In my previous post, I stated that for Pope Paul VI (and for the entire Catholic tradition), sex must be understood within the wider context of love, and in particular, of marital love. The very essence of marital love is the total gift of self. Because it is meant to be a total gift of self, marital love has several characteristics which distinguish it from other forms of love. Since sex properly exists within the context of marital love, it inherits its properties from marital love. These properties are the topic of this post. First, however, we must clarify something concerning what the Church teaches about the body and sexuality because it has become a source of confusion, error, and overall stupidity.
Many people believe that the Church teaches that sexuality and the body are evil. This is blatantly false. There are many reasons why the Church says that the body is good. I will only mention two that are derived directly from some of the most important Catholic beliefs. The first reason comes from the belief in a creative God, that is, we believe that God created the body, “and he found it very good” (Gen. 1:31). God, being the ultimate good, would never create anything bad. Hence, the body is good, including the differences between the sexes: “God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27). Not only that, but He blessed them by saying, “Be fertile and multiply” (Gen. 1:28), which, of course, is a blessing of the conjugal act, through which human beings multiply. The belief in a creative God leads us, then, to accept the body and sexuality as good.
The second belief of the Catholic faith that points toward the goodness of the body is the Incarnation. Not only is the body good because God created it, it is good because God Himself took it as His own: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). By doing so, God raised the dignity of the human body to a whole new level. G.K. Chesterton adequately phrased this by saying, “Plato might despise the flesh; but God had not despised it.” The body that has housed God can in no way be evil. For some reason that I do not comprehend, people have come to the conclusion that because the Catholic Church teaches that the body and sexuality must be subject to reason and to the will, it condemns them; because it asks that the body and sexuality be treated with respect and solemnity, it sheds a negative light on them. That is nonsense. In fact, it is the opposite view that has taken the sacredness out of sex, eliminating all true respect for the body. If physical pleasure is the supreme value, the authentic supreme value, love, is undermined. Therefore cheapened sex is cheapened, made into a commodity, a product, something infinitely less worthy than what the Catholic believes it to be.
Because this sacredness of sex has been lost, a correct understanding of its nature has been lost as well. Paul VI attempts to correct this. Sex, he says, has a twofold nature: it is unitive and procreative. These two purposes of sex come from the fact that sex depends on love and not the other way around. Sex is meant to be a manifestation of spousal love but it is not spousal love. Because this spousal love is, of its nature, unitive, sex serves the purpose of uniting husband and wife. Because love is, of its nature, fruitful, sex also serves the purpose of reproduction. These are not two independent realities that can be separated at will. They are intrinsically united so that losing one implies losing the other. It might help to think of this twofold nature of sex by using an analogy with the twofold nature (body-soul) of human beings. Separating these two essential elements has similar effects on both: it kills them. When you take the soul out of the body, you are left with a corpse. Artificially denying one of these aspects of sex leaves us with a “corpse” of what used to be sex. And just like a corpse, it will rot. When body and soul are separated, you lose the person; when union and procreation are separated, you lose love. By getting rid of one of the parts, you lose the whole. Many defenders of contraception say that sex is much more than just having babies. They are absolutely right, as Paul VI constantly reminds us. However, by voluntarily removing the procreative aspect of sex, they are not making sex more than that, they are actually making it less. Once procreation is removed, union is lost, and love with it. Sex then becomes nothing more than the satisfaction of a physical urge. It ceases to be a free act of love and becomes the egotistical response to an instinct. It is important to point out, though, that removing the unitive aspect of sex would have a similar effect.
Trying to remove procreation from sex is not something new (you can even find accounts of it in the Bible), but it was not until our time that it became “normal,” not only widely accepted but hailed as a right. More importantly, it was not until our time that it became technologically feasible. Even now, this mentality is only notoriously prevalent in Western or westernized societies, but it is quickly spreading (like the plague that it is) to other cultures as well. This leads us to an important question: how is it that we have come to this point?
Paul VI answers this question by pointing back to the many changes that have taken place in our civilization, those that he addressed at the beginning of the encyclical. He does not go into an in-depth analysis because that is not the purpose of Humanae Vitae. However, we should delve deeper intp all these matters in order to understand the teachings of the Pope better. It is clear from the text that he believes that the ideologies of materialism and individualism are the main culprits of this mess that is the understanding of sexuality. The sexual revolution and its corresponding “contraception revolution” are both products of these ideologies.
In a hypothetical purely materialistic and individualistic society (which is actually a contradiction in terms), love cannot exist. If there are no spiritual values (the basic premise of materialism) and the only standards that determine what is good and what is bad are material (survival, pleasure, etc.), then the notion of sacrificial love has no meaning. It becomes nonsensical. But sacrificial love is exactly what married love is meant to be! The gift of self makes no sense in a culture that teaches that “fulfillment” consists in the accumulation of material goods and sensuous pleasures. In such a culture, other people are considered valuable insofar as they can provide additional goods and pleasures and they become undesirable when they fail to do so or, God forbid, even take away from them. The very idea of “gift” is incompatible with that culture. Materialism destroys the very core of a correct understanding of love and, as a consequence, of sex.
Individualism has a yet more subtle influence on the modern concepts of sexuality, love, and the relationship between the sexes. Paul VI hints at it when he says, “also noteworthy is a new understanding of the dignity of woman and her place in society, of the value of conjugal love in marriage and the relationship of conjugal acts to this love.” All these notions have been changed by individualism and what I call the “ideology of conflict.” Individualism creates conflicts where they should not exist and intensifies those that exist due to our fallen nature. Conflicts such as those between the citizen and the state, between the person and his society, and even between individuals themselves find their original source in an individualistic worldview. These conflicts might reach an artificial equilibrium for a while but that balance will eventually give in to the external forces acting upon it. This is something that has become particularly clear in the relationship between men and women. Women and men are no longer seen as collaborators (from Latin collaborare, to labor with) working together in a complementary fashion, but as competitors. It follows that if women have to compete with men, they have the “right” to remove all “obstacles” that hold them back. The most obvious obstacle, and one that puts them at a clear “disadvantage” with respect to men —at least from this individualistic point of view— is motherhood, even when motherhood is that which is most feminine in that it is exclusively a feminine potential. The ideology of conflict goes even further and introduces conflict in the relationship between parents and children. Children are commonly seen as an obstacle to maintaining a certain standard of living, or as an obstacle to a career. or simply as something that makes our lives more difficult. A child can, therefore, be considered “unwanted.” Individualism is, at its very core, incompatible with true sacrifice, which implies giving something up for somebody else, a notion that is essential for love to exist. It is, on the other hand, perfectly compatible with a contraceptive mentality.
As I have stated multiple times already (echoing Paul VI’s insistence on the matter), if we misunderstand love we will invariably misunderstand sex. In a society where the values of materialism and individualism prevail, love is severely distorted. Hence, sex becomes perverted. It ceases to unite a man and a woman, to make of two persons “one flesh.” It might become something to do for fun, the satisfaction of an urge or instinct, or even a sign of domination. It might become whatever you want, but it will cease to be the manifestation of the gift of self. It stops being what it is supposed to be.
All this discussion is simply building up Pope Paul’s argument. It is setting the stage for his statement on the moral status of artificial contraception. I will deal with that, however, in my next post.contraception, relationships, sexuality
Slider by webdesign