Addressed by the Supreme Pontiff
John Paul II
to the Bishops
Priests and Deacons
Men and Women Religious
and All People of Good Will
ON THE VALUE AND INVIOLABILITY
OF HUMAN LIFE
Chapter 1: Present Day Threats to Human Life
THE VOICE OF YOUR BROTHER'S BLOOD CRIES TO ME FROM THE GROUND
Chapter 2: The Christian Message Concerning Life
I CAME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE
Chapter 3: God's Holy Law
YOU SHALL NOT KILL
Chapter 4: For a New Culture of Human Life
YOU DID IT TO ME
1. The Gospel of life is at the heart of Jesus' message. Lovingly received
day after day by the Church, it is to be preached with dauntless fidelity as
"good news" to the people of every age and culture.
At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as
joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the
people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is
Christ the Lord" (Lk
2:10-11). The source of this "great joy" is the Birth of the Saviour; but
Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which
accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and
fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21).
When he presents the heart of his redemptive mission, Jesus says: "I came
that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn 10:10). In truth, he
is referring to that "new" and "eternal" life which consists in communion with
the Father, to which every person is freely called in the Son by the power of
the Sanctifying Spirit. It is precisely in this "life" that all the aspects and
stages of human life achieve their full significance.
The incomparable worth of the human person
2. Man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of
his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God. The
loftiness of this supernatural vocation reveals the greatness and the
inestimable value of human life even in its temporal phase. Life in time, in
fact, is the fundamental condition, the initial stage and an integral part of
the entire unified process of human existence. It is a process which,
unexpectedly and undeservedly, is enlightened by the promise and renewed by the
gift of divine life, which will reach its full realization in eternity (cf. 1
Jn 3:1-2). At the same time, it is precisely this supernatural calling which
highlights the relative character of each individual's earthly life.
After all, life on earth is not an "ultimate" but a "penultimate" reality; even
so, it remains a sacred reality entrusted to us, to be preserved with a
sense of responsibility and brought to perfection in love and in the gift of
ourselves to God and to our brothers and sisters.
The Church knows that this Gospel of life, which she has received from
her Lord,1 has a profound and persuasive echo in the heart
of every person—believer and non-believer alike—because it marvellously fulfils
all the heart's expectations while infinitely surpassing them. Even in the midst
of difficulties and uncertainties, every person sincerely open to truth and
goodness can, by the light of reason and the hidden action of grace, come to
recognize in the natural law written in the heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15) the
sacred value of human life from its very beginning until its end, and can affirm
the right of every human being to have this primary good respected to the
highest degree. Upon the recognition of this right, every human community and
the political community itself are founded.
In a special way, believers in Christ must defend and promote this right,
aware as they are of the wonderful truth recalled by the Second Vatican Council:
"By his incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every
human being".2 This saving event reveals to humanity not
only the boundless love of God who "so loved the world that he gave his only
Son" (Jn 3:16), but also the incomparable value of every human person.
The Church, faithfully contemplating the mystery of the Redemption,
acknowledges this value with ever new wonder.3 She feels
called to proclaim to the people of all times this "Gospel", the source of
invincible hope and true joy for every period of history. The Gospel of God's
love for man, the Gospel of the dignity of the person and the Gospel of life are
a single and indivisible Gospel.
For this reason, man—living man—represents the primary and fundamental way
for the Church.4
New threats to human life
3. Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God
who was made flesh (cf. Jn 1:14), is entrusted to the maternal care of
the Church. Therefore every threat to human dignity and life must necessarily be
felt in the Church's very heart; it cannot but affect her at the core of her
faith in the Redemptive Incarnation of the Son of God, and engage her in her
mission of proclaiming the Gospel of life in all the world and to every
creature (cf. Mk 16:15).
Today this proclamation is especially pressing because of the extraordinary
increase and gravity of threats to the life of individuals and peoples,
especially where life is weak and defenceless. In addition to the ancient
scourges of poverty, hunger, endemic diseases, violence and war, new threats are
emerging on an alarmingly vast scale.
The Second Vatican Council, in a passage which retains all its relevance
today, forcefully condemned a number of crimes and attacks against human life.
Thirty years later, taking up the words of the Council and with the same
forcefulness I repeat that condemnation in the name of the whole Church, certain
that I am interpreting the genuine sentiment of every upright conscience:
"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide,
abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the
integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or
mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such
as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery,
prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working
conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as
free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies
indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise
them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme
dishonour to the Creator".5
4. Unfortunately, this disturbing state of affairs, far from decreasing, is
expanding: with the new prospects opened up by scientific and technological
progress there arise new forms of attacks on the dignity of the human being. At
the same time a new cultural climate is developing and taking hold, which gives
crimes against life a new and—if possible—even more sinister character,
giving rise to further grave concern: broad sectors of public opinion justify
certain crimes against life in the name of the rights of individual freedom, and
on this basis they claim not only exemption from punishment but even
authorization by the State, so that these things can be done with total freedom
and indeed with the free assistance of health-care systems.
All this is causing a profound change in the way in which life and
relationships between people are considered. The fact that legislation in many
countries, perhaps even departing from basic principles of their Constitutions,
has determined not to punish these practices against life, and even to make them
altogether legal, is both a disturbing symptom and a significant cause of grave
moral decline. Choices once unanimously considered criminal and rejected by the
common moral sense are gradually becoming socially acceptable. Even certain
sectors of the medical profession, which by its calling is directed to the
defence and care of human life, are increasingly willing to carry out these acts
against the person. In this way the very nature of the medical profession is
distorted and contradicted, and the dignity of those who practise it is
degraded. In such a cultural and legislative situation, the serious demographic,
social and family problems which weigh upon many of the world's peoples and
which require responsible and effective attention from national and
international bodies, are left open to false and deceptive solutions, opposed to
the truth and the good of persons and nations.
The end result of this is tragic: not only is the fact of the destruction of
so many human lives still to be born or in their final stage extremely grave and
disturbing, but no less grave and disturbing is the fact that conscience itself,
darkened as it were by such widespread conditioning, is finding it increasingly
difficult to distinguish between good and evil in what concerns the basic value
of human life.
In communion with all the Bishops of the world
5. The Extraordinary Consistory of Cardinals held in Rome on 4-7 April
1991 was devoted to the problem of the threats to human life in our day. After a
thorough and detailed discussion of the problem and of the challenges it poses
to the entire human family and in particular to the Christian community, the
Cardinals unanimously asked me to reaffirm with the authority of the Successor
of Peter the value of human life and its inviolability, in the light of present
circumstances and attacks threatening it today.
