Encyclical Letter of His Holiness Pope Paul VI on Human Life
Issued July 25, 1968
To The Venerable Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops and Other Local Ordinaries in Peace and Communion With The Apostolic See, To Priests, The Faithful and to All Men of Good Will.
Venerable Brothers and Beloved Sons:
The most serious duty of transmitting human life, for which married persons
are the free and responsible collaborators of God the Creator, has always been
a source of great joys to them, even if sometimes accompanied by not a few
difficulties and by distress.
COMPETENCY OF THE MAGISTERIUM
New Formulation of the Problem
The changes which have taken place are in fact noteworthy and of varied kinds.
In the first place, there is the rapid demographic development. Fear is shown
by many that world population is growing more rapidly than the available
resources, with growing distress to many families and developing countries, so
that the temptation for authorities to counter this danger with radical
measures is great. Moreover, working and lodging conditions, as well as
increased exigencies both in the economic field and in that of education,
often make the proper education of a larger number of children difficult
today. A change is also seen both in the manner of considering the person of
woman and her place in society, and in the value to be attributed to conjugal
love in marriage, and also in the appreciation to be made of the meaning of
conjugal acts in relation to that love.
This new state of things gives rise to new questions. Granted the conditions
of life today, and granted the meaning which conjugal relations have with
respect to the harmony between husband and wife and to their mutual fidelity,
would not a revision of the ethical norms, in force up to now, seem to be
advisable, especially when it is considered that they cannot be observed
without sacrifices, sometimes heroic sacrifices?
Such questions required from the teaching authority of the Church a new and
deeper reflection upon the principles of the moral teaching on marriage: a
teaching founded on the natural law, illuminated and enriched by divine
The consciousness of that same mission induced us to confirm and enlarge the
study commission which our predecessor Pope John XXIII of happy memory had
instituted in March, 1963. That commission which included, besides several
experts in the various pertinent disciplines also married couples, had as its
scope the gathering of opinions on the new questions regarding conjugal life,
and in particular on the regulation of births, and of furnishing opportune
elements of information so that the magisterium could give an adequate reply
to the expectation not only of the faithful, but also of world opinion.
The conclusions at which the commission arrived could not, nevertheless, be
considered by us as definitive, nor dispense us from a personal examination of
this serious question; and this also because, within the commission itself, no
full concordance of judgments concerning the moral norms to be proposed had
been reached, and above all because certain criteria of solutions had emerged
which departed from the moral teaching on marriage proposed with constant
firmness by the teaching authority of the Church.
Total Vision of Man
The problem of birth, like every
other problem regarding human life, is to be considered, beyond partial
perspectives-- whether of the biological or psychological, demographic or
sociological orders--in the light of an integral vision of man and of his
vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his supernatural and
eternal vocation. And since, in the attempt to justify artificial methods of
birth control, many have appealed to the demands both of conjugal love and of
"responsible parenthood," it is good to state very precisely the
true concept of these two great realities of married life, referring
principally to what was recently set forth in this regard, and in a highly
authoritative form, by the Second Vatican Council in its pastoral constitution
"Gaudium et Spes."
Under this light, there clearly appear the characteristic marks and demands of
conjugal love, and it is of supreme importance to have an exact idea of these.
Hence conjugal love requires in husband and wife an awareness of their mission
of "responsible parenthood," which today is rightly much insisted
upon, and which also must be exactly understood. Consequently it is to be
considered under different aspects which are legitimate and connected with one
11. These acts, by which husband and wife are united in chaste intimacy, and by means of which human life is transmitted, are, as the Council recalled, "noble and worthy,"  and they do not cease to be lawful if, for causes independent of the will of husband and wife, they are foreseen to be infecund, since they always remain ordained towards expressing and consolidating their union. In fact, as experience bears witness, not every conjugal act is followed by a new life. God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of births. Nonetheless the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by their constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life. 
12. That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman. By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man's most high calling to parenthood. We believe that the men of our day are particularly capable of seeing the deeply reasonable and human character of this fundamental principle.
13. It is in fact justly observed that a conjugal act imposed upon one's partner without regard for his or her condition and lawful desires is not a true act of love, and therefore denies an exigency of right moral order in the relationships between husband and wife. Likewise, if they consider the matter, they must admit that an act of mutual love, which is detrimental to the faculty of propagating life, which God the Creator of all, has implanted in it according to special laws, is in contradiction to both the divine plan, according to whose norm matrimony has been instituted, and the will of the Author of human life. To use this divine gift destroying, even if only partially, its meaning and its purpose is to contradict the nature both of man and of woman and of their most intimate relationship, and therefore it is to contradict also the plan of God and His will. On the other hand, to make use of the gift of conjugal love while respecting the laws of the generative process means to acknowledge oneself not to be the arbiter of the sources of human life, but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. In fact, just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, with particular reason, he has no such dominion over his generative faculties as such, because of their intrinsic ordination towards raising up life, of which God is the principle. "Human life is sacred," Pope John XXIII recalled; "from its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God." 
