Thursday, July 24, 2008

Humanae Vitae - From "Object" to "Subject"

On the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, it must be noted that HV is the first supreme, practical statement of what actually took place in the Second Vatican Council. The Magisterium of the Catholic Church complemented and deepened its epistemological depth by inserting the previously objectivized presentation of doctrine into the subjective horizon of the ontological subject. Said somewhat less menacingly, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla remarked: “If we study the Conciliar Magisterium as a whole, we find that the Pastors of the Church were not so much concerned to answer questions like ‘What should men believe?,’ ‘What is the real meaning of this or that truth of faith?’ and so on, but rather to answer the more complex question: ‘What does it mean to be a believer, a Catholic and a member of the Church?’”[1] This is the meaning of Vatican II as “pastoral Council.” That is to say, instead of the “attitude” of dealing with truth in terms of concepts about “objects” – be they God, Christ, man, grace, sacraments, etc. – the “attitude” was the experience of the subject as ontological reality.

Case in point: Ludwig Ott reports: “The Holy Office, in the year 1944, in answer to an enquiry, re-asserted the traditional teaching, according to which the primary purpose of marriage is the generation and bringing-up of children, and according to which the secondary purposes of marriage are essentially subordinate to the primary one: Denzinger 2295.”[2] Karol Wojtyla took the traditional teaching of the two ends, primary and secondary and declared that “conjugal morality consists of a stable and mature synthesis of nature’s purpose with the personalistic norm.”[3] With that intellectual move, he effectively transferred the whole horizon of analysis from object to subject (which is not a loss of ontological density and reality, but a gain). And it must be remembered that Wojtyla’s whole forma mentis is the disclosure of the “I” as the supreme ontological reality, indeed, the “privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”[4] The personalistic norm as enunciated by Wojtyla is the following: “the person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and as such the means to an end. In its positive form the personalistic norm confirms this: the person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.”[5] And it must be recalled that Cardinal Wojtyla and Polish theologians played a major role in the conceptualization of Humanae Vitae. Weigel says: “In 1966, the archbishop of Krakow created his own diocesan commission to study the issues being debated by the Papal Commission. The archbishop, soon to be cardinal, was an active participant in the Krakow commission’s deliberations, which also drew on the expertise he had begun to gather in the nascent archdiocesan Institute for Family Studies. The Krakow commission completed its work in February 1968, and a memorandum of conclusions – ‘The Foundations of the Church’s Doctrine on the Principles of Conjugal Life’ – was drawn up in French and sent to Paul VI by Cardinal Wojtyla [found in Analecta Cracoviensia I (1969) 194-230].”[6]

The significant point is that the Magisterium of the Church, since the publication of Gaudium et Spes #48 which described married love as the “mutual giving of two persons” - in a word, the “self-giving” of Gaudium et Spes #24, the mutual giving of the “I’s,” the subjects – never returned to the conceptualization nor semantics of marriage as “nature” (an object) with primary and secondary ends. Rather, the marriage act is set forth conceptually and semantically as involving “the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meaning of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (HV #12). One could say that the two ends of matrimony have been understood more deeply as raised up and seen as integrated in the enfleshed person as subject-gift. To be gift is to be love and to be fruitful as two inseparable dimensions of the self-giving subject. The moral criterion of matrimony, then, is not the child as a third party, but the act of self-giving. The child is not the moral criterion. Rather, the moral criterion is the metaphysical structure of the spouses imaging the divine Persons as Relations, whereby they must be always open to the child. This occurs even when the spouses refrain from intercourse during the fertile period

Total self-gift is the divinizing act. It precludes contraception. But it also includes self-restraint in abstaining from sexual relations when there are serious reasons not to have a child. In this case, one is taking advantage of a natural sterility in the cycle of the woman that should be known as integral to her person as enfleshed person. Both cases involve self-gift, the one to have the child, the other not to have the child when informed prudence would dictate otherwise. Gaudium et Spes #51 says: “When there is a question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspect of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives. It must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his or her acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love.” John Paul II clarified further: “In the light of the experience of many couples and of the data provided by the different human sciences, theological reflection is able to perceive and is called to study further the difference, both anthropological and moral, between contracepting and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle: it is a difference which is much wider and deeper than is usually thought, one which involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the human person and of human sexuality. The choice of the natural rhythms involves accepting the cycle of the person, that is the woman, and thereby accepting dialogue, reciprocal respect, shared responsibility and self-control. To accept the cycle and to enter into dialogue means to recognize both the spiritual and corporal character of conjugal communion, and to live personal love with its requirement of fidelity.”[7]

With regard to NFP and the knowledge of the cycle, John Paul II further remarks: “Accordingly, every effort must be made to render such knowledge accessible to all married people and also to young adults before marriage, through clear, timely and serious instruction and education given by married couples, doctors and experts. Knowledge must then lead to education in self-control: hence the absolute necessity for the virtue of chastity and for permanent education in it. In the Christian view, chastity by no means signifies rejection of human sexuality or lack of esteem for it: rather it signifies spiritual energy capable of defending love from the perils of selfishness and aggressiveness, and able to advance it towards its full realization.”[8]

[1] K. Wojtyla, “Sources of Renewal,” Harper and Row (1979) 17.
[2] L. Ott, “Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,” Tan 1974 (1952) 462.
[3] K. Wojtyla, “Love and Responsibility,” Farrar Straus Giroux (1981) 67.
[4] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio” #83.
[5] Ibid 41
[6] G. Weigel, “Witness to Hope” Cliffside Books (1999) 207.
[7] John Paul II, “Familiaris Consortio” #32.
[8] Ibid 33.

1 comment:

Lucius said...

The experience of the subject as ontological reality? That subject is very much wounded by sin which includes a darkening of the intellect and a weak will hence the importance (primacy?) of the objective which in terms of the Faith gives and includes light and grace via which the subject sees, understands, and lives. The "I" as supreme ontological reality???? The "I" as in Ego cogito and the shores of idealism??? That can't be