A Rich New Translation of Humanae Vitae

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 [probabiles rationes], made a mutual and firm decision to avoid having a child; and [it cannot be denied] that each of them is attempting to ensure that a child will not be born.

Nevertheless, it must also be acknowledged that only in the first case are the spouses strong enough to abstain from sexual intercourse during the fertile times, when, for good reasons [iustae rationes], offspring are not desired. And then, when the time is not apt for conception, they make use of intercourse for the sake of manifesting their mutual love and for the sake of maintaining their promised fidelity. Clearly when they do this, they offer a witness to truly and completely upright love.

Serious consequences of the use of contraception

17. Responsible individuals will quickly see the truth of the Church’s teaching about [contraception], if they consider what consequences will follow from the methods of contraception and the reasons given for use of contraception.

They should first consider how easy it will be [for many] to justify behavior leading to marital infidelity or to a gradual weakening in the discipline of morals. Not much experience is needed to understand human weakness and to comprehend that human beings, especially the young, are so susceptible to temptation that they need to be encouraged to keep the moral law. It is wrong to make it easy for them to violate this law.

Indeed, it is to be feared that husbands who become accustomed to contraceptive practices will lose respect for their wives. They may come to disregard their wife’s psychological and physical equilibrium and use their wives as instruments for serving their own desires. Consequently, they will no longer view their wives as companions who should be treated with attentiveness and love.

And, then, let [reasonable individuals] also carefully consider that a dangerous power will be put into the hands of rulers who care little about the moral law. Would anyone blame those in the highest offices of the state for employing a solution [contraception] considered morally permissible for spouses seeking to solve a family difficulty, when they strive to solve certain difficulties affecting the whole nation? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring what they believe to be the most effective contraceptive methods and from mandating that everyone must use them, whenever they consider it necessary? And clearly it will come about that people who desire to avoid the difficulties that are part of the divine law, difficulties that individuals, families, or society may experience, will hand over to the will of the public authorities the power of interfering in the most exclusive and intimate mission [munus] of spouses.

Therefore, if we do not want the mission [officium] of procreating human life to be conceded to the arbitrary decisions of human beings, we need to recognize that there are some limits to the power of human beings over their own bodies and over the natural operations [munera] of the body, that ought not to be transgressed. No one, neither a private individual nor a public authority, ought to violate these limits. For these limits are derived from the reverence owed to the whole human body and its natural operations [naturalibus muneribus], according to the principles acknowledged above, and according to a proper understanding of the so-called principle of totality, as explained by Our Predecessor, Pius XII.21

The Church, the guarantor of authentic human values

18. It is possible to predict that perhaps not everyone will be able to accept a teaching of this sort easily. After all, there are so many critical voices – broadcast widely by modern means of communication — that are contrary to the voice of the Church. Therefore, it is not surprising that the Church finds herself a sign of contradiction — just as was [Christ], her Founder.22

But this is no reason for the Church to abandon the duty entrusted to her of preaching the whole moral law firmly and humbly — both the natural law and the law of the Gospel. Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot change them. She can only be their guardian and interpreter; thus it would never be right for her to declare as morally permissible that which is truly not so. For what is immoral is by its very nature always opposed to the true good of human beings.

By preserving the whole moral law of marriage, the Church knows that she is supporting the growth of a true civilization. She encourages people not to abdicate their human duties by overreliance upon technology. In this way, she safeguards the dignity of spouses. Devoted to the example and teaching of the Divine Savior, the Church shows her sincere and generous love for Men as she strives to help them, even during their earthly pilgrimage, “to share, as sons [and daughters], the life of the living God, the Father of all Men.”23

 Part III: The Church as Mother and Teacher

19. We would hardly be adequately expressing the thoughts and solicitude of the Church, the Mother and Teacher of all nations, if after encouraging them to keep and respect the law[s] of God concerning marriage, We did not also offer them support in morally permissible methods of regulating their family size; [after all] ours is a time when families and nations face harsh conditions. But the Church can only conduct herself as did the Divine Redeemer; she knows mankind’s weakness; she has compassion on the multitude, and she forgives their sins. She cannot, however, do otherwise than to teach the law which is proper to human life restored to its original truth and guided by the Spirit of God.24

The Possibility of Observing the Divine Law

20. The teaching of the Church about the proper spacing of children is a promulgation of the divine law itself. No doubt many will think this teaching difficult to keep, if not impossible. And truly, just as with all good things outstanding for their nobility and utility, [keeping] this law requires strong motivation and much effort from individuals, from families, and from society. Indeed, this law cannot be kept without the abundant grace of God, upon which the good moral choices of people depend and from which they get their strength. Moreover, those who consider this matter thoroughly will see that [their] efforts [to keep God’s law] increase human dignity and confer benefits on human society.


