GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 31 OCTOBER 
At the general audience on Wednesday morning, 31 October, Pope
John Paul II continued his treatment of the virtue of continence in the
light of the teaching of "Humanae Vitae". Following is our translation
of the Holy Father's address.
1. We are continuing the analysis of continence in the light of the
teaching contained in Humanae Vitae.
It is often thought that continence causes inner tensions which man
must free himself from. In the light of the analyses we have done,
continence, understood integrally, is rather the only way to free man
from such tensions. It means nothing other than the spiritual effort
aimed at expressing the "language of the body," not only in truth but
also in the authentic richness of the manifestations of affection.
2. Is this effort possible? In other words (and under another
aspect) the question returns here about the feasibility of the moral
law, recalled and confirmed by Humanae Vitae. It constitutes one
of the most essential questions (and currently also one of the most
urgent ones) in the sphere of the spirituality of marriage.
The Church is totally convinced of the correctness of the principle that
affirms responsible fatherhood and motherhood, in the sense explained in
previous catecheses. This is not only for demographic reasons but for
more essential reasons. We call that fatherhood and that motherhood
responsible which correspond to the personal dignity of the couple
as parents, to the truth of their person and of the conjugal
act. Hence arises the close and direct relationship that links this
dimension with the whole spirituality of marriage.
Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, expressed what had been affirmed
elsewhere by many authoritative moralists and scientists, even
non-Catholics(1), namely, that precisely in this field, so profoundly
and essentially human and personal, it is necessary above all to refer
to man as a person, the subject who decides by himself, and not to means
which make him the object (of manipulations) and depersonalize him. It
is therefore a question here of an authentically humanistic meaning of
the development and progress of human civilization.
3. Is this effort possible? The whole question of the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae is not reduced simply to the biological
dimension of human fertility (the question of the "natural cycles of
fertility"), but goes back to the very subjectivity of man, to
that personal "I" through which the person is man or woman.
Already during the discussion in the Second Vatican Council, in
relation to the chapter of Gaudium et Spes on the "Dignity of
Marriage and the Family and its Promotion," the necessity was discussed
for a deepened analysis of the reactions (and also of the
emotions) connected with the mutual influence of masculinity and
femininity on the human subject.(2) This question belongs not so
much to biology as to psychology. From biology and psychology it then
passes into the sphere of the spirituality of marriage and the family.
Here this question is in close relationship with the way of
understanding the virtue of continence, that is, self-mastery and
especially of periodic continence.
4. A careful analysis of human psychology allows us to arrive at some
other essential affirmations. (Psychology is at the same time a
subjective self-analysis and then becomes an analysis of an "object"
accessible to human knowledge.) In interpersonal relationships in which
the mutual influence of masculinity and femininity is expressed, there
is freed in the psycho-emotive subject in the human "I,"
alongside a reaction distinguishable as excitement,
another reaction that can and must be called emotion. Although
these two kinds of reaction appear joined, it is possible to distinguish
them experimentally and to differentiate them with regard to their
content or their object.(3)
The objective difference between the one and the other kind of reaction
consists in the fact that the excitement is above all corporeal
and in this sense sensual. On the other hand, even though aroused by the
mutual reaction of masculinity and femininity, emotion refers above all
to the other person understood in the person's integrality. We can say
that this is an emotion caused by the person, in relation to the
person's masculinity or femininity.
5. What we are stating here with regard to the psychology of the mutual
reactions of masculinity and femininity helps in understanding the role
of the virtue of continence, which we spoke about previously. Continence
is not only—and not even principally—the ability to abstain, that is,
mastery over the multiple reactions that are interwoven in the mutual
influence of masculinity and femininity. Such a role would be defined as
negative. But there is also another role (which we can call positive) of
self-mastery. It is the ability to direct the respective reactions, both
as to their content and their character.
It has already been said that in the field of the mutual reactions of
masculinity and femininity, excitement and emotion appear not only as
two distinct and different experiences of the human "I." But very often
they appear joined in the sphere of the same experience as two different
elements of that experience. The reciprocal degree to which these two
elements appear in a given experience depends on various circumstances
of an interior and an exterior nature. At times one of the elements is
clearly prevalent; at other times there is rather a balance between
Maintaining the balance
6. As the ability to direct excitement and emotion in the sphere of
the mutual influence of masculinity and femininity, continence has
the essential task to maintain the balance between the
communion in which the couple wish to mutually express only their
intimate union and that in which (at least implicitly) they accept
responsible parenthood. In fact, on the part of the subject, excitement
and emotion can jeopardize the orientation and the character of the
mutual language of the body.
Excitement seeks above all to be expressed in the form of sensual and
corporeal pleasure. That is, it tends toward the conjugal act which
(depending on the natural cycles of fertility) includes the possibility
of procreation. Emotion, on the other hand, caused by another human
being as a person, even if in its emotive content it is conditioned by
the femininity or masculinity of the "other," does not per se tend
toward the conjugal act. But it limits itself to other manifestations of
affection, which express the spousal meaning of the body, and which
nevertheless do not include its (potentially) procreative meaning.
It is easy to understand what conclusions arise from this with respect
to the question of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. These
conclusions are of a moral nature.
1) Cf., for example, the statements of the "Bund fur evangelisch-katholische Wiedervereinigung" (L'O.R.,
19-9-1968, p. 3); Dr. F. King, Anglican (L'O.R., October 5-10-1968, p. 3); and also the Muslim, Mr. Mohammed Cherif Zeghoudu (in the
same issue). Especially significant is the letter written on November
28, 1968, to Cardinal Cicognani by Karl Barth, in which he praised the
great courage of Paul VI.
2) Cf. the interventions by Card. Leo Suenens at the 13th General
Congregation on September 29, 1968: Acta Synodalia S. Concilii
Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol. 4, part 3, p. 30.
3) In this regard we should recall what St. Thomas says in a final
analysis of human love in relation to the "concupiscible" and to the
will (cf. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 26, art. 2).