In Praise of Free Stuff

I am of the strong opinion that the older the Catholic book the better. Generally speaking, there is — with each decade one moves into the past — less and less of a chance of running into, say, Dance of the Dissident Daughter or Locutions in 30 Days or Your Money Back.

Another benefit to diving deep into the Tradition is that so many of the books by saints, apologists, and great theologians are in the public domain. This means that if someone has bothered to scan a volume by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson or Pope Gregory or Saint Ignatius and then to run the pages through an Optical Character Recognition program, there is a very good chance that book is out there for free.

All you have to do is keep in mind that it needs to be in proper shape for your Kindle, Nook, or other ebook reader.


Most of these free treasures (the fact that they are free doesn’t make them any less valuable) will be in PDF format. If available in ePub, it is already set up for your Nook. If a MOBI file, it’s ready for your Kindle. And if the free book is available in multiple e-reader formats, the format will probably be named “Kindle” rather than “MOBI” anyway.

But Kindle owners might consider downloading the free “Send to Kindle” app (available for PC and Mac). Once installed, it is preset to convert PDF files to Kindle format. Just drag the PDF into the “Send to Kindle” window, make sure the Author and Title are correct, and hit “Send.” The book should appear on your Kindle in a minute or two.

The app might choke a bit if the file is over 10 megs. However, scanned pages “transcribed” via OCR should never be that large. If the file is over 5 megs, it either consists only of scans (each page is a “picture” and the text was never separated from the background by character recognition) or the book is heavily illustrated. Best to look for another version of that same title that is not so memory intensive.

So where do we start digging for treasure?


an original Gutenberg press

A good place to begin is  Project Gutenberg which currently offers over 50,000 free ebooks in various formats. Gutenberg’s Christianity Bookshelf page lists the entire Summa Theologica by Saint Thomas Aquinas, volumes VII and VIII of Parochial and Plain Sermons by John Henry Newman, The Story of a Soul by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, and Lourdes by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson.

Their Christianity Bookshelf is actually rather skimpy. When visiting Project Gutenberg, you are much better off if you have a particular author in mind.


Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson

Robert Hugh Benson, for example, was the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury (head of the Church of England) and so it was no small matter when he converted to Catholicism. Focusing a great deal of his energies on disputing a rather slanted view of the Catholic Church in post-Reformation England, Benson ended up writing a series novels which became enormously popular. If you look to the Christianity Bookshelf, you will find only Benson’s Lourdes. But if you search the entire site for “Robert Hugh Benson,” you will discover the following:

Lord of the World and The Dawn of All are particularly interesting as they belong to the handful of Catholic novels dealing with the End Times (as opposed to Evangelicalism in which End Times fiction has become a cottage industry).

Likewise, The Necromancers is a fictional treatment of Spiritualism. So in vogue was Spiritualism at the time and so popular was Benson’s fictional critique of the same that following the Monsignor’s death a medium published an account in which it is claimed that Benson, contacted in the afterlife, proceeded with great embarrassment to retract his entire critique of Spiritualism, not to mention assuring everyone there is no such thing as Hell.

Even more books by Monsignor Benson can be found at The Online Books Page, including his collections of ghost stories, A Mirror of Shalott and The Light Invisible. (Hugh’s brother, E. F. Benson, is considered one of the great writers of Victorian ghost stories.)


the inimitable G. K. Chesterton

A search for “G. K. Chesterton” or “Gilbert Keith Chesterton” on Gutenberg reveals the following:

There is – in my opinion – no better introduction to the Catholic perspective on life (that is, reality) than G. K. Chesterton. It’s not so much that GKC presents a series of strong arguments or biblical evidences, but that reading his work gives one the sense of seeing clearly for the first time. I don’t find his The Everlasting Man on the list above, but it can be found here. I have always leaned toward Heretics and its sequel Orthodoxy (see above) as the best introductions to the work of GKC.

I recently discovered Breaking with the Past or Catholic Principles Abandoned at the Reformation and The Eve of the Reformation by Francis Aidan Gasquet on Gutenberg. I have not read either, but it could be Cardinal Gasquet is worth a look.


historian Hilaire Belloc

Extremely important for those of us (including myself) whose sense of history pretty much stops at the Eighties are the works of historian Hilaire Belloc. Belloc argued strongly that the history books of our time are written largely through a Protestant lens, that the ill effect of this on the faithful is enormous, and so set about to repair the situation. Hilaire Belloc books available on Gutenberg include:

Of this list, perhaps the best intro to Belloc would be Europe and the Faith. Or the digital download of The Servile State to be found at A massive list of Belloc books available for free download can be found at The Online Books Page.

There are a few valuable resource pages which focus entirely on Catholic ebooks available for free download. These include Saint Peter’s, The Catholic Ebooks Project, and a sort of Catholic Lifetime Reading List of free or inexpensive books organized (with links) by Brandon Vogt. (I am confident these resources don’t indulge in any sort of pirating.)

fathersFinally, if you have a Kindle and are willing to spend anywhere between 99¢ and $2.99, there are numerous collections of Catholic writings which literally take up thousands of pages. This is because the digital format weights nothing, takes up no room on your shelf, and requires very little in the way of production expenses. One such volume is The Catholic Collection: 734 Catholic Essays and Novels on Authentic Catholic Teaching.  Likewise, one can actually purchase The Complete Ante-Nicene & Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers Collection: 3 Series, 37 Volumes, 65 Authors, 1,000 Books, 18,000 Chapters, 16 Million Words (that’s the title) for a mere $2.99. 

Talk about an embarrassment of riches.





Where the Presents are Hid…

I’m something of a “haunter of the aisles” when it comes to bookstores and this is no less true of the books which can be found on the web. Here then is a guide to free and almost-free resources on the web — from audio books of papal encyclicals to all manner of faith-related books. If I thought my kids would actually make use of them, I would cram them all onto an 8 gig novelty thumb drive and drop it in their stocking.

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One of the best kept secrets among Catholic book fiends like myself is that Christian Book Distributors – a mega resource for publishers’ remainders in the Evangelical world – also has a secret Catholic book section. I kind you not. This enormous selection of discounted Catholic books is not mentioned in the catalogs CBD sends out to its customers. Nor is it even listed on their site at But, by golly, if you type “Ignatius Press” into their Search engine you will find a cornucopia of books by fantastic Catholic authors at discounts ranging anywhere from ten to ninety percent. If you are like me, this discovery will bring to mind many titles by authors like Jean Daniélou, Hans Urs von Balthasar, or Romano Guardini which you have always meant to read. The discounts offered may provide the incentive you needed, and, of course, discovering von Balthasar’s four volume “Theo-drama” series under the Christmas tree is the dream of every teenager.

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Other useful search terms at the CBD site,, are “Sophia Institute Press,” “Scott Hahn” and “Early Church Fathers.” In fact, you can purchase the entire 38 volume hardcover set of the Church Fathers for $399 (down from $1,100). Or, for the less ambitious, the Church Fathers prior to the Council of Nicea are provided in ten volumes for $199 (down from $299) — though why you wouldn’t spring another C-note for the whole set of 38 volumes is beyond me.

“But what about free stuff, Lint?” Well, here are a few tidbits I have discovered after hours of searching the internet (a positive byproduct of my crippling OCD).

If you head over to and type “pope” into their Search engine, all manner of cool audio books appear.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 12.47.48 PMFor example, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, is inexplicably a 100% free download. And a very professional production it is — with Sean Patrick Lovett (British male voice) and Phillipa Hitchen (highly intelligent female of indeterminate ethnicity voice) trading off as they read each paragraph.