21. Moral family planning requires that spouses recognize and value the true goods of life and the family, and also that they acquire the habit of complete mastery of themselves and their desires.

In order to control the drives of nature, the spouses need to become self-denying through using their reason and free will. Only then will the manifestations of love appropriate for married couples be what they ought to be. Self-mastery is especially necessary for those who practice periodic abstention. Truly, discipline of this sort — from which marital chastity shines forth – cannot be an obstacle to love. Rather, discipline imbues love with a deeper human meaning.

Although [such control] requires continuous effort, it also helps the spouses become strong in virtue and makes them rich with spiritual goods. And this [virtue] fosters the fruits of tranquility and peace in the home and helps in the solving of difficulties of other kinds. It aids spouses in becoming more tender with each other and more attentive to each other. It assists them in dispelling that inordinate self-love that is opposed to true charity. It strengthens in them an awareness of their responsibilities [munerum exsequendorum]. And finally it provides parents with a sure and efficacious authority for educating their children. As [their] children advance through life they will come to a correct appreciation of true human goods and employ peacefully and properly the powers of their mind and senses.

Creating an atmosphere favorable to chastity

22. We would like to take this opportunity to advise educators and all others whose right and duty it is to be concerned about the common good. They need to work to create conditions favorable to the cultivation of chastity, so that the norms of the moral order might be kept and true freedom might prevail over license. Therefore, all those who are concerned with improving civilization and all who wish to protect the most important human goods should condemn with one voice all the forms of entertainment in today’s modern society that arouse [base] passions and that foster dissolute morals — such as obscene literature and corrupt theatrical and film productions. It would be perverse if anyone were to attempt to defend depravity of this kind by appealing to the needs of art or learning 25, or by appealing to arguments of “freedom of expression” concerning what authorities may permit in the public arena.

Appeal to public authorities

23. And We must also address the rulers of nations since they have chief responsibility for the common good and are able to work towards safeguarding good morals. [We say to them:] Do not allow the worthy morals of your own people to be corrupted; Do not allow the law to be used to introduce into the family — that primary unit of the state — practices opposed to the natural and divine law. For surely civil authority can find and ought to use other means to resolve the problem of the increase of population: namely, they should legislate laws protective of the family and they should wisely educate the populace to safeguard both the moral law and the [true] liberty of the citizens.

Indeed We know well what a source of great difficulty [the increase in population] is for leaders of a state, especially in the developing nations. Indeed, We had these justifiable concerns in mind when We issued the encyclical letter Populorum Progressio. But here let Us reiterate the words of Our Predecessor, John XXIII: . . . it is necessary to solve these problems in such a way that Man does not use methods and means opposed to the dignity of Man. [State authorities] ought not to fear rejecting [the views] of those who hold that Man himself and his life are in every respect only material realities. We think this problem ought to be resolved only through economic and social progress that both respects each and every individual and the whole of society and that also increases goods deserving of the name.”26

Truly it would be a grave injustice to attribute to divine providence [a state of affairs] which seems be the result of unwise government policies, or of a rather weak sense of social justice, or because there has been a hoarding of goods for one’s selfish use, or finally because of a careless negligence in undertaking the labors and tasks by which every people and all their offspring achieve a better standard of living.27 Certainly some authorities have already begun to renew impressive efforts in regard to these matters; all authorities should energetically join these efforts. All members of the great human family should increase their zeal for coming to one another’s assistance; [indeed] We think the opportunity for involvement by international aid organizations is nearly unbounded.

Appeal to scientists

24. Let Us also encourage scientists, who “are able to do much for the good of marriage and family and are able to assist peace of conscience if with their united efforts they attempt to clarify the conditions which favor a moral ordering of human procreation.”28 This ought especially to be hoped for — a request made earlier by Pius XII — that medical science, through the observation of natural cycles [of fertility], strive to establish a satisfactorily clear basis for the moral regulation of offspring.29 In this way scientists — and especially those who proudly claim to be Catholic — will make it clear through their own work that, as the Church teaches, “no true contradiction exists between the divine laws for transmitting life and those for fostering true conjugal love.”30

Appeal to Christian spouses

25. Now Our attention must be directed in a particular way to Our sons and daughters and especially to those whom God calls to serve Him in the state of matrimony. For the Church, who teaches the inviolable conditions of the divine law, also proclaims salvation and through the sacraments unlocks the sources of grace. [For it is by these means] that human beings are made a new creatures who respond with charity and true liberty to the heavenly plan of their Creator and Savior and who finds the yoke of Christ to be sweet.31

