ANALYSIS OF THE REACTIONS TO HUMANAE VITAE
A SYNTHESIS: QUESTIONS OF SPECIAL AND FUNDAMENTAL THEOLOGY
The purpose of this study has been to review the reactions to the encyclical HV on the part of the bishops and the church as a whole, particularly from the theological community. We have attempted to remain objective and present the wide scope of opinion in its own right while drawing attention along the way to some common theological principles as points of reference. Having exposed at least the general lines of the substance of that reaction, we must now face the question of its meaning. For the promulgation of this papal encyclical inaugurated a virtually unprecedented situation in the history of the church. Ordinarily there are “reactions” to every teaching of the papal magisterium. These often take the form of commentaries or seek to apply what is taught to the wider understanding of the lived faith of the church. But the phenomena which followed this encyclical were quite different. The reactions in this case were not concerned primarily with explanation and application. Rather, it was evident from the very beginning that there was disagreement on the substance of the teaching itself. Certainly we must admit to some degree of wholehearted acceptance of HV from some of those in the church. However, it is equally clear that many in the church, bishops, theologians and a large number of the faithful in general either did not accept the encyclical as a whole or significantly mitigated a good part of its moral teaching. While similar attitudes may have been present in the past with regard to some papal teaching, the HV event is noteworthy because it involved immediate and explicit expression of these opinions. The papal encyclical was neither received with silence nor passively allowed to join the history of forgotten documents without criticism. Assessing the situation of HV’s reception from the perspective of nearly ten years since its issue, it does not seem an exaggeration to say that the substance of its moral teaching was rejected by a number of competent commentators and that it holds little influence over the belief and practice of large segments of the faithful.
Although some of the negative reaction to HV was harsh and may have been irresponsible in terms of giving and inspiring respect for papal authority, a similar situation was present in some positive reaction (and criticism of dissent) which overstated the argument from authority and ignored the consideration of vital moral questions to the detriment of both genuine magisterial competence and the freedom and consciences of individual moral agents. But reviewing the majority of reactions to the encyclical reveals a balanced appreciation of the importance and complexity of the issues involved and a real attempt to confront the weighty questions which emerged in the course of discussion. This involved both moral and ecclesiological (authority) issues which were naturally highly influenced by the teachings of the recent Vatican Council and were still being incorporated into the self-understanding of the entire church. Partially because of the proximity of these two phenomena, the newly completed council and the promulgation of HV, the topics under discussion took on a wider dimension than might have occurred in a different historical setting. The questions raised in the reaction to the encyclical were not isolated to their relevance for this single papal teaching. Rather, they quickly evolved into an investigation of the more fundamental aspects of the entire controversy. The moral issues led to a greater appreciation of topics much broader than the specific question of regulating births and ultimately led to consideration of methodology in moral teaching and pastoral application. They also indicated the need for further research into the areas of personal conscience and the theology of marriage. The issues concerning authoritative, teaching were raised in the precipitous historical context N in which the work of the most recent Vatican Council complemented the legacy of its immediate predecessor in addressing the topic of (magisterial) authority in the church. Many of those issues are still being investigated and will not be resolved for years to come. But the occurrence of such a controversial papal teaching at this time served to focus attention on the subtle questions implied in a comparison of the two councils. Perhaps the HV event could even be said to have provided fertile and ultimately beneficial ground for confronting issues which may have taken many more years to surface. At least it did provide a locus for discussion of far ranging topics.
While the relation and inevitable comparison of Vatican II and HV were important factors in specifying the nature of the reactions to the encyclical, they were by no means the solitary ones. The issues raised in HV were, by their very nature, destined to broaden out into much wider topics of discussion. Morally, the simple statement of Pope Paul’s conclusions about the proper means for regulating births proved to be inadequate for resolving the controversy which had been going on for quite some time before the encyclical and the council. The fact that the statement itself chose only to enunciate conclusions with little or no reference either to the complex argument being carried on at the time or even to the foundations of its own teaching resulted rather predictably in a deeper assessment of the fundamental theologies which underlay both the teaching of the encyclical itself and the attitude that the official position on the topic should continue to evolve. This in turn led to a reconsideration of the issues connected with the entire controversy over birth control, especially the understanding of marriage and the general state of the church’s teaching on sexual morality. In respect to the questions of authority, the HV event in and of itself introduced the problem of conflict between official teaching and the lived experience of large numbers of the faithful. The fact that a significant proportion of Catholics did not, or could not, incorporate this teaching into their daily lives, quite naturally led to a consideration of the operative value of papal statements in the area of moral teaching. Rather than becoming an end in itself and being limited to questions of obedience, this phenomenon led to a more intense assessment of the role of magisterial authority in teaching practical moral norms. This involved both the practical questions of the right to dissent and the function of personal conscience and the more theoretical questions concerning the competence of the magisterium, the criterion for assessing authoritative statements and the role of reception in the process of evolving church teaching.
Thus, both morally and ecclesiologically, the scope of the reactions to HV quickly moved from specific issues to general ones, from the consideration of differences to an investigation of the fundamental issues underlying those differences. In order to appreciate those issues and to construct a frame of reference for drawing some conclusions about the case of HV and its reactions, we will attempt here to summarize our own understanding of the various topics which have been reviewed. The synthesis I propose is largely my own work, but it owes a great debt to the insights gained from the foregoing analysis of the different positions on each topic. We will generally follow the order of ideas which has recurred throughout the study of the reactions.
I. The moral issues
A. The question of regulating births
The specific moral teaching of HV on regulating births has already been exposed several times. It consists of a strict natural law approach which has been applied traditionally to virtually all of the church’s sexual morality. This is for the most part a philosophical form of reasoning borrowed by ancient christian writers from the Stoics and widely elaborated in the great treatises of the middle ages. The application of this approach to moral questions by theologians has been approved in the past by the magisterium and more recently been appropriated by the papal office itself in pronouncing moral judgments. In respect to the question at hand, it postulates a very distinct criterion for judging sexual behavior. The sexual faculty is considered to be, in and of itself (by its very nature), oriented primarily to procreation, though it is also recognized as a possible vehicle for expressing human emotion.(1) Since God is considered to be the intentional designer of the sexual faculty and the author of its intrinsic function, it is considered an offense against Him, the Creator, to interfere in any way with this “natural order of things.”(2)
Generally speaking, one could simply say that HV reaffirms the ultimate connection between the sexual faculty and procreation – what we have termed the argument of “intrinsic orientation.” But this is not saying enough, for the encyclical goes much further with this notion. It is alleged in HV that this principle is applicable to every single act of sexual encounter and completely objectively determines the moral licitness of every action connected with such activity. To that extent, two conclusions are implicitly present: every act involving the sexual faculty must be, according to its structure (male – female insemination), oriented to the pro-creative potential of human beings(3); and any act which seeks to interfere with this structure violates the natural order as it embodies the intention of God and hence is intrinsically dishonest.
On the basis of this reasoning, contraceptive acts, including direct sterilization, are considered evil in themselves. Because the encyclical makes no distinction between different kinds of evil, a fact which had been customary in the church’s official teaching on sexual morality, such acts are assumed to be immediately morally qualified, i.e., they are considered to be morally evil in themselves and thus illicit under any circumstances. Therefore, no motivation or alternate intention could be said to allow for any form of contraception, nor could any act which seeks to preclude procreation on a specific occasion be justified by an overall affirmation of the principle itself (totality).
The general character of this form of reasoning exhibits a very clear notion of its own presuppositions. We refer to the fundamental theology which serves as a basis for arriving at these propositions in application to the specific questions. First, the moral approach used in HV is act- centered. This is to say that it is assumed from the beginning that moral judgments can be made strictly from an analysis of what is done, the material act, without any reference to the intention of the agent or the circumstances of the act itself. The appeal of this type of approach lies in its assumed opportuneness for enunciating an objective morality.(4) In this sense, HV could be said to represent the “traditional teaching,” for there is a long history of this approach to sexual morality in Catholic theology even though that discipline has admitted other methodologies for different ethical questions. The search for objective criteria is an understandable concern on the part of the magisterium, but the choice of an act-centered morality is probably not the best one for a number of reasons. As was clear in the controversy over contraception, this approach fails to take account of both the nature of a moral situation, involving intention and circumstances, and the exercise of personal conscience. Further, it tends to fragment moral theology as a science by perpetuating an inconsistency in methodology. While questions of justice, for instance, are treated with broader criterion based upon the entire human person and community, the papal teaching on sexual morality considers factors of justice, responsibility and freedom of the moral agent to be virtually irrelevant. One should consider, for example, the consequences of applying an act-centered approach to questions of capital punishment or war, or even more radically to issues of social justice, interpersonal relations or simply the practice of virtue.
Secondly, the act-centered approach found in the encyclical is closely linked to the particular view of natural law which inspired the moral teaching of that document. While it is true that natural law reasoning has formed an important part of Catholic moral teaching throughout tradition, those responsible for the genesis of HV failed to note the continuous evolution of that concept and the pluriformity of interpretations it has received, especially in recent times. The encyclical’s own interpretation is a static one, closely tied to a simplified version of biological data. Despite the suggestion of those who claim a dynamic notion of natural law (or even a “personalistic” one) to be present here, it is clear that HV’s well defined notion of what is natural, and therefore licit, is mechanistic and impersonal. The propositions implied form a logical progression: God created human beings with a clear intention of the intrinsic function of their every act. The sexual faculty contains the clearly discernible function of procreation which takes precedence over every other use which can possibly be made of its characteristics. From an analysis of this function, one can discern an objective order of morality which defines a list of immutable priorities for ordering human bahavior. According to that order of things, the procreative function of human sexuality occupies a sacrosanct place, even when intercourse is known to be infertile. Thus, one has a primary duty to respect the procreative purpose of sexuality and insure that nothing is ever done to impair its symbolic presence.
This approach secondarily exhibits fundamental attitudes which are closer to the pre-christian origins of natural law thought than they are to Catholic theology. The identification of nature with the will of God is a Stoic notion which still has adherents among other, modern philosophies. Naturalism has always been part of some philosophical interpretation of reality and has not necessarily been religious in character, although when it does relate to a deity it is usually pantheistic. This is not to say that the inspiration of the moral teaching at hand is strictly naturalistic, but it does admit that such an approach is lacking something by failing to account for any religious, christian, incarnational view of the natural world. To stay that a moral order is explicitly definable simply from an analysis of natural data is, at least, minimalist and largely negative in character. It also forgets that nature in itself has been placed under the dominion of man so that he may order it according to human values and theological virtues. To say that man is the agent of God in carrying out His Providential Will in all of creation appears incompatible with the proposition that God’s will is already effectively elaborated in the impersonal order of nature.
Further, the strict interpretation of the natural order found here is uninformed by the progress of the objective data it purports to base itself upon. “Natural sexual behavior,” for instance, is not recognizable within the limits presupposed for it in the assumptions behind HV. Modern science has not only gone beyond the static view of a highly ordered universe but has verified observations which contradict some of the specific notions of what is natural that were formerly accepted. As examples: sexual behavior in humans (and higher animals) is not instinctive but learned; nature does not teach all animals that procreation is primary in sex, for even animals engage in non-procreative sexual activity, including masturbation; the sexual faculty has a plentitude of functions ranging from the biological contribution of hormonal balance for the whole body to the role played in personality integration; the psychological aspects of human sexuality are more fundamental to its meaning than its ability to achieve procreation, for sexuality plays an immensely important role in human behavior and relationships from the very beginning of life (infancy) through old age; finally, the actual characteristics of healthy, adult, community-building (i.e., serving the interpersonal relationships of marriage and the family) sexual behavior among normal, mature persons encompasses a wide range of activity, the majority of which is not even marginally connected with procreation.(5) In relation to the procreative purpose of sexual activity viewed in the isolated assessment of the act of intercourse itself, it has been recognized for some time that the vast majority of coital sex is not even remotely procreative. Only a very small number of random acts of intercourse throughout married life are potentially fertile, and yet one sees the encyclical claiming that nature itself dictates that every coitus is intrinsically oriented to procreation.
Also closely associated with the view of natural law found in HV is an implicit understanding of the human person. The attempt to establish an adequate moral order from the data of nature alone completely ignores the fact of human intentionality and the presence of values to be dealt with in moral decision making, not to mention the lack of a theological appreciation of nature ,as noted above. Nature in itself does not contain values, rather it operates on an impersonal level and tends only toward ecological balance. In respect to fertility and population control, nature has its own ways of dealing with these phenomena through death, disease, famine and violence. When confronted with these facts, man acts to intervene in nature and his intervention creates imbalance: the elimination of a high infant mortality rate, for instance, leads to overpopulation. Obviously, man has sought such ends because he has made value judgments concerning various natural facts. The values he brings to the situation are human (personalist) ones and his pursuit of those values takes precedence over the natural data he must deal with. But the construction of the moral argument found in the encyclical has taken a directly opposite approach: it first analyzes the natural order and then extracts value judgments from its observations. This is the result of making an unexplained, and unfounded, transition from the observation of data to the exposition of principles.(6) It is based either on the assumption that nature in and of itself contains values or on a very specific interpretation of the content of natural law that remains unarticulated and, because it offers no criterion for its own validity, can only be considered speculative.
