ADDRESSED BY THE SUPREME PONTIFF
POPE JOHN PAUL II
TO ALL THE BISHOPS, PRIESTS, AND DEACONS
MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS
AND ALL PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL
ON THE VALUE AND INVIOLABILITY
OF HUMAN LIFE
CHAPTER I -
THE VOICE OF YOUR BROTHER'S BLOOD CRIES TO ME FROM THE GROUND
CHAPTER II - I CAME
THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE
CHAPTER III - YOU
SHALL NOT KILL
CHAPTER IV - YOU
DID IT TO ME
1. THE GOSPEL OF LIFE is at the heart of Jesus'
message. Lovingly received day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with
dauntless fidelity as "good news" to the people of every age and culture.
At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child
which is proclaimed as joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joy which will
come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who
is. Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). The source of this "great joy"
is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human
birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the
foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn
When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission,
Jesus says: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn
10:10). In truth, he is referring to that "new" and "eternal" life
which consists in communion with the Father, to which every person is freely called in the
Son by the power of the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this "life" that
all the aspects and stages of human life achieve their full significance.
The incomparable worth of the human person
2. Man is called to a fullness of life which far
exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very
life of God. The loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness
and the inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. Life in time,
in fact, is the fundamental condition, the initial stage and an integral part of the
entire unified process of human existence. It is a process which, unexpectedly and
undeservedly, is enlightened by the promise and renewed by the gift of divine life, which
will reach its full realization in eternity (cf. 1 Jn 3:1-2). At the same time,
it is precisely this supernatural calling which highlights the relative character
of each individual's earthly life. After all, life on earth is not an "ultimate"
but a "penultimate" reality; even so, it remains a sacred reality
entrusted to us, to be preserved with a sense of responsibility and brought to perfection
in love and in the gift of ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.
The Church knows that this Gospel of life,
which she has received from her Lord,1 has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart
of every person—believer and non-believer alike—because it marvellously fulfils all the
heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst of difficulties
and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and goodness can, by the light of
reason and the hidden action of grace, come to recognize in the natural law written in the
heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the sacred value of human life from its very beginning
until its end, and can affirm the right of every human being to have this primary good
respected to the highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community
and the political community itself are founded.
In a special way, believers in Christ must defend and
promote this right, aware as they are of the wonderful truth recalled by the Second
Vatican Council: "By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some
fashion with every human being".2 This saving event reveals to humanity not only
the boundless love of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only Son" (Jn
3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person.
The Church, faithfully contemplating the mystery of
the Redemption, acknowledges this value with ever new wonder.3 She feels called to
proclaim to the people of all times this "Gospel", the source of invincible hope
and true joy for every period of history. The Gospel of God's love for man, the Gospel
of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are a single and indivisible Gospel.
For this reason, man—living man—represents
the primary and fundamental way for the Church.4
New threats to human life
3. Every individual, precisely by reason of the
mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the
maternal care of the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must
necessarily be felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of
her faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her mission
of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every creature (cf. Mk
Today this proclamation is especially pressing
because of the extraordinary increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals
and peoples, especially where life is weak and defenceless. In addition to the ancient
scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are emerging
on an alarmingly vast scale.
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which
retains all its relevance today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks
against human life. Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the
same forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain that
I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience: "Whatever is
opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or
wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as
mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself;
whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary
imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as
well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of
gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them
are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who
practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme
dishonour to the Creator".5
4. Unfortunately, this disturbing state of affairs,
far from decreasing, is expanding: with the new prospects opened up by scientific and
technological progress there arise new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being.
At the same time a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives crimes
against life a new and—if possible—even more sinister character, giving rise to
further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify certain crimes against life
in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and on this basis they claim not only
exemption from punishment but even authorization by the State, so that these things can be
done with total freedom and indeed with the free assistance of health-care systems.
All this is causing a profound change in the way in
which life and relationships between people are considered. The fact that legislation in
many countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions, has
determined not to punish these practices against life, and even to make them altogether
legal, is both a disturbing symptom and a significant cause of grave moral decline.
Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the common moral sense are
gradually becoming socially acceptable. Even certain sectors of the medical profession,
which by its calling is directed to the defence and care of human life, are increasingly
willing to carry out these acts against the person. In this way the very nature of the
medical profession is distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practise it
is degraded. In such a cultural and legislative situation, the serious demographic, social
and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and which require
responsible and effective attention from national and international bodies, are left open
to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to the truth and the good of persons and
The end result of this is tragic: not only is the
fact of the destruction of so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage
extremely grave and disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that
conscience itself, darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it
increasingly difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic
value of human life.
In communion with all the Bishops of the
5. The Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals
held in Rome on 4-7 April 1991 was devoted to the problem of the threats to human life in
our day. After a thorough and detailed discussion of the problem and of the challenges it
poses to the entire human family and in particular to the Christian community, the
Cardinals unanimously asked me to reaffirm with the authority of the Successor of Peter
the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of present circumstances and
attacks threatening it today.
In response to this request, at Pentecost in 1991 I
wrote a personal letter to each of my Brother Bishops asking them, in the spirit
of episcopal collegiality, to offer me their cooperation in drawing up a specific
document.6 I am deeply grateful to all the Bishops who replied and provided me with
valuable facts, suggestions and proposals. In so doing they bore witness to their
unanimous desire to share in the doctrinal and pastoral mission of the Church with regard
to the Gospel of life.
In that same letter, written shortly after the
celebration of the centenary of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, I drew everyone's
attention to this striking analogy: "Just as a century ago it was the working classes
which were oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the Church very courageously came to
their defence by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights of the worker as a person, so now, when
another category of persons is being oppressed in the fundamental right to life, the
Church feels in duty bound to speak out with the same courage on behalf of those who have
no voice. Hers is always the evangelical cry in defence of the world's poor,
those who are threatened and despised and whose human rights are violated".7
Today there exists a great multitude of weak and
defenceless human beings, unborn children in particular, whose fundamental right to life
is being trampled upon. If, at the end of the last century, the Church could not be silent
about the injustices of those times, still less can she be silent today, when the social
injustices of the past, unfortunately not yet overcome, are being compounded in many
regions of the world by still more grievous forms of injustice and oppression, even if
these are being presented as elements of progress in view of a new world order.
The present Encyclical, the fruit of the cooperation
of the Episcopate of every country of the world, is therefore meant to be a precise
and vigorous reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at
the same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of God: respect,
protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in this direction will you find
justice, development, true freedom, peace and happiness!
May these words reach all the sons and daughters of
the Church! May they reach all people of good will who are concerned for the good of every
man and woman and for the destiny of the whole of society!
6. In profound communion with all my brothers and
sisters in the faith, and inspired by genuine friendship towards all, I wish to meditate
upon once more and proclaim the Gospel of life, the splendour of truth which
enlightens consciences, the clear light which corrects the darkened gaze, and the
unfailing source of faithfulness and steadfastness in facing the ever new challenges which
we meet along our path.
As I recall the powerful experience of the Year of
the Family, as if to complete the Letter which I wrote "to every particular
family in every part of the world",8 I look with renewed confidence to every
household and I pray that at every level a general commitment to support the family will
reappear and be strengthened, so that today too—even amid so many difficulties and
family will always remain, in accordance with God's plan, the "sanctuary of
To all the members of the Church, the people of
life and for life, I make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this
world of ours new signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will
increase and that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an
authentic civilization of truth and love.
OF YOUR BROTHER'S BLOOD CRIES TO ME FROM THE GROUND
Present-day threats to human life
"Cain rose up against his brother Abel,
and killed him" (Gen 4:8):
the roots of violence against life
7. "God did not make death, and he does not
delight in the death of the living. For he has created all things that they might exist...God
created man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but
through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his
party experience it" (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24).
The Gospel of life, proclaimed in the
beginning when man was created in the image of God for a destiny of full and perfect life
(cf. Gen 2:7; Wis 9:2-3), is contradicted by the painful experience of death
which enters the world and casts its shadow of meaninglessness over man's entire
existence. Death came into the world as a result of the devil's envy (cf. Gen
3:1,4-5) and the sin of our first parents (cf. Gen 2:17, 3:17-19). And death
entered it in a violent way, through the killing of Abel by his brother Cain:
"And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed
him" (Gen 4:8).
This first murder is presented with singular
eloquence in a page of the Book of Genesis which has universal significance: it is a page
rewritten daily, with inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of human history.
Let us re-read together this biblical account which,
despite its archaic structure and its extreme simplicity, has much to teach us.
"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a
tiller of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the
fruit of the ground, and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat
portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering
he had not regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said to
Cain, 'Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not
be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; its desire is for
you, but you must master it'.
"Cain said to Abel his brother, 'Let us go
out to the field'. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel,
and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, I do
not know; am I my brother's keeper?' And the Lord said, 'What have you done? The voice of
your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed from the
ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When
you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its strength; you shall be a fugitive
and a wanderer on the earth'. Cain said to the Lord, 'My punishment is greater than I can
bear. Behold, you have driven me this day away from the ground; and from your face I shall
be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me
will slay me'. Then the Lord said to him, 'Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall
be taken on him sevenfold'. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him
should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land
of Nod, east of Eden" (Gen 4:2-16).
8. Cain was "very angry" and his
countenance "fell" because "the Lord had regard for Abel and his
offering" (Gen 4:4-5). The biblical text does not reveal the reason why God
prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. It clearly shows however that God, although preferring
Abel's gift, does not interrupt his dialogue with Cain. He admonishes him, reminding
him of his freedom in the face of evil: man is in no way predestined to evil.
Certainly, like Adam, he is tempted by the malevolent force of sin which, like a wild
beast, lies in wait at the door of his heart, ready to leap on its prey. But Cain remains
free in the face of sin. He can and must overcome it: "Its desire is for you, but you
must master it" (Gen 4:7).
Envy and anger have the upper hand over the
Lord's warning, and so Cain attacks his own brother and kills him. As we read in the Catechism
of the Catholic Church: "In the account of Abel's murder by his brother
Cain, Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences
of original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the
enemy of his fellow man"10
Brother kills brother. Like the first
fratricide, every murder is a violation of the "spiritual" kinship
uniting mankind in one great family,11 in which all share the same fundamental good:
equal personal dignity. Not infrequently the kinship "of flesh and blood"
is also violated; for example when threats to life arise within the relationship between
parents and children, such as happens in abortion or when, in the wider context of family
or kinship, euthanasia is encouraged or practised.
At the root of every act of violence against one's
neighbour there is a concession to the "thinking" of the evil one, the
one who "was a murderer from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). As the Apostle
John reminds us: "For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning,
that we should love one another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered
his brother" (1 Jn 3:11-12). Cain's killing of his brother at the very dawn
of history is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazing speed: man's revolt
against God in the earthly paradise is followed by the deadly combat of man against man.
After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the one
killed. Before God, who asks him about the fate of Abel, Cain, instead of showing
remorse and apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: "I do not know; am I my
brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9). "I do not know": Cain tries
to cover up his crime with a lie. This was and still is the case, when all kinds of
ideologies try to justify and disguise the most atrocious crimes against human beings.
"Am I my brother's keeper?": Cain does not wish to think about his
brother and refuses to accept the responsibility which every person has towards others. We
cannot but think of today's tendency for people to refuse to accept responsibility for
their brothers and sisters. Symptoms of this trend include the lack of solidarity towards
society's weakest members—such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants, children—and the
indifference frequently found in relations between the world's peoples even when basic
values such as survival, freedom and peace are involved.
9. But God cannot leave the crime unpunished:
from the ground on which it has been spilt, the blood of the one murdered demands that God
should render justice (cf. Gen 37:26; Is 26:21; Ez 24:7-8).
From this text the Church has taken the name of the "sins which cry to God for
justice", and, first among them, she has included wilful murder.12 For the Jewish
people, as for many peoples of antiquity, blood is the source of life. Indeed "the
blood is the life" (Dt 12:23), and life, especially human life, belongs only
to God: for this reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself.
Cain is cursed by God and also by the earth,
which will deny him its fruit (cf. Gen 4: 12). He is punished: he will
live in the wilderness and the desert. Murderous violence profoundly changes man's
environment. From being the "garden of Eden" (Gen 2:15), a place of
plenty, of harmonious interpersonal relationships and of friendship with God, the earth
becomes "the land of Nod" (Gen 4:16), a place of scarcity, loneliness
and separation from God. Cain will be "a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Gen
4:14): uncertainty and restlessness will follow him forever.
And yet God, who is always merciful even when he
punishes, "put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him should kill
him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to
the hatred of others, but to protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even
out of a desire to avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity,
and God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is precisely here that the paradoxical
mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. As Saint Ambrose
writes: "Once the crime is admitted at the very inception of this sinful act
of parricide, then the divine law of God's mercy should be immediately
extended. If punishment is forthwith inflicted on the accused, then men in
the exercise of justice would in no way observe patience and moderation, but
would straightaway condemn the defendant to punishment.... God drove Cain
out of his presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land,
so that he passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin
to the rude existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction
rather than the death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be
punished by the exaction of another act of homicide".13
"What have you done?" (Gen
4:10): the eclipse of the value of life
10. The Lord said to Cain: "What have you done?
The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gen
4:10). The voice of the blood shed by men continues to cry out, from generation
to generation, in ever new and different ways.
The Lord's question: "What have you done?",
which Cain cannot escape, is addressed also to the people of today, to make them realize
the extent and gravity of the attacks against life which continue to mark human history;
to make them discover what causes these attacks and feeds them; and to make them ponder
seriously the consequences which derive from these attacks for the existence of
individuals and peoples.
Some threats come from nature itself, but they are
made worse by the culpable indifference and negligence of those who could in some cases
remedy them. Others are the result of situations of violence, hatred and conflicting
interests, which lead people to attack others through murder, war, slaughter and genocide.
And how can we fail to consider the violence against
life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty,
malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and
between social classes? And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as such but in
the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts which stain our world
with blood? What of the spreading of death caused by reckless tampering with the world's
ecological balance, by the criminal spread of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds
of sexual activity which, besides being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to
life? It is impossible to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so
many are the forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!
11. Here though we shall concentrate particular
attention on another category of attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in
its final stages, attacks which present new characteristics with respect to the past
and which raise questions of extraordinary seriousness. It is not only that in
generalized opinion these attacks tend no longer to be considered as "crimes";
paradoxically they assume the nature of "rights", to the point that the State is
called upon to give them legal recognition and to make them available through the free
services of health-care personnel. Such attacks strike human life at the time of its
greatest frailty, when it lacks any means of self-defence. Even more serious is the fact
that, most often, those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the
complicity of the family—the family which by its nature is called to be the
"sanctuary of life".
How did such a situation come about? Many different
factors have to be taken into account. In the background there is the profound crisis of
culture, which generates scepticism in relation to the very foundations of knowledge and
ethics, and which makes it increasingly difficult to grasp clearly the meaning of what man
is, the meaning of his rights and his duties. Then there are all kinds of existential and
interpersonal difficulties, made worse by the complexity of a society in which
individuals, couples and families are often left alone with their problems. There are
situations of acute poverty, anxiety or frustration in which the struggle to make ends
meet, the presence of unbearable pain, or instances of violence, especially against women,
make the choice to defend and promote life so demanding as sometimes to reach the point of
All this explains, at least in part, how the value of
life can today undergo a kind of "eclipse", even though conscience does not
cease to point to it as a sacred and inviolable value, as is evident in the tendency to
disguise certain crimes against life in its early or final stages by using innocuous
medical terms which distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right to
life of an actual human person.
12. In fact, while the climate of widespread moral
uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today's social
problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals,
it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be
described as a <veritable structure of sin>. This reality is characterized by the
emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a
veritable "culture of death". This culture is actively fostered by powerful
cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively
concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is
possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a
life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held
to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person
who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the
well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an
enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy against
life" is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their
personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and
distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States.
13. In order to facilitate the spread of abortion,
enormous sums of money have been invested and continue to be invested in the production of
pharmaceutical products which make it possible to kill the fetus in the mother's womb
without recourse to medical assistance. On this point, scientific research itself seems to
be almost exclusively preoccupied with developing products which are ever more simple and
effective in suppressing life and which at the same time are capable of removing abortion
from any kind of control or social responsibility.
It is frequently asserted that contraception,
if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The
Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately
continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this
objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view
to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in
the "contraceptive mentality"—which is very different from responsible
parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act—are such that they in
fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the
pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on
contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and
abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth
of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the
life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the
latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment
"You shall not kill".
But despite their differences of nature and moral
gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same
tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under
the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from
striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices
are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of
sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as
an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter
thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible
decisive response to failed contraception.
The close connection which exists, in mentality,
between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly
obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical
products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as
contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development
of the life of the new human being.
14. The various techniques of artificial
reproduction, which would seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently
used with this intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from
the fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from the
fully human context of the conjugal act,14 these techniques have a high rate of failure:
not just failure in relation to fertilization but with regard to the subsequent
development of the embryo, which is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very
short space of time. Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than
that needed for implantation in the woman's womb, and these so-called "spare
embryos" are then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of
scientific or medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple
"biological material" to be freely disposed of.
Prenatal diagnosis, which presents no moral
objections if carried out in order to identify the medical treatment which may be needed
by the child in the womb, all too often becomes an opportunity for proposing and procuring
an abortion. This is eugenic abortion, justified in public opinion on the basis of a
mentality—mistakenly held to be consistent with the demands of "therapeutic
interventions"—which accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it when
it is affected by any limitation, handicap or illness.
Following this same logic, the point has been reached
where the most basic care, even nourishment, is denied to babies born with serious
handicaps or illnesses. The contemporary scene, moreover, is becoming even more alarming
by reason of the proposals, advanced here and there, to justify even infanticide,
following the same arguments used to justify the right to abortion. In this way, we revert
to a state of barbarism which one hoped had been left behind forever.
15. Threats which are no less serious hang over the incurably
ill and the dying. In a social and cultural context which makes it more
difficult to face and accept suffering, the temptation becomes all the greater to
resolve the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death so
that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable.
Various considerations usually contribute to such a
decision, all of which converge in the same terrible outcome. In the sick person the sense
of anguish, of severe discomfort, and even of desperation brought on by intense and
prolonged suffering can be a decisive factor. Such a situation can threaten the already
fragile equilibrium of an individual's personal and family life, with the result that, on
the one hand, the sick person, despite the help of increasingly effective medical and
social assistance, risks feeling overwhelmed by his or her own frailty; and on the other
hand, those close to the sick person can be moved by an understandable even if misplaced
compassion. All this is aggravated by a cultural climate which fails to perceive any
meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be
eliminated at all costs. This is especially the case in the absence of a religious outlook
which could help to provide a positive understanding of the mystery of suffering.
On a more general level, there exists in contemporary
culture a certain Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control
life and death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really
happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death deprived of
any prospect of meaning or hope. We see a tragic expression of all this in the spread of euthanasia—disguised
and surreptitious, or practised openly and even legally. As well as for reasons of a
misguided pity at the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified
by the utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and which weigh heavily
on society. Thus it is proposed to eliminate malformed babies, the severely handicapped,
the disabled, the elderly, especially when they are not self-sufficient, and the
terminally ill. Nor can we remain silent in the face of other more furtive, but no less
serious and real, forms of euthanasia. These could occur for example when, in order to
increase the availability of organs for transplants, organs are removed without respecting
objective and adequate criteria which verify the death of the donor.
16. Another present-day phenomenon,
frequently used to justify threats and attacks against life, is the demographic
question. This question arises in different ways in different parts of the world. In the
rich and developed countries there is a disturbing decline or collapse of the birthrate.
The poorer countries, on the other hand, generally have a high rate of population growth,
difficult to sustain in the context of low economic and social development, and especially
where there is extreme underdevelopment. In the face of overpopulation in the poorer
countries, instead of forms of global intervention at the international level—serious
family and social policies, programmes of cultural development and of fair production and
distribution of resources—anti-birth policies continue to be enacted.
Contraception, sterilization and abortion are
certainly part of the reason why in some cases there is a sharp decline in the birthrate.
It is not difficult to be tempted to use the same methods and attacks against life also
where there is a situation of "demographic explosion".
The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence and
increase of the children of Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression and ordered
that every male child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed (cf. Ex 1:7-22).
Today not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same way. They too are haunted by
the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest peoples
represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries. Consequently,
rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with respect for the dignity
of individuals and families and for every person's inviolable right to life, they prefer
to promote and impose by whatever means a massive programme of birth control. Even the
economic help which they would be ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the
acceptance of an anti-birth policy.
17. Humanity today offers us a truly alarming
spectacle, if we consider not only how extensively attacks on life are spreading but also
their unheard-of numerical proportion, and the fact that they receive widespread and
powerful support from a broad consensus on the part of society, from widespread legal
approval and the involvement of certain sectors of health-care personnel.
As I emphatically stated at Denver, on the occasion
of the Eighth World Youth Day, "with time the threats against life have not grown
weaker. They are taking on vast proportions. They are not only threats coming from the
outside, from the forces of nature or the 'Cains' who kill the 'Abels'; no, they are scientifically
and systematically programmed threats. The twentieth century will have been an era of
massive attacks on life, an endless series of wars and a continual taking of innocent
human life. False prophets and false teachers have had the greatest success".15
Aside from intentions, which can be varied and perhaps can seem convincing at times,
especially if presented in the name of solidarity, we are in fact faced by an objective
"conspiracy against life", involving even international Institutions,
engaged in encouraging and carrying out actual campaigns to make contraception,
sterilization and abortion widely available. Nor can it be denied that the mass media are
often implicated in this conspiracy, by lending credit to that culture which presents
recourse to contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia as a mark of
progress and a victory of freedom, while depicting as enemies of freedom and progress
those positions which are unreservedly pro-life.
