Importance of Harmonizing Human Love with Respect for Life

Author: Pope John Paul II


Pope John Paul II

General Audience of July 25, 1984

1. Today we continue our reflections which are directed toward linking the Encyclical "Humanae vitae" to our whole treatment of the theology of the body.

This encyclical is not limited to recalling the moral norm concerning conjugal life, reconfirming this norm in the face of new circumstances. Paul VI, in making a pronouncement with the authentic Magisterium through the encyclical (1968), had before his eyes the authoritative statement of the Second Vatican Council contained in the Constitution "Gaudium et spes" (1965).

The encyclical is not only found to be along the lines of the Council's teaching, but it also constitutes the development and completion of the questions contained there, particularly regarding the question of the "harmony of human love with respect for life." On this point, we read in "Gaudium et spes" the following words: "The Church issues the reminder that a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love" (GS 51).

The Moral Norm Does Not Contradict Reason

2. The pastoral constitution of Vatican II excludes any "true contradiction" whatsoever in the normative order which on his part Paul VI confirms by seeking at the same time to shed light on that "non-contradiction," and thus to justify the respective moral norm by demonstrating its conformity to reason.

Nevertheless, "Humanae vitae" speaks not so much of the "non-contradiction" in the normative order as of the "inseparable connection" between the transmission of life and authentic marital love from the point of view of the "two significances of the conjugal act: the unitive significance and the procreative significance" (HV 12), with which we have already dealt.

3. We could pause for some time here analyzing the norm itself, but the character of both the one and the other document leads rather to reflections that are, at least indirectly, pastoral. In fact, "Gaudium et spes" is a pastoral constitution, and Paul VI's encyclical—with its doctrinal value—tends to have the same orientation. In fact, it is intended to be a response to the questions of modern man. These questions are of a demographic nature, and consequently of a socioeconomic and political nature, in relation to the population increase throughout the world. They are questions that begin from the field of particular sciences, and at the same rate are questions of modern moralists (theologians-moralists). They are above all questions of spouses which are already found at the center of attention in the conciliar constitution and are taken up again in the encyclical with all the desirable precision. In fact, we read there: "Granted the conditions of life today and taking into account the relevance of married love to the harmony and mutual fidelity of husband and wife, would it not be right to review the moral norms in force till now, especially when it is felt that these can be observed only with the gravest difficulty, sometimes only by heroic effort?" (HV 3)

Pastoral Arguments

4. In the above text it is evident with what solicitude the encyclical's author tries to face the questions of modern man in all their import. The relevance of these questions presupposes a response that is proportionately thought out and profound. If, therefore, on the one hand it is right to expect a keenly sensitive treatment of the norm, on the other hand it can also be expected that no small weight be given to the pastoral arguments, more directly concerning the life of man in the concrete, of precisely those who are posing the questions mentioned in the beginning.

Paul VI always had these people before his eyes. Evidence of this, among other things, is teaching of the Church regarding the right ordering of the increase of a man's family is a promulgation of the law of God Himself. And yet there is no doubt that to many it may appear not merely difficult but even impossible to observe. Now it is true that like all good things which are outstanding for their nobility and for the benefits which they confer on men, so this law demands from individual men and women, from families and from human society a resolute purpose and great endurance. Indeed it cannot be observed unless God comes to their help with that grace by which the good will of men is sustained and strengthened. But to those who consider this matter diligently it will indeed be evident that this endurance enhances man's dignity and confers benefits on human society" (HV 20).

Rule of Understanding

5. At this point there is no more mention of the normative "non-contradiction" but rather of the "possibility of observing the divine law," that is, of an argument that is at least indirectly pastoral. The fact that the law must be "possible" to observe belongs directly to the very nature of law and is therefore included in the framework of the "normative non-contradiction." Nevertheless the "possibility," understood as the "feasibility" of the norm, belongs also to the practical and pastoral sphere. In the text quoted, my Predecessor speaks, precisely, from this point of view.

6. We can here arrive at a consideration: the fact that the whole biblical background, called "theology of the body," offers us, even though indirectly, the confirmation of the truth of the moral norm contained in "Humanae vitae," prepares us to consider more deeply the practical and pastoral aspects of the problem in its entirety.

Were not the principles and general presuppositions of the "theology of the body" all taken from the answers Christ gave to the questions of His actual audience? And are not Paul's texts—as, for example, in the Letter to the Corinthians—a small manual on the problems of the moral life of Christ's first followers? And in these texts we certainly find that "rule of understanding" which seems so indispensable in the face of the problems treated in "Humanae vitae" and which is present in this encyclical.

Whoever believes that the Council and the encyclical do not sufficiently take into account the difficulties present in concrete life does not understand the pastoral concern that was at the origin of those documents. Pastoral concern means the search for the true good of man, a promotion of the values engraved in his person by God; that is, it means observing that "rule of understanding" which is directed to the even clearer discovery of God's plan for human love, in the certitude that the only true good of the human person consists in fulfilling this divine plan.

One could say that, precisely in the name of the aforementioned "rule of understanding," the Council posed the question of the "harmony of human love with respect for life" (GS 51), and the Encyclical "Humanae vitae" then not only recalls the moral norms that are binding in this area, but is also fully concerned with the problem of the "possibility of observing the divine law."

The present reflections on the nature of the document "Humanae vitae" prepare us to deal then with the theme of "responsible parenthood."

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