GENERAL AUDIENCE OF 7 NOVEMBER 
At the general audience in the Paul VI Hall on Wednesday, 7 November,
Pope John Paul II continued his analysis of the virtue of continence and
its role in the spirituality of marriage and the family. Following is
our translation the Holy Father's address.
1. We are continuing the analysis of the virtue of continence in the
light of the doctrine contained in the Encyclical Humanae Vitae.
It is well to recall that the great classics of ethical (and
anthropological) thought, both the pre-Christian ones and the Christian
ones (St. Thomas Aquinas), see in the virtue of continence not only the
capacity to contain bodily and sensual reactions, but even more the
capacity to control and guide man's whole sensual and emotive sphere. In
the case under discussion, it is a question of the capacity to direct
the line of excitement toward its correct development and also
the line of emotion itself, orienting it toward the deepening and
interior intensification of its pure and, in a certain sense,
Not an opposition
2. This differentiation between the line of excitement and the line
of emotion is not an opposition. It does not mean that the conjugal act,
as a result of excitement, does not at the same time involve the deep
emotion of the other person. Certainly it does, or at any rate, it
should not be otherwise.
In the conjugal act, the intimate union should involve a particular
intensification of emotion, or rather the deep emotion, of the other
person. This is also contained in Ephesians in the form of an
exhortation directed to married couples: "Defer to one another out of
reverence for Christ" (Eph 5:21).
The distinction between excitement and emotion, noted in this analysis,
proves only the subjective reactive-emotive richness of the human
"I." This richness excludes any unilateral reduction and enables the
virtue of continence to be practiced as a capacity to direct the
manifesting of both the excitement and the emotion, aroused by the
reciprocal reacting of masculinity and femininity.
3. The virtue of continence, so understood, has an essential role in
maintaining the interior balance between the two meanings of the
conjugal act, the unitive and the procreative (cf. HV 12) in view of a
truly responsible fatherhood and motherhood.
The Encyclical Humanae Vitae devotes due attention to the
biological aspect of the question, that is to say, to the rhythmic
character of human fertility. In the light of the encyclical, this "periodicalness"
can be called a providential index for a responsible fatherhood
and motherhood. Nevertheless a question such as this one, which has such
a profoundly personalistic and sacramental (theological) meaning, is
not resolved only on this level.
The encyclical teaches responsible fatherhood and motherhood "as a proof
of a mature conjugal love." Therefore it contains not only the answer to
the concrete question that is asked in the sphere of the ethics of
married life but, as already has been stated—it also indicates a plan
of conjugal spirituality, which we wish at least to outline.
4. The correct way of intending and practicing periodic continence
as a virtue (that is, according to Humanae Vitae 21, the
"mastery of self") also essentially determines the "naturalness" of the
method, called also the "natural method." This is "naturalness" at the
level of the person. Therefore there can be no thought of a mechanical
application of biological laws. The knowledge itself of the rhythms of
does not create that interior freedom of the gift, which is by its
nature explicitly spiritual and depends on man's interior maturity. This
freedom presupposes such a capacity to direct the sensual and emotive
reactions as to make possible the giving of self to the other "I"
on the grounds of the mature self-possession of one's own
"I" in its corporeal and emotive subjectivity.
Communion of persons
5. As we know from the biblical and theological analyses we have
previously done, the human body in its masculinity and femininity is
interiorly ordered to the communion of the persons (communio
personarum). Its spousal meaning consists in this. The spousal
meaning of the body has been distorted, almost at its roots, by
concupiscence (especially by the concupiscence of the flesh in the
sphere of the threefold concupiscence). The virtue of continence in its
mature form gradually reveals the pure aspect of the spousal meaning of
the body. In this way, continence develops the personal communion
of the man and the woman, a communion that cannot be formed and
developed in the full truth of its possibilities only on the level of
concupiscence. This is precisely what the Encyclical Humanae
Vitae affirms. This truth has two aspects: the personalistic and the