"Am I my brother's keeper?"
(Gen 4:9): a perverse idea of freedom
18. The panorama described needs to be understood not
only in terms of the phenomena of death which characterize it but also in the variety
of causes which determine it. The Lord's question: "What have you done?" (Gen
4:10), seems almost like an invitation addressed to Cain to go beyond the material
dimension of his murderous gesture, in order to recognize in it all the gravity of the motives
which occasioned it and the consequences which result from it.
Decisions that go against life sometimes arise from
difficult or even tragic situations of profound suffering, loneliness, a total lack of
economic prospects, depression and anxiety about the future. Such circumstances can
mitigate even to a notable degree subjective responsibility and the consequent culpability
of those who make these choices which in themselves are evil. But today the problem goes
far beyond the necessary recognition of these personal situations. It is a problem which
exists at the cultural, social and political level, where it reveals its more sinister and
disturbing aspect in the tendency, ever more widely shared, to interpret the above crimes
against life as legitimate expressions of individual freedom, to be acknowledged and
protected as actual rights.
In this way, and with tragic consequences, a long
historical process is reaching a turning-point. The process which once led to discovering
the idea of "human rights"— rights inherent in every person and prior to any
Constitution and State legislation—is today marked by a surprising contradiction.
Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and
the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled
upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the
moment of death.
On the one hand, the various declarations of human
rights and the many initiatives inspired by these declarations show that at the global
level there is a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and
dignity of every individual as a human being, without any distinction of race,
nationality, religion, political opinion or social class.
On the other hand, these noble proclamations are
unfortunately contradicted by a tragic repudiation of them in practice. This denial is
still more distressing, indeed more scandalous, precisely because it is occurring in a
society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary objective
and its boast. How can these repeated affirmations of principle be reconciled with the
continual increase and widespread justification of attacks on human life? How can we
reconcile these declarations with the refusal to accept those who are weak and needy, or
elderly, or those who have just been conceived? These attacks go directly against respect
for life and they represent a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights.
It is a threat capable, in the end, of jeopardizing the very meaning of democratic
coexistence: rather than societies of "people living together", our cities
risk becoming societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and
oppressed. If we then look at the wider worldwide perspective, how can we fail to think
that the very affirmation of the rights of individuals and peoples made in distinguished
international assemblies is a merely futile exercise of rhetoric, if we fail to unmask the
selfishness of the rich countries which exclude poorer countries from access to
development or make such access dependent on arbitrary prohibitions against procreation,
setting up an opposition between development and man himself? Should we not question the
very economic models often adopted by States which, also as a result of international
pressures and forms of conditioning, cause and aggravate situations of injustice and
violence in which the life of whole peoples is degraded and trampled upon?
19. What are the roots of this remarkable
We can find them in an overall assessment of a
cultural and moral nature, beginning with the mentality which carries the concept of
subjectivity to an extreme and even distorts it, and recognizes as a subject of
rights only the person who enjoys full or at least incipient autonomy and who emerges from
a state of total dependence on others. But how can we reconcile this approach with the
exaltation of man as a being who is "not to be used"? The theory of human
rights is based precisely on the affirmation that the human person, unlike animals and
things, cannot be subjected to domination by others. We must also mention the mentality
which tends to equate personal dignity with the capacity for verbal and explicit,
or at least perceptible, communication. It is clear that on the basis of these
presuppositions there is no place in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the
dying, is a weak element in the social structure, or for anyone who appears completely at
the mercy of others and radically dependent on them, and can only communicate through the
silent language of a profound sharing of affection. In this case it is force which becomes
the criterion for choice and action in interpersonal relations and in social life. But
this is the exact opposite of what a State ruled by law, as a community in which the
"reasons of force" are replaced by the "force of reason", historically
intended to affirm.
At another level, the roots of the contradiction
between the solemn affirmation of human rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in
a notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way, and
gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them. While it is true
that the taking of life not yet born or in its final stages is sometimes marked by a
mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion, it cannot be denied that such a culture
of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which
ends up by becoming the freedom of "the strong" against the weak who have no
choice but to submit.
It is precisely in this sense that Cain's answer to
the Lord's question: "Where is Abel your brother?" can be interpreted: "I
do not know; am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9). Yes, every man
is his "brother's keeper", because God entrusts us to one another. And it is
also in view of this entrusting that God gives everyone freedom, a freedom which possesses
an inherently relational dimension. This is a great gift of the Creator, placed
as it is at the service of the person and of his fulfilment through the gift of self and
openness to others; but when freedom is made absolute in an individualistic way, it is
emptied of its original content, and its very meaning and dignity are contradicted.
There is an even more profound aspect which needs to
be emphasized: freedom negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the
destruction of others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link
with the truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of
tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an objective and
universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social life, then the person ends
up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable point of reference for his own choices
the truth about good and evil, but only his subjective and changeable opinion or, indeed,
his selfish interest and whim.
20. This view of freedom leads to a serious
distortion of life in society. If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of
absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone
else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a
mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds. Each one wishes to
assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends to make his own interests
prevail. Still, in the face of other people's analogous interests, some kind of compromise
must be found, if one wants a society in which the maximum possible freedom is guaranteed
to each individual. In this way, any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely
binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete
relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining:
even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life.
This is what is happening also at the level of
politics and government: the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or
denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people—even if
it is the majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed:
the "right" ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the
inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part. In
this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of
totalitarianism. The State is no longer the "common home" where all can live
together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant
State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and
most defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public
interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part. The appearance of the
strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when the laws permitting abortion
and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in accordance with what are generally seen as
the rules of democracy. Really, what we have here is only the tragic caricature of
legality; the democratic ideal, which is only truly such when it acknowledges and
safeguards the dignity of every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations:
"How is it still possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the
killing of the weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the
most unjust of discriminations practised: some individuals are held to be deserving of
defence and others are denied that dignity?"16 When this happens, the process
leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human co-existence and the disintegration of the
State itself has already begun.
To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and
euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse
and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.
This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits
sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).
"And from your face I shall be
hidden" (Gen 4:14): the eclipse of the sense of God and of man
21. In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle
between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death", we cannot
restrict ourselves to the perverse idea of freedom mentioned above. We have to go to the
heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God
and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which,
with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities
themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this climate easily
fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost, there is also a
tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his life; in turn, the
systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the serious matter of respect for
human life and its dignity, produces a kind of progressive darkening of the capacity to
discern God's living and saving presence.
Once again we can gain insight from the story of
Abel's murder by his brother. After the curse imposed on him by God, Cain thus addresses
the Lord: "My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me this
day away from the ground; and from your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a
fugitive and wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me" (Gen
4:13-14). Cain is convinced that his sin will not obtain pardon from the Lord and that his
inescapable destiny will be to have to "hide his face" from him. If Cain is
capable of confessing that his fault is "greater than he can bear", it is
because he is conscious of being in the presence of God and before God's just judgment. It
is really only before the Lord that man can admit his sin and recognize its full
seriousness. Such was the experience of David who, after "having committed evil in
the sight of the Lord", and being rebuked by the Prophet Nathan, exclaimed: "My
offences truly I know them; my sin is always before me. Against you, you alone, have I
sinned; what is evil in your sight I have done" (Ps 51:5-6).
22. Consequently, when the sense of God is
lost, the sense of man is also threatened and poisoned, as the Second
Vatican Council concisely states: "Without the Creator the creature would
disappear . . . But when God is forgotten the creature itself grows
unintelligible".17 Man is no longer able to see
himself as "mysteriously different" from other earthly creatures; he regards
himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very
high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is
somehow reduced to being "a thing", and no longer grasps the
"transcendent" character of his "existence as man". He no longer
considers life as a splendid gift of God, something "sacred" entrusted to his
responsibility and thus also to his loving care and "veneration". Life itself
becomes a mere "thing", which man claims as his exclusive property, completely
subject to his control and manipulation.
Thus, in relation to life at birth or at death, man
is no longer capable of posing the question of the truest meaning of his own existence,
nor can he assimilate with genuine freedom these crucial moments of his own history. He is
concerned only with "doing", and, using all kinds of technology, he busies
himself with programming, controlling and dominating birth and death. Birth and death,
instead of being primary experiences demanding to be "lived", become things to
be merely "possessed" or "rejected".
Moreover, once all reference to God has been removed,
it is not surprising that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted.
Nature itself, from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being
"matter", and is subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction
in which a certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day
culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of
creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected.
Something similar happens when concern about the consequences of such a "freedom
without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a "law without
freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful to interfere in any
way with nature, practically "divinizing" it. Again, this is a misunderstanding
of nature's dependence on the plan of the Creator. Thus it is clear that the loss of
contact with God's wise design is the deepest root of modern man's confusion, both when
this loss leads to a freedom without rules and when it leaves man in "fear" of
By living "as if God did not exist", man
not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the
mystery of his own being.
23. The eclipse of the sense of God and of man
inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism,
utilitarianism and hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the
Apostle: "And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a
base mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28). The values of being
are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of
one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted
primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty
and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions—interpersonal, spiritual and
In such a context suffering, an inescapable
burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is
"censored", rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every
way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future
well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows
in man to claim the right to suppress it.
Within this same cultural climate, the body
is no longer perceived as a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with
others, with God and with the world. It is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a
complex of organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of
pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized and
exploited: from being the sign, place and language of love, that is, of the gift of self
and acceptance of another, in all the other's richness as a person, it increasingly
becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of
personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import of human sexuality is distorted
and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and procreative, inherent in the very nature
of the conjugal act, are artificially separated: in this way the marriage union is
betrayed and its fruitfulness is subjected to the caprice of the couple. Procreation
then becomes the "enemy" to be avoided in sexual activity: if it is welcomed,
this is only because it expresses a desire, or indeed the intention, to have a child
"at all costs", and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the
other and therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents.
In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal
relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the
sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity—which demands
respect, generosity and service—is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality
and usefulness: others are considered not for what they "are", but for what they
"have, do and produce". This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.
24. It is at the heart of the moral conscience
that the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly
consequences for life, is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual
conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness.18 But it is also a
question, in a certain sense, of the "moral conscience" of society: in
a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or fosters behaviour contrary
to life, but also because it encourages the "culture of death", creating and
consolidating actual "structures of sin" which go against life. The moral
conscience, both individual and social, is today subjected, also as a result of the
penetrating influence of the media, to an extremely serious and mortal danger:
that of confusion between good and evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental
right to life. A large part of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which
Paul describes in his Letter to the Romans. It is composed "of men who by their
wickedness suppress the truth" (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can
build the earthly city without him, "they became futile in their thinking" so
that "their senseless minds were darkened" (1:21); "claiming to be wise,
they became fools" (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and "they not
only do them but approve those who practise them" (1:32). When conscience, this
bright lamp of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good
evil" (Is 5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption
and the darkest moral blindness.
And yet all the conditioning and efforts to enforce
silence fail to stifle the voice of the Lord echoing in the conscience of every
individual: it is always from this intimate sanctuary of the conscience that a new journey
of love, openness and service to human life can begin.
"You have come to the sprinkled
blood" (cf. Heb 12:22, 24): signs of hope and invitation to commitment
25. "The voice of your brother's blood is crying
to me from the ground" (Gen 4:10). It is not only the voice of the blood of
Abel, the first innocent man to be murdered, which cries to God, the source and defender
of life. The blood of every other human being who has been killed since Abel is also a
voice raised to the Lord. In an absolutely singular way, as the author of the Letter to
the Hebrews reminds us, the voice of the blood of Christ, of whom Abel in his
innocence is a prophetic figure, cries out to God: "You have come to Mount Zion and
to the city of the living God ... to the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled
blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (12:22, 24).
It is the sprinkled blood. A symbol and
prophetic sign of it had been the blood of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, whereby God
expressed his will to communicate his own life to men, purifying and consecrating them
(cf. Ex 24:8; Lev 17:11). Now all of this is fulfilled and comes true in
Christ: his is the sprinkled blood which redeems, purifies and saves; it is the blood of
the Mediator of the New Covenant "poured out for many for the forgiveness of
sins" (Mt 26:28). This blood, which flows from the pierced side of Christ on
the Cross (cf. Jn 19:34), "speaks more graciously" than the blood of
Abel; indeed, it expresses and requires a more radical "justice", and above all
it implores mercy,19 it makes intercession for the brethren before the Father (cf. Heb
7:25), and it is the source of perfect redemption and the gift of new life.
The blood of Christ, while it reveals the grandeur of
the Father's love, shows how precious man is in God's eyes and how priceless the value
of his life. The Apostle Peter reminds us of this: "You know that you were
ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such
as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without
blemish or spot" (1 Pt 1:18-19). Precisely by contemplating the precious
blood of Christ, the sign of his self-giving love (cf. Jn 13:1), the believer
learns to recognize and appreciate the almost divine dignity of every human being and can
exclaim with ever renewed and grateful wonder: "How precious must man be in the eyes
of the Creator, if he 'gained so great a Redeemer' (Exsultet of the Easter
Vigil), and if God 'gave his only Son' in order that man 'should not perish but have
eternal life' (cf. Jn 3:16)!"20
Furthermore, Christ's blood reveals to man that his
greatness, and therefore his vocation, consists in the sincere gift of self.
Precisely because it is poured out as the gift of life, the blood of Christ is no longer a
sign of death, of definitive separation from the brethren, but the instrument of a
communion which is richness of life for all. Whoever in the Sacrament of the Eucharist
drinks this blood and abides in Jesus (cf. Jn 6:56) is drawn into the dynamism of
his love and gift of life, in order To bring to its fullness the original vocation to love
which belongs to everyone (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:18-24).
It is from the blood of Christ that all draw the
strength to commit themselves to promoting life. It is precisely this blood that is the
most powerful source of hope, indeed it is the foundation of the absolute certitude that
in God's plan life will be victorious. "And death shall be no more",
exclaims the powerful voice which comes from the throne of God in the Heavenly Jerusalem (Rev
21:4). And Saint Paul assures us that the present victory over sin is a sign and
anticipation of the definitive victory over death, when there "shall come to pass the
saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory'. 'O death, where is your
victory? O death, where is your sting?"' (1 Cor 15:54-55).
26. In effect, signs which point to this victory are
not lacking in our societies and cultures, strongly marked though they are by the
"culture of death". It would therefore be to give a one-sided picture, which
could lead to sterile discouragement, if the condemnation of the threats to life were not
accompanied by the presentation of the positive signs at work in humanity's
Unfortunately it is often hard to see and recognize
these positive signs, perhaps also because they do not receive sufficient attention in the
communications media. Yet, how many initiatives of help and support for people who are
weak and defenceless have sprung up and continue to spring up in the Christian community
and in civil society, at the local, national and international level, through the efforts
of individuals, groups, movements and organizations of various kinds!
There are still many married couples who,
with a generous sense of responsibility, are ready to accept children as "the supreme
gift of marriage".21 Nor is there a lack of families which, over and above
their everyday service to life, are willing to accept abandoned children, boys and girls
and teenagers in difficulty, handicapped persons, elderly men and women who have been left
alone. Many centres in support of life, or similar institutions, are sponsored by
individuals and groups which, with admirable dedication and sacrifice, offer moral and
material support to mothers who are in difficulty and are tempted to have recourse to
abortion. Increasingly, there are appearing in many places groups of volunteers
prepared to offer hospitality to persons without a family, who find themselves in
conditions of particular distress or who need a supportive environment to help them to
overcome destructive habits and discover anew the meaning of life.
Medical science, thanks to the committed
efforts of researchers and practitioners, continues in its efforts to discover ever more
effective remedies: treatments which were once inconceivable but which now offer much
promise for the future are today being developed for the unborn, the suffering and those
in an acute or terminal stage of sickness. Various agencies and organizations are
mobilizing their efforts to bring the benefits of the most advanced medicine to countries
most afflicted by poverty and endemic diseases. In a similar way national and
international associations of physicians are being organized to bring quick relief to
peoples affected by natural disasters, epidemics or wars. Even if a just international
distribution of medical resources is still far from being a reality, how can we not
recognize in the steps taken so far the sign of a growing solidarity among peoples, a
praiseworthy human and moral sensitivity and a greater respect for life?
27. In view of laws which permit abortion and in view
of efforts, which here and there have been successful, to legalize euthanasia, movements
and initiatives to raise social awareness in defence of life have sprung up in many
parts of the world. When, in accordance with their principles, such movements act
resolutely, but without resorting to violence, they promote a wider and more profound
consciousness of the value of life, and evoke and bring about a more determined commitment
to its defence.
Furthermore, how can we fail to mention all those
daily gestures of openness, sacrifice and unselfish care which countless people
lovingly make in families, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and other centres
or communities which defend life? Allowing herself to be guided by the example of Jesus
the "Good Samaritan" (cf. Lk 10:29-37) and upheld by his strength, the
Church bas always been in the front line in providing charitable help: so many of her sons
and daughters, especially men and women Religious, in traditional and ever new forms, have
consecrated and continue to consecrate their lives to God, freely giving of themselves out
of love for their neighbour, especially for the weak and needy. These deeds strengthen the
bases of the "civilization of love and life", without which the life of
individuals and of society itself loses its most genuinely human quality. Even if they go
unnoticed and remain hidden to most people, faith assures us that the Father "who
sees in secret" (Mt 6:6) not only will reward these actions but already here
and now makes them produce lasting fruit for the good of all.
Among the signs of hope we should also count the
spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to
war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and
increasingly oriented to finding effective but "non-violent" means to counter
the armed aggressor. In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public
opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind of
"legitimate defence" on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the
means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without
definitively denying them the chance to reform.
Another welcome sign is the growing attention being
paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed
societies, where people's expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of
survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions. Especially
significant is the reawakening of an ethical reflection on issues affecting life. The
emergence and ever more widespread development of bioethics is promoting more
reflection and dialogue—between believers and non-believers, as well as between followers
of different religions—on ethical problems, including fundamental issues pertaining to
28. This situation, with its lights and shadows,
ought to make us all fully aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between
good and evil, death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of
life". We find ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the
midst of" this conflict: we are all involved and we all share in it, with the
inescapable responsibility of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.
For us too Moses' invitation rings out loud and
clear: "See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.... I have
set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and
your descendants may live" (Dt 30:15,19). This invitation is very
appropriate for us who are called day by day to the duty of choosing between the
"culture of life" and the "culture of death". But the call of
Deuteronomy goes even deeper, for it urges us to make a choice which is properly religious
and moral. It is a question of giving our own existence a basic orientation and living the
law of the Lord faithfully and consistently: "If you obey the commandments of the
Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking
in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his
ordinances, then you shall live ... therefore choose life, that you and your descendants
may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that
means life to you and length of days" (30:16,19-20).
The unconditional choice for life reaches its full
religious and moral meaning when it flows from, is formed by and nourished by faith in
Christ. Nothing helps us so much to face positively the conflict between death and
life in which we are engaged as faith in the Son of God who became man and dwelt among men
so "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). It is
a matter of faith in the Risen Lord, who has conquered death; faith in the blood
of Christ "that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (Heb
With the light and strength of this faith, therefore,
in facing the challenges of the present situation, the Church is becoming more aware of
the grace and responsibility which come to her from her Lord of proclaiming, celebrating
and serving the Gospel of life.
I CAME THAT
THEY MAY HAVE LIFE
The Christian Message Concerning Life
"The life was made manifest, and we saw
it" (1 Jn 1:2): with our gaze fixed on Christ, "the Word of life"
29. Faced with the countless grave threats to life
present in the modern world, one could feel overwhelmed by sheer powerlessness: good can
never be powerful enough to triumph over evil!
At such times the People of God, and this includes
every believer, is called to profess with humility and courage its faith in Jesus Christ,
"the Word of life" (1 Jn 1:1). The Gospel of life is not
simply a reflection, however new and profound, on human life. Nor is it merely a
commandment aimed at raising awareness and bringing about significant changes in society.
Still less is it an illusory promise of a better future. The Gospel of life is
something concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very
person of Jesus. Jesus made himself known to the Apostle Thomas, and in him to every
person, with the words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn
14:6). This is also how he spoke of himself to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: "I am
the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,
and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26). Jesus
is the Son who from all eternity receives life from the Father (cf. Jn 5:26), and
who has come among men to make them sharers in this gift: "I came that they may have
life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10).
Through the words, the actions and the very person of
Jesus, man is given the possibility of "knowing" the complete truth
concerning the value of human life. From this "source" he receives, in
particular, the capacity to "accomplish" this truth perfectly (cf. Jn
3:21), that is, to accept and fulfil completely the responsibility of loving and serving,
of defending and promoting human life. In Christ, the Gospel of life is
definitively proclaimed and fully given. This is the Gospel which, already present in the
Revelation of the Old Testament, and indeed written in the heart of every man and woman,
has echoed in every conscience "from the beginning", from the time of creation
itself, in such a way that, despite the negative consequences of sin, it can also be
known in its essential traits by human reason. As the Second Vatican
Council teaches, Christ "perfected revelation by fulfilling it through his
whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself; through his
words and deeds, his signs and wonders, but especially through his death and
glorious Resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of
truth. Moreover, he confirmed with divine testimony what revelation
proclaimed: that God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and
death, and to raise us up to life eternal".22
30. Hence, with our attention fixed on the Lord
Jesus, we wish to hear from him once again "the words of God" (Jn 3:34)
and meditate anew on the Gospel of life. The deepest and most original meaning of
this meditation on what revelation tells us about human life was taken up by the Apostle
John in the opening words of his First Letter: "That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and
touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we
saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father
and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so
that you may have fellowship with us" (1:1-3).
