Revealing the Truth of Married Love

By Fr Anthony Percy

This translation is provided from the Latin text by Janet E. Smith. One minor change to Smith’s text and some formatting changes were provided by Father Anthony Percy to enable ease of reading.

Pregnant Couple

This translation of Humanae Vitae is noteworthy, since by providing a more accurate translation of the original Latin text, it enables the reader to understand the full import of the teaching given by Pope Paul VI. This is true in a number of areas in the encyclical if you compare it closely with other older English translations. Two areas are of special note.

Marriage as ‘Munus’

First, note the constant use of the Latin word munus to describe the vocation and mission of married people in the Church and world. It is normally translated in theology as office.

For instance, we say the priesthood of Jesus Christ has a threefold munera. The presbyter is priest, prophet and king. He has the office and task of sanctifying, preaching and teaching, and governing. It is significant, therefore, that this rich theological word, and the reality that it mediates, is used for married couples in their vocation of conjugal love.

The repeated use of munus in Humanae Vitae alerts us to the gift, duty, office, responsibility and service that marriage is, in and through, the mystical Body of Christ.

Conscious Parenthood

Second, aligned to this truth is the phrase conscious parenthood. This phrase is used repeatedly by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. Initial translations into English rendered the Latin phrase as responsible parenthood. Yet, as Smith demonstrates clearly in her translation, conscious parenthood is a far more accurate rendering of the Latin text.

Smith has written at length about the importance of the phrase conscious parenthood (Cf. Nova et Vetera, English Edition, Vol. 6, No.4 (2008): 927-950). She notes that the phrase has its origins in the thought of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) who had significant input into the construction of Humanae Vitae.

Wojtyla wrote of conscious parenthood in Love and Responsibility (1960). “Love and parenthood” he wrote, “must not therefore be separated from the other. Willingness for parenthood is an indispensable condition of love” (p. 236). This particular insight, that sexuality is intimately tied up with parenthood, has gone unnoticed by many, at least as far as I am aware.

With respect to sexuality and the conjugal act, attention has been focused on the unitive and procreative dimensions. This is not surprising, since Paul VI did emphasize the inseparability of the two. However, with a more accurate translation of Humanae Vitae, it is now possible to see that Paul VI was no less concerned with the parental value of the sex-act. And it is this insight that is worth our consideration.

Just prior to Wojtyla’s words about willingness for parenthood as an indispensable condition for love (cited above) he made this startling statement: “Man must reconcile himself to his natural greatness.”

In other words, man must become conscious of his profound dignity, which includes his gift of human sexuality. Wojtyla continues:

It is especially when he enters so deeply into the natural order, immerses himself so to speak in its elemental processes, that he must not forget he is a person. Instinct alone can resolve none of his problems, everything demands decisions from his ‘interior self,’ his reason and his sense of responsibility.

It is clear, then, that we are not simply dealing with a purely intellectual consciousness or a merely formal moral consciousness. The intellect and will are clearly not excluded, but the reference to the ‘interior self’ is alerting us to a deeply personal view of consciousness.

Smith notes this precise point when she recounts her discussions with a Polish academic who informed her that the Polish word that is translated as conscious throughout Love and Responsibility:

[C]onnotes a deeply personalistic meaning; it means being vividly aware of some reality; it conveys experiencing something with one’s emotions as well as one’s intellect.

When, therefore, Wojtyla speaks of man being reconciled to his natural greatness, what is intended is an experience of truth as value – of value for me, of value for us, of value for society, etc. We not only come into the truth mentally and intellectually, but we come to experience the truth as good for us. The experience is such that we desire the truth with our entire being.

That is, I encounter the objective truth as my truth. That is, the truth becomes who I am. That is, the truth in all its beauty and goodness becomes the foundation of my life. That is, the truth sets me free (Cf. John 8, 32). When this point has arrived, I have become conscious of the truth. This is what Wojtyla intends by the word ‘conscious.’

Smith, for her part, puts is succinctly and neatly, when she writes in her article Conscious Parenthood:

Man’s dignity resides not only in his ability to know the truth and to live by it, but also in his ability to recognize the goodness of the truth. He, in his subjectivity, must make objective truth his own (p. 928. My emphasis.)

So, conscious parenthood is a profound human experience – intellectual, moral, emotional, physical, spiritual – whereby one becomes aware of the dignity of the possibility and/or reality of parenthood.