Leaving aside for the present the magisterium’s claim to competence in interpreting the natural law, it should be noted that there are alternative ways of viewing that notion, some of which were present in the reactions to HV. These approaches take on many different forms but we can highlight at least a couple of their insights. At the very basis of the argument is the distinction between affirming a natural law and elaborating its content. As God created the nature of man, he transmitted his divine will, but to claim to fully understand that nature would be equivalent to fully knowing the intention of the Creator. Then, all of nature, including and especially human nature, is an evolving reality and not a static one. The evidence for this is abundant in scientific investigation, but it also has a theological basis in the distinction between the old and the new law in the scriptures. To this should be added the evolution of natural law interpretation throughout history, including the teachings of the magisterium. An examination of the past abuses of natural law rationalizations to justify existing ideologies should inspire a healthy skepticism in drawing concrete proscriptions from such an approach. The most recent, full magisterial teaching on the ground for moral reasoning, furthermore, found in Vatican II, has even abandoned the term natural law in favor of the more dynamic concept of “human experience.”
A third presupposition of the reasoning found in HV is the notion that moral evil can be determined strictly on the basis of defining acts which prescind the human context. The designation of artificial contraception as intrinsece inhonestum has been shown to imply an equivalence with the moral judgment of the act (HV,14) which is reinforced by the explicit statement that such acts are always illicit (HV,16). In short, contraception is considered not simply disordered or deficient but actually morally evil, in and of itself. This is reminiscent of the traditional notion that certain things are “intrinsically evil” and can therefore never be justified as free choices of moral behavior. However, it does not take cognizance of the examination of that concept in moral theology and the need to interpret the predication of “intrinsic evil” with respect to exactly what is being affirmed. At least two difficulties can be seen in the use of the encyclical’s propositions with respect to the evil nature of artificial contraception, one semantic and one more theological.
The semantic difficulty is directly related to the type of action which has, in the past been designated intrinsically evil. These acts, e.g., blasphemy, adultery, murder, lying, etc., had very broad meanings that incorporated into their very definitions a determination of the moral data necessary for making a judgment upon what was done. To speak of murder, for instance, already implies not only what is done (killing) but also the circumstances of the act (it is unjustified, unproportionate) and the intention of the perpetrator (one is fully aware that he is taking the life of another which he has no right to do). Thus “murder” is more than a descriptive term, it contains enough data to warrant the ability to speak of it as a morally qualified action. HV speaks of contraception as if it were such a term whereas many reactions point out that this should certainly not be the case. This is most clearly found in the arguments which introduce the importance of motivation into the moral discourse. Admittedly, the attempt to (rightfully) point out that there was little difference between periodic continence practiced for selfish reasons and contraception aimed at the same end, while making up for a great lacuna in HV’s own reasoning, may have been off the point in judging the ground for the encyclical’s condemnation for the latter. Yet the same form of argument underscores the fact that to speak of contraception in itself was to use a term not yet morally qualified. Those who shared this opinion considered intention and circumstances to be still part of the overall evaluation of the act before a moral judgment could be made.(7)
The theological difficulty present in the designation of a material act as morally evil is the absence of any appreciation for different kinds of evil. The tradition of moral theology has clearly distinguished between various forms of evil in acts of nature, acts of man and human acts that admits of a considerable amount of complexity and demands an equivalent level of nuance. Rather than elaborating a treatise on evil at this point, it would appear sufficient to point out that a case such as that of contraception in which a given value is sacrificed (be it the integrity of the sexual act or procreation itself) in order to pursue a more important value(8) is normally considered to be a morally justifiable procedure. If, once again, one would reduce the situation simply to the consideration of the act itself without any reference to the pursuit of value (conflict of duties), one could still appeal to the fact that the judgment of a material act could at best render an evaluation of a pre-moral situation. Contraception may in itself be a pre-moral disvalue, but such a designation would not preclude its choice once the complexity of the total moral situation is confronted.
There is, in the current literature, a debate concerning whether acts of contraception should be classified as pre-morally evil or simply indifferent. The former is based upon either the idea that interference in the structure of intimate conjugal relations impairs the realization of some potential good and limits the totality of the expression of conjugal love or the argument that if contraception were practiced indiscriminately it would endanger the propagation of the human species. The latter position considers the human intervention in “natural acts” to be insufficient grounds for making any moral judgment on the matter and restricts the appropriation of the terms good and evil to a more strictly moral frame of reference, involving intention and circumstances. Both these positions have merit and reflect a much wider discussion being carried on in fundamental moral theology. But to apply the reasoning to the issue of contraception it may be helpful to remember that there is an entire spectrum of possible activities being considered.
HV explicitly prohibits anything which intentionally seeks to exclude the possibility of procreation from the act of sexual intercourse. In doing so, it combines many different types of actions which, even in an. act-centered approach, should probably have been considered differently . The use of physical barriers (e.g., diaphram), for instance, is very different from internal devices such as an I.U.D. (which may be abortificient) or the chemical use of anovulants (which may have other side effects). Yet all these things are univocally condemned because they are seen as counter to the nature of the sexual faculty drawn from an analysis of the physiological process. In the terms which we have used to expose that argument, we may say that each of these possibilities frustrates the intrinsic orientation of conjugal sexual relations to procreation.
However, let us consider a comparison between the often neglected categories of permanent and temporary sterilization. We can define these to include in the first instance medical intervention which would render a person completely infertile and in the second those things which exclude procreation only from a given act or for a temporary period of time. Contraception as such could be considered a form of temporary sterilization as long as it does not interfere with an already fertilized ovum. If we prescind from the particular natural law approach (of the encyclical) that deals merely with the interference in the structure of the process of coitus, we can now evaluate these categories on the grounds of their relation to the value of procreation (intrinsic orientation). It is clear that permanent sterilization is a radical procedure which definitively excludes any possible realization of the procreative meaning of coitus. In terms of the values present in the human situation it can be said that such a procedure effectively denies a potential good and constitutes a (pre-moral) disvalue. It therefore stands in need of a proportionate justification in relation to the entirety of the moral evaluation. Such a situation may be envisioned when a pregnancy would threaten the life of the mother and the conscious choice of a disvalue (permanent sterilization) would be outweighed by the values to be protected (life of the mother, good of the family, stability of the conjugal relationship).
On the other hand, the choice of temporary sterilization is far less radical and need not involve the actual denial of the good of procreation. Rather, the perpetration of an individual act which renders coitus infertile depends for its evaluation upon the intention and circumstances surrounding that act. This demands a much broader consideration than the act-centered approach and relates more concretely to an ethics of responsibility. If one takes as a norm for ordering conjugal relations the notion of responsible parenthood, it is conceivable to understand the choice of temporary sterilization (contraception) to be in service to the whole of the conjugal-familial-social communities. The act itself does not constitute a disvalue but rather an attempt to deal morally with a less than perfect situation. In such a case, individual acts of contraception may not be justifiable as good in themselves, but neither should they be considered pre-morally evil; for instead of denying a value or effectively ruling out a good, they simply sacrifice the concrete realization of one possible good for the sake of another, equal or greater good. Thus, their justification also takes place on the level of the principle of proportionality but on a much less radical scale than that of permanent sterilization.
In this manner of approach, it seems to us that most forms of contraception (temporary sterilization) should be considered as indifferent, unless of course they involve some other factor such as the possible side effects of anovulent drugs. They are indifferent as material acts and take their meaning only from the entirety of the human situation. Insofar as contraception may involve the suspension of a good, be it procreation or the fullness of sexual relations, it could be seen as necessary in order to act responsibly within a basically limited human situation. In responding to the human condition we are often forced to act in a less than ideal way. In doing so, we are not so much choosing the sacrifice of a good as we are seeking to deal with our created limitation. Some arguments found in the reactions to HV appear to carry this same idea. The conflict of duties, lesser of two evils and “ideal” teaching arguments all address the problem faced by persons who must deal with the concrete realities of human existence. Similarly, the importance of motivation and the responsibilities of conscience are commentaries on the importance of considering the whole moral situation before the material acts chosen as means can be evaluated. In such a scheme it is irrelevant to be concerned with whether contraception could ever be justified as a good in itself. The same reasoning would have to say the same thing about the practice of periodic continence. Rather, all these practices simply constitute a matter of personal choice in conscience – a choice which, viewed in terms of the totality of the moral decision may indeed be considered as good.
A fourth element of HV’s fundamental orientation can be seen in its interpretation of more general moral reasoning. This includes the rejection, in para. 14, of arguments put forth to allow the use of contraception in some circumstances and consists in an interpretation of the principles of double effect and of totality. The first has been largely dealt with above, for when the encyclical rejects the lesser evil argument it bases itself upon the assumption that contraception is morally evil in itself. According to the classic principle, an evil can never be done so that a good can come about, nor can the act performed be evil in itself. The application of these principles to the issue of artificially regulating births takes no account of the nuances necessary for classifying the nature of the acts perpetrated. It also conveniently ignores the lack of proportion which has frequently been the result of applying the principle of double effect too academically.(9) The reasoning here seems related, again, to an overriding concern to establish objective criteria for moral decision making, but it suffers from a lack of appreciation of the nature of moral decisions by failing to go beyond a consideration of the act alone.
The rejection of the argument from totality is more complicated because, as we have seen, there are a number of ways to define what is being considered. The more traditional argument of totality which Pope Paul attributes to the teachings of Pope Pius XII (cf., HV,15, n.19; and 17, n.21) was definable in strictly physical terms and was at a definite disadvantage when attempting to define exactly what was being done. It is too simple to say that the good of the whole organism (totality) could be used to justify intervention or the manipulation of one of its parts, for this is applicable only to a small minority of cases which could be raised in medical ethics. Consequently, even Pius XII’s reasoning was applied increasingly broadly to include the good of the whole person – physically, psychologically and spiritually – and the advance of modern medicine, eventually led to situations in which the principle of totality had to give way to different forms of argumentation to deal with, e.g., surgical intervention. The most obvious case is that of the donation of a healthy organ for transplantation. This relatively new possibility has led to a re-examination of the notion of “mutilation” in the church’s moral teaching which is an admirable example of the ability of christian morality to adapt to changing circumstances. But it is unfortunate that the fundamental ideas which have allowed for this adaptation (a re-definition of the act – what is being done – in itself, a more nuanced appreciation of non-moral evil, and the use of christian virtues – here the principle of charity – taking precedence over a casuistic evaluation of objective acts) have not been applied to other moral questions by the magisterium.
It has already been pointed out in relation to the reactions to HV that the broader understanding of the classic principle of totality (starting with the good of the whole person instead of physical integrity) might have been applied to include some questions of sexual morality. However, this approach was completely rejected by the encyclical which re-affirmed the narrow definition to include only the question of man’s rights over his physical organism. The identification of the principle of totality with the teaching of Pius XII may also have been responsible for Pope Paul’s rejection of the different formulation of a totality argument put forth by the Commission to justify the use of contraception in marriage which was basically fecund. The argument as it stands in the Final Report of the Commission took as its starting point a broad understanding of the notion that conjugal sexual relations were intrinsically oriented to procreation. This was affirmed in principle but was denied applicability to the single act of sexual encounter on the basis of the observation that the normal situation itself does not include a procreative end in every act of coitus and the assumption that the physical act itself was not an inviolable entity. The encyclical rejects this position principally because it did consider that the physical act (coitus) was beyond human intervention. But its misunderstanding of the thrust of the Commission’s recommendations as a whole led to a fundamental inconsistency in the construction of its own argumentation with respect to periodic continence.
HV,16 explicitly admits the licitness of a positive intention to avoid procreation. The only way in which this can be accomplished, however, is by abstention from potentially fertile intercourse. Furthermore, this decision may only be taken if there are serious reasons for doing so. This important qualification implies a form of reasoning which is very similar to that put forth as the general affirmation of the procreative meaning of conjugal sexual relations in principle which was the foundation of the Commission’s argument (totality). In other words, the presuppositions which form the starting points of these two approaches are basically the same: the principle of intrinsic orientation is a general one, not directly applicable to every individual act. As such, the author of HV should have had a greater appreciation for the value of such an interpretation which, at its core, is indispensible for the admission of its own view of the meaning of sexual relations. Unfortunately, it seems that the substance of this reasoning was not understood and that Pope Paul believed the caricature of this argument which was found in other sources such as the Minority Working Paper of the Commission (cf., II, B, 5, b and III, A, 1, a-d) that warned of the totality argument being abused to justify all sorts of activity.
