HUMANAE VITAE: 20 YEARS LATER
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster?
The celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the Encyclical Humanae Vitae (H.V.), in the context of this solemn Academic Act of inauguration and in this University which is related in a special way to the Bishop of Rome, cannot be reduced to a mere ceremony. It must be the occasion for reflecting ever more deeply on the ultimate meaning of the doctrine that was taught in that papal document and which has already been sufficiently illustrated during the past twenty years. Allow me, from the outset, to present this meaning in a synthetic form.
H.V. represents one of the most intense moments of the Church’s Magisterium, because it defends the point of encounter between God and man: it affirms the Glory of God, and the supreme dignity of the human person, called to find fulfilment in the gift of self. In a word: what is at stake is the cause of God and of man.
1. THE ENCOUNTER OF GOD WITH MAN “THE GLORY OF THE ONE WHO MOVES ALL THINGS”
It is well known that the problem for which Paul VI meant to offer a solution was not the licitness or illicitness of contraception. More exactly, it was the licitness or illicitness of a particular method of contraception: chemical contraception.
During the past twenty years, we have been able to see the deep-lying roots of this problem, of what is at first sight a very particular problem. The roots have come to light: they are planted within the relationship of man with God the Creator.
There are experiences in human life so filled with “mystery” as to arouse in man the admiration and wonder that are at the source of every metaphysical and religious research.
One of these is wholly singular in its evident simplicity: no one of us has come into being by his or her own decision; each one has discovered that he or she had come to be. This “factualness” of our existence can be explained — and has been explained — in three ways: each one of us is the fruit of chance / each one of us is the fruit of an inexplicable necessity / each one of us is the fruit of a free act of GOD’S creative love. To affirm that we have come into being by chance makes it impossible, with any consistency, further to affirm the presence of an indestructible meaning in our existence. To affirm the necessity of our coming into being makes it impossible, with any consistency, further to affirm the existence of a reason for which it is worth while living, a reason more important than life itself. To affirm a divine creative act at the origin of our coming into being leads to the further affirmation of a dependence on God that is radical (that concerns the very act of being), a dependence into which the human subject is called to enter ever more profoundly, in order not to fall back into the nothingness from which it was drawn. It is in the space opened up within this threefold explanation that free will is called to make a decision and to decide the supreme destiny of the person. Either we are born by chance, we die by chance and live by chance, so that the exercise of free will is reduced to the possibility of all possibilities. Or we are born by necessity, die by necessity and live by necessity, so that the person is reduced to a meeting point of impersonal forces, governed by impersonal laws : not “I” am, but “one” exists; not “I” die, but “one” dies; not “I” live, but “one” lives. Or we are born through the act of a freely creative love, each one of us is called to consent to a love which — if it is obeyed — brings man from his mortal existence into the eternity of Being, from his vanity into the light of Truth, from his original solitude into the communion of Goodness. The first two explanations are the ruin of a freedom that, by rejecting the creative act as ultimate explanation of our existence, is led either to the tedium of pure experimentalism (= pure possibility - casuality) or towards the despair of blind fatalism (= pure necessity). Placed between these two existential abysses, free will emerges in the choice of an obedience to a divine Law that leads to Life.
Someone will ask: what has all this to do with H.V.? The past twenty years have clearly shown not only that all of this has something to do with H.V., but that this is the true, ultimate “cause of contention” that has arisen around the Encyclical.
Allow me to begin in an extremely simple way. We begin our Creed by saying : “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator...” We can ask ourselves : “when did God create me?” Only one answer is possible: at the very moment of my conception, for it is not possible that there should be any instant of my existence that is not the term of God’s creative act.
That is why the Council spoke of the human procreative act as being a certain cooperation with God’s creative love (cfr. GS 50).
On the basis of these simple reminders, it is possible to pursue our reflection. The exercise of conjugal sexuality, when it is fertile, constitutes the mysterious tangential point between the created universe of being and God’s creative love; it is even the point at which this creative love comes within the created universe of being, with a view to the new term of its potency. At that moment — the moment when a fertile conjugal act is completed — a new created person becomes really and proximately possible. The man and the woman have the responsibility of respecting this possibility or of rejecting it, destroying it through contraception. The fertility inherent in the conjugal act is not a merely biological fact. It brings the spouses, objectively, into a real relationship with God the Creator, whether or not they are conscious of the fact.
