Why is Humanae Vitae not infallible?

In an old post, a member whom I’ve come to respect said

In my theological opinion, the teaching against artificial birth control has been taught universally and so is infallible, even though the papal teaching by itself in Humanae Vitae is not infallible under papal infallibility.

and I know that that’s the most widely held understanding.

But when I read HV, I see that it’s addressed to all the faithful. Paragraph 4 explicitly recalls the authority of the Magesterium over the interpretation of the moral law, and places this matter squarely within it. Paragraph 6 explicitly invokes the mandate of Christ and the intent to make a definitive judgement in order to dispel teachings that are at odds with the constant teaching of the Church. And the first three sentences of paragraph 14 are the definitive statements intended.

It looks obvious to me that this satisfies all of the elements given in *Lumen Gentium *for an exercise of papal infallibility. So why is it not considered to be one? Is it because the teaching was already infallible under the Ordinary Universal magisterium? If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be true that if the teaching wasn’t already infallible, HV would have made it so because all of the elements are present?

Thanks for any insight you can give.

Humanae Vitae is a reaffirmation of constant Church teaching that simply says artificial birth control is wrong, and why. Pope Paul VI predicted what would happen if his words were not heeded. The year it was released, 1968, was a perfect counter to the rise of wrong thinking inside and outside the Church. It threatened the Sexual - without love - Revolution.


Let’s muddy the waters:


Maybe it is infallible but is just fallibly recognized as fallible. Paul VI’s prophecies were certainly just that… A big piece of evidence.

But in general it seems that the function of an encyclical does NOT fall under the category of “definition” but only of “explanation” of doctrine, to which the faithful can, depending on the tone, be obliged to hold with religious obedience. An Apostolic Constitution is more appropriate, with highly specific language (“declare, pronounce, and define”), with an explanation following of the consequences should one deny the foregoing. Check out Munificentissimus Deus and Ineffibilis Deus for (the only) examples.

Let’s clarify. Humanae Vitae was a reaffirmation of constant Church teaching.


It is Infallible, just because most of the faithful want to think it isn’t, so they can justify ignoring it, doesn’t make it not infallible. Because so many Church leaders denied it’s infallibility right after the Pope issued it, lead to so many lay people doing the same. If we are truly honest with ourselves we can see the harm that has done in so many ways, including some who would give up their Catholic Faith before they would quit using artificial birth control. And so many that receive Holy Communion while doing so. I would be willing to bet that most Catholics have never even read it, let alone study it!! God Bless, Memaw

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AMEN and it is beautiful. God Bless Pope Paul VI. God Bless, Memaw

It doesn’t matter if it is declared “infallible” or not.

What matters is that it addresses what is morally right and wrong in regards to sexual relations and the possibility of conception. How does declaring it to be “infallible” somehow make it even* more* right?

Why does it matter if the Church doesn’t declare every teaching to be infallible? Does that somehow mean that we are free to act in opposition to Church teaching?

The answer is clear.

No. 43 Roman Theological Forum
by Brian W. Harrison

“We have now carefully examined, word for word, the four characteristics of an ex cathedra definition specified in the dogmatic definition of 1870, in the light of Bishop Gasser’s authoritative explanation of the text and the subsequent teaching of Vatican Council II. We have also examined Humanae Vitae, presenting evidence that the definition in article 14 of the encyclical clearly manifests all four characteristics. We conclude, therefore, that this definition is indeed an ex cathedra proclamation - infallible and irreformable in itself.[My emphasis].

“Finally, in article 14, the summit itself is reached, and the solemn definition is proclaimed.”

Where Vatican I uses “define” (definit), Vatican II uses “proclaims by a definitive act” (definitive proclamat)
“As we saw, Gasser explained that what this means is that the teaching be pronounced “directly and conclusively”.72 The key notion here is that of finality - of terminating whatever doubt or controversy there may be about the doctrine in question.” (op.cit., Fr Harrison)

Casti Connubii came in answer to the capitulation to contraception at the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930, and so was a definitive condemnation of that error that threatened to subvert marriage.

Answer by David M. Gregson, Ph.D. of EWTN to me on Nov-22-2002:
“You are correct in stating that the Pope exercises his charism of infallibility not only in dogmatic definitions issued, ex cathedra, as divinely revealed (of which there have been only two), but also in doctrines definitively proposed by him, also* ex cathedra*, which would include canonizations (that they are in fact Saints, enjoying the Beatific Vision in heaven), moral teachings (such as contained in Humanae vitae), and other doctrines he has taught as necessarily connected with truths divinely revealed, such as that priestly ordination is reserved to men. Further details on levels of certainty with which the teachings of the Magisterium (either the Pope alone, or in company with his Bishops) may be found in Summary of Categories of Belief.”

Thanks Abu for post 8.

It seems I always am learning from your posts.

Great question too (here) neophyte.

Merry Christmas and God bless.


Janet Smith has good article on this.