Likewise, The Ceremony of Investiture for Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Benedict XVI’s First Speech and Prayer are free downloads at If I were you, however, I would make use of Audible’s “Try Us for 30 Days and Get One Book for Free” offer to grab Pope Benedict’s incredible Jesus of Nazareth. The introduction alone is priceless, especially for Catholics like myself: converts, that is, who hold Scripture in high esteem and so are shocked (simply shocked) by the trickle down effect the higher criticism Jesus_of_Nazareth_Book_1has had on catechesis throughout the country.  The so-called higher criticism is a popular school of biblical study begun by German Protestant scholars which tends to reject the miraculous out-of-hand — so that supernatural events in, say, the Gospels are automatically placed in the “later edition by well-meaning believers” pile. While a professor of theology at Tübingen University, Pope Benedict passed through the fire regarding the plusses and minuses of historical-critical method and managed to come out of the struggle with his faith and apostolic zeal intact. In fact, Jesus of Nazareth is his effort to gather the best which historical critical method has to offer while pointing out the areas where it has been misused to the harm of believers everywhere. Get it, okay? has a list of no less than seven hundred free audio books, including Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov and Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday.  Also listed is the short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” read by the author, Flannery O’Connor, in 1959.

Likewise, allows site visitors to listen and read for free online or to download MP3’s for a fee.

There has been a small renaissance of Catholic apologetics in recent years thanks to converts ranging from Scott Hahn to Rod Bennett. The zeal they often import from their Evangelical roots shows itself in their willingness to provide free mp3 downloads of their books and lectures. These can be found at Sonitus SanctusEWTN’s Audio Library, and Online Catholic Library — all fantastic resources — as well as the extensive, in-depth Bible study courses offered by the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology founded by Dr. Scott Hahn.


Mike Aquilina

The podcast, Discerning Hearts, “dedicated to those on the discerning journey,” features free MP3’s of talks by Mike Aquilina (who delivered two fantastic addresses at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church here in Macon).  You can find his talks at this link.

Peter Kreeft teaches philosophy at Boston College and was a mainstay of Evangelical apologetics until – oops! – he was convinced the rather audacious claims of the Catholic Church are actually true. One of his specialties is putting representatives of various philosophical and theological perspectives in a room together and letting them go at it — perhaps best evidenced in his marvelous book, Between Heaven and Hell, which features Kreeft’s take on C. S. Lewis, Aldous Huxley, and John F. Kennedy “dialoguing” with one another in an antechamber to the afterlife. Peter Kreeft Audio features over a dozen lectures by this compelling convert.

The Institute of Catholic Culture seeks to (1) make up for the lassitude in adult formation of recent decades and (2) engage secular culture with thoughtful examination of the roots of various modern worldviews. I mean, you’ve got Reagan, Thatcher and the Pope: The Fall of the Soviet UnionSaving Civilization: The Story of St. Benedict of NursiaConfronting Attila the Hun: The Life of Pope St. Leo the Great — what more could you ask for? And all content is free to the public.

theology of the body

I must admit possibly the weakest link in my studies of the faith of late is the Theology of the Body proposed by Pope Saint John Paul II during a series of weekly homilies at the St. Peter’s. Fortunately, offers an audio series on The Theology of the Body by the late Fr. Richard Hogan and Katrina Zeno, author of The Body Reveals God. Might make for a good intro before diving into the actual texts.

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Father Thwaites

Last but certainly not least, we have the recordings of Reverend Hugh Thwaites. The individual human voice can add enormous appeal and even a sense of holiness to the reading of Scripture and Church teaching; nowhere is this more apparent than in the audio ministry of Rev. Thwaites. On the audio page of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (scroll down a bit), we find scores of readings by Rev. Thwaites, including entire Gospels as well as his rumination on “the spirit world.” My favorites, however, are his readings of the papal encyclicals Humani Generis by Pope Pius XII, Pascendi Gregis by Pope St.Pius X, Mortalium Animos by Pope Pius XI, and Mysterium Fidei by Pope Paul VI. The first two, in particular, provide a sweeping overview of Modernism with a depth of understanding plainly informed by deep study of the original texts of Modernist scholars. Love it! And love Rev. Thwaites.


Next time: how to fill your Kindle with all manner of Catholic goodies.

The Ergonomics of Dissent

I had hoped to begin this post with a single German word describing “dissent from a papal encyclical which one has never bothered to read.”

Certainly, this is a situation common enough to deserve its own fourteen syllable word or, at the very least, a handy catchphrase.

But no such luck.

Chair of Moses

An ancient synagogue’s Seat of Moses

Maybe nix cathedra. After all, ex cathedra refers to a teaching that comes to us “from the chair of Peter.” The whole chair business enters the picture when Christ tells his friends,“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat;  so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice.”  Just as Moses’ successors despite their incredible flaws possessed a certain authority, so do the successors of Peter. The word cathedral, then, indicates the particular diocesan church where the chair of the bishop can be found.

It seems to me this whole “chair” thing might be pretty important.

Of the above quote (Matthew 23:2), David Palm writes:

Just before launching into a blistering denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus delivers this command to the crowds: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice” (Matt. 23:2-3).

Although Jesus strongly indicts his opponents of hypocrisy for not following their own teaching, he nevertheless insists that the scribes and Pharisees hold a position of legitimate authority, which he characterizes as sitting “on Moses’ seat.” One searches in vain for any reference to this seat of Moses in the Old Testament. But it was commonly understood in ancient Israel that there was an authoritative teaching office, passed on by Moses to successors.

As the first verse of the Mishna tractate Abôte indicates, the Jews understood that God’s revelation, received by Moses, had been handed down from him in uninterrupted succession, through Joshua, the elders, the prophets, and the great Sanhedrin (Acts 15:21). The scribes and Pharisees participated in this authoritative line and as such their teaching deserved to be respected.

Jesus here draws on oral Tradition to uphold the legitimacy of this teaching office in Israel. The Catholic Church, in upholding the legitimacy of both Scripture and Tradition, follows the example of Jesus himself.

In addition, we see that the structure of the Catholic Church—with an authoritative teaching office comprised of bishops who are the direct successors of the apostles—follows the example of ancient Israel. While there are groups of Christians today that deny continuity between Israel and the Church, historic orthodox Christianity has always understood the Church to be a fulfillment of Israel. This verse about Moses’ chair illuminates why we say that the successor of Peter, when he gives a solemn teaching for the whole Church, is said to speak <ex cathedra> or “from the chair.”

Whereas under the Old Covenant the administration of God’s people came from the “chair of Moses,” Christians under the New Covenant look to the “chair of Peter” for direction on questions of faith and morals. But there is a notable difference between the magisterium under the Old Covenant and our teachers under the New Covenant. The successors of the apostles, and especially Peter’s successor, have the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth, and they have Jesus’ promise that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against the Church (Matt. 16:17-19).

We see the practical realism of this authority and its role in proper interpretation in the book of Acts. A vehement disagreement has arisen among believers. Some (largely converts from the Pharisees) assert that Gentiles received into the Church must first receive the Jewish hallmark of the Old Covenant — circumcision — and “follow the laws of Moses.” Bewildered Gentiles have been informed by some, “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” Other believers, including Paul and Barnabas, strongly disagree. In order to settle the matter, a Church Council is convened in Jerusalem — the first of its kind. Following a period of discussion, Peter, significantly, makes the final decision. Paul, Barnabas, and James second him. When this decision is written down in very specific, carefully chosen terms so that letters of clarification may be sent to the various churches, the following words appear:

“It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

It’s a very interesting phrase. It prompted me to wonder, “Would anyone dare to say such a thing among the various Christian denominations today?” Then it occurred to me that Pentecostals and Charismatic Christians might dare to use such a phrase. And then it occurred to me that while they might say, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit…,” it would never, ever occur to them to add, “and to us…”

When the Spirit speaks through the Pentecostal or Charismatic, the individual is superseded. At least, that is how things worked in the Charismatic church I once attended. Someone might say, “It seems good to the Holy Spirit.” They would never add “and to me…”

Why is that? Well, the implication is clear:  you should listen to the Holy Spirit and you should listen to me.

But is the person who claims “You should listen to me” just anybody? In a Charismatic church, yes, it could be pretty much anybody. In another Protestant denomination, it could be a pastor who has “cult of celebrity” written all over him. At the Council of Jerusalem, however, it is the Apostles:  fishermen, a tax collector, what have you. Obviously, it is the office of Apostle that “You should listen to me” pertains to — not the incredibly winning personality of, say, Thomas, or the “git-er-done” charisma of John. And, in the Catholic Church, it is the successors to these same Apostles who say in certain circumstances and at certain times, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” Not when the pope offers his opinion regarding the best restaurants in Rome. Not even when he chats with journalists on a plane en route to Cuba. Rather, this phrase applies to occasions of a certain solemnity — Councils, for example, and encyclicals.

