Natural Family Planning: Nature's Way - God's Way

48. Responsible Parenthood and the Morality of Birth Control Methods

The image one has of birth regulation on the one hand, and of the meaning of human sexuality on the other, influences decisions about use of specific methods. We address ourselves specifically to the moral value of methods of birth control, to the aspect of their human value or lack of it, to their conformity or disconformity with man as man. We begin with a discussion of the concept of responsible parenthood as presented in the encyclical Humanae Vitae.

1. Responsible Parenthood Is a Far-Reaching Concept

Early in the encyclical Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI refers to two great realities of married life, namely love and fecundity, and he places them in juxtaposition to the concept of responsible parenthood: "Since, in the attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control, many have appealed to the demands both of conjugal love and of "responsible parenthood," it is good to state very precisely the true concept of these two great realities of married life . . ." (HV 7).

Ten years later the same Pope returned to the topic, this time locating the concept of responsible parenthood within the context of divine wisdom and the laws of nature which flow from it:

It seems to us that the decade that has now passed since its promulgation [HV] ... is an opportunity to confirm the important principles which, in the wake of the Council, recently concluded, we enunciated with the greatest care: the principle or respect for the laws of that nature which, to use Dante's expression "takes its course from the divine intellect and from its art"; the principle of conscious and morally responsible parenthood." (1)

With the passage of time in the postconciliar period, discussion about responsible parenthood has become more subdued and peaceful, but one wonders whether the full meaning of the concept is appreciated adequately. Some tend to restrict the concept to mere considerations of quantity and timing, that is, the number and spacing of births. Pope Paul VI teaches that spouses should rightly be aware of responsible parenthood in its truer meaning, which has various aspects: Conjugal love requires in husband and wife awareness of their mission of 'responsible parenthood', which today is rightly much insisted upon, and which also must be understood exactly. It is to be considered under different aspects which are legitimate and connected with one another (HV 10).

Let us consider various aspects of the concept of responsible parenthood.

1) Conjugal love as source and norm of fruitfulness

The full truth about responsible parenthood can be understood only in the light of its internal and vivifying relation to the love of the spouses. Conjugal fecundity is not something outside of the love that constitutes the two in the reality of one flesh (Gn 2, 24), but it is that same love in one of its intrinsic and essential dimensions. Conjugal love, in other words, is the supreme donation of self to the point of bringing into being a new human life.

Fecundity is the fruit of the love of the spouses. The mutual and total giving of self, while it fully involves the spouses in their reality as couple, transcends them by constituting them into a new reality, a family. Their giving of self blossoms and bears fruit in the living gift of the child. As the fruit of conjugal love, fecundity constitutes its living sign, its permanent witness. The singular unity of the spouses broadens out and finds itself confirmed and perfected in the child. The child is the living and indivisible depository of the love of father and mother.

The connection between fecundity and conjugal love is basic and has moral significance for the spouses. As Pope Paul VI said on one Occasion:

Born of the creative and paternal love of God, marriage finds in human love, corresponding to the design and will of God, the fundamental law of its moral value: in the mutual love of the spouses, whereby each one endeavors with one's entire being to help the other be what God wants him to be; in the common desire of faithfully interpreting the love of God, creator and father, by bringing new lives into being. (2)

The bond which ties love to fecundity connects responsible love in the service of unity with responsible love in the service of life. Responsibility for the gift of the child originates from responsibility for the mutual giving of the spouses who love each other. The point was made by the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla:

The only spouses capable of responsible love in marriage are those who recognize their mutual responsibility for the gift itself of love. For love is above all a gift, and this is precisely what constitutes its essential content .... The responsibility for this gift of love is expressed in a constant awareness of being given and, at the same time, in a clear vision of the tasks which this gift entails .... Parenthood belongs to the nature of this specific love, which is conjugal love; that is, it constitutes its essential trait, it shapes it in its sphere of intentions, and in the end it imprints on it the seal of a particular accomplishment. Conjugal love fulfills itself through parenthood. Responsibility for this love is at the same time entirely, one might say, responsibility for parenthood. This means that one is part of the other and that one decides concerning the other. (3)