When they are placed in this relationship, their free will is called to its supreme act: to acknowledge that God is the Creator of every person or to acknowledge that man is the creator of man. That is: either that man, in the very act of his being, is entrusted to a freedom that transcends him, or that man is entrusted exclusively to himself, in the casuality or the impersonal necessity of the event of his coming into being.
Paul VI had seen prophetically the progressive dimning of the splendour of the Glory of God in the created universe of being : “egent gloria Dei” (Rom 3, 23).
Many facts have indeed occurred in these twenty years as tragic confirmation of this prophecy. Allow me briefly to recall at least two of these.
A/ The first is the progressive artificialization of the exercise of human sexuality.
Everyone knows that one of the main points of H.V. is the affirming of an inseparable connection between the procreative and unitive meaning. This affirmation comes directly from a central thesis of Christian anthropology: the thesis of the substantial unity of the human person. To the extent and by reason of the fact that the fertile conjugal act expresses and actualizes the unity of the conjugated persons in their reciprocal gift of self, this act cannot of itself exclude what constitutes the human person in integral unity. The fertile conjugal act, to the extent and by reason of the fact that it sets the conditions for the biological process that can lead to the conception of a new human person, cannot help being the language of conjugal love. This view of the conjugal act, which is specific to H.V., brings together in unity both the biological dimension and the spiritual dimension, for neither is the former exclusively biological nor the latter exclusively spiritual. The body is personal and the person is corporeal.
When this Christian vision of the human person becomes obscured in the human conscience, two things of particular gravity occur in spiritual life: the first is described in H.V.; the second has taken place, by logical necessity, during these past years.
The second thing that has happened is the separation of procreation from sexuality, a separation expressed in artificial procreation. If, indeed, the biological dimension is no more than that, if it is exclusively biological, it can, as such, be replaced by a technical procedure, if there are reasons for doing so. Only the person, in its irrepeatable singularity, is irreplaceable: “something” can always take the place of “something”; “someone” can never take the place of “someone”.
Within this rationality, liberty is no longer conceived nor experienced as responsibility before God the Creator and supreme Law-giver, but as responsibility for achieving a good with the least possible number of losses: a good which liberty itself constitutes, by its own decision.
I have spoken of an artificialization of human sexuality. I hope I have shown the meaning and content of this process. Aristotle, and more clearly still, St. Thomas had already clearly distinguished two fundamental significations of practical reason. One connotes the exercise of a rationality, the implementation of a plan that is autonomously conceived through the manipulation (“artificium”) of a material that receives its form only from and in this plan. The other connotes, on the contrary, the exercise of a rationality, the implementation of a plan that is not invented but discovered, not discussed but venerated, through the obedience of a liberty that submits to truth.
What H.V. has taught, by affirming the inseparable connection be tween the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning, is that human sexuality cannot be lived in the context of the first type of rationality, but only in that of the second. There is also a consequential chain of further artificializations: passing from the separation of sexuality from procreation to the separation of procreation from sexuality, to the artificialization of the familial society, through the separation of biological motherhood-fatherhood from the gestational and the legal.
B/ This first fact — the artificialization of human sexuality — which in these twenty years has shown the veritas per contrarium of H.V., has been, at one and the same time, the cause and the effect of a second fact that has involved Catholic thought more directly and more intimately.
As Dante writes at the beginning of the third canto, the Glory of God “per l’universo penetra e risplende / in una parte più e meno altrove” (penetrates in splendour through the universe / in one part more and in another less). There are places in the created universe of being in which the Glory of God shines forth and lets itself be seen with particular splendour. One of these is the fertile conjugal act. In this and through this, indeed, a space is opened up in the created universe for a creative act of God; a holy place in which God shows his creative love. When the truth taught by H.V. became obscured in the conscience of contemporary man, this could not fail to bring about, inevitably, a profound crisis in the understanding of the relationship of man to God the Creator: a relationship which is the heart, at one and the same time, of metaphysical reflection, of ethical reflection and of religious experience.
The second fact that has tragically confirmed the prophecy of H.V. is, precisely, the progressive evacuation of ethical experience.
