GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 22 AUGUST 
Pope John Paul, at the 22 August general audience in St Peter's
Square, continued his reflections on the encyclical "Humanae Vitae" of
Paul VI regarding the Church's teaching on the transmission of life in
The following is our translation of the Pope's address.
1. What is the essence of the Church's doctrine concerning the
transmission of life in the conjugal community, of that doctrine of
which we are reminded by the pastoral Constitution of the Council
Gaudium et Spes, and by the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope
The problem consists in maintaining an adequate relationship
between what is defined as "domination...of the forces of nature" (HV
2), and the "mastery of self " (HV 21) which is indispensable for the
human person. Modern man shows a tendency to transfer the methods proper
to the former to those of the latter. "Man has made stupendous progress
in the domination and rational organization of the forces of nature," we
read in the encyclical, "to the point that he is endeavoring to extend
this control over every aspect of his own life—over
his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social life, and even
over the laws that regulate the transmission of life" (HV 2).
This extension of the sphere of the means of "domination of the forces
of nature" menaces the human person for whom the method of
"self-mastery" is and remains specific. The mastery of self corresponds
to the fundamental constitution of the person; it is indeed a "natural"
method. On the contrary, the resort to artificial means destroys
the constitutive dimension of the person. It deprives man of the
subjectivity proper to him and makes him an object of manipulation.
Meaning of "language of the body"
2. The human body is not merely an organism of sexual reactions. But
it is, at the same time, the means of expressing the entire man, the
person, which reveals itself by means of the language of the body. This
language has an important interpersonal meaning, especially in
reciprocal relationships between man and woman. Moreover, our previous
analyses show that in this case the language of the body should
express, at a determinate level, the truth of the sacrament.
Participating in the eternal plan of love ("sacrament hidden in God"),
the language of the body becomes a kind of prophetism of the body.
It may be said that the Encyclical Humanae Vitae carries to the
extreme consequences, not merely logical and moral, but also practical
and pastoral, this truth concerning the human body in its masculinity
Sacramental and personal dimension
3. The unity of the two aspects of the problem—the
sacramental (or theological) dimension and the
to the overall revelation of the body. From this derives also the
connection of the strictly theological vision with the ethical one,
which appeals to the natural law.
The subject of the natural law is man, not only in the "natural" aspect
of his existence, but also in the integral truth of his personal
subjectivity. He is shown to us, in revelation, as male and female, in
his full temporal and eschatological vocation. He is called by God to be
a witness and interpreter of the eternal plan of love, by becoming the
minister of the sacrament which from the beginning was constituted by
the sign of the union of flesh.
4. As ministers of a sacrament which is constituted by consent and
perfected by conjugal union, man and woman are called to express
that mysterious language of their bodies in all the truth which is
proper to it. By means of gestures and reactions, by means of the
whole dynamism, reciprocally conditioned, of tension and enjoyment—whose
direct source is the body in its masculinity and its femininity, the
body in its action and interaction—by
means of all this, man, the person, "speaks."
Man and woman carry on in the language of the body that dialogue which,
according to Genesis, chapter 2, vv.24, 25, had its beginning on the day
of creation. Precisely on the level of this language of the body—which
is something more than mere sexual reaction and which, as
authentic language of the persons, is subject to the demands of truth,
that is, to objective moral norms—man
and woman reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most
profound way possible to them. By the corporeal dimension of masculinity
and femininity, man and woman express themselves in the measure of the
whole truth of the human person.
5. Man is precisely a person because he is master of himself and has
self-control. Indeed, insofar as he is master of himself he can give
himself to the other. And it is this dimension—the
dimension of the liberty of the gift—which
becomes essential and decisive for that language of the body, in
which man and woman reciprocally express themselves in the conjugal
union. Granted that this is communion of persons, the language of the
body should be judged according to the criterion of truth. It is
precisely this criterion which the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
recalls, as is confirmed by the passages quoted previously.
6. According to the criterion of this truth, which should be
expressed in the language of the body, the conjugal act signifies not
only love, but also potential fecundity. Therefore it cannot be deprived
of its full and adequate significance by artificial means. In the
conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect from the
procreative aspect, because both the one and the other pertain to the
intimate truth of the conjugal act. The one is activated together with
the other and in a certain sense the one by means of the other. This is
what the Encyclical teaches (cf. HV 12). Therefore, in such a case the
conjugal act, deprived of its interior truth because it is
artificially deprived of its procreative capacity, ceases also to be
an act of love.
7. It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of these
two aspects, a real bodily union is carried out in the conjugal act, but
it does not correspond to the interior truth and to the dignity of
personal communion: communion of persons. This communion demands
that the language of the body be expressed reciprocally in the integral
truth of its meaning. If this truth be lacking, one cannot speak either
of the truth of self-mastery, or of the truth of the reciprocal gift and
of the reciprocal acceptance of self on the part of the person. Such a
violation of the interior order of conjugal union, which is rooted in
the very order of the person, constitutes the essential evil of the
Reflections on "sign"
8. The above-given interpretation of moral doctrine expressed in the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae is situated against the vast background
of reflections connected with the theology of the body. The reflections
on "sign" in connection with marriage understood as a sacrament are of
special validity for this interpretation. The essence of the violation
which upsets the interior order of the conjugal act cannot be understood
in a theologically adequate way, without the reflections on the theme of
the concupiscence of the flesh.