Fifty years after the publication of Humanae vitae, the Vatican’s official publishing house has released an important book on the history of the encyclical. The author of the almost 300-page book—titled La nascita di un’enciclica. Humanae Vitae alla luce degli Archivi Vaticani (“Birth of an encyclical. Humanae vitae in the light of the Vatican Archives”)—is Gilfredo Marengo, the Italian monsignor who chairs the special commission created by Pope Francis for the study of the newly available Vatican archives. Pierangelo Sequeri, president of the John Paul II Institute and one of the most brilliant Italian theologians in the past fifty years, wrote the preface.
The book has two parts. The first reconstructs the history of the Holy See’s involvement with the issue of contraception between 1963 and 1968, the year Humane vitae was published. The second part is a selection of original documents from the Vatican archives made available to the special commission.
Marengo presents some important new facts about the drafting of Humanae vitae. To begin with, an earlier version of the encyclical was approved by Paul VI and scheduled for publication on May 23, 1968. That version, titled De nascendae prolis, had been written by Fr. Mario Luigi Ciappi, OP, and was a revision of a late 1967 text from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But the French and Spanish translators expressed a very negative assessment of Ciappi’s text, and on the advice of Monsignor Benelli, number two at the Secretariat of State, Paul VI decided to withdraw De nascendae prolis. The encyclical was hastily rewritten between May and July of 1968 under the direction of Fr. Benoit Duroux, OP, consultor of the CDF. Paul VI supervised this redrafting, made numerous changes to the text—especially in its pastoral section—and approved the new version of the encyclical on July 8, 1968. He also added “humanae” to the original title Vitae tradendae munus. (Marengo’s book gives us Duroux’s text along with Paul VI’s final changes.) The two prelates who had a key role throughout the entire drafting of the encyclical were Monsignor Carlo Colombo, auxiliary bishop of Milan, and Paul-Pierre Philippe, OP, secretary of the CDF.