not the teaching of either Vatican I or Vatican II that the Church's infallibility (which is enjoyed and exercised by the Pope alone under certain conditions) is limited to the field of dogma, that is, to the determination and promulgation of truths revealed by God in either Scripture or Tradition. Rather, infallibility also covers other truths which are closely linked to divine revelation, and which cannot be denied without endangering this deposit of revealed truth in some way. Examples of these closely related truths would be principles of the natural moral law - many of which are in any case revealed in Scripture as well. The natural law - to which even pagans have access in principle, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 1-2 - is the foundation on which the higher, supernatural law of Christ is based. Hence, the Church has always claimed a divine mandate to guard and interpret the natural law, as Paul VI affirms emphatically in Humanae Vitae: 4. These truths concerning faith or morals which are necessary to safeguard the deposit of faith are not Catholic dogmas, but they are Catholic doctrines. And the Church can teach them infallibly. The Vatican I definition of papal infallibility expressly said that it extends to "doctrine" (doctrina) - a general term which covers both dogmas and the secondary, related truths. Also, Pastor Aeternus speaks of the Pope's power to define infallibly what must be "held" (tenendam) by all the faithful, not only what must be "believed" (credendam). If the latter word had been used, this might have suggested that only what is an object of faith in the strict sense (i.e., revealed truth) can be infallibly taught. Furthermore, Vatican II, in Lumen Gentium: 25, concurs with Vatican I that infallibility is not limited strictly to what is divinely revealed. Rather, it affirms that this deposit of divine revelation has to be "devoutly guarded and faithfully expounded" (sancte custodiendum et fideliter exponendum), so that infallibility extends as far as may be necessary for doing precisely that.

        Fr. Lio goes on to argue that a correct understanding of the Vatican I definition will not seek the solemn modus definitorius - or even the word "define" or "definition" - as the essential, necessary signal or sine qua non of an infallible papal definition. Instead, it is quite sufficient that we have a modus definitivus, that is, clear evidence in the relevant documentation that the Pope is intending to hand down a certain, decisive judgment that such-and-such a point of doctrine, concerning faith or morals, is true and its contrary false. He does not have to affirm it as dogma (revealed truth) or anathematize dissidents.

        Having established these basic methodological criteria, Fr. Lio goes on to argue, by a minute examination of the relevant documents - Gaudium et Spes, various papal allocutions, and Humanae Vitae itself - that the 1968 Encyclical clearly manifests all the necessary conditions for an infallible (though not a dogmatic) definition of the absolute and intrinsic unlawfulness of every contraceptive act. The whole history of the controversy, Fr. Lio maintains, proves that Paul VI's intention was to hand down a decisive, final judgment on this issue - to settle the controversy once and for all. Or at least, since he foresaw that dissent and protest would in fact continue, his intention was to put an end to any objective grounds for uncertainty or wavering on this issue, on the part of faithful Catholics.

        Such is the basic outline of Fr. Lio's case. It will be worthwhile, however, to mention some of the specific key points in the argument, and some of the answers to objections.