2) Elements which constitute the meaning of responsible parenthood

Elements mentioned in connection with responsible parenthood in the text of Humanae Vitae are a relation to the biological processes, to the tendencies of instinct or passion, to the physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, and finally to the objective moral order. If one is to avoid emptying the concept of responsible parenthood of its real meaning, and to desist from sundering its internal ties, one must view these elements in the context of their structural unity. We shall limit ourselves to a brief analysis of these aspects, interpreting them within the living context of a conjugal love that is at once knowledge, freedom, discernment of the situation, and service to God.

a) "In relation to the biological processes, responsible parenthood means knowledge and respect of their functions; the human intellect discovers in the power of giving life biological laws which are part of the human person" (HV 10).

Love is knowledge: ubi amor, ibi oculus, as the ancients said.(4) In reference to responsible parenthood, love stimulates, favors, and involves the spouses in the knowledge of themselves, of their corporeality, and of human sexuality in its fertility rhythm. The knowledge of oneself and of the partner, of the biological processes that are connected with the generative faculties, supplies an enrichment to the union. Biological realities are a part of the human person, even though they do not constitute its total reality. This knowledge enables the spouses to live their conjugal life more fully "in the truth." Biological awareness also assists the couple to accept knowingly and responsibly the design of God which is written into the structure of man as husband and of woman as wife.

b) "In relation to the tendencies of instinct and passion, responsible parenthood means the necessary dominion which reason and will must exercise over them" (HV 10).

Love is control of self, is freedom, is contributive to the meaning of being human. A free man is one who holds himself in hand, who controls his actions intelligently. (5) The fruitful love of spouses, if it is truly human, also operates in a manner proper to man, who is a thinker and a chooser. Such love is conscious and deliberate, not a blind operation of chance, not a dehumanized automatism of instinct. Indeed, if the humanity of an act can be measured by the extent to which the intellect and will are engaged, the conjugal act, by reason of its unique meaning, is also uniquely human. It is human activity with enlightened awareness carried out as a deliberate and responsible act of the will. Intellectual awareness is teamed up with heightened love.

c) "In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised either by the deliberate and generous decision to raise a numerous family, or by the decision made for grave motives with due respect for the moral law, to avoid for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period, a new birth" (HV 10).

A love which is conscious and responsible bases its choices not on disembodied abstractions uprooted from reality, but on real life situations wherein the abstract principles are encountered in concrete and historical circumstances. Conjugal love discerns parental responsibilities in the actual family situation. Choosing to have a child - a unique choice in view of the lofty values involved - must come with discernment of the situation. The sign of God's plan is to be seen in the conditions in which the spouses find themselves, in which they are called to carry out their mission of fruitful love. The will of God, read in the concrete situation, can lead the spouses to a regulation of birth that does not always mean limitation., it may mean a "deliberate and generous" choice to have a "numerous family" (cf. HV 10).

d) "Responsible parenthood implies also and above all a more profound relationship to the objective moral order established by God, of which a right conscience is the faithful interpreter" (HV 10).

Love, ultimately, is conformity with the Uncreated Good expressed through various created goods. Responsible parenthood, like other created goods, is an expression of love of spouses, by which they conform themselves with the Supreme Good, with God and His holy will. Seen in this light, human love is a service of God; and responsible parenthood is service which a couple render to God; for that reason it must be practiced in a manner which respects its intrinsic soundness, which follows the pattern of the moral order established by God. Spouses, acting with a right conscience, are interpreters of God's design. They are co-creators of this design and make it emerge in their concrete pattern of life as husband and wife, as father and mother. They are collaborators with God who "through them continuously increases and enriches His family" (GAUDIUM ET SPES, 5 0).

3) Responsible parenthood in its execution: the problem of methods and means

Responsibility for fruitful love exists not only as a disembodied intention; it is action as well, love in a couple who exercise human sexuality in their spiritual and corporal totality. In this context the problem of the moral character of the various ways of limiting births arises.