Man has ethical experience — as Plato had already clearly and wonderfully expressed in the Crito — when his freedom is challenged, provoked, by an unconditional and absolute exigency. Augustine gives an incomparable description of this “provocation” in the first chapters of the twelfth book of De Civitate Dei when he analyses the fall of the angels. The creature, endowed with a spiritual subjectivity, is placed in a situation of unstable ontological equilibrium. As a creature, coming from non-being, it is changeable in its being, exposed to error in its thinking, inclined to solitude in its willing. In so far as it is spiritual, it can find its fulfilment only in God himself, becoming alive in the life of God, true in the light of the word, loving in the gift of the Spirit. Discarding its mutability is the supreme act of its liberty, establishing the person in the fullness of being, in truth and in love, or making it fall into the mutability of non-being, into the meaninglessness of error, into the desert of egoism. In ethical experience, man finds himself precisely at the “point” in which time and eternity meet, within his liberty: he is called to rise and find fulfilment through the wisdom of the Word and the love of the Spirit.
That is why, when man rises to the ethical stage, he no longer takes a minimal or ultimate interest in the historical possibilities, consequences, results of his acting: he is situated above any such calculation. When Crito explained to him all the consequences of his decision to undergo rather than to commit an injustice, Socrates could give as his only answer: what you ask is unjust and injustice may never be committed. Abraham, when asked to sacrifice his only son, the son of the Promise, has no interest for the consequences this sacrifice will have for his descendants: his ultimate interest is obedience to the Lord and not the historical consequences of his action.
When is ethical experience evacuated? When it is reduced to being the commitment to bring about the triumph of justice in the world, and is not experienced as the absolute and unconditional requirement to act with justice in the world; when it is the commitment to maximalize the goods of this world (the pre-moral goods), while minimizing as far as possible the (pre-moral) evils; when it is not experienced as the pure and simple exigency of “doing good and avoiding evil”. But here we need a reflection of great theoretical rigour.
St. Thomas writes that “the ultimate end of man cannot be the good of the universe” (1, 2, q.2, a.8, ad 2um ), because the whole good of the universe is a created, and therefore a limited good, whereas only the uncreated Good is the supreme vocation of man. Man’s supreme dignity consists in this, and nothing else : “ut, licet sit ipsa mutabilis, inhaerendo tamen incommutabili bono, id est Summo Deo beatitudinem consequatur” (St. Augustine, De civitate Dei, 12, 1; PL 41, 349).
This immediate and direct relationship to God, that man is called to institute through his liberty, is the basis for the absolute and unconditionable character of the moral norm, separating it, for its essential diversity, from any other norm of human acting. In fact, these other norms govern human acts for the achievement of a good that is created and limited and, as such, does not merit an ultimate, absolute and unconditional interest, but only an interest that is penultimate, relative and conditional; moral norms, on the contrary, govern human acts for the attainment of the uncreated and unlimited Good: the only Good that deserves to be loved with all one’s heart, all one’s soul, with all one’s might. Disobedience to the former type of rule, bringing about a limited evil, can always be justified for the avoidance of a greater evil : by definition, in fact, every finite evil can suppose one that is greater. Disobedience to the moral norm, generating an evil that is infinite by reason of its term, can never be justified by the avoidance of a greater evil, for the simple reason that a “greater than the infinite” does not exist.
Ethical experience is evacuated when it no longer breathes the air of eternity; that is, when it is affirmed that there does not exist any moral norm governing man’s intra-worldly acts that does not admit of exceptions; when it is affirmed that man’s experience is ethical when he balances goods and evils that are always limited, with a view to making a choice that, in time, maximalizes the former and minimalizes the latter. It is evacuated because it ceases to be the “serious case” in life.
What has been happening, precisely, during these years since H.V., in a wide sector of Catholic thought?
The doctrine of the Encyclical is the defence of the sanctity of a place where the Glory of God penetrates and shines forth more than elsewhere, a holy space where God manifests his Glory as Creator. It is not by chance that, at the beginning of the Encyclical, there is a reference to the great text of the letter to the Ephesians in which the author contemplates the Fatherhood of God as the source of all parenthood in heaven and on earth. On what condition could this teaching be contested? And what consequences would follow from this contestation?
The radical condition was that no event, no act belonging to man’s intramundane action, should have in itself and of itself an import, a meaning, a decisive value for man’s relationship to God the Creator and supreme Lawgiver. In scholastic language let us say: there would not exist “acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object” (Ap. Exh. Reconciliatio et Poenitentia, n. 17). What would have been the consequence of denying the doctrine of H.V.? It has been very well described by one of those denying this doctrine: “many theologians are arguing that one cannot isolate the object of an act and say that it is always wrong in any conceivable circumstances” (R. McCormick, Notes on Moral Theology, 1977, in Theological Studies (1978), pages 76 to 103). The two denials — of the teaching of H.V. and of the existence of acts that are intrinsically wrong, i.e. of the absolute character of moral norms — became closely linked, influencing one another. They showed how Paul VI’s defence of the sanctity of the conjugal act was, basically, only the confession and praise of the Glory of God who “penetrates with splendour through the universe”, as the great theologian Karl Barth recognized at once, immediately after the publication of the Encyclical. It was, basically, only the fulfilment of a duty pertaining to the Pastor of the Church: to prevent ethical experience from being evacuated.
