08/01/2018, 15.50
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Humanae Vitae is more than just a document on contraceptives

by Matthew Coutinho*

The encyclical of Paul VI speaks of the true meaning of marriage and life. The danger of using contraceptives that transform love between men and women into the pursuit of pleasure as an end in itself. The characteristics of conjugal love: fully human, total, faithful, exclusive and fruitful.


Jerusalem (AsiaNews) -Humanae Vitae (HV) will always remain a key document because it is more than teaching about contraception - it is about the meaning of marriage and family - it is about the essence of life and love...and it places marriage and family and procreation in this context. The danger that use of artificial contraceptives will turn sexual relations between married partners into an abusive pleasure seeking activity is not some fanciful theory - it is really and truly possible - hence the placing of the unitive along with the procreative in a loving relationship that respects both is essential...it is only when a couple are truly open to life that they are part of God's creative design and respect the intrinsic meaning and language of sexual relations. 

We are seeing more and more that when a contraceptive mentality enters society the first victims are women - they must bear the burden of most artificial methods placing their health and well-being at undue risk...the danger also of using abortion as a second line of action once abortion has failed is not merely a gloom and doom prediction...we are seeing it occur more and more in our day.  

So the message of HV will remain perennially valid in our society which seeks the unitive without the procreative (a contraceptive mentality) and at other times the procreative without the unitive (assisted reproductive technologies are the means for this)

With Humane Vitae,  Paul VI wasn't only confirming church teaching on contraception, but also trying to address his concern for the 'birth control' policies that the great international agencies in those years were beginning to spread, and that do so today. (Pope Francis calls "ideological colonization). The danger of an “ideological agenda”, that drives some of the international agencies is as rampant today as 50 years ago - truly for many decades some of the foreign aid to countries of the developing world was linked with promoting contraception and abortion (all part of the reproductive health program for women)...today there is greater awareness of the hidden agendas that could drive some of the aid agencies and there are more options available...what is essential is that the catholic church not only decry these attempts but do all it can to promote life at all stages - assisting those who find it hard to give birth to children already conceived, giving benefits to families who struggle to bring up their children and providing education and other facilities for all to grow into healthy and contributing citizens in society...with this "consistent ethic of life" there will be a wider platform on which to collaborate with international agencies in providing aid for those in need and also a greater ability to change minds and hearts towards life so that Jesus' mission "I have come to bring life and life in all its abundance" (John 10:10) will become a reality.

One of the sections of Humanae Vitae that I find very enlightening and uplifting is the beautiful summary of what married love entails which is found in article 9. To me it provides the basis for the moral practices that are enunciated later in the document. It talks of married love as being fully human, involving a total commitment based on friendship, that is faithful, exclusive and fecund. Let me briefly go over these five elements.

This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. This is something beyond a merely natural instinct or emotional drive for it involves an act of the free will. Consequently this love can survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, and also grow, thus husband and wife become “one heart and one soul” enabling them to attain human fulfillment.

It is a love which is total – for in this personal friendship they “generously share  everything” without thinking of their own convenience. They place the good of the other before their own loving the partner for their own sake and making a gift of self to the other.

Another important characteristic is that married love is also faithful and exclusive and life-long for it lasts until death. On the day of marriage the commitment made is to a love that involves unity and indissolubility. This love is difficult but definitely not impossible. We have the example of so many who have lived this faithful and exclusive love showing that this love leads to deep and lasting happiness.

Finally, married love is fecund. It goes beyond the husband and wife and is ready to embrace the gift of new life that is the fruit of this total self-giving and becoming “one flesh”. Conjugal love is by its very nature directed towards the procreation and education of children - the supreme gift of marriage, who contribute eminently to the welfare of their parents. (c. GS 50)

* professor of moral theology at the Salesian monastery of Ratisbonne in Jerusalem

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