115. The Norm of Humanae Vitae Arises from
the Natural Law and the Revealed Order
By Pope John Paul II
1. In the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae we read: "The Church, in urging men to the
observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its
constant doctrine, teaches as absolutely required that in any use whatever of
marriage there must be no impairment of its natural capacity to procreate human
life" (HV, n. 11).
At the same time this same text considers and even emphasizes the subjective and
psychological dimension when it speaks of the significance, and precisely of the
"two significances of the marital act."
The significance becomes known with the rereading of the (ontological)
truth of the object. Through this rereading, the (ontological) truth enters,
so to speak, into the cognitive dimension—subjective and psychological.
Humanae Vitae seems to draw our attention especially to this latter
dimension. Among other ways, this is also indirectly confirmed by the following
sentence: "We believe that our contemporaries are especially capable of seeing
that this teaching is in harmony with human reason" (HV n. 12). Moral norm and its reason
reasonable character does not only concern the truth of the ontological
dimension, namely, that which corresponds to the fundamental structure of the
marital act. It also concerns the same truth in the subjective and psychological
dimension, that is to say, it concerns the correct understanding of the intimate
structure of the marital act. It concerns the adequate rereading of the
significances corresponding to this structure and of their inseparable
connection, in view of a morally right behavior. Herein lies precisely the moral
norm and the corresponding regulation of human acts in the sphere of sexuality.
In this sense we say that the moral norm is identified with the rereading, in
truth, of the language of the body.
3. Therefore, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae therefore contains the moral
norm and its reason, or at least an examination of what constitutes the reason
for the norm. Moreover, since in the norm the moral value is expressed in a
binding way, it follows that acts in conformity with the norm are morally right,
while acts contrary to it are intrinsically illicit. The author of the
encyclical stresses that this norm belongs to the natural law, that is to
say, it is in accordance with reason as such. The Church teaches this norm,
although it is not formally (that is, literally) expressed in Sacred Scripture.
It does this in the conviction that the interpretation of the precepts of
natural law belongs to the competence of the Magisterium.
However, we can say more. Even if the moral law, formulated in this way in
Humanae Vitae, is not found literally in Sacred Scripture, nonetheless, from
the fact that it is contained in tradition and—as Pope Paul VI writes—has been
"very often expounded by the Magisterium" (HV n. 12) to the faithful, it
follows that this norm is in accordance with the sum total of revealed
doctrine contained in biblical sources (cf. HV n. 4).
Revealed by God
4. It is a
question here not only of the sum total of the moral doctrine contained in
Sacred Scripture, of its essential premises and the general character of its
content. It is also a question of that fuller context to which we have
previously dedicated many analyses when speaking about the theology of the body.
Precisely against the background of this full context it becomes evident that
the above mentioned moral norm belongs not only to the natural moral law, but
also to the moral order revealed by God. Also from this point of view, it
could not be different, but solely what is handed down by Tradition and the
Magisterium and, in our days, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae as a modern
document of this Magisterium.
Paul VI writes: "We believe that our contemporaries are especially capable of
seeing that this teaching is in harmony with human reason" (HV n. 12). We
can add that they are capable also of seeing its profound conformity with all
that is transmitted by Tradition stemming from biblical sources. The bases of
this conformity are to be sought especially in biblical anthropology. Moreover,
we know the significance that anthropology has for ethics, that is, for moral
doctrine. It seems to be totally reasonable to look precisely in the "theology
of the body" for the foundation of the truth of the norms that concern
the fundamental problematic of man as "body": "The two will become one flesh" (Gn
2:24). Reread and reflect
5. The norm
of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae concerns all men, insofar as it is a norm
of the natural law and is based on conformity with human reason (when, it is
understood, human reason is seeking truth). All the more does it concern all
believers and members of the Church, since the reasonable character of this norm
indirectly finds confirmation and solid support in the sum total of the theology
of the body. From this point of view we have spoken in previous analyses about
the ethos of the redemption of the body.
The norm of the natural law, based on this ethos, finds not only a new
expression, but also a fuller anthropological and ethical foundation in
the word of the Gospel and in the purifying and corroborating action of the Holy
These are all reasons why every believer and especially every theologian should
reread and ever more deeply understand the moral doctrine of the encyclical in
this complete context. The reflections we have been making here for some time
constitute precisely an attempt at this rereading.