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Pope Piux XI

July 13, 2018 (Rorate Caeli) – Over the last few decades, the West has experienced an “anti-family” revolution without precedent in history. One of the tenets of this process in the disintegration of the institution of the family was the separation of the two primary purposes of marriage: the procreative and the unitive. The procreative purpose, separated from conjugal union, has brought about in vitro fertilization and the surrogate womb. The unitive purpose, emancipated from procreation, has lead to the glorification of free love, both heterosexual and homosexual. One of the results of these aberrations is the recourse of homosexual couples to the practice of the surrogate womb in order to actualize a grotesque caricature of the natural family. 

Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, which celebrates its 50th anniversary on July 25, 2018, had the merit of reiterating the inseparableness of the purports of marriage and of clearly condemning artificial contraception, made possible in the 1960s by the commercialization of Dr. Pinkus's Pill. Yet even Humanae Vitae has it culpability: not affirming with the same clarity the hierarchy of the purposes of marriage – i.e., the primacy of the procreative over the unitive.

Two principles, or values, are never on the same level of equality. One is always subordinate to the other. This happens in the relationships between faith and reason, between grace and nature, between the Church and the State, and so forth. It is about inseparable but distinct, hierarchically ordered realities. If the order of these relationships is not defined, tensions and conflicts will follow, resulting in the overturning of principles. In this respect, the process of moral disintegration inside the Church has among its causes also the absence of a clear definition of the primary purpose of marriage in the encyclical of Paul VI.

The doctrine of the Church on marriage was affirmed as definitive and binding by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii of December 31, 1930. In this document, the pope calls the attention of the entire Church and all of the human race to the fundamental truths on the nature of marriage, an institution not of men, but conceived by God Himself, and on the blessings and benefits society derives from it. The first purpose is procreation – which doesn't mean simply bringing children into the world, but educating them, intellectually, morally, and most of all spiritually, to help them attain their eternal destiny, which is Heaven. The second purpose is the mutual assistance of the spouses, which is not only a material assistance, nor only a sexual, sentimental intent, but primarily an assistance and spiritual union.

The encyclical contains a clear and vigorous condemnation of contraceptive methods, defined as “shameful actions and intrinsically dishonest.” Thus: “Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin” (56).

Pius XII confirmed the teaching of his predecessor in many discourses. The original schema on the family and marriage at Vatican II, approved by John XXIII in July 1962 but rejected at the start of the works by the Council Fathers, reiterated this doctrine, explicitly condemning “theories that, reversing the right order of values, put the primary purpose of marriage in the shade with respect to the biological and personal values of the spouses and that, in the same objective order, suggest the conjugal love as the primary goal” (n. 14).

The procreative purpose, objective and rooted in nature, never ceases. The unitive purpose, subjective and founded on the will of the spouses, can die out. The primacy of the procreative purpose saves the marriage; the primacy of the unitive purpose exposes it to grave risks.

Furthermore, we mustn't forget that the purposes of marriage are not two, but three, because there is also – subordinate – the remedy against concupiscence. Nobody speaks about this third purpose, seeing as we have lost the meaning of the notion of concupiscence, often confused with sin, in the Lutheran sense. Concupiscence, present in every person, except the Most Blessed Virgin, immune to original sin, reminds us that that life on Earth is an incessant struggle, as St. John says: “For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). The exaltation of sexual instincts, injected into the mainstream culture by Marxism-Freudism, is nothing other than the glorification of concupiscence and, consequently, original sin.

This inversion of the purposes of marriage, which leads inevitably to the explosion of concupiscence in society, appears in Pope Francis's exhortation, Amoris Laetitia of April 9, 2015, where we read, “Then too, we often present marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love and its ideal of mutual assistance are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation” (36).

These words repeat almost verbatim those pronounced in the Council Hall on October 29, 1964 by Leo-Joseph Suenens, in a discourse that scandalized Paul VI. “Perhaps,” said the cardinal, archbishop of Brussels, “we have accentuated the words of the Scriptures: 'increase and multiply' to the point of leaving the other Divine words in the shade: 'and the two will be one flesh' … It will be up to the Commission to tell us whether we have emphasized too much the first, which is procreation, to the detriment of a purpose likewise imperative, which is growth in the conjugal union.”

Cardinal Suenens insinuates that the primary purpose of marriage is not that of increasing and multiplying, but that “the two be one flesh.” Here we move from a theological, philosophical definition to a psychological description of marriage, presented not as bond rooted in nature and dedicated to the propagation of the human race, but as an intimate communion, directed at the reciprocal love between the spouses. But once marriage is reduced to a communion of love, birth control, natural or artificial, whatever it is, is seen as a good and merits being encouraged, under the name of “responsible parenthood” inasmuch as it contributes to strengthening the first good of conjugal union. The inevitable consequence is that, once this intimate communion should stop, the marriage should be dissolved.

The inversion of the roles inside the conjugal union accompanies the inversion of the purposes. The physical-psychological well-being of the woman replaces her mission as mother. The birth of a child is seen as an element that can upset the intimate communion of the couple's love. The child can be thought of as an unjust aggressor to the family's equilibrium, which is to be protected with contraception and, in extreme cases, with abortion.

The interpretation we have given to Cardinal Suenens's words is not a stretch of the imagination. Consistent with that discourse, the primate cardinal of Belgium, in 1968, spearheaded the revolt of bishops and theologians against Humanae Vitae. The Declaration of the Belgian Episcopate, of August 30, 1968, against Paul VI's encyclical was, along with that of the German Episcopate, one of the first elaborated by an Episcopal Conference and served as a model of protest for other episcopates.

We, therefore, respond with firmness to the heirs of that contestation, who are proposing the reinterpretation of Humanae Vitae in the light of Amoris Laetitia, that we will continue to read Paul VI's encyclical in the light of Casti Connubii and the perennial Magisterium of the Church.

This article was translated by Francesca Romana and is published with permission from Rorate Caeli.