Man as Collaborator
“Married people are the free and responsible collaborators with God the Creator in the most serious duty of transmitting human life,” reads the very first sentence of Humanae Vitae. Explicit mention of God also occurs at least 24 times in the encyclical. Then Pope Paul VI refers to married couples being “collaborators” again in section 8 where he writes: “Through reciprocal personal giving of self, which is proper and exclusive to them, husband and wife tend towards the communion of their beings, by which they perfect one another in order to collaborate with God in the generation and education of new lives.”
The question naturally arises in reference to married people who do not want, at certain times, to be collaborators. For such occasions, the Church offers natural family planning. Therefore, is there a significant difference between using contraception when they do not want a child and simply abstaining from sex? In both cases the couple wants to avoid pregnancy. The end is the same. Can the means be of moral significance?
The encyclical is clear in its affirmation that the difference is indeed significant. Husband and wife “must conform their activity to the creative intention of God expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts” (10). This point is reiterated in section 13: “a mutual act of love, which jeopardizes the possibility of transmitting life—which God the Creator of all things has, according to particular laws, imprinted therein—goes against both the divine design of marriage, and the will of the first Author of human life”. In addition, in his Final appeal, Pope Paul states “man cannot find true happiness—towards which he aspires with all his being—other than in respect of the laws written by God in his very nature, laws upon which he must observe with intelligence and love.”
Open to Divine Will
What this comes down to is that God wants married couples to respect the lines of communication—“the divine design of marriage”– that He has established between Himself and husband and wife. This is a point of immense importance. The avenue between man and God must always be open, just as it should be between neighbors. An analogy should make this point more clear.
Let us imagine that an engaged couple is preparing to send out invitations to their upcoming wedding. They realize that the number of guests is limited and they have to choose which of their friends and relatives will come. What if they sent out dis-invitations to those whom they do not want to come? The dis-invitation would read something like this: “Dear John and Joan: We will be married July 28 and do not want you to attend. The church doors will be closed to you. If you do show up, ushers will escort you back to your cars. Please do not come. You are not invited.”
It is easy to understand how John and Joan will be hurt, perhaps outraged, in receiving such a dis-invitation. Not only that, their friendship with the engaged couple will be jeopardized, if not destroyed. Friends, in order to keep their friendship alive must respect their lines of communication. They must respect what is transmitted from one to the other.
Contraception is sending a dis-invitation to God the Creator. It is, in essence, telling God not come into the lives of a married couple. In order to keep our lines of communication open to God (who is always open to us) we must respect the design that He has created that establishes these lines and be open to Him.
In The Pope Speaks: Dialogues of Paul VI with Jean Guitton, Blessed Paul discusses how husband and wife who lack sufficient love for each other can be nothing more than a “juxtaposition of solitudes” (p. 275). Lacking in sufficient respect for God’s design, the use of contraception can block the lines of communication that maintain a friendship with God. In this way the couple can become alienated from God and indeed, one another.
Humanae Vitae is about keeping God in the picture and respecting the design that God the Creator has imprinted on marriage and conjugal acts. We should want to maintain a two-way friendship with God just as we should want to maintain a two-way friendship with our neighbor.