Therefore, let Christian spouses humbly obey the voice of the Church and remember that their proper vocation in the Christian life began with baptism, and was more fully specified and confirmed anew with the sacrament of marriage. For by the sacrament of marriage spouses are strengthened and, as it were, are consecrated so that they might faithfully fulfill their duties [munia], so that they might bring their vocation to its perfect end and so that, as befits them, they might openly offer the world a Christian witness.32 To them the Lord entrusts the mission [munus] of making manifest to others the holiness and indeed sweetness of the law that unites their mutual love generous service [adiutrice opera] closely to the love of God, the author of human life.

Certainly We do not wish to ignore the difficulties, the sometimes serious difficulties, that Christian spouses might encounter, since for them, as for everyone, “the gate is narrow, and the way is difficult that leads to life.”33 Nevertheless their way will be illuminated by the hope of this life — just as by the clearest light — as long as they strive courageously “to live wisely and justly and piously in this world,”34 knowing that “the form of this world passes away.”35

Therefore, let spouses willingly take up the labors that have been assigned [destinatos] to them, strengthened both by faith and by hope, which “do not disappoint: because the charity of God is poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who is given to us.”36 Let them constantly pray for divine assistance. And let them especially drink of grace and charity from the eternal font of the Eucharist. If, however, they are hampered by their sins, let them not lose heart, but let them humbly and constantly flee to the mercy of God, which the sacrament of penance abundantly provides.

It is by this way of life that spouses will be able to advance towards perfection in their married life, which the Apostle explains in these words: Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church ( . . .) Therefore also husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. For he who loves his wife, loves himself. Indeed, no one is able to hate his own flesh; but he nourishes it and cares for it, as Christ does for the Church ( . . .). And this is true for each and everyone of you: let everyone love his wife as he loves himself; and let wives respect their husbands.”37

Apostolate of spouses

26. Moreover, great fruits are to be expected when the divine law is kept by a devout soul. The most outstanding of these fruits results from the frequent desire of spouses to share their experience with other spouses. Thus it happens that a new and especially worthy kind of apostolate is added to the already ample vocation of the laity: like will minister to like. That is, spouses fulfill their apostolic mission [munus] in behalf of other spouses by becoming guides for them. Among all the forms of Christian apostolate this apostolate seems most suitable today.38

To doctors and health care professionals

27. Let Us express Our highest admiration for doctors and those health professionals, who, in performing their mission [munus], desire to safeguard what is compatible with their Christian vocation rather than what corresponds to some human advantage. Therefore let them constantly pursue only those solutions that are in accord with faith and right reason. And let them strive to gain the agreement and the compliance [observationem] of their colleagues in this matter. Moreover, let them consider it their special mission [munus] to acquire all the necessary learning in this difficult area. Thereby they may be able to give good advice to spouses seeking their counsel and to direct them along the right path. Spouses rightly seek such direction from them.

To priests

28. With complete confidence We call upon you priests, Our beloved sons, you who are the advisors and spiritual guides of individuals and families. For it is your great and manifest mission [munere] — and We address especially those of you who are moral theologians — to promote completely and clearly the teaching of the Church concerning marriage. In performing your ministry you must be an example of the sincere obedience [obsequii] that must be given both inwardly and outwardly to the Magisterium of the Church. For truly, you know that you are bound to such obedience [obsequio] not only for the reasons given [in behalf of a teaching], but also on account of the light of the Holy Spirit, whose guidance the Fathers of the Church particularly enjoy when setting forth the truth.39

Nor let it escape you that it is of the utmost importance for safeguarding the peace of souls and the unity of the Christian people, that in moral as in dogmatic matters, all should obey the Magisterium of the Church and should speak with one voice. Wherefore, adopting the anxious words of the great Apostle Paul, We call upon you again with Our whole heart: “I beg . . . you brothers through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: that you might all speak as one and that there might be no division among you: that you may be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”40

29. Refusal to compromise anything concerning the saving doctrine of Christ is an outstanding act of charity to souls; yet, at the same time it is necessary always to combine this with tolerance and charity. When He spoke and associated with human beings, the Redeemer Himself exemplified this truth. Coming not to judge the world but to save it, He was severe against sin but patient and merciful to sinners.41 Therefore, let spouses in their times of trouble find in the speech and hearts of their priests, the image of the voice and love of our Redeemer.

