GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 8 AUGUST, 1984
Faithfulness to the divine plan in the transmission of life
At the Wednesday general audience of 8 August, in St. Peter's Square, the
Holy Father spoke again on the content of the Encyclical "Humanae Vitae"
regarding the transmission of life.
The following is the translation of the Holy Father's address.
1. We said previously that the principle of conjugal morality, taught by the
Church (Second Vatican Council, Paul VI), is the criterion of faithfulness to
the divine plan.
In conformity with this principle the Encyclical Humanae Vitae clearly
distinguishes between a morally illicit method of birth regulation or, more
precisely, of the regulation of fertility, and one that is morally correct.
In the first place "the direct interruption of the generative process already
begun" ("abortion") is morally wrong (HV14), likewise "direct sterilization" and
"any action, which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse,
is specifically intended to prevent procreation" HV 14), therefore, all
contraceptive means. It is however morally lawful to have "recourse to the
infertile periods" (HV 16): "If therefore there are reasonable grounds for
spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological conditions of husband
or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that then married
people may take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive
system and use their marriage at precisely those times that are infertile, and
in this way control birth without offending moral principles..." (HV 16).
2. The Encyclical emphasizes particularly that "between the two cases there
is an essential difference" (HV 16) and therefore a difference of an ethical
nature: "in the first case married couples rightly use a facility provided them
by nature; in the other case, they obstruct the natural development of the
generative process" (HV 16).
From this there derive two actions that are ethically different, indeed, even
opposed: the natural regulation of fertility is morally correct; contraception
is not morally correct. This essential difference between the two actions (modes
of acting) concerns their intrinsic ethical character, even though my
predecessor Paul VI states that "in each case married couples, for acceptable
reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children", and he
even writes: "that they mean to make sure that none will be born" (HV 16). In
these words the document admits that even those who make use of contraceptive
practices can be motivated by "acceptable reasons", however, this does not
change the moral character which is based on the very structure of the conjugal
act as such.
3. It might be observed at this point that married couples who have recourse
to the natural regulation of fertility, might do so without the valid reasons
spoken of above. This, however, is a separate ethical problem, when one
treats of the moral sense of "responsible parenthood".
Supposing that the reasons for deciding not to procreate are morally correct,
there remains the moral problem of the manner of acting in this case, and
this is expressed in an act which, according to the doctrine of the Church
contained in the Encyclical, possesses its own intrinsic moral qualification,
either positive or negative. The first one, positive, corresponds to the
"natural" regulation of fertility; the second, negative, corresponds to
4. The whole of the previous discussion is summed up in the exposition of
the doctrine contained in Humanae Vitae, by pointing out its
normative and at the same time its pastoral character. In the normative
dimension it is a question of making more precise and clear the moral principles
of action; in the pastoral dimension it is a question especially of pointing out
the possibility of acting in accordance with these principles ("the possibility
of the observance of the divine law", HV 20).
We should dwell on the interpretation of the content of the Encyclical.
To this end one must view that content, that normative-pastoral ensemble, in the
light of the theology of the body as it emerges from the analysis of the
5. The theology of the body is not merely a theory, but rather a specific,
evangelical, Christian pedagogy of the body. This derives from the character of
the Bible, and especially of the Gospel which, as the message of salvation,
reveals man's true good, for the purpose of modeling, according to the
measure of this good, man's earthly life in the perspective of the hope of the
The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, following this line, responds to the
question about the true good of man as a person, as male and female; about that
which corresponds to the dignity of man and woman when one treats of the
important problem of the transmission of life by married couples.
To this problem we shall devote further reflection.
other Papal Writings and Speeches]