In Jesus, the "Word of life", God's eternal
life is thus proclaimed and given. Thanks to this proclamation and gift, our physical and
spiritual life, also in its earthly phase, acquires its full value and meaning, for God's
eternal life is in fact the end to which our living in this world is directed and called.
In this way the Gospel of life includes everything that human experience and
reason tell us about the value of human life, accepting it, purifying it, exalting it and
bringing it to fulfilment.
"The Lord is my strength and my
song, and he has become my salvation" (Ex 15:2): life is always a good
31. The fullness of the Gospel message about life was
prepared for in the Old Testament. Especially in the events of the Exodus, the centre of
the Old Testament faith experience, Israel discovered the preciousness of its life in the
eyes of God. When it seemed doomed to extermination because of the threat of death hanging
over all its newborn males (cf. Ex 1:15-22), the Lord revealed himself to Israel
as its Saviour, with the power to ensure a future to those without hope. Israel thus comes
to know clearly that its existence is not at the mercy of a Pharaoh who can
exploit it at his despotic whim. On the contrary, Israel's life is the object of God's
gentle and intense love.
Freedom from slavery meant the gift of an identity,
the recognition of an indestructible dignity and the beginning of a new history,
in which the discovery of God and discovery of self go hand in hand. The Exodus was a
foundational experience and a model for the future. Through it, Israel comes to learn that
whenever its existence is threatened it need only turn to God with renewed trust in order
to find in him effective help: "I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will
not be forgotten by me" (Is 44:21).
Thus, in coming to know the value of its own
existence as a people, Israel also grows in its perception of the meaning and value of
life itself. This reflection is developed more specifically in the Wisdom Literature,
on the basis of daily experience of the precariousness of life and awareness of the
threats which assail it. Faced with the contradictions of life, faith is challenged to
More than anything else, it is the problem of
suffering which challenges faith and puts it to the test. How can we fail to appreciate
the universal anguish of man when we meditate on the Book of Job? The innocent man
overwhelmed by suffering is understandably led to wonder: "Why is light given to him
that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hid treasures?" (3:20-21). But even when the darkness is
deepest, faith points to a trusting and adoring acknowledgment of the "mystery":
"I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be
thwarted" (Job 42:2).
Revelation progressively allows the first notion of
immortal life planted by the Creator in the human heart to be grasped with ever greater
clarity: "He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into
man's mind" (Ec 3:11). This first notion of totality and fullness
is waiting to be manifested in love and brought to perfection, by God's free gift, through
sharing in his eternal life.
"The name of Jesus... has made this
man strong" (Acts 3:16): in the uncertainties of human life, Jesus
brings life's meaning to fulfilment
32. The experience of the people of the Covenant is
renewed in the experience of all the "poor" who meet Jesus of Nazareth. Just as
God who "loves the living" (cf. Wis 11:26) had reassured Israel in the
midst of danger, so now the Son of God proclaims to all who feel threatened and hindered
that their lives too are a good to which the Father's love gives meaning and value.
"The blind receive their sight, the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news
preached to them" (Lk 7:22). With these words of the Prophet Isaiah (35:5-6,
61:1), Jesus sets forth the meaning of his own mission: all who suffer because their lives
are in some way "diminished" thus hear from him the "good news" of
God's concern for them, and they know for certain that their lives too are a gift
carefully guarded in the hands of the Father (cf. Mt 6:25-34).
It is above all the "poor" to whom Jesus
speaks in his preaching and actions. The crowds of the sick and the outcasts who follow
him and seek him out (cf. Mt 4:23-25) find in his words and actions a revelation
of the great value of their lives and of how their hope of salvation is well-founded.
The same thing has taken place in the Church's
mission from the beginning. When the Church proclaims Christ as the one who "went
about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with
him" (Acts 10:38), she is conscious of being the bearer of a message of
salvation which resounds in all its newness precisely amid the hardships and poverty of
human life. Peter cured the cripple who daily sought alms at the "Beautiful
Gate" of the Temple in Jerusalem, saying: "I have no silver and gold, but I give
you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6).
By faith in Jesus, "the Author of life" (Acts 3:15), life which lies
abandoned and cries out for help regains self-esteem and full dignity.
The words and deeds of Jesus and those of his Church
are not meant only for those who are sick or suffering or in some way neglected by
society. On a deeper level they affect the very meaning of every person's life in its
moral and spiritual dimensions. Only those who recognize that their life is marked by
the evil of sin can discover in an encounter with Jesus the Saviour the truth and the
authenticity of their own existence. Jesus himself says as much: "Those who are well
have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not come to call the
righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:31-32).
But the person who, like the rich land-owner in the
Gospel parable, thinks that he can make his life secure by the possession of material
goods alone, is deluding himself. Life is slipping away from him, and very soon he will
find himself bereft of it without ever having appreciated its real meaning: "Fool!
This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they
be?" (Lk 12:20).
33. In Jesus' own life, from beginning to end, we
find a singular "dialectic" between the experience of the uncertainty of human
life and the affirmation of its value. Jesus' life is marked by uncertainty from the very
moment of his birth. He is certainly accepted by the righteous, who echo Mary's
immediate and joyful "yes" (cf. Lk 1:38). But there is also, from the
start, rejection on the part of a world which grows hostile and looks for the
child in order "to destroy him" (Mt 2:13); a world which remains
indifferent and unconcerned about the fulfilment of the mystery of this life entering the
world: "there was no place for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7). In this
contrast between threats and insecurity on the one hand and the power of God's gift on the
other, there shines forth all the more dearly the glory which radiates from the house at
Nazareth and from the manger at Bethlehem: this life which is born is salvation for all
humanity (cf. Lk 2:11).
Life's contradictions and risks were fully accepted
by Jesus: "though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his
poverty you might become rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The poverty of which Paul speaks
is not only a stripping of divine privileges, but also a sharing in the lowliest and most
vulnerable conditions of human life (cf. Phil 2:6-7). Jesus lived this poverty
throughout his life, until the culminating moment of the Cross: "he humbled himself
and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted
him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name" (Phil 2:8-9). It
is precisely by his death that Jesus reveals all the splendour and value of
life, inasmuch as his self-oblation on the Cross becomes the source of new life for
all people (cf. Jn 12:32). In his journeying amid contradictions and in the very
loss of his life, Jesus is guided by the certainty that his life is in the hands of the
Father. Consequently, on the Cross, he can say to him: "Father, into your hands I
commend my spirit!" (Lk 23:46), that is, my life. Truly great must be the
value of human life if the Son of God has taken it up and made it the instrument of the
salvation of all humanity!
"Called... to be conformed to the
image of his Son" (Rom 8:28-29): God's glory shines on the face of man
34. Life is always a good. This is an instinctive
perception and a fact of experience, and man is called to grasp the profound reason why
this is so.
Why is life a good? This question is found
everywhere in the Bible, and from the very first pages it receives a powerful and amazing
answer. The life which God gives man is quite different from the life of all other living
creatures, inasmuch as man, although formed from the dust of the earth (cf. Gen
2:7, 3:19; Job 34:15; Ps 103:14; 104:29), is a manifestation of God
in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory (cf. Gen 1:26-27;
Ps 8:6). This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons wanted to emphasize in his
celebrated definition: "Man, living man, is the glory of God".23 Man has been
given a sublime dignity, based on the intimate bond which unites him to his
Creator: in man there shines forth a reflection of God himself.
The Book of Genesis affirms this when, in the first
account of creation, it places man at the summit of God's creative activity, as its crown,
at the culmination of a process which leads from indistinct chaos to the most perfect of
creatures. Everything in creation is ordered to man and everything is made subject to
him: "Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over . . . every living
thing" (1:28); this is God's command to the man and the woman. A similar message is
found also in the other account of creation: "The Lord God took the man and put him
in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gen 2:15). We see here a
clear affirmation of the primacy of man over things; these are made subject to him and
entrusted to his responsible care, whereas for no reason can he be made subject to other
men and almost reduced to the level of a thing.
In the biblical narrative, the difference between man
and other creatures is shown above all by the fact that only the creation of man is
presented as the result of a special decision on the part of God, a deliberation to
establish a particular and specific bond with the Creator: "Let us make man
in our image, after our likeness" (Gen 1:26). The life which God
offers to man is a gift by which God shares something of himself with his creature.
Israel would ponder at length the meaning of this
particular bond between man and God. The Book of Sirach too recognizes that God, in
creating human beings, "endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his
own image" (17:3). The biblical author sees as part of this image not only man's
dominion over the world but also those spiritual faculties which are distinctively
human, such as reason, discernment between good and evil, and free will: "He
filled them with knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil" (Sir
17:7). The ability to attain truth and freedom are human prerogatives inasmuch as
man is created in the image of his Creator, God who is true and just (cf. Dt
32:4). Man alone, among all visible creatures, is "capable of knowing and loving his
Creator".24 The life which God bestows upon man is much more than mere existence in
time. It is a drive towards fullness of life; it is the seed of an existence which
transcends the very limits of time: "For God created man for incorruption, and
made him in the image of his own eternity" (Wis 2:23).
35. The Yahwist account of creation expresses the
same conviction. This ancient narrative speaks of a divine breath which is
breathed into man so that he may come to life: "The Lord God formed man of dust
from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a
living being" (Gen 2:7).
The divine origin of this spirit of life
explains the perennial dissatisfaction which man feels throughout his days
on earth. Because he is made by God and bears within himself an indelible
imprint of God, man is naturally drawn to God. When he heeds the deepest
yearnings of the heart, every man must make his own the words of truth
expressed by Saint Augustine: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and
our hearts are restless until they rest in you".25
How very significant is the dissatisfaction which
marks man's life in Eden as long as his sole point of reference is the world of plants and
animals (cf. Gen 2:20). Only the appearance of the woman, a being who is flesh of
his flesh and bone of his bones (cf. Gen 2:23), and in whom the spirit of God the
Creator is also alive, can satisfy the need for interpersonal dialogue, so vital for human
existence. In the other, whether man or woman, there is a reflection of God himself, the
definitive goal and fulfilment of every person.
"What is man that you are mindful of him, and
the son of man that you care for him?", the Psalmist wonders (Ps 8:4).
Compared to the immensity of the universe, man is very small, and yet this very contrast
reveals his greatness: "You have made him little less than a god, and crown him with
glory and honour" (Ps 8:5). The glory of God shines on the face of man.
In man the Creator finds his rest, as Saint Ambrose comments with a sense of awe:
"The sixth day is finished and the creation of the world ends with the formation of
that masterpiece which is man, who exercises dominion over all living creatures and is as
it were the crown of the universe and the supreme beauty of every created being. Truly we
should maintain a reverential silence, since the Lord rested from every work he had
undertaken in the world. He rested then in the depths of man, he rested in man's mind and
in his thought; after all, he had created man endowed with reason, capable of imitating
him, of emulating his virtue, of hungering for heavenly graces. In these his gifts God
reposes, who has said: 'Upon whom shall I rest, if not upon the one who is humble,
contrite in spirit and trembles at my word?' (Is 66:1-2). I thank
the Lord our God who has created so wonderful a work in which to take his
36. Unfortunately, God's marvellous plan was marred
by the appearance of sin in history. Through sin, man rebels against his Creator and ends
up by worshipping creatures: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie
and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25).
As a result man not only deforms the image of God in his own person, but is tempted to
offences against it in others as well, replacing relationships of communion by attitudes
of distrust, indifference, hostility and even murderous hatred. When God is not
acknowledged as God, the profound meaning of man is betrayed and communion
between people is compromised.
In the life of man, God's image shines forth anew and
is again revealed in all its fullness at the coming of the Son of God in human flesh.
"Christ is the image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), he
"reflects the glory of God and bears the very stamp of his nature" (Heb
1:3). He is the perfect image of the Father.
The plan of life given to the first Adam finds at
last its fulfilment in Christ. Whereas the disobedience of Adam had ruined and marred
God's plan for human life and introduced death into the world, the redemptive obedience of
Christ is the source of grace poured out upon the human race, opening wide to everyone the
gates of the kingdom of life (cf. Rom 5:12-21). As the Apostle Paul states:
"The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving
spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).
All who commit themselves to following Christ are
given the fullness of life: the divine image is restored, renewed and brought to
perfection in them. God's plan for human beings is this, that they should "be
conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). Only thus, in the splendour
of this image, can man be freed from the slavery of idolatry, rebuild lost fellowship and
rediscover his true identity.
"Whoever lives and believes in me
shall never die" (Jn 11:26): the gift of eternal life
37. The life which the Son of God came to give to
human beings cannot be reduced to mere existence in time. The life which was always
"in him" and which is the "light of men" (Jn 1:4) consists
in being begotten of God and sharing in the fullness of his love: "To all who
received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were
born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn
Sometimes Jesus refers to this life which he came to
give simply as "life", and he presents being born of God as a necessary
condition if man is to attain the end for which God has created him: "Unless one is
born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:3). To give this life is
the real object of Jesus' mission: he is the one who "comes down from heaven, and
gives life to the world" (Jn 6:33). Thus can he truly say: "He who
follows me ... will have the light of life" (Jn 8:12).
At other times, Jesus speaks of "eternal
life". Here the adjective does more than merely evoke a perspective which is beyond
time. The life which Jesus promises and gives is "eternal" because it is a full
participation in the life of the "Eternal One". Whoever believes in Jesus and
enters into communion with him has eternal life (cf. Jn 3:15; 6:40) because he
hears from Jesus the only words which reveal and communicate to his existence the fullness
of life. These are the "words of eternal life" which Peter acknowledges in his
confession of faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life;
and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn
6:68-69). Jesus himself, addressing the Father in the great priestly prayer, declares what
eternal life consists in: "This is eternal life, that they may know you the only true
God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn 17:3). To know God and his Son
is to accept the mystery of the loving communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy
Spirit into one's own life, which even now is open to eternal life because it shares
in the life of God.
38. Eternal life is therefore the life of God himself
and at the same time the life of the children of God. As they ponder this
unexpected and inexpressible truth which comes to us from God in Christ, believers cannot
fail to be filled with ever new wonder and unbounded gratitude. They can say in the words
of the Apostle John: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called
children of God; and so we are.... Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet
appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we
shall see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:1-2).
Here the Christian truth about life becomes most
sublime. The dignity of this life is linked not only to its beginning, to the fact
that it comes from God, but also to its final end, to its destiny of fellowship with God
in knowledge and love of him.
In the light of this truth Saint Irenaeus
qualifies and completes his praise of man: "the glory of God" is indeed,
"man, living man", but "the life of man consists in the vision of God".27
Immediate consequences arise from this for human life
in its earthly state, in which, for that matter, eternal life already springs
forth and begins to grow. Although man instinctively loves life because it is a good, this
love will find further inspiration and strength, and new breadth and depth, in the divine
dimensions of this good Similarly, the love which every human being has for life cannot be
reduced simply to a desire to have sufficient space for self-expression and for entering
into relationships with others; rather, it develops in a joyous awareness that life can
become the "place" where God manifests himself, where we meet him and enter into
communion with him. The life which Jesus gives in no way lessens the value of our
existence in time; it takes it and directs it to its final destiny: "I am the
resurrection and the life ... whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn
"From man in regard to his fellow
man I will demand an accounting" (Gen 9:5): reverence and love for every
39. Man's life comes from God; it is his gift, his
image and imprint, a sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole
Lord of this life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God himself makes this clear to
Noah after the Flood: "For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting ...
and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human life"
(Gen 9:5). The biblical text is concerned to emphasize how the sacredness of life
has its foundation in God and in his creative activity: "For God made man in his own
image" (Gen 9:6).
Human life and death are thus in the hands of God, in
his power: "In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all
mankind", exclaims Job (12:10). "The Lord brings to death and brings to life; he
brings down to Sheol and raises up" (1 Sam 2:6). He alone can say: "It
is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39).
But God does not exercise this power in an arbitrary
and threatening way, but rather as part of his care and loving concern for his
creatures. If it is true that human life is in the hands of God, it is no less true
that these are loving hands, like those of a mother who accepts, nurtures and takes care
of her child: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its
mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul" (Ps 131:2; cf. Is
49:15; 66:12-13; Hos 11:4). Thus Israel does not see in the history of peoples
and in the destiny of individuals the outcome of mere chance or of blind fate, but rather
the results of a loving plan by which God brings together all the possibilities of life
and opposes the powers of death arising from sin: "God did not make death, and he
does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things that they might
exist" (Wis 1:13-14).
40. The sacredness of life gives rise to its inviolability,
written from the beginning in man's heart, in his conscience. The question:
"What have you done?" (Gen 4:10), which God addresses to Cain after he
has killed his brother Abel, interprets the experience of every person: in the depths of
his conscience, man is always reminded of the inviolability of life—his own life and that
of others—as something which does not belong to him, because it is the property and gift
of God the Creator and Father.
The commandment regarding the inviolability of human
life reverberates at the heart of the "ten words" in the covenant of Sinai
(cf. Ex 34:28). In the first place that commandment prohibits murder: "You
shall not kill" (Ex 20:13); "do not slay the innocent and
righteous" (Ex 23:7). But, as is brought out in Israel's later legislation,
it also prohibits all personal injury inflicted on another (cf. Ex 21:12-27). Of
course we must recognize that in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though
already quite marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount.
This is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for
severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty. But the overall message,
which the New Testament will bring to perfection, is a forceful appeal for respect for the
inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the person. It culminates in the
positive commandment which obliges us to be responsible for our neighbour as for
ourselves: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lev 19:18).
41. The commandment "You shall not kill",
included and more fully expressed in the positive command of love for one's neighbour, is reaffirmed
in all its force by the Lord Jesus. To the rich young man who asks him:
"Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?", Jesus replies:
"If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:16,17). And he
quotes, as the first of these: "You shall not kill" (Mt 19:18). In the
Sermon on the Mount, Jesus demands from his disciples a righteousness which surpasses
that of the Scribes and Pharisees, also with regard to respect for life: "You have
heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be
liable to judgment'. But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall
be liable to judgment" (Mt 5:21-22).
By his words and actions Jesus further unveils the
positive requirements of the commandment regarding the inviolability of life. These
requirements were already present in the Old Testament, where legislation dealt with
protecting and defending life when it was weak and threatened: in the case of foreigners,
widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in general, including children in the womb (cf. Ex
21:22; 22:20-26). With Jesus these positive requirements assume new force and urgency, and
are revealed in all their breadth and depth: they range from caring for the life of one's brother
(whether a blood brother, someone belonging to the same people, or a foreigner living in
the land of Israel) to showing concern for the stranger, even to the point of
loving one's enemy.
A stranger is no longer a stranger for the person who
must become a neighbour to someone in need, to the point of accepting
responsibility for his life, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows so clearly (cf. Lk
10:25-37). Even an enemy ceases to be an enemy for the person who is obliged to love him
(cf. Mt 5:38-48; Lk 6:27-35), to "do good" to him (cf. Lk
6:27, 33, 35) and to respond to his immediate needs promptly and with no expectation of
repayment (cf. Lk 6:34-35). The height of this love is to pray for one's enemy.
By so doing we achieve harmony with the providential love of God: "But I say to you,
love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of
your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and
sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt 5:44-45; cf. Lk 6:28,
Thus the deepest element of God's commandment to
protect human life is the requirement to show reverence and love for every person
and the life of every person. This is the teaching which the Apostle Paul, echoing the
words of Jesus, addresses to the Christians in Rome: "The commandments, 'You shall
not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet', and
any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love your neighbour
as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling; of
the law" (Rom 13:9-10).
"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill
the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28): man's responsibility for life
42. To defend and promote life, to show reverence and
love for it, is a task which God entrusts to every man, calling him as his living image to
share in his own lordship over the world: "God blessed them, and God said to them,
'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the
fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon
the earth'" (Gen 1:28).
The biblical text clearly shows the breadth and depth
of the lordship which God bestows on man. It is a matter first of all of dominion over
the earth and over every living creature, as the Book of Wisdom makes clear: "O
God of my fathers and Lord of mercy... by your wisdom you have formed man, to have
dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and
righteousness" (Wis 9:1,2-3). The Psalmist too extols the dominion given to
man as a sign of glory and honour from his Creator: "You have given him dominion over
the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and
also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever
passes along the paths of the sea" (Ps 8:6-8).