It is this phrase then – “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” – (delivered almost casually by the Council of Jerusalem) that illustrates what bugs people about the Catholic Church. And by “people” I mean “Nones,” Protestants, and even Catholics.

Nevertheless, “It seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us…” is both historical and realistic.

Peter-Keys2Historical. It is indisputable that during his thirty-three years on this planet Christ established not a Bible, but a Church. Of simple necessity, members of that Church shared Christ’s teachings orally, in person. Written documents were rare, literacy was rare, and this was not a problem for these folks. Nobody had any problem with oral tradition. The repeated and memorized spoken word naturally took precedence over the written.

Paul, then, began writing letters to the churches he had helped to found. Three of the Apostles wrote memoirs of the time they spent with Christ. Luke made a thorough investigation of their stories, Mary’s stories, the stories of other eye-witnesses and composed his gospel. After the Apostles’ deaths, their successors – people like Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch – wrote powerful letters and sermons disseminated throughout the early Church and treasured by believers. At the same time, various groups wrote gospels lending authenticity to their rather less orthodox views of Jesus.

The printing press was not to be invented for many hundreds of years and oral tradition still had center stage when persecutors of the Church attempted to force Christians to burn their sacred texts or be killed. Naturally, the question arose, “Which of these writings should I lay down my life for? Which are our most sacred texts?” Certain books were revered. There were lists of such books among the churches, yet they differed on some points. What was the final word on the subject?

Once again, a group of bishops (their role as successors to the Apostles quite clear in everyone’s minds as this is only the year 393) gathered to clarify a matter of dispute. Which of the myriad Christian writings out there actually belong on the Contents page of what you and I call The Bible? Some argued for John’s Apocalypse or “the book of Revelation,” some against. Ditto the epistle to the Hebrews. In the end, a consensus was reached and then promulgated to the churches.

Once again, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”


bibleRealistic. What if those fourth century bishops didn’t get this right? What if they were not protected from error in stating “This is inspired Scripture,” or “This is profound and a great help to people, but does not belong among our inspired texts,” or “This claims to be a gospel, but is plainly heretical”?

We would have a major problem, wouldn’t we?

Once you grasp the implications, it becomes clear. There needs to be a single, fourteen syllable German word for “dissent from a papal encyclical which one has never bothered to read even though one does not dissent from the very same apostolic authority and its decisions on faith and morals for 2,000 years.”

I’m thinking some German variation on “You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

Why are you and I — Gentile believers, I imagine — not circumcised? Because the Council of Jerusalem could say with authority, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…”

Why do we affirm Christ was fully man and fully God — rather than a God who merely appeared to be a man (and who never actually suffered on the cross)?

Why do we affirm God is three Persons, one Nature – when the word “Trinity” does not appear in Scripture?

Why do we affirm that faith is an utterly free, unmerited gift from God and yet a faith that shows no active kindness to the poor is no faith at all?


Bernini’s incredible Altar of the Chair of Peter, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican

We certainly do not affirm these things because we sat alone with our Bible and figured it all out. We affirm them, instead, because one Council after another hashed out one disagreement after another, stating eventually, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us…” — because these successors to the Apostles are tasked with protecting the entire width and breadth of the authentic teaching of Christ.

We affirm these things because if the chair of Moses did not become the chair of Peter the existence of over 30,ooo Protestant denominations – differing over baptism, communion, even salvation – is normative. It is precisely what God intended all along.

And yet, Christ said to his Father:

I am not praying only for these men but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may all be one. Just as you, Father, live in me and I live in you, I am asking that they may live in us, that the world may believe that you did send me. I have given them the honour that you gave me, that they may be one, as we are one—I in them and you in me, that they may grow complete into one, so that the world may realize that you sent me and have loved them as you loved me.

With this in mind and given that this is a blog about life issues, I encourage you, once and for all, to sit down and read the encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, from which so many dissented upon its release on July 25, 1968 and from which so many continue to dissent to this day without having read a word of it. Many are unaware of the uncanny, prophetic accuracy Paul IV displayed in his description of a world in which the creation of new life has been divorced from sexuality. Now, rather than scoff that such things will never come to pass, you can see just how things turned out from the vantage point of an almost fifty year march into that dystopian future.

You can read it at this link or in the handy text I have pasted below (which comes direct from the Vatican’s site).

*   *   *




Honored Brothers and Dear Sons,
Health and Apostolic Benediction.

The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. It has always been a source of great joy to them, even though it sometimes entails many difficulties and hardships.

The fulfillment of this duty has always posed problems to the conscience of married people, but the recent course of human society and the concomitant changes have provoked new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with the life and happiness of human beings.


2. The changes that have taken place are of considerable importance and varied in nature. In the first place there is the rapid increase in population which has made many fear that world population is going to grow faster than available resources, with the consequence that many families and developing countries would be faced with greater hardships. This can easily induce public authorities to be tempted to take even harsher measures to avert this danger. There is also the fact that not only working and housing conditions but the greater demands made both in the economic and educational field pose a living situation in which it is frequently difficult these days to provide properly for a large family.

Also noteworthy is a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, of the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love.

But the most remarkable development of all is to be seen in man’s stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature to the point that he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life.

New Questions

3. This new state of things gives rise to new questions. Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is felt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?

Moreover, if one were to apply here the so called principle of totality, could it not be accepted that the intention to have a less prolific but more rationally planned family might transform an action which renders natural processes infertile into a licit and provident control of birth? Could it not be admitted, in other words, that procreative finality applies to the totality of married life rather than to each single act? A further question is whether, because people are more conscious today of their responsibilities, the time has not come when the transmission of life should be regulated by their intelligence and will rather than through the specific rhythms of their own bodies.

Interpreting the Moral Law

4. This kind of question requires from the teaching authority of the Church a new and deeper reflection on the principles of the moral teaching on marriage—a teaching which is based on the natural law as illuminated and enriched by divine Revelation.

No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law. It is in fact indisputable, as Our predecessors have many times declared, (l) that Jesus Christ, when He communicated His divine power to Peter and the other Apostles and sent them to teach all nations His commandments, (2) constituted them as the authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, not only, that is, of the law of the Gospel but also of the natural law. For the natural law, too, declares the will of God, and its faithful observance is necessary for men’s eternal salvation. (3)

In carrying out this mandate, the Church has always issued appropriate documents on the nature of marriage, the correct use of conjugal rights, and the duties of spouses. These documents have been more copious in recent times. (4)

Special Studies

5. The consciousness of the same responsibility induced Us to confirm and expand the commission set up by Our predecessor Pope John XXIII, of happy memory, in March, 1963. This commission included married couples as well as many experts in the various fields pertinent to these questions. Its task was to examine views and opinions concerning married life, and especially on the correct regulation of births; and it was also to provide the teaching authority of the Church with such evidence as would enable it to give an apt reply in this matter, which not only the faithful but also the rest of the world were waiting for. (5)

When the evidence of the experts had been received, as well as the opinions and advice of a considerable number of Our brethren in the episcopate—some of whom sent their views spontaneously, while others were requested by Us to do so—We were in a position to weigh with more precision all the aspects of this complex subject. Hence We are deeply grateful to all those concerned.

The Magisterium’s Reply

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.


7. The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects. And since in the attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control many appeal to the demands of married love or of responsible parenthood, these two important realities of married life must be accurately defined and analyzed. This is what We mean to do, with special reference to what the Second Vatican Council taught with the highest authority in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today.

God’s Loving Design

8. Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who “is love,” (6) the Father “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” (7)

Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.

The marriage of those who have been baptized is, in addition, invested with the dignity of a sacramental sign of grace, for it represents the union of Christ and His Church.

Married Love

9. In the light of these facts the characteristic features and exigencies of married love are clearly indicated, and it is of the highest importance to evaluate them exactly.

This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents’ welfare.” (8)

Responsible Parenthood

10. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects.

With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (9)

With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.

