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Title: Experience and Moral Theology
Subtitle: Reflections on Humanae Vitae Forty Years Later
Author(s): SALZMAN, Todd A. , LAWLER, Michael G.
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 14    Issue: 2   Date: 2008   
Pages: 156-169
DOI: 10.2143/INT.14.2.2034403

Abstract :
On the 40th anniversary of Humanae vitae, this essay critically analyzes the use of human experience as a source of moral knowledge in formulating the norm absolutely prohibiting artificial contraception. It develops in two sections. First, it defines human experience as a source of moral knowledge and introduces a critical distinction between statistical causation and correlation when using human experience in statistical analysis. Recognizing, analyzing, and determining the strength and directionality of the variables that relate to the magisterial teaching on artificial contraception offer a strong base for an argument for revising that teaching and resituating it within a hierarchy of interpersonal and familial values. Second, having recourse to Gaudium et spes, which teaches that 'thanks to the experience of past ages, the progress of the sciences, and the treasures hidden in the various forms of human culture, the nature of man himself is more clearly revealed and new roads to truth are opened,' this essay investigates and critically analyzes three types of human experience that offer additional arguments for revising this norm. Cultural experience reveals the socio-economic reality and patriarchal cultural context of marital relationships and their implications for the teaching on contraception. Scientific experience demonstrates how magisterial teaching is selective in its use of the sciences to justify and defend a pre-established norm. Theological experience designates the interconnected theological reality called sensus fidei and reception. Sensus fidei is a theological concept which denotes 'the instinctive capacity of the whole Church to recognize the infallibility of the Spirit’s truth' and the spontaneous judgment of loyal and faithful Catholics that has 'theological weight'. Reception is an ecclesial process by which virtually all the members of the Church assent to a teaching presented to them as apostolic truth and ecclesial faith, thereby assimilating the teaching into the life of the whole Church. Theological experience indicates an overwhelming non-reception of magisterial teaching on contraception. On the basis of this analysis, this essay concludes that the norm prohibiting artificial contraception must be re-vised and rereceived in a less physical, more personalist, familial, and relational way.

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