There is an “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.” So writes Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, his 1968 encyclical on contraception. This claim not only presupposes an anthropology—a particular way of understanding the human person and especially the body, marriage, and the child—but also implies a link between the entire material order and human freedom.
Unfortunately but unsurprisingly, Paul VI’s warning hasn’t stopped man from attempting to break that “inseparable connection” through technological means. The attempts have not been without consequences. The unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act are intertwined to such a degree that man’s attempts to uphold one without the other has led, in ways that are still unfolding, to a destruction of both.
Getting Sexual Anthropology Right
At stake in the question of contraception is the meaning of the sexual act and whether its natural ordination to procreation is essential to it. The inseparability doctrine is grounded in an understanding of the entire natural world as ordered and meaningful, and human freedom as inherently linked to its truth. The human person is not understood here, as the modern philosophers would conceive him, as a reasonable entity whose dominion lies over and against a nature drained of form and finality. Rather, precisely by his reason is man able to recognize the truth of the natural world and by his freedom to raise it up to the realm of the personal by acting in accordance with it.
Following this logic, both the male and female bodies and their union in the sexual act are understood as latent with a given order that the freedom of man and woman consents to. Further, the fruitfulness of the sexual act is understood as already implicit in sexual difference—in the very bodily existence of the parents, fit for one another. Thus, we see the inseparability doctrine confirmed rather obviously in the natural order: man and woman’s ordination to union is one and the same as their ordination to fruitfulness.
Read more at The Public Discourse.