With these thoughts, we can say that the encyclical is primarily concerned about conscious parenthood. This is its real hermeneutic. Sexual values spring from the fountain of parenthood and one can make a clear judgment about the morality of contraceptive acts from this viewpoint.

Sex as Unitive, Procreative and Parental

About sex, then, we can say the following. Sex is undoubtedly about expressing love and affection and it is the type of act that leads to a one-flesh union. Scripture is insistent about this and John Paul’s Theology of the Body develops this line of thinking in a rather remarkable manner. The sex-act has a clear unitive meaning and it has a clear procreative meaning, too. New life can “descend” (again JPII thought) upon this one-flesh union. Furthermore, these dimensions of unity and procreativity are inseparable according to the teaching of Humanae Vitae.

 In addition, and most importantly, sex is clearly a parental act. By opening oneself to unity with another human person in sexual love and by being open to the possibility of a new life coming to be from this very union, a man and woman open themselves to parenthood – a completely new and welcome addition to their personal identity.

In other words, sex is the type of act that transforms a woman into a mother and man into a father – a transformation that is beyond their natural powers. This is a critical point. As a parental act, sex has the power to develop and deepen both the feminine and masculine persona and to bring it to perfection in motherhood and fatherhood.

It is this extraordinarily rich teaching that becomes clear, I believe, with the translation of Humanae Vitae that you now have in your hands. Delight in the joy that this truth imparts and let others in on the secret!

Father Anthony Percy STD | July 2012

Humanae Vitae  – ‘Of Human Life’

Pope Paul VI | 25 July 1968 | Translation from Latin by Janet Smith 

The Transmission of Life

1. God has entrusted spouses with the extremely important mission [gravissium munus] of transmitting human life. In fulfilling this mission spouses freely and consciously [consciam] render a service [opera] to God, the Creator. This service has always been a source of great joy, although the joys are, at times, accompanied by not a few difficulties and sufferings. Fulfilling this mission [munus] has always raised some difficult questions for the consciences of married couples. Furthermore, in recent times, the evolution of human society has brought with it changes that raise new questions. The Church cannot ignore these questions, for they concern matters intimately connected with human life and happiness.

Part I: New Aspects of the Question and the Competence of the Magisterium

2. The various changes that have taken place [in modern times] are truly of great importance. In the first place, there has been a rapid increase in population, an increase that causes many to fear that the population of the earth will grow faster than its available life-sustaining resources. This [disparity] could result in even greater hardships for many families and for many developing nations. Public authorities may easily be tempted to fight the danger by rather severe methods. Moreover, contemporary conditions of work and housing, as well as increased expenses involved in providing for, raising, and educating children, often make it burdensome to support a large family adequately. It must also be noted that there have been changes in how we view the person of woman and how we view her role [munere] in society; indeed there have been changes in the value we place on marital love and on how we judge acts of marital intercourse in light of this love. Finally, and above all, it must be noted that because mankind has made such remarkable progress in controlling the forces of nature and in rationally organizing them, he also strives to extend this control to the whole of his life: that is, to his body, to the powers of his mind, to his social life, and even to the laws that regulate the propagation of life.

3. This state of affairs gives rise to new questions. [Some ask:] Given the conditions of life today and given the importance of marital intercourse for marital harmony and fidelity, is it not appropriate to reconsider the moral norms that have obtained up to now? Is not a reconsideration especially appropriate if it is believed that these norms cannot be observed without serious sacrifices, sometimes heroic sacrifices? Or, is it not possible to apply the so-called principle of totality to this problem? Would it not be possible to use this principle to justify using one’s reason to reduce one’s fertility? Would not an act that causes sterility become a licit and prudent way to limit one’s family size? That is, would it not clearly be right to consider the goal of having children to pertain more to the whole of married life than to each and every act of marital intercourse]? And, again, given the fact that moderns have an increased sense of their responsibilities, [they ask] whether it is not right for them to entrust the mission [munus] of transmitting life more to their reason and will, than to the biological rhythms of their bodies?

Competence of the Magisterium

4. Certainly, questions of this kind require that the Magisterium of the Church give new and deeper consideration to the principles of the moral teaching concerning marriage, a teaching that is rooted in natural law, illuminated and made richer by divine revelation. Let no one of the faithful deny that the Magisterium of the Church is competent to interpret the natural moral law. For it is indisputable—as Our predecessors have often declared1—that when Jesus Christ imparted His divine authority to Peter and the other apostles and sent them to all nations to teach His Commandments,2 He established them as authentic guardians and interpreters of the whole moral law, that is, not only of the law of the Gospel, but also of natural law. For natural law, [as well as revealed law], declares the will of God; [thus] faithful compliance with natural law is necessary for eternal salvation.3 Moreover, the Church has always been faithful in fulfilling this command. In recent times, she has more amply provided an integrated teaching on the nature of marriage, on the moral use of marital rights, and on the duties of the spouses.4

Special Studies

5. Conscious of Our responsibility [muneris] in this regard, We approved and enlarged the commission established by Our venerable predecessor John XXIII in March of 1963. In addition to many experts in the relevant disciplines, the commission also included married couples. The commission was to consider opinions and views concerning married life and, in particular, [it was to reflect upon] the legitimate means of controlling family size. It was to report the results in due time to the Magisterium so that it could provide a fitting response to the faithful and to people worldwide who were awaiting an answer.5 The investigation of the experts and the opinions and advice from Our confreres in the Episcopate—some spontaneously offered and some solicited by Us—enabled Us to consider very thoroughly all aspects of this complex subject. For which reason We offer Our most sincere thanks to all.

The Response of the Magisterium

6. We could not, however, consider the conclusions of the commission in themselves as carrying the force of a certain and definite judgment; nor could their judgment relieve Us of Our duty of deciding a question of such greatimportance through Our own consideration. There were several reasons why this was necessary. First, there was no full consensus within the commission concerning what moral norms ought to be proposed. And even more importantly, certain methods and criteria were used in answering the question that departed from the firm and constant teaching of the Magisterium on what is moral within marriage. We have carefully evaluated the findings sent to Us and most thoroughly considered this matter. Now, after assiduous prayer, We think it right, through the power given to Us by Christ, to give an answer to these weighty questions.

Part II: Doctrinal Principles: A Total Vision of the Human Person

7. The question of having children, like other questions regarding human life, cannot be addressed adequately by examining it in a piecemeal way, that is, by looking at it through the perspectives of biology, psychology, demography and sociology. Rather, [the question] must be addressed in such a way that the whole person and the whole mission [munus] to which human beings have been called will be taken into account, for this [mission] pertains not only to the natural and earthly existence of human beings but also to their supernatural and eternal existence. Many who attempt to defend artificial ways of limiting the number of children give as their reason the demands of marital love or their duty to conscious parenthood [paternitatis sui officii consciae]. [Therefore] it is necessary to provide a precise definition and explanation of these two important elements of married life. As We undertake to do this, We will keep foremost in Our minds what was taught about this matter with the highest authority in The Church in the Modern World [Gaudium et Spes], the pastoral constitution recently issued by the Second Vatican Council.

Marital Love

8. Truly, marital love most clearly manifests to us its true nature and nobility when we recognize that it has its origin in the highest source, as it were, in God, Who “is Love”6 and Who is the Father, “from whom all parenthood in heaven and earth receives its name.”7 It is false to think, then, that marriage results from chance or from the blind course of natural forces. Rather, God the Creator wisely and providently established marriage with the intent that He might achieve His own design of love through human beings. Therefore, through mutual self-giving, which is unique and exclusive to them, spouses seek a communion of persons. Through this communion, the spouses perfect each other so that they might share with God the task of procreating and educating new living beings. Moreover, for the baptized, matrimony is endowed with such dignity that it is a sacramental sign of grace representing the union of Christ and His Church.

Characteristics of Marital Love

9. When these matters are placed in the proper light, we can clearly see the characteristic marks and requirements of marital love. It is of the greatest importance to have an exact understanding of these.

First of all, [this] love is human and therefore both of the senses and of the spirit. For which reason, it is a product not only of natural instinct and inclinations; it also and primarily involves an act of free will. Through this act of free will, [the spouses resolve] that their love will not only persevere through daily joys and sorrows, but also increase. Therefore it is especially important that they become one in heart and soul, and that they obtain together their human perfection.

Next, this love is full and plentiful [pleno]; that is, it is a very special form of personal friendship whereby the spouses generously share everything with each other without undue reservations and without concern for their selfish convenience. Those who truly love their spouse, not only love them for what they receive but also for their own sakes. This spouses do joyfully, as they enrich [their beloved] with the gift of themselves.