From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow. On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (10)

Observing the Natural Law

11. The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, “noble and worthy.” (11) It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse. God has wisely ordered laws of nature and the incidence of fertility in such a way that successive births are already naturally spaced through the inherent operation of these laws. The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life. (12)

Union and Procreation

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.

The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

Faithfulness to God’s Design

13. Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will. But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. “Human life is sacred—all men must recognize that fact,” Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. “From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.” (13)

Unlawful Birth Control Methods

14. Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. (14) Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. (15)

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means. (16)

Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one, or that such intercourse would merge with procreative acts of past and future to form a single entity, and so be qualified by exactly the same moral goodness as these. 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.

Lawful Therapeutic Means

15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (19)

Recourse to Infertile Periods

16. Now as We noted earlier (no. 3), some people today raise the objection against this particular doctrine of the Church concerning the moral laws governing marriage, that human intelligence has both the right and responsibility to control those forces of irrational nature which come within its ambit and to direct them toward ends beneficial to man. Others ask on the same point whether it is not reasonable in so many cases to use artificial birth control if by so doing the harmony and peace of a family are better served and more suitable conditions are provided for the education of children already born. To this question We must give a clear reply. The Church is the first to praise and commend the application of human intelligence to an activity in which a rational creature such as man is so closely associated with his Creator. But she affirms that this must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God.

If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained. (20)

Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the later they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.

Consequences of Artificial Methods

17. Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.

Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife.

Limits to Man’s Power

Consequently, unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed. These limits are expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions, in the light of the principles We stated earlier, and in accordance with a correct understanding of the “principle of totality” enunciated by Our predecessor Pope Pius XII. (21)

Concern of the Church

18. It is to be anticipated that perhaps not everyone will easily accept this particular teaching. There is too much clamorous outcry against the voice of the Church, and this is intensified by modern means of communication. But it comes as no surprise to the Church that she, no less than her divine Founder, is destined to be a “sign of contradiction.” (22) She does not, because of this, evade the duty imposed on her of proclaiming humbly but firmly the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical.

Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot be their arbiter—only their guardian and interpreter. It could never be right for her to declare lawful what is in fact unlawful, since that, by its very nature, is always opposed to the true good of man.

In preserving intact the whole moral law of marriage, the Church is convinced that she is contributing to the creation of a truly human civilization. She urges man not to betray his personal responsibilities by putting all his faith in technical expedients. In this way she defends the dignity of husband and wife. This course of action shows that the Church, loyal to the example and teaching of the divine Savior, is sincere and unselfish in her regard for men whom she strives to help even now during this earthly pilgrimage “to share God’s life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men.” (23)


19. Our words would not be an adequate expression of the thought and solicitude of the Church, Mother and Teacher of all peoples, if, after having recalled men to the observance and respect of the divine law regarding matrimony, they did not also support mankind in the honest regulation of birth amid the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples. The Church, in fact, cannot act differently toward men than did the Redeemer. She knows their weaknesses, she has compassion on the multitude, she welcomes sinners. But at the same time she cannot do otherwise than teach the law. For it is in fact the law of human life restored to its native truth and guided by the Spirit of God. (24) Observing the Divine Law.

20. The teaching of the Church regarding the proper regulation of birth is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it will appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society, a resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with the grace by which the goodwill of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man’s dignity and confers benefits on human society.

Value of Self-Discipline

21. The right and lawful ordering of birth demands, first of all, that spouses fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life and that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, essential to married life, conform to right order. This is especially clear in the practice of periodic continence. Self-discipline of this kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to develop to their personalities and to be enriched with spiritual blessings. For it brings to family life abundant fruits of tranquility and peace. It helps in solving difficulties of other kinds. It fosters in husband and wife thoughtfulness and loving consideration for one another. It helps them to repel inordinate self-love, which is the opposite of charity. It arouses in them a consciousness of their responsibilities. And finally, it confers upon parents a deeper and more effective influence in the education of their children. As their children grow up, they develop a right sense of values and achieve a serene and harmonious use of their mental and physical powers.

Promotion of Chastity

22. We take this opportunity to address those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society. We would call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.

Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men’s baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture (25) or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.

Appeal to Public Authorities

23. And now We wish to speak to rulers of nations. To you most of all is committed the responsibility of safeguarding the common good. You can contribute so much to the preservation of morals. We beg of you, never allow the morals of your peoples to be undermined. The family is the primary unit in the state; do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem—that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.

Seeking True Solutions

We are fully aware of the difficulties confronting the public authorities in this matter, especially in the developing countries. In fact, We had in mind the justifiable anxieties which weigh upon them when We published Our encyclical letter Populorum Progressio. But now We join Our voice to that of Our predecessor John XXIII of venerable memory, and We make Our own his words: “No statement of the problem and no solution to it is acceptable which does violence to man’s essential dignity; those who propose such solutions base them on an utterly materialistic conception of man himself and his life. The only possible solution to this question is one which envisages the social and economic progress both of individuals and of the whole of human society, and which respects and promotes true human values.” (26) No one can, without being grossly unfair, make divine Providence responsible for what clearly seems to be the result of misguided governmental policies, of an insufficient sense of social justice, of a selfish accumulation of material goods, and finally of a culpable failure to undertake those initiatives and responsibilities which would raise the standard of living of peoples and their children. (27) If only all governments which were able would do what some are already doing so nobly, and bestir themselves to renew their efforts and their undertakings! There must be no relaxation in the programs of mutual aid between all the branches of the great human family. Here We believe an almost limitless field lies open for the activities of the great international institutions.

To Scientists

24. Our next appeal is to men of science. These can “considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family and also peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they strive to elucidate more thoroughly the conditions favorable to a proper regulation of births.” (28) It is supremely desirable, and this was also the mind of Pius XII, that medical science should by the study of natural rhythms succeed in determining a sufficiently secure basis for the chaste limitation of offspring. (29) In this way scientists, especially those who are Catholics, will by their research establish the truth of the Church’s claim that “there can be no contradiction between two divine laws—that which governs the transmitting of life and that which governs the fostering of married love.” (30)

To Christian Couples

25. And now We turn in a special way to Our own sons and daughters, to those most of all whom God calls to serve Him in the state of marriage. While the Church does indeed hand on to her children the inviolable conditions laid down by God’s law, she is also the herald of salvation and through the sacraments she flings wide open the channels of grace through which man is made a new creature responding in charity and true freedom to the design of his Creator and Savior, experiencing too the sweetness of the yoke of Christ. (31)

In humble obedience then to her voice, let Christian husbands and wives be mindful of their vocation to the Christian life, a vocation which, deriving from their Baptism, has been confirmed anew and made more explicit by the Sacrament of Matrimony. For by this sacrament they are strengthened and, one might almost say, consecrated to the faithful fulfillment of their duties. Thus will they realize to the full their calling and bear witness as becomes them, to Christ before the world. (32) For the Lord has entrusted to them the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God’s love, God who is the Author of human life.

We have no wish at all to pass over in silence the difficulties, at times very great, which beset the lives of Christian married couples. For them, as indeed for every one of us, “the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life.” (33) Nevertheless it is precisely the hope of that life which, like a brightly burning torch, lights up their journey, as, strong in spirit, they strive to live “sober, upright and godly lives in this world,” (34) knowing for sure that “the form of this world is passing away.” (35)

Recourse to God

For this reason husbands and wives should take up the burden appointed to them, willingly, in the strength of faith and of that hope which “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us ~}36 Then let them implore the help of God with unremitting prayer and, most of all, let them draw grace and charity from that unfailing fount which is the Eucharist. If, however, sin still exercises its hold over them, they are not to lose heart. Rather must they, humble and persevering, have recourse to the mercy of God, abundantly bestowed in the Sacrament of Penance. In this way, for sure, they will be able to reach that perfection of married life which the Apostle sets out in these words: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church. . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (37)

Family Apostolate

26. Among the fruits that ripen if the law of God be resolutely obeyed, the most precious is certainly this, that married couples themselves will often desire to communicate their own experience to others. Thus it comes about that in the fullness of the lay vocation will be included a novel and outstanding form of the apostolate by which, like ministering to like, married couples themselves by the leadership they offer will become apostles to other married couples. And surely among all the forms of the Christian apostolate it is hard to think of one more opportune for the present time. (38)

To Doctors and Nurses

27. Likewise we hold in the highest esteem those doctors and members of the nursing profession who, in the exercise of their calling, endeavor to fulfill the demands of their Christian vocation before any merely human interest. Let them therefore continue constant in their resolution always to support those lines of action which accord with faith and with right reason. And let them strive to win agreement and support for these policies among their professional colleagues. Moreover, they should regard it as an essential part of their skill to make themselves fully proficient in this difficult field of medical knowledge. For then, when married couples ask for their advice, they may be in a position to give them right counsel and to point them in the proper direction. Married couples have a right to expect this much from them.

