Paul II - Theology of the Body
of Marriage Act Determined by Nature of the Act and of the Subjects
General Audience, July 11, 1984
1. The reflections we have thus far
made on human love in the divine plan would be in some way
incomplete if we did not try to see their concrete application in
the sphere of marital and family morality. We want to take this
further step that will bring us to the conclusion of our now long
journey, under the guidance of an important recent pronouncement of
the Magisterium, Humanae Vitae, which Pope Paul VI published in July
1968. We will reread this significant document in the light of the
conclusions we have reached in examining the initial divine plan and
the words of Christ which refer to it.
2. "The Church teaches as absolutely required that in any use
whatever of marriage there must be no impairment of its natural
capacity to procreate human life" (Humanae Vitae 11). "This
particular doctrine, often expounded by the Magisterium of the
Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God,
which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive
significance and the procreative significance which are both
inherent to the marriage act" (Humane Vitae 12).
3. The considerations I am about to make concern especially the
passage of Humanae Vitae that deals with the "two significances of
the marriage act" and their "inseparable connection." I do not
intend to present a commentary on the whole encyclical, but rather
to illustrate and examine one of its passages. From the point of
view of the doctrine contained in the quoted document, that passage
has a central significance. At the same time, that passage is
closely connected with our previous reflections on marriage in its
dimension as a (sacramental) sign.
As I said, since this is a central passage of the encyclical, it is
obvious that it constitutes a very important part of its whole
structure. Therefore, its analysis must direct us toward the various
components of that structure, even if it is not our intention to
comment on the entire text.
A promised fidelity
4. In the reflections on the sacramental sign, it has already been
said several times that it is based on the language of the body
reread in truth. It concerns a truth once affirmed at the beginning
of the marriage when the newlyweds, promising each other "to be
always faithful...and to love and honor each other all the days of
their life," become ministers of marriage as a sacrament of the
It concerns, then, a truth that is always newly affirmed. In fact,
the man and the woman, living in the marriage "until death,"
re-propose uninterruptedly, in a certain sense, that sign that they
made—through the liturgy of the sacrament—on their wedding day.
The aforementioned words of Pope Paul VI's encyclical concern that
moment in the common life of the spouses when both, joining each
other in the marriage act, become, according to the biblical
expression, "one flesh" (Gn 2:24). Precisely at such a moment so
rich in significance, it is also especially important that the
language of the body be reread in truth. This reading becomes the
indispensable condition for acting in truth, that is, for behaving
in accordance with the value and the moral norm.
5. The encyclical not only recalls this norm, but also seeks to give
it adequate foundation. In order to clarify more completely that
"inseparable connection, established by God...between the unitive
significance and the procreative significance of the marriage act,"
Paul VI writes in the next sentence: "The reason is that the
marriage act, because of its fundamental structure, while it unites
husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also brings into operation
laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman for the
generation of new life" (Humanae Vitae 12).
We note that in the previous sentence, the text just quoted deals
above all with the significance of marital relations. In the
following sentence, it deals with the fundamental structure (that
is, the nature) of marital relations. Defining that fundamental
structure, the text refers to "laws written into the actual nature
of man and of woman."
The passage from the sentence expressing the moral norm, to the
sentence which explains and justifies it, is especially significant.
The encyclical leads one to seek the foundation for the norm which
determines the morality of the acts of the man and the woman in the
marriage act, in the nature of this very act, and more deeply still,
in the nature of the subjects themselves who are performing the act.
6. In this way, the fundamental structure (that is, the nature) of
the marriage act constitutes the necessary basis for an adequate
reading and discovery of the two significances that must be carried
over into the conscience and the decisions of the acting parties. It
also constitutes the necessary basis for establishing the adequate
relationship of these significances, that is, their inseparable
connection. Since "the marriage act..."—at the same time—"unites
husband and wife in the closest intimacy" and together "makes them
capable of generating new life," and both the one and the other
happen "through the fundamental structure," then it follows that the
human person (with the necessity proper to reason, logical
necessity) must read at the same time the "twofold significance of
the marriage act" and also the "inseparable connection between the
unitive significance and the procreative significance of the
Here we are dealing with nothing other than reading the language of
the body in truth, as has been said many times in our previous
biblical analyses. The moral norm, constantly taught by the Church
in this sphere, and recalled and reconfirmed by Paul VI in his
encyclical, arises from the reading of the language of the body in
It is a question here of the truth first in the ontological
dimension ("fundamental structure") and then—as a result—in the
subjective and psychological dimension ("significance"). The text of
the encyclical stresses that in the case in question we are dealing
with a norm of the natural law.
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 16 July
1984, page 1
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