Humanae Vitae 12: Union and Procreation

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana. For skeptics on HV 11, Pope Paul offers the argument in favor of marital sexual intercourse being both unitive and procreative:

12. This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which (people) on (their) own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which (people are) called. We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.

The stumbling block I’ve heard most often is that the young, fertile married couple is taken for granted as the model on which to base this reasoning. Not every married couple is young, nor are they fertile. For the latter, flaws can emerge which are biological or psychological.

Outside the realm of biology, are married couples of any age or fertility capable of generativity, a wider and possibly more human expression of union?

I would comment on the “supreme responsibility of parenthood.” For the Christian, the supreme loyalty is spreading the Good News. Marriage and bearing children are means to that end. They are not a special “supremacy” different from non-married couples.

And finally, critics of HV are not all capable of seeing “each and every marital act” as harmonious with human reason. Some people don’t get it. Some people deny it. Some people struggle and give up on it. Some adhere in practice and preaching, but reserve skepticism on particulars. In these circumstances, we may well have to rely more on grace and inspiration than mere human reason.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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3 Responses to Humanae Vitae 12: Union and Procreation

  1. Chris says:

    “We believe that our contemporaries are particularly capable of seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason.”

    That sentence probably sums up just how seriously out of touch with the smell of the sheep it is possible for celibate and childless Popes living in the luxury of papal palaces to be.

    One could of course affirm retaining the significance of both unitive and procreative without holding that every act must be open to conception. Particularly as nature does not make it so.

    One recalls the passages in Genesis where God is said to have practiced contraception: closing the wombs to fertility.

    There seems to be both a scriptural and natural law case for contraception.

    God bless

    • FrMichael says:

      Well, that the Pope was out of touch with the Sexual Revolution of the ’60s I consider to be a good thing. We generally castigate the sexually corrupt popes that popped up at times in the Dark Ages, Middle Ages, and Renaissance. Blaming Paul VI for not getting in step with the evil sweeping the world seems a bit strange.

      I’m not sure that your appeal to Genesis is that appropriately placed. First, it is well known to biblical scholars of all stripes that the human authors of the OT, especially the Torah, often ascribed to divine agency that which could also be attributed to human volition. Second, God is not bound to the natural law that governs our species. He can and does things that can’t happen naturally or morally by us (miracles, the conception of the Christ, giving and taking of human life). While as a rational Being He generally obeys His natural and moral laws, He is not subservient to them: they were created for our good, not His.

      As for the use of “reason,” the Pope clearly means using our intelligence to understand that the human sexual organs are also the reproductive organs, and from that derive that human sexuality and reproduction are intrinsically linked. Clearly you use the word “reason” in the sense that people can use their brains to think up rationalizations why moral laws don’t apply to their specific situation. That type of morally dubious thinking has been prevalent in our species since the start; the dissent to Humanae Vitae was hardly something unique in that regard.

      Since Pope Francis was the originator of the “smell of the sheep” phrase, I wonder if you have any comments from his trip to the Philippines and strong support of HV expressed on the trip?

      • Chris says:

        Opponents of HV were hardly all sexual revolutionaries, most were quite conservative Catholic laity and priests eg the Popes own commission on contraceptives who studied the theology and concluded that contraception was morally licit. Only some privileged clerics, without the responsibility of themselves having to raise any children, voted against.

        The rabbinic interpretation of the Genesis passages were that God himself contracepted, there is no suggestion in the text of any human volition.

        If God is not bound by the natural law then the natural law cannot be a universal moral code.

        We are responsible to use reason to figure out the morality of our actions. Very few people can understand the argument of HV and even fewer agree with it. It is not based on scripture or what Christ taught so the faithful naturally are left only with reason to ponder its unconvincing arguments.

        God bless

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