Humanae Vitae 45 Years Later: Part III

Part 3: Humanae Vitae in 21st Century Language

Bob & Gerri Laird

This week marks national NFP Awareness Week as well as the 45th anniversary of the encyclical Humanae Vitae. Part 3 of this series explores Humanae Vitae’s arguments via the modern language of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body.

In his writings and talks, Blessed John Paul II gave us a new formulation for the Church’s teaching on human sexuality, a way that speaks to a world that accepts behaviors that are degrading to our dignity as human persons. He begins with the human person and how we are unique: persons with bodies, made in the image and likeness of God specifically so that there would be a visible expression of personhood in the world.

The late Rev. Richard M. Hogan explained: “But if we are made in God’s image and likeness, then the body does more than reveal ourselves. It also reveals God when we act as God acts, and express those acts outwardly in and through our bodies. In this case, the body becomes a physical image of God Himself.  The body then has a dignity and value in its own right.”[1]

Hogan further states that

Blessed John Paul II revealed two worlds to us:

the world as God created it and the Church accepts as reality – that we are each unique unrepeatable expressions of God, possessing a dignity beyond compare; and that the body is sacred and holy because it is an expression of the human person and even an expression of God Himself, or

the world where the body is a machine and everything is possible – but the human person becomes an object and a thing with no dignity or value at all, and in which all human rights disappear.[2]

This is what Pope Paul VI was trying to convey in HV and what Blessed John Paul II continued to teach through his various writings and talks.

If the body is a thing, a machine which each of us owns and operates, then we can do anything we want with it because we own the machine: Pornography, lust, masturbation, contraception, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, test-tube babies, homosexual behavior, fornication, adultery – everything and anything is possible – every teaching of the Church regarding sexual morality and reproductive technologies falls if we accept the premise that the body is just a thing.

But, a lot of other immoral behaviors become acceptable as well: If we own our bodies, then someone else can own them – slavery could become acceptable, and there would be nothing (no moral argument) to assail it.

Renting our bodies (with all that entails) is possible.  There should be nothing wrong then with prostitution or sex trafficking.  We are just using the thing (body) that we, or someone else, own.

Abortion is acceptable because the parents are the ones who “own” the baby since they “produced” him or her. If they produce “it,” they can destroy it.

Even child abuse becomes acceptable because the parents (or whoever owns the child) are not harming the person – just the exterior body that the person inhabits. (Rep. Chris Smith noted the current proposal by ethicists to allow after birth abortions.[3]  Since abortion is a more acceptable term than infanticide, the ethicists simply added the adjectives after birth. If abortion is okay, then after birth abortion should also be okay, and so would euthanasia.

Yet all of these are violations of the human person:

Pornography, lust, and masturbation involve the use of oneself (and sometimes another) as a thing for sexual gratification and thus violate the dignity of the entire person.

In vitro fertilization violates the dignity of husband, wife and child: each is manipulated; their bodies are treated as sources of biological material (much like vending machines).

Homosexual behaviors, fornication, and adultery all undermine marriage; while those involved may think they are in love, their actions violate human dignity because they are using another person as a thing and desecrating their own integrity as well.

Contraception and sterilization – the use of mechanical, chemical, or medical procedures to prevent conception from taking place as a result of sexual intercourse – involve the alteration of a healthy, major, functioning part of the body. They damage or destroy a healthy organ and treat the body as a thing or a machine.

Abortion is the deliberate termination of a newly conceived life – anytime after conception (not implantation) – and thus is the destruction of another person made in God’s image.

With regard to our sexuality, the Catholic Church teaches that we are male and female human persons made in the image and likeness of God. We are made to love, and we are made for love. The Church will defend behaviors that respect our dignity and oppose behaviors that do not.

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In Part 4: Natural Family Planning (NFP) is knowledge that “reads” the “language” of the sexual powers. NFP enables married couples to make virtuous decisions regarding responsible parenthood.

[1]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, “Theology of the Body as It Relates to Sexuality,” The Art of Natural Family Planning Student Guide®, Second Edition, 2007, 2011. The Couple to Couple League International, Inc.,  57.

[2]Rev. Richard M. Hogan, as stated in several of his talks on marriage, family, and Blessed John Paul II’s new theological construct.