One notes, in some quarters, a tendency to empty of its moral meaning the question of means of birth regulation. The tendency has developed on the basis of two opposite thrusts. The first stresses so strongly the role of intention (finis operantis) in moral acts that a morality of interiority results, one that prescinds from the contents (finis operis) in which the subjective intention is embodied. The second thrust stresses results, evaluating the moral act on the basis of consequences alone. What is effective is seen as being good. Both views have been publicized extensively and have found considerable acceptance. Attempts at theological reflection have also been made. Some call into question the existence of intrinsic evil (of an objective content which is universally and unchangeably valid). They presume to fabricate theologically (on the basis of results only) the moral norms of man's behavior with regard to himself and to others, while allowing for some exceptions. In the area of the regulation of births the two perspectives have merged into an identical conclusion: the negation or minimization of the specifically moral significance of methods and means.

Other aspects of birth regulation which receive attention are mentioned in this context. One is the technical advantage of this or that contraceptive in terms of safety and effectiveness. Another is the medical aspect, in terms of greater or less advantage or disadvantage to health, especially of the woman. Another is the psychological factor, in terms of acceptability by couples. In their own limited way, these aspects have also a moral significance. For example, when another pregnancy would be a major risk to health, the reliability of a method becomes a moral issue. The duty of the spouses to cultivate harmony implies efforts to come to agreement about the method to be used. These moral considerations are partial and derivative, being coincidental with the core moral imperative which requires that man may not use methods which do not conform to his basic existence as man.

2. The moral value cannot be detached from the act

Vatican II and the encyclical Humanae Vitae affirm explicitly that the means which are employed to regulate births have moral implications. Vatican II states: When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible transmission of life, it is not enough to take only the good intention and evaluation of motives into account; the objective criteria must be used, criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and human action, criteria which respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love (GS,51).

When making a moral evaluation of methods used for regulating births, therefore, the method of actualization of responsible parenthood must be considered as well as the intention. Objective criteria, those drawn from the nature of the human person and human action must be considered in addition to subjective criteria. (6) Objective criteria are drawn from the nature of true love, from the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation. Authentic human sexuality is the measure of the moral norm. As Paul VI expressed it: In the task of transmitting life, therefore, they (the spouses) are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and its acts and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church (HV 10). (7)

There is, in fact, an intimate and necessary connection between the end and the means, between responsible parenthood and the concrete manner of its actualization. True, the means are a way to the end but they can be a way which either respects the values and exigencies of man as man, or does not respect them. Beyond the subjective intention of regulating births, an intention which can be subjectively sincere and at the same time objectively erroneous, there are the objective elements. That is, there are means whose qualities are coherent, homogeneous, and compatible with the purpose of responsible Parenthood as a truly human activity; and there are means which are non- coherent, non-homogeneous, and non-compatible with fruitful love as it should exist in man. Means are employed by a person who is Using them to perform a human act. The action involves the person himself. Thus the problem of means is always a human problem. And if it is a human problem, it is always a moral problem.

In other words, if one were to maintain that methods and means of regulating births do not posit a moral problem, one would logically have to affirm that morality is solely and entirely determined by the intention of the person acting, prescinding from the contents and modalities of the action. If we were to admit this, how then could we safeguard the principle of bonum ex integra causa (unless it is totally good, it is not good)? If morality were reduced exclusively to the why of one's actions, without taking into account what is being accomplished and bow, then the end justifies the means. That is, in fact, the facile and compelling temptation of a technical and pragmatic culture, where one applies the otherwise correct principle of man's legitimate intervention in natural processes to an area where the principle does not apply; namely to the area of specifically human values, such as that of fruitful and responsible love.

As everyone knows, among the many methods and means of birth control, there are two essential categories, artificial contraception and natural family planning. (8) We deal here with two forms so different that they are antithetical. The contrast arises from a number of objective factors. The one group interferes with biological processes, the other does not; one does not require periodic abstinence, the other does; one opposes the typical symbolism of sexual language, the other harmonizes with it.

