ALICE VON HILDEBRAND
John Paul II will leave us a precious legacy: his staunch defense of life, and his theology of the body. He has succeeded in unveiling for us the dignity of the human body—a teaching which was in the teaching of Holy Church from the very beginning, but which had been obscured by the mediocre presentation that has often been given to the faithful.
To defend life is to oppose all means of contraception—let alone the horror of abortion. A key idea that His Holiness has developed (an idea already contained in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Purity) is that the marital embrace is to be understood as a gift of self to one’s spouse. A key argument against artificial contraception is that any artificial interference with the potential fruitfulness of the marital act actually means a withholding of this self-donation. This refusal to make this oblation will inevitably result in what we might call "an affective anemia" which—sooner or later—will extinguish the flame of love that should shine bright between the spouses.
This argument is powerful, but is unlikely to convince many spouses who "feel" that subjectively, they are still giving themselves. The purpose of this short article is to suggest that there is an additional argument for the nefarious effect that artificial birth control has over the marital embrace. Man alone can procreate: The moment the word "create" is used, it implies a direct interference of God, for He alone can create. To procreate is to collaborate with God’s creation, for man is metaphysically incapable of producing something "out of nothing." This indicates clearly that God should be present in the marital embrace: The spouses can contribute to the union of gifts that God has placed in their nature—the sperm and the egg. But the union of the two cannot as yet explain the creature called "man"—a being made to God’s image and likeness.
God alone is the Creator of an immortal soul which neither husband nor wife, nor their union, can bring into existence. The sperm and the egg are "pre-given." The soul is totally "new," and God places it within the body of the mother to be at the very moment of conception—giving it an exceptional dignity, not given to the father to be, for God "touches" it in the creation of the child’s soul.
What happens in artificial contraception is that the husband and the wife willingly choose to exclude God from their union by preventing any new being from coming into existence. The moment God is excluded from the marital embrace procreation is radically eliminated. This is not true in NFP—for in that case, it is God who chooses to close the door to a new life. The moment procreation is eliminated, the marital embrace—no longer being a potential procreation, becomes a copulation and pulls man on the level of animals: for they cannot procreate. Man—who has been knighted by being made to God’s image and likeness—prefers to be on an animal level.
The metaphysical curse which scourges our society is that some ill-fated intellectuals gleefully proclaim that we are "nothing but" animals.
To rejoice about this metaphysical degradation calls for psychoanalysis, for it is psychologically understandable that man chooses to be "angelic." To prefer to be on the levels of monkeys is strange indeed.