        First, it is of interest that Fr. Lio has made use of certain hitherto unpublished manuscript documents from the Vatican's secret archives. In particular, a page of handwritten notes by the theologian G.B. Franzelin shows the original draft of the formula subsequently adopted - with certain modifications - for the definition of papal infallibility in 1870. A study of Franzelin's thinking corroborates the view that the key expression in the definition is not the term ex cathedra, but the word definit - "defines." The relator (official commentator at Vatican I), Bishop Gasser, explained to the assembled Fathers what the drafting Commission understood by this word. As Fr. Lio quotes Gasser, he affirmed to the conciliar Bishops that the word should not be taken as signifying exclusively a "forensic" act by the Pope - one which settles a controversy as to what is heresy and what is a matter of faith. Rather, the meaning is broader: the Pope "defines" a doctrine whenever he "passes judgment in a direct and final way" (suam sententiam directe et terminative proferat) on a point of faith or morals, "in such a way that each and every Catholic can be certain as to the mind of the Apostolic See and of the Roman Pontiff; and, indeed, certain that the Roman Pontiff holds this or that doctrine to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certainly true, erroneous, etc. (ita quidem ut certe sciat a Romano Pontifice hanc vel illam doctrinam haberi haereticam, haeresi proximam, certam vel erroneam etc.)" (in Collectio Lacensis, V, col. 474f.). Since Gasser's explanation of the Vatican I definition was the one which the Fathers had in mind when they voted, it is of the highest authority, and clearly supports Fr. Lio's thesis that papal infallibility is not limited to dogmatic definitions - i.e. judgments as to what is revealed (de fide) and what (in direct contrast) is heretical. Pope Pius IX and the Fathers of Vatican I promulgated the dogma of papal infallibility on the understanding that this prerogative of the Roman Pontiff also included the power to judge questions which are not in themselves matters of revealed truth, but closely related to revealed truth.

        Whence, then, comes the prevalent idea that dogmatic definitions, such as those of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption, are the only possible exercise of papal infallibility? Fr. Lio maintains that, to a large extent, this has come about because of the wording of the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Canon 1323: 3 of the old Code affirmed that "Nothing is to be understood as dogmatically (dogmatice) declared or defined unless this is manifestly the case." This has tended to create the impression - although it certainly does not teach or necessarily imply - that dogmatic definitions are the only kind of infallible definitions there are: there is no mention of any other kind. In the new Code of 1983, however, the words "dogmatically declared or defined" have been replaced by "infallibly defined" (canon 749:3). Fr. Lio maintains that this revision clarifies the situation: it brings the Church's law more unambiguously into line with her doctrine by removing any occasion for equating "infallible" with "dogmatic" - an equation which unduly limits the occasions on which Popes teach (or are understood to teach) infallibly.

        The question still remains, of course, as to whether - even if Fr. Lio's general criteria for infallible teaching are correct - those criteria are "manifestly" verified in the case of Humanae Vitae. For if they are not, then, according to the new Code, that Encyclical is not to be understood as "infallibly defining" the immorality of contraception.

        The present writer has heard more than one theologian express the view that by being "manifestly the case" (manifesto constiterit) the Code effectively means "being agreed upon by a consensus of theologians." In other words, unless there is a consensus of theologians that such-and-such a doctrine is infallibly defined, nobody has the right to say that it is! This, however, seems quite inadequate. Such an interpretation of the Code would in effect give the theological "establishment" at any given period a kind of veto power over the Roman Pontiff himself.

        Fr. Lio, on the contrary, adopts a more objective criterion: it is "manifestly the case" that a certain doctrine is infallibly defined whenever it emerges plainly and clearly from the words of the relevant documents that there was an intention of giving a certain, final, decisive judgment on a point of faith or morals to be held by the universal Church. The number of theologians who accept it as an irreformable judgment is in that case simply irrelevant. And Fr. Lio maintains that the relevant documents do indeed manifest very plainly Paul VI's intention of giving a decisive judgment in Humanae Vitae, even though he nowhere uses the word "define." As Bishop Gasser's authoritative explanation at Vatican I made clear, the word "define," in a papal pronouncement, should not be seen as a kind of magic formula or simplistic "rule of thumb": "If the Pope says, 'We define such-and-such,' it's infallible, and if he doesn't, it's not."

        A frequently-raised objection is that Msgr. F. Lambruschini, who presented Humanae Vitae to the public at the Vatican Press Conference, said on that occasion that the Encyclical was not an infallible statement. Since he went uncorrected by the Vatican, it is argued, he cannot have been speaking contrary to the Pope's own intention.