So Beloved Sons, preach with full confidence and be certain that the Holy Spirit of God, who guides the Magisterium in its teaching, will illuminate the hearts of the faithful and invite them to give their assent. Teach spouses the indispensability of prayer; instruct them properly so that they may come regularly and with great faith to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance and that they may never become discouraged because of their weakness.

To bishops

30. Now, at the conclusion of this encyclical letter, Our mind reverently and lovingly turns to you [Bishops], beloved and venerable Brothers in the Episcopal mission [munus]; with you We share very closely the care of the spiritual good of the people of God.

We make this urgent request of you: We ask all of you to take the lead with the priests who assist your sacred ministry, and all your faithful. With complete zeal and with no delay, devote yourselves to keeping marriage safe and holy, so that the life of married couples may draw more closely to its proper human and Christian perfection. Truly consider this as the greatest responsibility [opus] of your mission [munus] and the greatest work [onus] committed to you at the present time. As you well know, [your] mission [munus] requires a certain coordination of pastoral ministry in all areas of human activity, including economic, social and cultural matters. If progress is gained on all these fronts at the same time, then not only will family life of parents and children be more tolerable, it will be easier and happier. Once the plan God conceived for the world is faithfully kept, fellowship in society will be richer in fraternal charity and more safely grounded in a true peace.

Final Appeal

31. Venerable Brothers, most beloved sons, and all men and women of good will, We now call you to the splendid work of education and growth in charity. Relying upon the unshakable teaching of the Church, We, as the successor to Peter together with the whole brotherhood of bishops, faithfully guard and interpret it. Truly this is a great work, for it affects the good of the world and the Church.None can achieve true happiness, the happiness that they desire with the strength of their whole soul, unless they observe the laws inscribed on their nature by theMost High God. To be happy human beings must prudently and lovingly cultivate these laws. Therefore, upon this important work and upon all of you and most especially upon married couples, We invoke a wealth of supernatural graces given by our most holy and merciful God. As a pledge of these graces, We freely give you Our Apostolic blessing.

Given at Rome, from St. Peter’s on the twenty-fifth day of July, on the feast of James the Apostle, in the year 1968, the sixth year of Our Pontificate.