Although, considered in itself, the problem solved by H.V. is a very specific one in the general context of ethical reflection, the solution given affects and guides the solution of the deepest problems of human existence, and therefore also of ethics.
2. THE DIGNITY OF MAN: “GLORIA DEI VIVENS HOMO”
I said at the beginning that H.V. is not only the defence of the Glory of God, but the defence also of the dignity of man. In this second part of my reflection I should like to demonstrate this briefly, always in the light of what has been happening during the past twenty years.
The two causes — that of God’s Glory and that of man’s dignity — are inseparable, according to Catholic teaching. God does not make his Glory shine forth over man’s ashes. Rather, to quote the famous dictum of St. Irenaeus, the Glory of God is the living human being.
In what sense is the doctrine taught by H.V. the defence of man’s dignity? In what sense does the contestation of H.V. during these twenty years carry with it — even contrary to the intentions of its authors — the pathogenic germs of a destruction of the dignity of the human person? In this second part, I should like to reply to these two questions.
2, 1. To reply to the first question, we have to start once again from the central affirmation of the Encyclical: the inseparable connection of the unitive and the procreative meaning in the conjugal act. This inseparability, as we have seen, can be broken from a twofold stand point: by separating sexuality from procreation or by separating procreation from sexuality.
The inseparable connection between conjugal sexuality and procreation derives from the Catholic vision of conjugal communion as a communion of love, as a communion of love ordained to the gift of life.
It is first of all the consequence of the Catholic vision of conjugal communion as a communion of love: contraception is the negation of the truth of conjugal love. In the text already quoted, St. Augustine defines the essential difference between the choice made by the faithful angels and that of the fallen angels, in this way: “dum alii constanter in communi omnibus bono, quod ipse illis est Deus, atque in ejus aeternitate veritate charitate persistunt, alii sua potestate potius delectati, velut bonum suum sibi ipsi essent, a superiore communi omnium bono beatifico ad propria deflexerunt” (De civitate Dei, cit.; PL 41, 349). At this point we must briefly refer to the theo-dramatic character of created love, of which conjugal love is a singular form. This theo-dramatic character is rooted in what we called a while ago the ontologically unstable equilibrium of the spiritual creature. Possessing its own act of being and not able to be reduced to the evanescent form of a divine Unum; possessing a true and proper liberty, the spiritual creature may consider as its own the good that has been given to it, and make the choice of a self love that is exclusive and excluding. Or, acknowledging its own being as a gift, it can decide to find self-fulfilment in the gift of self. The issue for every created spirit is entirely contained in this aut-aut: the grain of wheat, falling into the ground, either does not die and remains alone or dies and bears fruit. The contraceptive act comes within this logical sequence as one of the two possibilities inherent in every created love, and therefore also in conjugal love. In fact, at the moment when the two spouses give concrete expression to their conjugal love, there is something they do not intend to bestow reciprocally on one another: the capacity of each to make the other respectively father/mother. Love says of every being and to every being: “how beautiful, how good it is that you are!” For, as I said, love affirms the goodness of being, not of my being. The contraceptive act says: “it is not beautiful, it is not good that you should be what you are!” that is, that you should, be fruitful, capable of giving life. “A superiori communi omnium beatifico bono ad propria defluxerunt”, writes St. Augustine, as we have seen. We have here the headlong fall of created liberty from one degree in the order of being to a degree that is infinitely inferior. What is actually meant by: “how beautiful, how good it is that you are!“? It means the recognition, the veneration, the praise of the goodness of being as such, the precious ness of being as such: a goodness and preciousness deriving from the supreme Good. And this is the act of love that brings the created person into eternity, into truth, into communion. What, on the contrary, is meant by: “it is not beautiful, it is not good that you should be!” It means denying the goodness of being, its intrinsic beauty, and therefore the decision to bring in something else. The shrewdness of futility has taken the place of the certainty of truth and the convenience of each has taken the place of the communion of charity.