Methods and means in the context of authentic responsible parenthood

A moral judgment on ways of regulating births can be formed by drawing a comparison between their dynamics and the responsibility of parenthood. Thus we discern their conformity with the human values of responsible fruitful love, or their opposition to them. A fundamental and decisive role is played by the concept of responsible fruitful love. If this concept is restricted or distorted, one makes mistakes, judging to be moral what is in reality immoral.

The core concept of responsible parenthood distinguishes artificial means from natural means without possibility of confusion. Artificial means are "monovalent" being designed to suppress actual and potential procreativity. Natural means are "bivalent" capable of serving to avoid procreation or to achieve it.

Beyond this core concept of procreativity we see other distinctions. Natural methods require and develop knowledge of and respect for the biological processes of the person, whereas artificial practices tend to leave such knowledge and respect in a state of under-development. Spouses lean on the methods, instead of on knowledge, to achieve their purpose. Again, natural methods presuppose and favor the dominion of intellect and will over the instinctive and psychic spheres of sexuality; this dominion is conjugal, since it involves the couple as such, without undue unilateral burdens. Artificial ways, on the contrary, while requiring some form of control, essentially depend on employment of a means as such rather then on control.

The above aspects, while presenting some sort of moral value, still do not express the radical motivation which explains the objective moral incompatibility between artificial ways and natural ways. This motivation is seen properly only in the more profound and original aspect of responsible fruitful love, that is, in respect for God's design imprinted in human sexuality by way of its "meanings."

3. The connection between the meanings of human sexuality

The response of Paul VI to the moral problem of ways of regulating births refers explicitly, as to its radical motivation, to the "meanings" which God has inscribed in human sexuality: The Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life (quilibet matrimonii usus ad vitam humanam procreandam per se destinatus permaneat) (HV 11).

Then he defines and explains:

That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning (HV 12).

Paul VI speaks of a connection "willed by God," and he therefore addresses himself to the design which the Creator has stamped on the biological structure itself of man and woman. The couple are at the service of this design by accepting and integrating the biological structure into the broader and deeper context of all personal values. The divine design is stamped on the "unitotal" reality of man, that is, on his interiority and corporality, which include human sexuality.

The psychological meaning of the conjugal act is not totally fulfilled and exhausted by the realization of procreation alone. On the other hand, the physical meaning of the act is not exhausted and totally fulfilled by the integration and unity of the spouses when procreation is excluded. A human aspect is missing when either the one or the other is excluded. In its totality, in its fully human essence, the conjugal act has a unitive meaning and a procreative meaning, a function of integrating the couple if the act remains open to life.

Man is a psychological unity, a compositive of body and spirit. The sexual experience is truly and fully human only if it reflects this psychological unity, and in the measure that the unity remains intact. The connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning of the sexual act is unbreakable. The connection must be left intact, unless one wishes to distort the conjugal act, that is, deprive it of the meaning which is truly and fully human.

Humanae Vitae declares that this connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning is off limits to man by the will of God; it is an area which man is not permitted to attack, not allowed to infringe upon:

That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection between the meaning of unity and the meaning of procreation, both of which exist in the conjugal act. The connection has been established by God. Man is not permitted to infringe upon this connection on his own initiative (HV 12).

Hujiusmodi doctrina, quae ab Ecclesiae Magisterio saepe exposita est, in nexu indissolubili nititur, a Deo statuto, quem homini sua sponte infringere non licet, inter significationem unitatis et significationem procreationis, quae ambae in actu conjugali insunt.

The point is not that every conjugal act is supposed to be fruitful. The fact is, most conjugal acts do not result in new life, following biological processes which God has created in man. Nature frequently allows the procreative effect to be negated; the effect is therefore separated from the act by the natural processes. Man is allowed to engage in the sexual act during these periods of infertility, acting always with reason. When he does so, man enters into God's design without separating on his own initiative what happens to be already separated as to effect.