Pope Paul VI


1. Pius IX, encyclical Qui Pluribus, Nov. 9, 1846, in Pii IX P.M. Acta, I, 9-10; St. Pius X, encyclical Singulari Quadam, Sept. 24, 1912, in AAS 4 (1912) 658; Pius XI, encyclical Casti Connubii, Dec. 31, 1930, in AAS 22 (1930), 579-81; Pius XII, “Address to the Episcopate of the Catholic World,” Nov. 2, 1954, in AAS 46 (1954) 671-72; John XXIII, encyclical, Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961, in AAS 53 (1961), 457.
2. Cf. Matt. 28:18-19.
3. Cf. Matt. 7:21.
4. Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii Triden-tini, part II, ch. 8; Leo XIII, encyclical, Arcanum, Feb. 19, 1880, in Acta Leonis XIII, II (1880) 26-29; Pius XI, encyclical Divini Illius Magistri, Dec. 31, 1929, in AAS 22 (1930), 58-61; Pius XI, encyclical Casti Connubii in AAS 22 (1930) 545-46; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Medico-Biological Union of St. Luke,” Nov. 12, 1944 in Discorsi e Radio-messaggi di S.S. Pio XII 6, 191-92; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives,” Oct. 29, 1951, in AAS
43 (1951) 835-54; Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Family Front and of the Association of Large Families,” Nov. 28, 1951, in AAS 43 (1951) 857-59; Pius XII, “Address to the Seventh Congress of the International Society of Hematology,” Sept. 12, 1958, in AAS 50 (1958) 734-35; John XXIII, encyclical Mater et Magistra in AAS 53 (1961) 446-47; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, Dec. 7, 1965, nos. 47-52, in AAS 58 (1966) 1067-74; Code of Canon Law 1917, Canons 1067, 1068.I, 1076. 1-2.
5. Paul VI, “Address to the Sacred College of Cardinals,” June 23, 1964, in AAS 56 (1964) 588; Paul VI, “Address to the Commission for the Study of Population, the Family and Birth Regulation,” Mar. 27,1965, in AAS 57 (1965) 388; Paul VI, “Address to the National Congress of the Italian Society of Obstetrics and Gynecology,” Oct. 29, 1966, in AAS 58 (1966) 1168.
6. Cf. I Jn. 4:8.
7. Eph. 3:15.
8. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, no. 50, in AAS 58 (1966) 1070-72.
9. Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 94, a. 2.
10. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, nos. 50-51, in AAS 58 (1966) 1070-73.
11. Cf. ibid., no. 49, in AAS 58 (1966) 1070.
12. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical Casti Connubii, in AAS 22 (1930) 560; Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Italian Catholic Association of Midwives,” in AAS 43 (1951) 843.
13. John XXIII, encyclical Mater et Magistra in AAS 53 (1961) 447.
14. Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii Tridentini, part 2, chap. 8; Pius XI, encyclical Casti Connubii, in ASS 22 (1930) 562-64; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Medico-Biological Union of St. Luke,” Nov. 12, 1944, in Discorsi e Radiomessaggi di S.S. Pio XII, 6, 191-92; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives,” Pastoral Constitution, in AAS 43 (1951) 842-43; Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Family Front and of the Association of Large Families,” in AAS 43 (1951) 857-59; John XXIII, encyclical Pacem in Terris, Apr. 11, 1963, in AAS 55 (1963) 259-60; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, 50, in AAS 58 (1966) 1072.
15. Cf. Pius XI, encyclical Casti Connubii, in AAS 22 (1930) 565; Pius XII, Decree of the Holy Office, Feb. 22, 1940, in AAS 32 (1940) 73; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives,” in AAS 43 (1951) 843-44; Pius XII, “Address to the Seventh Congress of the International Society of Hematology,” in AAS 50 (1958) 734-35.
16. Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii Tridentini, pt. 2, chap. 8; Pius XI, Casti Connubii, in AAS 22 (1930) 559-61; Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives,” in AAS 43 (1951) 843; Pius XII, “Address to the Seventh Congress of the International Society of Hematology,” in AAS 50 (1958) 734-35; John XXIII, encyclical, Mater et Magistra, in AAS 53 (1961) 447.
17. Cf. Pius XII, “Address to the Fifth National Congress of Italian Catholic Jurists,” Dec. 6, 1953, in AAS 45 (1953) 798-99.
18. Cf. Rom. 3:8.
19. Cf. Pope Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Italian Association of Urology,” Oct. 8, 1953, in AAS 45 (1953) 674-75; Pius XII, “Address to the Seventh Congress of the International Society of Hematology,” in AAS 50 (1958) 734-35.
20. Pius XII, “Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives,” in AAS 43 (1951) 846.
21. Cf. Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Italian Association of Urology,” in AAS 45 (1953) 674-75; Pius XII, “Address to the Directors and Members of the Italian Association of Cornea Donors and of the Italian Association of the Blind,” May 14, 1956, in AAS 48 (1956) 461-62.
22. Lk. 2:34.
23. Paul VI, encyclical Populorum Progressio, Mar. 26, 1967, no. 21, in AAS 59 (1967) 268.
24. Cf. Rom. 8.
25. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Decree Inter Mirifica, Dec. 4, 1963, nos. 6-7, in AAS 56 (1964) 147.
26. John XXIII, encyclical Mater et Magistra, in AAS 53 (1961), 447.
27. Paul VI, encyclical Populorum Progressio, Mar. 26, 1967, no. 21, in AAS 59 (1967) 281-84.
28. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, no. 52, in AAS 58 (1966) 1074.
29. Cf. Pius XII, “Address to the Congress of the Family Front and of the Association of Large Families,” in AAS 43 (1951) 859.
30. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, no. 51, in AAS 58 (1966)
31. Cf. Mt. 11:30.
32. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes, no. 48, in AAS 58 (1966) 1067-69; Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 35, in AAS 57 (1965) 40-41.
33. Mt. 7:14; cf. Heb. 12:11.
34. Cf. Tit. 2:12.
35. Cf. I Cor. 7:31.
36. Rom. 5:5.
37. Eph. 5:25, 28-29, 32-33.
38. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, Nov. 21, 1964, no. 35, 41, in AAS 57 (1965) 40-45. [Father Calegari persuasively argues that AAS pages for Lumen Gentium should be 40-41 and 45-47.] Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 48-49, in AAS 58 (1966) 1067-70; Decree, Apostolicam Actuositatem, Nov. 18, 1965, no. 11, in AAS 58 (1966) 847-49.
39. Cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 25, AAS 57 (1965) 29-31.
40. 1 Cor. 1:10
41. Cf. Jn. 3:17.

One Comment

  1. Louise 23/01/2013 at 11:24 am

    The parental dimension to sex is a great new inclusion, one which is all the more significant to us during the ‘Sex Abuse Crisis’. Many of my generation of 35+ Catholics are confused and absent from religious worship. Somehow our Mission and our Mass Liturgy must speak to the needs of these people, confirming them as good, relational, embodied parents.

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