What "Humanae Vitae" Is Really About

Polish Priest Notes Its Focus on Human Dignity

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By Karna Swanson

OMAHA, Nebraska, SEPT. 2, 2010 (Zenit.org).- The 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae” is about much more than a prohibition of artificial contraception, says a Polish priest and expert on family issues who addressed today a conference in Omaha. Rather, it is a document about the dignity of human life and marriage.

Father Jaroslaw Szymczak, of the faculty for Studies on the Family of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University, affirmed this at an international conference on the pastoral directives of “Humanae Vitae.” The conference kicks off the four-day “Celebration of Love and Life” seminar organized by the Pope Paul VI Institute to celebrate its 25th anniversary.

The Paul VI Institute, founded by Dr. Thomas Hilgers, is aiming to build a culture of life in women’s health care. Among other accomplishments, it has developed a method of natural family planning called the Creighton Model FertilityCare System and NaProTechnology.

In his address, Father Szymczak gave an overview of the encyclical written by Paul VI, which he said is about much more than just contraception, but rather about “human dignity, especially the dignity of woman, and the beauty of marital love.”

“Love is more than a feeling, but a program for the full of one’s life, and certain conditions must be met for it to be possible,” the Polish priest affirmed.

Healed and raised up

Noting that the essence of marriage is “a gift of self,” Father Szymczak reflected on a passage of the 1965 pastoral constitution on the Church in the Modern World, “Gaudium et Spes,” which states that “man … cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

“‘Gaudium et Spes’ reminds us that our love, which is eros, human affection, is healed, perfected, and raised up, elevated, by God, through his love, caritas,” the priest said.

And not only is this possible, he added, but “it is fully necessary if we are to realize ourselves as persons.”

Only through this gift of self does a man develop as a man, and a woman develop as a woman, the priest continued. When a person becomes a gift of self, he or she enriches himself or herself. Additionally, “the one who gives himself as a gift to another, matures.”

Certain conditions

Father Szymczak then delineated the conditions for the gift of self. The first is objectivity: “A gift requires a free and conscious act of giving, not just a sense of devotedness.”

Other conditions include that the gift must be total, exclusive, lifelong, and unconditional. One must say, the Polish priest explained, “I give myself, and that’s it.” One can’t say, “I give myself on the condition that … and if you fail to meet this condition, I’m sorry, I’m going.”

The last condition, he continued, is that the gift must be mutual: “Whenever there is this gift of one person to another, there is also receptivity to the gift of the other.”


Father Szymczak also pointed to the importance of self-control in the gift of self.

“One important element of giving oneself is that we can only give that which we both possess and control,” he explained. “Hence, if one gives oneself, it is [necessary] that one possesses oneself, and one is in control of oneself.”

The priest said one is in possession of oneself when “feelings and sensuality are subdued to the intellect and will, which in turn need to be trained.”

The absence of this “and the weakness of will are the result of original sin. Ever since original sin, concupiscence drives us to turn natural emotion and sensual yearning into the use of the other,” he observed.

Father Szymczak went on to explain that the virtue of chastity “allows us to see the whole truth about the person.” He said that in modern society, it seems that people are looked at in terms of usefulness, rather than in terms of “their value as a person.”

Chastity also allows us to integrate “the values which are in a person with her or his value as a person,” he said. “Chastity allows us to look at others with purity, clarity, transparency, especially those of the opposite sex.” 

Chastity alone, he continued, “is the foundation for a gift that must be at once objective, total, mutual, exclusive, lifelong and unconditional.” 

[Kathleen Naab contributed to this report]
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