Humanae Vitae 13: Faithfulness to God’s Design

sperm and eggHumanae Vitae is online at the Vatican site, and the text highlighted below is © Copyright – Libreria Editrice Vaticana.

I think Pope Paul’s example here is awkward:

13. (People) rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one’s partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.

I wouldn’t disagree with the principle Pope Paul presents here, but many people–not just women–will find the comparison troubling. An act of forced sexuality is a complex mire of sin: brutality, power, cruelty, domination, among other possible qualities. To have a hope of communicating Church teaching on conception, be it in the late 1960’s or today, one must be supremely sensitive to matters of sexuality, and avoid any opportunity for misunderstanding.

But to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as (people do) not have unlimited dominion over (their bodies) in general, so also, and with more particular reason, (they have) no such dominion over (their) specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source. “Human life is sacred—all (people) must recognize that fact,” Our predecessor Pope John XXIII recalled. “From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God.” (See Mater et Magistra)

After a bad misstep, the essence of Church teaching is presented here: God is the source and author of life, human beings “administer” this gift to the universe. It’s a beautiful teaching, and through it, we place ourselves at the service of God. The spiritual reasoning behind it is that God moves often enough in surprise and discontinuity, and not through logical organization. It might be that the gift of a child is opportune when parents might not discern it to be so.

In my own experience, this openness did not bear fruit, but it was a personal commitment. My wife and I were able to experience God’s surprise in many good ways in our lives as single people. It was an easy matter for us to trust a providing God. But not every human being, and certainly not every believer is as trusting.

Comments?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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12 Responses to Humanae Vitae 13: Faithfulness to God’s Design

  1. FrMichael says:

    I hope Chris Sullivan understands the argument of n. 13. Could Pope Paul’s teaching possibly be made any clearer?

    I do agree with our blogger’s point that marital rape probably wasn’t the most opportune example to use for the violation of the unitive end of marriage. Not sure what other illustration could have been used to illustrate violating the unitive end– perhaps adultery or polygamy?

  2. Liam says:

    It may shock some to know that the criminal laws of the United States excluded the concept of marital rape until the 1970s (that is, consent was presumed at law between spouses because of marital consent)…after the publication of HV.

  3. Chris says:

    An “act of love which impairs the capacity to transmit life” would also apply to NFP where a temporal barrier is artificially erected to prevent conception ie to contracept.

    In the experience of many married couples, this is also damaging to the marriage.

    To compare rape to contraception is simply bizzare and indicates just how out of touch with reality HV is.

    One notes that nature naturally renders most lovemaking infertile, so doing so cannot be against the natural law per se.

    The meaning of sex is both union and procreation; Catholic ethics allows for unity to override natural procreation where procreation would be damaging. The link between the two simply is not as absolute in Catholic moral theology as HV claims here and HV will later admit this thereby undermining the argument in this paragraph.

    The idea that every act of lovemaking has to be perfect in order to be a genuine, even if incomplete, act of love, is quite wrong as any spouse can attest.

    Dominion over the sexual faculties is precisely what NFP relies upon and is also central to chastity. It may well be, as John Noonan argued, that inability to reliably discern infertile periods justifies medical corrective eg contraception to restore the natural cycle.

    HV is so poorly written that it is no wonder it has been rejected by most of the Catholic faithful.

    I have searched in vain for better papal arguments against contraception; I have read them all.

    Yes, the pill et al have their dangers, although so can unwanted pregnancy, and NFP is a better option where it works reliably, but it seems to me that the moral argument against contraception per se is very tenuous.

    God bless

  4. Chris says:

    There is currently a particularly bizzare form of the argument in HV13 here, where some are arguing that contraception is a greater evil than even abortion !

    http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1351039?eng=y

    God bless

  5. FrMichael says:

    “An “act of love which impairs the capacity to transmit life” would also apply to NFP where a temporal barrier is artificially erected to prevent conception ie to contracept.”

    Huh? I’m going to be charitable here and ask that you restate this sentence. It certainly reads sophist to me (i.e. “a temporal barrier”) but perhaps I misunderstand what you mean.

    Basic principle of Catholic moral theology: judge acts, not people. While that’s not 100% the case, it generally is how we evaluate morality.

    The Pill/Norplant/etc.: uses chemistry to artificially suppress a correctly-functioning system in the body, the female reproductive system.

    Condom/IUD: imposes a physical barrier to contraception.