        Fr. Lio replies that there was considerable dismay behind the scenes about Msgr. Lambruschini's remarks, which were purely his own personal initiative, with no official backing whatever. (He had in fact been one of the theologians favouring a relaxation of the traditional doctrine prior to the Encyclical's publication.) Lambruschini was in effect corrected, though not in such a way as to be humiliated publicly. Fr. Lio points out how, in the report of Lambruschini's press conference given in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano (daily Italian edition, 29/30 July 1968, p. 4), his statements to the journalists about the "non-infallibile" nature of Humanae Vitae are conspicuous by their absence.

        Conspicuously present in the Vatican daily a few weeks later, however, was the report of Fr. Lio's own speech at the opening of the 1968-69 academic year of the Pontifical Lateran University. Giving a summary of Fr. Lio's address, L'Osservatore Romano highlighted the fact that he had twice used the word "immutable" - which logically implies infallibility - in regard to the decision handed down in Humanae Vitae. Indeed, the essential thesis of Fr. Lio's new book can be found summed up nearly two decades earlier, on page 4 of L'Osservatore Romano, 26 October 1968. He is reported there as saying that the Encyclical

reconfirms ... the immutable and perennial nature of the doctrine regarding the intrinsic evil of contraception. ... Catholic moral truth in its immutability and perennial validity, lives, not only through dogmatic definitions, or other pronouncements given in the modus definitorius, but also through other affirmations of truth - and these indeed are the majority - which, even when they are not clearly formulated in that mode, cannot be regarded as changeable. [present writer's translation from the Italian.]

        Indeed, at a higher level of magisterial authority, Cardinal Charles Journet had already written in L'Osservatore Romano that even though Humanae Vitae did not solemnly define the immorality of contraception "as contained in the revealed deposit," it nevertheless gives a decision about contraception which can be known with certainty to be true:

The Pope manifestly has the intention of settling a controversy (ha evidentemente l'intenzione di dirimere una controversia) which places in doubt the traditional teaching of centuries approved by the Magisterium. ... The theologian who reflects on the gravity of this case, on the level of light which has been brought to bear on it, and on the precision and certainty (precisione e certezza) with which the response has been given, can even draw the conclusion - in our personal opinion - that we are confronted here by a point of moral doctrine which is definable at a further level (ulteriormente definibile) - one which could in future be convalidated by the assent of divine faith. Whatever about this last point, the teaching of the Encyclical brings with it certitude (è apportatore di certezza). (L'Osservatore Romano, 3 October 1968, pp. 1-2, present writer's translation.)
        More fundamentally important than commentaries on the Encyclical, of course, are the Pope's own words. Fr. Lio points out that Paul VI's manifest intention of giving a certain, final judgment on this issue emerges, not merely from an examination of Humanae Vitae itself, but also from other statements and interventions which the Pope made during the crucial period of controversy.

        It is often said that Paul VI was himself in doubt about the doctrinal point at issue for some time and took a long while to make up his mind. However, Fr. Lio told the present writer that the Pope assured him personally, at around the time Humanae Vitae was issued, that he had never at any stage been in doubt about the intrinsic evil of contraception. The long time lapse was due only to the need to ponder carefully the precise manner in which this truth - which had already been authoritatively settled by Pius XI in Casti Connubii (1930) - could best be reaffirmed.

        In support of this private information given by Paul VI to Fr. Lio is the documented fact of his personal intervention at the conclusion of Vatican II, when Gaudium et Spes was in the process of being finalized. There was division and uncertainty amongst the Council Fathers, with the result that the drafting Commission wanted to leave the question open in this new magisterial statement. However, as Fr. Lio's book documents, Paul VI responded to a request from Cardinal Ottaviani and Fr. Lio himself by intervening personally, against the previous wish of the majority of those drafting the document, to insist on the inclusion of a reference to the crucial passage of Casti Connubii in footnote 14 to Gaudium et Spes: 51. This is highly significant, because it shows that the Pope was insisting (and made the Council insist) that whatever future statements he might make about contraception, everyone could know in advance that there would be no going back on Pius XI's firm decision against unnatural methods of birth control as intrinsically evil. So much for Paul VI's "indecision."

