Tuesday, 6 April 2021

A footnote in Amoris Laetitia

 The Amoris Laetitia Family year, which began on 19th March 2021, has prompted me to dip into Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation and read those sections that have not drawn my attention in the past.

It is footnote 86 that has caught my eye:

cf Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968), 11-12: AAS 60 (1968), 488-489.

 Pope Francis had already spoken positively of Pope Paul VI's teaching in Humanae Vitae during his press conference on his return to Rome from a visit to Sri Lanka and the Phillipines - he there spoke of Pope Paul as being a "prophet" in the light of his foreseeing the consequences of a movement to control birth rates. I link here to the Italian version of the press conference as the English translation appears somewhat imprecise in its account of Pope Francis' reprimand of a mother expecting an eighth child, which he cites in an unfortunate way that illustrates how responsible parenthood can equally be lived by parents who accept having many children and by parents who for good reason choose to have fewer children.

What I find interesting in the passage of Amoris Laetitia that I quote below, and which includes the footnote and  reference to Humanae Vitae, is the association it establishes between the love of the married couple for each other and the new child as a fruit, not only of the sexual act, but also of that wider love (my emphasis added to the text to bring this out). What the teaching of Humanae Vitae defends is not only the inseparability of the unitive and procreative dimensions of the sexual act but also the inseparability of the child as being born of a love between the couple and their proper physical act that is open to life.

80. Marriage is firstly an “intimate partnership of life and love” which is a good for the spouses themselves, while sexuality is “ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman”. It follows that “spouses to whom God has not granted children can have a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms”. Nonetheless, the conjugal union is ordered to procreation “by its very nature”. The child who is born “does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment”. He or she does not appear at the end of a process, but is present from the beginning of love as an essential feature, one that cannot be denied without disfiguring that love itself. From the outset, love refuses every impulse to close in on itself; it is open to a fruitfulness that draws it beyond itself. Hence no genital act of husband and wife can refuse this meaning, even when for various reasons it may not always in fact beget a new life. 

81. A child deserves to be born of that love, and not by any other means, for “he or she is not something owed to one, but is a gift”, which is “the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of the parents”. This is the case because, “according to the order of creation, conjugal love between a man and a woman, and the transmission of life are ordered to each other (cf. Gen 1:27-28). Thus the Creator made man and woman share in the work of his creation and, at the same time, made them instruments of his love, entrusting to them the responsibility for the future of mankind, through the transmission of human life”.

82. The Synod Fathers stated that “the growth of a mentality that would reduce the generation of human life to one variable of an individual’s or a couple’s plans is clearly evident”. The Church’s teaching is meant to “help couples to experience in a complete, harmonious and conscious way their communion as husband and wife, together with their responsibility for procreating life. We need to return to the message of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae of Blessed Pope Paul VI, which highlights the need to respect the dignity of the person in morally assessing methods of regulating birth… The choice of adoption or foster parenting can also express that fruitfulness which is a characteristic of married life”. With special gratitude the Church “supports families who accept, raise and surround with affection children with various disabilities”.

Thought provoking is the suggestion of nn.80-81 that a "disfiguring of love itself" occurs when the origin of new life in the love of the couple, from the very beginning of that love, is not respected. One can read this in terms of the motivations and intentions of those involved, but this is not perhaps the true way to read it - many couples seeking to conceive children using artificial clinical methods will do so with the best of intentions. It is more about the objective character of the love that is involved, and that is about more than just the intentions - it is about the nature of actions themselves as well, and the best of intentions (which we should always respect in others) can still be associated with a less-than-perfect objective love. 

What the outcomes of a widespread availability of contraceptive methods, and of artificial clinical methods of conception, in developed societies will be is something that we have yet fully to see.

No comments: