1. We are continuing the analysis
of continence in the light of the teaching contained in Humanae
It is often thought that continence causes inner tensions which man
must free himself from. In the light of the analyses we have done,
continence, understood integrally, is rather the only way to free
man from such tensions. It means nothing other than the spiritual
effort aimed at expressing the "language of the body," not only in
truth but also in the authentic richness of the manifestations of
2. Is this effort possible? In other words (and under another
aspect) the question returns here about the feasibility of the moral
law, recalled and confirmed by Humanae Vitae. It constitutes one of
the most essential questions (and currently also one of the most
urgent ones) in the sphere of the spirituality of marriage.
The Church is totally convinced of the correctness of the principle
that affirms responsible fatherhood and motherhood, in the sense
explained in previous catecheses. This is not only for demographic
reasons but for more essential reasons. We call that fatherhood and
that motherhood responsible which correspond to the personal dignity
of the couple as parents, to the truth of their person and of the
conjugal act. Hence arises the close and direct relationship that
links this dimension with the whole spirituality of marriage.
Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae, expressed what had been affirmed
elsewhere by many authoritative moralists and scientists, even
non-Catholics(1), namely, that precisely in this field, so
profoundly and essentially human and personal, it is necessary above
all to refer to man as a person, the subject who decides by himself,
and not to means which make him the object (of manipulations) and
depersonalize him. It is therefore a question here of an
authentically humanistic meaning of the development and progress of
3. Is this effort possible? The whole question of the Encyclical
Humanae Vitae is not reduced simply to the biological dimension of
human fertility (the question of the "natural cycles of fertility"),
but goes back to the very subjectivity of man, to that personal "I"
through which the person is man or woman.
Already during the discussion in the Second Vatican Council, in
relation to the chapter of Gaudium et Spes on the "Dignity of
Marriage and the Family and its Promotion," the necessity was
discussed for a deepened analysis of the reactions (and also of the
emotions) connected with the mutual influence of masculinity and
femininity on the human subject.(2) This question belongs not so
much to biology as to psychology. From biology and psychology it
then passes into the sphere of the spirituality of marriage and the
family. Here this question is in close relationship with the way of
understanding the virtue of continence, that is, self-mastery and
especially of periodic continence.
4. A careful analysis of human psychology allows us to arrive at
some other essential affirmations. (Psychology is at the same time a
subjective self-analysis and then becomes an analysis of an "object"
accessible to human knowledge.) In interpersonal relationships in
which the mutual influence of masculinity and femininity is
expressed, there is freed in the psycho-emotive subject in the human
"I," alongside a reaction distinguishable as excitement, another
reaction that can and must be called emotion. Although these two
kinds of reaction appear joined, it is possible to distinguish them
experimentally and to differentiate them with regard to their
content or their object.(3)
The objective difference between the one and the other kind of
reaction consists in the fact that the excitement is above all
corporeal and in this sense sensual. On the other hand, even though
aroused by the mutual reaction of masculinity and femininity,
emotion refers above all to the other person understood in the
person's integrality. We can say that this is an emotion caused by
the person, in relation to the person's masculinity or femininity.
5. What we are stating here with regard to the psychology of the
mutual reactions of masculinity and femininity helps in
understanding the role of the virtue of continence, which we spoke
about previously. Continence is not only—and not even
principally—the ability to abstain, that is, mastery over the
multiple reactions that are interwoven in the mutual influence of
masculinity and femininity. Such a role would be defined as
negative. But there is also another role (which we can call
positive) of self-mastery. It is the ability to direct the
respective reactions, both as to their content and their character.
It has already been said that in the field of the mutual reactions
of masculinity and femininity, excitement and emotion appear not
only as two distinct and different experiences of the human "I." But
very often they appear joined in the sphere of the same experience
as two different elements of that experience. The reciprocal degree
to which these two elements appear in a given experience depends on
various circumstances of an interior and an exterior nature. At
times one of the elements is clearly prevalent; at other times there
is rather a balance between them.
Maintaining the balance
6. As the ability to direct excitement and emotion in the sphere
of the mutual influence of masculinity and femininity, continence
has the essential task to maintain the balance between the communion
in which the couple wish to mutually express only their intimate
union and that in which (at least implicitly) they accept
responsible parenthood. In fact, on the part of the subject,
excitement and emotion can jeopardize the orientation and the
character of the mutual language of the body.
Excitement seeks above all to be expressed in the form of sensual
and corporeal pleasure. That is, it tends toward the conjugal act
which (depending on the natural cycles of fertility) includes the
possibility of procreation. Emotion, on the other hand, caused by
another human being as a person, even if in its emotive content it
is conditioned by the femininity or masculinity of the "other," does
not per se tend toward the conjugal act. But it limits itself to
other manifestations of affection, which express the spousal meaning
of the body, and which nevertheless do not include its (potentially)
It is easy to understand what conclusions arise from this with
respect to the question of responsible fatherhood and motherhood.
These conclusions are of a moral nature.
1) Cf., for example, the statements of the "Bund fur
evangelisch-katholische Wiedervereinigung" (L'O.R., 19-9-1968, p.
3); Dr. F. King, Anglican (L'O.R., October 5-10-1968, p. 3); and
also the Muslim, Mr. Mohammed Cherif Zeghoudu (in the same issue).
Especially significant is the letter written on November 28, 1968,
to Cardinal Cicognani by Karl Barth, in which he praised the great
courage of Paul VI.
2) Cf. the interventions by Card. Leo Suenens at the 13th General
Congregation on September 29, 1968: Acta Synodalia S. Concilii
Oecumenici Vaticani II, vol. 4, part 3, p. 30.
3) In this regard we should recall what St. Thomas says in a final
analysis of human love in relation to the "concupiscible" and to the
will (cf. Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 26, art. 2).
Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 5
November 1984, page 1
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