Still more important in considering the fundamental reasoning of HV is the limitation it places upon the pursuit of a non-procreative intention. To read the text of the encyclical is to be left with the impression that simply avoiding fertile intercourse is nothing other- than a case of omission.(10) We have seen that this approach is specifically different from that which we have designated by the use of the term rhythm: the former is negative and simply omits the fulfilment of possible procreation, whereas the latter is a positively constructed program of insuring the avoidance of fertilization. It may be possible from a theoretical point of view to claim that there is no essential difference between the two. But that attitude would have to ignore the real, albeit subtle, character of the implications of the fundamental intention present in each. Once the decision has been made to avoid conception, it may seem at first purely natural to simply avoid fertile intercourse. However, this goal cannot be achieved without some specific, intentional calculation of what may and may not be fertile periods. Such calculations may be easy for some couples, but for others it involves a complicated process of charts, temperature taking, etc., that can evolve into a project of sizeable proportions. It may seem slightly ridiculous to some to claim that practicing periodic continence is simply a case of abstaining from fertile intercourse when the steps taken to achieve that goal are so involved. It will occur to others that what is really taking place here is not just a simple case of following nature but a concerted effort to manipulate nature, and that the goal of one’s activity is not the omission of possible procreation but the active pursuit of sterile sexual relations. In this admission lies the realization of the difference between periodic continence and rhythm. By pursuing an active program of using rhythm, one not only embraces the non-pro- creative (contraceptive) intention but, whether aware of it or not, one also affirms that intercourse is a value pursued in a context that simultaneously rejects the procreative meaning it supposedly demands.
By analyzing the practice of rhythm as it is pursued with increasing medical sophistication, one may wish to say that the intention of the project holds only an operative and apparent denial of the procreative end of sexual relations while the theoretical evaluation of periodic continence still maintains the presence of that end even though coitus is foreseen to be infertile (HV,11). But I suggest that this attitude is nothing more than a mental construct built upon the particular use of language present in the encyclical’s failure to be specific in what it teaches. It seems undeniable that the logical result of the admission, as licit, of the non- procreative intention in the practice of sexual relations as officially recognized by Pius XII leads to a de facto recognition of the separation of the ends of the act of intercourse. This has been the opinion of numerous commentators and was reflected in the teaching of the bishops in Vatican II (GS, 47-52) as well as in their reactions to HV. But that conclusion has not been admitted by Pope Paul VI and his encyclical on the matter attempted to deny that separation. In the course of doing so, HV confused the “pro- creative meaning of the marriage act” with the completion of the form of that act (insemination) thereby perpetrating what was in the observation of some a logical contradiction. How can an act known to be sterile have a procreative meaning? The only way to account for such an assertion is to realize that the fundamental presuppositions behind HV are, as some have said, based upon a biological norm.(11) It is not procreation which is intrinsic to the meaning of the sexual act but the physiological process which may or may not result in procreation. The encyclical itself admits that conjugal relations may in fact be perfectly licit even if the pro- creative end is never concretely achieved, so long as nothing is positively done to alter the form of that act. While that position may have been perfectly logical to Pope Paul and from our analysis appears to be an intrinsic part of his fundamental starting point, it is curious that the official teaching of the papal magisterium was not more explicit in naming the real core of its argument, namely, that the sole criterion for all the papal teaching on sexual morality is simply the achievement of “natural,” complete, heterosexual intercourse between married persons. The reason why this norm was not made explicit seems obvious if one were to consider the response it would have received. The meaning and implication of the norm, however, is again related back to the fundamental perspective of the papal teaching.
B. The whole of sexual morality
The argument from “evil consequences” found in HV,17 first strikes one as incongruous in an exegesis of that document because it seems to deal with an impossible situation: if all the arguments provided real proof that contraception could not be admitted, why consider the results of changing the papal position? But a more subtle examination of the fundamental ideas which inspired the teaching of the encyclical reveal that this argument played an important role in the final decision of Pope Paul on the matter.
It was noted in a number of reactions to HV that however one might wish to settle the matter of regulating birth within the context of the conjugal relationship, the principles used to determine the moral argument would have inevitable consequences for the rest of sexual morality. If, for instance, one sanctioned the separation of the ends of sexual intercourse and admitted that partners could engage in non-procreative relations, what criteria could be used to judge such things as non-coital sex, non-marital relations, masturbation and even homosexuality? The presupposition, of course, is that all these things are wrong, but the form of argumentation was backwards: they were thought to be wrong but still needed a reason to prove their immorality. Such an approach was actually employed by some commentators, but its recognition of a troubled situation also acknowledges the fact that, the spontaneous evaluation of sexual activity other than complete heterosexual intercourse between married partners is anything but universal. The solution chosen in the encyclical leads to an unfortunate closing-in of the argument upon itself, for it implies the primary role of an act-centered and biological approach to sexual morality.
It might be offered that what Pope Paul was trying to do in HV was not so much restate traditional teaching as re-affirm the values which were present in that historical approach. Among those values is the basic good of procreation, but as we will show in the following section this was perhaps too hastily attributed to the evaluation of sexual relations rather than to marriage as a whole. More relevant here is the identification of the end of procreation with the rationale behind sexual behavior per se.
The model of fundamental morality which the early church adopted to treat questions of sexual morality considered the engagement of such intimacies to need justification. The norm which was widely accepted was propter solam procreationem, and even in marriage it was still considered evil if one sought pleasure from thp marriage act rather than an eventual issue from the union. The convenience of this model was that it served a dual purpose: not only did it offer a justification for conjugal intimacy but it also provided a basis for condemning every other kind of sexual activity. Not until the present century was it admitted in official teaching that anything which was not ultimately oriented to procreation could be allowed even in marital relations, and even then the shift of the criterion from the intention to procreate to the form of the act (insemination possibly open to fertilization) maintained that the procreative end was still symbolically present: acts must remain open to the transmission of life.
It is evident that the norm proposed in HV is the same as that employed by Pope Paul’s predecessors to handle all questions of sexual morality. It is equally clear that the same norm is still being employed by the Vatican in its quasi-official teachings.(12) The choice of this manner of approach, furthermore, has not been the result of any ignorance of alternative possibilities. For HV,5 itself admits the consideration of other criteria as proposed by the work of the Commission. What is curious about the rejection of the recommendations of that pontifically sponsored body is that the primary reason given (praesertim) is that the suggestions offered “departed from the moral teaching on marriage constantly proposed by the Magisterium of the Church” (HV,6). This, as we shall note later, does not seem to give serious attention to the teachings of the bishops in Vatican II and implies an identification of magisterial competence with papal teaching alone.
We noted in our review of the reactions to HV that the criticism of the Final Report of the Commission was something of an overreaction and was not always fair to the nature of that group’s project. The question posed for investigation was the proper means of regulating birth in the context of marriage. The method of treating this question, chosen by the majority of the members, was to begin with the concept of responsible parenthood, an approach which both reflected the teaching of GS, 47-52 on the matter and pre-defined the area of consideration. That approach was to a large extent unprejudiced by presuppositions about the sexual relations between married persons because the understanding of responsible parenthood deals with the whole of conjugal life and not the isolated question of sex. Following the exposition of the subject in GS, it is affirmed that one characteristic of conjugal love is its orientation to procreation, an idea which can be applied in a general way to the whole of the relationship. As such, when the basic fecundity of that relationship is accepted, the question then becomes situated in an ethics of responsibility and is concerned not so much with the means of acting but the end to be aimed for in living out the vocation of married life. When the question of means is finally reached, the criterion applied is, again reflecting the teaching of GS, the nature of the person and his acts. The conclusion is drawn that the choice of means is the responsibility of the couple themselves and represents a decision of conscience which should consider the objective standards present in the nature of persons and their relationships.
When it is argued by critics that the so-called objective criteria suggested by the Commission are not objective at all but fail to provide a norm for judging sexual activity in itself, it becomes clear that the type of development offered by that body was completely misunderstood. Those who found this form of argumentation unacceptable were disappointed by the lack of a provision for a clear, universally applicable, deontological norm that could be used for the whole of sexual morality. This would be the type of norm found in “the constant teaching of the church” and insofar as the Commission departed from that teaching, Pope Paul found himself unable to accept its recommendations. In all justice to the papal decision, it appears that Paul VI gave these arguments serious consideration and, judging from the tone of his subsequent encyclical, allowed them to influence his affirmation of the concept of responsible parenthood. But the two years which elapsed between the Final Report and HV saw the influence of other advisors who held quite a different point of view. In the final analysis, it was not the arguments which stood or fell on their own merit but their relationship with the teachings of Popes Pius XI and XII, namely, the reliance upon a single deontological norm for judging every conceivable question of sexual morality. Because the Commission did not provide such a deontological norm, it was assumed that the acceptance of its justification for permitting contraception would cut loose the rest of sexual morality to flounder upon the sea of moral relativity.
It is for this reason that a new situation exists in the post-HV discussion. The question facing moral theologians is not the isolated consideration of regulating births but the entire foundation of sexual ethics. It is no longer a discussion of special morality, if indeed it ever was, but a question of fundamental, methodological problems and the grounding of basic moral propositions. These questions involve not only specifically moral issues but ecclesiological ones as well, for they must account for a real or apparent change in the official teaching while preserving the integrity of magisterial authority. This task facing moral theology is a formidable one and we could not hope to resolve it here. However, we might offer a few insights gained from the controversy over HV that may help point to a direction for situating the moral question.
It should first be recognized that the proposal for different criteria to deal with the question of regulating births, as well as the whole of sexual morality, is not based upon an innovative spirit that simply ignores the constant teaching of the church. It should be abundantly clear that the historical norms have been time and again re-considered, but the fact is that they have been tried and found wanting. The use of a single, de- ontological norm, based upon a strongly biological view of nature and limited to the perspective of judging isolated acts in themselves is inadequate for dealing with questions of human sexuality, a phenomenon so complex and personally, socially and culturally diversified that it defies categorization into a one-dimensional perspective. Perhaps the issue of regulating conception is the best example of this fact because it should be immediately apparent that one must deal with questions of justice, temperance, fortitude and above all prudence in considering the situation of the individual, the conjugal relationship, the family and society, and determining a course of action which can serve all these responsibilities in the fairest way possible. To judge a single act in this case without considering the legitimate needs, desires and responsibilities of all those involved may be adequate for an abstract model of moral reasoning, but it ignores what most theologians and pastoral ministers recognize to be the primary data of moral judgment, namely, the entirety of the situation. Further, to argue that one’s primary responsibility is to God in this case and that the performance of a single act (contraception) constitutes a violation of His creative intention (natural law) and is therefore prohibited (intrinsically evil) is to drastically limit the law of God to the same single dimension. Fortunately, most contemporary moral theology begins with a wider perspective than the analysis of the material acts and very often attempts to establish a positive basis for moral thinking (virtue) rather than a negative one (law).
Another consideration which should be taken into account before a revaluation can be performed is the nature of the reaction to this encyclical. It has been shown that the majority of episcopal and theological response to HV substantially agrees with the general principles which are affirmed in that teaching. These include not only the restatement of many conciliar ideas, found in Part I of HV, about the integrity of the human person and the nature of marriage, but also some of the basic affirmations which underlie the specific moral teaching, such as the good of procreation and the basic connection between conjugal love and fecundity in principle (also found in GS). The objects of agreement here share an important characteristic: they are general, fundamental norms which relate to the principles of moral life. In contrast, most disagreement over the teaching takes place in respect to the concrete, material norms: the specific behavioral dictates which function on the level of acts which are performed, often without consideration of the human context of moral decision and action. This distinction seems to be a very appropriate one, for it is also helpful to explain the evolution of official teaching. Whereas the fundamental affirmations of moral principles correlate positively with continuity in the church’s tradition, the more specific, concrete norms exhibit a changeable character and are in a continual state of evolution.(13)
Finally, before a unified and viable sexual morality can be reconstructed one must absolutely take into account the experience of those who are daily engaged in living out that morality. The experience of married couples, for instance, is essential in evaluating the meaning of questions related to conjugal love and family life. When HV,17 asserted that the use of contraception would open the door to conjugal infidelity and lead to a lack of respect for women, it directly contradicted the lived experience of christian couples who have been using such methods and found them to be beneficial to their married life. While moral theology can never be reduced to pragmatism and a rationalization for already existing situations, a healthy recognition of the data of experience may help prevent it from making totally abstract statements which, though possibly true in some symbolic or poetic way, have no basis in reality.(14)
C. The theology of marriage
The argumentation developed in HV purports to base itself on a view of marriage and conjugal love which leads to a consideration of the proper means for regulating births in that context. However, it has been noted that what begins as a general outlook on marriage quickly transforms into an analysis of the marriage act alone in the specific moral teaching of the encyclical. Whereas most of the teaching up to para. 9 speaks of the entire reality of marriage, the beginning of the encyclical’s own reasoning in para. 10 reverts back to the pre-conciliar idea of analyzing “the nature of marriage and its acts” and maintains this perspective up to and including the judgment upon artificial contraception. Even when HV,12 offers its principle justification for the moral reasoning used in its method, “the indissoluble connection willed by God between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning,” it applies this criterion not to marriage as a whole or, as GS had done, to the nature of conjugal love, but rather to the marriage act. This narrowing in on one aspect of a fully human reality precluded any consideration of the richer context of the entire marital relationship. Starting from the point of view of the sexual dimension, HV was able to posit the values of conjugal love to be union and procreation alone. This led to an absence of the real picture of the human context in which other values, coming from other sources such as the demands of an already existing family, were just as pressingly relevant and may have entered into conflict with the things which were understood as isolated. Further, because of the one-dimensional perspective of analyzing the biological act of intercourse, even the affirmation of a traditional learning – the good of procreation – was set forth in a deficient way. For the church has always taught that one of the ends of marriage was the procreation and education of offspring. Admittedly, the duty to bring up children is not an inherent aspect of the act of coitus, but it’s vital connection with the nature of marriage illustrates that HV had lost a proper perspective in dealing with the subject of conjugal relations. Perhaps because of an over- concern with the rest of sexual morality, the author at least temporarily forgot the context of his own statement and declined an opportunity to speak to the real problems of married couples.