As one called to till and look after the garden of
the world (cf. Gen 2:15), man has a specific responsibility towards the
environment in which he lives, towards the creation which God has put at the service
of his personal dignity, of his life, not only for the present but also for future
generations. It is the ecological question—ranging
from the preservation of the natural habitats of the different species of
animals and of other forms of life to "human ecology" properly speaking28—which finds in the Bible clear and strong
ethical direction, leading to a solution which respects the great good of life, of every
life. In fact, "the dominion granted to man by the Creator is not an absolute power,
nor can one speak of a freedom to 'use and misuse', or to dispose of things as one
pleases. The limitation imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed
symbolically by the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen
2:16-17) shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we
are subject not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot
be violated with impunity".29
43. A certain sharing by man in God's lordship is
also evident in the specific responsibility which he is given for human life
as such. It is a responsibility which reaches its highest point in the giving of life
through procreation by man and woman in marriage. As the Second Vatican Council
teaches: "God himself who said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Gen
2:18) and 'who made man from the beginning male and female' (Mt 19:4), wished to
share with man a certain special participation in his own creative work. Thus he blessed
male and female saying: 'Increase and multiply' (Gen 1:28).30
By speaking of "a certain special
participation" of man and woman in the "creative work" of God, the Council
wishes to point out that having a child is an event which is deeply human and full of
religious meaning, insofar as it involves both the spouses, who form "one flesh"
(Gen 2:24), and God who makes himself present. As I wrote in my Letter to
Families: "When a new person is born of the conjugal union of the two, he brings
with him into the world a particular image and likeness of God himself: the genealogy
of the person is inscribed in the very biology of generation. In affirming that the
spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving birth to a
new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the laws of biology.
Instead, we wish to emphasize that God himself is present in human fatherhood and
motherhood quite differently than he is present in all other instances
of begetting 'on earth'. Indeed, God alone is the source of that 'image and
likeness' which is proper to the human being, as it was received at
Creation. Begetting is the continuation of Creation".31
This is what the Bible teaches in direct and eloquent
language when it reports the joyful cry of the first woman, "the mother of all the
living" (Gen 3:20). Aware that God has intervened, Eve exclaims: "I
have begotten a man with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). In procreation
therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God's own image and
likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul.32 The beginning of
the "book of the genealogy of Adam" expresses it in this way: "When God
created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them, and he
blessed them and called them man when they were created. When Adam had lived a hundred and
thirty years, he became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image, and
named him Seth" (Gen 5:1-3). It is precisely in their role as co-workers
with God who transmits his image to the new creature that we see the greatness of
couples who are ready "to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour,
who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day".33
This is why the Bishop Amphilochius extolled
"holy matrimony, chosen and elevated above all other earthly gifts" as "the
begetter of humanity, the creator of images of God".34
Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony become
partners in a divine undertaking: through the act of procreation, God's gift is accepted
and a new life opens to the future.
But over and above the specific mission of parents, the
task of accepting and serving life involves everyone; and this task must be fulfilled
above all towards life when it is at its weakest. It is Christ himself who reminds us
of this when he asks to be loved and served in his brothers and sisters who are suffering
in any way: the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned
... Whatever is done to each of them is done to Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
"For you formed my inmost
being" (Ps 139:13): the dignity of the unborn child
44. Human life finds itself most vulnerable when it
enters the world and when it leaves the realm of time to embark upon eternity. The word of
God frequently repeats the call to show care and respect, above all where life is
undermined by sickness and old age. Although there are no direct and explicit calls to
protect human life at its very beginning, specifically life not yet born, and life nearing
its end, this can easily be explained by the fact that the mere possibility of harming,
attacking, or actually denying life in these circumstances is completely foreign to the
religious and cultural way of thinking of the People of God.
In the Old Testament, sterility is dreaded as a
curse, while numerous offspring are viewed as a blessing: "Sons are a heritage from
the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward" (Ps 127:3; cf. Ps
128:3-4). This belief is also based on Israel's awareness of being the people of the
Covenant, called to increase in accordance with the promise made to Abraham: "Look
towards heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them ... so shall your
descendants be" (Gen 15:5). But more than anything else, at work here is the
certainty that the life which parents transmit has its origins in God. We see this
attested in the many biblical passages which respectfully and lovingly speak of
conception, of the forming of life in the mother's womb, of giving birth and of the
intimate connection between the initial moment of life and the action of God the Creator.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and
before you were born I consecrated you" (Jer 1:5): the life of every
individual, from its very beginning, is part of God's plan. Job, from the depth of
his pain, stops to contemplate the work of God who miraculously formed his body in his
mother's womb. Here he finds reason for trust, and he expresses his belief that there is a
divine plan for his life: "You have fashioned and made me; will you then turn and
destroy me? Remember that you have made me of clay; and will you turn me to dust again?
Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like cheese? You clothed me with skin and
flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast
love; and your care has preserved my spirit" (Job 10:8-12).
Expressions of awe and wonder at God's intervention in the life of a child
in its mother's womb occur again and again in the Psalms.35
How can anyone think that even a single moment of
this marvellous process of the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and
loving work of the Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly the mother of the
seven brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God, both the source and
guarantee of life from its very conception, and the foundation of the hope of new life
beyond death: "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who
gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you.
Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin
of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now
forget yourselves for the sake of his laws" (2 Mac 7:22-23).
45. The New Testament revelation confirms the indisputable
recognition of the value of life from its very beginning. The exaltation of
fruitfulness and the eager expectation of life resound in the words with which Elizabeth
rejoices in her pregnancy: "The Lord has looked on me... to take away my reproach
among men" (Lk 1:25). And even more so, the value of the
person from the moment of conception is celebrated in the meeting between
the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth, and between the two children whom they are
carrying in the womb. It is precisely the children who reveal the advent of
the Messianic age: in their meeting, the redemptive power of the presence of
the Son of God among men first becomes operative. As Saint Ambrose writes:
"The arrival of Mary and the blessings of the Lord's presence are also
speedily declared... Elizabeth was the first to hear the voice; but John was
the first to experience grace. She heard according to the order of nature;
he leaped because of the mystery. She recognized the arrival of Mary; he the
arrival of the Lord. The woman recognized the woman's arrival; the child,
that of the child. The women speak of grace; the babies make it effective
from within to the advantage of their mothers who, by a double miracle,
prophesy under the inspiration of their children. The infant leaped, the
mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before the son,
but after the son was filled with the Holy Spirit, he filled his mother
"I kept my faith even when I said,
'I am greatly afflicted'" (Ps 116:10): life in old age and at times of
46. With regard to the last moments of life too, it
would be anachronistic to expect biblical revelation to make express reference to
present-day issues concerning respect for elderly and sick persons, or to condemn
explicitly attempts to hasten their end by force. The cultural and religious context of
the Bible is in no way touched by such temptations; indeed, in that context the wisdom and
experience of the elderly are recognized as a unique source of enrichment for the family
and for society.
Old age is characterized by dignity and
surrounded with reverence (cf. 2 Mac 6:23). The just man does not seek to be
delivered from old age and its burden; on the contrary his prayer is this: "You, O
Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth... so even to old age and grey hairs, O
God, do not forsake me, till I proclaim your might to all the generations to come" (Ps
71:5,18). The ideal of the Messianic age is presented as a time when "no more shall
there be ... an old man who does not fill out his days" (Is 65:20).
In old age, how should one face the inevitable
decline of life? How should one act in the face of death? The believer knows that his
life is in the hands of God: "You, O Lord, hold my lot" (cf. Ps
16:5), and he accepts from God the need to die: "This is the decree from the Lord for
all flesh, and how can you reject the good pleasure of the Most High?" (Sir
41:3-4). Man is not the master of life, nor is he the master of death. In life and in
death, he has to entrust himself completely to the "good pleasure of the Most
High", to his loving plan.
In moments of sickness too, man is called to
have the same trust in the Lord and to renew his fundamental faith in the One who
"heals all your diseases" (cf. Ps 103:3). When every hope of good
health seems to fade before a person's eyes—so as to make him cry out: "My days are
like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass" (Ps 102:11)—even then the
believer is sustained by an unshakable faith in God's life-giving power. Illness does not
drive such a person to despair and to seek death, but makes him cry out in hope: "I
kept my faith, even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted'" (Ps 116:10);
"O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have
brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the
pit" (Ps 30:2-3).
47. The mission of Jesus, with the many healings he
performed, shows God's great concern even for man's bodily life. Jesus, as
"the physician of the body and of the spirit",37 was sent by the Father to
proclaim the good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted (cf. Lk 4:18; Is
61:1). Later, when he sends his disciples into the world, he gives them a mission, a
mission in which healing the sick goes hand in hand with the proclamation of the Gospel:
"And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand'. Heal the sick,
raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons" (Mt 10:7-8; cf. Mk
Certainly the life of the body in its earthly
state is not an absolute good for the believer, especially as he may be asked to give
up his life for a greater good. As Jesus says: "Whoever would save his life will lose
it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mk
8:35). The New Testament gives many different examples of this. Jesus does not hesitate to
sacrifice himself and he freely makes of his life an offering to the Father (cf. Jn
10:17) and to those who belong to him (cf. Jn 10:15). The death of John the
Baptist, precursor of the Saviour, also testifies that earthly existence is not an
absolute good; what is more important is remaining faithful to the word of the Lord even
at the risk of one's life (cf. Mk 6:17-29). Stephen, losing his earthly life
because of his faithful witness to the Lord's Resurrection, follows in the Master's
footsteps and meets those who are stoning him with words of forgiveness (cf. Acts
7:59-60), thus becoming the first of a countless host of martyrs whom the Church has
venerated since the very beginning.
No one, however, can arbitrarily choose whether to
live or die; the absolute master of such a decision is the Creator alone, in whom "we
live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).
"All who hold her fast will
live" (Bar 4:1): from the law of Sinai to the gift of the Spirit
48. Life is indelibly marked by a truth of its
own. By accepting God's gift, man is obliged to maintain life in this truth
which is essential to it. To detach oneself from this truth is to condemn oneself to
meaninglessness and unhappiness, and possibly to become a threat to the existence of
others, since the barriers guaranteeing respect for life and the defence of life, in every
circumstance, have been broken down.
The truth of life is revealed by God's
commandment. The word of the Lord shows concretely the course which life must follow
if it is to respect its own truth and to preserve its own dignity. The protection of life
is not only ensured by the specific commandment "You shall not kill" (Ex
20:13; Dt 5:17); the entire Law of the Lord serves to protect life,
because it reveals that truth in which life finds its full meaning.
It is not surprising, therefore, that God's Covenant
with his people is so closely linked to the perspective of life, also in its bodily
dimension. In that Covenant, God's commandment is offered as the path of life:
"I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the
commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your
God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his
ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the
land which you are entering to take possession of" (Dt 30:15-16). What is at
stake is not only the land of Canaan and the existence of the people of Israel, but also
the world of today and of the future, and the existence of all humanity. In fact, it is
altogether impossible for life to remain authentic and complete once it is detached from
the good; and the good, in its turn, is essentially bound to the commandments of the Lord,
that is, to the "law of life" (Sir 17:11). The good to be done is not
added to life as a burden which weighs on it, since the very purpose of life is that good
and only by doing it can life be built up.
It is thus the Law as a whole which fully
protects human life. This explains why it is so hard to remain faithful to the commandment
"You shall not kill" when the other "words of life" (cf. Acts
7:38) with which this commandment is bound up are not observed. Detached from this wider
framework, the commandment is destined to become nothing more than an obligation imposed
from without, and very soon we begin to look for its limits and try to find mitigating
factors and exceptions. Only when people are open to the fullness of the truth about God,
man and history will the words "You shall not kill" shine forth once more as a
good for man in himself and in his relations with others. In such a perspective we can
grasp the full truth of the passage of the Book of Deuteronomy which Jesus repeats in
reply to the first temptation: "Man does not live by bread alone, but... by
everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord" (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt
It is by listening to the word of the Lord that we
are able to live in dignity and justice. It is by observing the Law of God that we are
able to bring forth fruits of life and happiness: "All who hold her fast will live,
and those who forsake her will die" (Bar 4:1).
49. The history of Israel shows how difficult it
is to remain faithful to the Law of life which God has inscribed in human hearts and
which he gave on Sinai to the people of the Covenant. When the people look for ways of
living which ignore God's plan, it is the Prophets in particular who forcefully remind
them that the Lord alone is the authentic source of life. Thus Jeremiah writes: "My
people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and
hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (2:13).
The Prophets point an accusing finger at those who show contempt for life and violate
people's rights: "They trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth"
(Amos 2:7); "they have filled this place with the blood of innocents" (Jer
19:4). Among them, the Prophet Ezekiel frequently condemns the city of Jerusalem, calling
it "the bloody city" (22:2; 24:6, 9), the "city that sheds blood in her own
But while the Prophets condemn offences against life,
they are concerned above all to awaken hope for a new principle of life, capable
of bringing about a renewed relationship with God and with others, and of opening up new
and extraordinary possibilities for understanding and carrying out all the demands
inherent in the Gospel of life. This will only be possible thanks to the gift of
God who purifies and renews: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be
clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart
I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you" (Ezek 36:25-26; cf.
Jer 31:34). This "new heart" will make it possible to appreciate and
achieve the deepest and most authentic meaning of life: namely, that of being a gift
which is fully realized in the giving of self. This is the splendid message about the
value of life which comes to us from the figure of the Servant of the Lord: "When he
makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his life
... he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied" (Is
It is in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth that the Law
is fulfilled and that a new heart is given through his Spirit. Jesus does not deny the Law
but brings it to fulfilment (cf. Mt 5:17): the Law and the Prophets are summed up
in the golden rule of mutual love (cf. Mt 7:12). In Jesus the Law becomes once
and for all the "gospel", the good news of God's lordship over the world, which
brings all life back to its roots and its original purpose. This is the New Law,
"the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2), and its
fundamental expression, following the example of the Lord who gave his life for his
friends (cf. Jn 15:13), is the gift of self love for one's brothers and
sisters: "We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love
the brethren" (1 Jn 3:14). This is the law of freedom, joy and blessedness.
"They shall look on him whom they
have pierced" (Jn 19:37): the Gospel of life is brought to fulfilment on the
tree of the Cross
50. At the end of this chapter, in which we have
reflected on the Christian message about life, I would like to pause with each one of you
to contemplate the One who was pierced and who draws all people to himself (cf. Jn
19:37; 12:32). Looking at "the spectacle" of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:48)
we shall discover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation of the
whole Gospel of life.
In the early afternoon of Good Friday, "there
was darkness over the whole land ... while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the
temple was torn in two" (Lk 23:44, 45). This is the symbol of a great cosmic
disturbance and a massive conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil,
between life and death. Today we too find ourselves in the midst of a dramatic conflict
between the "culture of death" and the "culture of life". But the
glory of the Cross is not overcome by this darkness; rather, it shines forth ever more
radiantly and brightly, and is revealed as the centre, meaning and goal of all history and
of every human life.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross and is lifted up from
the earth. He experiences the moment of his greatest "powerlessness", and his
life seems completely delivered to the derision of his adversaries and into the hands of
his executioners: he is mocked, jeered at, insulted (cf. Mk 15:24-36). And yet,
precisely amid all this, having seen him breathe his last, the Roman centurion exclaims:
"Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk 15:39). It is thus, at the
moment of his greatest weakness, that the Son of God is revealed for who he is: on the
Cross his glory is made manifest.
By his death, Jesus sheds light on the meaning of the
life and death of every human being. Before he dies, Jesus prays to the Father, asking
forgiveness for his persecutors (cf. Lk 23:34), and to the criminal who asks him
to remember him in his kingdom he replies: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be
with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43). After his death "the tombs also were
opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Mt
27:52). The salvation wrought by Jesus is the bestowal of life and resurrection.
Throughout his earthly life, Jesus had indeed bestowed salvation by healing and doing good
to all (cf. Acts 10:38). But his miracles, healings and even his raising of the
dead were signs of another salvation, a salvation which consists in the forgiveness of
sins, that is, in setting man free from his greatest sickness and in raising him to the
very life of God.
On the Cross, the miracle of the serpent lifted up by
Moses in the desert (Jn 3:14-15; cf. Num 21:8-9) is renewed and brought
to full and definitive perfection. Today too, by looking upon the one who was pierced,
every person whose life is threatened encounters the sure hope of finding freedom and
51. But there is yet another particular event which
moves me deeply when I consider it. "When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said,
'It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30).
Afterwards, the Roman soldier "pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came
out blood and water" (Jn 19:34).
Everything has now reached its complete fulfilment.
The "giving up" of the spirit describes Jesus' death, a death like that of every
other human being, but it also seems to allude to the "gift of the Spirit", by
which Jesus ransoms us from death and opens before us a new life.
It is the very life of God which is now shared with
man. It is the life which through the Sacraments of the Church—symbolized by the blood
and water flowing from Christ's side—is continually given to God's children, making them
the people of the New Covenant. From the Cross, the source of life, the "people
of life" is born and increases.
The contemplation of the Cross thus brings us to the
very heart of all that has taken place. Jesus, who upon entering into the world said:
"I have come, O God, to do your will" (cf. Heb 10:9), made himself
obedient to the Father in everything and, "having loved his own who were in the
world, he loved them to the end" (Jn 13:1), giving himself completely for
He who had come "not to be served but to serve,
and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10:45), attains on the Cross
the heights of love: "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life
for his friends" (Jn 15:13). And he died for us while we were yet sinners
(cf. Rom 5:8).
In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds its
centre, its meaning and its fulfilment when it is given up.
At this point our meditation becomes praise and
thanksgiving, and at the same time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps
(cf. 1 Pt 2:21).
We too are called to give our lives for our brothers
and sisters, and thus to realize in the fullness of truth the meaning and destiny of our
We shall be able to do this because you, O Lord, have
given us the example and have bestowed on us the power of your Spirit. We shall be able to
do this if every day, with you and like you, we are obedient to the Father and do his
Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open and
generous hearts to every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus we shall learn
not only to obey the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere life, to love
it and to foster it.
God's Holy Law
"If you would enter life, keep the
commandments" (Mt 19:17): Gospel and commandment
52. "And behold, one came up to him, saying,
'Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?'" (Mt 19:6). Jesus
replied, "If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17).
The Teacher is speaking about eternal life, that is, a sharing in the life of God himself.
This life is attained through the observance of the Lord's commandments, including the
commandment "You shall not kill". This is the first precept from the Decalogue
which Jesus quotes to the young man who asks him what commandments he should observe:
Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not
steal..." (Mt 19:18).
God's commandment is never detached from his love:
it is always a gift meant for man's growth and joy. As such, it represents an essential
and indispensable aspect of the Gospel, actually becoming "gospel" itself:
joyful good news. The Gospel of life is both a great gift of God and an exacting
task for humanity. It gives rise to amazement and gratitude in the person graced with
freedom, and it asks to be welcomed, preserved and esteemed, with a deep sense of
responsibility. In giving life to man, God demands that he love, respect and
promote life. The gift thus becomes a commandment, and the
commandment is itself a gift.
Man, as the living image of God, is willed by his
Creator to be ruler and lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes that "God made man
capable of carrying out his role as king of the earth ... Man was created in the image of
the One who governs the universe. Everything demonstrates that from the beginning man's
nature was marked by royalty... Man is a king. Created to exercise dominion over the
world, he was given a likeness to the king of the universe; he is the living image who
participates by his dignity in the perfection of the divine archetype".38 Called to
be fruitful and multiply, to subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over other lesser
creatures (cf. Gen 1:28), man is ruler and lord not only over things but
especially over himself,39 and in a certain sense, over the life which he has received
and which he is able to transmit through procreation, carried out with love and respect
for God's plan. Man's lordship however is not absolute, but ministerial:
it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God. Hence man must
exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundless wisdom and love of
God. And this comes about through obedience to God's holy Law: a free and joyful obedience
(cf. Ps 119), born of and fostered by an awareness that the precepts of the Lord
are a gift of grace entrusted to man always and solely for his good, for the preservation
of his personal dignity and the pursuit of his happiness.
With regard to things, but even more with regard to
life, man is not the absolute master and final judge, but rather—and this is where his
incomparable greatness lies—he
is the "minister of God's plan".40
Life is entrusted to man as a treasure which must not
be squandered, as a talent which must be used well. Man must render an account of it to
his Master (cf. Mt 25:14-30; Lk 19:12-27).
"From man in regard to his fellow
man I will demand an accounting for human life" (Gen 9:5): human life is
sacred and inviolable
53. "Human life is sacred because from its
beginning it involves 'the creative action of God', and it remains forever in a special
relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its
beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the right to
destroy directly an innocent human being".41 With these words the Instruction Donum
Vitae sets forth the central content of God's revelation on the sacredness and
inviolability of human life.
Sacred Scripture in fact presents the
precept "You shall not kill" as a divine commandment (Ex 20:13; Dt
5:17). As I have already emphasized, this commandment is found in the Decalogue, at the
heart of the Covenant which the Lord makes with his chosen people; but it was already
contained in the original covenant between God and humanity after the purifying punishment
of the Flood, caused by the spread of sin and violence (cf. Gen 9:5-6).
God proclaims that he is absolute Lord of the life of
man, who is formed in his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-28). Human life is
thus given a sacred and inviolable character, which reflects the inviolability of the
Creator himself. Precisely for this reason God will severely judge every violation of the
commandment "You shall not kill", the commandment which is at the basis of all
life together in society. He is the "goel", the defender of the
innocent (cf. Gen 4:9-15; Is 41:14; Jer 50:34; Ps
19:14). God thus shows that he does not delight in the death of the living (cf. Wis
1:13). Only Satan can delight therein: for through his envy death entered the world (cf. Wis
2:24). He who is "a murderer from the beginning", is also "a liar and the
father of lies" (Jn 8:44). By deceiving man he leads him to projects of sin
and death, making them appear as goals and fruits of life.
