The question of human procreation, like every other question which touches human life, involves more than the limited aspects specific to such disciplines as biology, psychology, demography or sociology. It is the whole man and the whole mission to which he is called that must be considered: both its natural, earthly aspects and its supernatural, eternal aspects.
And since in the attempt to justify artificial methods of birth control many appeal to the demands of married love or of responsible parenthood, these two important realities of married life must be accurately defined and analyzed. This is what We mean to do, with special reference to what the Second Vatican Council taught with the highest authority in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the World of Today.
Married love particularly reveals its true nature and nobility when we realize that it takes its origin from God, who "is love," the Father "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named."
Marriage, then, is far from being the effect of chance or the result of the blind evolution of natural forces. It is in reality the wise and provident institution of God the Creator, whose purpose was to effect in man His loving design. As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.
The marriage of those who have been baptized is, in addition, invested with the dignity of a sacramental sign of grace, for it represents the union of Christ and His Church.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 7-8
Reflection – So, one more day on this encyclical for this week, then on to other things, then back next Friday for a few more installments—that’s the plan, and I’m sticking to it!
We dive here right into the deep end of the pool, spiritually and theologically. What is marriage? What is love within marriage? What is this vocation, this human reality that is caught up in divine reality? The Church does not hesitate to offer a vision of marriage which leads to a definition of it: “husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that union of two persons in which they perfect one another, cooperating with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.”
This ‘wise and provident institution of God’ which in Christ becomes a sacrament, with its true nature and nobility coming from the heart of God who is love—I have done enough spiritual direction with married couples in my years of priesthood to know very well that it is one hard way of life. A tough slog, not without joy and laughter, but real work, real sacrifice, real suffering.
I won’t say too much about all of that—after all, the married people reading this blog know all about it from the inside far better than I ever will, and the unmarried people reading this don’t. Some things can only be learned from experience; what I know is that marriage is a deep plunge into the paschal mystery of Christ—love, death, resurrection, joy, sorrow, and love again, all wrapped up in a single mystery. I don’t know any married couple (and I know many) for whom that is not the simple truth of the matter.
So when we are trying to talk about the most difficult and controverted questions around marriage—its definition, permanence, and the proper expression of fertility within it—we have to begin by acknowledging that this is not some simple human reality that we can shape and fashion according to the latest ideas and fashions or even what genuinely and most sincerly seems to us to be good and true.
We can do that with all sorts of things in this world, all the purely human realities. Systems of government and education, economic structures and technological methods of doing stuff—all of this has to be ordered according to justice and charity, but within that basic human order it really can be an ‘anything goes’ kind of approach. These are human realities, and we can shape them freely as we see fit.
Marriage and procreation cannot be so shaped. These are not human realities, in the end, although we live them in an intensely earthy human way. But their origin is divine, their end is divine, and their incarnate path in this world is divine. This is why the Church Herself finds Her hands tied here, with all the constant pressure brought to bear on us to Change Our Teachings. We can’t… we just, simply cannot do it.
It’s not ours to change—it’s God’s, it’s Jesus’, and the deep meaning of all the Church’s ‘laws’ on marriage derive entirely and necessarily from its theological, Christological, cruciform and resurrection structure. That is the most essential and core meaning of marriage, and everything else we say about it only makes sense in light of that core reality. And we will pick up this subject again next Friday, God willing.