Our analysis of the reactions to the moral teaching of HV has also led to the observation that at every step along the progression of its reasoning, the tradition called forth to inspire its teaching is not the theology of marriage but the natural law. Those who sought to defend the encyclical often pointed to the statement made by Pope Paul himself (31 July 1968) that HV did not attempt to elaborate a full understanding of marriage, which he said remained the task of work yet to be done, but only addressed one aspect of that reality. In response to this, one might ask first about the status of the church’s traditional teaching on marriage and then about the more recent teaching of Vatican II on that topic. Many theologians and especially a great number of bishops took the chapter on marriage in GS to be fundamental to any understanding of the discussion. While some of those commentaries attempted to show a connection between the two documents, many were aware of some basic incompatibilities on the fundamental notions of marriage; one being based almost entirely on natural law and the other on a much more theological outlook.
Perhaps the greatest unarticulated problem in appreciating these two documents and the relation between them is their implicit understanding of the traditional notion of the ends of marriage. GS scrupulously avoids even mentioning the idea of primary and secondary ends and, as was very clear from both official and later theological commentaries, conceived the meanings of conjugal love to be equal. Children are said to be “an excellent gift” (praestantissimum donum) of marriage and not its (primary) end (GS,50), while the experience of conjugal love is “uniquely expressed and perfected through the marital act” (GS,49). In contrast to this, it appears that in a subtle but nonetheless detectable way, HV reinstates the doctrine of the primary and secondary ends of marriage. Couples are said to tend toward communion and personal perfection so that they may collaborate in procreation (HV,8); the conjugal act, while uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for raising up new life (HV,12); and the sexual faculty by its very nature is oriented to the propagation of human life (HV,13: this last passage omits any reference to the unitive meaning). This idea is also reflected in the operative meaning of the “order of priorities” (HV,10) applied to the question of sexual relations. One may never, even in the presence of “serious reasons,” frustrate the procreative meaning of intercourse, whereas its value as an expression of love is, in the perspective of the encyclical, easily suspended when conception should be avoided (because of the imperative of following one interpretation of natural law).
The overall understanding of marriage in HV clearly pre-dates the work of the fathers of Vatican II and the modern contributions to the theology of marriage made since the inception of the conciliar process. Not only is the idea of primary and secondary ends inferred in the teaching but there is also a tendency to describe marriage as a univocally understood institution, explicitly designed by God and inscribed in the natural law. Such an approach conveniently escapes the continuing attempt to reach a viable definition of the sacrament of marriage in theology and canon law(15) and ignores the valuable insights of GS on the matter. Turning once again to the conciliar document we observe an orientation to marriage which is at once unified and pluralistic. The institution is described as a “covenant or irrevocable personal consent” (foedere coniugii seu irrevocabili consensu) based upon a fully human relationship and created by God who intended a resemblance to His own covenant with His people (GS,48). But it is also recognized that married love “manifests itself in a variety of ways depending on the worthy customs of various peoples and times” (GS,49). Thus while one may speak of a single theology of the sacrament, they must also acknowledge that the historical and multicultural experience of mankind has manifest the reality in many different, concrete ways. Even within the generally developed Western outlook which inspired this approach one can find not only differing lived experiences of marriage but even various theories which at first appear conflicting. To speak juridically one might wish to conceive of a mutual contract in a legal sense, while to explain the sacrament pastorally most ministers inspire the ideals of a love-commitment. In fact, one should realize that it is basically the same thing being affirmed in both cases and that the reality is far richer than the abstraction.
The implicit view of marriage found in HV is, like the rest of its moral development, based largely upon a framework of natural law thinking. The analysis of the “nature of marriage and its acts” is abstract and philosophical rather than concrete and experiential. This approach seems out of touch with the contemporary theology of marriage and its application in HV has demonstrated its inability to deal with the reality which other approaches have sought to understand as more than the institutional meaning of that sacrament. While the encyclical itself pays some tribute to the insights of GS, it has refused to take them seriously and apply them to its moral evaluation. It considers the physical, economic, psychological and social conditions affecting responsible parenthood (HV,10) but then removes them from the moral appreciation of regulating births and settles for a biological norm – itself labelled a “partial perspective” in the earlier part of the encyclical (HV,7). The motive behind this type of reasoning again seems related to the search for some universal norm to direct the whole of sexual morality. Unfortunately, the apparent assumption of this larger goal served only to disperse the nature of the question being addressed.
II The authority issues
In assessing the reception of HV in the church, as well as among all men of good will, we encounter a virtually unprecedented situation in recent church history. In many concrete ways, it is not unfounded to say that much of the moral teaching put forth in the encyclical met with substantial resistance and was even rejected outright. We must now ask what significance the reaction to this papal teaching may have for evaluating its place in the general teaching of the church. We will comment upon the results of our foregoing analysis by considering three topics: the location of the encyclical in the whole teaching of the church (tradition), the ecclesiological question of competence in moral teaching, and the relevance this papal teaching holds for the exercise of conscience.
A. Situating the place of HV
Pope Paul VI makes the explicit claim in HV that his conclusions are based upon “the constant teaching of the church.” Whether he means by this, as we have shown to be possibilities, the teaching on marriage or that on natural law is, at this point, irrelevant, for the two categories have been virtually fused into one presentation. Unfortunately, neither of those traditions had been fully explained in the encyclical, nor does it seem that either had been critically appraised before specific parts were chosen to deal with the question of regulating births. The result of this method led to an extremely unnuanced representation of the traditional teaching of the church and an almost total lack of appreciation for the state of evolution that the moral teaching on marriage had undergone in recent times. HV also failed to point out that some of its fundamental ideas were based upon the papal sanctions of relatively innovative concepts which have come to form a major part of the church’s evaluation of the conjugal relationship.
The reactions which were given to the encyclical highlighted the weakness of the argument from tradition to defend the material norm set forth in that document to govern conjugal sexual activity. Despite the assertions of some of Its defenders, the strict condemnation of contraception per se cannot be said to be part of the constant teaching of the church. It would be more accurate to say that up until the last century, and in official teaching up until the time of Pope Pius XI, the position of the church had been that no engagement in sexual relations was licit other than that which remained actually open to procreation. In the strictest tradition, this excluded intercourse during pregnancy and the times that were thought to be infertile. While some theologians admitted coitus with sterile persons or after menopause, this was justified by the notion that no such situation could be considered to be absolute (an act of God could still permit life to be raised up), nor was the licitness of it universally accepted.
As scientific knowledge progressed and it became possible to calculate a period of sterility, theology had to face a very real problem: was it licit to engage in intercourse known to be infertile? The answer to this was increasingly felt to be in the affirmative and CC articulated that reply in an official way. But at the same time, in order to protect the whole of sexual morality and react to the Anglican position at Lambeth, Pius XI employed a more specific formulation of the traditional norm: that every act of intercourse had to remain “open to the transmission of life.” Because the acts spoken of here were acknowledged not to be generative in themselves, this placed a great deal of weight on the performance of the biological act of insemination through intercourse. Although it is clear that this pope gave a positive valuation to infertile coitus, he maintained the need for an at least symbolic presence of the procreative end. This teaching represented the papal sanction of an innovative concept: the form of the act was now considered to be primary and the concrete end of procreation did not have to be sought in the act of intercourse. It also initiated a basic ambiguity in the norm used because it simultaneously demanded an “openness to life” while recognizing that the actual possibility of procreation was unnecessary.
A further innovation took place twenty years later which had an even greater impact on the traditional teaching. It was questioned whether if infertile intercourse was permitted as a means of expressing conjugal love, could one specifically avoid the fertile period and engage exclusively in sterile coitus as a means of limiting the number of births? The growing acceptance of this possibility was officially sanctioned by Pope Pius XII (1951) as what had come to be known as the practice of periodic continence. In principle, this pope accepted the exclusion, for serious reasons, of procreative intercourse. But at the same time, he insisted that nothing could be done to actively bring about this situation other than the calculation of the fertile period. In doing so, he reiterated the norm of Pius XI that every act of intercourse must remain “open to the transmission of life.” At this point, however, the application of that ambiguous norm, relying as it did on a strictly biological function (insemination) which had now been officially recognized to have no real connection with its symbolic meaning (fertilization-procreation), became strained to the breaking point.
It is at this point in history that the theology of HV is best situated. ‘ The moral teaching of the encyclical accepts and restates the positions of Popes Pius XI and XII on the matter of conjugal morality and the scope of references given in that document testifies to the historical fact that this teaching of the magisterium was relatively new. The acceptance of the form of intercourse rather than the concrete connection with procreation represented a departure from the previous teaching of the church. It is therefore first necessary to ask in what sense one may speak of the constant or traditional teaching before evaluating the place of HV in that category.
It is undeniable that throughout history, and especially in modern times, the teaching of the church on conjugal morality has undergone real, concrete change. Part of that teaching, on the licitness of conjugal sexual relations, has also evolved in a very real sense. From the strictest criterion, propter solam procreationem, the church expounded its understanding to include the good of the relationship (rendering the marital debt, a remedy for concupiscence and eventually the expression of conjugal love) as a justification for marital intercourse. By the time of Pius XII, the meaning of intimate conjugal relations as an expression of the marital union was considered sufficient to justify their engagement, while the pro^ creative meaning of the same had been reduced to a symbolic presence by maintaining the integrity of the physical act. The official acceptance of the practice of periodic continence advanced this evolution by sanctioning the licitness of the express decision to completely exclude procreation as a real possibility, what can now be referred to as the contraceptive intention.(16) But it also complicated the matter by implicitly recognizing that the integrity of the act had been reduced to a purely biological norm, maintaining no concrete relation with a procreative end of intercourse in the real order. Hence the observation that the teaching of Pope Pius XII on the matter resulted in a de facto separation of the ends of intercourse.
To ask whether the teaching of the church in these areas is traditional or represents a “constant teaching” may at first seem somewhat forced. However, upon closer examination one should realize that there are a number of things being spoken of here. Recalling the distinctions made earlier between the positive affirmation of values throughout the history of the church’s teaching on conjugal morality and the negative valuation or prohibition of specific acts, it is easy to detect a basic continuity with respect to the teaching of fundamental norms in regard to the reality of marriage as a whole, and a more changeable character in the limited, concrete norms which have been elicited to deal with particular questions. On the one hand, one could say that the church has always taught that marriage itself is the union of persons based upon a mutual commitment (of conjugal love) that is oriented to the procreation of new life. By extension, one might even say that the acts of marriage, all the acts which serve the conjugal relationship, share in these characteristics insofar as they may contribute to the realization of one or both of the meanings of marriage as a whole. The affirmations here concern values and general principles which do not immediately address the area of specific acts or omissions. Thus, one can hold to the continuity of this fundamental teaching despite the various forms in which it may have been expressed throughout history.
On the other hand, one confronts a more concrete level of teaching which deals with specifically designated and historically conditioned situations and questions. In respect to the question at hand, it can be said that the church has always prohibited any action which specifically contradicted the goods of marriage as a whole. The more specific one becomes, however, the less one can say that any given teaching remains immutable. The good of procreation, for instance, was at one time considered to be the only justification for the engagement of sexual intercourse. Thus, every act of coitus had to be intended for that end. As intercourse came to be more appreciated as an expression of the marital union, the end of procreation played a decreasingly important role in its evaluation. When the church accepted the doctrine of periodic continence, it recognized a de facto exclusion of the procreative intention. Coitus had come to be accepted as a means of expressing conjugal love alone. A concrete norm (the justification of conjugal sexual relations) had changed while the fundamental norm had shown continuity in the traditional teaching: it was not the “marriage act” (sexual intercourse) which was oriented to the transmission of life, but marriage as a whole.