In response to this request, at Pentecost in 1991 I wrote a personal
letter to each of my Brother Bishops asking them, in the spirit of episcopal
collegiality, to offer me their cooperation in drawing up a specific document.6
I am deeply grateful to all the Bishops who replied and provided me with
valuable facts, suggestions and proposals. In so doing they bore witness to
their unanimous desire to share in the doctrinal and pastoral mission of the
Church with regard to the Gospel of life.
In that same letter, written shortly after the celebration of the centenary
of the Encyclical Rerum Novarum, I drew everyone's attention to this
striking analogy: "Just as a century ago it was the working classes which were
oppressed in their fundamental rights, and the Church very courageously came to
their defence by proclaiming the sacrosanct rights of the worker as a person, so
now, when another category of persons is being oppressed in the fundamental
right to life, the Church feels in duty bound to speak out with the same courage
on behalf of those who have no voice. Hers is always the evangelical cry in
defence of the world's poor, those who are threatened and despised and whose
human rights are violated".7
Today there exists a great multitude of weak and defenceless human beings,
unborn children in particular, whose fundamental right to life is being trampled
upon. If, at the end of the last century, the Church could not be silent about
the injustices of those times, still less can she be silent today, when the
social injustices of the past, unfortunately not yet overcome, are being
compounded in many regions of the world by still more grievous forms of
injustice and oppression, even if these are being presented as elements of
progress in view of a new world order.
The present Encyclical, the fruit of the cooperation of the Episcopate of
every country of the world, is therefore meant to be a precise and vigorous
reaffirmation of the value of human life and its inviolability, and at the
same time a pressing appeal addressed to each and every person, in the name of
God: respect, protect, love and serve life, every human life! Only in
this direction will you find justice, development, true freedom, peace and
May these words reach all the sons and daughters of the Church! May they
reach all people of good will who are concerned for the good of every man and
woman and for the destiny of the whole of society!
6. In profound communion with all my brothers and sisters in the faith, and
inspired by genuine friendship towards all, I wish to meditate upon once more
and proclaim the Gospel of life, the splendour of truth which enlightens
consciences, the clear light which corrects the darkened gaze, and the unfailing
source of faithfulness and steadfastness in facing the ever new challenges which
we meet along our path.
As I recall the powerful experience of the Year of the Family, as if to
complete the Letter
which I wrote "to every particular family in every part of the world",8
I look with renewed confidence to every household and I pray that at every level
a general commitment to support the family will reappear and be strengthened, so
that today too—even amid so many difficulties and serious threats—the family
will always remain, in accordance with God's plan, the "sanctuary of life".9
To all the members of the Church, the people of life and for life, I
make this most urgent appeal, that together we may offer this world of ours new
signs of hope, and work to ensure that justice and solidarity will increase and
that a new culture of human life will be affirmed, for the building of an
authentic civilization of truth and love.
THE VOICE OF YOUR BROTHER'S BLOOD
CRIES TO ME FROM THE GROUND
PRESENT-DAY THREATS TO HUMAN LIFE
"Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him" (Gen 4:8):
the roots of violence against life
7. "God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the
living. For he has created all things that they might exist ... God created
man for incorruption, and made him in the image of his own eternity, but
through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to
his party experience it" (Wis 1:13-14; 2:23-24).
The Gospel of life, proclaimed in the beginning when man was created in the
image of God for a destiny of full and perfect life (cf. Gen 2:7; Wis
9:2-3), is contradicted by the painful experience of death which enters the
world and casts its shadow of meaninglessness over man's entire existence.
Death came into the world as a result of the devil's envy (cf. Gen
3:1,4-5) and the sin of our first parents (cf. Gen
2:17, 3:17-19). And death entered it in a violent way, through the
killing of Abel by his brother Cain: "And when they were in the field, Cain
rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him" (Gen 4:8).
This first murder is presented with singular eloquence in a page of the Book
of Genesis which has universal significance: it is a page rewritten daily, with
inexorable and degrading frequency, in the book of human history.
Let us re-read together this biblical account which, despite its archaic
structure and its extreme simplicity, has much to teach us.
"Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a tiller of the ground. In the
course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground,
and Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And
the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he
had not regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. The Lord said
to Cain, 'Why are you angry and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well,
will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the
door; its desire is for you, but you must master it'.
"Cain said to Abel his brother, 'Let us go out to the field'. And when they
were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and killed him. Then
the Lord said to Cain, 'Where is Abel your brother?' He said, 'I do not know; am
I my brother's keeper?' And the Lord said, 'What have you done? The voice of
your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. And now you are cursed
from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from
your hand. When you till the ground, it shall no longer yield to you its
strength; you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth'. Cain said to the
Lord, 'My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me this
day away from the ground; and from your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a
fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me'. Then
the Lord said to him, 'Not so! If any one slays Cain, vengeance shall be taken
on him sevenfold'. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, lest any who came upon him
should kill him. Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in
the land of Nod, east of Eden" (Gen
8. Cain was "very angry" and his countenance "fell" because "the Lord had
regard for Abel and his offering" (Gen 4:4-5). The biblical text does not
reveal the reason why God prefers Abel's sacrifice to Cain's. It clearly shows
however that God, although preferring Abel's gift, does not interrupt his
dialogue with Cain. He admonishes him, reminding him of his freedom in
the face of evil: man is in no way predestined to evil. Certainly, like
Adam, he is tempted by the malevolent force of sin which, like a wild beast,
lies in wait at the door of his heart, ready to leap on its prey. But Cain
remains free in the face of sin. He can and must overcome it: "Its desire is for
you, but you must master it" (Gen 4:7).
Envy and anger have the upper hand over the Lord's warning, and so Cain
attacks his own brother and kills him. As we read in the Catechism of the
Catholic Church: "In the account of Abel's murder by his brother Cain,
Scripture reveals the presence of anger and envy in man, consequences of
original sin, from the beginning of human history. Man has become the enemy of
his fellow man".10
Brother kills brother. Like the first fratricide, every murder is a
violation of the "spiritual" kinship uniting mankind in one great family,11
in which all share the same fundamental good: equal personal dignity. Not
infrequently the kinship "of flesh and blood" is also violated; for
example when threats to life arise within the relationship between parents and
children, such as happens in abortion or when, in the wider context of family or
kinship, euthanasia is encouraged or practised.