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of
marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the
generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured
abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as
licit means of regulating birth.
15. The Church, on the contrary, does not at all consider illicit the use of those therapeutic means truly necessary to cure diseases of the organism, even if an impediment to procreation, which may be foreseen, should result therefore, provided such impediment is not, for whatever motive, directly willed. 
To this teaching of the Church on
conjugal morals, the objection is made today, as we observed earlier (no. 3),
that it is the prerogative of the human intellect to dominate the energies
offered by irrational nature and to orientate them towards an end conformable
to the good of man. Now, some may ask: in the present case, is it not
reasonable in many circumstances to have recourse to artificial birth control
if, thereby, we secure the harmony and peace of the family, and better
conditions for the education of the children already born? To this question it
is necessary to reply with clarity: the Church is the first to praise and
recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely
associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this
must be done with respect for the order established by God.
Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which
the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect
upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them
consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up
towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality. Not much
experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that
men--especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point--have need of
encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be
offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared
that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may
finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and
psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere
instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved
It can be foreseen that this teaching will perhaps not be easily received by
all: Too numerous are those voices--amplified by the modern means of
propaganda--which are contrary to the voice of the Church. To tell the truth,
the Church is not surprised to be made, like her divine Founder, a "sign
yet she does not because of this cease to proclaim with humble
firmness the entire moral law, both natural and evangelical. Of such laws the
Church was not the author, nor consequently can she be their arbiter; she is
only their depositary and their interpreter, without ever being able to
declare to be licit that which is not so by reason of its intimate and
unchangeable opposition to the true good of man.
The Church, Mother and Steadfast Teacher
19. Our words would not be an adequate expression of the thought and solicitude of the Church, Mother and Teacher of all peoples, if, after having recalled men to the observance and respect of the divine law regarding matrimony, we did not strengthen them in the path of honest regulation of birth, even amid the difficult conditions which today afflict families and peoples. The Church, in fact, cannot have a different conduct towards men than that of the Redeemer: She knows their weaknesses, has compassion on the crowd, receives sinners; but she cannot renounce the teaching of the law which is, in reality, that law proper to a human life restored to its original truth and conducted by the spirit of God. 
20. The teaching of the Church on the regulation of birth, which promulgates the divine law, will easily appear to many to be difficult or even impossible of actuation. And indeed, like all great beneficent realities, it demands serious engagement and much effort, individual, family and social effort. More than that, it would not be practicable without the help of God, who upholds and strengthens the good will of men. Yet, to anyone who reflects well, it cannot but be clear that such efforts ennoble man and are beneficial to the human community.
21. The honest practice of regulation of birth demands first of all that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family, and that they tend towards securing perfect self-mastery. To dominate instinct by means of one's reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence. Yet this discipline which is proper to the purity of married couples, far from harming conjugal love, rather confers on it a higher human value. It demands continual effort yet, thanks to its beneficent influence, husband and wife fully develop their personalities, being enriched with spiritual values. Such discipline bestows upon family life fruits of serenity and peace, and facilitates the solution of other problems; it favors attention for one's partner, helps both parties to drive out selfishness, the enemy of true love; and deepens their sense of responsibility. By its means, parents acquire the capacity of having a deeper and more efficacious influence in the education of their offspring; little children and youths grow up with a just appraisal of human values, and in the serene and harmonious development of their spiritual and sensitive faculties.
On this occasion, we wish to draw the attention of educators, and of all who
perform duties of responsibility in regard to the common good of human
society, to the need of creating an atmosphere favorable to education in
chastity, that is, to the triumph of healthy liberty over license by means of
respect for the moral order.
To Rulers, who are those principally responsible for the common good, and who
can do so much to safeguard moral customs, we say: Do not allow the morality
of your peoples to be degraded; do not permit that by legal means practices
contrary to the natural and divine law be introduced into that fundamental
cell, the family. Quite other is the way in which public authorities can and
must contribute to the solution of the demographic problem: namely, the way of
a provident policy for the family, of a wise education of peoples in respect
of moral law and the liberty of citizens.
