Continuation of Chapter 5: “Contraception”.
In Familiaris Consortio, his exhortation on the Christian Family, Pope John Paul II reaffirms the teaching of Humanae Vitae. His substantive teaching begins in part II with a section on ‘Man, the image of the God who is Love’. His teaching on the transmission of life in particular in Part III section II proceeds as Humanae Vitae had done from the notion of collaboration with God: ‘God calls a couple to a special sharing in his love and in his power as Creator and Father through their free and responsible co-operation in transmitting the gift of human life’; they actualize in history the original blessing of the Creator; their love is a ‘unique participation in the mystery of life and the love of God Himself.’ He quotes Humanae Vitae to the effect that there is an inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative significance of the conjugal act; that it is immoral to render procreation impossible. He states: ‘Fecundity is the fruit and the sign of conjugal love’ (and here he quotes from Gaudium et Spes:) ‘the true practice of conjugal love … (has) this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to co-operate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour who through them will enlarge and enrich his own family day by day.’ The Pope adds that procreation represents a ‘yes’ to human life, that ‘yes’ that ‘Amen’, who is Christ Himself with which the Church replies to the ‘No’ which assails and afflicts the world.’ He re-affirms the principle of Natural Birth Control whereby a couple has recourse to infertile periods accepting ‘dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility, and self-control’.
What Pope John Paul II develops in the teaching of Humanae Vitae (contained particularly in section 9) is principally a doctrine concerning the totality of married love. He argues to this totality first by reference to God: God is love and has created man in His own image, therefore man is called to total love. This vocation may be realized in its entirety either by marriage or by virginity/celibacy. Sexuality is an integral part of married love, it is a total physical self-giving, the sign and fruit of total personal self- giving.‘This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility. This fertility is directed to the generation of a human being.’ (11)
The Pope argues to the totality of married love also by reference to Christ: Marriage is a symbol of the ‘new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ’. The couple ‘participates in and is called to live the very charity of Christ who gave Himself on the Cross’. The content of this participation is that conjugal love involves a totality … it aims at … unity, … mutual giving, and it is open to fertility. (13)
By contraception the couple ‘manipulates’ and degrades human sexuality and with it themselves: by altering its value of ‘total self-giving … they falsify the inner truth of conjugal love which is called upon to give itself in personal totality’. (32)
The teaching on contraception as expressed in Humanae Vitae and amplified in Familiaris Consortio may be summarized as follows: God has established an inseparable connection between the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act. To separate them is wrong because it goes against His will and thwarts the total self-giving of sexual love.
It is incumbent on the commentator first to acknowledge with gratitude that contraception has been condemned in modern Church teaching as vigorously as in the past; but second that this teaching is at divergence from Tradition in a number of points, of which we shall proceed to consider three:
1) It no longer accords priority to the procreative
finality of marriage, but rather accords priority (at least implicitly) to ‘love’;
2) it condemns contraception not for its frustration of the procreative finality of marriage, but rather87 for its rupture of the bond between ‘the unitive and procreative meanings of the conjugal act’;
3) it advocates natural birth control.
These three points are all manifestations of Magisterial Personalism: particularly in their favour for love (as shall be shown in detail later); the second point also manifests personalism in its favour for psychology, the subject, and a non-standard notion of truth. (The concept of ‘total self-giving love’, which is also novel and personalist, has been discussed in the previous chapter.)
It is true that argumentation based on the inseparable connection of the unitive and procreative characters of the marital act had previously been used in traditional moral theology (see St. Thomas‘ discussion of mollities in the Summa II II, and in ‚Moral Theology: A Complete Course‘ § 2534 (a)-(d) by John McHugh and Charles Callan, 1958), and yet the traditional argument against contraception (which is also the most obvious argument) is that it frustrates the primary finality of marriage (see the Historical Sketch at the beginning of this chapter).
