Fifteen Years Since
Christopher M. Cullen, S J.
In 1981, on the feast of Christ the King, just over thirteen years after Humanae Vitae,Pope John Paul II addressed many of the same moral issues in his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio. The latter document was the result of the synod of bishops that had met the previous fall to discuss the Christian family. People interested in seeing what this pope would do with the teachings of Humanae Vitae eagerly awaited this document. Drawing on his collaborative work with the synod, the pope reaffirmed the teaching of Humanae Vitae,to the chagrin of some.
But he did more than simply repeat its words; he incorporated the teaching of Humanae Vitae on sexuality and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on the family found in Gaudium et Spes #47–52 (chapter entitled “The Dignity of Marriage and the Family”) into the Christology and personalism that he first presented in the encyclical so foundational to his papacy, Redemptor Hominis. Like the Catechism,therefore, Familiaris Consortio is a work of synthesis and incorporation, continuing to define the meaning of the council's teaching.
Fifteen years later, John Paul II has turned out to be arguably the world's leading defender of Christian teaching on marriage, sexuality, and the family in the late twentieth century. Familiaris Consortio has been, if you will, the charter for this papacy's ceaseless and frenetic work on family issues. John Paul II has taken its