Humanae Vitae Priests
|Human Life International e-Newsletter|
for Priests, Deacons, and Seminarians
Volume 01, Number 09 | Thursday, May 08, 2008
John Paul II and Humanae Vitae
By Father Richard Hogan
Couples who use contraception "'manipulate' and degrade human sexuality - and with it themselves and their married partner - by altering its value of 'total' self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other." (John Paul II, The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World, no. 32.)
In his Theology of the Body series and in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Pope John Paul II developed further Pope Paul VI's teaching against contraception. In the above quotation, the late Pope summarized the main theme of his Theology of the Body series as well as his teaching on spousal love. There are, then, in these two sentences two essential points regarding contraception.
The first one is illustrated by the words "manipulate" and "degrade." Couples who use contraception attack a healthy, major, functioning system of their bodies: their sexual powers. The spouse who uses contraception (or both of them if they both do) hurts himself or herself by attacking and harming the reproductive system of his or her body.
This is the point made by the well-known phrase from John Paul II's Theology of the Body: the body is the expression of the person. Each of our bodies makes visible our own persons and, when we act as God acts, they express not only ourselves but also the mystery of the Trinity.
As John Paul II put it in no. 19 of the Theology of the Body series: "The body, in fact, and it alone, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden since time immemorial in God, and thus be a sign of it."
Each of our bodies expresses our own persons and even God (when we act as God acts) through all of its functions and organs. To alter or harm a healthy functioning system of the body is to try to alter the language of personhood, which the body speaks. It is an attempt to undo what God did when He created us as embodied persons. From this perspective, contraception is not simply a violation of the marital act, it is an attack on the body. Thus, it is sinful even for a celibate or a virgin to contracept, e.g., missionaries threatened with a rape or other forms of sexual attack.
John Paul's teaching on spousal love is also brilliantly summarized in the above quotation. He refers to the "reciprocal self-giving" of husband and wife expressed through the marital act. Each spouse, at the time of their marriage, made a choice manifested in the marriage vows to give themselves to each other in love and to express that love in and through their bodies.
Since we, as images of God, are called to love as God loves, the spousal choice of love must mirror Christ's love. It must be total, as His love for us is. It must be permanent, as His love for us is, and it must be life-giving, as His love for us is. The total reciprocal self-giving love, which is permanent and life-giving, is expressed through the body language of the marital embrace. When an attempt is made to alter this language, the self-giving love is no longer expressed.
Contraception overlays the language the body speaks through the marital embrace "by an objectively contradictory language." In other words, God created the bodily differences of the masculine and feminine to speak the language of total self-giving. Contraception frustrates this language. When spouses use contraception, they are lying to each other through their bodies: the marital embrace speaks the language of total self-gift, but by using contraception, the marital act no longer speaks the language of total self-gift. The marital embrace in effect speaks to the spouse: "I am totally yours;" but the contraception speaks simultaneous to the spouse: "I am totally yours, except for my fertility." John Paul is teaching that spouses should never contradict the language of the marital embrace by using contraception.
Contraception is unworthy of the human person (from the point of the individual human person), and it is unworthy of the august greatness of the martial embrace.
Father Hogan works with NFP Outreach, an apostolate giving parish missions on Natural Family Planning. His new book is Theology of the Body: What It Means, Why It Matters. For more information on Father Hogan and his book, go here.