To Priests

28. And now, beloved sons, you who are priests, you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders both of individual men and women and of families—We turn to you filled with great confidence. For it is your principal duty—We are speaking especially to you who teach moral theology—to spell out clearly and completely the Church’s teaching on marriage. In the performance of your ministry you must be the first to give an example of that sincere obedience, inward as well as outward, which is due to the magisterium of the Church. For, as you know, the pastors of the Church enjoy a special light of the Holy Spirit in teaching the truth. (39) And this, rather than the arguments they put forward, is why you are bound to such obedience. Nor will it escape you that if men’s peace of soul and the unity of the Christian people are to be preserved, then it is of the utmost importance that in moral as well as in dogmatic theology all should obey the magisterium of the Church and should speak as with one voice. Therefore We make Our own the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul and with all Our heart We renew Our appeal to you: “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (40)

Christian Compassion

29. Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world, (41) was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

So speak with full confidence, beloved sons, convinced that while the Holy Spirit of God is present to the magisterium proclaiming sound doctrine, He also illumines from within the hearts of the faithful and invites their assent. Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness.

To Bishops

30. And now as We come to the end of this encyclical letter, We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate, with whom We share more closely the care of the spiritual good of the People of God. For We invite all of you, We implore you, to give a lead to your priests who assist you in the sacred ministry, and to the faithful of your dioceses, and to devote yourselves with all zeal and without delay to safeguarding the holiness of marriage, in order to guide married life to its full human and Christian perfection. Consider this mission as one of your most urgent responsibilities at the present time. As you well know, it calls for concerted pastoral action in every field of human diligence, economic, cultural and social. If simultaneous progress is made in these various fields, then the intimate life of parents and children in the family will be rendered not only more tolerable, but easier and more joyful. And life together in human society will be enriched with fraternal charity and made more stable with true peace when God’s design which He conceived for the world is faithfully followed.

A Great Work

31. Venerable brothers, beloved sons, all men of good will, great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of charity to which We now summon all of you. And this We do relying on the unshakable teaching of the Church, which teaching Peter’s successor together with his brothers in the Catholic episcopate faithfully guards and interprets. And We are convinced that this truly great work will bring blessings both on the world and on the Church. For man cannot attain that true happiness for which he yearns with all the strength of his spirit, unless he keeps the laws which the Most High God has engraved in his very nature. These laws must be wisely and lovingly observed. On this great work, on all of you and especially on married couples, We implore from the God of all holiness and pity an abundance of heavenly grace as a pledge of which We gladly bestow Our apostolic blessing.

Given at St. Peter’s, Rome, on the 25th day of July, the feast of St. James the Apostle, in the year 1968, the sixth of Our pontificate.



LATIN TEXT: Acta Apostolicae Sedis, 60 (1968), 481-503.

ENGLISH TRANSLATION: The Pope Speaks, 13 (Fall. 1969), 329-46.


(1) See Pius IX, encyc. letter Oui pluribus: Pii IX P.M. Acta, 1, pp. 9-10; St. Pius X encyc. letter Singulari quadam: AAS 4 (1912), 658; Pius XI, encyc.letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 579-581; Pius XII, address Magnificate Dominum to the episcopate of the Catholic World: AAS 46 (1954), 671-672; John XXIII, encyc. letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 457.

(2) See Mt 28. 18-19.

(3) See Mt 7. 21.

(4) See Council of Trent Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 8; Leo XIII, encyc.letter Arcanum: Acta Leonis XIII, 2 (1880), 26-29; Pius XI, encyc.letter Divini illius Magistri: AAS 22 (1930), 58-61; encyc. letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 545-546; Pius XII, Address to Italian Medico-Biological Union of St. Luke: Discorsi e radiomessaggi di Pio XII, VI, 191-192; to Italian Association of Catholic Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 835-854; to the association known as the Family Campaign, and other family associations: AAS 43 (1951), 857-859; to 7th congress of International Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395]; John XXIII, encyc.letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 446-447 [TPS VII, 330-331]; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, nos. 47-52: AAS 58 (1966), 1067-1074 [TPS XI, 289-295]; Code of Canon Law, canons 1067, 1068 §1, canon 1076, §§1-2.

(5) See Paul VI, Address to Sacred College of Cardinals: AAS 56 (1964), 588 [TPS IX, 355-356]; to Commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family and Birth: AAS 57 (1965), 388 [TPS X, 225]; to National Congress of the Italian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology: AAS 58 (1966), 1168 [TPS XI, 401-403].

(6) See 1 Jn 4. 8.

(7) Eph 3. 15.

(8) Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 50: AAS 58 (1966), 1070-1072 [TPS XI, 292-293].

(9) See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 2.

(10) See Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, nos . 50- 5 1: AAS 58 ( 1 966) 1070-1073 [TPS XI, 292-293].

(11) See ibid., no. 49: AAS 58 (1966), 1070 [TPS XI, 291-292].

(12) See Pius XI. encyc. letter Casti connubi: AAS 22 (1930), 560; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 843.

(13) See encyc. letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 447 [TPS VII, 331].

(14) See Council of Trent Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 8; Pius XI, encyc. letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 562-564; Pius XII, Address to Medico-Biological Union of St. Luke: Discorsi e radiomessaggi, VI, 191-192; Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 842-843; Address to Family Campaign and other family associations: AAS 43 (1951), 857-859; John XXIII, encyc. letter Pacem in terris: AAS 55 (1963), 259-260 [TPS IX, 15-16]; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 51: AAS 58 (1966), 1072 [TPS XI, 293].

(15) See Pius XI, encyc. letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 565; Decree of the Holy Office, Feb. 22, 1940: AAS 32 (1940), 73; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43

(1951), 843-844; to the Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395].

(16) See Council of Trent Roman Catechism, Part II, ch. 8; Pius XI, encyc. letter Casti connubii: AAS 22 (1930), 559-561; Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 843; to the Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395]; John XXIII, encyc.letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 447 [TPS VII, 331].

(17) See Pius XII, Address to National Congress of Italian Society of the Union of Catholic Jurists: AAS 45 (1953), 798-799 [TPS I, 67-69].

(18) See Rom 3. 8.

(19) See Pius XII, Address to 26th Congress of Italian Association of Urology: AAS 45 (1953), 674-675; to Society of Hematology: AAS 50 (1958), 734-735 [TPS VI, 394-395].

(20) See Pius XII, Address to Midwives: AAS 43 (1951), 846.

(21) See Pius XII, Address to Association of Urology: AAS 45 (1953), 674-675; to leaders and members of Italian Association of Cornea Donors and Italian Association for the Blind: AAS 48 (1956), 461-462 [TPS III, 200-201].

(22) Lk 2. 34.

(23) See Paul Vl, encyc. letter Populorum progressio: AAS 59 (1967), 268 [TPS XII, 151].

(24) See Rom 8.

(25) See Second Vatican Council, Decree on the Media of Social Communication, nos. 6-7: AAS 56 (1964), 147 [TPS IX, 340-341].

(26) Encyc. letter Mater et Magistra: AAS 53 (1961), 447 [TPS VII, 331].

(27) See encyc. letter Populorum progressio, nos. 48-55: AAS 59 (1967), 281-284 [TPS XII, 160-162].

(28) Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 52: AAS 58 (1966), 1074 [TPS XI, 294].

(29) Address to Family Campaign and other family associations: AAS 43 (1951), 859.

(30) Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 51: AAS 58 (1966), 1072 [TPS XI, 293].

(31) See Mt 11. 30.

(32) See Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, no. 48: AAS 58 (1966), 1067-1069 [TPS XI,290-291]; Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 35: AAS 57 (1965), 40-41 [TPS X, 382-383].