At the root of every act of violence against one's neighbour there is a
concession to the "thinking" of the evil one, the one who "was a murderer
from the beginning" (Jn 8:44). As the Apostle John reminds us: "For this
is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one
another, and not be like Cain who was of the evil one and murdered his brother"
(1 Jn 3:11-12). Cain's killing of his brother at the very dawn of history
is thus a sad witness of how evil spreads with amazing speed: man's revolt
against God in the earthly paradise is followed by the deadly combat of man
After the crime, God intervenes to avenge the one killed. Before God,
who asks him about the fate of Abel, Cain, instead of showing remorse and
apologizing, arrogantly eludes the question: "I do not know; am I my brother's
keeper?" (Gen 4:9).
"I do not know": Cain tries to cover up his crime with a lie. This was and
still is the case, when all kinds of ideologies try to justify and disguise the
most atrocious crimes against human beings. "Am I my brother's keeper?":
Cain does not wish to think about his brother and refuses to accept the
responsibility which every person has towards others. We cannot but think of
today's tendency for people to refuse to accept responsibility for their
brothers and sisters. Symptoms of this trend include the lack of solidarity
towards society's weakest members—such as the elderly, the infirm, immigrants,
children— and the indifference frequently found in relations between the world's
peoples even when basic values such as survival, freedom and peace are involved.
9. But God cannot leave the crime unpunished: from the ground on which
it has been spilt, the blood of the one murdered demands that God should render
justice (cf. Gen
37:26; Is 26:21; Ez 24:7-8). From this text the Church has
taken the name of the "sins which cry to God for justice", and, first among
them, she has included wilful murder.12 For the Jewish
people, as for many peoples of antiquity, blood is the source of life. Indeed
"the blood is the life" (Dt
12:23), and life, especially human life, belongs only to God: for this
reason whoever attacks human life, in some way attacks God himself.
Cain is cursed by God and also by the earth, which will deny him its
fruit (cf. Gen
4:11-12). He is punished: he will live in the wilderness and the
desert. Murderous violence profoundly changes man's environment. From being the
"garden of Eden" (Gen 2:15), a place of plenty, of harmonious
interpersonal relationships and of friendship with God, the earth becomes "the
land of Nod" (Gen 4:16), a place of scarcity, loneliness and separation
from God. Cain will be "a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth" (Gen
4:14): uncertainty and restlessness will follow him forever.
And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on
lest any who came upon him should kill him" (Gen 4:15). He thus gave
him a distinctive sign, not to condemn him to the hatred of others, but to
protect and defend him from those wishing to kill him, even out of a desire to
avenge Abel's death. Not even a murderer loses his personal dignity, and
God himself pledges to guarantee this. And it is pre- precisely here that the
paradoxical mystery of the merciful justice of God is shown forth. As Saint
Ambrose writes: "Once the crime is admitted at the very inception of this sinful
act of parricide, then the divine law of God's mercy should be immediately
extended. If punishment is forthwith inflicted on the accused, then men in the
exercise of justice would in no way observe patience and moderation, but would
straightaway condemn the defendant to punishment. ... God drove Cain out of his
presence and sent him into exile far away from his native land, so that he
passed from a life of human kindness to one which was more akin to the rude
existence of a wild beast. God, who preferred the correction rather than the
death of a sinner, did not desire that a homicide be punished by the exaction of
another act of homicide".13
"What have you done?" (Gen 4:10): the eclipse of the value of
10. The Lord said to Cain: "What have you done? The voice of your brother's
blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gen 4:10).The voice of the
blood shed by men continues to cry out, from generation to generation, in
ever new and different ways.
The Lord's question: "What have you done?", which Cain cannot escape, is
addressed also to the people of today, to make them realize the extent and
gravity of the attacks against life which continue to mark human history; to
make them discover what causes these attacks and feeds them; and to make them
ponder seriously the consequences which derive from these attacks for the
existence of individuals and peoples.
Some threats come from nature itself, but they are made worse by the culpable
indifference and negligence of those who could in some cases remedy them. Others
are the result of situations of violence, hatred and conflicting interests,
which lead people to attack others through murder, war, slaughter and genocide.
And how can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of
human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and
hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and
between social classes? And what of the violence inherent not only in wars as
such but in the scandalous arms trade, which spawns the many armed conflicts
which stain our world with blood? What of the spreading of death caused by
reckless tampering with the world's ecological balance, by the criminal spread
of drugs, or by the promotion of certain kinds of sexual activity which, besides
being morally unacceptable, also involve grave risks to life? It is impossible
to catalogue completely the vast array of threats to human life, so many are the
forms, whether explicit or hidden, in which they appear today!
11. Here though we shall concentrate particular attention on another
category of attacks, affecting life in its earliest and in its final stages,
attacks which present
new characteristics with respect to the past and which raise questions of
extraordinary seriousness. It is not only that in generalized opinion these
attacks tend no longer to be considered as "crimes"; paradoxically they assume
the nature of "rights", to the point that the State is called upon to give them
legal recognition and to make them available through the free services of
Such attacks strike human life at the time of its greatest frailty, when it
lacks any means of self-defence. Even more serious is the fact that, most often,
those attacks are carried out in the very heart of and with the complicity of
the family—the family which by its nature is called to be the "sanctuary of
How did such a situation come about? Many different factors have to be taken
into account. In the background there is the profound crisis of culture, which
generates scepticism in relation to the very foundations of knowledge and
ethics, and which makes it increasingly difficult to grasp clearly the meaning
of what man is, the meaning of his rights and his duties. Then there are all
kinds of existential and interpersonal difficulties, made worse by the
complexity of a society in which individuals, couples and families are often
left alone with their problems. There are situations of acute poverty, anxiety
or frustration in which the struggle to make ends meet, the presence of
unbearable pain, or instances of violence, especially against women, make the
choice to defend and promote life so demanding as sometimes to reach the point
All this explains, at least in part, how the value of life can today undergo
a kind of "eclipse", even though conscience does not cease to point to it as a
sacred and inviolable value, as is evident in the tendency to disguise certain
crimes against life in its early or final stages by using innocuous medical
terms which distract attention from the fact that what is involved is the right
to life of an actual human person.
12. In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some
way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today's social problems, and
these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is
no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be
described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized
by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes
the form of a veritable "culture of death". This culture is actively fostered by
powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of
society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from
this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of
the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater
acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable
burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because
of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the
well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon
as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of "conspiracy
against life" is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in
their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point
of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between
peoples and States.
13. In order to facilitate the spread of abortion, enormous sums of
money have been invested and continue to be invested in the production of
pharmaceutical products which make it possible to kill the fetus in the mother's
womb without recourse to medical assistance. On this point, scientific research
itself seems to be almost exclusively preoccupied with developing products which
are ever more simple and effective in suppressing life and which at the same
time are capable of removing abortion from any kind of control or social
It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and
available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic
Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately
continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at
carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use
contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion.