The practice of contraception, however, is different. On his own initiative, outside of and in opposition to the rhythmic cycle of fertility, man dissociates the two meanings, and willfully eliminates the procreative meaning. By thus eliminating the procreative meaning through a positive intervention, man also impairs the totality of the mutual self-giving, and offends against the unitotality of the persons who supposedly give themselves to each other in an act of intercourse. Intercourse is not a true and effective conjugal union in such a case, despite the psychological impression of the two, despite sincere subjective intentions. By interfering with the procreative meaning of the act, the couple also compromise the unitive meaning by unavoidable necessity. The two meanings are interdependent; one cannot exist essentially when the other is suppressed.

From this we understand why contraception is a disorderly act in its very nature (quod ex propria natura moralem ordinem transgrediatur, HV 14). It is "unworthy of man" (ibid) who must establish his actions in accordance with the directive ordering of Divine Wisdom. Contraception is already a disorder by reason of its inner unsoundness, without need of a declaration to this effect from the outside. The act of contraception falsifies the conjugal relationship, transforming it into a congress which is non-conjugal. The unitive and procreative meanings exist together in the conjugal act, and when one is destroyed, the other suffers with it.

Some may ask why it is not permitted to man to separate on his own initiative the two meanings of the conjugal act, especially since we know that natural processes routinely exclude the effect of fecundity. The question becomes more urgent because we already admit the perfect legitimacy of controlling the world of nature in so many areas. Are we not in danger of falling into an exasperating biologism when we make the good of the spouses, their personal and conjugal integrity, depend so unconditionally on non-interference with this biological process?

Paradoxical as it may seem, the very notion of conjugal sexuality indicates the imperative to respect the biological integrity of the act. If we keep the total concept of the act in mind, without uprooting the biological processes from their human context, we can understand the proper answer. The sexual act, when performed in its conjugal and human integrity, is not a thing by itself, nor a piece of a human being which may or must be sacrificed in favor of the whole organism. And sexuality is not so much a part of man, as a dimension of his personality. Man has other things, and he may rightfully exercise dominion over them. But a person's sexuality is on the level of being, of this person in his sexual connotations. Over this dimension of being a man does not have true and proper dominion. If a man were to attempt such dominion, he would no longer be acting in his personal identity and dignity; rather he would be an object of manipulation.

At issue, therefore, is the profound concept of human sexuality. Some may falsely interpret the concept, regarding sex as a thing, a purely biophysiological object. In line with such thinking they suppose that man may use sex for desired purposes. In truth, however, sexuality is a dimension of the person. Man may only exercise his sexual dimension, not use it by virtue of a supposed right of usurped dominion. He may assume it, and live it in accordance with its inner structure and dynamics, but not manipulate it as a thing. (9)

4. Demographic problems and the regulation of births

Up to this point our discussion has been limited to the morality of ways of birth regulation in their objective aspects. Our reference was to individual couples, to their mission and vocation of responsible fertile love. There is another aspect of the problem of birth regulation, namely its social implications, and this is much discussed today. The phenomenon of demographic increases, especially in certain countries, has become a subject of great concern.

With good reason the question is asked whether the kind of birth regulation which Catholic moral teaching permits has real meaning and practical application in respect to a solution of a problem so vast and complex, and in some cases so pressing. Should the solution of Catholic moral teachings be a judgment in abstraction, proposing a kind of true and proper utopia?

We do not intend to enter into a scientific analysis of the real extent of the world demographic phenomenon nor judge about the correctness of forecasts, although, on the other hand, it is well known that during recent years, at least for certain countries, assertions have been modified which until yesterday were stated in absolutely certain terms. We will take into consideration those aspects of the problem which are of a moral nature, selecting from among them the more important ones.

1) The social dimensions of responsible parenthood

The first point which comes to mind when making a moral evaluation of the question is that, among other factors, responsible parenthood includes a social dimension. When deciding about their fecundity couples may and must take into consideration not only their own good and that of their children, but also the common good: that is to say, the good of the community, civil as well as ecclesiastical. It cannot be otherwise since man is a social being and the family is the first and most vital cell of society. It is along these lines that Gaudium et Spes requires of couples, in their fulfillment of the mission of responsible parenthood, to consider the good of "the community, of temporal society, and of the Church itself" (GS 5 0). The Encyclical Humanae Vitae confirms this stating that a responsible use of parenthood implies that "husband and wife recognize fully their duties toward God, toward themselves, toward the family and toward society, in a correct hierarchy of values" (HV 10).

