GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 28 AUGUST 
At the 28 August general audience held in St Peter's Square, the
Holy Father continued his reflections on the encyclical "Humanae Vitae"
regarding the Church's teaching on the transmission of life.
The following is our translation of the Pope's address.
1. The Encyclical Humanae Vitae, while demonstrating the moral
evil of contraception, at the same time fully approves of the natural
regulation of fertility and, in this sense, it approves of
responsible parenthood. Here one must exclude the possibility of
describing as "responsible" from the ethical point of view that
procreation in which recourse is had to contraception in order to
regulate fertility. On the contrary, the true concept of responsible
parenthood is connected with the right and lawful regulation of
fertility from the ethical viewpoint.
2. We read in this regard: "The right and lawful ordering of the births
of children presupposes in husband and wife first and foremost that they
fully recognize and value the true blessings of family life, and
secondly, that they acquire complete mastery over themselves and their
emotions. For if with the aid of reason and of free will they are to
control their natural drives, there can be no doubt at all of the need
for self-denial. Only then will the expression of love, particular to
married life, conform to right order. And this is especially true as
regards the practice of periodic continence. But self-discipline of this
kind is a shining witness to the chastity of husband and wife and, so
far from being a hindrance to their love of one another, transforms it
by giving it a more truly human character. And if this self-discipline
does demand that they persevere in their purpose and efforts, it has at
the same time the salutary effect of enabling husband and wife to
develop to the full their personalities and be enriched with spiritual
blessings..." (HV 21).
The proper attitude
3. The Encyclical then points out the consequences of such a line of
conduct not merely for the couple themselves but also for the whole
family understood as a community of persons. It will be necessary to
treat this subject again. The encyclical underlines that a right and
lawful regulation of fertility demands above all from husband and wife a
definite family and procreative attitude. That is to say, it
requires "that they acquire and possess solid convictions about the true
values of life and of the family" (HV 21). Beginning from this premise,
it was necessary to proceed to an overall consideration of the question
as the 1980 Synod of Bishops did (cf. On the Role of the Christian
Family). Later, the doctrine concerning this particular problem of
conjugal and family morality, treated of in the Encyclical Humanae
Vitae, found its proper place and fitting perspective in the
comprehensive context of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris
Consortio. The theology of the body, especially as the pedagogy of
the body, has its roots, in a certain sense, in the theology of the
family and, at the same time, leads to it. This pedagogy of the body,
whose key today is the Encyclical Humanae Vitae, is explained
only in the full context of a correct vision of the values of life and
of the family.
4. In the text quoted above, Pope Paul VI refers to conjugal chastity
when he writes that the observance of periodic continence is the form of
self-mastery in which conjugal chastity is manifested (cf. HV 21).
In undertaking now a deeper analysis of this problem, it is necessary to
bear in mind the whole doctrine on chastity understood as the life of
the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25), already considered by us, in order to
understand the respective statements of the encyclical on the theme of
periodic continence. That doctrine remains indeed the real reason,
beginning from which the teaching of Paul VI defines the regulation
of births and responsible parenthood as ethically right and
Even though the periodicity of continence in this case is applied to the
so-called "natural rhythms" (HV 16), the continence itself is a
definite and permanent moral attitude. It is a virtue, and
therefore the whole line of conduct guided by it acquires a virtuous
character. The Encyclical emphasizes clearly enough that here it is
not merely a matter of a definite technique, but of ethics in
the strict sense of the term as the morality of conduct.
Therefore, the Encyclical opportunely sets out in relief, on the one
hand, the necessity to respect in the above-mentioned line of conduct
the order established by the Creator, and on the other hand, the
necessity of an immediate motivation of an ethical character.
5. In regard to the first aspect we read: "To experience the gift of
married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge
that one is not the master of the sources of life, but rather the
minister of the design established by the Creator" (HV 13). "Human life
our predecessor of holy memory, John XXIII, said in his Encyclical
Mater et Magistra—"from
its very beginning it involves directly the creative action of God" (AAS
53, 1961; cf. HV 13). As regards the immediate motivation, the
Encyclical Humanae Vitae requires that "there exist reasonable
grounds for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological
condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances..." (HV
Living by the Spirit
6. In the case of a morally upright regulation of fertility effected
by means of periodic continence, one is clearly dealing with the
practice of conjugal chastity, that is, of a definite ethical attitude.
In biblical language we could say that it is a case of living by the
Spirit (cf. Gal 5:25).
The morally correct regulation is also called "the natural
regulation of fertility," which can be explained as conformity to the
natural law. By natural law we mean that order of nature in the field of
procreation, insofar as it is understood by right reason. This order is
the expression of the Creator's plan for man. It is precisely this that
the encyclical, together with the whole Tradition of Christian teaching
and practice, stresses in a particular way: the virtuous character of
the attitude which is expressed in the natural regulation of fertility
is determined not so much by fidelity to an impersonal natural law as to
the Creator-Person, the Source and Lord of the order which is manifested
in such a law.
From this point of view, the reduction to a mere biological regularity,
separated from the order of nature that is, from the Creator's plan,
deforms the authentic thought of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae
(cf. HV 14).
The document certainly presupposes that biological regularity.
Indeed, it exhorts competent persons to study it and to apply it in a
still deeper way, but it always understands this regularity as the
expression of the order of nature, that is, of the providential plan of
the Creator, in the faithful execution of which the true good of the
human person consists.