But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptive mentality"—which is very
different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of
the conjugal act—are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an
unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially
strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected.
Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are
specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the
sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys
the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in
marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates
the divine commandment "You shall not kill".
But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and
abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true
that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under the
pressure of real- life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from
striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in very many other instances such
practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept
responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept
of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The
life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be
avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response
to failed contraception.
The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of
contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being
demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products,
intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as
contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the
development of the life of the new human being.
14. The various techniques of artificial reproduction, which would
seem to be at the service of life and which are frequently used with this
intention, actually open the door to new threats against life. Apart from the
fact that they are morally unacceptable, since they separate procreation from
the fully human context of the conjugal act,14 these
techniques have a high rate of failure: not just failure in relation to
fertilization but with regard to the subsequent development of the embryo, which
is exposed to the risk of death, generally within a very short space of time.
Furthermore, the number of embryos produced is often greater than that needed
for implantation in the woman's womb, and these so-called "spare embryos" are
then destroyed or used for research which, under the pretext of scientific or
medical progress, in fact reduces human life to the level of simple "biological
material" to be freely disposed of.
Prenatal diagnosis, which presents no moral objections if carried out in
order to identify the medical treatment which may be needed by the child in the
womb, all too often becomes an opportunity for proposing and procuring an
abortion. This is eugenic abortion, justified in public opinion on the basis of
a mentality—mistakenly held to be consistent with the demands of "therapeutic
interventions"—which accepts life only under certain conditions and rejects it
when it is affected by any limitation, handicap or illness.
Following this same logic, the point has been reached where the most basic
care, even nourishment, is denied to babies born with serious handicaps or
illnesses. The contemporary scene, moreover, is becoming even more alarming by
reason of the proposals, advanced here and there, to justify even
infanticide, following the same arguments used to justify the right to
abortion. In this way, we revert to a state of barbarism which one hoped had
been left behind forever.
15. Threats which are no less serious hang over the incurably ill and
In a social and cultural context which makes it more difficult to face and
accept suffering, the temptation becomes all the greater to resolve
the problem of suffering by eliminating it at the root, by hastening death
so that it occurs at the moment considered most suitable.
Various considerations usually contribute to such a decision, all of which
converge in the same terrible outcome. In the sick person the sense of anguish,
of severe discomfort, and even of desperation brought on by intense and
prolonged suffering can be a decisive factor. Such a situation can threaten the
already fragile equilibrium of an individual's personal and family life, with
the result that, on the one hand, the sick person, despite the help of
increasingly effective medical and social assistance, risks feeling overwhelmed
by his or her own frailty; and on the other hand, those close to the sick person
can be moved by an understandable even if misplaced compassion. All this is
aggravated by a cultural climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in
suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated
at all costs. This is especially the case in the absence of a religious outlook
which could help to provide a positive understanding of the mystery of
On a more general level, there exists in contemporary culture a certain
Promethean attitude which leads people to think that they can control life and
death by taking the decisions about them into their own hands. What really
happens in this case is that the individual is overcome and crushed by a death
deprived of any prospect of meaning or hope. We see a tragic expression of all
this in the spread of euthanasia—disguised and surreptitious, or
practised openly and even legally. As well as for reasons of a misguided pity at
the sight of the patient's suffering, euthanasia is sometimes justified by the
utilitarian motive of avoiding costs which bring no return and which weigh
heavily on society. Thus it is proposed to eliminate malformed babies, the
severely handicapped, the disabled, the elderly, especially when they are not
self-sufficient, and the terminally ill. Nor can we remain silent in the face of
other more furtive, but no less serious and real, forms of euthanasia. These
could occur for example when, in order to increase the availability of organs
for transplants, organs are removed without respecting objective and adequate
criteria which verify the death of the donor.
16. Another present-day phenomenon, frequently used to justify threats
and attacks against life, is the demographic question. This question
arises in different ways in different parts of the world. In the rich and
developed countries there is a disturbing decline or collapse of the birthrate.
The poorer countries, on the other hand, generally have a high rate of
population growth, difficult to sustain in the context of low economic and
social development, and especially where there is extreme underdevelopment. In
the face of over- population in the poorer countries, instead of forms of global
intervention at the international level—serious family and social policies,
programmes of cultural development and of fair production and distribution of
resources—anti-birth policies continue to be enacted.
Contraception, sterilization and abortion are certainly part of the reason
why in some cases there is a sharp decline in the birthrate. It is not difficult
to be tempted to use the same methods and attacks against life also where there
is a situation of "demographic explosion".
The Pharaoh of old, haunted by the presence and increase of the children of
Israel, submitted them to every kind of oppression and ordered that every male
child born of the Hebrew women was to be killed (cf. Ex 1:7-22). Today
not a few of the powerful of the earth act in the same way. They too are haunted
by the current demographic growth, and fear that the most prolific and poorest
peoples represent a threat for the well-being and peace of their own countries.
Consequently, rather than wishing to face and solve these serious problems with
respect for the dignity of individuals and families and for every person's
inviolable right to life, they prefer to promote and impose by whatever means a
massive programme of birth control. Even the economic help which they would be
ready to give is unjustly made conditional on the acceptance of an anti-birth
17. Humanity today offers us a truly alarming spectacle, if we consider not
only how extensively attacks on life are spreading but also their unheard-of
numerical proportion, and the fact that they receive widespread and powerful
support from a broad consensus on the part of society, from widespread legal
approval and the involvement of certain sectors of health-care personnel.
As I emphatically stated at Denver, on the occasion of the Eighth World Youth
Day, "with time the threats against life have not grown weaker. They are taking
on vast proportions. They are not only threats coming from the outside, from the
forces of nature or the 'Cains' who kill the 'Abels'; no, they are
scientifically and systematically programmed threats. The twentieth century
will have been an era of massive attacks on life, an endless series of wars and
a continual taking of innocent human life. False prophets and false teachers
have had the greatest success".15
Aside from intentions, which can be varied and perhaps can seem convincing at
times, especially if presented in the name of solidarity, we are in fact faced
by an objective "conspiracy against life", involving even international
Institutions, engaged in encouraging and carrying out actual campaigns to make
contraception, sterilization and abortion widely available. Nor can it be denied
that the mass media are often implicated in this conspiracy, by lending credit
to that culture which presents recourse to contraception, sterilization,
abortion and even euthanasia as a mark of progress and a victory of freedom,
while depicting as enemies of freedom and progress those positions which are
"Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9): a perverse idea of
18. The panorama described needs to be understood not only in terms of the
phenomena of death which characterize it but also in the variety of causes
which determine it. The Lord's question: "What have you done?" (Gen
4:10), seems almost like an invitation addressed to Cain to go beyond the
material dimension of his murderous gesture, in order to recognize in it all the
gravity of the motives which occasioned it and the consequences
which result from it.