In this sense Paul VI generally speaking-and thus referring to the community context too-has clearly emphasized that responsible parenthood is not unidirectional:

In relation to physical, economic, psychological and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised either by the thoughtfully made and generous decision to raise a large family, or by the decision made for grave motives and with respect for the moral law, to avoid a new birth for the time being, or even for an indeterminate period (HV 10).

As indicated, couples will be concerned also about the common good when deciding about their responsible fecundity: but it is a decision that must be made by the couples themselves, without an arbitrary intervention on part of the state and public authority in the sphere of the consciences of the couples:

The government has, assuredly, in the matter of the population of its country, its own rights and duties, within limits of its proper competence....

Since there is widespread opinion that the population expansion of the world, or at least some particular countries, should be kept in check by all possible means and by every kind of intervention by public authority, the Council exhorts all men to beware of all solutions, whether uttered in public or in private or imposed at any time, which transgress the natural law. Because in virtue of man's inalienable rights .to marriage and the procreation of children, the decision regarding the number of children depends on the judgment of the parents and is in no way to be left to the decrees of public authority (GS 87).

Just as we have given attention to the morality of the means to be used in regard to fulfilling the requirements of responsible parenthood in reference to individuals and the family, so now the question before us is the morality of the means to be used in the context of its application to the question of the common good. The reason mentioned above about the connection between the natural regulation of births and human sexuality, respected and affirmed in its structure and its dynamism, is a reason which is always valid because it is rooted in the nature of things. It is also valid, therefore, when confronting the gravity of the problems arising from demographic increase. The Magisterium of the Church expressed itself in this way on the point; the text of Gaudium et Spes quoted above concludes as follows:

People should be wisely informed of scientific advances in research into methods of birth regulation, whenever the value of these methods has been thoroughly proved and their conformity with the moral order established (GS 87).

And in the same meaning we have this intervention of Paul VI during the World Population Year (1974):

Some people are carried away by the temptation to believe that there is no other solution except to curb population growth by the use of radical measures, measures which are frequently in contrast with the laws implanted by God in man's nature, and which fall short of due respect for the dignity of human life and man's rightful liberty. Such measures are in some cases based upon a materialistic view of man's destiny.

"The true solutions to these problems -We would say the only solutions-will be those that take due account of all concrete factors as a whole: the demands of social justice along with respect for the divine laws governing life, the dignity of the human person as well as the freedom of peoples, the primary role of the family as well as the responsibility proper to married couples (see Populorum Progressio 37; Humanae Vitae 23 and 31.... ). (Address of March 30, 1974 to the Executive Director of the UN Fund for Population Activities, and the Secretary General of the World Population Conference.)

For the rest the Encyclical Humanae Vitae has explicitly denounced the danger of contraception imposed by the state to control demographic growth as one of the "grave consequences of artificial methods of regulating births:

Consider also the dangerous weapon that would thus be placed in the hands of those public authorities who have no concern for the requirements of morality. Who could blame a government for applying, as a solution to the problems of the community, those means acknowledged to be permissible for married couples in solving a family problem? Who will stop rulers from favoring and from even imposing upon their peoples, if they should consider it necessary, the method of contraception that they judge to be most efficacious? In this way men, in wishing to avoid the individual, family or social difficulties which they encounter in observing the divine law, would come to place at the mercy of the intervention of public authorities the most personal and most reserved sector of conjugal intimacy (HV 17).

2) Education toward a sense of responsibility and of social justice

After these clarifications have been made the first question arises again, namely what effectivity the natural regulation of births can claim toward a solution of the problem of demographic growth. The answer to this question depends upon the concept of effectiveness which is used, which is profoundly different when given a technological interpretation in regard to human existence, or a personalistic interpretation which is properly human and humanizing.