Furthermore, marital love is both faithful and exclusive to the end of life. Such, in fact, do the bride and groom conceive it to be on the day of their marriage, when they freely and consciously unite themselves by means of the marital bond. Even if fidelity at times presents difficulties, let no one deny that it is possible; [rather] fidelity is always noble and of much merit. The example of many spouses throughout the ages has proved that fidelity is in accord with the very nature of marriage; even more, it has proved that intimate and lasting happiness flows from fidelity, just as from a fountain.

And finally, this love is fruitful, since the whole of the love is not contained in the communion of the spouses; it also looks beyond itself and seeks to raise up new lives. “Marriage and marital love are ordained by their very nature to the procreating and educating of children. Offspring are clearly the supreme gift of marriage, a gift that contributes immensely to the good of the parents themselves.”8

Conscious Parenthood

10. For the above reasons, marital love requires that spouses be fully aware of their mission [munus] of conscious parenthood [paternitatem consciam]. Today’s society justly calls for conscious parenthood; thus it is important that it be rightly understood. Consequently, we must consider the various legitimate and interconnected dimensions of parenthood.

If we consider biological processes first, conscious parenthood [paternitas conscia] means that one knows and honors the responsibilities [munerum] involved in these processes. Human reason has discovered that there are biological laws in the power of procreating life that pertain to the human person.9

If then we look to the innate impulses and inclinations of the soul, conscious parenthood [paternitas conscia] asserts that it is necessary that reason and will exercise mastery over these impulses and inclinations of the soul.

If we look further to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, conscious parenthood [paternitate conscia] is exercised by those who, guided by prudent consideration and generosity, elect to accept many children. Those are also to be considered responsible, who, for serious reasons [seriis causis] and with due respect for moral precepts, decide not to have another child for either a definite or an indefinite amount of time.

The conscious parenthood [conscia paternitas] of which we speak here has another intrinsic foundation of utmost importance: it is rooted in the objective moral order established by God — and only an upright conscience can be a true interpreter of this order. For which reason, the mission [munus] of conscious parenthood [paternitatis consciae] requires that spouses recognize their duties toward God, toward themselves, toward the family, and toward human society, as they maintain a correct set of priorities. For this reason, in regard to the mission [munere] of transmitting human life, it is not right for spouses to act in accord with their own arbitrary judgment, as if it were permissible for them to define altogether subjectively and willfully what is right for them to do. On the contrary, they must accommodate their behavior to the plan of God the Creator, a plan made manifest both by the very nature of marriage and its acts and also by the constant teaching of the Church.10

Respect for the Nature and Finality of the Marital Act

11. The marital acts by which spouses intimately and chastely unite, and by which human life is transmitted, are, as the recent council reiterated, “good and worthy of human dignity.”11 Marital acts do not cease being legitimate if the spouses are aware that they are infertile for reasons not voluntarily caused by them; these acts remain ordained [destinatio] to expressing and strengthening the union of the spouses. Indeed, as experience shows, new life does not arise from every act of marital union. God has wisely arranged the natural laws and times of fertility so that successive births are naturally spaced. But the Church, which interprets natural law through its unchanging doctrine, reminds men and women that the teachings based on natural law must be obeyed and teaches that it is necessary that each marital act remain ordained in itself [per se destinatus] to the procreating of human life.12

Two Inseparable Aspects: Union and Procreation

12. The doctrine that the Magisterium of the Church has often explained is this: there is an unbreakable connection between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning [of the marital act], and both are inherent in the marital act. This connection was established by God and human beings are not permitted to break it through their own volition. Therefore, because of its intrinsic nature, the marital act, which unites husband and wife with the closest of bonds, also makes them capable of bringing forth new life according to the laws written into their very natures as male and female. And if both essential meanings [ratio] are preserved, that of union and procreation, the marital act fully maintains its capacity for [fostering] true mutual love and its ordination to the highest mission [munus] of parenthood, to which human beings are called. People of our time, we think, are especially able to understand that this teaching is in accord with human reason.

Faithfulness to the Design of God

13. People rightly understand that a marital act imposed on a spouse, with no consideration given to the condition of the spouse or to the legitimate desires of the spouse, is not a true act of love. They understand that such an act opposes what the moral order rightly requires from spouses. To be consistent, then, if they reflect further, they should acknowledge that it is necessarily true that an act of mutual love that impairs the capacity of bringing forth life contradicts both the divine plan which established the nature of the marital bond and also the will of the first Author of human life. For this capacity of bringing forth life was designed by God, the Creator of All, according to [His] specific laws.

Thus, anyone who uses God’s gift [of marital love] and cancels, if only in part, the significance and the purpose of this gift, is rebelling against either the male or female nature and against their most intimate relationship and for this reason, then, he is defying the plan and holy will of God. On the other hand, the one who uses the gift of marital love in accord with the laws of generation, acknowledges that he is not the lord of the sources of life, but rather the minister of a plan initiated by the Creator. In fact, human beings do not have unlimited power over their own bodies in general. So, too, for good reason, human beings clearly do not have power over their generative faculties as such, for the generative powers by their very nature are directed to bringing forth human life, and God is the source of human life. Indeed, “Human life must be recognized as sacred by all Men” as Our Predecessor John XXIII declared, “indeed, from its very beginning it requires the creative action of God.”13

Immoral ways of limiting family size

14. Thus, relying upon these first principles of human and Christian doctrine concerning marriage, we must again insist that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun must be totally rejected as a legitimate means of regulating the number of children. Especially to be rejected is direct abortion — even if done for the reasons of health.14 Furthermore, as the Magisterium of the Church has taught repeatedly, direct sterilization of the male or female, whether permanent or temporary, is equally to be condemned.15 Similarly there must be a rejection of all acts that attempt to impede procreation, both those chosen as means to an end and those chosen as ends. This includes acts that precede intercourse, acts that accompany intercourse, and acts that are directed to the natural consequences of intercourse.16 Nor is it possible to justify deliberately depriving marital acts of their fertility by claiming that one is choosing the lesser evil. It cannot be claimed that these acts deprived of fertility should be considered together as a whole with past and future fertile acts and thus that they [should be judged] to share in one and the same moral goodness of the fertile acts [of marriage].

Certainly, it is sometimes permissible to tolerate moral evil — when it is the lesser evil and when one does so in order that one might avoid a greater evil, or so that one might promote a greater good.17 It is never permissible, however, to do evil so that good might result,18 not even for the most serious reasons. That is, one should never willingly choose to do an act that by its very nature violates the moral order for such acts are unworthy of men and women for this very reason. This is so even if one has acted with the intent to defend and advance some good either for individuals, or for families or for society. Thus, it is a serious error to think that a marital act, deprived deliberately of its fertility, and which consequently is intrinsically wrong [intrinsece inhonestum], can be justified by being grouped together with the fertile acts of the whole of the marriage.

Morally permissible therapeutic means

15. The Church, moreover, does allow the use of medical treatment necessary for curing diseases of the body although this treatment may thwart one’s ability to procreate. Such treatment is permissible even if the reduction of fertility is foreseen, as long as the infertility is not directly intended for any reason whatsoever.19

The Morality of recourse to the infertile period

16. Nevertheless, there are some in our times who oppose the teaching of the Church concerning marital morality, as we noted above (HV 3). [They claim] that it is the right and function [munus] of human reason to restrain the irrational forces of nature and to direct them to achieving ends which are beneficial to human beings.

Now some may ask: in the present day, isn’t it reasonable to use artificial birth control in many circumstances? Suppose family peace and harmony might better be achieved, and better provisions might be made for educating the children already born?

This question deserves a clear answer: the Church, of course, is the first to praise and commend the use of the human intellect in an endeavor which allies human beings, rational creature that they are, so closely with their Creator. But the Church affirms that this must be done in accord with the order of reality established by God.

Certainly, there may be just reasons [iustae causae] for spacing offspring; these may be based on the physical or psychological condition of the spouses, or may be based on external factors. The Church teaches that [in such cases] it is morally permissible [for  spouses] to calculate [their fertility by observing the] natural rhythms inherent in the generative faculties and to reserve marital intercourse for infertile times. Thus spouses are able to plan their families without violating the moral teachings set forth above.20

The Church is not inconsistent when it teaches both that it is morally permissible for spouses to have recourse to infertile periods and also that all directly contraceptive practices are morally wrong, even if spouses seem to have good and serious reasons [argumenta . . . honesta et gravia] for using these.

These two situations are essentially different. In the first, the spouses legitimately use a faculty that is given by nature; in the second case, the spouses impede the order of generation from completing its own natural processes.

It cannot be denied that the spouses in each case have, for defensible reasons [prob