54. As explicitly formulated, the precept "You
shall not kill" is strongly negative: it indicates the extreme limit which can never
be exceeded. Implicitly, however, it encourages a positive attitude of absolute respect
for life; it leads to the promotion of life and to progress along the way of a love which
gives, receives and serves. The people of the Covenant, although slowly and with some
contradictions, progressively matured in this way of thinking, and thus prepared for the
great proclamation of Jesus that the commandment to love one's neighbour is like the
commandment to love God; "on these two commandments depend all the law and the
prophets" (cf. Mt 22:36-40). Saint Paul emphasizes that "the
commandment ... you shall not kill ... and any other commandment, are summed up in this
phrase: 'You shall love your neighbour as yourself'" (Rom 13:9; cf. Gal
5:14). Taken up and brought to fulfilment in the New Law, the commandment "You shall
not kill" stands as an indispensable condition for being able "to enter
life" (cf. Mt 19:16-19). In this same perspective, the words of the Apostle
John have a categorical ring: "Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you
know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 Jn 3:15).
From the beginning, the living Tradition of the
Church—as shown by the Didache, the most ancient non-biblical Christian
repeated the commandment "You shall not kill": "There are two ways, a way of
life and a way of death; there is a great difference between them... In
accordance with the precept of the teaching: you shall not kill... you shall
not put a child to death by abortion nor kill it once it is born ... The way
of death is this: ... they show no compassion for the poor, they do not
suffer with the suffering, they do not acknowledge their Creator, they kill
their children and by abortion cause God's creatures to perish; they drive
away the needy, oppress the suffering, they are advocates of the rich and
unjust judges of the poor; they are filled with every sin. May you be able
to stay ever apart, O children, from all these sins!".42
As time passed, the Church's Tradition has always
consistently taught the absolute and unchanging value of the commandment "You shall
not kill". It is a known fact that in the first centuries, murder was put among the
three most serious sins—along with apostasy and adultery—and required a particularly
heavy and lengthy public penance before the repentant murderer could be granted
forgiveness and readmission to the ecclesial community.
55. This should not cause surprise: to kill a human
being, in whom the image of God is present, is a particularly serious sin. Only God is
the master of life! Yet from the beginning, faced with the many and often tragic
cases which occur in the life of individuals and society, Christian reflection has sought
a fuller and deeper understanding of what God's commandment prohibits and prescribes.43
There are in fact situations in which values proposed by God's Law seem to involve a
genuine paradox. This happens for example in the case of legitimate defence, in
which the right to protect one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are
difficult to reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to
love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to self-defence.
The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in the Old Testament and
confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as the basis of comparison:
"You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Mk 12:31).
Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack of love for life
or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love which deepens and
transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering, according to the spirit of the
Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The sublime example of this self-offering is
the Lord Jesus himself.
Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only a
right but a grave duty for someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the
family or of the State".44 Unfortunately it happens that the
need to render the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves
taking his life. In this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the
aggressor whose action brought it about, even though he may not be morally
responsible because of a lack of the use of reason.45
56. This is the context in which to place the problem
of the death penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the
Church and in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even
that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a system of
penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the end, with God's plan
for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment which society inflicts is
"to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46 Public authority must
redress the violation of personal and social rights by imposing on the offender an
adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition for the offender to regain the exercise
of his or her freedom. In this way authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public
order and ensuring people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an
incentive and help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.47
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the
nature and extent of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and
ought not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute
necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend society.
Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization of the penal system,
such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism
of the Catholic Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are
sufficient to defend human lives against an aggressor and to protect public
order and the safety of persons, public authority must limit itself to such
means, because they better correspond to the concrete conditions of the
common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person".48
57. If such great care must be taken to respect every
life, even that of criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment "You shall not
kill" has absolute value when it refers to the innocent person. And all the
more so in the case of weak and defenceless human beings, who find their ultimate defence
against the arrogance and caprice of others only in the absolute binding force of God's
In effect, the absolute inviolability of innocent
human life is a moral truth clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantly upheld in the
Church's Tradition and consistently proposed by her Magisterium. This
consistent teaching is the evident result of that "supernatural sense of the
faith" which, inspired and sustained by the Holy Spirit, safeguards the
People of God from error when "it shows universal agreement in matters of
faith and morals".49
Faced with the progressive weakening in individual
consciences and in society of the sense of the absolute and grave moral illicitness of the
direct taking of all innocent human life, especially at its beginning and at its end, the
Church's Magisterium has spoken out with increasing frequency in defence of the
sacredness and inviolability of human life. The Papal Magisterium,
particularly insistent in this regard, has always been seconded by that of
the Bishops, with numerous and comprehensive doctrinal and pastoral
documents issued either by Episcopal Conferences or by individual Bishops.
The Second Vatican Council also addressed the matter forcefully, in a brief
but incisive passage.50
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred
upon Peter and his Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I
confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is always gravely
immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which man, in the light of
reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is reaffirmed by Sacred
Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and taught by the ordinary and
The deliberate decision to deprive an
innocent human being of his life is always morally evil and can never be
licit either as an end in itself or as a means to a good end. It is in fact
a grave act of disobedience to the moral law, and indeed to God himself, the
author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts the fundamental virtues of
justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any way permit the killing
of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo, an infant or an
adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable disease, or a
person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for this act of
killing, either for himself or herself or for another person entrusted to
his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly or
implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an
As far as the right to life is concerned,
every innocent human being is absolutely equal to all others. This equality
is the basis of all authentic social relationships which, to be truly such,
can only be founded on truth and justice, recognizing and protecting every
man and woman as a person and not as an object to be used. Before the moral
norm which prohibits the direct taking of the life of an innocent human
being "there are no privileges or exceptions for anyone. It makes no
difference whether one is the master of the world or the 'poorest of the
poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality we are all
"Your eyes beheld my unformed
substance" (Ps 139:16): the unspeakable crime of abortion
58. Among all the crimes which can be
committed against life, procured abortion has characteristics making it
particularly serious and deplorable. The Second Vatican Council defines
abortion, together with infanticide, as an "unspeakable crime".54
But today, in many people's consciences, the
perception of its gravity has become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in
the popular mind, in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely
dangerous crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of
distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is at stake.
Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the courage to look the
truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to
convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception. In this regard the reproach
of the Prophet is extremely straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and
good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20).
Especially in the case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology,
such as "interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature
and to attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon is
itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to change the
reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct killing, by whatever
means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial phase of his or her existence,
extending from conception to birth.
The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in
all its truth if we recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we
consider the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very
beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In no way
could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an unjust aggressor! He
or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of lacking that minimal form of
defence consisting in the poignant power of a newborn baby's cries and tears. The unborn
child is totally entrusted to the protection and care of the woman carrying him
or her in the womb. And yet sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the
decision and asks for the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is
often tragic and painful for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the
fruit of conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out
of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a decent
standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is feared that the
child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be better if the birth did
not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others like them, however serious and
tragic, can never justify the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
59. As well as the mother, there are often other
people too who decide upon the death of the child in the womb. In the first place, the
father of the child may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have
an abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by leaving
her alone to face the problems of pregnancy:55 in this way the family is thus mortally
wounded and profaned in its nature as a community of love and in its vocation to be the
"sanctuary of life". Nor can one overlook the pressures which sometimes come
from the wider family circle and from friends. Sometimes the woman is subjected to such
strong pressure that she feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: certainly in
this case moral responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or
indirectly obliged her to have an abortion. Doctors and nurses are also responsible, when
they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting life.
But responsibility likewise falls on the legislators
who have promoted and approved abortion laws, and, to the extent that they have a say in
the matter, on the administrators of the health-care centres where abortions are
performed. A general and no less serious responsibility lies with those who have
encouraged the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for
motherhood, and with those who should have ensured—but did not—effective family and
social policies in support of families, especially larger families and those with
particular financial and educational needs. Finally, one cannot overlook the network of
complicity which reaches out to include international institutions, foundations and
associations which systematically campaign for the legalization and spread of abortion in
the world. In this sense abortion goes beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond
the harm done to them, and takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound
inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be society's
promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families, "we are facing
an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals but also to that of
civilization itself".56 We are facing what can be called a "structure of
sin" which opposes human life not yet born.
60. Some people try to justify abortion by claiming
that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be
considered a personal human life. But in fact, "from the time that the ovum is
fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is
rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if
it were not human already. This has always been clear, and... modern genetic science
offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is
established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual
person with his characteristic aspects already well determined. Right from fertilization
the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time—a rather
lengthy time—to find its place and to be in a position to act".57
Even if the presence of a spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical
data, the results themselves of scientific research on the human embryo
provide "a valuable indication for discerning by the use of reason a
personal presence at the moment of the first appearance of a human life: how
could a human individual not be a human person?".58
Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that,
from the standpoint of moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is
involved would suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention
aimed at killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific
debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not expressly
committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach that the result of
human procreation, from the first moment of its existence, must be guaranteed that
unconditional respect which is morally due to the human being in his or her totality and
unity as body and spirit: "The human being is to be respected and treated as a
person from the moment of conception; and therefore from that same
moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first
place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life".59
61. The texts of Sacred Scripture never
address the question of deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically
condemn it. But they show such great respect for the human being in the mother's womb that
they require as a logical consequence that God's commandment "You shall not
kill" be extended to the unborn child as well.
Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment
of existence, including the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings, from
their mothers' womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and
knits them together with his own hands, who gazes on them when they are tiny shapeless
embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrow whose days are numbered and whose
vocation is even now written in the "book of life" (cf. Ps 139: 1,
13-16). There too, when they are still in their mothers' womb—as
many passages of the Bible bear witness60—they are the personal objects of God's loving and fatherly
Christian Tradition—as the Declaration
issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well6l—is clear
and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describing abortion as a
particularly grave moral disorder. From its first contacts with the Greco-Roman world,
where abortion and infanticide were widely practised, the first Christian community, by
its teaching and practice, radically opposed the customs rampant in that society, as is
clearly shown by the Didache mentioned earlier.62 Among the Greek
ecclesiastical writers, Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women
who have recourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are still in
their mother's womb, "are already under the protection of Divine
Providence".63 Among the Latin authors, Tertullian affirms:
"It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes
little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death
at birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already".64
Throughout Christianity's two thousand year history,
this same doctrine has been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her
Pastors and Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise
moment of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation about
the moral condemnation of abortion.
62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has
vigorously reaffirmed this common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in his Encyclical Casti
Connubii, rejected the specious justifications of abortion.65 Pius XII excluded all
direct abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy human life in the womb
"whether such destruction is intended as an end or only as a means to an
end".66 John XXIII reaffirmed that human life is sacred because "from its very
beginning it directly involves God's creative activity".67
The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned
abortion: "From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the
greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes".68
The Church's canonical discipline, from the
earliest centuries, has inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion. This
practice, with more or less severe penalties, has been confirmed in various periods of
history. The 1917 Code of Canon Law punished abortion with excommunication.69
The revised canonical legislation continues this tradition when it decrees that "a
person who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae)
excommunication".70 The excommunication affects all those who commit this crime
with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes those accomplices without whose
help the crime would not have been committed.71 By this reiterated sanction, the Church
makes clear that abortion is a most serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those
who commit it to seek without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of
the penalty of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a
certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and
disciplinary tradition of the Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is
unchanged and unchangeable.72 Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon
Peter and his Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who
on various occasions have condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned
consultation, albeit dispersed throughout the world, have shown unanimous
agreement concerning this doctrine—I declare that
direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a
grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.
This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written Word of God, is
transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can
ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of
God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by
63. This evaluation of the morality of abortion is to
be applied also to the recent forms of intervention on human embryos which,
although carried out for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing
of those embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is
becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and is legally
permitted in some countries. Although "one must uphold as licit procedures carried
out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity of the embryo and do not
involve disproportionate risks for it, but rather are directed to its healing, the
improvement of its condition of health, or its individual survival",74
it must nonetheless be stated that the use of human embryos or fetuses as an
object of experimentation constitutes a crime against their dignity as human
beings who have a right to the same respect owed to a child once born, just
as to every person.75
This moral condemnation also regards procedures that
exploit living human embryos and fetuses—sometimes specifically "produced" for
this purpose by in vitro fertilization—either to be used as "biological
material" or as providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the
treatment of certain diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried
out to help others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.
Special attention must be given to evaluating the
morality of prenatal diagnostic techniques which enable the early detection of
possible anomalies in the unborn child. In view of the complexity of these techniques, an
accurate and systematic moral judgment is necessary. When they do not involve
disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and are meant to make possible early
therapy or even to favour a serene and informed acceptance of the child not yet born,
these techniques are morally licit. But since the possibilities of prenatal therapy are
today still limited, it not infrequently happens that these techniques are used with a
eugenic intention which accepts selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of
children affected by various types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly
reprehensible, since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the
parameters of "normality" and physical well-being, thus opening the way to
legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well.
And yet the courage and the serenity with which so
many of our brothers and sisters suffering from serious disabilities lead their lives when
they are shown acceptance and love bears eloquent witness to what gives authentic value to
life, and makes it, even in difficult conditions, something precious for them and for
others. The Church is close to those married couples who, with great anguish and
suffering, willingly accept gravely handicapped children. She is also grateful to all
those families which, through adoption, welcome children abandoned by their parents
because of disabilities or illnesses.
"It is I who bring both death and
life" (Dt 32:39): the tragedy of euthanasia
64. At the other end of life's spectrum, men and
women find themselves facing the mystery of death. Today, as a result of advances in
medicine and in a cultural context frequently closed to the transcendent, the experience
of dying is marked by new features. When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to
the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an unbearable
setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death is considered
"senseless" if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a future of new and
interesting experiences. But it becomes a "rightful liberation" once life is
held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled with pain and inexorably doomed to
even greater suffering.
Furthermore, when he denies or neglects his
fundamental relationship to God, man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right
to demand that society should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with
his life in full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in the developed countries
who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress of
medicine and its ever more advanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated systems and
equipment, science and medical practice today are able not only to attend to cases
formerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain, but also to sustain and
prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty, to resuscitate artificially patients
whose basic biological functions have undergone sudden collapse, and to use special
procedures to make organs available for transplanting.
In this context the temptation grows to have recourse
to euthanasia, that is, to take control of death and bring it about before
its time, "gently" ending one's own life or the life of others. In reality,
what might seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless
and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of the
"culture of death", which is advancing above all in prosperous societies, marked
by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees the growing
number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too burdensome. These people are
very often isolated by their families and by society, which are organized almost
exclusively on the basis of criteria of productive efficiency, according to which a
hopelessly impaired life no longer has any value.
65. For a correct moral judgment on euthanasia, in
the first place a clear definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense
is understood to be an action or omission which of itself and by intention
causes death, with the purpose of eliminating all suffering. "Euthanasia's
terms of reference, therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will
and in the methods used".76
Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to
forego so-called "aggressive medical treatment", in other words, medical
procedures which no longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because
they are by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an
excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death is clearly
imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience "refuse forms of treatment that would
only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of life, so long as the normal care
due to the sick person in similar cases is not interrupted".77
Certainly there is a moral obligation to care for oneself and to allow
oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take account of concrete
circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means of treatment
available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for improvement. To
forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the equivalent of
suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human condition
in the face of death.78
In modern medicine, increased attention is being
given to what are called "methods of palliative care", which seek to make
suffering more bearable in the final stages of illness and to ensure that the patient is
supported and accompanied in his or her ordeal. Among the questions which arise in this
context is that of the licitness of using various types of painkillers and sedatives for
relieving the patient's pain when this involves the risk of shortening life. While praise
may be due to the person who voluntarily accepts suffering by forgoing treatment with
pain-killers in order to remain fully lucid and, if a believer, to share consciously in
the Lord's Passion, such "heroic" behaviour cannot be considered the duty of
everyone. Pius XII affirmed that it is licit to relieve pain by narcotics, even when the
result is decreased consciousness and a shortening of life, "if no other means exist,
and if, in the given circumstances, this does not prevent the carrying out of other
religious and moral duties".79 In such a case, death is not willed or sought, even
though for reasonable motives one runs the risk of it: there is simply a desire to ease
pain effectively by using the analgesics which medicine provides. All the same, "it
is not right to deprive the dying person of consciousness without a serious
reason":80 as they approach death people ought to be able to satisfy their moral
and family duties, and above all they ought to be able to prepare in a fully conscious way
for their definitive meeting with God.
Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony
with the Magisterium of my Predecessors81 and in communion with the Bishops of the
Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God,
since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person. This
doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of God, is transmitted by
the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.82 Depending
on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to suicide or murder.
66. Suicide is always as morally objectionable as
murder. The Church's tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice.83 Even
though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce a person to
carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate inclination to life, thus
lessening or removing subjective responsibility, suicide, when viewed
objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it involves the rejection of love of self
and the renunciation of the obligation of justice and charity towards one's neighbour,
towards the communities to which one belongs, and towards society as a whole.84 In its
deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty over life
and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of the ancient sage of Israel: "You have power
over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and back again" (Wis
16:13; cf. Tob 13:2).
To concur with the intention of another
person to commit suicide and to help in carrying it out through so-called
"assisted suicide" means to cooperate in, and at times to be the actual
perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be excused, even if it is
requested. In a remarkably relevant passage Saint Augustine writes that "it
is never licit to kill another: even if he should wish it, indeed if he
request it because, hanging between life and death, he begs for help in
freeing the soul struggling against the bonds of the body and longing to be
released; nor is it licit even when a sick person is no longer able to
Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be
burdened with the life of someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false
mercy, and indeed a disturbing "perversion" of mercy. True
"compassion" leads to sharing another's pain; it does not kill the person whose
suffering we cannot bear. Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if
it is carried out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with
patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific
profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful terminal
The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when it
takes the form of a murder committed by others on a person who has in no way
requested it and who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness and injustice
is reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators, arrogate to themselves
the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die. Once again we find ourselves
before the temptation of Eden: to become like God who "knows good and evil" (cf.
Gen 3:5). God alone has the power over life and death: "It is I who bring
both death and life" (Dt 32:39; cf. 2 Kg 5:7; 1 Sam 2:6).
But he only exercises this power in accordance with a plan of wisdom and love. When man
usurps this power, being enslaved by a foolish and selfish way of thinking, he inevitably
uses it for injustice and death. Thus the life of the person who is weak is put into the
hands of the one who is strong; in society the sense of justice is lost, and mutual trust,
the basis of every authentic interpersonal relationship, is undermined at its root.
67. Quite different from this is the way of love
and true mercy, which our common humanity calls for, and upon which
faith in Christ the Redeemer, who died and rose again, sheds ever new light.
The request which arises from the human heart in the supreme confrontation
with suffering and death, especially when faced with the temptation to give
up in utter desperation, is above all a request for companionship, sympathy
and support in the time of trial. It is a plea for help to keep on hoping
when all human hopes fail. As the Second Vatican Council reminds us: "It is
in the face of death that the riddle of human existence becomes most acute"
and yet "man rightly follows the intuition of his heart when he abhors and
repudiates the absolute ruin and total disappearance of his own person. Man
rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal seed which
cannot be reduced to mere matter".86
This natural aversion to death and this incipient
hope of immortality are illumined and brought to fulfilment by Christian faith, which both
promises and offers a share in the victory of the Risen Christ: it is the victory of the
One who, by his redemptive death, has set man free from death, "the wages of
sin" (Rom 6:23), and has given him the Spirit, the pledge of resurrection
and of life (cf. Rom 8:11). The certainty of future immortality and hope in
the promised resurrection cast new light on the mystery of suffering and death, and
fill the believer with an extraordinary capacity to trust fully in the plan of God.
The Apostle Paul expressed this newness in terms of
belonging completely to the Lord who embraces every human condition: "None of us
lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if
we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the
Lord's" (Rom 14:7-8). Dying to the Lord means experiencing one's
death as the supreme act of obedience to the Father (cf. Phil 2:8), being ready
to meet death at the "hour" willed and chosen by him (cf. Jn 13:1),
which can only mean when one's earthly pilgrimage is completed. Living to the Lord
also means recognizing that suffering, while still an evil and a trial in itself, can
always become a source of good. It becomes such if it is experienced for love and with
love through sharing, by God's gracious gift and one's own personal and free choice, in
the suffering of Christ Crucified. In this way, the person who lives his suffering in the
Lord grows more fully conformed to him (cf. Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 2:21) and
more closely associated with his redemptive work on behalf of the Church and humanity.87
This was the experience of Saint Paul, which every person who suffers is called to relive:
"I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking
in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (Col
"We must obey God rather than
men" (Acts 5:29): civil law and the moral law
68. One of the specific characteristics of
present-day attacks on human life—as has already been said several times—consists in the
trend to demand a legal justification for them, as if they were rights which the
State, at least under certain conditions, must acknowledge as belonging to citizens.
Consequently, there is a tendency to claim that it should be possible to exercise these
rights with the safe and free assistance of doctors and medical personnel.
It is often claimed that the life of an unborn child
or a seriously disabled person is only a relative good: according to a proportionalist
approach, or one of sheer calculation, this good should be compared with and balanced
against other goods. It is even maintained that only someone present and personally
involved in a concrete situation can correctly judge the goods at stake: consequently,
only that person would be able to decide on the morality of his choice. The State
therefore, in the interest of civil coexistence and social harmony, should respect this
choice, even to the point of permitting abortion and euthanasia.
At other times, it is claimed that civil law cannot
demand that all citizens should live according to moral standards higher than what all
citizens themselves acknowledge and share. Hence the law should always express the opinion
and will of the majority of citizens and recognize that they have, at least in certain
extreme cases, the right even to abortion and euthanasia. Moreover the prohibition and the
punishment of abortion and euthanasia in these cases would inevitably lead—so it is
said—to an increase of illegal practices: and these would not be subject to necessary
control by society and would be carried out in a medically unsafe way. The question is
also raised whether supporting a law which in practice cannot be enforced would not
ultimately undermine the authority of all laws.