The quality of the person and the quality of his/her love. By denying, with a denial that does not admit of exceptions, the licitness of contraception, H.V. recalled human persons — called to live in conjugal love — to their supreme capacity: the capacity to love in truth. Just as, in the very same year, “Sacerdotalis coelibatus”recalled to the same supreme greatness the man who is called to live in virginal love.
Conjugal communion in love is ordained to procreation. The evident and obvious destruction of this finalization through contraception reveals for us another dimension of the defence, by H.V., of the dignity of the human person.
As was recently underlined, in the corpus of law that was in force until 1917, the Church used a very strong expression with regard to whoever — married or not — had recourse to contraception: “tamquam homicida habeatur”. The equivalence, or better, the analogy that canon law established for centuries between homicide and contraception, no longer surprises us if we do not look exclusively at the material nature of the behaviour in the two cases, but rather at the intention or movement of the will that has recourse to contraception. Ultimately, in fact, the decision is rationalized and motivated by the judgement : “it is not good that a new human person should exist”. The fall that occurs, ontologically and ethically, within the conjugal love, as we have just been saying, continues in relation to the potential person, also in the relationship between the couple and the potential new person. The anti-love inherent in contraception is identically anti-life, since there is always implicit in it the refusal of the goodness of being, the refusal to exclaim: “how beautiful, how good it is that you should exist!”: “ad propria defluxerunt”, exactly as St. Augustine wrote.
We have come in this way to discover the ultimate sense in which, by affirming the inseparability of sexuality from procreation, H.V. has defended the dignity of the human person. It is the affirmation of the truth of love as destiny of humankind; and the affirmation of the goodness and beauty of being. H.V. is part of the endeavour to reconstruct a culture of truth and love that characterized the pastoral ministry of Paul VI.
The inseparable connection of procreation with sexuality which, without being explicitly affirmed, is implicit in H.V., has become necessary in these last years on account of the new artificial procreative procedures. The Instruction “Donum Vitae” did no more than develop systematically what was already fundamentally the teaching of H.V.; it carried further the Church’s commitment to the defence of human dignity.
The dignity, in the first place, of the spouses and of their conjugal love. With respect to procreation, the spouses, indeed, can never be reduced to the ones who provide the germinal cells so that a technician, through appropriate manipulation, can set in motion the procreative process. Nor can the conjugal act be reduced to the action of producing these cells.
The dignity of the “concepiendus”, who cannot be brought into the universe of being through an activity that establishes a relationship of “dominion“. Persons cannot be made; they can only be generated.
To affirm the reciprocal indwelling of the unitive and the procreative meanings within the fertile conjugal act, is to recognize the specific greatness of the spiritual creature, unique in the created universe of being. To recognize that its proper “modus”, the measure of its being, its proper “species”, that is, its intrinsic beauty, and its proper “ordo”, that is, its inner law, cannot be reduced to the modus - species - ordo of any other creature. The defence of God’s “cause” has coincided perfectly with the defence of the “cause” of the human person: this coincidence is central to the whole Encyclical.
2, 2. The contestation of this coincidence during these twenty years — contrary, no doubt, to the intentions of those who have led and are leading it — has now fully demonstrated the anti-human, because anti-theistical, force with which it is charged. This is the delicate ecclesial situation with which I should like now to deal briefly in concluding my reflections.
I shall begin by ascertaining a fact. Among the reasons given for defending the licitness of contraception, not the least in importance were and are the (supposed) demands of conjugal love. If now we ask ourselves to what extent the widespread contraceptive mentality has promoted the well-being of the conjugal community, our assessment can only be tragically negative. We have reached the point where even the value of the conjugal community as such has been called in question, with the attempts made, under some civil regulations, to give equal value to any type of union whatsoever. We have reached the point of the refusal to allow any kind of legal defence for the right to life of the conceived, but as yet unborn, human person. We have reached the point of the pure and simple production of human persons for use in experimentation. These facts have their own inherent logic and call for serious reflection.
I have referred to an anti-human, because anti-theistical force that is present in the contestation of H.V. I should like to speak now about that.