24. We wish now to express our encouragement to men of science, who "can considerably advance the welfare of marriage and the family, along with peace of conscience, if by pooling their efforts they labor to explain more thoroughly the various conditions favoring a proper regulation of births."  It is particularly desirable that, according to the wish already expressed by Pope Pius XII, medical science succeed in providing a sufficiently secure basis for a regulation of birth, founded on the observance of natural rhythms.  In this way, scientists and especially Catholic scientists will contribute to demonstrate in actual fact that, as the Church teaches, "a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to the fostering of authentic conjugal love." 
And now our words more directly
address our own children, particularly those whom God calls to serve Him in
marriage. The Church, while teaching imprescriptible demands of the divine
law, announces the tidings of salvation, and by means of the sacraments opens
up the paths of grace, which makes man a new creature, capable of
corresponding with love and true freedom to the design of his Creator and
Savior, and of finding the yoke of Christ to be sweet.
26. Among the fruits which ripen forth from a generous effort of fidelity to the divine law, one of the most precious is that married couples themselves not infrequently feel the desire to communicate their experience to others. Thus there comes to be included in the vast pattern of the vocation of the laity a new and most noteworthy form of the apostolate of like to like; it is married couples themselves who become apostles and guides to other married couples. This is assuredly, among so many forms of apostolate, one of those which seem most opportune today. 
27. We hold those physicians and medical personnel in the highest esteem who, in the exercise of their profession, value above every human interest the superior demands of their Christian vocation. Let them persevere, therefore, in promoting on every occasion the discovery of solutions inspired by faith and right reason, let them strive to arouse this conviction and this respect in their associates. Let them also consider as their proper professional duty the task of acquiring all the knowledge needed in this delicate sector, so as to be able to give to those married persons who consult them wise counsel and healthy direction, such as they have a right to expect.
Beloved priest sons, by vocation
you are the counselors and spiritual guides of individual persons and of
families. We now turn to you with confidence. Your first task--especially in
the case of those who teach moral theology--is to expound the Church's
teaching on marriage without ambiguity. Be the first to give, in the exercise
of your ministry, the example of loyal internal and external obedience to the
teaching authority of the Church. That obedience, as you know well, obliges
not only because of the reasons adduced, but rather because of the light of
the Holy Spirit, which is given in a particular way to the pastors of the
Church in order that they may illustrate the truth.
You know, too, that it is of the utmost importance, for peace of
consciences and for the unity of the Christian people, that in the field of
morals as well as in that of dogma, all should attend to the magisterium of
the Church, and all should speak the same language. Hence, with all our heart
we renew to you the heartfelt plea of the great Apostle Paul: "I appeal
to you, brethren, by the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree
and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same
mind and the same judgment."
To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent
form of charity for souls. But this must ever be accompanied by patience and
goodness, such as the Lord himself gave example of in dealing with men. Having
come not to condemn but to save,
he was indeed intransigent with evil, but merciful towards
Beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate, with whom we most intimately
share the solicitude of the spiritual good of the People of God, at the
conclusion of this encyclical our reverent and affectionate thoughts turn to
you. To all of you we extend an urgent invitation. At the head of the priests,
your collaborators, and of your faithful, work ardently and incessantly for
the safeguarding and the holiness of marriage, so that it may always be lived
in its entire human and Christian fullness. Consider this mission as one of
your most urgent responsibilities at the present time.
Venerable brothers, most beloved sons, and all men of good will, great indeed
is the work of education, of progress and of love to which we call you, upon
the foundation of the Church's teaching, of which the successor of Peter is,
together with his brothers in the episcopate, the depositary and interpreter.
Truly a great work, as we are deeply convinced, both for the world and for the
Church, since 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 which he must observe with intelligence and love. Upon this work,
and upon all of you, and especially upon married couples, we invoke the
abundant graces of the God of holiness and mercy, and in pledge thereof we
impart to you all our apostolic blessing.
Cf. Pius IX, encyclical Qui
Pluribus, Nov. 9, 1846; in PII IX P. M. Acta, I, pp. 9-10; St. Pius X, encyc.
Singulari Quadam, Sept. 24, 1912; in AAS IV (1912), p. 658; Pius XI, encyc.
Casti Connubii, Dec. 31, 1930; in AAS XXII (1930), pp. 579-581; Pius XII,
allocution Magnificate Dominum to the episcopate of the Catholic world, Nov.
2, 1954; in AAS XLVI (1954), pp. 671-672; John XXIII, encyc. Mater et
Magistra, May 15, 1961; in AAS LIII (1961), p. 457.
Cf. Matt. 28: 18-19.
Cf. Matt. 7: 21.
Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii
Tridentini, part II, ch. VIII; Leo XIII, encyc. Arcanum, Feb. 19 1880; in
Acta Leonis XIII, Il (1881), pp. 26-29; Pius Xl, encyc. Divini Illius
Magistri, Dec. 31, 1929, in AAS XXII (1930), pp. 58-61; encyc. Casti
Connubii, in AAS XXII (1930), pp. 545-546; Pius XII, alloc. to the Italian
medico-biological union of St. Luke, Nov. 12, 1944, in Discorsi e
Radiomessaggi, VI, pp. 191-192; to the Italian Catholic union of midwives,
Oct. 29, 1951, in AAS XLIII (1951), pp. 857-859; to the seventh
Congress of the International Society of Haematology, Sept. 12, 1958, in AAS
L (1958), pp. 734-735; John XXIII, encyc. Mater et Magistra, in AAS LIII
(1961), pp. 446-447; Codex luris Canonici, Canon 1067; Can. 1968, S 1, Can.
1066 S 1-2; Second Vatican Council, Pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes,
Cf. Paul VI, allocution to the
Sacred College, June 23, 1964, in AAS LVI (1964 ), p. 588; to the Commission
for Study of Problems of Population, Family and Birth, March 27, 1965, in
AAS LVII (1965), p. 388, to the National Congress of the Italian Society of
Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Oct. 29, 1966, in AAS LVIII (1966), p. 1168.
Cf. I John 4: 8.
Cf. Eph. 3: 15.
Cf. II Vat. Council, Pastoral const. Gaudium et Spes, No. 50.
Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 94, art. 2.
Cf. Pastoral Const. Gaudium et Spes, nos. 50, 51.
Ibid, no. 49.
Cf. Pius XI, encyc. Casti Connubii, in AAS XXII (1930), p. 560; Pius XII, in
AAS XLIII (1951), p. 843.
Cf. John XXIII, encyc. Mater et Magistra, in AAS LIII (1961), p. 447.
 Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii Tridentini, part. II, Ch. VIII; Pius XI, encyc. Casti Connubii, in AAS XXII (1930), pp. 562-564; Pius XII, Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, VI (1944), pp. 191-192; AAS XLIII (1951), pp. 842-843; pp. 857-859; John XXIII, encyc. Pacem in Terris, Apr. 11, 1963, in AAS LV (1963), pp. 259-260; Gaudium et Spes, no. 51.
Cf. Pius XI encyc. Casti Connubii, in AAS XXII (1930) p. 565; decree of the
Holy Office, Feb. 22, 1940, in AAS L (1958), pp. 734-735.
Cf. Catechismus Romanus Concilii Tridentini, part. II, Ch. VIII; Pius XI,
encyc. Casti Connubii, in AAS XXII (1930), pp. 559-561; Pius XII, AAS XLIII
(1951), p. 843; AAS L. (1958), pp. 734-735; John XXIII, encyc. Mater et
Magistra, in AAS LIII (1961), p. 447.
Cf. Pius XII, alloc. to the National Congress of the Union of Catholic
Jurists, Dec. 6, 1953, in AAS XLV (1953), pp. 798-799.
Cf. Rom. 3: 8.
Cf. Pius XII, alloc. to Congress of the Italian Association of Urology, Oct.
8, 1953, in AAS XLV (1953), pp. 674-675; AAS L (1958) pp. 734-735.
Cf. Pius XII, AAS XLIII (1951), p. 846.
Cf. AAS XLV (1953), pp. 674-675; AAS XLVIII (1956), pp. 461-462.
Cf. Luke 2: 34.
Cf. Paul Vl, encyc. Populorum Progressio, March 26, 1967, No. 21.
Cf. Rom. 8.
Cf. 11 Vatican Council, decree Inter Mirifica, On the Media of Social
Communication, nos. 6-7.
Cf. encyc. Mater et Magistra in AAS LIII (1961), p. 447.
Cf. encyc. Populorum Progressio, nos. 48-55.
Cf. Pastoral Const. Gaudium et Spes, no. 52.
Cf. AAS XLIII (1951) , p. 859.
Cf. Pastoral Const. Gaudium et Spes, no. 51.
Cf. Matt. 11: 30.
Cf. Pastoral Const. Gaudium et Spes, no. 48; 11 Vatican Council, Dogmatic
Const. Lumen Gentium, no. 35.
Matt. 7: 14- cf. Heb. 11: 12.
Cf. Tit. 2 : 1 2.
Cf. I Cor. 7: 31.
Cf. Rom. 5: 5.
Eph. 5: 25, 28-29, 32-33.
Cf. Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, nos. 35 and 41; Pastoral Const. Gaudium
et Spes, nos. 48-49; Il Vatican Council, Decree Apostolicam Actuositatem,
Cf. Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, no. 25.
Cf. Dogmatic Const. Lumen Gentium, no. 25.
Contact the Chairman, Brian Murphy with questions or comments.