        What, then, was meant by the Council's decision (expressed in this same footnote 14) to reserve "certain questions" for further and more intensive study by the Commission which Pope John had established, after which his successor in the Chair of Peter would "pass judgment" (iudicium ferat) personally? What else was left to decide, if it was already decided that, come what may, Pius XI would not be contradicted? Indeed, the mass media, and many Catholics who were hoping for a change, often highlighted an address given by Paul VI to the College of Cardinals (in June 1964, a year and a half before Gaudium et Spes was promulgated) in which he seemed to hint at the possibility, at least, that he might eventually feel obliged to change "the norms given by Pius XII."

        Fr. Lio replies by pointing out, first, that in this 1964 address Pius XI was not even mentioned: it was taken for granted that there would be no reversal of his teaching handed down in Casti Connubii. Fr. Lio maintains that what Paul VI had in mind in referring to "the norms given by Pius XII" was the late Pontiff's final allocution on the subject of contraception, given just a month before his death in 1958. On that occasion Pius XII had expressed disapproval of a particular form of birth regulation which had not existed in the time of Pius XI: the newly-discovered "chemical" means of extending the period of infertility in a woman's cycle - i.e., the contraceptive "Pill." Some theologians who accepted Pius XI's strictures against unnatural methods of birth control were wondering whether perhaps this new intervention might not in fact fall under the ban of Pius XI, insofar as it did not entail - unlike condoms, "withdrawal" or diaphragms - any interference with the physical structure of the conjugal act.

        Thus, according to Fr. Lio, this was the only question which might for a time have been seen by Paul VI as legitimately debatable: not the question of doctrine as to whether unnatural methods of birth control are ever acceptable, but the question of fact as to whether this new chemical invention should be classified as "unnatural" or not. In any case, the Pope was aware that some were drawing unwarranted conclusions from his 1964 address, and in a subsequent allocution in October 1966 - still nearly two years before the publication of Humanae Vitae - stated that his intention had been to affirm that the mind and norms of the Church had not been changed, were still in force, and that the Council did not open the way for any "substantial change" in the "Catholic doctrine" on birth control.

        In short, according to Fr. Lio's well-argued case, the only critical point which was left over by Vatican Council II (including, of course, the Pope) for further discussion, investigation and subsequent personal "judgment" by the Pontiff himself, was this new and very specific question about the status of one recently-invented method of birth regulation - "the Pill." Nevertheless, there was very little chance that it could ever be permitted, since Pius XII had already disapproved it (although not in a highly authoritative way) in an allocution of 1958. Unfortunately the media, as well as innumerable Catholic dissidents, neglected the fact that the Pope had served notice as far back as December 1965 (the promulgation of Gaudium et Spes) that there would definitely be no turning back on the basic doctrinal principle against contraception, which had already been decided finally by Pius XI in 1930. Thus, ordinary Catholics were often led into a totally unreal expectation of change.

        It will be clear by now that, if Fr. Lio's criteria for infallible papal pronouncements are valid, contraception had already been infallibly condemned in this earlier encyclical of 1930, Casti Connubii. The objection might be raised, then, that Paul VI could not have intended to define infallibly what had already been defined infallibly. Not so, says Fr. Lio. The 1870 definition of papal infallibility lays down no such restrictions, as if ex cathedra definitions were intrinsically unrepeatable, like certain sacraments. Pius XI had indeed settled the immutable character of the teaching, and this was recognized by his successors Pius XII and Paul VI. However, because of the de facto situation of serious dissent which had arisen by the 1960's, it was necessary for Paul VI to define the teaching once again. The words introducing the formal judgment given in Humanae Vitae: 14 were carefully chosen: "We must therefore declare once again (iterum debemus edicere)."