The attempt to evaluate the purpose or meaning of the specific act of sexual intercourse in and of itself exhibits a clear example of the elaboration of concrete, material norms throughout the history of the church’s teaching.(17) Even the use of a natural law argument has undergone significant change in application to this specific question, just as the use of natural law reasoning has evolved in relation to other questions of particular, human activity. Except for the evolution which admitted a considerable amount of nuance to be applied to balance the strict norm, propter solam procreationem (actus naturae), perhaps the greatest change which took place in this teaching was the identification of the (symbolic) pro- creative meaning of the act with its biological form (natura actus). The motive for- this drastic step is understandable: it was an attempt to reiterate the fact that marriage, and by extension conjugal sexual relations,(18) were fundamentally oriented to the raising up of life. But the ambiguity present in this form of reasoning, speaking of procreation even when its realization was impossible, implied its weakness and inadequacy. It became increasingly apparent, especially after Pius XII had admitted the contraceptive intention, that the concern for the biological integrity of the act of coitus was no longer related to the value it was seeking to affirm.
The concrete norm had become detached from the reality of the conjugal relationship and the fundamental norm had to be re-examined.(19)
When GS put forth its teaching on marriage and the family, it undertook the revaluation of the church’s traditional teaching on that subject and effected a further evolution in the elaboration of the norms involved. The council fathers reaffirmed both the unitive and procreative meaning of marriage which, they said, was rooted in conjugal love and ordained to the procreation and education of children. They did not posit the application of these two meanings to the marriage act per se, for it was understood that the facts could not support such a proposition. Biological integrity did not insure procreation, nor could one be said to affirm the value of procreation simply by maintaining that integrity. The inadequacy of that norm was therefore clearly recognized and the norm was dropped. Along with it went any reference to natural law argumentation, for the very basis of that reasoning suffered from the same ambiguous interpretation of physical acts.
However, the elaboration of norms concerning marriage in GS took a step forward in respect to the realization of the values of conjugal love. Having rejected the natural law argument, GS chose a personalist approach and endorsed the concept of responsible parenthood to guide the moral decision over concrete actions. Instead of the criterion being “the nature of marriage and its acts,” the norm to be applied was “the nature of the human person and his acts” (actus personae). This change, rather than isolating the evaluation of material acts, promoted the consideration of fully human activity: beginning with an assessment of the end to be accomplished (intention) and restoring the evaluation of means (material acts) to the measure of proportionality. The teaching of the council did not specifically address the question of the means for regulating births, but it did state that these were the norms to be used in approaching that issue (GS,51: “Relying on these principles…”).
When we seek to determine the relation of HV with the constant teaching of the church, we must distinguish its reference to fundamental and concrete norms as they have been elaborated in that tradition. The encyclical clearly upholds the affirmation of the values of marriage, especially as those had been expounded in the conciliar teaching. In this sense, HV can be said to form part of the constant teaching and to be traditional in at least one sense of that term. However, when we consider the proposal of the specific moral teaching of the encyclical, we find that its basic starting point, as well as its concrete propositions, are the same as those of Popes Pius XI and XII. HV isolates the material act of intercourse and forces it to carry the entire meaning of the conjugal relationship, it assumes the biological norm of the physical integrity of that act to judge its licitness and it implies the doctrine of the primary and secondary ends of marriage (mainly applied to the act of coitus). Therefore, in its elaboration of concrete, material norms the teaching of Pope Paul VI in this encyclical occupies a very peculiar place in tradition. While the basis for the teaching is clearly taken from the late stage in the evolution of those norms, the teachings of Pius XI and XII, the encyclical acknowledges no such evolution and presents the teaching as if it had existed for all time (“the constant teaching of the church”). More important, however, is the fact that HV ignores the further evolution of those norms after the pontificate of Pius XII. Not only had theology continued its investigation into the concrete norms to be applied to conjugal morality and found them in need of change, but the growing consensus for that change had been brought about in the evolution of magisterial teaching on the matter. In GS, the fathers of Vatican II had superseded the natural law approach of positing a biological norm (the form of the act) and replaced it with a personalistic model of morality (responsible parenthood) that insured the continuity of the fundamental teaching on marriage and elicited concrete norms based upon the “human person and his acts” (GS,51).
When Pope Paul interprets the concept of responsible parenthood, he does so in a way that principally restates the notion of his predecessors that the integrity of the sexual faculty and the physical act. of intercourse was the primary criterion for moral consideration, even though he admits to the frustration of procreation through periodic continence (the contraceptive intention). As a result, the encyclical HV exhibits either a denial or a functional misunderstanding of the teaching put forth in GS on marriage and represents a regression in the evolution of concrete norms which had been elaborated in Vatican II. In this sense, HV cannot be said to represent the ongoing tradition of the church’s teaching on conjugal morality as a whole. Rather it is related only to past papal teaching and as such can be considered as a historical document which was dated at the very time it was promulgated.
This observation, of course, opens the inevitable question of the relations between papal and conciliar teaching in the formation of magisterial pronouncements. The Final Report of the Commission had clearly chosen the theology of Vatican II on conjugal morality while a minority of that body insisted upon the immutability of the papal teaching prior to the council. The bishops, who were not allowed to publicly express their opinions or achieve a consensus on the question of regulating births before the encyclical, clearly chose the teachings of GS to be fundamental in interpreting HV in their reactions to that document, even when they basically accepted the position of Pope Paul on the matter. The theological reaction exhibited a similar perspective, often pointing out the incompatibility of the two documents. Those who criticized HV usually did so on the level of its basic presuppositions and its use of an unacceptable concrete norm, while those who sought to defend its conclusions frequently claimed that it was firmly rooted in the conciliar teaching, an assertion which seems in light of theological consensus to be untenable.
The historical situation from which HV emerged was clearly one of doubt and uncertitude with respect to the norms governing sexual, and especially conjugal activity, In regard to the questions involving responsible parenthood, at least two theological schools of thought were prominent in the controversy over the regulation of births. One of these took as its starting point the teaching of GS and understood the evolution of concrete, material norms on the question to be congruent with the dynamic sense of tradition. The other identified the teachings of Pius XI and XII as immutable and considered the idea of tradition to be coextensive with papal teaching. These two perspectives further imply an understanding of the function of the magisterium in the church, the first built 011 the foundations of the entire ecclesial community and the second on the prerogative of papal authority.(20) Pope Paul informs us in HV that he was aware of confronting different interpretations on the matters involved and that he based his decision on a restatement of the constant teaching of the church. It is a matter of history that he chose the second school of thought described here. It is still a question whether he decided correctly.
B. The ecclesiological questions
HV is an authentic statement of the papal magisterium on the regulation of births. That is to say that, due to the nature of its source, it deserves serious and reflective attention as a part of the teaching of the church on this moral question. In terms of papal teaching alone, the encyclical can be seen as a development of the doctrines of Popes Pius XI and XII on conjugal morality. But it should also be recognized that HV is itself part of a teaching that was evolving, and that direct comparison between this statement and CC would have to admit of change in the conclusions put forth, if not in the acceptance of the basic norms. Further, the norms used in this papal teaching for the past century, though consistent, must also be seen as evolutionary in respect to the entire tradition of the church in conjugal morality. For the use of the strict, biologically centered norm of the structure of the act of intercourse has only recently come to occupy such an exclusive place in the evaluation of conjugal relations.
With all due respect to the nature of papal encyclicals, however, it should also be remembered that the Petrine office forms only a part of the magisterium of the church. In light of the reaction to this particular encyclical, especially the teachings of many bishops who highly mitigated the substance of its conclusions, it is evident that many in the church did not accept HV as the final word on the regulation of births. More specifically, a number of propositions found in the encyclical were either rejected or interpreted in such a way that they lost most of their meaning. A number of commentaries which compared HV with the conciliar teaching of GS found the substance of the two documents to be incompatible, principally on the level of basic presuppositions. Those who attempted to show a continuity between the two statements were forced to alter the teaching of GS by interpreting it to conform with the encyclical. While it is clear that many reactions came to prefer the teaching of Vatican II to that of the encyclical, it is also interesting to note that since the promulgation of GS the subsequent statements of the Vatican on sexual morality have referred to that teaching as an authoritative source even when the matters under discussion were not directly related (cf., the Declaration).
From the manner in which Pope Paul VI wrote and promulgated HV it is clear that his own notion of magisterial teaching is largely centered on the prerogatives of the papal office. In choosing the teachings of Pius XI and XII over that of the council, he identified the moral principles used by those popes as unchangeable and in doing so equated a concrete, material norm with the affirmation of fundamental values that the council had sought to achieve. The result was not only a confusion of the church teaching on conjugal morality but an implicit statement on the role of the magisterium itself. In the opinion of Pope Paul, the substance of official teaching relies heavily upon papal statements, almost to the exclusion of any other source of information. Thus the subject of the magisterium, even in its ordinary exercise, remains centered in the papal office. Then, the object of the (papal) magisterium encompasses a broad range of teaching, extending even to the level of specific norms. Before these ideas can be evaluated, it will be necessary to expose some of the difficulties present with respect to the exercise of the magisterium in general.
We have already distinguished, in the review of the reactions to HV, the various meanings of the notion of magisterium according to its degree of exercise, the persons participating in it and the object of its statements. With respect to the teaching of this encyclical, it is first important to note that we are dealing with an expression of the ordinary magisterium. HV is not a solemn statement, it contains no definitions and its teaching is not proposed as an integral part of the Catholic faith. This situation immediately involves the question of the subject of the ordinary magisterium and the role of the papal office in pronouncing a teaching within that genre. For although the encyclical itself continuously speaks of the magisterium ecclesiae, it is clear that Pope Paul considered his teaching to occupy a special place in the elaboration of the church’s understanding.
The concept of the ordinary magisteriurn is directly related to the day-to-day teaching of the church intended to preserve, articulate and enhance the entirety of Catholic faith which is held in common by the whole church. Within this scheme, which in the past has principally related to the teaching office of the bishops, the papal office naturally occupies a special place. As a spokesman for the universal church, the pope has a particular duty to insure that the faith held in common both traditionally and contemporaneously is maintained and that it is protected from threats to its integrity and its ability to express the message of Sacred Scripture handed down from the time of the apostles. In order to carry out this office, there must be an active communication between all the members of the church and a participation of every level of competence in determining what is to be held as part of that Catholic faith. Usually, this procedure occurs before official pronouncements are made with respect to the ordinary magisterium, but it is not uncommon for a particular expression of the faith to be examined post factum in light of its congruity with the whole deposit. Numerous examples of change in official teaching or alteration of its expression have occurred throughout history with respect to papal, conciliar, episcopal and theological statements as well as the adjustment of common belief which may have strayed from orthodox Catholic faith. These changes have normally occurred over some period of time due to the necessity of achieving as broad communication as possible and allowing for the emergence of consensus on a particular matter. We may refer to the process whereby a belief becomes part of the entire expression of the ordinary magisterium as that of reception. This process takes place in every direction and on every level of church participation for in order that a particular belief be accepted as Catholic faith, it must become part of the lived experience of the entire church believing in the faith of Jesus Christ.
In the case of HV, we encounter a rather new experience in the life of the church in that its promulgation and reception was hastened by rapid forms of communication. Within a year after its publication, numerous episcopal conferences issued statements on the encyclical, a significant number of which altered or at least mitigated the substance of the papal teaching. In doing so, the bishops exercised their own office as part of the ordinary magisterium and contributed to the understanding of the whole church on the matters under discussion. Similarly, considering nearly ten years of theological reaction to HV, as well as its practical meaning for the life of the faithful in dealing with the question of regulating births, we encounter an important body of data which must be taken seriously as evidence for the reception of that encyclical. In evaluating that information we must consider both positive and negative reactions and be acutely aware that the nature of the consensus sought on these matters is not a question of majority opinion but rather an attempt to determine how the papal teaching corresponds to the faith of the church and the whole of the ordinary magisterium.
The teaching found in HV on the morality of methods for regulating births did not receive immediate acceptance from the majority of the members of the church, including a number of bishops and episcopal conferences. Perhaps the most significant factor in this lack of reception is not the numbers of those who found it difficult to accept the teaching but the fact that the papal encyclical was considered to be incompatible with the contemporary thinking of the church in matters of conjugal morality and especially with the expression of the conciliar teaching found in GS. It was frequently pointed out that the teaching of the pope on this question neither emerged from a consensus of opinion which was present before its promulgation nor took adequate account of the other expressions of the ordinary magisterium which were pointing in another direction. In essence, Pope Paul VI took a position in opposition to a growing consensus in the church with regard to the understanding of conjugal sexual morality. In doing so, he exercised his right and duty to express what he considered to be a necessary balance in the whole of the church’s teaching. But at the same time, because he exercised only his office as a participant in the ordinary magisterium, he put forth his teaching as a single contribution to be considered as part of and ultimately absorbed into the whole of the church’s teaching. This is not to say that Pope Paul was putting forth only one theological opinion. On the contrary, while recognizing the particular place enjoyed by the exercise of the papal teaching office, it would be wrong to isolate that prerogative from the rest of the church and force the pope to carry the entire burden of deciding upon the rectitude of every theological opinion.