1. The Order of the Ends of Marriage
i) The Novel Doctrine
Paul VI himself comments on Humanae Vitae 88: (Humanae Vitae Heroic, Deficient – or Both? An article by John Galvin in the Latin Mass Vol. 11 No. 1 Keep the Faith inc. – 50 so. Franklin Thornpike Ramsey NJ) ‘We willingly followed the personalistic conception that was characteristic of the Council’s Teaching on conjugal society, thus giving love – which produces that society and nourishes it – the pre-eminent position that rightly belongs to it in a subjective evaluation of marriage.’
Pope Paul gives love the pre-eminence over procreation by grounding his reflections on love on God ‘who is Love’; by always treating love before procreation; and by giving love the greater emphasis. Familiaris Consortio will follow suit (as we have seen), as will the New Code of Canon Law and the New Catechism (‘the Catechism of the Catholic Church’).
In 1601 of the latter work the good of the spouses is mentioned before the good of procreation; in 1604 God, the author of men and marriage, is Love; in numbers 1643, 1646, and 2353 etc. the good of the spouses is mentioned before the good of the offspring. Number 1601 of the New Catechism is in fact a direct quotation of the Code of Canon Law 1983 c. 1055. 1: ‘The marriage covenant … is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children’: Matrimoniale Foedus…ad bonum conjugum atque ad prolis generationem et educationem ordinatum; whereas the Code of 1917 c. 1613 had stated: ‘the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the second is the mutual aid and the remedy against concupiscence’: Matrimonii finis primarius est procreatio atque educatio prolis; secundarius mutuum adjutorium et remedium concupiscentiae.
In the light of this innovative teaching let us first present the traditional Catholic teaching, and thereafter consider how, if at all, the innovative teaching may be accommodated to it.
We note at the outset that it is possible to treat contraception both in philosophy and theology. Although we have decided to treat it in the philosophical part of the book, we shall here examine it both from the philosophical and theological standpoints to avoid repetitions later. According to normal procedure in theology we shall (in the briefest outline) present our material in the following order:
Magisterium, Sacred Scripture, Patristics, speculation. ii) The Traditional Doctrine
a) The Magisterium
We begin with the Declaration of the Holy See in March 1944 (AAS XXVI p.103) concerning the modern authors who deny the absolute priority of the procreative finality of marriage. It observes inter alia that certain authors take as the primary finality: ‘the reciprocal love of the spouses and their union to be developed and perfected by the physical and spiritual gift of their own person’ [we are not far from Familiaris Consortio here89].(We can trace the inversion of the finalities of marriage in the recent Magisterium to the ‚modern authors‘, through the personalism of Pope Paul VI (both mentioned above), and the new theories ‚bruited about on the floor of the council, even by cardinals such as Léger and Suenens, which reduced the importance of the procreative purpose of marriage and opened the way to its frustration by elevating its unitive end and the gift of self to an equal or higher level (Iota Unum s.46).) It ends with the following question addressed to the Cardinals of the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office: ‘Can one admit the doctrine of certain modern writers who deny that the procreation and education of the child are the primary end of marriage, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially sub-ordinate to the primary end, but rather are of equal value and are independent of it? They replied: No, this doctrine cannot be admitted’.
In his Allocution to the Italian Midwives (1951), Pius XII refers in a similar vein to modern authors who claim that ‘the peculiar and the deeper meaning of the exercise of the marital right should consist in this: that the bodily union is the expression and actuation of the personal and affective union’. Such ideas, he writes, constitute ‘a serious inversion of the order of the values and of the purposes which the Creator has established Himself. We are face to face with the propagation of a body of ideas and sentiments directly opposed to serene, deep, and serious Christian thought…The truth is that marriage, as a natural institution, is not ordered by the will of the Creator towards the personal perfection of the husband and wife as its primary end, but to the procreation and education of a new life. The other ends, although part of nature’s plan, are not of the same importance as the first end, still less are they superior; on the contrary they are essentially subordinate to it’.