Decisions that go against life sometimes arise from difficult or even tragic
situations of profound suffering, loneliness, a total lack of economic
prospects, depression and anxiety about the future. Such circumstances can
mitigate even to a notable degree subjective responsibility and the consequent
culpability of those who make these choices which in themselves are evil. But
today the problem goes far beyond the necessary recognition of these personal
situations. It is a problem which exists at the cultural, social and political
level, where it reveals its more sinister and disturbing aspect in the tendency,
ever more widely shared, to interpret the above crimes against life as
legitimate expressions of individual freedom, to be acknowledged and protected
as actual rights.
In this way, and with tragic consequences, a long historical process is
reaching a turning-point. The process which once led to discovering the idea of
"human rights"—rights inherent in every person and prior to any Constitution and
State legislation—is today marked by a surprising contradiction.
Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly
proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is
being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of
existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death.
On the one hand, the various declarations of human rights and the many
initiatives inspired by these declarations show that at the global level there
is a growing moral sensitivity, more alert to acknowledging the value and
dignity of every individual as a human being, without any distinction of race,
nationality, religion, political opinion or social class.
On the other hand, these noble proclamations are unfortunately contradicted
by a tragic repudiation of them in practice. This denial is still more
distressing, indeed more scandalous, precisely because it is occurring in a
society which makes the affirmation and protection of human rights its primary
objective and its boast. How can these repeated affirmations of principle be
reconciled with the continual increase and widespread justification of attacks
on human life? How can we reconcile these declarations with the refusal to
accept those who are weak and needy, or elderly, or those who have just been
conceived? These attacks go directly against respect for life and they represent
a direct threat to the entire culture of human rights. It is a threat
capable, in the end, of jeopardizing the very meaning of democratic coexistence:
rather than societies of "people living together", our cities risk becoming
societies of people who are rejected, marginalized, uprooted and oppressed.
If we then look at the wider worldwide perspective, how can we fail to think
that the very affirmation of the rights of individuals and peoples made in
distinguished international assemblies is a merely futile exercise of rhetoric,
if we fail to unmask the selfishness of the rich countries which exclude poorer
countries from access to development or make such access dependent on arbitrary
prohibitions against procreation, setting up an opposition between development
and man himself? Should we not question the very economic models often adopted
by States which, also as a result of international pressures and forms of
conditioning, cause and aggravate situations of injustice and violence in which
the life of whole peoples is degraded and trampled upon?
19. What are the roots of this remarkable contradiction?
We can find them in an overall assessment of a cultural and moral nature,
beginning with the mentality which carries the concept of subjectivity to an
extreme and even distorts it, and recognizes as a subject of rights only the
person who enjoys full or at least incipient autonomy and who emerges from a
state of total dependence on others. But how can we reconcile this approach with
the exaltation of man as a being who is "not to be used"? The theory of
human rights is based precisely on the affirmation that the human person, unlike
animals and things, cannot be subjected to domination by others. We must also
mention the mentality which tends to equate personal dignity with the
capacity for verbal and explicit, or at least perceptible,
communication. It is clear that on the basis of these presuppositions there
is no place in the world for anyone who, like the unborn or the dying, is a weak
element in the social structure, or for anyone who appears completely at the
mercy of others and radically dependent on them, and can only communicate
through the silent language of a profound sharing of affection. In this case it
is force which becomes the criterion for choice and action in interpersonal
relations and in social life. But this is the exact opposite of what a State
ruled by law, as a community in which the "reasons of force" are replaced by the
"force of reason", historically intended to affirm.
At another level, the roots of the contradiction between the solemn
affirmation of human rights and their tragic denial in practice lies in a
notion of freedom which exalts the isolated individual in an absolute way,
and gives no place to solidarity, to openness to others and service of them.
While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in its final stages is
sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion, it cannot
be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely
individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of
"the strong" against the weak who have no choice but to submit.
It is precisely in this sense that Cain's answer to the Lord's question:
"Where is Abel your brother?" can be interpreted: "I do not know; am I my
brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9). Yes, every man is his "brother's
keeper", because God entrusts us to one another. And it is also in view of this
entrusting that God gives everyone freedom, a freedom which possesses an
inherently relational dimension. This is a great gift of the Creator, placed
as it is at the service of the person and of his fulfilment through the gift of
self and openness to others; but when freedom is made absolute in an
individualistic way, it is emptied of its original content, and its very meaning
and dignity are contradicted.
There is an even more profound aspect which needs to be emphasized: freedom
negates and destroys itself, and becomes a factor leading to the destruction of
others, when it no longer recognizes and respects its essential link with the
truth. When freedom, out of a desire to emancipate itself from all forms of
tradition and authority, shuts out even the most obvious evidence of an
objective and universal truth, which is the foundation of personal and social
life, then the person ends up by no longer taking as the sole and indisputable
point of reference for his own choices the truth about good and evil, but only
his subjective and changeable opinion or, indeed, his selfish interest and whim.
20. This view of freedom leads to a serious distortion of life in society.
If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people
inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered
an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of
individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds. Each one wishes
to assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends to make his own
interests prevail. Still, in the face of other people's analogous interests,
some kind of compromise must be found, if one wants a society in which the
maximum possible freedom is guaranteed to each individual. In this way, any
reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is
lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism.
At that point,
everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining: even the first
of the fundamental rights, the right to life.
This is what is happening also at the level of politics and government: the
original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a
parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people—even if it is the
majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed:
the "right" ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the
inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the
stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles,
effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. The State is no longer the
"common home" where all can live together on the basis of principles of
fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which
arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most
defenceless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a
public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part. The
appearance of the strictest respect for legality is maintained, at least when
the laws permitting abortion and euthanasia are the result of a ballot in
accordance with what are generally seen as the rules of democracy. Really, what
we have here is only the tragic caricature of legality; the democratic ideal,
which is only truly such when it acknowledges and safeguards the dignity of
every human person, is betrayed in its very foundations: "How is it still
possible to speak of the dignity of every human person when the killing of the
weakest and most innocent is permitted? In the name of what justice is the most
unjust of discriminations practised: some individuals are held to be deserving
of defence and others are denied that dignity?" 16 When
this happens, the process leading to the breakdown of a genuinely human
co-existence and the disintegration of the State itself has already begun.
