Friend of John Paul II: Illegitimate Theology Threatens to Undermine Humanae Vitae

Professor Stanislaw Grygiel warns against theologians who ‘raise man’s weakness to the dignity of the principle of life.’

Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel.
Prof. Stanislaw Grygiel. (photo: JPIIFilm)

Theologians who wish to soften the teaching of Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae are contaminated by “political interests and sociological digressions” and are putting human weakness rather than Christ at the center of salvation, a longtime friend of Pope St. John Paul II has said.

In a recent address, Stanislaw Grygiel, visiting professor of philosophical anthropology at the Pontifical John Paul II Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences, said such theologians are prompting a theology that is a dangerous threat to the faith and leading to a “new casuistry.”

The professor, a former student of John Paul II, said such “pragmatic theology,” which seeks to change the encyclical’s teaching against artificial contraception, “cannot but be illegitimate theology.” 

Quoting 19th Polish poet C.K. Norwid, he called it “bastard” theology because, to Norwid, “all practical, pragmatic intelligences are not Christian — and all Christian intelligences are non-practical.”

Grygiel was speaking at the launch last month of Karol Wojtyła and Humanae Vitae — a book by Polish theologian Don Paweł Gałuszka on the contributions of St. John Paul and Polish theologians to the encyclical of Paul VI (see Grygiel’s complete speech below).

Humanae Vitae, Grygiel said, is a “bulwark of freedom” that liberates the human person from being objectified and exploited — a consequence of artifical contraception that separates the unitive and procreative meaning of sexual relations, leading to degeneration and the destruction of conjugal communion.

“The Evil one, who is afraid of love and therefore does not love [united persons], causes chaos in people’s hearts,” he said, which leads to “psychological and sociological digressions” among pastors and prelates who then “raise man’s weakness to the dignity of the principle of life.” 

Those who believe that indulging this weakness “is a practical ideal, and call it mercy, disintegrate the person and consequently disintegrate the Church and society,” Grygiel said. “They plunge them into luxuriae indignitate (anger and lust).”

He reminded the audience that both Paul VI and John Paul II were conscious of St. Paul’s injunction not to be “carried away by all kinds of strange teaching.” The Church’s teaching, he added, “does not need verbosity which is usually confusing” but rather the “clear and concise words” of the Word of God. 

Furthermore, he underscored that to deepen one’s understanding of the Divine Word in Humanae Vitae does not mean “changing its content.” Those who see it that way fail to recognize man’s “inestimable dignity,” Grygiel continued, and instead view that dignity as just something “on which to set a price, according to political, psychological and sociological circumstances.”   

The Polish professor’s comments follow moves by some senior Vatican officials to soften the teaching of the encyclical of Humanae Vitae to coincide with the document’s 50th anniversary this year. 

In December, Professor Maurizio Chiodi, a moral theologian and newly appointed member of the Pontifical Academy for Life, drew on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia to argue that where “natural methods are impossible or unfeasible,” it would be an act of “responsibility” to use artificial contraception in some cases.

Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the John Paul II Institute who is both a theologian and musicologist, last week said the “cornerstone” of Humanae Vitae is “no longer simply a matter of individual ethics” but rather the “concept of parental responsibility,” although his speech was also seen as a robust defense of the encyclical  

The Italian academic is a member of a controversial Vatican commission which is making a “historical-critical investigation of composing the encyclical,” according to its coordinator, Msgr. Gilfredo Marengo. Last year, Msgr. Sequeri wrote the preface to a book that argued that Amoris Laetitia represents a paradigm shift for all moral theology, and especially in interpreting Humanae Vitae. 

And in a speech to be given on Tuesday, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, grand chancellor of the John Paul II Institute, will similarly argue that Amoris Laetitia, with its emphasis on finding new ways (discernment, accompaniment, “integrating fragility”) to deal with the complexity of relationships today, can be applied to Humanae Vitae if guided by the Holy Spirit.


Presentation of the book by Paweł Gałuszka

By Prof. Stanisław Grygiel


We are filled with great joy and gratitude for the book by Don Paweł Gałuszka, published by the Chair Karol Wojtyła in the series Paths of truth with the title Karol Wojtyła and Humanae vitae: The contribution of the Archbishop of Krakow and the Polish group of theologians to the encyclical of Paul VI. Its content, the result of the author’s assiduous work, creates a happy occasion to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the defense of human dignity made by the encyclical of the great Paul VI. I thank the publisher David Cantagalli, who magnanimously continues to render a great service to the truth and to the good of the human person and of the Church.