A little later, Pius XII asserts that one would not wish to deny or belittle ‘whatever is good or right in the personal values which result from marriage and from the marriage act, for in marriage God has destined human beings, made of flesh and blood, and endowed with a mind and heart … to be parents of their progeny’, yet the primary function of marriage remains the service of a new life, and ‘not only the exterior common life, but also the personal wealth, the qualities of mind and spirit, and finally all that there is more truly spiritual and profound in married love as such, has been placed by the will of nature and the Creator at the service of the offspring’. He explains that this conjugal love ‘is necessary for the sincere care of the child and is the guarantee of its realization’.
b) Sacred Scripture
Such traditional Church teaching on marriage, as well as the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ and of St. Paul, refer back to the two passages in Genesis which describe the creation of man. Each passage gives a purpose for man’s creation and each purpose represents one of the two ends of marriage.
The first passage (Genesis I.26-31) sets man in the context of the living beings capable of procreation and portrays his creation as a culmination of the work of the Six Days: the plants and the trees bear seed according to their species and produce fruit which has seed in itself (I.12); the animals receive God’s blessing and His command to increase and multiply (I.22); finally God creates man in his own image: ‘Male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it and rule…’ (I.27-8). The passage thus introduces us to the human couple formed and blessed by God for the purpose of generation.
The second creation account (Genesis II.7-25) is very different, presenting us with Adam as created prior to Eve, with God remarking (II.18): ‘It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself’. When Eve is formed from his rib, Adam exclaims (II.23): ‘This now is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…’ – a being perfectly proportioned and adapted to himself, the text concluding with the following words: ‘wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh’. This second passage presents us then with the human couple formed for mutual assistance, love, and intimate union.
Here, at the very beginning of Revelation, we see the two ends of marriage clearly expressed: first procreation, given the greater importance by being treated in the first account, and by the blessing and the express commandment which relate to it; and second mutual assistance and union. We note also the importance given to procreation by God in later passages of the bible: to Noah (Genesis IX.1 and 7), to Abraham (Genesis XVII.4-6), to Jacob (Genesis XXXV.10-12), and to Moses (Leviticus XXVI.9).
As to the Fathers of the Church, we have already seen that they either considered procreation as the sole end of marriage (like St Clement) or as a primary end (as St Augustine). We note that St Thomas Aquinas follows St Augustine (in Suppl. Q49, Q65), and indeed states: proles est essentialissimum in matrimonio (Suppl. Q49 a3). Indeed he compares marriage to nutrition (Suppl. Q65 a1), arguing that marriage tends of itself to procreation, just as nutrition has as its principal end the conservation of life.
d) Speculative Theology
Finally, three speculative considerations may be advanced as to the primacy of the procreative over the unitive end of marriage. The first is that the common good is superior to the individual good (e.g. Summa II.II Q39), which entails that the procreative end of marriage, as serving the common good by augmenting human society, and more especially the Church, is superior to the unitive end, which only serves the individual good.
The second is that substance is higher on the scale of Being than its accidents, so that the procreative end of marriage which serves substance, that is to say the life of the human race, is superior to the unitive end, which serves only an accident of that substance, namely the perfection of human life.
The third consideration is that the unitive element of love in general is subordinate to its fruitfulness, as means are subordinate to end (see chapter 3 on love). The perennial philosophy has always viewed sexual love in this light, namely as being ordered towards the conservation of the species. This is confirmed by the differing natures of the male and female bodies and psyches: for their bodies are clearly ordered towards reproduction as an eye is ordered towards sight, while both on the physical and psychological level the male has a natural propensity towards work for keeping the family, whereas the female has a natural propensity towards the care and nurture of offspring.
In summary, we can understand how Fr. Ludwig Ott in his Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma designates the doctrine that the primary end of marriage is procreation as a Sententia Certa. This squares with the very etymology of the word matrimony, which, as the Roman Catechism explains, derives from the words matris and munus: the office of mother.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.