    Both are clearly “unnatural” with respect to human sexuality.

    NFP: There is no act to be evaluated and there is no chemical suppression of the reproductive system of either party going on. Nothing to be morally evaluated here in terms of the “act,” as we don’t generally judge “non events.”

    • Chris says:

      NFP relies on the couple artificially erecting a barrier to fertility which interferes with their natural sexual drive by restricting lovemaking to interfile periods. This is especially artificial for women, for whom the natural sexual drive is strongest at ovulation.

      “The Pill/Norplant/etc.: uses chemistry to artificially suppress a correctly-functioning system in the body, the female reproductive system.”

      Not necessarily. They may merely be used as a medical corrective in cases when it is difficult to accurately discern infertile periods. See John Noonan in his classic work Contraception – he was a member of the Pope’s commission on contraception and is very well versed in the matter. It is per se licit to use medicine to regulate body functions eg the use of the pill for painful periods / heavy bleeding and some other gynacaelogical conditions. I do not see why it should not be per se licit to use medicine to regulate irregular periods or other difficulties in accurately discerning in infertile periods when using NFP.

      Of course we judge non-events – acts of ommission, whch in this area can be very damaging to marriage.

      NFP is a good thing WHEN it works well. We tried it but found it impossible to accurately determine infertile periods which is a common experience of married couples who have tried NFP. All the people I know who actively promote NFP are either infertile, too old to conceive, or have large families. None of that is a great witness to the effectivness of NFP.

      God Bless

      • FrMichael says:

        “artificially erecting a barrier” What is the barrier? There is no physical object (such as a condom) or chemical alteration of a woman’s physiology in NFP. Thus my charge of sophism, which seems confirmed after your follow up.

        “It is per se licit to use medicine to regulate body functions eg the use of the pill for painful periods / heavy bleeding and some other gynacaelogical [sic] conditions.” I’m not disputing the use of contraceptives in that case. Pope Paul VI isn’t even addressing that here. The moral question he is addressing is using medicine to alter a perfectly healthy human system, in this case reproductive, into an unnatural defective condition (i.e. infertility during the entire cycle.)

        I figured the situation of sin by omission would come up: a fair question you pose. Sins of omission occur when we are obliged to do something and fail to do so. It doesn’t apply to this situation as married couples are under no moral obligation to attempt to get pregnant on a monthly basis.

        “All the people I know who actively promote NFP are either infertile, too old to conceive, or have large families.” Well, our experiences differ. While NFP families tend to be larger than the societal average in my experience (which is a positive by the way), I know some NFP couples who have 1-2 kids. They would like to have more, but their present reality makes it difficult.

      • Chris says:

        Time can be as effective a barrier contraception as physical barriers. But discerning the time correctly can be very difficult, even impossible for some couples. I’m surprised you haven’t heard of the term “temporal barrier” in the the context of NFP as it is quite common in the discussion.

        Sins of omission do apply as married couples are required to satisfy each other sexually, as St Paul wrote and Catholic moral theology has traditionally inisisted on. The eternal abstinence that NFP would inflict on couples unable to accurately discern infertile times would violate this and likely ruin the marriage.

        God Bless

  6. FrMichael says:

    “One notes that nature naturally renders most lovemaking infertile, so doing so cannot be against the natural law per se.”

    Let me restate that: One notes that nature naturally renders most people dead over time, so murdering people cannot be against the natural law per se.

    The question regarding infertility really needs to be evaluated three ways: what is infertile from the Creator by His original intent for our species (that is, pre-Fall), what is caused by the sad aftereffects of the Fall, and what is caused intentionally using modern science.

    • Chris says:

      NFP also renders love making infertile, and is licit in Catholic moral theology, so I repeat: rendering lovemaking infertile cannot be against the natural law per se.

      God Bless

      • FrMichael says:

        No, the woman is infertile because her menstrual cycle is at a stage that she is infertile. And where did her menstrual cycle come from? From her Creator who designed the human race. The use or non-use of NFP cannot affect the timing of her cycles one minute.

      • Chris says:

        The argument that the creator God designed things such and such a way and therefore man should not alter has always been a weak one (polio? bubonic plague?) but it’s especially propblemtaic with the modern Catholic understanding of reading sacred scripture using the Historical Critiical method and the modern Catholic acceptance of the evolution.

        Not everything in the way nature is has to be ascribed to the direct will of God. To do so would make God evil.

        God Bless

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