Now there is no doubt that Catholic moral teaching strongly stresses the way of responsibility of the couples, opposing this against the facile temptation to use technology to force a solution of the problems which are profoundly human by their very nature. The Church bears witness that, despite everything, she rests her confidence in man, making her appeal to that which constitutes his specific humanness: his responsibility. She contributes in this way to a restoration of a "civilization of love" and of a true and proper process of humanization. This is the conviction expressed frequently by Paul VI:

In defending conjugal morality in its entirety the Church knows that she contributes to the establishment of a truly human society; she challenges man not to abandon his own responsibility in exchange for reliance on technical means; by this means she defends the dignity of husbands and wives (HV 18).

Certainly this proposed means of the Church is a long road and a difficult one, one which perhaps not all can understand. And the effectiveness should be evaluated in terms of quality, in human profundity, and in durability. But there is no other direction that can respect and promote truly and fully man insofar as he is man.

There is another profound significance in the position of Catholic moral teaching: the reaffirmation that the use of contraception is illicit also for the purposes of containing demography-contraception which is often associated with the very serious manipulation of sterilization and even abortion- constitutes a stimulus towards attacking the problem of demographic growth and resolving it on its true level, which is social justice by means of an equal distribution of goods. How can social justice be stimulated when contraception is permitted? The human answer to the problem of births consists, as Paul VI said to FAO on November 16, 1970, in "multiplying bread and sharing it" rather than in "decreasing the number of the guests invited." The Pontiff here repeated clearly what he had said at the Assembly of the United Nations on October 4, 1965:

It is in your Assembly, even where the matter of the great problem of birth rates is concerned, that respect for human life ought to find its loftiest profession and its most reasonable defense. Your task is so to act that there will be enough bread at the table of mankind and not to support an artificial birth control that would be irrational, with the aim of reducing the number of those sharing in the banquet of life.


The moral illicitness of contraception is seen when we view it in its personalistic context. Use of artificial means and methods to regulate births distorts the conjugal act in its inner conjugal configuration, and offends the human dignity of the performers, because it unlawfully dissociates the human meanings of sexuality. (10) The use of contraceptives is a moral problem because it is an action of responsible human beings, attempting to use dominion in an area where this is not morally possible. The statement of Pope Paul VI, indicating that sexuality must be viewed in its proper context is to the point:

The problem of birth, like every other problem regarding human life, is to be considered beyond partial perspectives- whether of the biological or psychological, demographic or sociological orders - in the light of the integral vision of man and his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and eternal vocation (HV 7).

The present Pope, before he ascended to the throne of Peter, used an apt term to describe how man must always act as an integrated human if he is to maintain his dignity. Man should always act as homo humanus he said:

Man in our day succumbs, in a manner that is not even perceptible to himself, to alienation from his own humanity and often, in the name of progress, becomes merely 'homo economicus' or 'homo technicus'. The author of the encyclical[Humanae Vitae] is aware that he has an obligation of bringing to man's attention, with all humility and firmness, the integral vision of man, for which Christ takes a stand, lives and dies; a vision in which man rediscovers and reaffirms himself as 'homo humanus'. (10)



by Dionigi Tettamanzi

Dionigi Tettamanzi was born in Renate, province of Milan, Italy, in 1934. He teaches moral theology at the Seminary of Milan and at the Istituto Regionale Lombardo di Pastorale, in Milan. Among his works, in addition to numerous articles in theological and pastoral reviews, we note the following:

Humanae Vitae. Commento all'enciclica sulla regolazzone delle nascite, Milano 1968.
La risposta del vescovi alla Humanae Vitae, Milano 1969.
Temi di morale fondamentale, Milano 19 75.
La comunita'cristiana e l'aborto, Bari 1975.
1l ministero conjugale, Roma 1978.
La Chiesa domestica. Per una pastorale familiare oggi, Napoli 1979.
Il matrimonio cristiano, Studio storico e teologico, Milano 1980.

The coordinator of the project of this book, Father Zimmerman, has adapted Fr. Tettamanzi's original Italian text to the needs of the English version; some parts have been omitted or shortened.

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