(33) Mt 7. 14; see Heb 12. 11.

(34) See Ti 2. 12.

(35) See 1 Cor 7. 31.

(36) Rom 5. 5.

(37) Eph 5. 25, 28-29, 32-33.

(38) See Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, nos. 35, 41: AAS 57 (1965), 40-45 [TPS X, 382-383, 386-387; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today, nos. 48-49: AAS 58 (1966),1067-1070 [TPS XI, 290-292]; Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, no. 11: AAS 58 (1966), 847-849 [TPS XI, 128-129].

(39) See Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, no. 25: AAS 57 (1965), 29-31 [TPS X, 375-376].

(40) 1 Cor 1. 10.

(41) See Jn 3. 17.



Time for America’s Favorite Game Show: “What’s My Narrative?”

I envision a set design very much like “Family Feud.” Two groups of six people represent differing ideological tribes. Red State versus Blue State. Secular versus Christian. Old Atheism versus New Atheism. You get the idea.

The emcee – my vote is for Bill Maher – trots onto the stage grasping a huge outdated microphone as members of the opposing tribes leap and clap and hug.

“Welcome to What’s My Narrative?,” Maher bleats, “The game where contestants guess at the carefully cultivated talking points currently taking root in the minds of Americans. Got your zeitgeist hats on, folks? Okay! First topic!” A glance at the board, a loud ding, and Maher shouts, “A-a-a-a-a-a-bortion!”

Immediately, tribe members whisper and strategize while Maher reads from his handy card.

“First question. You are at a cocktail part and the topic turns to the covert videos of Planned Parenthood executives discussing fetal tissue harvesting. The majority of the people around you agree that the videos are … what?”

A Pro-lifer hits the button first. “Disturbing! Disturbing!”

Fellow tribe members clap steadily, enthusiastically, as everyone turns to the board. A harsh buzzer sounds. No dice.


A Pro-choicer hits the button. “Now discredited!”

Clap! Clap! Clap! And the number one slot flips over to reveal the phrase “Now Discredited.” The Pro-choice tribe leaps for joy! And, in fact, for the rest of the show, they will sweep the competition, guessing such on-target phrases as “heavily edited,” “grossly inaccurate,” and “hate driven.”

* * *

It’s pretty easy to spot a preemptive shot at settling the narrative. In a recent article, CBS News rather blithely refers to the Planned Parenthood videos as ‘now discredited,’  — as though this were a done deal, a given in the minds of intelligent people everywhere. This stands in stark contrast, however, to Planned Parenthood’s own examination of the videos via the firm Fusion GPS which somehow managed to denounce the videos while simultaneously stating there was ‘no widespread evidence of substantive video manipulation.’ And it contradicts the results of an independent investigation by Coalfire Systems, a digital security and forensics firm that has worked on civil and criminal investigations. Coalfire determined the videos are  ‘authentic,’ ‘not manipulated,’ and ‘…Any missing footage was of non-pertinent events like meals and bathroom breaks.’

But don’t confuse me with the facts, right?

CBS News’ use of the phrase “now discredited” – as though this is a fact which requires no substantiation – illustrates how the narrative you favor is far more easily cemented in the minds of the public if you can (1) get people to take certain claims for granted and (2) make them feel good about themselves in the process.

If, for example, you create the impression all intelligent people agree, you appeal to a person’s vanity and save them the work involved in establishing the actual facts. We all fall for this one — even though we may secretly wonder who the enlightened are and whether they agree at all. We all have what are called “plausibility structures” that save us the trouble of getting down to zero about every single question in life. We place our trust in the leadership of certain institutions. We “friend” people on Facebook who agree with us about most things. We see a new book at Barnes & Noble and immediately flip it over to see if anyone we respect has given it the thumbs up.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. We have to trust time and time again simply in order to get through the day. We don’t check every aspect of our car, for example, to make sure it is utterly safe to drive each and every morning. There is a kind of moral degree of certainty that the car is okay to drive. It isn’t a total degree of certainty, but it’s enough. Otherwise, we would never leave the house. (And, in fact, some people don’t.)

But some things require more effort of us — to get past the slogans, the memes, the pat replies.

In such cases, we might already lean toward a conclusion. So, in effect, we have to step outside ourselves a bit if we are to employ any objectivity.

It isn’t easy to deconstruct one’s assumptions. Personally, over the years, I have arrived at two very basic starting points from which I can “get down to zero” and work my way back up again. The first is “Existence, at its root, is either Personal or Impersonal.” The second is “Humanity, in its very nature, is either morally perfectible or wounded by Original Sin.”

I find I have need of the second more often than the first. The perfectibility of humanity is at the core of any utopianism. Often, a coercive utopianism develops because the Powers That Be feel it is necessary to disabuse the population of any notions that may hamper perfecting humanity. The doctrine of Original Sin is one such notion. And it is treated with unveiled contempt. This is because the perfectibility of mankind comes hand-in-hand with a conviction that truth cannot be known with certainty and so it appears to the utopian both arrogant and not nice at all for a person to cling to the doctrine of Original Sin.

In other words, the utopian feels that only a truly screwed-up individual would choose to believe we are so wounded by sin that we need God to intervene. And only a truly screwed-up individual would choose to believe the way God intervened was to allow His Son to be tortured, then executed on a cross. The key is that word choose. The utopian does not believe any real, honest-to-God truth is impinging upon our awareness whether we like it or not. Minus that objective truth, he can only assume we choose what to believe. Naturally, we choose what we like, what is useful to us, “whatever works for you.” He can only conclude then that only a mean-spirited troglodyte would choose to believe something so perversely negative — about humanity’s natural state and about how God goes about fixing this problem. “Sin? Sacrifice? Blood? Who chooses such a belief system if everything is up for grabs?” the utopian asks. “Who in their right mind likes Original Sin and the Cross?”

It doesn’t occur to him that we believe because it is true, not because we like it, not because it is nice.

Thus, in the utopian view, it is the nice people who like to believe humanity is steadily making moral progress right alongside technological progress.  Humanity, cheerfully enough, is in no way held back by its nature. In fact, the only thing holding us back is such outmoded and repressive notions as Original Sin. People are born good and so the choices they make, the desires they feel, can be nothing other than good — and, because there is no real truth, we constantly reassess the good as we progress. Putting away childish things, as it were. In this view, that is enlightenment. Anyone asserting an overarching moral code which applies to everyone – along with some depressing notion that people are inclined by nature to break this code – is just a buzzkill.

cecile richards

Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood

Given this narrative, it is impossible to think that the enlightened, superbly accomplished women at the helm of Planned Parenthood could possibly be motivated by greed — so that they would speak cavalierly, even cravenly, about harvesting fetal organs. These women were (1) born good and (2) were not warped by the false social conventions of some ancient patriarchal system. They’re role models, for crying out loud. Our girls need examples of women who have successfully balanced corporate climbing with finding the goddess within, all while tossing back champagne with the beautiful people at posh fundraisers. These women are living icons of where abortion can get you, the doors it can open. You, too, can be a rich activist, riding in the back of your Mercedes, fine tuning the speech you will deliver at the “War Against Women” march.


excerpt from one of the notorious, “now discredited” videos

And so the person who readily accepts CBS’s use of the phrase “now discredited” finds herself thinking:

As for those videos… The ones I never watched… I have heard they portray these same women munching on salad and cheesy bread while describing how to use partial-birth abortion to salvage as many healthy organs as possible. Then negotiating the best price while sipping red wine…

Can’t be true.

If that were true, I would have to tear out my entire narrative. And I can’t do that.

I just had it reupholstered.

You Can Help…

The Kolbe Center is using Facebook Ads to get information about our services directly to female college students in our area who may be facing an unexpected pregnancy.

Faced with such a situation, a young woman – alone, not even daring to tell her friends – may feel a strong urge to remain “in denial” for some time. Two months later,  she may feel circumstances have painted her into a corner so that abortion seems the only option. “Making the problem just go away” is in keeping with the spirit of denial, while choosing to have her child would involve a giant emotional step forward.