To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize
that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil
significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.
This is the death of true freedom: "Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who
commits sin is a slave to sin" (Jn 8:34).
"And from your face I shall be hidden" (Gen 4:14): the eclipse
of the sense of God and of man
21. In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the "culture of
life" and the "culture of death", we cannot restrict ourselves to the perverse
idea of freedom mentioned above. We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being
experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man,
typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with
its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities
themselves to the test. Those who allow themselves to be influenced by this
climate easily fall into a sad vicious circle: when the sense of God is lost,
there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity and his
life; in turn, the systematic violation of the moral law, especially in the
serious matter of respect for human life and its dignity, produces a kind of
progressive darkening of the capacity to discern God's living and saving
Once again we can gain insight from the story of Abel's murder by his
brother. After the curse imposed on him by God, Cain thus addresses the Lord:
"My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, you have driven me this day
away from the ground; and
from your face I shall be hidden; and I shall be a fugitive and wanderer on
the earth, and whoever finds me will slay me" (Gen 4:13-14). Cain is
convinced that his sin will not obtain pardon from the Lord and that his
inescapable destiny will be to have to "hide his face" from him. If Cain is
capable of confessing that his fault is "greater than he can bear", it is
because he is conscious of being in the presence of God and before God's just
judgment. It is really only before the Lord that man can admit his sin and
recognize its full seriousness. Such was the experience of David who, after
"having committed evil in the sight of the Lord", and being rebuked by the
Prophet Nathan, exclaimed: "My offences truly I know them; my sin is always
before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned; what is evil in your sight I
have done" (Ps 51:5-6).
22. Consequently, when the sense of God is lost, the sense of man is also
threatened and poisoned, as the Second Vatican Council concisely states:
"Without the Creator the creature would disappear ... But when God is forgotten
the creature itself grows unintelligible".17 Man is no
longer able to see himself as "mysteriously different" from other earthly
creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism
which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the
narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being "a thing",
and no longer grasps the "transcendent" character of his "existence as man". He
no longer considers life as a splendid gift of God, something "sacred" entrusted
to his responsibility and thus also to his loving care and "veneration". Life
itself becomes a mere "thing", which man claims as his exclusive property,
completely subject to his control and manipulation.
Thus, in relation to life at birth or at death, man is no longer capable of
posing the question of the truest meaning of his own existence, nor can he
assimilate with genuine freedom these crucial moments of his own history. He is
concerned only with "doing", and, using all kinds of technology, he busies
himself with programming, controlling and dominating birth and death. Birth and
death, instead of being primary experiences demanding to be "lived", become
things to be merely "possessed" or "rejected".
Moreover, once all reference to God has been removed, it is not surprising
that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted. Nature itself,
from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being "matter", and is
subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction in which a
certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day
culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a
truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which
must be respected. Something similar happens when concern about the consequences
of such a "freedom without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a
"law without freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful
to interfere in any way with nature, practically "divinizing" it. Again, this is
a misunderstanding of nature's dependence on the plan of the Creator. Thus it is
clear that the loss of contact with God's wise design is the deepest root of
modern man's confusion, both when this loss leads to a freedom without rules and
when it leaves man in "fear" of his freedom.
By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery
of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being.
23. The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a
practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and
hedonism. Here too we see the permanent validity of the words of the Apostle:
"And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base
mind and to improper conduct" (Rom 1:28). The values of being are
replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of
one's own material well-being. The so-called "quality of life" is interpreted
primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism,
physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound
dimensions—interpersonal, spiritual and religious—of existence.
In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence
but also a factor of possible personal growth, is "censored", rejected as
useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When
it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes,
then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to
claim the right to suppress it.
Within this same cultural climate, the body is no longer perceived as
a properly personal reality, a sign and place of relations with others, with God
and with the world. It is reduced to pure materiality: it is simply a complex of
organs, functions and energies to be used according to the sole criteria of
pleasure and efficiency. Consequently, sexuality too is depersonalized
and exploited: from being the sign, place and language of love, that is, of the
gift of self and acceptance of another, in all the other's richness as a person,
it increasingly becomes the occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the
selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. Thus the original import
of human sexuality is distorted and falsified, and the two meanings, unitive and
procreative, inherent in the very nature of the conjugal act, are artificially
separated: in this way the marriage union is betrayed and its fruitfulness is
subjected to the caprice of the couple. Procreation then becomes the
"enemy" to be avoided in sexual activity: if it is welcomed, this is only
because it expresses a desire, or indeed the intention, to have a child "at all
costs", and not because it signifies the complete acceptance of the other and
therefore an openness to the richness of life which the child represents.
In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations
are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the
sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity—which
demands respect, generosity and service—is replaced by the criterion of
efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what
they "are", but for what they "have, do and produce". This is the supremacy of
the strong over the weak.
24. It is at the heart of the moral conscience that the eclipse of the
sense of God and of man, with all its various and deadly consequences for life,
is taking place. It is a question, above all, of the individual
conscience, as it stands before God in its singleness and uniqueness.18
But it is also a question, in a certain sense, of the "moral conscience" of
society: in a way it too is responsible, not only because it tolerates or
fosters behaviour contrary to life, but also because it encourages the "culture
of death", creating and consolidating actual "structures of sin" which go
against life. The moral conscience, both individual and social, is today
subjected, also as a result of the penetrating influence of the media, to an
extremely serious and mortal danger: that of confusion between good and
evil, precisely in relation to the fundamental right to life. A large part
of contemporary society looks sadly like that humanity which Paul describes in
his Letter to the Romans. It is composed "of men who by their wickedness
suppress the truth" (1:18): having denied God and believing that they can build
the earthly city without him, "they became futile in their thinking" so that
"their senseless minds were darkened" (1:21); "claiming to be wise, they became
fools" (1:22), carrying out works deserving of death, and "they not only do them
but approve those who practise them" (1:32). When conscience, this bright lamp
of the soul (cf. Mt 6:22-23), calls "evil good and good evil" (Is
5:20), it is already on the path to the most alarming corruption and the darkest
And yet all the conditioning and efforts to enforce silence fail to stifle
the voice of the Lord echoing in the conscience of every individual: it is
always from this intimate sanctuary of the conscience that a new journey of
love, openness and service to human life can begin.
