CS&T Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA – Two hundred people packed the Catholic Philopatrian Literary Institute for the grand finale of a week-long commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical on Human Life, Humanae Vitae.{{more}}

Members of various city parishes took turns praying outside of the Planned Parenthood facility at 12th and Locust Streets for 12 hours a day throughout the week which ended on Friday, July 25, the anniversary of Humanae Vitae.

Afterward, a spanerse crowd that included many teens and young adults, gathered at the Philo to hear a lecture by philosopher Peter Kreeft.

A professor of philosophy at Boston College and Kings College in New York City and author of numerous books, Kreeft took the controversial encyclical issued in 1968 about marriage, the dignity of life and, more specifically, why contraception is intrinsically wrong, and asked, “what would Socrates say about Humanae Vitae?”

Kreeft considers Socrates the world’s best philosopher who understood that “Philosophy means ‘the love of wisdom.’ Philosophy is a love affair and what it loves with all its heart is wisdom,” Kreeft said. “Socrates was a principled absolutist. He knew very clearly and certainly that the good was absolute … not relative to opinions in the minds of fallible, fickle inspaniduals or societies, or to different situations in the world or different intentions in souls.”

He also believed, like all premodern philosophers, that “moral relativism is not a bad morality, it’s not a morality at all. Morality is by its essence absolutely obligatory.”

With that in mind, Kreeft pointed out that “if Socrates were alive today I think one of the questions he would ask about Humanae Vitae is: why are all the devotees of the Sexual Revolution against it – that is the civilization that used to be called Christendom, essentially Europe and North America – and why are all the honorable, traditional people for it, first of all Orthodox Jews and Muslims, and second most Hindus and Buddhists, and third most honest, earthly pagans like the native cultures of Africa?”

With closer examination, one quickly notes that “modernity’s two drugs are sex and autonomy. Modern man is a control freak about life,” Kreeft said. “He has traded self-control for life-control, and birth control is an essential part of the agenda of life-control…. Contraception is the control of sex, by the separation of sexual activity and sexual pleasure from natural sexual consequences, that is, children. And since sex and control are our two idols, nothing hits us more in the gut than Humanae Vitae because it hits at the heart of our idolatry.”

Kreeft notes that “all sin is idolatry because all sin treats something else other than God as God. All sin seeks in an evil way something good, something desirable, something that God is, for God is everything that is good…,” he said. “God is joy and sexual desire seeks joy. Aquinas says: ‘No man can live without joy; that is why one deprived of true, spiritual joys necessarily turns to carnal pleasures.’ Humanae Vitae shows us not only who God is but also who we are.”

Kreeft also points out that philosophy is a science in the sense that it seeks “rational knowledge of a thing through its causes.”

Now with 40 years of scientific data regarding contraception, “the social results of contraception are shocking to those who hear them for the first time,” Kreeft said. “Paul VI made four bold prophetic predictions in section 17 of Humanae Vitae, which all its opponents ridiculed.”

The Pope warned that if society embraced contraception there would be increased promiscuity and marital infidelity, a general decline in morality, a decreased respect for women by men, and increasing governmental interference in the most private and intimate sector of marital life.

“Every single one of them has come true in spades. And that is not a matter of opinion, but of empirical fact,” Kreeft said. “It is hardly an exaggeration to say that science has proved Humanae Vitae right.”

Kreeft continued, “Contraception changes the meaning of sex. And sex is the foundation of marriage, and marriage is the foundation of families, and families are the foundation of society. So contraception changes everything: sex, therefore marriage, therefore families, therefore society. That is not being unduly pessimistic, or apocalyptic, or negative. That is simply being logical,” he said.

“The Catholic Church has always been logical. Paul VI was prophetic because he was logical and scientific. He predicted the logical consequences of denying God’s and nature’s plan for sex,” Kreeft explained.

The question now, according to Kreeft, is “will there be reappraisals of the practice in light of the data? Has there been any thought that perhaps that old celibate in Rome was onto something, after all?”

CS&T staff writer Nadia Maria Smith may be reached at or (215) 965-4614.