Finally, the more radical views go so far as to
maintain that in a modern and pluralistic society people should be allowed complete
freedom to dispose of their own lives as well as of the lives of the unborn: it is
asserted that it is not the task of the law to choose between different moral opinions,
and still less can the law claim to impose one particular opinion to the detriment of
69. In any case, in the democratic culture of our
time it is commonly held that the legal system of any society should limit itself to
taking account of and accepting the convictions of the majority. It should therefore be
based solely upon what the majority itself considers moral and actually practises.
Furthermore, if it is believed that an objective truth shared by all is de facto
unattainable, then respect for the freedom of the citizens—who in a democratic system are
considered the true rulers—would require that on the legislative level the autonomy of
individual consciences be acknowledged. Consequently, when establishing those norms which
are absolutely necessary for social coexistence, the only determining factor should be the
will of the majority, whatever this may be. Hence every politician, in his or her
activity, should clearly separate the realm of private conscience from that of public
As a result we have what appear to be two
diametrically opposed tendencies. On the one hand, individuals claim for themselves in the
moral sphere the most complete freedom of choice and demand that the State should not
adopt or impose any ethical position but limit itself to guaranteeing maximum space for
the freedom of each individual, with the sole limitation of not infringing on the freedom
and rights of any other citizen. On the other hand, it is held that, in the exercise of
public and professional duties, respect for other people's freedom of choice requires that
each one should set aside his or her own convictions in order to satisfy every demand of
the citizens which is recognized and guaranteed by law; in carrying out one's duties the
only moral criterion should be what is laid down by the law itself. Individual
responsibility is thus turned over to the civil law, with a renouncing of personal
conscience, at least in the public sphere.
70. At the basis of all these tendencies lies the ethical
relativism which characterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who
consider such relativism an essential condition of democracy, inasmuch as it alone is held
to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the decisions of
the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and binding are held to lead
to authoritarianism and intolerance.
But it is precisely the issue of respect for life
which shows what misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terrible practical
consequences, are concealed in this position.
It is true that history has known cases where crimes
have been committed in the name of "truth". But equally grave crimes and radical
denials of freedom have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of
"ethical relativism". When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is
legal, at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really
making a "tyrannical" decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless
of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against humanity of
which our century has had such sad experience. But would these crimes cease to be crimes
if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous tyrants, they were legitimated by popular
Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making
it a substitute for morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a
"system" and as such is a means and not an end. Its "moral" value is
not automatic, but depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other
form of human behaviour, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the
morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If today we see
an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to be
considered a positive "sign of the times", as the Church's Magisterium has
frequently noted.88 But the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it
embodies and promotes. Of course, values such as the dignity of every human person,
respect for inviolable and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the "common
good" as the end and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental
and not to be ignored.
The basis of these values cannot be provisional and
changeable "majority" opinions, but only the acknowledgment of an objective
moral law which, as the "natural law" written in the human heart, is the
obligatory point of reference for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring
of the collective conscience, an attitude of scepticism were to succeed in
bringing into question even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the
democratic system itself would be shaken in its foundations, and would be
reduced to a mere mechanism for regulating different and opposing interests
on a purely empirical basis.89
Some might think that even this function, in the
absence of anything better, should be valued for the sake of peace in society. While one
acknowledges some element of truth in this point of view, it is easy to see that without
an objective moral grounding not even democracy is capable of ensuring a stable peace,
especially since peace which is not built upon the values of the dignity of every
individual and of solidarity between all people frequently proves to be illusory. Even in
participatory systems of government, the regulation of interests often occurs to the
advantage of the most powerful, since they are the ones most capable of manoeuvering not
only the levers of power but also of shaping the formation of consensus. In such a
situation, democracy easily becomes an empty word.
71. It is therefore urgently necessary, for the
future of society and the development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential
and innate human and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and
express and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority
and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge, respect and
Consequently there is a need to recover the basic
elements of a vision of the relationship between civil law and moral law, which are
put forward by the Church, but which are also part of the patrimony of the great juridical
traditions of humanity.
Certainly the purpose of civil law is
different and more limited in scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of
life can the civil law take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things
which are outside its competence",90 which is that of ensuring the common good of
people through the recognition and defence of their fundamental rights, and the promotion
of peace and of public morality.91 The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an
ordered social coexistence in true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and
peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely
for this reason, civil law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for
certain fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every
positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is the
inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public authority can
sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which—were it prohibited—would cause
more serious harm,92 it can never presume to legitimize as a right of individuals—even
if they are the majority of the members of society—an
offence against other persons caused by the disregard of so fundamental a
right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion or of
euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience of
others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect
itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and
under the pretext of freedom.93
In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John
XXIII pointed out that "it is generally accepted today that the common good is best
safeguarded when personal rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil
authorities must therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected,
co-ordinated, defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to
perform his duties more easily. For 'to safeguard the inviolable rights of
the human person, and to facilitate the performance of his duties, is the
principal duty of every public authority'. Thus any government which refused
to recognize human rights or acted in violation of them, would not only fail
in its duty; its decrees would be wholly lacking in binding force".94
72. The doctrine on the necessary conformity of
civil law with the moral law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church.
This is clear once more from John XXIII's Encyclical:
"Authority is a postulate of the moral order and
derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in contravention of the moral
order, and hence of the divine will, can have no binding force in conscience...; indeed,
the passing of such laws undermines the very nature of authority and results in shameful
abuse".95 This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that
"human law is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives
from the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust law;
but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of violence".96
And again: "Every law made by man can be called a law insofar as it derives
from the natural law. But if it is somehow opposed to the natural law, then
it is not really a law but rather a corruption of the law".97
Now the first and most immediate application of this
teaching concerns a human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all
other rights which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual.
Consequently, laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through
abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to life proper
to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before the law. It might be
objected that such is not the case in euthanasia, when it is requested with full awareness
by the person involved. But any State which made such a request legitimate and authorized
it to be carried out would be legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to the
fundamental principles of absolute respect for life and of the protection of every
innocent life. In this way the State contributes to lessening respect for life and opens
the door to ways of acting which are destructive of trust in relations between people.
Laws which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically opposed
not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as such they are
completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for the right to life,
precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom society exists to serve, is
what most directly conflicts with the possibility of achieving the common good.
Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or euthanasia ceases by that very fact to
be a true, morally binding civil law.
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no
human law can claim to legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws;
instead there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching reminded
Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public authorities (cf. Rom
13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time it firmly warned that "we must
obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in
regard to threats against life, we find a significant example of resistance to the unjust
command of those in authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the
Hebrew midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but
let the male children live" (Ex 1:17). But the ultimate reason for their
action should be noted: "the midwives feared God" (ibid. ). It
is precisely from obedience to God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment
of his absolute sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws
are born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned or
put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance and
faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a
law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to
"take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases
where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law,
aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law
already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that
while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws
favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other
nations—particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such
permissive legislation—there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case
like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a
pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured
abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm
done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general
opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with
an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.
74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult
problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation,
since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions.
Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice
of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career
advancement. In other cases, it can happen that carrying out certain actions, which are
provided for by legislation that overall is unjust, but which in themselves are
indifferent, or even positive, can serve to protect human lives under threat. There may be
reason to fear, however, that willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause
scandal and weaken the necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to
further capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.
In order to shed light on this difficult question, it
is necessary to recall the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions.
Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation of
conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil
legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never
licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an action, either by its
very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete situation, can be defined as a direct
participation in an act against innocent human life or a sharing in the immoral intention
of the person committing it. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking
respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or
requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which he
personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on the basis of
it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6; 14:12).
To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is
not only a moral duty; it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person
would be forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and in
this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are found in its
orientation to the true and the good, would be radically compromised. What is at stake
therefore is an essential right which, precisely as such, should be acknowledged and
protected by civil law. In this sense, the opportunity to refuse to take part in the
phases of consultation, preparation and execution of these acts against life should be
guaranteed to physicians, health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and
convalescent facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be
protected not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal,
disciplinary, financial and professional plane.
"You shall love your neighbour as
yourself" (Lk 10:27): "promote" life
75. God's commandments teach us the way of life. The
negative moral precepts, which declare that the choice of certain
actions is morally unacceptable, have an absolute value for human freedom:
they are valid always and everywhere, without exception. They make it clear
that the choice of certain ways of acting is radically incompatible with the
love of God and with the dignity of the person created in his image. Such
choices cannot be redeemed by the goodness of any intention or of any
consequence; they are irrevocably opposed to the bond between persons; they
contradict the fundamental decision to direct one's life to God.99
In this sense, the negative moral precepts have an
extremely important positive function. The "no" which they unconditionally
require makes clear the absolute limit beneath which free individuals cannot lower
themselves. At the same time they indicate the minimum which they must respect and from
which they must start out in order to say "yes" over and over again, a
"yes" which will gradually embrace the entire horizon of the good (cf. Mt
5:48). The commandments, in particular the negative moral precepts, are the
beginning and the first necessary stage of the journey towards freedom. As
Saint Augustine writes, "the beginning of freedom is to be free from
crimes... like murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so
forth. Only when one stops committing these crimes (and no Christian should
commit them), one begins to lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is
only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom".100
76. The commandment "You shall not kill"
thus establishes the point of departure for the start of true freedom. It leads us to
promote life actively, and to develop particular ways of thinking and acting which serve
life. In this way we exercise our responsibility towards the persons entrusted to us and
we show, in deeds and in truth, our gratitude to God for the great gift of life (cf. Ps
The Creator has entrusted man's life to his
responsible concern, not to make arbitrary use of it, but to preserve it with wisdom and
to care for it with loving fidelity. The God of the Covenant has entrusted the life of
every individual to his or her fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, according to the
law of reciprocity in giving and receiving, of self-giving and of the acceptance of
others. In the fullness of time, by taking flesh and giving his life for us, the Son of
God showed what heights and depths this law of reciprocity can reach. With the gift of his
Spirit, Christ gives new content and meaning to the law of reciprocity, to our being
entrusted to one another. The Spirit who builds up communion in love creates between us a
new fraternity and solidarity, a true reflection of the mystery of mutual self-giving and
receiving proper to the Most Holy Trinity. The Spirit becomes the new law which gives
strength to believers and awakens in them a responsibility for sharing the gift of self
and for accepting others, as a sharing in the boundless love of Jesus Christ himself.
77. This new law also gives spirit and shape to the
commandment "You shall not kill". For the Christian it involves an absolute
imperative to respect, love and promote the life of even brother and sister, in accordance
with the requirements of God's bountiful love in Jesus Christ. "He laid down his life
for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 3:16).
The commandment "You shall not kill", even
in its more positive aspects of respecting, loving and promoting human life, is binding on
every individual human being. It resounds in the moral conscience of everyone as an
irrepressible echo of the original covenant of God the Creator with mankind. It can be
recognized by everyone through the light of reason and it can be observed thanks to the
mysterious working of the Spirit who, blowing where he wills (cf. Jn 3:8), comes
to and involves every person living in this world.
It is therefore a service of love which we are all
committed to ensure to our neighbour, that his or her life may be always defended and
promoted, especially when it is weak or threatened. It is not only a personal but a social
concern which we must all foster: a concern to make unconditional respect for human life
the foundation of a renewed society.
We are asked to love and honour the life of every man
and woman and to work with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too
many signs of death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the
fruit of the culture of truth and of love.
YOU DID IT TO ME
For a New Culture of Human Life
"You are God's own people, that you
may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous
light" (1 Pet 2:9): a people of life and for life
78. The Church has received the Gospel as a
proclamation and a source of joy and salvation. She has received it as a gift from Jesus,
sent by the Father "to preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). She has
received it through the Apostles, sent by Christ to the whole world (cf. Mk
16:15; Mt 28:19-20). Born from this evangelizing activity, the Church hears every
day the echo of Saint Paul's words of warning: "Woe to me if I do not preach the
Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). As Paul VI wrote, "evangelization is the
grace and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to
Evangelization is an all-embracing, progressive
activity through which the Church participates in the prophetic, priestly and royal
mission of the Lord Jesus. It is therefore inextricably linked to preaching,
celebration and the service of charity. Evangelization is a profoundly ecclesial
act, which calls all the various workers of the Gospel to action, according to their
individual charisms and ministry.
This is also the case with regard to the proclamation
of the Gospel of life, an integral part of that Gospel which is Jesus Christ
himself. We are at the service of this Gospel, sustained by the awareness that we have
received it as a gift and are sent to preach it to all humanity, "to the ends of the
earth" (Acts 1:8). With humility and gratitude we know that we are the people
of life and for life, and this is how we present ourselves to everyone.
79. We are the people of life because God,
in his unconditional love, has given us the Gospel of life and by this same
Gospel we have been transformed and saved. We have been ransomed by the "Author of
life" (Acts 3:15) at the price of his precious blood (cf. 1 Cor
6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet 1:19). Through the waters of Baptism we have been made a part
of him (cf. Rom 6:4-5; Col 2:12), as branches which draw nourishment and
fruitfulness from the one tree (cf. Jn 15:5). Interiorly renewed by the grace of
the Spirit, "who is the Lord and giver of life", we have become a people for
life and we are called to act accordingly.
We have been sent. For us, being at the
service of life is not a boast but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being
"God's own people, that we may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out
of darkness into his marvellous light" (cf. 1 Pet 2:9). On our journey we
are guided and sustained by the law of love: a love which has as its
source and model the Son of God made man, who "by dying gave life to the
We have been sent as a people. Everyone has
an obligation to be at the service of life. This is a properly "ecclesial"
responsibility, which requires concerted and generous action by all the members and by all
sectors of the Christian community. This community commitment does not however eliminate
or lessen the responsibility of each individual, called by the Lord to
"become the neighbour" of everyone: "Go and do likewise" (Lk
Together we all sense our duty to preach the
Gospel of life, to celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence,
and to serve it with the various programmes and structures which support and
"That which we have seen and heard
we proclaim also to you" (1 Jn 1:3): proclaiming the Gospel of life
80. "That which was from the beginning, which we
have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with
our hands, concerning the word of life... we proclaim also to you, so that you may have
fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:1, 3). Jesus is the only Gospel: we
have nothing further to say or any other witness to bear.
To proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life.
For Jesus is "the word of life" (1 Jn 1:1). In him "life was made
manifest" (1 Jn 1:2); he himself is "the eternal life which was with
the Father and was made manifest to us" (1 Jn 1:2). By the gift of the
Spirit, this same life has been bestowed on us. It is in being destined to life in its
fullness, to "eternal life", that every person's earthly life acquires its full
Enlightened by this Gospel of life, we feel
a need To proclaim it and to bear witness to it in all its marvellous newness.
Since it is one with Jesus himself, who makes all things new103 and conquers the
"oldness" which comes from sin and leads to death,104
this Gospel exceeds every human expectation and reveals the sublime heights
to which the dignity of the human person is raised through grace. This is
how Saint Gregory of Nyssa understands it: "Man, as a being, is of no
account; he is dust, grass, vanity. But once he is adopted by the God of the
universe as a son, he becomes part of the family of that Being, whose
excellence and greatness no one can see, hear or understand. What words,
thoughts or flight of the spirit can praise the superabundance of this
grace? Man surpasses his nature: mortal, he becomes immortal; perishable, he
becomes imperishable; fleeting, he becomes eternal; human, he becomes
Gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of man
impel us to share this message with everyone: "that which we have seen and heard we
proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:3).
We need to bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to
make it penetrate every part of society.
81. This involves above all proclaiming the core
of this Gospel. It is the proclamation of a living God who is close to us, who calls us to
profound communion with himself and awakens in us the certain hope of eternal life. It is
the affirmation of the inseparable connection between the person, his life and his
bodiliness. It is the presentation of human life as a life of relationship, a gift of God,
the fruit and sign of his love. It is the proclamation that Jesus has a unique
relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every human face the face of
Christ. It is the call for a "sincere gift of self" as the fullest way to
realize our personal freedom.
It also involves making clear all the
consequences of this Gospel. These can be summed up as follows: human life, as a gift
of God, is sacred and inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia are
absolutely unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected
with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love, and in
this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full significance. Love
also gives meaning to suffering and death; despite the mystery which surrounds them, they
can become saving events. Respect for life requires that science and technology should
always be at the service of man and his integral development. Society as a whole must
respect, defend and promote the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in
every condition of that person's life.
82. To be truly a people at the service of life we
must propose these truths constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of
the Gospel, and thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in
personal dialogue and in all educational activity. Teachers, catechists and
theologians have the task of emphasizing the anthropological reasons upon which
respect for every human life is based. In this way, by making the newness of the Gospel
of life shine forth, we can also help everyone discover in the light of reason and of
personal experience how the Christian message fully reveals what man is and the meaning of
his being and existence. We shall find important points of contact and dialogue also with
nonbelievers, in our common commitment to the establishment of a new culture of life.
Faced with so many opposing points of view, and a
widespread rejection of sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel that Paul's
entreaty to Timothy is also addressed to us: "Preach the word, be urgent in season
and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in
teaching" (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force in
the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different ways, in her
mission as "teacher" of the truth. May it resound above all for us who are Bishops:
we are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of the Gospel of life. We
are also entrusted with the task of ensuring that the doctrine which is once again being
set forth in this Encyclical is faithfully handed on in its integrity. We must use
appropriate means to defend the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it. We
need to make sure that in theological faculties, seminaries and Catholic institutions
sound doctrine is taught, explained and more fully investigated.106 May Paul's
exhortation strike a chord in all theologians, pastors, teachers and in all those
responsible for catechesis and the formation of consciences. Aware of their
specific role, may they never be so grievously irresponsible as to betray the truth and
their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary to the Gospel of life as
faithfully presented and interpreted by the Magisterium.
In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear
hostility or unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might
conform us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the
world but not of the world (cf. Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our
strength from Christ, who by his Death and Resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn
"I give you thanks that I am
fearfully, wonderfully made" (Ps 139:14): celebrating the Gospel of life
83. Because we have been sent into the world as a
"people for life", our proclamation must also become a genuine celebration
of the Gospel of life. This celebration, with the evocative power of its gestures,
symbols and rites, should become a precious and significant setting in which the beauty
and grandeur of this Gospel is handed on.
For this to happen, we need first of all to foster,
in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook.107 Such an outlook arises
from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a "wonder"
(cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp
its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It
is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead
accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in
every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does not give
in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at
death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and
precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a
call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.
It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and
with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person,
as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages.108 Inspired by this
contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of
joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every
individual's call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of
unending communion with God our Creator and Father.
84. To celebrate the Gospel of life means to
celebrate the God of life, the God who gives life: "We must celebrate
Eternal Life, from which every other life proceeds. From this, in proportion
to its capacities, every being which in any way participates in life,
receives life. This Divine Life, which is above every other life, gives and
preserves life. Every life and every living movement proceed from this Life
which transcends all life and every principle of life. It is to this that
souls owe their incorruptibility; and because of this all animals and plants
live, which receive only the faintest glimmer of life. To men, beings made
of spirit and matter, Life grants life. Even if we should abandon Life,
because of its overflowing love for man, it converts us and calls us back to
itself. Not only this: it promises to bring us, soul and body, to perfect
life, to immortality. It is too little to say that this Life is alive: it is
the Principle of life, the Cause and sole Wellspring of life. Every living
thing must contemplate it and give it praise: it is Life which overflows
Like the Psalmist, we too, in our daily prayer
as individuals and as a community, praise and bless God our Father, who knitted us
together in our mother's womb, and saw and loved us while we were still without form (cf. Ps
139:13, 15-16). We exclaim with overwhelming joy: "I give you thanks that I am
fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. You know me through and
through" (Ps 139:14). Indeed, "despite its hardships, its hidden
mysteries, its suffering and its inevitable frailty, this mortal life is a most beautiful
thing, a marvel ever new and moving, an event worthy of being exalted in joy and
glory".110 Moreover, man and his life appear to us not only as one of the greatest
marvels of creation: for God has granted to man a dignity which is near to divine (Ps
8:5-6). In every child which is born and in every person who lives or dies we see the
image of God's glory. We celebrate this glory in every human being, a sign of the living
God, an icon of Jesus Christ.
We are called to express wonder and gratitude for the
gift of life and to welcome, savour and share the Gospel of life not only in our
personal and community prayer, but above all in the celebrations of the liturgical
year. Particularly important in this regard are the Sacraments, the
efficacious signs of the presence and saving action of the Lord Jesus in Christian life.
The Sacraments make us sharers in divine life, and provide the spiritual strength
necessary to experience life, suffering and death in their fullest meaning. Thanks to a
genuine rediscovery and a better appreciation of the significance of these rites, our
liturgical celebrations, especially celebrations of the Sacraments, will be ever more
capable of expressing the full truth about birth, life, suffering and death, and will help
us to live these moments as a participation in the Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and
85. In celebrating the Gospel of life we
also need to appreciate and make good use of the wealth of gestures and symbols
present in the traditions and customs of different cultures and peoples. There are
special times and ways in which the peoples of different nations and cultures express joy
for a newborn life, respect for and protection of individual human lives, care for the
suffering or needy, closeness to the elderly and the dying, participation in the sorrow of
those who mourn, and hope and desire for immortality.
