1. What is the essence of the
Church's doctrine concerning the transmission of life in the
conjugal community, of that doctrine of which we are reminded by the
pastoral Constitution of the Council Gaudium et Spes, and by the
encyclical Humanae Vitae of Pope Paul VI?
The problem consists in maintaining an adequate relationship between
what is defined as "domination...of the forces of nature" (HV 2),
and the "mastery of self " (HV 21) which is indispensable for the
human person. Modern man shows a tendency to transfer the methods
proper to the former to those of the latter. "Man has made
stupendous progress in the domination and rational organization of
the forces of nature," we read in the encyclical, "to the point that
he is endeavoring to extend this control over every aspect of his
own life—over his body, over his mind and emotions, over his social
life, and even over the laws that regulate the transmission of life"
This extension of the sphere of the means of "domination of the
forces of nature" menaces the human person for whom the method of
"self-mastery" is and remains specific. The mastery of self
corresponds to the fundamental constitution of the person; it is
indeed a "natural" method. On the contrary, the resort to artificial
means destroys the constitutive dimension of the person. It deprives
man of the subjectivity proper to him and makes him an object of
Meaning of "language of the body"
2. The human body is not merely an organism of sexual reactions.
But it is, at the same time, the means of expressing the entire man,
the person, which reveals itself by means of the language of the
body. This language has an important interpersonal meaning,
especially in reciprocal relationships between man and woman.
Moreover, our previous analyses show that in this case the language
of the body should express, at a determinate level, the truth of the
sacrament. Participating in the eternal plan of love ("sacrament
hidden in God"), the language of the body becomes a kind of
prophetism of the body.
It may be said that the Encyclical Humanae Vitae carries to the
extreme consequences, not merely logical and moral, but also
practical and pastoral, this truth concerning the human body in its
masculinity and femininity.
Sacramental and personal dimension
3. The unity of the two aspects of the problem—the sacramental
(or theological) dimension and the personalistic one—corresponds to
the overall revelation of the body. From this derives also the
connection of the strictly theological vision with the ethical one,
which appeals to the natural law.
The subject of the natural law is man, not only in the "natural"
aspect of his existence, but also in the integral truth of his
personal subjectivity. He is shown to us, in revelation, as male and
female, in his full temporal and eschatological vocation. He is
called by God to be a witness and interpreter of the eternal plan of
love, by becoming the minister of the sacrament which from the
beginning was constituted by the sign of the union of flesh.
4. As ministers of a sacrament which is constituted by consent and
perfected by conjugal union, man and woman are called to express
that mysterious language of their bodies in all the truth which is
proper to it. By means of gestures and reactions, by means of the
whole dynamism, reciprocally conditioned, of tension and
enjoyment—whose direct source is the body in its masculinity and its
femininity, the body in its action and interaction—by means of all
this, man, the person, "speaks."
Man and woman carry on in the language of the body that dialogue
which, according to Genesis, chapter 2, vv.24, 25, had its beginning
on the day of creation. Precisely on the level of this language of
the body—which is something more than mere sexual reaction and
which, as authentic language of the persons, is subject to the
demands of truth, that is, to objective moral norms—man and woman
reciprocally express themselves in the fullest and most profound way
possible to them. By the corporeal dimension of masculinity and
femininity, man and woman express themselves in the measure of the
whole truth of the human person.
5. Man is precisely a person because he is master of himself and has
self-control. Indeed, insofar as he is master of himself he can give
himself to the other. And it is this dimension—the dimension of the
liberty of the gift—which becomes essential and decisive for that
language of the body, in which man and woman reciprocally express
themselves in the conjugal union. Granted that this is communion of
persons, the language of the body should be judged according to the
criterion of truth. It is precisely this criterion which the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae recalls, as is confirmed by the passages
6. According to the criterion of this truth, which should be
expressed in the language of the body, the conjugal act signifies
not only love, but also potential fecundity. Therefore it cannot be
deprived of its full and adequate significance by artificial means.
In the conjugal act it is not licit to separate the unitive aspect
from the procreative aspect, because both the one and the other
pertain to the intimate truth of the conjugal act. The one is
activated together with the other and in a certain sense the one by
means of the other. This is what the Encyclical teaches (cf. HV 12).
Therefore, in such a case the conjugal act, deprived of its interior
truth because it is artificially deprived of its procreative
capacity, ceases also to be an act of love.
7. It can be said that in the case of an artificial separation of
these two aspects, a real bodily union is carried out in the
conjugal act, but it does not correspond to the interior truth and
to the dignity of personal communion: communion of persons. This
communion demands that the language of the body be expressed
reciprocally in the integral truth of its meaning. If this truth be
lacking, one cannot speak either of the truth of self-mastery, or of
the truth of the reciprocal gift and of the reciprocal acceptance of
self on the part of the person. Such a violation of the interior
order of conjugal union, which is rooted in the very order of the
person, constitutes the essential evil of the contraceptive act.
Reflections on "sign"
8. The above-given interpretation of moral doctrine expressed in the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae is situated against the vast background of
reflections connected with the theology of the body. The reflections
on "sign" in connection with marriage understood as a sacrament are
of special validity for this interpretation. The essence of the
violation which upsets the interior order of the conjugal act cannot
be understood in a theologically adequate way, without the
reflections on the theme of the concupiscence of the flesh.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 27 August
1984, page 7
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