Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Kraków commission on Humanae Vitae

George Weigel on Humanae Vitae

The Kraków commission memorandum, which reflected the thinking of Cardinal Wojtyla and the moral analysis of Love and Responsibility, tried to develop a new framework for the Church's classic position on conjugal morality and fertility regulation: a fully articulated, philosophically well-developed Christian humanism that believers and non-believers alike could engage.

The starting point for moral argument, they proposed, was the human person, for human beings were the only creatures capable of "morality." This human person, male or female, was not a disembodied self but a unity of body and spirit. My "self" is not here, and "my body" there. As a free moral actor, I am a unity of body and spirit. Thinking about the moral life has to be thinking within that unity, taking account of both dimensions of the human person.

The Kraków theologians went on to argue that nature had inscribed what might be called a moral language and grammar in the sexual structure of the human body. That moral language and grammar could be discerned by human intelligence and respected by the human will. Morally appropriate acts respected that language and grammar in all its complexity, which included both the unitive and procreative dimensions of human sexuality: sexual intercourse as both an expression of love and the means for transmitting the gift of life. Any act that denied one of these dimensions violated the grammar of the act and necessarily, if unwittingly, reduced one's spouse to an object of one's pleasure. Marital chastity was a matter of mutual self-giving that transcended itself and achieved its truly human character by its openness to the possibility of new life.

This openness had to be lived responsibly. "The number of children called into existence cannot be left to chance," according to the Kraków memorandum, but must be decided "in a dialogue of love between husband and wife." Fertility regulation, in fulfillment of the "duty" to plan one's family, must therefore be done through a method that conformed to human dignity, recognized the "parity between men and women," and involved the "cooperation" of the spouses. By placing the entire burden on the woman, chemical and mechanical means of fertility regulation like the contraceptive pill and the intra-uterine device violated these criteria.

Contrary to the claims of the sexual revolution, such artificial means of contraception freed men for hedonistic behavior while violating the biological integrity of women with invasive and potentially harmful tools. Family planning by observing nature's biological rhythms was the only method of fertility regulation that respected the dignity and equality of the spouses as persons.

The Kraków theologians openly admitted that living marital chastity this way involved real sacrifice, a "great ascetic effort [and] the mastery of self." Education in the virtue of chastity must begin with "respect for others, respect for the body and [for] the realities of sex." Young people had to be taught "the equality of right between man and woman" as the foundation of "mutual responsibility."

Pastors who shied away from programs aimed at educating couples in fertility regulation through natural biological rhythms were derelict in their duties, and were complicit in the "grand confusion of ideas" that surrounded sexuality in the modern world. Moreover, the memorandum continued, the pastor did not fulfill his responsibilities as a moral teacher by inveighing against promiscuity. On the contrary, no one could preach or teach persuasively on this subject unless the entire question was put in the humanistic context necessary for the Church's teaching to ring true. It was imperative that pastors work with lay people in this field, for "well-instructed Christian couples" were better positioned to help other couples live chaste lives of sexual love.

No comments: