Humanae Vitae 10: Responsible Parenthood

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. If HV 9 seemed sound, if somewhat incomplete, some Catholics might find this section a bit more problematic. Let’s read carefully, ponder, then discuss:

10. Married love, therefore, requires of husband and wife the full awareness of their obligations in the matter of responsible parenthood, which today, rightly enough, is much insisted upon, but which at the same time should be rightly understood. Thus, we do well to consider responsible parenthood in the light of its varied legitimate and interrelated aspects. With regard to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means an awareness of, and respect for, their proper functions. In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 2)

So far, so good. Indeed, parenting children can be complex, and couples may find conflict in important aspects.

With regard to innate (human) drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that (human) reason and will must exert control over them.

I think caution of (human) drives is well-considered. We are not animals, after all, and enslaved to instinct without will. However, the emotional lives of human beings are more advanced than all or nearly all of the natural world. The human affect is not something so easily dismissed as illogical or something wild or in need of being controlled. Sometimes, it is human intelligence and cleverness that need to be tempered, not the feelings. Inevitably, human emotions are entwined with the care of spouse and children. I do not think they can be as easily dismissed as Pope Paul attempts here.

With regard to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.

Pope Paul makes an important point here: morality is not subjective, and a “right,” well-formed conscience is vital to tackle conflicting issues here. One cannot dive into marriage and family on autopilot. The issues must be engaged, wrestled with, and often will involve a genuine struggle. Sometimes the choice for more children is not driven by prudence or generosity, but by narcissism and selfishness. The interior of a person determines the true motivation, not the external appearances.

Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society. From this it follows that they are not free to act as they choose in the service of transmitting life, as if it were wholly up to them to decide what is the right course to follow.

This will undoubtedly move against the grain of many individualistic westerners. But it is true: there are duties and responsibilities that inconvenience us. Best to admit it, find the grace in it, and accept it as a mutuality in a human society.

On the contrary, they are bound to ensure that what they do corresponds to the will of God the Creator. The very nature of marriage and its use makes His will clear, while the constant teaching of the Church spells it out. (See Gaudium et Spes 50-51)

You can access that reference on the Vatican site, or even here and here when we discussed nine years ago. (Has it been that long?)

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Humanae Vitae 10: Responsible Parenthood

  1. Chris says:

    “In the procreative faculty the human mind discerns biological laws that apply to the human person. (See St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, art. 2)”

    I find that problematic as the human person is much more than their biology and morality is not totally dependent on physicality. One can discern laws from biology but one’s discernment can be faulty, as Aquinas’ later comment on his writings, “it’s all straw”, evidences.

    “responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or an indefinite period of time.”

    This is important. The first principle for those unable to have as many children as biology would allow is to be responsible parents by deciding not to have additional children. The means they use to acheive that is very much a secondary matter (and one for the spouses’ conscience).

    Note here the the Holy Father puts huge constraints on the biology of the previous paragraph.

    The final paragaphs on discrning the will of God are important. We have no record in scripture or what Jesus taught or the apostle shanded down of any opposition to contraception. What we have is a tradition of fallible human moarl theories (mostly by celibates) about contraception.

    God Bless

  2. FrMichael says:

    “The means they use to achieve that is very much a secondary matter (and one for the spouses’ conscience).” So sayeth you. By that faulty reasoning, I could deal with world overpopulation by indiscriminately murdering people with random drops of nuclear weapons.

    The ends and the means are both proper subjects of moral theology.

  3. FrMichael says:

    I caught the reference to 9 years… yes, it has been that long! Congrats to you for keeping the blog going!

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