1. For today
we have chosen the theme of responsible parenthood in the light of Gaudiumet Spes and of Humanae Vitae. In treating of the subject, the
Council document limits itself to recalling the basic premises. However, the
papal document goes further, giving a more concrete content to these premises.
The Council text reads as follows: "When it is a question of harmonizing married
love with the responsible transmission of life, it is not enough to take only
the good intention and the evaluation of motives into account; the objective
criteria must be used, criteria drawn from the nature of the human person and
human action, criteria which respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and
human procreation in the context of true love; all this is possible only if the
virtue of married chastity is seriously practiced" (GS 51).
The Council adds: "In questions of birth regulation, the sons of the Church,
faithful to these principles, are forbidden to use methods disapproved of by the
teaching authority of the Church" (GS 51).
Ruled by conscience
2. Before the
passage quoted, the Council teaches that married couples "shall fulfill their
role with a sense of human and Christian responsibility, and the formation of
correct judgments through docile respect for God." (GS 50). This involves
"common reflection and effort; it also involves a consideration of their own
good and the good of their children, already born or yet to come, an ability to
read the signs of the times and of their own situation on the material and
spiritual level, and finally, an estimation of the good of the family, of
society and of the Church." (GS 50).
At this point words of particular importance follow, to determine with greater
precision the moral character of responsible parenthood. We read: "It is
the married couple themselves who must in the last analysis arrive at these
judgments before God" (GS 50).
And it continues: "Married people should realize that in their behaviour they
may not simply follow their own fancy but must be ruled by conscience—and
conscience ought to be conformed to the law of God in the light of the teaching
authority of the Church, which is the authentic interpreter of divine law. For
the divine law throws light on the meaning of married love, protects it and
leads it to truly human fulfilment" (GS 50).
3. The Council document, in limiting itself to recalling the necessary premises
for responsible parenthood, has set them out in a completely unambiguous
manner, clarifying the constitutive elements of such parenthood, that is,
the mature judgment of the personal conscience in relationship to the divine
law, authentically interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church.
True conjugal love
itself on the same premises, Humanae Vitae goes further and offers
concrete indications. This is seen, first of all, in the way of defining
responsible parenthood (cf. HV 10). Paul VI seeks to clarify this concept by
considering its various aspects and excluding beforehand its reduction to one of
the "partial aspects, as is done by those who speak exclusively of birth
control." From the very beginning, Paul VI is guided in his reasoning by an
integral concept of man (cf. HV 7) and of conjugal love (cf. HV 8, 9). Under different aspects
5. One can
speak of responsibility in the exercise of the function of parenthood under
different aspects. Thus he writes: "In relation to the biological processes
involved, responsible parenthood is to be understood as the knowledge and
observance of their specific functions. Human intelligence discovers in the
faculty of procreating life, the biological laws which involve human
personality" (HV 10). If, on the other hand, we examine "the innate drives and
emotions of man, responsible parenthood expresses the domination which reason
and will must exert over them" (HV 10).
Taking for granted the above-mentioned interpersonal aspects and adding to them
the "economic and social conditions," those are considered "to exercise
responsible parenthood who prudently and generously decide to have a large
family, or who, for serious reasons and with due respect to the moral law,
choose to have no more children for the time being or even for an indeterminate
period" (HV 10).
From this it follows that the concept of responsible parenthood contains the
disposition not merely to avoid a further birth but also to increase the family
in accordance with the criteria of prudence. In this light in which the question
of responsible parenthood must be examined and decided, there is always of
paramount importance "the objective moral order instituted by God, the order of
which a right conscience is the true interpreter" (HV 10).
6. The commitment to responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife,
"keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God,
themselves, their families and human society" (HV 10). One cannot therefore
speak of acting arbitrarily. On the contrary the married couple "must act in
conformity with God's creative intention" (HV 10). Beginning with this principle
the encyclical bases its reasoning on the "intimate structure of the conjugal
act" and on "the inseparable connection of the two significances of the conjugal
act" (cf. HV 12), as was already stated. The relative principle of conjugal
morality is, therefore, fidelity to the divine plan manifested in the "intimate
structure of the conjugal act" and in the "inseparable connection of the two
significances of the conjugal act."