We need to let her know that welcoming her child is a real, “doable” option. Yes, this child may have thrown her plans right out the window, but studies following individuals throughout an entire lifetime have shown it is not financial success or hitting those career goals that make us happy in the end. Loving relationships grow the deep roots necessary for lasting happiness. And the love between a mother and her child — well, there are no words for it.

The Kolbe Center was created to provide a no-pressure, figure-out-your-options environment. The free services we provide include:

  • Pregnancy testing (self-administered and ultrasound – the latter being necessary to receive government assistance)
  • Referrals for prenatal care
  • Referrals to community agencies (like FAM which provides parenting classes, free cribs and baby clothes, and much more)
  • Adoption planning information (as an option)
  • Post Abortion counseling

With this in mind, we are running our Facebook ad all day Tuesday, December 15 — the feast day of Saint Maria di Rosa. As early as age 17, Maria actively sought out ways to care for the poor, focusing especially on the young women of her city. Also, requests for her intercession tend to mention her willingness to face new challenges. She seems a perfect saint to bring to the Lord the needs of young women facing crisis pregnancy in Middle Georgia. (That is what Catholics mean by “praying to a saint” — merely that a person whom the Church feels certain is in heaven is in a very good position to intercede for us.)

st mary di rosa

Saint Maria di Rosa

What can you do to help? We encourage you to pray the following during December and especially on the 15th:

“Saint Maria di Rosa, you were not afraid to embrace new opportunities. It is frightening when we face an unexpected change in our life, especially when it promises to send us in a new and very different direction than we had planned. We would rather stay in our safe and comfortable routines. Help young women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy to embrace their child’s new life, to seek help from the Kolbe Center, to resist denial and abortion, and to find new purpose in Christ. Amen.”

For more info about Saint Maria di Rosa visit

For info about the Harvard Grant Study and happiness see


There’s a German word for that…

You’ve probably heard there are certain German words which express experiences or states of mind which English may require whole paragraphs to explain.

The term weltschmerz (pronounced “veltz-mertz”) gets a lot of play since it describes a peculiarly modern dissatisfaction with the world — literally, “world pain.” But have you ever heard of backpfeifengesicht? This word denotes the powerful conviction that a person deserves a good slap in the face. It may follow upon the discovery of lipstick on your husband’s collar and his experience of erklärungsnot – that moment when you are standing there searching for an explanation but nothing is coming out of your mouth. This is then followed by kummerspeck or excess weight gained due to emotional over-eating. Literal translation: “grief bacon.”

We laugh at these words in recognition – “Yes, I’ve felt that very thing and wished I had a word for it.” But we also laugh because the German language has gone to the trouble of developing this word when English, apparently, couldn’t be bothered with it.

A question:  Is the reverse possible? Is there a perspective on life which has never occurred to us or is there a feeling which we otherwise would never have experienced that can be triggered by encountering for the first time a word for it? Can a word, in other words, act as a key, locking the door of our perception by the word’s mere absence in our life or unlocking that door when the word makes its first appearance?

Obviously, this is the case if we encounter the word “Neptune” and learn for the first time that there is an eighth planet in our solar system. But can words act as on and off valves for ideas which we assume arrive in everyone’s head at some time or another?

George Orwell seemed to think so.

In his novel, 1984, Orwell describes a future in which human society has fallen under the thumb of near absolute government control. I say “near absolute” because the plot concerns whether one man, Winston Smith, can work himself free. Smith’s challenge is that “the Party” maintains its power not merely by controlling what citizens know (suppressing certain historical facts, etc.), but by controlling what citizens may possibly think. Words themselves – Newspeak, a language “designed to diminish the range of thought” – are carefully managed so that words like “freedom” (or any word that might connote freedom) simply do not exist.

As Orwell writes in an appendix to 1984, “The Principles of Newspeak”:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak [Standard English] forgotten, a heretical thought — that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc — should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.

Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in such statements as ‘This dog is free from lice’ or ‘This field is free from weeds’. It could not be used in its old sense of ‘politically free’ or ‘intellectually free’ since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless.

Quite apart from the suppression of definitely heretical words, reduction of vocabulary was regarded as an end in itself, and no word that could be dispensed with was allowed to survive. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.

Thus, Winston Smith, regarding his fellow citizens, thinks:

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious.

Orwell does not deny that aspects of reality which run contrary to Ingsoc may intrude upon the awareness of individuals like Winston Smith. Rather, the process required to make sense of this is curtailed by denying Smith the tools of language. On the other hand, Ingsoc is engaged in a cultural experiment, hoping to produce a population no longer capable of such internal conflict. As the end of 1984 makes clear, Orwell saw precious little in the nature of the individual or society to stand in Ingsoc’s way. But Orwell was both agnostic and anti-Catholic. Winston Smith existed in a closed system. There was no God pouring out grace upon each and every individual, instilling an awareness of truth and human dignity despite the absence of words – German or otherwise – to describe such convictions and solidify them into action.

This is very much to the point regarding life issues in our day. You and I may not be urged to embrace Newspeak, but the acceptable range of our convictions is very much defined by how susceptible we are to political correctness.  Of course, some political correctness is actually correct. But I often find myself self-censoring in order to avoid rejection. We all want to be perceived as a decent human beings, after all. As for our children, I’m not sure what to think. Given that social media are not merely a pre-occupation but fully normative for them — the stakes are pretty high.

Two groups of people are looking at the next generation and wondering what these Millennials will take from the immense waves of information washing over them each and every day. Will they maintain “a woman’s right to choose”? Or will they turn out to be the Pro-Life Generation?

Social media is sending them memes in support of Planned Parenthood, urging them to live for pleasure and for success and to do whatever it takes in the political sphere to assure everyone else’s right to live for pleasure and success. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood stands ready to help if the responsibility of raising a child rears its ugly head. Any contrary opinion is considered “a war against women.”

It is a strong and pervasive message.

Social media, however, is also sending our children (and more often, I would suggest) messages from one another. Personal declarations about their actual experience of life, half silly / half serious coping skills, the details of what happened when the expectations they formed based on various propaganda met with real life.

Life is a great teacher. And if the pro-life perspective is true – if, that is, it corresponds to the way things really are – it may be that reality will impinge upon the minds of Millennials no matter how many memes pile up in their timeline.

It may be that Superkitty808 will discover the word “sacred” lying in a dumpster in Topeka and find to her delight that it captures a feeling of awe and beauty she has never been able to put into words. Superkitty808 may reach for her cell then and post this discovery on Tumblr.

AtlantaOtaku23 may reply that he found a similar word – “transcendent” – selling for fifty cents on a shelf at Goodwill. He thinks it has to do with a feeling he once had that some ideas deserve the word Truth with a capital T.

To which EatTheRich72 may object, “But capital letters only apply to proper nouns — like the names of persons. Truth can’t be a person, can it?”

And that might really make people scratch their heads for a moment.

The gist of this whole process of cultural archeology, one hopes, is that “sacred” is tied to life itself. Not to some notion of life floating in people’s heads, but to the flesh and blood particulars of life. “Sacred” applies to places, people, things. And, if that is the case, it only makes sense that “sacred” should apply to the flesh and blood things which play a part in the creation of life. In the end, regarding what takes place in the womb, it may seem that “just a clump of cells” doesn’t feel right – though the word they want isn’t available.

Take Away a Man’s Propaganda and What Has He Got?

Did you know there is a group named Feminists for Life?

I imagine supporters of Planned Parenthood suspect this is a front masking a group of women wearing Amish bonnets and calling the men in The Letters by Suzanne Woods Fisher (1)from the fields for supper at the end of the day. “Feminists for life,” in their view, must spend their time perfecting pecan pie recipes rather than pursuing advanced degrees. Without fail, anyone who gets their feet wet in academia becomes pro-abortion, right?

And if some of these “feminists for life” are religious types? Sheesh. Introduce a bit of faith into your head and intellectual rigor goes right out the back. Why, the term “pro-life feminist” has to be an oxymoron.

At times, it can feel like “all the smart people” are pro-abortion — while diehard conservatives and some form of Fundamentalist Catholics are pro-life merely because of their cultural bubble.

But does this feeling actually match reality?