        The fact that the word edicere, rather than definire ("define") is used here does not militate against its being an infallible definition, argues Fr. Lio: the Vatican I Fathers were not told by Bishop Gasser that there was anything sacrosanct about the word "define." All that is necessary is that the Pope clearly express his intention of speaking decisively and with finality on a point of doctrine, in such a way that good Catholics can be certain what the truth is. And, indeed, as Fr. Lio points out, Paul VI had already explicitly made public well beforehand his intention of speaking "decisively" on the subject of contraception. In his allocution of 29 October, 1966, the Pope said, "We know that Catholics are awaiting from us, yes, a decisive word (una parola decisiva) concerning the mind of the Church on this very question. But as is obvious, we cannot give this on the present occasion."

        Fr. Lio then goes through the entire text of Humanae Vitae itself in great detail, showing the many expressions which make manifest the Pope's intention of giving a certain and decisive judgment about contraception. The Pope speaks of his "most grave" duty of speaking out on this question (art. 1); he affirms that the right to decide questions of natural law comes from a "participation in the divine power" given by Christ to Peter and the Apostles (art. 4); and he concludes the introductory section of the document by expressing his intention in the following solemn terms, invoking the authority of Our Lord Himself:

Wherefore, having carefully pondered all the documentation placed before Us, having most diligently examined the question with all Our mental and spiritual powers, and after having raised assiduous prayers to God, We now resolve to give Our reply - by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ - to these grave questions.

        If this is not a manifest intention of speaking "decisively," it might well be asked, then what sort of language would we require to be convinced of that intention?

        Fr. Lio goes on to show how the subsequent paragraphs foreshadow the central decision, which is given formally in article 14, where abortion, sterilization and contraception are all declared "again" as "absolutely to be rejected" (omnino respuendam) insofar as they are "intrinsically evil" (intrinsice inhonestum). Anyone who thinks that contraceptive acts can ever be lawful, even for "very grave reasons" (ob gravissimas causas), is "absolutely wrong" (erret omnino), declares the Pope. Furthermore, he affirms repeatedly that this is the law of God (not a human or merely ecclesiastical law) and claims the guidance of the Holy Spirit (arts. 28, 29).

        If, after all this, the Pope had been wrong in his decision about contraception, what credibility would be left to the Catholic Church's claim that the Vicar of Christ enjoys a special and unique divine guidance to teach on these matters? For Fr. Lio such a contingency would amount to a justification for the old Protestant claim that the Pope is Antichrist, or the spokesman of Satan! After all, would it not be a Satanic delusion - even a form of blasphemy - for a mortal man to declare falsehood or error whilst solemnly invoking the authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit for such declarations? Indeed, it seems hard to gainsay Fr. Lio, if we consider the question from that angle.

        In short, then, Fr. Lio has produced a highly important contribution to a question which remains one of the crucial issues in the contemporary Church. Instead of the curtain of silence which has surrounded Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità in the first twelve months since its publication, it deserves to be translated into English and other languages in order to facilitate wide study and discussion. In expressing this positive opinion, moreover, we are in distinguished company: in a very uncommon gesture of warm personal commendation given to an individual theologian for a particular work, the Holy Father John Paul II had a message drafted in fine calligraphy and sent to Fr. Lio with his own handwritten signature. Fr. Lio kindly gave me a photocopy of this document, which reads (in translation from the Italian original):

To the Rev. Fr. Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M., with deep thanks for the presentation of your volume Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità, and with warm appreciation for the sentiments of sincere adherence to the Magisterium of the Church which have always guided your activity of research and teaching: I impart to you from my heart a special Apostolic Blessing, a pledge of continuing heavenly assistance towards a fervent perseverance in the love of Truth and the service of souls.

From the Vatican, 31 July 1986.

(Signed) John Paul PP. II.

        Those words from the Successor of Peter should certainly give a much firmer impetus to study Fr. Lio's book than anything which might be said by this reviewer.

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