The most sacred thing in man is his moral conscience, because in it we have God’s original revelation of his Glory to humankind. John Henry Newman has written incomparable reflections on this subject. It is in our conscience, indeed, that the call rings out to the Covenant with God, the divine voice that summons us, with unconditional and absolute power, to communion with the Lord. What exists, in God’s sight, is not the human race, but the individual human being: every single person is willed in and for himself or herself. And this relationship between the single person and the Single One is rooted in the moral conscience (“solus cum Deo”: GS 16). To be uprooted from the moral conscience is to lapse, inevitably, into useless rhetoric about historical tasks, the general sense of human history, and the like. The “scientific seriousness” in which this type of discourse is often wrapped, is in reality only the fig-leaf used in trying to cover the shame of futility. And so every attack against the moral conscience pollutes not only the course of man’s whole spiritual life, but its very source.
It seems to me that, in these twenty years since H.V., the moral conscience has been attacked from three points of view by those con testing the Encyclical.
The first is the denial of the existence of intrinsically illicit acts, on the grounds that, where intramundane human action is concerned, there do not exist moral norms that admit of no exception. With this twofold negation, the moral conscience ceases to be the place where the order of divine Wisdom penetrates the concrete, daily experience of each person. Precisely in the person’s temporal experience, which is his or her experience; precisely in the progress towards eternal life, which is the meaning of remaining in time, the person ceases to be “sola cum Deo”, and becomes “sola cum seipsa”. That is what Augustine had already observed: “ad propria defluxerunt”. In no one of the choices that are woven into the tissue of our daily life does the human person meet with an unconditional factor that is “intimior intimo suo”, because it is “superior superiori suo”.
But, underlying this first attack, there is a second: the most serious that the spiritual history of humanity has ever known. It is the affirmation of the creativity of conscience. Conscience is no longer the place for listening to the divine voice; it is itself the source that makes the ultimate decision as to what is morally licit or illicit in the intramundane action of the human person.
The ecclesiological aspect in affirming the creativity of conscience is well known: it is denial of the existence of a moral magisterium in the strict sense, with competence in relation to the intramundane action of the human person. These last twenty years have seen precisely the development of the theory excluding the existence of such a competence.
A moment’s reflection will show that this twofold attack springs basically from denial of the truth of creation. And so it was not by chance that the attack started precisely from the contestation of H.V., which — as we have seen — is the pure and simple affirmation of this truth. When the splendour of the creative act is obscured precisely where it shines forth most brightly, in the fertile conjugal act, the human person is deprived of the best possibility of receiving its illumination, and the moral conscience is lost.
But what is man when he suffers violence in his most sacred possession, his moral conscience? Deprived of what allows him to rise above all else, because it brings him into direct and immediate relation ship to his Creator, he becomes no more than part of a whole: the consensus of the majority, the consensus on common values, creates the norms for action. But when you try to see on what there is consensus, you find it is something that grows smaller and smaller and, finally, is purely formal in character; or else, that whoever cannot consent, inevitably foregoes respect for his dignity. Has it not been agreed that the human person already conceived but not yet born, is not a person and does not deserve absolute and unconditional respect? And so, every year, millions of innocents are done away with. Socrates already warned his young friend Crito that, in questions of this kind, the criterion is not the opinion of the majority, but the truth itself, while he clearly foresaw the tragic end for himself in a society of consensus: the elimination of the just man.
Precisely because H.V. has defended the “cause of God”, it defends the “cause” of man: the sanctity and individuality of his moral conscience, of his dignity.
As exergue for these pages, I took the words of the psalm : “Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster, qui habitat in coelis et humilia respicit”? It seemed to me that no biblical expression could better sum up what has been happening in these twenty years. Who is like the Lord our God, who dwells in the heavens? The Encyclical H.V. takes its origin from the certainty that no one and nothing is like the Lord our God: that the Glory of God can be attributed to no one else. But Revelation itself tells us that the Lord, who has no equal, lets his glance rest on creatures. And he looks in a way that is wholly singular, unique, on one of these: the spiritual creature. As the object of this glance, the spiritual creature “in tanta excellentia creata est ut, licet sit ipsa mutabilis, inhaerendo tamen incommutabili bono, idest summo Deo, beatitudinem consequatur” (De civitate Dei, loc.cit.). The Encyclical H.V. takes its origin from the will and the commitment not to allow the human person to be demeaned from this great dignity and screened from God’s downward glance: “ut non evacuetur Crux Christi”.
Christ’s redemptive act restores man to the dignity of his primal origin, fully revealing the splendour of the Father’s Glory and giving man a part in that splendour. For, in the end, everything passes away. Only two realities are eternal: God, of his essence, and the spiritual creature, by participation.