To be sure, a strain of anti-intellectualism has persisted within various permutations of Christianity. Consider how a person might interpret this statement of Paul to the nascent church in Corinth:

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

That seems pretty conclusive. Except it is followed by:

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature…

So perhaps the pro-life feminist in the Amish bonnet (the folks at Feminists for Life are going to kill me) isn’t entirely without “wisdom” — but doesn’t this merely refer to how well she knows her Bible? Isn’t this “wisdom” also a kind of cultural bubble? And doesn’t an intellectual strive for knowledge precisely in order to be free of these cultural blinders?

It does seem odd, after all, that Paul, a scholar of the highest rank, is going around assuring people that the truth he shares does not come through “wise and persuasive words.”

A person might read these passages of Scripture and end up nursing two entirely contradictory views. On the one hand, Paul wants the Corinthians to possess a faith not based on “man’s wisdom.” Looks like man’s wisdom is not to be trusted. And yet, how could someone have wrestled with life issues and emerged a feminist without a proper education in ethics, legal precedent, biology, and so on?

I would suggest this inner conflict, this state of two minds, is the result of propaganda, working both ends of the debate.

At one time, the goal of a “liberal education” was the ability to connect and to understand disparate areas of knowledge. This education was liberal in the sense of plenitude, a cornucopia of knowledge. The student was trained to weave mere reference points into a cohesive overview regarding the way things really are. In other words, he gained wisdom.

These days, our points of reference come prepackaged with what we are supposed to believe about them.

That’s not wisdom. It’s propaganda.


Jacques Ellul

In his book, Propaganda: The Forming of Men’s Attitudes, Jacques Ellul defines two categories of propaganda:  agitation and integration.

Briefly put, the “simple man” is taken in by the former, the intellectual by the latter.

“Agitation propaganda” is best applied to the colonized, the oppressed, the poor. It draws on men’s misery, their experience of pain and loss at the hands of another, the hatred that results.

In Ellul’s words, agitation propaganda taps into “sentiments that act immediately, provoke violent reactions, and awaken such passions that they justify all sacrifices.” The so-called uneducated masses – those whom, truth be told, the intellectual distrusts as much as they distrust him – respond to “appeals to simple, elementary sentiments requiring no refinement, and thanks to which the propagandist can gain acceptance for the biggest lies, the worst delusions…” Ellul even goes so far as to assert, “Any statement whatever, no matter how stupid, any ‘tall tale’ will be believed once it enters into the passionate current of hatred.” (emphasis mine)

Agitation propaganda starts the fire. But it can’t keep it burning indefinitely. Revolutionaries employ agitation propaganda to gain grassroots appeal, not – once the regime has flipped – to maintain power.

That requires “integration propaganda.”

This is, Ellul explains, “the propaganda of developed nations and characteristic of our civilization; in fact it did not exist before the twentieth century. It is a propaganda of conformity.”

According to Konrad Kellen, who wrote the introduction to Ellul’s book:

“[Ellul] says, education, or what usually goes by that word in the modem world, is the absolute prerequisite for propaganda. In fact, education is largely identical with what Ellul calls ‘pre-propaganda’ -the conditioning of minds with vast amounts of incoherent information, already dispensed for ulterior purposes and posing as ‘facts’ and as ‘education.’ Ellul follows through by designating intellectuals as virtually the most vulnerable of all to modem propaganda, for three reasons: (1) they absorb the largest amount of secondhand, unverifiable information; (2) they feel a compelling need to have an opinion on every important question of our time, and thus easily succumb to opinions offered to them by propaganda on all such indigestible pieces of information; (3) they consider themselves capable of ‘judging for themselves.'”

Note the exclusively modern nature of integration propaganda: it requires mass media. Not insignificantly, “incoherent information” by definition cannot cohere, cannot be connected. So what becomes of liberal education and wisdom?

One indication: the sense of constant change fueled by a 24/7 flow of information leaves little time for fact checking – still less the opportunity to rise above it all and glimpse the big picture.

In fact, Ellul describes any effort to make sense of such saturated media as humanly impossible. Thus, the situation lends itself to spin — to poorly researched journalism, to misinformation and disinformation, to the cult of celebrity, to whatever Zeitgeist Distribution System establishes a collective sense of “what all intelligent people believe.”

The less educated man is in over his head and knows it. The intellectual is likewise in over his head, but adopts the role of expert. It is, after all, his bread and butter. He must display an ability to integrate disparate factoids – even if it is a pale imitation of liberal education’s wisdom – or never get invited to all the good parties again. Publish or perish.

This may sound harsh, but in my experience the intellectual manages this by remaining firmly within a bubble of secondary sources — a world composed of the published works of his colleagues, competitors, mentors. He is more inclined to maintain awareness of current theory than to study primary sources. If he is an educator, he is likely to say a great deal about papal encyclicals, for example, while never assigning his students a single actual encyclical.

The negative impact of this approach cannot be overstated — and is brilliantly parodied in Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise:

“You’ve established a wonderful thing here with Hitler. You created it, you nurtured it, you made it your own. Nobody on the faculty of any college or university in this part of the country can so much as utter the word Hitler without a nod in your direction, literally or metaphorically. This is the center, the unquestioned source. He is now your Hitler, Gladney’s Hitler. It must be deeply satisfying for you. The college is internationally known as a result of Hitler studies. It has an identity, a sense of achievement. You’ve evolved an entire system around this figure, a structure with countless substructures and interrelated fields of study, a history within history. I marvel at the effort. It was masterful, shrewd and stunningly preemptive. It’s what I want to do with Elvis.”


Who put this here? And why?

This is why we have come to use the word “narrative” as a more accurate description of what we believe rather than “truth.” Multitudes of influences in our lives – from big pharma to political candidates to the food industry to our professor of history who hopes to shake up academia and establish his reputation – have powerful motivations for creating and maintaining the dominant narrative.

As advocates for the unborn, the aged, the disabled, the mentally ill, this is the very air we breathe. Simply put, the way we all live is our greatest obstacle.

We can argue that “the right to life” is a seamless garment, a wide-angle wisdom which logically covers the yet-to-be-born, the disabled, the infirm, the aged. We can do our research, study the primary sources, and bring all these disparate elements together into a cohesive worldview. But we are up against a stark fact of life in the modern era. As Kellen explains:

Cast out of the disintegrating microgroups of the past, such as family, church, or village, the individual is plunged into mass society and thrown back upon his own inadequate resources, his isolation, his loneliness, his ineffectuality. Propaganda then hands him in veritable abundance what he needs: a raison d’être, personal involvement and participation in important events, an outlet and excuse for some of his more doubtful impulses, righteousness – all factitious, to be sure, all more or less spurious; but he drinks it all in and asks for more. Without this intense collaboration by the propagandee the propagandist would be helpless. Thus propaganda, by first creating pseudo-needs through “pre-propaganda” and then providing pseudo-satisfactions for them, is pernicious.

Those “disintegrating microgroups” once provided the tools of culture. These tools – “mystery and manners” Flannery O’Connor called them – served us with various degrees of success, enabling people to function in a complex reality. But modern media has all but obliterated this form of culture, reducing us all to frighteningly inadequate cultures of the self.

The seed of heavenly culture which Christ planted into the world’s soil and which blossomed over two thousand years in both symbol and substance is our best hope in this situation, as it provides an opportunity to know what is true and to choose actions in truth and love. Without this, Ellul (a Catholic) concluded, people actually need propaganda to keep it together – to tell them which information is more important than the rest and why it is meaningful, so that they may safely ignore entire mountain ranges of alternatives.

Ellul reached this conclusion back in 1962.

Before 24 hour news. Before the internet. Before social media. 

God help us all, right?

Screen Shot 2015-11-23 at 11.18.51 PM

This explains why social media disagreements get personal so quickly and often become viciously ad hominem. Quite literally, it hits people where they live. Take away a man’s propaganda and what has he got? Where is he going to get the next assurance that he is on the right team and is perfectly capable of being good without God?

In this situation, we can be thankful for Christ’s promise – “Knock and the door shall be opened unto you” – for we are dealing not merely with endless information wrapped in convenient truths but with a Person Who is Truth itself.

Fortunately, this Person cares for us and is not silent.