A holy Christmas season to you too, Cathoholic, and God bless

To be infallible by Ordinary Universal magisterial, there would have to be a decree by the collegial body or the Pope showing that there is universal teaching on this matter and that they intend it to be binding forever. The individual decrees by the Popes are binding, but they don’t say if they are binding through religious submission, or through infallibility. Since Canon Law says decrees are only taken as infallible when clearly such, the teachings of HV therefore don’t appear to be infallible. God bless

Thinkandmull #12
Since Canon Law says decrees are only taken as infallible when clearly such, the teachings of HV therefore don’t appear to be infallible.


It fulfils the 4 characteristics for an ex cathedra definition – see rtforum.org/lt/lt43.html

Also Dr David Gregson of EWTN knows the teaching of the Church – see post #8.

**Can. 749 §1. **By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

A pope can definitely decide to bind something through religious obedience alone. Since the Church has never said what the difference between a bull, brief, encyclical, apostolic constitution, or apostolic letter is, we can only assume that a Popes teaching is infallible if he says it is or at least speaks as John Paul II did on female priests. Canon law speaks of “definitely held” as infallible, and JPII used those words. Repeated teaching throughout history does not make something infallible. The Pope must make clear he is binding infallibly, not through religious submission. If he used the word “define”, that would be clear. Just because the Pope intends to settle an issue, this does mean that it is infallible instead of religiously binding alone. That is the distinction you’re not grasping

Here is a document on levels of authority in the Church teaching.

That’s a great link, thanks. I bookmarked the main page.

The thing is, I’m already convinced that it’s clear that HV included an exercise of papal infallibility. But there are people who think otherwise; a fair number of them are folks I’ve come to regard as reliable, which tells me that they must have a line of reasoning that’s at least somewhat compelling. I want to know what those lines of reasoning are.

I’ve already mentioned the idea that it wasn’t because the teaching was already infallible. I can see how some might find that idea plausible.

I’ve heard people make the absurd claim that the constant teaching of the church must necessarily be agreed to by all of the faithful everywhere and always, therefore the fact that so many people who call themselves Catholic disagree with the teaching means that it can’t be infallible.

But I’m interested in plausible reasons, not ones that are obviously the rationalizations of those who just don’t like the teaching.

The Holy Father was explicit, in paragraph 6 of Humanae Vitae, that he intended to make a definitive judgement.

“6. However, the conclusions arrived at by the commission could not be considered by Us as definitive and absolutely certain, dispensing Us from the duty of examining personally this serious question. This was all the more necessary because, within the commission itself, there was not complete agreement concerning the moral norms to be proposed, and especially because certain approaches and criteria for a solution to this question had emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrine on marriage constantly taught by the magisterium of the Church. Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions.”

I’m not seeing that here. All he says is that this has been the teaching and he now intends to teach it again. John Paul II said “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” The canon law defines infallible doctrines as definitively held. So whether JPII was confirming a unanimous decision by the hierarchy as a whole (Ratzinger’s opinion) or teaching on his own, from the terminology of his pontificate we know that this was infallible. Paul VI doesn’t make clear that he was making a judgment that was irrevocable. Again, he can settle an issue and keep it off the table for discussion and yet not teach infallibly. That’s how I see this. Not that another Pope shouldn’t teach this infallibly

Okay, I understand your reasoning, although I don’t agree that it accurately addresses what the document says. Pope Paul IV says that the conclusions of the commission were not definitive, that it was necessary that he arrive at a definitive conclusion, and by virtue of the mandate entrusted to him by Christ he intended to do so. There’s no specific formula required, it’s not like he must use an exact phrase such as “I declare and define that thus-and-so is to be definitively held” in order for it to be an exercise of infallibility. It just has to be manifest that the elements of such an exercise are present, and from the very words of the document it is manifest.

But again, okay, I understand your reasoning.

Thinkandmull #14
The Pope must make clear he is binding infallibly, not through religious submission. If he used the word “define”, that would be clear.

The requirement is “a definitive act” by the Supreme Pontiff to demonstrate infallibility on faith or morals. Can. 749 §1.].
See *Humanae Vitae e Infallibilità *(Vatican City, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1986) by Fr. Ermenegildo Lio, O.F.M.

Doctrine – infallible (Canon #750.2) requires the assent of ecclesial faith, to be “firmly embraced and held”.
**A category 2 truth requires the assent of ecclesial faith, as a secondary truth, “proposed definitively” (definitive proponuntur) to be “firmly embraced and held” **(now Canon 750.2). In fact, the 1983 revision of Canon Law had replaced in #749.3 “dogmatically declared or defined” with “infallibly defined”, thus NOT expressing a limitation of infallibility to dogmas. Ad Tuendam Fidem better enables Canon Law to apply to the understanding of infallibility including the Profession of Faith covering the two categories of infallible doctrine.

Humanae Vitae #6:
“Consequently, now that We have sifted carefully the evidence sent to Us and intently studied the whole matter, as well as prayed constantly to God, We, by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ, intend to give Our reply to this series of grave questions.”

H.V. #14:
Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good," it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (18)—in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general. Consequently, it is a serious error to think that a whole married life of otherwise normal relations can justify sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive and so intrinsically wrong.
[My emphases].

Thus, the clarity has been shown and it is the confused who would question the Church and the integrity of the faith and scholarship of Dr David Gregson, Fr Brian Harrison, and Fr Lio.

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