GENERAL AUDIENCE OF WEDNESDAY, 8 AUGUST 
At the Wednesday general audience of 8 August in St Peter's
Square, the Holy Father spoke again on the content of the Encyclical "Humanae
Vitae," regarding the transmission of life. The following is our
translation of the Holy Father's address.
1. We said previously that the principle of conjugal morality, taught
by the Church (Second Vatican Council, Paul VI), is the criterion of
faithfulness to the divine plan.
In conformity with this principle, the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
clearly distinguishes between a morally illicit method of birth
regulation or, more precisely, of the regulation of fertility, and one
that is morally correct.
In the first place "the direct interruption of the generative process
already begun [abortion]...is morally wrong" (HV 14), likewise "direct
sterilization" and "any action, which either before, at the moment of,
or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent
procreation" (HV 14)—therefore,
all contraceptive means. It is however morally lawful to have "recourse
to the infertile periods" (HV 16): "If therefore there are
reasonable grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or
psychological conditions of husband or wife, or from external
circumstances, the Church teaches that then married people may take
advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and
use their marriage at precisely those times that are infertile, and in
this way control birth without offending moral principles..." (HV 16).
Natural regulation versus contraception
2. The Encyclical emphasizes especially that "between the two cases
there is an essential difference" (HV 16), and therefore a difference of
an ethical nature: "In the first case married couples rightly use a
facility provided them by nature; in the other case, they obstruct the
natural development of the generative process" (HV 16).
Two actions that are ethically different, indeed, even opposed, derive
from this: the natural regulation of fertility is morally correct;
contraception is not morally correct. This essential difference between
the two actions (modes of acting) concerns their intrinsic ethical
character, even though my predecessor Paul VI states that "in each case
married couples, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in
their intention to avoid children." He even writes: "...that they mean
to make sure that none will be born" (HV 16). In these words the
document admits that even those who use contraceptive practices can be
motivated by "acceptable reasons." However, this does not change the
moral character which is based on the very structure of the conjugal act
Moral and pastoral dimensions
3. It might be observed at this point that married couples who have
recourse to the natural regulation of fertility, might do so without the
valid reasons spoken of above. However, this is a separate ethical
problem, when one treats of the moral sense of responsible
Supposing that the reasons for deciding not to procreate are morally
correct, there remains the moral problem of the manner of acting
in this case. This is expressed in an act which—according
to the doctrine of the Church contained in the Encyclical—possesses
its own intrinsic moral qualification, either positive or negative. The
first one, positive, corresponds to the "natural" regulation of
fertility; the second, negative, corresponds to "artificial
4. The whole of the previous discussion is summed up in the
exposition of the doctrine contained in Humanae Vitae, by
pointing out its normative and at the same time its pastoral character.
In the normative dimension it is a question of making more precise and
clear the moral principles of action; in the pastoral dimension it is a
question especially of pointing out the possibility of acting in
accordance with these principles ("the possibility of the observance of
the divine law", HV 20).
We should dwell on the interpretation of the content of the
Encyclical. To this end one must view that content, that
normative-pastoral ensemble, in the light of the theology of the body as
it emerges from the analysis of the biblical texts.
5. The theology of the body is not merely a theory, but rather a
specific, evangelical, Christian pedagogy of the body. This derives from
the character of the Bible, and especially of the Gospel. As the message
of salvation, it reveals man's true good, for the purpose of
to the measure of this good—man's
earthly life in the perspective of the hope of the future world.
The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, following this line, responds to
the question about the true good of man as a person, as male and female;
about that which corresponds to the dignity of man and woman when one
treats of the important problem of the transmission of life by married
To this problem we shall devote further reflection.