THE MAGISTERIAL TEACHING OF POPE SAINT PAUL VI
The canonization of Pope Paul VI last month invites us to consider anew some of the important magisterial teachings of his Papacy (1963-1978). Over the summer there was some attention given to his Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (“Of Human Life”) on the 50th Anniversary of its issuance, July 25th, 1968. The Encyclical was subtitled: “The Right Order to Be Followed in the Propagation of Human Offspring.” It re-affirmed the Church’s teaching on the moral impermissibility of the use of contraceptives and sterilization as a means of “family planning” in married life, even in the face of much pressure for the Pope to abrogate that teaching in order to “get with the times”. In light of how things have gone over the past half-century, however, Humanae Vitae seems more and more like a prophetic document.
When he became Pope after Pope John XIII’s death in June, 1963, there was a question of whether or not the Second Vatican Council, which had just been convened, would continue. Pope Paul made the decision that it would. He presided over its closure on December 8th, 1965.
A few months earlier he had issued an Encyclical Letter entitled Mysterium Fidei (“The Mystery of Faith”) This Encyclical was a vigorous defense of the traditional theological teaching of the Catholic Church on the supernatural reality of Christ’s Presence in the Holy Eucharist:
However, venerable brothers, in this very matter which we are discussing, there are not lacking reasons for serious pastoral concern and anxiety. The awareness of our apostolic duty does not allow us to be silent in the face of these problems. Indeed, we are aware of the fact that, among those who deal with this Most Holy Mystery in written or spoken word, there are some who, with reference either to Masses which are celebrated in private, or to the dogma of transubstantiation, or to devotion to the Eucharist, spread abroad opinions which disturb the faithful and fill their minds with no little confusion about matters of faith. It is as if everyone were permitted to consign to oblivion doctrine already defined by the Church, or else to interpret it in such a way as to weaken the genuine meaning of the words or the recognized force of the concepts involved.
This Encyclical was a pro-active measure to reassure the Catholic faithful as to what was and what was not the Church’s teaching on her most precious Possession, the living Christ in the Mystery of the Holy Eucharist, even as wave upon wave of ambiguous and erroneous teaching from many Catholic theologians was about to break over the Church.
A third important magisterial document from Pope Paul VI is the Credo of the People of God: a Solemn Profession of Faith pronounced by the Pope at St. Peter’s Basilica on June 30th, 1968, at the end of the “Year of Faith” the 19th Centenary of the Martyrdom of SS. Peter and Paul. In the words of Fr. John Hardon, S.J., this Credo (now one of the official Professions of Faith of the Catholic Church) “is a carefully assembled synthesis of those revealed truths which today are either most challenged or that especially need to be understood by the faithful. It incorporates all the familiar doctrines of the Nicene Creed but goes beyond them in occasionally updating their verbal expression and showing how these mysteries are to be lived by the Christian believer.” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, A.D. 1999)