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William E. May

Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology

Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at

The Catholic University of America

When God made man, “male and female he created them” (Gen 1.27), that is, he created them as bodily, sexual beings, complementary in their sexuality. Men and women are body persons, not spirit persons, and their bodies are integral to their being. Indeed, the human body reveals a person, and since the human body is necessarily either a male body or a female body, the bodies of men and women are a sign that they are meant to “give” themselves to one another in love. Their bodies as, Pope John Paul II, so beautifully put matters,  have a “nuptial” or “spousal” meaning. Both men and women are meant to “give” and “receive” one another, but their ways of doing so are asymmetrically complementary because the male is inwardly oriented to “give in a receiving sort of way” whereas the female is inwardly oriented to “receive in a giving sort of way.” Moreover, male and female are both created in the image and likeness of God. They are, as it were, two differing but complementary “epiphanies” of the living God. The male symbolizes, as it were, the “superabundance” of being---God’s transcendence—whereas the female symbolizes God’s “withinness,” his immanence. God is both the wellspring of the joy of living and the ocean depth of happy rest, and males are females are both meant to be such, but the male more emphatically manifests God as the wellspring of the joy of living whereas the female manifests him as the “ocean depth of happy rest.”

Because of sin (cf. Gen 3), however, concupiscence has entered into the human heart and as a result the nuptial meaning of the body has been, as it were, veiled, and there exists an inclination to respond to the body of another person, particularly a person of the opposite sex, not as a body revealing a person who is to be loved but as one possessing sexual values to be enjoyed and even consumed. The divine plan for human existence and for the happiness of man and woman in marriage has been skewed by human sin. A “re-creation” or “redemption” of man and woman—and of human sexuality--is needed, and this work of re-creation, of redemption, has been accomplished by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God’s only Son become man. God’s wise and loving plan for human existence can now be realized, and realized more fully, for in Christ men and women have become “new creatures,” children of God, members of the divine family, brothers and sisters of Christ, now capable of loving others not only as they love themselves but of loving others as God loves them in Christ, with a healing, redemptive love.

Because men and women are body persons, they need to be “touched” by others. Among the ways in which they can “touch” one another, perhaps the most intimate is the “coital” touch, when the man enters into the body of the woman in an act of coition. If, in this act, the man is in truth “giving in a receiving sort of way” and if, in this act, the woman is “receiving in a giving sort of way” the act is one of authentic marital love, open both to the communication of a special kind of love and to the gift of new human life. When nonmarried individuals engage in the coital touch they do not “give in receiving sort of way” or “receive in a giving sort of way” precisely because they have failed to “give” and “receive” each other as irreplaceable, nonsubstitutable persons. But husbands and wives have capacitated themselves to “give in a receiving sort of way” and “receive in a giving sort of way” because they have already irrevocably given themselves to one another and received one another through the act of marital consent. When they touch each other “coitally,” their act thus unites two irreplaceable and nonsubstitutable persons. However, when fornicators or adulterers engage in coition their act merely joins two replaceable, substitutable, disposable individuals. In addition, married men and women, by marrying, have made themselves fit to welcome the gift of new human life lovingly, to nourish it humanely, and to educate it in the love and service of God and neighbor. Nonmarried individuals have refused to make themselves “fit” to do this.

The coital, genital act is thus both a unitive and a procreative act, i.e., the kind of act open to (a) the gift of love between man and woman and (b) the gift of life. Its unitive and procreative meanings—the goods of both love and life—are fully respected in the marital act. Neither of these goods, however, is respected in acts of fornication or adultery or in contracepted coital, genital acts. The choice to contracept is itself not a sexual act, but it is intimately related to a sexual, genital act. One chooses to contracept only because one thinks that the kind of behavior one might engage in—genital sex—is the kind or act through which human life can be given and one does not will that life be given through that act and therefore one chooses to do something, prior to, during, or after that act precisely to impede the beginning of the life that could begin.

Contraception is thus an anti-life kind of act and as such is always wrong because one has a good reason not to contracept since the beginning of a new human life is something good and no reason to contracept can be shown to be rationally superior to the reason not to contracept.  Contraception is also an anti-love kind of act because those choosing to contracept their coital union do not in truth “give” and “receive” each other even if they do not recognize this.  They overlay the “language of giving and receiving,” the “language of the body,” as Pope John Paul II so rightly said, with a contradictory language; they speak a “lie.”

Contraception is justified by those who think that human persons are conscious subjects aware of themselves as selves whose bodies, including their power to generate life, are special kinds of instrumental goods necessary for the existence of truly personal, i.e., consciously experienced goods. They regard the procreative power of the person as of itself subpersonal, subhuman, in need of being “assumed” into the human and personal, i.e., the conscious life of the individual. They likewise believe that one determines the morality of a human act only by viewing it in its “totality,” taking into account foreseeable consequences, and then choosing the alternative promising the “greater” good or “lesser” evil. They hold that one can rightly intend evil, i.e., intend that evil be, provided there is a “proportionate” reason for doing so. But this view of morality is utterly specious and ends up by redescribing what human persons do in terms of the hoped for consequences or benefits.

Persons of the same sex cannot marry because they cannot do what married persons are supposed to do: i.e., to give and receive one another in the kind of act that “consummates” marriage, i.e., a reproductive type act.

In order to live God’s plan for human existence, the virtue of chastity is needed, for this virtue enables one to come into possession of one’s desires and not be possessed by them and thus enable one to “give” oneself to others in love.

Copyright ©; William E. May 2007

Version: 11th November 2007

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