In view of this and following the suggestion made by
the Cardinals in the Consistory of 1991, I propose that a Day for Life be
celebrated each year in every country, as already established by some Episcopal
Conferences. The celebration of this Day should be planned and carried out with the active
participation of all sectors of the local Church. Its primary purpose should be to foster
in individual consciences, in families, in the Church and in civil society a recognition
of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and in every condition. Particular
attention should be drawn to the seriousness of abortion and euthanasia, without
neglecting other aspects of life which from time to time deserve to be given careful
consideration, as occasion and circumstances demand.
86. As part of the spiritual worship acceptable to
God (cf. Rom 12:1), the Gospel of life is to be celebrated above all in daily
living, which should be filled with self-giving love for others. In this way, our
lives will become a genuine and responsible acceptance of the gift of life and a heartfelt
song of praise and gratitude to God who has given us this gift. This is already happening
in the many different acts of selfless generosity, often humble and hidden, carried out by
men and women, children and adults, the young and the old, the healthy and the sick.
It is in this context, so humanly rich and filled
with love, that heroic actions too are born. These are the most solemn
celebration of the Gospel of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self.
They are the radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one's
life for the person loved (cf. Jn 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of
the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of every person, and how life attains its
fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such outstanding moments, there is an
everyday heroism, made up of gestures of sharing, big or small, which build up an
authentic culture of life. A particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the
donation of organs, performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a
chance of health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.
Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but
effective and eloquent witness of all those "brave mothers who devote themselves to
their own family without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are
ready to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best of
themselves".111 In living out their mission "these heroic
women do not always find support in the world around them. On the contrary,
the cultural models frequently promoted and broadcast by the media do not
encourage motherhood. In the name of progress and modernity the values of
fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of Christian wives and
mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness, are presented
as obsolete ... We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible love! We
thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love. We thank you for
the sacrifice of your life ... In the Paschal Mystery, Christ restores to
you the gift you gave him. Indeed, he has the power to give you back the
life you gave him as an offering".112
"What does it profit, my brethren,
if a man says he has faith but has not works?" (Jas 2:14): serving the
Gospel of life
87. By virtue of our sharing in Christ's royal
mission, our support and promotion of human life must be accomplished through the service
of charity, which finds expression in personal witness, various forms of volunteer
work, social activity and political commitment. This is a particularly pressing need
at the present time, when the "culture of death" so forcefully opposes the
"culture of life" and often seems to have the upper hand. But even before that
it is a need which springs from "faith working through love" (Gal 5:6).
As the Letter of James admonishes us: "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man
says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is
ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed
and filled', without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So
faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (2: 14-17).
In our service of charity, we must be inspired
and distinguished by a specific attitude: we must care for the other as a person for
whom God has made us responsible. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become
neighbours to everyone (cf. Lk 10:29-37), and to show special favour to those who
are poorest, most alone and most in need. In helping the hungry, the thirsty, the
foreigner, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned—as well as the child in the womb and the
old person who is suffering or near death—we have the opportunity to serve Jesus. He
himself said: "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to
me" (Mt 25:40). Hence we cannot but feel called to account and judged by the
ever relevant words of Saint John Chrysostom: "Do you wish to honour
the body of Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it
homage here in the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where
it suffers cold and nakedness".113
Where life is involved, the service of
charity must be profoundly consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination,
for human life is sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an
indivisible good. We need then to "show care" for all life and for the life
of everyone. Indeed, at an even deeper level, we need to go to the very roots of life
It is this deep love for every man and woman which
has given rise down the centuries to an outstanding history of charity, a history
which has brought into being in the Church and society many forms of service to life which
evoke admiration from all unbiased observers. Every Christian community, with a renewed
sense of responsibility, must continue to write this history through various kinds of
pastoral and social activity. To this end, appropriate and effective programmes of support
for new life must be implemented, with special closeness to mothers who, even without
the help of the father, are not afraid to bring their child into the world and to raise
it. Similar care must be shown for the life of the marginalized or suffering, especially
in its final phases.
88. All of this involves a patient and fearless work
of education aimed at encouraging one and all to bear each other's burdens (cf. Gal
6:2). It requires a continuous promotion of vocations to service, particularly
among the young. It involves the implementation of long-term practical projects and
initiatives inspired by the Gospel.
Many are the means towards this end which need
to be developed with skill and serious commitment. At the first stage of life, centres
for natural methods of regulating fertility should be promoted as a valuable help to
responsible parenthood, in which all individuals, and in the first place the child, are
recognized and respected in their own right, and where every decision is guided by the
ideal of the sincere gift of self. Marriage and family counselling agencies by
their specific work of guidance and prevention, carried out in accordance with an
anthropology consistent with the Christian vision of the person, of the couple and of
sexuality, also offer valuable help in rediscovering the meaning of love and life, and in
supporting and accompanying every family in its mission as the "sanctuary of
life". Newborn life is also served by centres of assistance and homes or centres
where new life receives a welcome. Thanks to the work of such centres, many unmarried
mothers and couples in difficulty discover new hope and find assistance and support in
overcoming hardship and the fear of accepting a newly conceived life or life which has
just come into the world.
When life is challenged by conditions of hardship,
maladjustment, sickness or rejection, other programmes—such as communities for
treating drug addiction, residential communities for minors or the mentally ill, care and
relief centres for AIDS patients, associations for solidarity especially towards the
disabled—are eloquent expressions of what charity is able to devise in order to give
everyone new reasons for hope and practical possibilities for life.
And when earthly existence draws to a close, it is
again charity which finds the most appropriate means for enabling the elderly,
especially those who can no longer look after themselves, and the terminally ill
to enjoy genuinely humane assistance and to receive an adequate response to their needs,
in particular their anxiety and their loneliness. In these cases the role of families is
indispensable; yet families can receive much help from social welfare agencies and, if
necessary, from recourse to palliative care, taking advantage of suitable medical
and social services available in public institutions or in the home.
In particular, the role of hospitals, clinics
and convalescent homes needs to be reconsidered. These should not merely be
institutions where care is provided for the sick or the dying. Above all they should be
places where suffering, pain and death are acknowledged and understood in their human and
specifically Christian meaning. This must be especially evident and effective in institutes
staffed by Religious or in any way connected with the Church.
89. Agencies and centres of service to life, and all
other initiatives of support and solidarity which circumstances may from time to time
suggest, need to be directed by people who are generous in their involvement and fully
aware of the importance of the Gospel of life for the good of individuals
A unique responsibility belongs to health-care
personnel: doctors, pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, men and women religious,
administrators and volunteers. Their profession calls for them to be guardians and
servants of human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the
practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension, health-care
professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become manipulators of life, or even
agents of death. In the face of this temptation their responsibility today is greatly
increased. Its deepest inspiration and strongest support lie in the intrinsic and
undeniable ethical dimension of the health-care profession, something already recognized
by the ancient and still relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor
to commit himself to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.
Absolute respect for every innocent human life also
requires the <exercise of conscientious objection> in relation to procured abortion
and euthanasia. "Causing death" can never be considered a form of medical
treatment, even when the intention is solely to comply with the patient's request. Rather,
it runs completely counter to the health-care profession, which is meant to be an
impassioned and unflinching affirmation of life. Biomedical research too, a field which
promises great benefits for humanity, must always reject experimentation, research or
applications which disregard the inviolable dignity of the human being, and thus cease to
be at the service of people and become instead means which, under the guise of helping
people, actually harm them.
90. Volunteer workers have a specific role
to play: they make a valuable contribution to the service of life when they combine
professional ability and generous, selfless love. The Gospel of life inspires
them to lift their feelings of good will towards others to the heights of Christ's
charity; to renew every day, amid hard work and weariness, their awareness of the dignity
of every person; to search out people's needs and, when necessary, to set out on new paths
where needs are greater but care and support weaker.
If charity is to be realistic and effective, it
demands that the Gospel of life be implemented also by means of certain forms
of social activity and commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and
promoting the value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies. Individuals,
families, groups and associations, albeit for different reasons and in different
ways, all have a responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic,
political and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with
democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the dignity
of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are defended and enhanced.
This task is the particular responsibility of civil
leaders. Called to serve the people and the common good, they have a duty to make
courageous choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures.
In a democratic system, where laws and decisions are made on the basis of the consensus of
many, the sense of personal responsibility in the consciences of individuals invested with
authority may be weakened. But no one can ever renounce this responsibility, especially
when he or she has a legislative or decision-making mandate, which calls that person to
answer to God, to his or her own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which
may be contrary to the common good. Although laws are not the only means of protecting
human life, nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in
influencing patterns of thought and behaviour. I repeat once more that a law which
violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid
as a law. For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass
laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of
The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount
an effective legal defence of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of
strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral
truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church
encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but
to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will
lead to the re-establishment of a just order in the defence and promotion of the value of
life. Here it must be noted that it is not enough to remove unjust laws. The underlying
causes of attacks on life have to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for
families and motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all
social policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political
initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in matters of
parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labour, urban, residential and social service
policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for the family, so that
it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly.
91. Today an important part of policies which favour
life is the issue of population growth. Certainly public authorities have a
responsibility to "intervene to orient the demography of the population".114
But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and
inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ methods
which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning with the right to
life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let
alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in
order to regulate births. The ways of solving the population problem are quite different.
Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create
economic, social, public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples
to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility.
They must then make efforts to ensure "greater opportunities and a fairer
distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of creation.
Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true economy of
communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and international
order".115 This is the only way to respect the dignity of persons and families, as
well as the authentic cultural patrimony of peoples.
Service of the Gospel of life is thus an
immense and complex task. This service increasingly appears as a valuable and fruitful
area for positive cooperation with our brothers and sisters of other Churches and
ecclesial communities, in accordance with the practical ecumenism which the
Second Vatican Council authoritatively encouraged.116 It also appears as a providential
area for dialogue and joint efforts with the followers of other religions and with all
people of good will. No single person or group has a monopoly on the defence and
promotion of life. These are everyone's task and responsibility. On the eve of the
Third Millennium, the challenge facing us is an arduous one: only the concerted efforts of
all those who believe in the value of life can prevent a setback of unforeseeable
consequences for civilization.
"Your children will be like olive
shoots around your table" (Ps 128:3): the family as the "sanctuary of
92. Within the "people of life and the people
for life", the family has a decisive responsibility. This responsibility
flows from its very nature as a community of life and love, founded upon marriage, and
from its mission to "guard, reveal and communicate love".117 Here it is a
matter of God's own love, of which parents are co-workers and as it were interpreters when
they transmit life and raise it according to his fatherly plan.118 This is the love that
becomes selflessness, receptiveness and gift.
Within the family each member is accepted, respected
and honoured precisely because he or she is a person; and if any family member is in
greater need, the care which he or she receives is all the more intense and attentive.
The family has a special role to play throughout the
life of its members, from birth to death. It is truly "the sanctuary of life:
the place in which life—the gift of God—can be properly welcomed and protected against
the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what
constitutes authentic human growth".119 Consequently the role of the family in
building a culture of life is decisive and irreplaceable.
As the domestic church, the family is
summoned to proclaim, celebrate and serve the Gospel of life. This is a
responsibility which first concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the
basis of an ever greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique
event which clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be
given as a gift. In giving origin to a new life, parents recognize that
the child, "as the fruit of their mutual gift of love, is, in turn, a gift
for both of them, a gift which flows from them".120
It is above all in raising children that the
family fulfils its mission to proclaim the Gospel of life. By word and example,
in the daily round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs,
parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self,
and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial openness,
dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live
life as a gift. In raising children Christian parents must be concerned about their
children's faith and help them to fulfil the vocation God has given them. The parents'
mission as educators also includes teaching and giving their children an example of the
true meaning of suffering and death. They will be able to do this if they are sensitive to
all kinds of suffering around them and, even more, if they succeed in fostering attitudes
of closeness, assistance and sharing towards sick or elderly members of the family.
93. The family celebrates the Gospel of life
through daily prayer, both individual prayer and family prayer. The family prays
in order to glorify and give thanks to God for the gift of life, and implores his light
and strength in order to face times of difficulty and suffering without losing hope. But
the celebration which gives meaning to every other form of prayer and worship is found in the
family's actual daily life together, if it is a life of love and self-giving.
This celebration thus becomes a service to the
Gospel of life, expressed through solidarity as experienced within and
around the family in the form of concerned, attentive and loving care shown in the humble,
ordinary events of each day. A particularly significant expression of solidarity between
families is a willingness to adopt or take in children abandoned by
their parents or in situations of serious hardship. True parental love is ready to go
beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to accept children from other families,
offering them whatever is necessary for their well-being and full development. Among the
various forms of adoption, consideration should be given to adoption-at-a-distance,
preferable in cases where the only reason for giving up the child is the extreme poverty
of the child's family. Through this type of adoption, parents are given the help needed to
support and raise their children, without their being uprooted from their natural
As "a firm and persevering determination to
commit oneself to the common good",121 solidarity also needs to be practised
through participation in social and political life. Serving the Gospel of
life thus means that the family, particularly through its membership of family
associations, works to ensure that the laws and institutions of the State in no way
violate the right to life, from conception to natural death, but rather protect and
94. Special attention must be given to the elderly.
While in some cultures older people remain a part of the family with an important and
active role, in others the elderly are regarded as a useless burden and are left to
themselves. Here the temptation to resort to euthanasia can more easily arise.
Neglect of the elderly or their outright rejection
are intolerable. Their presence in the family, or at least their closeness to the family
in cases where limited living space or other reasons make this impossible, is of
fundamental importance in creating a climate of mutual interaction and enriching
communication between the different age-groups. It is therefore important to preserve, or
to re-establish where it has been lost, a sort of "covenant" between
generations. In this way parents, in their later years, can receive from their children
the acceptance and solidarity which they themselves gave to their children when they
brought them into the world. This is required by obedience to the divine commandment to
honour one's father and mother (cf. Ex 20:12; Lev 19:3). But there is
more. The elderly are not only to be considered the object of our concern, closeness and
service. They themselves have a valuable contribution to make to the Gospel of life.
Thanks to the rich treasury of experiences they have acquired through the years, the
elderly can and must be sources of wisdom and witnesses of hope and love.
Although it is true that "the future of humanity
passes by way of the family",122 it must be admitted that modern social, economic
and cultural conditions make the family's task of serving life more difficult and
demanding. In order to fulfil its vocation as the "sanctuary of life", as the
cell of a society which loves and welcomes life, the family urgently needs to be
helped and supported. Communities and States must guarantee all the support,
including economic support, which families need in order to meet their problems in a truly
human way. For her part, the Church must untiringly promote a plan of pastoral care for
families, capable of making every family rediscover and live with joy and courage its
mission to further the Gospel of life.
"Walk as children of light"
(Eph 5:8): bringing about a transformation of culture
95. "Walk as children of light... and try to
learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness"
(Eph 5:8, 10-11). In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle
between the "culture of life" and the "culture of death", there is
need to develop a deep critical sense, capable of discerning true values and
What is urgently called for is a general
mobilization of consciences and a united ethical effort to activate a great
campaign in support of life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new,
because it will be able to confront and solve today's unprecedented problems affecting
human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic conviction by all
Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing about a serious and courageous
cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgent need for such a cultural
transformation is linked to the present historical situation, it is also rooted in the
Church's mission of evangelization. The purpose of the Gospel, in fact, is "to
transform humanity from within and to make it new".123 Like the yeast which leavens
the whole measure of dough (cf. Mt 13:33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all
cultures and give them life from within,124 so that they may express the full truth
about the human person and about human life.
We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of
life within Christian communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers,
even those who take an active part in the life of the Church, end up by separating their
Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life, and thus fall into moral
subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting. With great openness and courage, we
need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians,
families, groups and communities in our Dioceses. With equal clarity and determination we
must identify the steps we are called to take in order to serve life in all its truth. At
the same time, we need to promote a serious and in-depth exchange about basic issues of
human life with everyone, including non-believers, in intellectual circles, in the various
professional spheres and at the level of people's everyday life.
96. The first and fundamental step towards this
cultural transformation consists in forming consciences with regard to the
incomparable and inviolable worth of every human life. It is of the greatest importance to
re-establish the essential connection between life and freedom. These are inseparable
goods: where one is violated, the other also ends up being violated. There is no true
freedom where life is not welcomed and loved; and there is no fullness of life except in
freedom. Both realities have something inherent and specific which links them
inextricably: the vocation to love. Love, as a sincere gift of self,125 is what gives
the life and freedom of the person their truest meaning.
No less critical in the formation of conscience is the
recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth. As I have
frequently stated, when freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes
impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the
ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of
individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority.126
It is therefore essential that man should acknowledge
his inherent condition as a creature to whom God has granted being and life as a gift and
a duty. Only by admitting his innate dependence can man live and use his freedom to the
full, and at the same time respect the life and freedom of every other person. Here
especially one sees that "at the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes
to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God".127 Where God is denied and people
live as though he did not exist, or his commandments are not taken into account, the
dignity of the human person and the inviolability of human life also end up being rejected
97. Closely connected with the formation of
conscience is the work of education, which helps individuals to be ever more
human, leads them ever more fully to the truth, instils in them growing respect for life,
and trains them in right interpersonal relationships.
In particular, there is a need for education about
the value of life from its very origins. It is an illusion to think that we can
build a true culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience
sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their
close interconnection. Sexuality, which enriches the whole person, "manifests its
inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in love".128 The
trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for
new life. Only a true love is able to protect life. There can be no avoiding the duty to
offer, especially to adolescents and young adults, an authentic education in sexuality
and in love, an education which involves training in chastity as a virtue
which fosters personal maturity and makes one capable of respecting the
"spousal" meaning of the body.
The work of educating in the service of life involves
the training of married couples in responsible procreation. In its true meaning,
responsible procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord's call and to act as
faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously open to new
lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service to life, even if, for
serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they choose to avoid a new birth for the
time being or indefinitely. The moral law obliges them in every case to control the
impulse of instinct and passion, and to respect the biological laws inscribed in their
person. It is precisely this respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible
procreation, the use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From the
scientific point of view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate and make it
possible in practice to make choices in harmony with moral values. An honest appraisal of
their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held, and
should convince married couples, as well as health-care and social workers, of the
importance of proper training in this area. The Church is grateful to those who, with
personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged dedication, devote themselves to the study and
spread of these methods, as well to the promotion of education in the moral values which
The work of education cannot avoid a
consideration of suffering and death. These are a part of human existence, and it is
futile, not to say misleading, to try to hide them or ignore them. On the contrary, people
must be helped to understand their profound mystery in all its harsh reality. Even pain
and suffering have meaning and value when they are experienced in close connection with
love received and given. In this regard, I have called for the yearly celebration of the World
Day of the Sick, emphasizing "the salvific nature of the offering up of
suffering which, experienced in communion with Christ, belongs to the very essence of the
Redemption".129 Death itself is anything but an event without hope. It is the door
which opens wide on eternity and, for those who live in Christ, an experience of
participation in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
98. In a word, we can say that the cultural change
which we are calling for demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style,
consisting in making practical choices—at the personal, family, social and international
level—on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over having,130
of the person over things.131 This renewed life-style involves a passing from
indifference to concern for others, from rejection to acceptance of them. Other
people are not rivals from whom we must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be
supported. They are to be loved for their own sakes, and they enrich us by their very
In this mobilization for a new culture of life no one
must feel excluded: everyone has an important role to play. Together with the
family, teachers and educators have a particularly valuable contribution
to make. Much will depend on them if young people, trained in true freedom, are to be able
to preserve for themselves and make known to others new, authentic ideals of life, and if
they are to grow in respect for and service to every other person, in the family and in
Intellectuals can also do much to build a
new culture of human life. A special task falls to Catholic intellectuals, who
are called to be present and active in the leading centres where culture is formed, in
schools and universities, in places of scientific and technological research, of artistic
creativity and of the study of man. Allowing their talents and activity to be nourished by
the living force of the Gospel, they ought to place themselves at the service of a new
culture of life by offering serious and well documented contributions, capable of
commanding general respect and interest by reason of their merit. It was precisely for
this purpose that I established the Pontifical Academy for Life, assigning it the
task of "studying and providing information and training about the principal problems
of law and biomedicine pertaining to the promotion of life, especially in the direct
relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the Church's
Magisterium".132 A specific contribution will also have to come from Universities,
particularly from Catholic Universities, and from Centres, Institutes and
Committees of Bioethics.
An important and serious responsibility belongs to those
involved in the mass media, who are called to ensure that the messages which they so
effectively transmit will support the culture of life. They need to present noble models
of life and make room for instances of people's positive and sometimes heroic love for
others. With great respect they should also present the positive values of sexuality and
human love, and not insist on what defiles and cheapens human dignity. In their
interpretation of things, they should refrain from emphasizing anything that suggests or
fosters feelings or attitudes of indifference, contempt or rejection in relation to life.
With scrupulous concern for factual truth, they are called to combine freedom of
information with respect for every person and a profound sense of humanity.
99. In transforming culture so that it supports life,
women occupy a place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It
depends on them to promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of
imitating models of "male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the
true genius of women in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all
discrimination, violence and exploitation.
Making my own the words of the concluding message of
the Second Vatican Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: "Reconcile
people with life".133 You are called to bear witness to the meaning of
genuine love, of that gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present
in a special way in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at
the heart of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes
you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a particular
task: "Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life, as it
develops in the woman's womb . . . This unique contact with the new human being developing
within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings not only towards her own child,
but every human being, which profoundly marks the woman's personality".134 A mother
welcomes and carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her,
giving it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others
that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a
person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person
and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or
health. This is the fundamental contribution which the Church and humanity expect from
women. And it is the indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.
I would now like to say a special word to women
who have had an abortion. The Church is aware of the many factors which may have
influenced your decision, and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and
even shattering decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what
happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement and do not
lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it honestly. If you have not
already done so, give yourselves over with humility and trust to repentance. The Father of
mercies is ready to give you his forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of
Reconciliation. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will
also be able to ask forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. With the
friendly and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful
experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to life.
Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other children or by
welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be close to them, you will
become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
100. In this great endeavour to create a new culture
of life we are inspired and sustained by the confidence that comes from knowing
that the Gospel of life, like the Kingdom of God itself, is growing and producing
abundant fruit (cf. Mk 4:26-29). There is certainly an enormous disparity between
the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the "culture of death"
and the means at the disposal of those working for a "culture of life and love".
But we know that we can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is impossible (cf. Mt
Filled with this certainty, and moved by
profound concern for the destiny of every man and woman, I repeat what I
said to those families who carry out their challenging mission amid so many
difficulties:135 a great prayer for
life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up throughout the world. Through
special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator
and lover of life, from every Christian community, from every group and association, from
every family and from the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown us by his own
example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the
forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons cannot be
driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore discover anew the
humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break
down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which conceal from the sight of so many of
our brothers and sisters the evil of practices and laws which are hostile to life. May
this same power turn their hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of
life and love.
"We are writing this that our joy
may be complete" (1 Jn 1:4): the Gospel of life is for the whole of human
101. "We are writing you this that our joy may
be complete" (1 Jn 1:4). The revelation of the Gospel of life is
given to us as a good to be shared with all people: so that all men and women may have
fellowship with us and with the Trinity (cf. 1 Jn 1:3). Our own joy would not be
complete if we failed to share this Gospel with others but kept it only for ourselves.
The Gospel of life is not for believers
alone: it is for everyone. The issue of life and its defence and promotion is not
a concern of Christians alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this
question arises in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the
future of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that
value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can
grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns everyone.
Consequently, all that we do as the "people of
life and for life" should be interpreted correctly and welcomed with favour. When the
Church declares that unconditional respect for the right to life of every innocent
person—from conception to natural death—is one of the pillars on which every civil
society stands, she "wants simply to promote a human State. A State which
recognizes the defence of the fundamental rights of the human person,
especially of the weakest, as its primary duty".136
The Gospel of life is for the whole of human
society. To be actively pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society
through the promotion of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good
without acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other
inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A society lacks
solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as the dignity of the
person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand, radically acts to the contrary by
allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in which human life is devalued and violated,
especially where it is weak or marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation
and guarantee of the most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and
There can be no true democracy without a
recognition of every person's dignity and without respect for his or her rights.
Nor can there be true peace unless life
is defended and promoted. As Paul VI pointed out: "Every crime against
life is an attack on peace, especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of
people... But where human rights are truly professed and publicly recognized
and defended, peace becomes the joyful and operative climate of life in
The "people of life" rejoices in being able
to share its commitment with so many others. Thus may the "people for life"
constantly grow in number and may a new culture of love and solidarity develop for the
true good of the whole of human society.
102. At the end of this Encyclical, we naturally look
again to the Lord Jesus, "the Child born for us" (cf. Is 9:6), that in
him we may contemplate "the Life" which "was made manifest" (l Jn
1:2). In the mystery of Christ's Birth the encounter of God with man takes place and the
earthly journey of the Son of God begins, a journey which will culminate in the gift of
his life on the Cross. By his death Christ will conquer death and become for all humanity
the source of new life.
The one who accepted "Life" in the name of
all and for the sake of all was Mary, the Virgin Mother; she is thus most closely and
personally associated with the Gospel of life. Mary's consent at the Annunciation
and her motherhood stand at the very beginning of the mystery of life which Christ came to
bestow on humanity (cf. Jn 10:10). Through her acceptance and loving care for the
life of the Incarnate Word, human life has been rescued from condemnation to final and
For this reason, Mary, "like the Church of
which she is the type, is a mother of all who are reborn to life. She is in
fact the mother of the Life by which everyone lives, and when she brought it
forth from herself she in some way brought to rebirth all those who were to
live by that Life".138
As the Church contemplates Mary's motherhood, she
discovers the meaning of her own motherhood and the way in which she is called to express
it. At the same time, the Church's experience of motherhood leads to a most profound
understanding of Mary's experience as the incomparable model of how life should be
welcomed and cared for.
"A great portent appeared in heaven,
a woman clothed with the sun" (Rev 12:1): the motherhood of Mary and of the
103. The mutual relationship between the mystery of
the Church and Mary appears clearly in the "great portent" described in the Book
of Revelation: "A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun,
with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). In
this sign the Church recognizes an image of her own mystery: present in history, she knows
that she transcends history, inasmuch as she constitutes on earth the "seed and
beginning" of the Kingdom of God.139 The Church sees this mystery fulfilled in
complete and exemplary fashion in Mary. She is the woman of glory in whom God's plan could
be carried out with supreme perfection.
The "woman clothed with the sun"—the Book
of Revelation tells us—"was with child" (12:2). The Church is fully aware that
she bears within herself the Saviour of the world, Christ the Lord. She is aware that she
is called to offer Christ to the world, giving men and women new birth into God's own
life. But the Church cannot forget that her mission was made possible by the motherhood of
Mary, who conceived and bore the One who is "God from God", "true God from
true God". Mary is truly the Mother of God, the Theotokos, in whose
motherhood the vocation to motherhood bestowed by God on every woman is raised to its
highest level. Thus Mary becomes the model of the Church, called to be the "new
Eve", the mother of believers, the mother of the "living" (cf. Gen
The Church's spiritual motherhood is only
achieved—the Church knows this too—through the pangs and "the labour" of
childbirth (cf. Rev 12:2), that is to say, in constant tension with the forces of
evil which still roam the world and affect human hearts, offering resistance to Christ:
"In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the
darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:4-5).
Like the Church, Mary too had to live her motherhood
amid suffering: "This child is set... for a sign that is spoken against—and a sword
will pierce through your own soul also—that thoughts out of many hearts may be
revealed" (Lk 2:34-35). The words which Simeon addresses to Mary at the very
beginning of the Saviour's earthly life sum up and prefigure the rejection of Jesus, and
with him of Mary, a rejection which will reach its culmination on Calvary. "Standing
by the cross of Jesus" (Jn 19:25), Mary shares in the gift which the Son
makes of himself: she offers Jesus, gives him over, and begets him to the end for our
sake. The "yes" spoken on the day of the Annunciation reaches full maturity on
the day of the Cross, when the time comes for Mary to receive and beget as her children
all those who become disciples, pouring out upon them the saving love of her Son:
"When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to
his mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!"' (Jn 19:26).
"And the dragon stood before the
woman ... that he might devour her child when she brought it forth" (Rev 12:4):
life menaced by the forces of evil
104. In the Book of Revelation, the "great
portent" of the "woman" (12:1) is accompanied by "another portent
which appeared in heaven": "a great red dragon" (Rev 12:3), which
represents Satan, the personal power of evil, as well as all the powers of evil at work in
history and opposing the Church's mission.
Here too Mary sheds light on the Community of
Believers. The hostility of the powers of evil is, in fact, an insidious opposition which,
before affecting the disciples of Jesus, is directed against his mother. To save the life
of her Son from those who fear him as a dangerous threat, Mary has to flee with Joseph and
the Child into Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-15).
Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life
is always at the centre of a great struggle between good and evil, between light and
darkness. The dragon wishes to devour "the child brought forth" (cf. Rev
12:4), a figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth "in the fullness of time" (Gal
4:4) and whom the Church must unceasingly offer to people in every age. But in a way that
child is also a figure of every person, every child, especially every helpless baby whose
life is threatened, because—as the Council reminds us—"by his Incarnation the Son
of God has united himself in some fashion with every person".140 It is precisely in
the "flesh" of every person that Christ continues to reveal himself and to enter
into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human life, in whatever form that
rejection takes, is really a rejection of Christ. This is the fascinating but
also demanding truth which Christ reveals to us and which his Church continues untiringly
to proclaim: "Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mt
18:5); "Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren,
you did it to me" (Mt 25:40).
"Death shall be no more" (Rev 21:4):
the splendour of the Resurrection
105. The angel's Annunciation to Mary is framed by
these reassuring words: "Do not be afraid, Mary" and "with God nothing will
be impossible" (Lk 1:30, 37). The whole of the Virgin Mother's life is in
fact pervaded by the certainty that God is near to her and that he accompanies her with
his providential care. The same is true of the Church, which finds "a place prepared
by God" (Rev 12:6) in the desert, the place of trial but also of the
manifestation of God's love for his people (cf. Hos 2:16). Mary is
a living word of comfort for the Church in her struggle against death.
Showing us the Son, the Church assures us that in him the forces of death
have already been defeated: "Death with life contended: combat strangely
ended! Life's own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign".141
The Lamb who was slain is alive, bearing the
marks of his Passion in the splendour of the Resurrection. He alone is master of all the
events of history: he opens its "seals" (cf. Rev 5:1-10) and proclaims,
in time and beyond, the power of life over death. In the "new
Jerusalem", that new world towards which human history is travelling, "death
shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for
the former things have passed away" (Rev 21:4).
And as we, the pilgrim people, the people of life and
for life, make our way in confidence towards "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev
21:1), we look to her who is for us "a sign of sure hope and solace".142
O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the
living, to you dowe entrust the cause of life: Look down, O Mother, upon the vast
numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of
men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by
indifference or out of misguided mercy. Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim
the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. Obtain for them
the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating
it with gratitude throughout their lives and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilization of
truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 25 March, the
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 1995, the seventeenth of my
1 The expression "Gospel of life" is not
found as such in Sacred Scripture. But it does correspond to an essential dimension of the
2 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
3 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor
Hominis (4 March 1979), 10: AAS 71 (1979), 275.
4 Cf. ibid., 14 loc. cit., 285.
5 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
6 Cf. Letter to all my Brothers in the Episcopate
regarding the "Gospel of Life" (19 May 1991): Insegnamenti XIV, 1
7 Ibid., loc. cit., p. 1294.
8 Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2
February 19.94), 4: AAS 86 (1994) 871.
9 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 39 AAS 83 (1991), 842.
10 No. 2259.
11 Cf. Saint Ambrose, De Noe, 26:94-96: CSEL
12 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Nos. 1867 and 2268.
13 De Cain et Abel, II, 10, 38: CSEL,
14 Cf. Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum
Vitae: AAS 80 (1988), 70-102.
15 Address during the Prayer Vigil for the Eighth
World Youth Day, Denver, 14 August 1993, II, 3: AAS 86 (1994), 419.
16 John Paul II, Address to the Participants at the
Study Conference on "The Right to Life and Europe", 18 December 1987: Insegnamenti,
X, 3 (1987), 1446-1447.
17 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 36.
18 Cf. ibid., 16.
19 Cf. Saint Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job,
13, 23: CCL 143A, 683.
20 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor
Hominis (4 March 1979) 10: AAS 71 (1979), 274.
21 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
22 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei
23 "Gloria Dei vivens homo": Adversus
Haereses, IV, 20, 7: SCh 100/2, 648-649.
24 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 12.
25 Confessions, I, 1: CCL 27, 1.
26 Exameron, VI, 75-76: CSEL 32,
27 "Vita autem hominis visio Dei": Adversus
Haereses, IV, 20, 7: SCh 100/2, 648- 649.
28 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 840-841.
29 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo
Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 560.
30 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
31 Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2
February 1994), 9 AAS 86 (1994), 878; cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Humani
Generis (12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 574.
32 "Animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica
fides nos retinere iubet": Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Humani Generis
(12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 575.
33 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50; cf.
John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981),
28: AAS 74 (1982), 114.
34 Homilies, II, 1; CCSG 3, 39.
35 See, for example, Psalms 22:10-11; 71:6; 139: 14.
36 Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam,II,
22-23: CCL, 14, 40-41.
37 Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the
Ephesians, 7, 2: Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk, II, 82.
38 De Hominis Opificio, 4: PG 44,
39 Cf. Saint John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa,
2, 12: PG 94, 920.922, quoted in Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
40 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae
(25 July 1968), 13: AAS 60 (1968), 489.
41 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum
Vitae (22 February 1987), Introduction, No. 5: AAS 80 (1988), 76-77; cf. Catechism
of the Catholic Church, No. 2258.
42 Didache, I, 1; II, 1-2; V, 1 and 3: Patres
Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk, I, 2-3, 6-9, 14-17; cf. Letter of Pseudo-Barnabas,
XIX, 5: loc. cit., 90-93.
43 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Nos. 2263-2269; cf. also Catechism of the Council of Trent III, ## 327-332.
44 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
45 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae,
II-II, q. 64, a. 7; Saint Alphonsus de Liguori, Theologia Moralis, 1. III, tr. 4,
c. 1, dub. 3.
46 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
47 Cf. ibid.
48 No. 2267.
49 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 12.
50 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
51 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
52 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72 (1980),
53 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6 August 1993), 96: AAS 85 (1993), 1209.
54 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 51: "Abortus necnon infanticidium nefanda sunt
55 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
Dignitatem (15 August 1988), 14: AAS 80 (1988), 1686.
56 No 21: AAS 86 (1994), 920
57 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, Declaration
on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), NOS. 12-13: AAS 66 (1974), 738.
58 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum
Vitae (22 February 1987), I, No. 1: AAS 80 (1988), 78-79.
59 Ibid., loc. cit., 79.
60 Hence the Prophet Jeremiah: "The word of the
Lord came to me saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were
born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations'" (1:4-5). The
Psalmist, for his part, addresses the Lord in these words: "Upon you I have leaned
from my birth; you are he who took me from my mother's womb" (Ps 71:6; cf. Is
46:3; Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-11). So too the Evangelist Luke in the
magnificent episode of the meeting of the two mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, and their two
sons, John the Baptist and Jesus, still hidden in their mothers' wombs (cf. 1:39-45)
emphasizes how even before their birth the two little ones are able to communicate: the
child recognizes the coming of the Child and leaps for joy.
61 Cf. Declaration on Procured Abortion (18
November 1974), No. 7: AAS 66 (1974), 740-747.
62 "You shall not kill a child by abortion nor
shall you kill it once it is born": V, 2: Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk,
63 Apologia on behalf of the Christians, 35:
PG 6, 969.
64 Apologeticum, IX, 8: CSEL 69,
65 Cf. Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31
December 1930), 1: AAS 22 (1930), 562-592.
66 Address to the Biomedical Association "San
Luca" (12 November 1944): Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, VI (1944-1945), 191; cf.
Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 October 1951), No. 2: AAS
43 (1951), 838.
67 Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (15
May 1961), 3: AAS 53 (1961), 447.
68 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 51.
69 Canon 2350, # 1.
70 Code of Canon Law, canon 1398; cf. Code
of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1450, # 2.
71 Cf. ibid., canon 1329; also Code of
Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1417.
72 Cf. Address to the National Congress of Italian
Jurists (9 December 1972): AAS 64 (1972), 777; Encyclical Letter Humanae
Vitae (25 July 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490.
73 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
74 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum
Vitae (22 February 1987) I, 3: AAS 80 (1988), 80.
75 Charter of the Rights of the Family (22
October 1983), article 4b: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1983.
76 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72 (1980)
77 Ibid., IV: loc cit., 551.
78 Cf. ibid.
79 Pius XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians (24 February 1957), III: AAS 49 (1957), 147; cf.
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia lura et Bona, III: AAS
72 (1980), 547-548.
80 Pius XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians (24 February 1957), III: AAS 49 (1957), 145.
81 Cf. Pius XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians, (24 February 1957): loc. cit., 129-147; Congregation of
the Holy Office, Decretum de directa insontium occisione (2 December 1940): AAS
32 (1940), 553-554; Paul VI, Message to French Television: "Every life is
sacred" (27 January 1971): Insegnamenti IX (1971) 57-58; Address to the
International College of Surgeons (1 June 1972) AAS 64 (1972), 432-436;
Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium
et Spes, 27.
82 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
83 Cf. Saint Augustine, De Civitate Dei I,
20: CCL 47, 22; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 6, a.
84 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Declaration On Euthanasia lura et Bona (5 May 1980), I: AAS 72 (1980),
545; Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2281-2283.
85 Ep. 204, 5: CSEL 57, 320.
86 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 18.
87 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici
Doloris (11 February 1984), 14-24: AAS 76 (1984), 214-234.
88 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 46: AAS 83 (1991), 850; Pius XII, Christmas Radio
Message (24 December 1944): AAS 37 (1945) 10-20.
89 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6 August 1993), 97 and 99: AAS 85 (1993), 1209-1211.
90 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith,
Instruction on Respect for Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Donum
Vitae (22 February 1987), III: AAS 80 (1988), 98.
91 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
92 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae
I-II, q. 96, a. 2.
93 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
94 Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11
April 1963), II; AAS 55 (1963), 273-274. The internal quote is from Pius XII,
Radio Message of Pentecost 1941 (1 June 1941): AAS 33 (1941), 200. On this topic,
the Encyclical cites: Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mit brennender Sorge (14 March
1937): AAS 29 (1937), 159; Encyclical Letter Divini Redemptoris (19
March 1937), III: AAS 29 (1937), 79; Pius XII, Christmas Radio Message (24
December 1942): AAS 35 (1943), 9-24.
95 Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11
April 1963), II: loc cit., 271.
96 Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad
97 Ibid., 1-11, q. 95, a. 2. Aquinas quotes
Saint Augustine: "Non videtur esse lex, quae iusta non fuerit", De Libero
Arbitrio, I, 5, 11: PL 32. 1227.
98 Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith, Declaration
on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974), 744.
99 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Nos. 1755-1755; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August
1993), 81-82: AAS 85 (1993), 1198-1199.
100 In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 41,
10: CCL 36, 363; cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor
(6 August 1993), 13: AAS 85 (1993) 1144.
101 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi
(8 December 1975), 14: AAS 68 (1976), 13.
102 Cf. Roman Missal, prayer of the
celebrant before communion.
103 Cf. Saint Irenaeus: "Omnem novitatem
attulit, semetipsum afferens, qui fuerat annuntiatus", Adversus Haereses:
IV, 34, 1: SCh 100/2, 846-847.
104 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, "Peccator
inveterascit, recedens a novitate Christi", In Psalmos Davidis Lectura: 6,
105 De Beatitudinibus, Oratio VII: PG
106 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6 August 1993), 116: AAS 85 (1993), 1224.
107 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.
108 Cf. Message for Christmas 1967: AAS 60
109 Pseudo-Dionysius the
Areopagite, On the
Divine Names, 6, 1-3: PG 3, 856-857.
110 Paul VI, Pensiero alla Morte, Istituto
Paolo VI, Brescia 1988, 24.
111 John Paul II, Homily for the Beatification of Isidore Bakanja, Elisabetta Canori Mora and Gianna Beretta Molla (24 April 1994): L'Osservatore
Romano, 25-26 April 1994, 5.
113 In Matthaeum, Hom. L. 3: PG 58,
114 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.
115 John Paul II, Address to the Fourth General
Conference of Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo (12 October 1992 ), No. 15: AAS
85 (1993), 819.
116 Cf. Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis
Redintegratio, 12; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium
et Spes, 90.
117 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 17: AAS 74 (1982), 100.
118 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
119 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 39 AAS 83 (1991), 842.
120 John Paul II, Address to Participants in the
Seventh Symposium of European Bishops, on the theme of "Contemporary Attitudes
towards Life and Death: a Challenge for Evangelization" (17 October 1989), No. 5: Insegnamenti
XII, 2 (1989), 945. Children are presented in the Biblical tradition precisely as God's
gift (cf. Ps 127:3) and as a sign of his blessing on those who walk in his ways
(cf. Ps 128 3-4).
121 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo
Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 38: AAS 80 (1988), 565-566.
122 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 86: AAS 74 (1982), 188.
123 Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 18: AAS 68 (1976), 17.
124 Cf. ibid., 20: loc. cit, 18.
125 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.
126 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 17: AAS 83 (1991), 814; Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6 August 1993), 95-101: AAS 85 (1993), 1208-1213.
127 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May 1991), 24: AAS 83 (1991), 822.
128 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio (22 November 1981), 37 AAS 74 (1982), 128.
129 Letter establishing the World Day of the Sick (13
May 1992) No. 2 Insegnamenti XV, 1 (1992), 1410.
130 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 35;
Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 15: AAS 59
131 Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam
sane (2 February 1994), 13: AAS 86 (1994), 892.
132 John Paul II, Motu Proprio Vitae Mysterium
(11 February 1994), 4: AAS 86 (1994), 386-387.
133 Closing Messages of the Council (8
December 1965): To Women.
134 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
Dignitatem (15 August 1988), 18: AAS 80 (1988), 1696.
135 Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam
sane (2 February 1994), 5: AAS 86 (1994), 872.
136 John Paul II, Address to Participants in the
Study Conference on "The Right to Life in Europe" (18 December 1987): Insegnamenti
X, 3 ( 1987), 1446.
137 Message for the 1977 World Day of Peace: AAS
68 (1976), 711-712.
138 Blessed Guerric of Igny, In Assumptione B.
Mariae, Sermo 1, 2: PL 185, 188.
139 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 5.
140 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
141 Roman Missal, Sequence for Easter
142 Second Vatican Ecumenical
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 68.