July 27, 2012 (HLIAmerica.org) – A recurring theme in Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is that marriage is a “communion of persons” in which the man and the woman offer to each other the total gift of themselves. This gift is complete and unreserved. It represents personal, unalloyed wholeness.
“Gift” and “wholeness” are linked to each other naturally. In sports, athletes routinely boast that they give 110% of themselves. John Paul would settle for just 100% between just two people. Some stores advertise that they are open 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. A gift in which the batteries are not included will inevitably disappoint its recipient. A gift of one sock or a shirt with three buttons missing would prove insulting. Even “re-gifting” an otherwise decent gift is severely frowned upon since its purity is compromised by frugality. Gifts should be whole, thoughtful, and genuine.
Of all gifts, the reciprocal gifts of self in marriage should be the most whole and the most unsullied.
The wholeness of the woman can be terrifying to a man. After all, from the viewpoint of sexuality, the role he plays is very limited compared with that of his counterpart. Her sexual repertoire goes far beyond that of the male and includes conception, implantation, pregnancy, gestation, labor, delivery, lactation and breast feeding. She is like the Queen Bee in comparison to the male drone. How important it is, then, for the man to recognize, appreciate, and honor the highly diversified sexual wholeness of the woman.
There is a passage of extraordinary moral insight in James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the most difficult to comprehend books ever written. In the “Oxen of the Sun” episode, a group of students are declaring their support for contraception: “Copulation without population,” they chant. But Stephen Dedalus, who is in their midst, disagrees with them because he is wary of separating sex from fecundity. He states, in typical Joycean fashion:
But, gramercy, what of those Godpossibled souls that we nightly impossibilise, which is a sin against the Holy Ghost, Very God, Lord and Giver of life. In her lay a Godframed Godgiven preformed possibility which thou hast fructified with thy modicum of man’s work. Cleave to her! Serve!
To contracept is to rebuke a woman for being a woman.
Fresh language can revive ideas that have gone stale. Joyce is trying to awaken us, perhaps even resurrect us from the dead. Dedalus (which stands for “Dead-all-of-us”, a judgment against the unthinking masses) does not want to free women from their fertility to make them more male-like; he wants to honor them in their extraordinary capacity for life-initiating, love-receiving and person-developing. A woman, in this physiological sense, is a true virtuoso. She commands profound respect. Therefore, the freedom that the immature students are urging is a false freedom because it makes the woman less free since it reduces her to something less than what she is. Contraception, therefore, is a deprivation.
Because the woman’s body is “preformed” by God, and because she is in touch with the “Giver of life,” to sin against the woman is also to sin against her God. Contraception, then, is both contra-woman as well as contra-God.
It is critical that the man honors the sexual breadth of the woman and not use contraception to cut her down to his size. As soon as a man has this respect, even reverence, for the woman, the use of the contraceptive becomes repugnant to him.
In view of a woman’s fertility and all that it encompasses, the man should be humbled in her presence. In this respect, the woman transcends him both on the horizon of time and in the prodigality of her procreative gifts. G. K. Chesterton was being both insightful and prophetic when he said that contraception “is a name given to a succession of different expedients by which it is possible to filch the pleasure belonging to a natural process while violently and unnaturally thwarting the process itself.” We have burned our cathedral to fry an egg, and blighted our future for a fleeting moment.
The great mistake contraception-promoters have made is to begin their philosophy with a mentality of convenience rather than a spirit of reverence. Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand, in their book, The Art of Living, remind us of the primary importance of this essential virtue: “Reverence is the attitude which can be designated as the mother of all moral life, for in it man takes a position toward the world which opens his spiritual eyes and enables him to grasp values.”
If reverence is the mother of all moral life, then, its absence must be highly injurious to it. Contraception may be the wicked stepmother to more ills than we commonly realize.
Donald DeMarco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow of HLI America (HLI), an initiative of Human Life International. He is Professor Emeritus at St. Jerome’s University in Waterloo, Ontario and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. He writes for HLI’s Truth and Charity Forum, where this article first appeared.