Given the latitude for interpreting papal statements as set forth in the teaching of LG,25 we should note first of all the special attention which should be applied to such teachings even when given in a non-solemn way. As long as the office to teach is respectfully acknowledged, the content of papal statements must be adhered to with “religious submission of mind and will” according to the manifest intention of the sovereign pontiff. In respect to HV it Is clear that we are dealing with a non- solemn judgment. But there is still the question of exactly what is being proposed for acceptance. This leads naturally to the question of the object of the magisterium, namely, the scope of the content of official teaching which falls within the competence to teach.
The historical problem of defining the object of magisterial teaching is a complicated one which has exhibited an undeniable evolutionary character. When Vatican I sought to determine the competence of papal teaching, it used the accepted formula doctrinam de fide vel moribus. Prior to the council of Trent, the term mores had been used to designate “customs” in the church, but since the time of that council and certainly as it came to be used in Vatican I, the meaning had developed to encompass the notion of morals. Unfortunately, the precise definition of the term and an explanation of its scope of application has never been given in official teaching. Throughout history the major conflicts over doctrinal matters have involved primarily dogmatic propositions and scriptural interpretation, all of which are easily related to the body of revelation preserved by the church. It was not until the HV event that a direct confrontation took place between official teaching and its general reaction in the area of morals. The inevitable question arose, therefore, about the competence of the papal magisterium to teach in this field. To what extent could that office make judgments with respect to moral propositions?
When we consider the work of the two Vatican councils on this matter, we must note that the whole area of authoritative teaching is usually defined with reference to revelation. Vatican I defined papal authority, and in its preparatory work the general authority of the magisterium of the church, in a traditional way that restricted its solemn exercise to revealed doctrine and those things necessarily connected with its integral preservation.(21) Vatican II also taught that the specific competence of the magisterium is intimately connected with revelation, “which, as written or preserved by tradition, is transmitted in its entirety through the legitimate succession of bishops and especially through the care of the Roman Pontiff himself” (LG,25). No council or solemn definition has ever attempted to broaden this area of competence for the official teaching office. However, commentaries upon the exercise of authority within the church have recognized the right and duty of the hierarchical magisterium to pass judgments upon propositions which may indirectly effect the preservation of the faith. These judgments demand a degree of compliance relative to the connection between the content of the offered propositions and the faith itself. Thus a threat to divine faith (revelation) must be repelled with a correlative amount of vigour, while a dispute over an incidental disciplinary matter remains on the appropriate level of sanction.
In respect to the area of competence in moral teaching, Pope Paul notes in HV,4 that “no member of the christian faithful would deny that the Magisterium of the Church is competent to judge the interpretation of the natural moral law.(22) However, as the moral teaching of the encyclical progresses, it becomes apparent that what was set forth as “competence to judge” (spectare) evolves into a direct (and implied: authoritative) interpretation itself. In other words, what has traditionally been recognized as the prerogative of the magisterium to rule on the appropriateness of given propositions had been extended in HV to an elaboration of the propositions themselves. In attempting to teach on the subject of conjugal sexual morality, this papal encyclical chose to follow the precedents set down in CC and the allocutions of Pope Pius XII of endorsing a concrete norm, the inviolability of the form of sexual relations, as the primary criterion for judging the licitness of conjugal behavior. This norm was offered on the grounds that it preserved “the indissoluable connection…between the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning which are both present in the conjugal act” (HV,12), even though the same encyclical’s endorsement of the contraceptive intention judged that the practice of periodic continence was permitted. At this point it is unnecessary to belabor the question of whether such a position involves an internal contradiction, for that is a matter of interpreting how broadly one understands the meaning of periodic continence. What is at issue here is that the encyclical was not putting forth a teaching in any way connected with revelation, Catholic faith or even, in its fullest understanding, the traditional teaching.
The reaction to HV was very specific in pointing out alternative ways ‘ of approaching the moral question of regulating births. The reactions of the bishops in particular, while calling for respectful attention to the papal magisterium, were not hesitant in admitting that the teaching itself was open to interpretation and even offered broader criteria that fundamentally mitigated the substance of HV’s propositions. It therefore seems prudent to say that in estimating the ecclesial authority of this particular papal encyclical, we must be circumspect in accounting for the frame of reference within which we speak. To consider the source of HV, we must see it as an authentic statement of the papal office demanding respect and worthy attention. To situate its authority, we must accept that it is participant in the ordinary magisterium and as such will be subject to the entire exercise of that normal ecclesial function. Finally, to judge the content of HV we must recognize that its specific moral teaching, based only upon one interpretation of the natural law and constructed upon the elaboration of concrete material norms, does not enjoy the same level of competence normally attributed to the complete exercise of the magisterium.
C. The question of conscience
Just as one’s evluation of the magisterial authority present in HV depends upon the ecclesiology employed to situate that question, the determination of the binding force of that papal statement will rest heavily upon the notion of conscience one has. As we have seen in the exposition of the reactions to the encyclical, conscience can be viewed as a passive recipient of norms that acts only to implement laws handed down from authority; or it can be understood as an active faculty for discerning moral norms, including of course the learnings from tradition and authoritative commentary, and integrating them into lived situations. It appears to us that while the former idea is basic to the defense of HV which demands its absolute binding force, it is the latter which is more typical of present consensus within authoritative and theological teaching.
It is evident from a number of issues presently under discussion in moral theology that a good deal of work remains to be done in the area of conscience and its role in the moral life of persons. The reference given in some episcopal statements on HV to the conciliar teaching (GS,16 and DH,3) reveals a personalistic notion of conscience which is both “formed” through dialogue with sources of moral wisdom, such as traditional teaching, and yet still responsible for confronting moral situations and exercising personal and collective responsibility in the search for truth. In respect to the question of regulating births, the position one takes on the evaluation of the role of conscience is indicative of the estimation of the binding force of the encyclical. It is also closely related to the understanding one has of the relation between objective and subjective morality. Ultimately, the overall assessment of the meaning of HV will be closely tied to its applicability in the practical order.
It has been pointed out in the foregoing survey that the encyclical itself makes no mention of the active role of conscience(23), although it does allude to the difficulties foreseen in following its teaching. Similarly, its references to sin are sufficiently vague to warrant the opinion that Pope Paul did not intend to make any judgment on that question. That in itself is an argument from silence implying the mitigation of previous papal teaching on the connection between contraceptive practices and grave sin (CC). Therefore, even though we must admit the absoluteness of the papal position in HV with regard to the moral evaluation of contraception, we must still pose the question of what Pope Paul hoped to accomplish through HV. In other words, what was the “manifest mind and will of the Sovereign Pontiff” in this matter?
A number of reactions to HV, especially those which endorsed the authoritative character of the teaching while realizing the practical problems for its implementation, characterized the encyclical as an “ideal” teaching. We have already dealt with the possible meanings of this form of approach, but here we should consider its implication for the practical evaluation of HV as a moral teaching. The thrust of this argument says that Pope Paul was addressing the objective order of morality and enunciating moral principles as they should be in an ideal situation, thus providing a goal toward which we should strive in ordering moral priorities. The obvious question is whether that goal is actually achievable. But even this question demands nuance. If one defines the goal to be a total reliance upon the role of natural processes for accomplishing the ends of responsible parenthood, it must be objected that even HV admits that this is unrealistic, for it recognizes the need for persons to manipulate their sexual behavior (some would say “artificially”) in order to act responsibly (periodic continence). On the other hand, if one sees the goal to be the restriction of sexual relations to the one norm of complete, heterosexual intercourse terminating in insemination with no impediments for possible fertilization, this would have to be considered a reachable end. The immediate question, however, posed as much from practical experience as from theoretical speculation, is why this should be considered an ideal? The answer of HV is simple: it is a dictate of natural law. But there is an obvious disagreement with such a proposition both with respect to the observations which describe the natural order of things and in terms of interpreting the natural law as a source of moral norms. To what extent can such a goal be considered natural, and why must it be held as an ideal?
When dealing with the very specific category of conjugal sexual morality, the elaboration of HV’s ideal teaching appears to have little relevance for what modern sexology has documented to be a very wide range of coital and non-coital sexual behavior between married persons. Even when we consider the ambiguous nature of the traditional understanding of amplexus reservatus and the unwillingness to condemn means of expressing marital affection in various forms as long as male orgasm did not take place outside of coitus, it appears that this position is so narrow in its scope of application that it implies a drastic separation between acting humanly and acting morally. For if a couple is allowed to engage in different forms of loving (respecting the dignity of the person) sexual relations to enhance their relationship, and may even actively pursue the engagement of exclusively infertile intercourse, what great difference does it make if they decide before hand, for responsible and objectively moral reasons, to insure that their behavior will not result in procreation? What relevance, might this ideal norm exhibit for the married couple who were attempting to practice responsible parenthood?
My own spontaneous answer to this question is, practically none. It also appears that a good number of theologians who reacted to the encyclical with reservations would conclude in the same way. But before we dismiss this ideal on the grounds of its irrelevance to the conjugal relationship, we should consider the implicit motives behind the approach taken in the encyclical. It seems abundantly clear that the concerns and intentions implicit in the substance of HV went far beyond the specific question of married couples regulating their procreative potential. In Pope Paul’s understanding (HV,17) any change in the basis of the teaching he was giving would have a significant repercussion upon the whole of the church’s teaching in sexual morality, not to mention the (assumed) problem of rectifying a change in the teaching of the papal magisterium. If contraception is admitted for married couples, how could it be forbidden for the unmarried? Even more drastically, if it is allowed that sexual activity can be justified strictly on the basis of expressing love without the qualification that it must remain “open to the transmission of life,” on what basis could one restrict sexual activity to marriage?
It is our opinion that these were the primary motives behind HV’s choice of the concrete norm of the structure of sexual relations to govern the moral question of regulating births. Especially when considering the way in which the teaching as a whole was proposed, namely, that no attempt was made to relate the objective, ideal norm to the practical moral decisions of married couples, nor was the traditional, explicit link made between violating the norm and committing grave sin, it is difficult to assume that Pope Paul was really intending that the norm of HV be absolutely followed in the practical order. It had already been very clear that large numbers of married couples were practicing artificial contraception and found it beneficial to the whole of their married and moral lives. Many in the church, including bishops, had become increasingly tolerant of such practices and the number of theologians who considered the admission of a change in the concrete norm had grown since Vatican II. Even Pope Paul, if he did consider the practice of artificial contraception to be objectively sinful, was incongruously tolerant of recidivism and urged couples to remain close to the sacraments (HV,25). Why, then, did the encyclical make such an important point of reasserting the traditional interpretation of natural law as normative for Catholic theology?
We have speculated that Pope Paul was looking for intellectual rather than practical assent to his teaching. His purpose in such a case would have been to insure the continuity of the church’s teaching in sexual morality, even when an exceptional case could be made for the difficult moral decisions of married couples. The Vatican (L’OR excepted, of course) has allowed for a huge amount of mitigating interpretation of the papal teaching by both bishops and theologians, and although certain Roman congregations have sought to apply the same norms to other questions, the papal office has been content to let HV stand in its assaulted position. The much discussed follow up of papal teaching on marriage and the expected reassertion of the 1968 teaching in a more elaborate encyclical have never materialized. What then, is the significance of HV with respect to the practical norms for conscience?
If our analysis here is correct, HV must be categorized as a theoretical statement of principles. It is not a theological or pastoral treatise meant to convince others by moral reasoning but rather a position statement on the status of a controverted question in moral theology. In essence, it is an attempt to reassert what Pope Paul considered to be the only “safe” basis from which to approach a question of (conjugal) sexual morality. In this frame of reference, the encyclical neither condemns alternate ways of dealing with the moral questions involved nor insists that its own teaching must be normative for specific, practical, moral decisions. On the contrary, HV never descended from the assumed level of objective morality and left for the speculation of others the role of conscience in appropriating the substance of its teaching. Those who conceived of personal conscience to be little more than the means of implementing objective laws naturally assumed that the practical moral dictate was a foregone conclusion. Those who considered other factors, not dealt with by the encyclical, to be equally important in the conscience decision were better able to rectify an apparent discrepancy between official teaching and pastoral practice. It is unfortunate that in HV Pope Paul did not take the initiative in pursuing the problems of implementing his norm and that the pastoral directives in Part III of the encyclical do not go beyond exhorting the couple to practice self-discipline and to seek the help of God. For in taking that position, HV perpetuates the idea that objective and subjective morality are irreconcilably separate, that true ideals for moral behavior have little to do with the real demands of daily life, and that faithful christians need to abandon common sense and practical standards in order to strive for perfection. None of these things can be ascribed to the intention of the author of HV, but it should be made clear that they are inescapable results of taking an exclusively objective approach to matters of christian morality. As an alternative, the encyclical would probably have developed differently if it began with “the light of the gospel and of human experience” (GS,46) instead of its complete reliance on the natural law. The result may have been a greater appreciation of the fact that the norms it was seeking to preserve had already been surpassed.
A final reading of HV should be done in direct comparison with CC and with a sensitivity for what these two documents are saying to their intended audiences. In 1930, Pope Pius XI was offering not only an objective norm but a practical rule for behavior and a sentence of grave sin for those who chose not to follow it. Perhaps unknowingly, in 1968, Pope Paul VI amended this teaching significantly and, while insisting on the objective value of virtually the same, limited norm, never proposed to place his teaching between God and the person. In effect, he implied what his commentators made explicit: that regardless of the highest of official teaching, the person is never relieved of his responsibility or his freedom.
When Pope Paul VI promulgated his encyclical HV in July 1968, he did so with the knowledge that his teaching would not be readily or easily received (cf., HV, 18-20). But the amount of reaction, and especially the tenor of response given to this papal statement, was probably unexpected. One senses that the author of the encyclical and his advisors relied upon the authoritative source of the teaching to relieve any pressure of anticipated negative reaction. The letter which accompanied the document as an introduction for the bishops around the world had asked for their support and clearly expected that the entire hierarchy would speak with one voice on the matters under discussion. But whatever had been felt with regard to the entrance of HV into the church and the world prior to its publication surely had to be revised before too long. For what had probably been foreseen as a temporary difficulty had quickly developed into a major event and, in the assessment of some, a crisis.
The historical facts of HV and its reactions should not be seen as an isolated episode. The encyclical served as a locus for the discussion of many, far ranging topics that needed to be addressed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, not the least of which was the issue of authority in the church, especially with regard to the role of papal teaching. One expects that these issues would have eventually surfaced as the self- understanding of the church continued to develop and the ecclesiological model of the Pilgrim Church as a community of the People of God began to function as a reality. Nevertheless, the speed and character of events surrounding this one papal document served to focus attention on the unsolved difficulties of aggiornamento and hastened the need to deal with important issues in fundamental theology. The fact that an aura of confrontation had been the cause for a feeling of urgency in approaching these topics should not be considered in any way deficient or necessarily regretable. For controversy, not unknown in the most formative and vital periods of church history, far from being a symptom of decay, is a sign of life and a testimony of health. It proved that the church as a community was active and participant, that its members were involved with its progress. In a topic which had been as hotly disputed as that of the morality of birth control, one would have had to judge the passive acceptance of such an uncompromising statement as that found in HV as a disaster and a warning for the life of the church.
Having sought to review and analyze the main lines of the reaction to HV, we have seen the scope of opinions on every aspect of discussion eventually broaden to include a wide range of topics and understandings. As one becomes attuned to the lines of argumentation being presented, it becomes increasingly evident that the real problems surrounding the issue of HV are fundamental ones. Questions beginning in special moral theology quickly reveal important differences in fundamental presuppositions and methods of approach which determine the substance of applied conclusions. Every evaluation of the ecclesiological issues, authority, freedom, the competence to teach and the need to adhere, betrays an implicit understanding of the church as a whole, of the responsibilities of authority and the role of conscience. Thus, the debate over the encyclical was much more than a disagreement over one, specific moral issue; it was a clash of different theological outlooks. This is not to say that Catholic moral theology and ecclesiology were utterly fragmented. Rather, it is simply a recognition of the profound changes which were occurring within the life of the church. An irrevocable process of renewal had begun and was vastly stimulated by the work of Vatican II. The resulting period of transition was destined to encounter difficulties. The controversy over birth control and the events surrounding the promulgation of HV were only one example of that transition.
Before we draw specific conclusions about the encyclical itself, it may be good to speculate on the place it assumed in this period of theological ferment. The entire teaching of the church on sexual morality had already entered a period of change and fundamental re-examination. This had come about not only because speculative theology had begun to question the basic presuppositions of that teaching, but especially because the lived experience of the faithful had sensed that the traditional approach to problems in this area was no longer adequate. The abstract and theoretical analysis of natural law thinking was in itself logical and elaborately thought out. But as one tried to apply this thought to practical problems it became increasingly apparent that the constructed models of textbook morality were not addressing the lived situations of countless numbers of married couples. As the advances in medicine and the general level of education made available the real possibility for individual couples to determine the direction of their procreative potential, the notion of responsible parenthood gained increasing acceptance and the moral questions involved became more focused upon the goals one sought to achieve. Simultaneously, the question of means to achieve those goals decreased in importance when practical experience indicated that a sense of proportion needed to be applied. If natural law theory condemned contraception as intrinsically dishonest, the ethics of responsibility was equally compelling over the need to seize the initiative in determining the procreative life of the family. While these two dictates are not antagonistic in themselves, again practical experience revealed genuine situations of conflict in which both ideals could not be simultaneously realized. It became more and more common for couples to evaluate their own individual situations according to the less abstract categories of specific, moral intention and to allow the judgment of concrete acts to recede into the background by applying an operative sense of proportion to all the issues concerned. At the same time, the church had become increasingly tolerant of these practical moral decisions. But there was still a need for the official teaching of the church to address the issues directly and especially to exercise leadership in clarifying the real moral questions. For if the evaluation of means had taken a backseat to the more pressing objectives to be attained, it remained important to educate that sense of proportion by introducing other considerations. Regulating births may be a worthy ideal, but there was a vast difference between abortion and contraception, between permanent and temporary sterilization, between altering the act of coitus and risking the side effects of drugs, and more fundamentally, between ordering the procreative meaning of conjugal love and rejecting that meaning as a value.
On the whole, and with specific reference to the development of conjugal morality, the evolution of theological analysis had been concretely progressing. The Pontifical Commission for the Study of Population, Family and Births had elaborately studied the problems and the overwhelming majority of its members produced a report of its findings which seemed to integrate the changes taking place and provide a viable approach for the evaluation of conjugal sexual morality. But the issues raised by this study and by further speculation had already become broader. If the basis for moral decisions in conjugal morality were effected, what about the rest of sexual morality in general? Was the church willing to mitigate the role of natural law reasoning in this sensitive area when its official promulgation would affect other questions as well? It appeared that most theologians and a good number of bishops were willing to take this risk. After all, was not one dealing with a de facto situation, not only on the level of theological consensus but also on the level of magisterial teaching found in the council? The evolution of concrete norms had already taken place in the teaching of GS which, for all practical purposes, had abandoned the natural law approach and substituted the notion of responsible parenthood as an embodiment of personalistic rather than naturalistic values.
The question being posed in the mid and late 1960’s, therefore, was not whether substantial change would take place with regard to the moral evaluation of sexual activity. This was a fait accompli. The issue facing Pope Paul VI was whether to implement this change directly by officially recognizing a change in the moral teaching on contraception. Before he could do that, however, two other crucial questions seemed to be more prominent in his mind; questions which would eventually determine the direction of his subsequent encyclical. The first (cf., HV,6: praesertim) concerned what he considered to be the problem of enunciating a teaching which ran directly counter to that of his predecessors. Both Popes Pius XI and XII had been adamant in applying a strict natural law approach to every question of sexual morality, including and especially their specific teaching on birth control and contraception. Pope Paul VI evidently considered the endorsement of the norms applied by these popes to be irrevocable and viewed their concrete moral teaching to be immutable. Thus, to teach a different norm and amend the previous papal teaching would be, in his estimation, tantamount to saying that these popes had been in error. Unfortunately, the way in which this question was considered and the terms in which it was put by Pope Paul’s advisors, the dissenting minority of the Commission, and the views of some other sources (“Committee of Eight”), left him little choice but to remain with what he considered to be established magisterial teaching.
The second question, also emphasized by those advising the pope to reassert the “traditional teaching,” was the implication his approach might have for the whole of sexual morality. Even if contraception could be tolerated for the married couples who found the practice of periodic continence to be extremely difficult or impossible, to state this publicly would be to admit that the objective natural law approach to sexual morals was not a universally binding norm. The repercussions of such a papal teaching would immediately rebound in the consideration of other questions, especially those of masturbation, pre-marital sex and homosexuality. The concern of the Vatican over these issues was great, and the subsequent issue of the Declaration in 1975 showed how the norms elaborated in HV would be specifically, if awkwardly, applied to precisely these questions. The alarmist views of those advising Pope Paul mentioned above were also influential by claiming that the tolerance of contraception in itself would open the floodgates of sexual hedonism and usher in the complete breakdown of family and social morality? While one can appreciate the pursuasive character of these arguments as they were set forth in a logical progression of speculation, it was not always apparent that their train of thought was non-sequitur. Hedonism is a question of values and does not rely upon the incidental problem of means to avoid responsibility. If anything, one could probably make a case for arguing that the decision to practice contraception, even though in the context of fornication, was a value oriented choice which could be capitalized upon to bring one to a realization of the totality of their actions. Nonetheless, the basis for the argument from evil consequences is directly related to the estimation one has of the general maturity of the christian community. To believe that simply allowing the possibility that one could take steps to avoid conception as a result of sexual activity would lead to a flood of immoral behavior is not simply pessimistic and paternalistic, it ignores the real problem which has to be faced in educating the faithful to genuine christian maturity. On the other hand, if one is restrained from sexual hedonism simply on the basis of official church teaching and its interpretation of natural law, is there any real meaning in the belief that the presence or absence of such a teaching is significant in affecting one’s moral attitude? In the final analysis, the argument here is largely irrelevant, and represents a reversal in what should have been a more informed order of priorities in evaluating the effects of various positions. To refuse to change the substance of the official position, especially when that change had already entered into practice, was equivalent to surrendering leadership in dealing with the issues themselves. Ultimately, such a stance was counterproductive. It drastically underestimated the collective conscience of at least an important part of the community, it constituted an insult to those who were faithfully struggling to reach responsible moral decisions and, probably worst of all, it severely impugned the church’s credibility in moral teaching. For the good faith and desire for leadership that was wasted on the issue of contraception had largely evaporated moral support for approaching the issue of abortion in a sane manner.
I believe that the impact of the two problems mentioned here was determinative in shaping the position eventually taken by Pope Paul VI in his encyclical on the regulation of births. HV represented little more than a restatement, though in considerably softer tones, of the teachings of Popes Pius XI and XII on the matter. As such, the papal teaching contributed substantially nothing to the debate over birth control and actually amounted to a regression in church teaching because it ignored the growing theological consensus and failed to realize the significance of the conciliar teaching on the fundamental propositions governing the direction of that debate. The primary reason for its conclusions rests, furthermore, upon the mistaken identity attributed to fundamental and concrete norms and the assumption that previous papal teaching on the topic was not subject to the customary review of every act of the ordinary magisterium and was therefore immune from change. That historical teaching, it should be noted, was itself challenged, and the continuous imposition of questions which drove it to be more and more broadly applied eventually culminated in the undermining of its basic point of departure. The singular interpretation of natural law thinking carried out with the intention of establishing an act-centered approach to determining objective moral priorities had become increasingly untenable as its inconsistencies became more transparent. The simultaneous demand that every act of intercourse remain open to procreation while the contraceptive intention achieved moral approval came to be recognized as inoperative, if not downright contradictory. Then, the projected basis for that position, relying heavily upon the natural moral law was itself the cause for its demise. For it also became nearly impossible to maintain that the natural law was available to all men while asserting that the magisterial interpretation of that law was the only correct one, without again being subject to the accusation of contradiction.
The reaction to HV constituted, I feel, a miniaturized, historically compressed and relatively traditional example of the process of reception in the promulgation and absorption of church teaching. In fact, the reception of this papal encyclical was to a large extent negative. The moral teachings of HV were mainly rejected by the church and even most of those who sought to defend its conclusions were either prone to offer their own justification and form of argumentation or forced to retreat to the document’s authoritative status. On the whole, the encyclical was mitigated by a significant portion of episcopal teaching, substantially challenged and drastically re-interpreted by the majority of theological commentary and simply forgotten by uncounted numbers of the faithful who ignore its existence in making practical moral decisions.
Does this mean, therefore, that Pope Paul VI was wrong in what he expressed with such a high degree of his ordinary magisterial authority? On the face value of this question some would like to reply in the affirmative and seek at least an implicit public admission that the teaching had been in error. Such an attitude, however, would be neither historically informed nor sensitive to the absurdity of assuming that any one position on the matter of regulating births can be judged so absolutely right or wrong. To evaluate the reaching itself, we should be more circumspect and respectfully motivated to understand what had taken place in the broad course of history. This can be done in at least two ways.