In a few words tonight, I would like to highlight only the fact that Archbishop Karol Wojtyła’s contribution to the encyclical Humanae vitae finds its origin in his love of the truth about man, a truth revealed in the Word Incarnate and lived out in the moral experience of the human person. In these two experiences, he received the gift of understanding the dignity of the human person. Karol Wojtyła was aware that this encyclical was, is and will be a bulwark of freedom, that is, of the responsible love without which man degenerates into the slave who treats himself and others as objects to be exploited for ephemeral interests. This degeneration, by separating “the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (HV 12), that is, by destroying the event of the mystery of love that unites man and woman in “one flesh,” destroys conjugal communion and in so doing society itself, which comes precisely from persons united with one another. The Evil one, who is afraid of love and therefore does not love it, causes chaos in people’s hearts and thoughts with psychological and sociological digressions through which some pastors and prelates raise man’s weakness to the dignity of the principle of life, claiming that in the history of this weakness, the Word of God on marriage is revealed. Those who believe that indulging this weakness is a practical ideal and call it mercy, disintegrate the person and consequently disintegrate the Church and society. They plunge them into luxuriae indignitate (anger and lust).

The encyclical Humanae Vitae does not propose an ethic of social life, but indicates its anthropological foundations, that is, the love that unites man and woman in “one flesh.” Paul VI, foreseeing that the development of the sciences could reduce this union to a game of affections and other interests, forcefully proclaimed the objective truth and objective good of human love in which the dignity of the person of man is revealed. A society deprived of this truth and of and dignity about man will be nothing more than a technical construction of ephemeral affections and interests.

An Italian bishop (he is an old man so we will cover his name with a veil of mercy) wrote in a newspaper last year that the reason why Paul VI signed Humanae Vitae was because of a fear of democracy. This bishop did not know what he was writing, and if he knew, he should be asked a question that is fundamental to every Christian, a question about his faith. I am ashamed to say something obvious: Paul VI signed Humanae Vitae precisely because of his courage inspired by timor Dei (the fear of God), which freed him from the fear of statistics and opinions of the so-called majority of theologians, whose pragmatic intelligence no longer places the incarnate Word of God at the “center of the universe and history” (Redemptor Hominis, 1) but puts the history of human weakness at the center of the economy of salvation. That is why pragmatic theology, contaminated by political interests and sociological-psychological digressions, cannot but be illegitimate theology. C. K. Norwid would call it “bastard” theology. Why? Because, Norwid replies, “all practical/pragmatic intelligences are not Christian — and all Christian intelligences are non-practical.” 

I feel bound to warn you all of the danger that threatens our faith from authors who, starting from the contingent historical situation in which the faith of the Church was expressed in Humanae Vitae, construct out of the elements of this situation theological suggestions of a Sartrean nature that lead to a new casuistry. The theologians and pastors who follow them will contaminate both their theology and their pastoral care, and will render them illegitimate. To say that Blessed Paul VI only returned four times to the text of the Encyclical, meaning that he was not convinced that he had done the right thing in signing the document, is childish but insidious nonetheless. 

I have not counted how many times Paul VI spoke about the encyclical. I am only aware of two statements that he made about it.The first he made the week that Humanae Vitae was published, during the General Audience on July 31, 1968. The second came ten years later, on July 21,1978, just two weeks before his death, in a letter addressed to the Archbishop of San Francisco and signed in his name by the Secretary of State, Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot. In both cases, Paul VI resolutely confirmed the moral teaching contained in Humanae Vitae. During the general audience he said: “We had no doubt about Our duty to render Our decision in the terms expressed in the present Encyclical.” Then he expressed the hope that this document “would be well received … notwithstanding the widespread difference of opinion today, and in spite of the difficulties which the path it traces out can present for those who wish to follow it faithfully, and also to those who must candidly teach it, with the help of the God of life, of course. We hoped that scholars especially will be able to discover in the document itself the genuine thread that connects it with the Christian concept of life and which permits Us to make Our own the words of St. Paul: ‘Nos autem sensum Christi habemus’ (But we have the mind of Christ) (1 Cor 2:16).” 

Both Blessed Paul VI and Saint John Paul II the Great confessed with Saint Paul: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teaching” (Hebrews 13:8-9).

The Church’s teaching does not need verbositywhich is usually confusing, but words filled with the Word of God — clear and concise words. To deepen one’s understanding of the presence of the Divine Word in Humanae Vitae does not mean to change its content. Those who change it do not see in man his inestimable dignity, but only something on which to set a price, according to political, psychological and sociological circumstances.

It is therefore natural that, as theological pragmatism is breaking out in the Church, our deepest gratitude goes to Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former Prefect of the Congregation of the Faith, and fearless defensor fidei (defender of the faith), for his presence with us and for having accepted without hesitation the invitation to present the book by Don Paweł Gałuszka, which providentially is being published this year. Cardinal Father, perhaps tonight, during your prayer, you will spiritually see two smiles full of friendship: one of Blessed Paul VI and the other of Saint John Paul II. Perhaps you will also hear their “Thank you!”