The Encyclical Humanae Vitae


Hildebrand Press celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Humane Vitae
with a new edition of Dietrich von Hildebrand's classic defense:

The Encyclical Humanae Vitae:    A Sign of Contradiction

With a new foreword by Tracey Rowland

“Hildebrand provided one of the first lengthy defenses of Humanae Vitae...His treatment does not ignore the procreative meaning of the sexual act, but, rather than placing the crux of the argument there, he argues that the very meaning of marriage and the sexual act as an act of total self-donation grounds the Church's opposition to contraception. This idea, of course, has become the centerpiece of John Paul II's teaching on Humanae Vitae.” — Janet E. Smith

Dietrich von Hildebrand’s The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction was published mere months after Pope Paul VI promulgated the eponymous encyclical. The much-anticipated encyclical quickly proved to be among the most contentious papal documents ever published; the uproar against it was immediate, intense, and widespread—even, perhaps especially, among Catholic intellectuals and clergy in Western countries.

It was in this milieu that Dietrich von Hildebrand published his The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction, and in doing so, became one of the first Catholic intellectuals of public stature to defend the encyclical.

“To read The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction by Dietrich von Hildebrand some five decades later is a very consoling experience,” writes Tracey Rowland, in her foreword to the book. “It bears testimony to the fact that at least one Catholic married man had the necessary spiritual and intellectual capital to make the right judgment call and explain it within the broader context of the Church’s understanding of the sacrament of marriage and the work of the human conscience.”

Rowland goes on to say: “As one reads this reflection on Humanae Vitae one senses that Hildebrand had a connatural knowledge of his subject. There is nothing excruciatingly abstract about his defense of the encyclical. There is no smart logic chopping as if something so complex could be reduced to the dimensions of a syllogism. There is no casuistry. Hildebrand supports Humanae Vitae because he believes that ‘the sinfulness of artificial birth control is rooted in the arrogation of the right to separate the actualized love-union in marriage from a possible conception, to sever the wonderful, deeply mysterious connection instituted by God.’”

Hildebrand was at the vanguard of the developments in the Catholic Church’s teachings on love, sex, and marriage in the 20th century. Janet E. Smith, author of Why Humanae Vitae is Still Right, notes that, “Hildebrand's writing have greatly deepened our understanding of the meaning of love within marriage.” Considered controversial fifty years ago, Hildebrand’s The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction is recognized today as one of the earliest, faithful defenses of the Church’s teachings on sex and birth control.

In the anniversary year of Humanae Vitae readers are rediscovering this important encyclical, with a desire to better understand and apply its teachings. This new edition of The Encyclical Humanae Vitae: A Sign of Contradiction by the Hildebrand Press, with its pocketable size and invitingly readable design, is sure to appeal to a new generation of faithful readers.



Catholic Social Science Review (Volume 24, 2019) by Peter J. Colosi


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