The first course of evaluation, the one most likely to be followed in subsequent church teaching and already heralded in the reactions of the bishops, is that of re-interpretation. Rather than being an exercise in saving face, as it may appear to those who do not understand the arguments, this is a process of identifying the elements of the papal teaching which have substantial merit and contribute to the historical elaboration of norms which can be applied to the questions at hand. For instance, if we suspend, for the moment, the physicalistic and biological concepts which the encyclical implies in its teaching, we realize that Pope Paul has affirmed the basic intrinsic orientation of conjugal sexuality (in the language of GS, of conjugal love) to procreation. Such a value very evidently needs to be put forth, and unfortunately a good deal of speculation on contraception has forgotten to mention it. Further, the warning that man’s ability to order his life must not stop at the achievement of technological expertise, but demands the continuous recognition of values and a personal and communal assessment of what is being done and why, is a prophetic word from the papal office and a reminder that regulating births can never be seen as an end in itself. These and other things can be said about the positive aspects of the papal teaching, and the process of interpretation has already been carried on both by the bishops and by a number of competent theologians. The same cannot be said, however, for those who have identified the wrong parts of the teaching to be unchangeable, and are still attempting to deal with moral issues in physiological terms.
A second course of evaluation might account more substantively for the general reaction given to the encyclical and its predominantly negative reception by the church as a whole. HV did not relate meaningfully to the average Catholic and did little to resolve the conscience decisions of individual couples. In the mainstream of theological development and Catholic teaching, the encyclical was an anomaly. In at least one sense of the term, we could say that HV was untraditional. But we must also ask why Pope Paul had reverted to what many considered to be an outdated norm for addressing the moral question of regulating births. I believe that, if we attempt to place ourselves into the situation of Pope Paul, facing the questions as he saw them, we may be able to better appreciate his greatest concerns. The pope was very much aware of vast changes taking place in the practical norms for sexual behavior at the same time that many responsible couples were seeking to act rightly in ordering their procreative lives. He was motivated, we speculate, by a desire to preserve some form of continuity in the church’s teaching on these matters while not wishing to condemn those who felt morally obliged to take the initiative in practicing responsible parenthood. His decision was to choose what he considered to be the safest course of action: he simply restated what had already been said by previous popes in respect to objective morality but at the same time omitted any direct reference to sin, conscience or practical norms. When the encyclical was promulgated, Pope Paul welcomed interpretation of his own teaching and took a positive attitude toward the “lively debate.” Naturally, he recoiled from assaults on his authority or that of the magisterium as a whole, but he never personally objected to the broad scope of mitigating interpretation that virtually obliterated the meaning of his teaching as it applied to the lived situation of the married couple. In other words, I submit that it was never the express intention of Pope Paul VI to condemn every form of contraception for loving, mature married couples who were seeking to practice responsible parenthood. I base this conclusion on two reasons: first, as the reaction to the encyclical has shown and as was more or less evident from the late stages of the debate before HV, the traditional condemnations no longer enjoyed theological substantiation – and Pope Paul knew it, which was why he dropped every reference to grave sin; second, the “manifest mind and will” of Pope Paul is most clear in the aftermath of HV during which no serious attempt was made by him to reassert the relevance of the natural law norm.
Finally, in light of the impact of HV upon the life of the church, which should have been foreseen before its promulgation, it appears that the encyclical, or at least the form which it took as an official, almost solemn (in the minds of some), pronouncement of the papal magisterium, was a methodological mistake. The damage it did to the prestige of the papal office and the moral leadership of the church, both within the Catholic community and with respect to the progress of ecumenical dialogue, could have been avoided, and is still having a negative effect in establishing credibility in other matters. Nevertheless, in the strictest sense of theological tradition, we must recognize that this papal encyclical is nothing more than that which it purports to be. It is a single expression of the ordinary magisterium of the church. It is subject to reception, to be evaluated according to the whole experience of lived christian faith, and is distinct from its practical implementation. It is, further, subject to change in subsequent official teaching. It has already passed into history.
- One would like to say that sex is capable of expressing the intentionality of the person but this would presuppose an elaboration of intention in general which is not the topic at present. The words used here are chosen specifically: possible is meant to refer to the inadequacy of the faculty itself to stand for human values: emotion is used generally, for hatred as well as love may be expressed.
- HV,12 also states that God has intended an indissoluble link between the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act. This rather recent position of magisterial teaching will be treated in the context of the theology of marriage.
- This does not demand a specific procreative end, for the same criteria are applied to sterile relations such as during pregnancy or after menopause. It is also worth remembering that this natural law argument is applied exclusively to human beings, for every other phenomenon of fertility in creation is – supposedly morally – subject to human manipulation.
- Cf., F. Lambruschini’s opening statement on comparing HV’s answer to moral relativism with Pope Paul’s “Credo” (30 June 1068) in answer to dogmatic relativism.
- Ethnographic data on actual, sexual behavior between psychologically healthy adults has revealed a broad spectrum of activity with a much higher frequency of incidence than formerly acknowledged. This includes a good deal of non-coital activity between normal, heterosexual couples as well as a higher occurrence of solitary or homosexual activity than previously recognized. Regardless of what moral judgment one makes about the situation, it would be naive to ignore the data in an objective attempt to determine what was “natural.”
- This process is referred to in philosophical ethics as the “naturalistic fallacy,” moving from “is” to “ought” statements without justification. Such an approach leaves itself open to criticism when no attempt is made to account for the transition. The adoption of the type of natural law approach found in HV, based as it is on purely philosophical morality, cannot escape critique from the same level of argumentation and is quickly reduced to arguing from authority for the validity of its proposed moral principles. Had the starting point been closer to contemporary thinking in moral philosophy, a broader notion of personalistic values could have been employed, if not to escape the notion of the “naturalistic fallacy,” at least to have provided grounds for a more viable argumentation of the affirmations made.
- We should recognize here that one may wish to dispute this point by saying that what is considered intrinsically evil here, complete with intention and circumstances, is the violation of the natural order and hence the will of God. Thus, what is done is, in and of itself, morally evil. However, this argument rests on still other, unproven, propositions: the inviolability of the natural order, the knowledge that God wills that order as one perceives it, and even that a contraceptive act would itself be anything more than an imitation of nature’s own orientation toward sporadic and relatively infrequent opportunity for fertilization. Furthermore, if such a principle were affirmed, it would effectively rule out the possibility of indirect sterilization as a result of therapeutic procedure because such an act, to be consistent, would have to admit of a fullness of intention and circumstances simply on the level of what is done (the material act). We will discuss this further on in the text.
- The reasoning found in HV clearly posits a distinct “priority of goods” which, in the case of respecting the physical integrity of the sexual act, does not admit of alteration. Our choice of “a more important value” here, rather than a “higher” one, is meant, to diffuse this approach by implying a comparison between a highly specific fact, isolated in time and space (the act of intercourse) and the continuously present values of expressing conjugal love and maintaining the harmony of the family. The notion of responsible parenthood would seem more appropriate in eliciting a priority of values in one’s moral decision making than that of the natural law approach of HV.
- The case which comes to mind here is that of an ectopic pregnancy in which it is known both that the embryo will never survive and that the life of the mother is threatened. According to the classic reasoning, it is permitted to remove the entire fallopian tube which only incidentally contains the non-viable embryo while it is forbidden to remove the embryo alone (achieving the same end) and allow the tube to remain and heal (which would both minimize the damage done and allow the woman to retain greater fertility). The interpretation of the principle of double effect in this instance is consistent, but it lacks a real sense of objectivity and suffers from the same difficulty as the argument found in HV, namely, pre-defining a simple material act in moral categories. Moreover, the proposed reasoning contradicts the moral principle saying that it is not permitted to mutilate more than is necessary for the well-being of a person.
- This omission, incidentally, standing in need of serious excusing reasons as it does according to the development found in HV, implies a prior duty to procreate as the normal situation from which one needs to be released. The attitude here is related to the encyclical’s fundamental notion of the theology of marriage, and seems to assume that there is an obligation to procreate as a de faoto result of the marriage relation. This is a very different approach than that found in the doctrine of responsible parenthood which sees procreation as the result of a concrete, positive decision on the part of the couple.
- We note here the choice of the term “meaning” in HV which was seized upon by some defenders of the encyclical, as Martelet, to deny that Pope Paul was speaking literally and thus reducing his argument to a biological norm.. We consider this position untenable because if one chooses to opt for a strictly symbolic presence of the procreative meaning, he simultaneously destroys the basis for condemning the use of hormones to induce temporary sterilization.
- Cf. Declaration on Certain Questions Concerning Sexual Ethics (Rome:Polyglot, 1975).
- The distinction between fundamental and concrete norms here demands a much fuller exposition which is not the object of the present study. However, it is perhaps necessary to advise caution in the use of these terms to determine what belongs in each category. Some notions, such as the teaching on periodic continence, are clearly concrete, material norms which relate to specific behavior and basically enunciate proscriptive rules. It is easy to detect a definite change in this type of teaching. Other concepts, such as the justification of sexual activity, propter solam procreationem may seem at first to be fundamental norms until one realizes that the proposition itself really stands for other things, such as the affirmation of procreation as a good. I believe the assertion that “every act of marriage must remain open to procreation” to be in this category as well, standing for something other than its literal meaning. Generally it is safer to restrict the notion of fundamental norms to positive affirmations, basically related to human and christian virtues and not directly prescriptive of concrete human action.
- Two examples of such affirmations which are crucial to the argument of HV seem to suffer from this ambiguity. The first is that God has disposed “natural laws and rhythms to provide for the spacing of births” (HV,11). If this were literally true, there would be little need for the elaborate research which has been poured into family planning techniques, including periodic continence. The second, more important, idea is the “inseparable connection” between union and procreation (HV, 12). While this may be true in a general way about the conjugal relationship as a whole, even the encyclical (HV,11) admits that not every sexual encounter results in conception. The contrast between the application of this two-fold meaning directly to the act of coitus contrasts sharply with lived experience and led some to consider the teaching contradictory.
- Cf. Theodore Mackin, “Conjugal Love and the Magisterium,” in The Jurist 36(1976), n. 3-4, pp. 263-301. The author here attempts to determine if conjugal love is itself a pars essentialis of the sacrament according to recent documents of the magisterium. Unfortunately, the rather juridical way of putting the question nearly precludes a solution, for even the essential term, “conjugal love” escapes clear definition.
- Throughout this work we have been careful to distinguish the non- or anti-conceptive intention as the decision to avoid having children (i.e., avoid possibly fertile intercourse). This was done lest the “contraceptive intention” be confused with the decision to interfere with the biological mechanisms of fertility and/or intercourse. These two things having been clearly established, we will from this point on use the term “contraceptive intention” to mean exclusively the desire to avoid conception, irregardless of means.
- We are limited, in our scope of analysis, to a consideration of the act of sexual intercourse which alone was the topic addressed by HV. However, a similar distinction of fundamental and concrete norms might also be applied to other sexual activity, such as non-coital relations, when it is recognized that the acts themselves must be related to the service of the entire relationship. The question which played an important part in the controversy over contraception, whether any act can be morally evaluated in itself, naturally will play an important role in one’s whole approach to such issues. This will demand a serious evaluation of the historical notion of “intrinsic evil” and begs for extreme caution in the choice of words one uses to describe such actions.
- Certainly some will wish to add here, “and any sexual relations.” But a moment’s reflection will show that such an assertion goes too far. The presumption, of course, is that every sexual activity is, according to the natural law, orientated to procreation, or at least should be. This attitude is clearly present in the recent Declaration (cf., n.12) but remains unproven. In essence, it amounts to a reduction of the entire scope of human sexuality to a single, biological norm.
- To say that the fundamental norms with respect to marriage had to be re-examined is not to imply that they had substantially changed. Rather, the insistence upon the concrete expression of norms which had become so attached to the biological form of the act instead of the value this may or may not embody, could actually threaten the fundamental norm itself. Such was nearly the case in HV which, having insisted completely on the biological integrity of the act and giving virtually no attention to the motivation of any of the acts perform, almost forgot to mention that marriage as a whole was oriented to procreation. In fact, although the encyclical implies that procreation is the primary end of intercourse, its equation of biological integrity with that end could easily lead to a de facto exclusion of any real procreative possibility while the concrete norm offered was scrupulously followed. It may be interesting to note, further, that the only affirmation of the procreative meaning of conjugal love as a whole (and in principle) found in HV is the result of its commentary on GS.
- In respect to the integrity of magisterial authority, it is helpful to point out that both the minority of the Commission and the so-called “Committee of Eight” (see above, p. 149) explicitly recommended that an evolution in the papal teaching would threaten confidence in the magisterium. Not only does this perspective imply that the magisterium is identified with the papal office, but it also fails to realize that by promulgating GS, Pope Paul had already effected that evolution in the teaching of the church.
- Cf., Jorge Dominguez, La moral y el objecto de la infalibilidad del Papa y de la Iglesia en el Concilio Vaticano I (S.T.D. dissertation U.C. Louvain, 1969), esp. pp. 350-89.
- See above, p. 272, n. 3.
- The one reference to conscience found in the encyclical (HV,10) is a passive one in which it is said that a “right conscience” is conformed to the moral order. This singular, passing use of the term, however, does not set forth any teaching on conscience, but rather assumes the idea of a totally receptive faculty.