"You have come to the sprinkled blood" (cf. Heb 12: 22, 24):
signs of hope and invitation to commitment
25. "The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground" (Gen
4:10). It is not only the voice of the blood of Abel, the first innocent man
to be murdered, which cries to God, the source and defender of life. The blood
of every other human being who has been killed since Abel is also a voice raised
to the Lord. In an absolutely singular way, as the author of the Letter to the
Hebrews reminds us, the voice of the blood of Christ, of whom Abel in his
innocence is a prophetic figure, cries out to God: "You have come to Mount Zion
and to the city of the living God ... to the mediator of a new covenant, and to
the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel" (12:22,
It is the sprinkled blood. A symbol and prophetic sign of it had been
the blood of the sacrifices of the Old Covenant, whereby God expressed his will
to communicate his own life to men, purifying and consecrating them (cf. Ex
24:8; Lev 17:11). Now all of this is fulfilled and comes true in Christ:
his is the sprinkled blood which redeems, purifies and saves; it is the blood of
the Mediator of the New Covenant "poured out for many for the forgiveness of
sins" (Mt 26:28). This blood, which flows from the pierced side of Christ
on the Cross (cf. Jn 19:34), "speaks more graciously" than the blood of
Abel; indeed, it expresses and requires a more radical "justice", and above all
it implores mercy,19 it makes intercession for the
brethren before the Father (cf. Heb
7:25), and it is the source of perfect redemption and the gift of new life.
The blood of Christ, while it reveals the grandeur of the Father's love,
shows how precious man is in God's eyes and how priceless the value of his life.
The Apostle Peter reminds us of this: "You know that you were ransomed from the
futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as
silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb
without blemish or spot" (1 Pt 1:18-19). Precisely by contemplating the
precious blood of Christ, the sign of his self-giving love (cf. Jn 13:1),
the believer learns to recognize and appreciate the almost divine dignity of
every human being and can exclaim with ever renewed and grateful wonder: "How
precious must man be in the eyes of the Creator, if he 'gained so great a
Redeemer' (Exsultet of the Easter Vigil), and if God 'gave his only Son'
in order that man 'should not perish but have eternal life' (cf. Jn
Furthermore, Christ's blood reveals to man that his greatness, and therefore
his vocation, consists in the sincere gift of self. Precisely because it
is poured out as the gift of life, the blood of Christ is no longer a sign of
death, of definitive separation from the brethren, but the instrument of a
communion which is richness of life for all. Whoever in the Sacrament of the
Eucharist drinks this blood and abides in Jesus (cf. Jn 6:56) is drawn
into the dynamism of his love and gift of life, in order to bring to its
fullness the original vocation to love which belongs to everyone (cf. Gen
It is from the blood of Christ that all draw the strength to commit
themselves to promoting life. It is precisely this blood that is the most
powerful source of hope, indeed it is the foundation of the absolute certitude
that in God's plan life will be victorious. "And death shall be no more",
exclaims the powerful voice which comes from the throne of God in the Heavenly
Jerusalem (Rev 21:4). And Saint Paul assures us that the present victory
over sin is a sign and anticipation of the definitive victory over death, when
there "shall come to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in
victory'. 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?' " (1
26. In effect, signs which point to this victory are not lacking in our
societies and cultures, strongly marked though they are by the "culture of
death". It would therefore be to give a one-sided picture, which could lead to
sterile discouragement, if the condemnation of the threats to life were not
accompanied by the presentation of the positive signs at work in
humanity's present situation.
Unfortunately it is often hard to see and recognize these positive signs,
perhaps also because they do not receive sufficient attention in the
communications media. Yet, how many initiatives of help and support for people
who are weak and defenceless have sprung up and continue to spring up in the
Christian community and in civil society, at the local, national and
international level, through the efforts of individuals, groups, movements and
organizations of various kinds!
There are still many married couples who, with a generous sense of
responsibility, are ready to accept children as "the supreme gift of marriage".21
Nor is there a lack of families which, over and above their everyday
service to life, are willing to accept abandoned children, boys and girls and
teenagers in difficulty, handicapped persons, elderly men and women who have
been left alone. Many centres in support of life, or similar
institutions, are sponsored by individuals and groups which, with admirable
dedication and sacrifice, offer moral and material support to mothers who are in
difficulty and are tempted to have recourse to abortion. Increasingly, there are
appearing in many places groups of volunteers prepared to offer
hospitality to persons without a family, who find themselves in conditions of
particular distress or who need a supportive environment to help them to
overcome destructive habits and discover anew the meaning of life.
Medical science, thanks to the committed efforts of researchers and
practitioners, continues in its efforts to discover ever more effective
remedies: treatments which were once inconceivable but which now offer much
promise for the future are today being developed for the unborn, the suffering
and those in an acute or terminal stage of sickness. Various agencies and
organizations are mobilizing their efforts to bring the benefits of the most
advanced medicine to countries most afflicted by poverty and endemic diseases.
In a similar way national and international associations of physicians are being
organized to bring quick relief to peoples affected by natural disasters,
epidemics or wars. Even if a just international distribution of medical
resources is still far from being a reality, how can we not recognize in the
steps taken so far the sign of a growing solidarity among peoples, a
praiseworthy human and moral sensitivity and a greater respect for life?
27. In view of laws which permit abortion and in view of efforts, which here
and there have been successful, to legalize euthanasia, movements and
initiatives to raise social awareness in defence of life have sprung up in
many parts of the world. When, in accordance with their principles, such
movements act resolutely, but without resorting to violence, they promote a
wider and more profound consciousness of the value of life, and evoke and bring
about a more determined commitment to its defence.
Furthermore, how can we fail to mention all those daily gestures of
openness, sacrifice and unselfish care which countless people lovingly make
in families, hospitals, orphanages, homes for the elderly and other centres or
communities which defend life? Allowing herself to be guided by the example of
Jesus the "Good Samaritan" (cf. Lk 10:29-37) and upheld by his strength,
the Church has always been in the front line in providing charitable help: so
many of her sons and daughters, especially men and women Religious, in
traditional and ever new forms, have consecrated and continue to consecrate
their lives to God, freely giving of themselves out of love for their neighbour,
especially for the weak and needy. These deeds strengthen the bases of the
"civilization of love and life", without which the life of individuals and of
society itself loses its most genuinely human quality. Even if they go unnoticed
and remain hidden to most people, faith assures us that the Father "who sees in
secret" (Mt 6:6) not only will reward these actions but already here and
now makes them produce lasting fruit for the good of all.
Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of
public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an
instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly
oriented to finding effective but "non-violent" means to counter the armed
aggressor. In the same perspective there is evidence of a growing public
opposition to the death penalty, even when such a penalty is seen as a kind
of "legitimate defence" on the part of society. Modern society in fact has the
means of effectively suppressing crime by rendering criminals harmless without
definitively denying them the chance to reform.
Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of
life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where
people's expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival
as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions. Especially
significant is the reawakening of an ethical reflection on issues affecting
life. The emergence and ever more widespread development of
bioethics is promoting more reflection and dialogue—between believers and
non-believers, as well as between followers of different religions— on ethical
problems, including fundamental issues pertaining to human life.
28. This situation, with its lights and shadows, ought to make us all fully
aware that we are facing an enormous and dramatic clash between good and evil,
death and life, the "culture of death" and the "culture of life". We find
ourselves not only "faced with" but necessarily "in the midst of" this conflict:
we are all involved and we all share in it, with the inescapable responsibility
of choosing to be unconditionally pro-life.
For us too Moses' invitation rings out loud and clear: "See, I have set
before you this day life and good, death and evil. ... I have set before you
life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your
descendants may live" (Dt
30:15, 19). This invitation is very appropriate for us who are called day by
day to the duty of choosing between the "culture of life" and the "culture of
death". But the call of Deuteronomy goes even deeper, for it urges us to make a
choice which is properly religious and moral. It is a question of giving our own
existence a basic orientation and living the law of the Lord faithfully and
consistently: "If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command
you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways,
and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then
you shall live ... therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may
live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for
that means life to you and length of days" (30:16,19-20).
The unconditional choice for life reaches its full religious and moral
meaning when it flows from, is formed by and nourished by faith in Christ.
Nothing helps us so much to face positively the conflict between death and life
in which we are engaged as faith in the Son of God who became man and dwelt
among men so "that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn
10:10). It is a matter of faith in the Risen Lord, who has conquered death;
faith in the blood of Christ "that speaks more graciously than the blood of
Abel" (Heb 12:24).
With the light and strength of this faith, therefore, in facing the
challenges of the present situation, the Church is becoming more aware of the
grace and responsibility which come to her from her Lord of proclaiming,
celebrating and serving the Gospel of life.
THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE
THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE CONCERNING LIFE
"The life was made manifest, and we saw it" (1 Jn 1:2): with
our gaze fixed on Christ, "the Word of life"
29. Faced with the countless grave threats to life present in the modern
world, one could feel overwhelmed by sheer powerlessness: good can never be
powerful enough to triumph over evil!
At such times the People of God, and this includes every believer, is called
to profess with humility and courage its faith in Jesus Christ, "the Word of
life" (1 Jn
1:1). The Gospel of life is not simply a reflection, however new and
profound, on human life. Nor is it merely a commandment aimed at raising
awareness and bringing about significant changes in society. Still less is it an
illusory promise of a better future. The Gospel of life is something
concrete and personal, for it consists in the proclamation of the very person
of Jesus. Jesus made himself known to the Apostle Thomas, and in him to
every person, with the words: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (Jn
14:6). This is also how he spoke of himself to Martha, the sister of Lazarus: "I
am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet
shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn
11:25-26). Jesus is the Son who from all eternity receives life from the Father
(cf. Jn 5:26), and who has come among men to make them sharers in this
gift: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (Jn
Through the words, the actions and the very person of Jesus, man is given the
possibility of "knowing" the complete truth concerning the value of human
life. From this "source" he receives, in particular, the capacity to
"accomplish" this truth perfectly (cf. Jn 3:21), that is, to accept and
fulfil completely the responsibility of loving and serving, of defending and
promoting human life. In Christ, the Gospel of life is definitively
proclaimed and fully given. This is the Gospel which, already present in the
Revelation of the Old Testament, and indeed written in the heart of every man
and woman, has echoed in every conscience "from the beginning", from the time of
creation itself, in such a way that, despite the negative consequences of sin,
it can also be known in its essential traits by human reason. As the Second
Vatican Council teaches, Christ "perfected revelation by fulfilling it through
his whole work of making himself present and manifesting himself; through his
words and deeds, his signs and wonders, but especially through his death and
glorious Resurrection from the dead and final sending of the Spirit of truth.
Moreover, he confirmed with divine testimony what revelation proclaimed: that
God is with us to free us from the darkness of sin and death, and to raise us up
to life eternal".22
30. Hence, with our attention fixed on the Lord Jesus, we wish to hear from
him once again "the words of God" (Jn 3:34) and meditate anew on the
Gospel of life. The deepest and most original meaning of this meditation on
what revelation tells us about human life was taken up by the Apostle John in
the opening words of his First Letter: "That which was from the beginning, which
we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and
touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest,
and we saw it, and testify to it, and proclaim to you the eternal life which was
with the Father and was made manifest to us—that which we have seen and heard we
proclaim also to you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1:1-3).
In Jesus, the "Word of life", God's eternal life is thus proclaimed and
given. Thanks to this proclamation and gift, our physical and spiritual life,
also in its earthly phase, acquires its full value and meaning, for God's
eternal life is in fact the end to which our living in this world is directed
and called. In this way the Gospel of life includes everything that human
experience and reason tell us about the value of human life, accepting it,
purifying it, exalting it and bringing it to fulfilment.
"The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation" (Ex
15:2): life is always a good
31. The fullness of the Gospel message about life was prepared for in the Old
Testament. Especially in the events of the Exodus, the centre of the Old
Testament faith experience, Israel discovered the preciousness of its life in
the eyes of God. When it seemed doomed to extermination because of the threat of
death hanging over all its newborn males (cf. Ex 1:15-22), the Lord
revealed himself to Israel as its Saviour, with the power to ensure a future to
those without hope. Israel thus comes to know clearly that
its existence is not at the mercy of a Pharaoh who can exploit it at his
despotic whim. On the contrary, Israel's life is the object of God's gentle
and intense love.
Freedom from slavery meant the gift of an identity, the recognition of an
indestructible dignity and the beginning of a new history, in which the
discovery of God and discovery of self go hand in hand. The Exodus was a
foundational experience and a model for the future. Through it, Israel comes to
learn that whenever its existence is threatened it need only turn to God with
renewed trust in order to find in him effective help: "I formed you, you are my
servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me" (Is 44:21).
Thus, in coming to know the value of its own existence as a people, Israel
also grows in its perception of the meaning and value of life itself.
This reflection is developed more specifically in the Wisdom Literature, on the
basis of daily experience of the precariousness of life and awareness of the
threats which assail it. Faced with the contradictions of life, faith is
challenged to respond.
More than anything else, it is the problem of suffering which challenges
faith and puts it to the test. How can we fail to appreciate the universal
anguish of man when we meditate on the Book of Job? The innocent man overwhelmed
by suffering is understandably led to wonder: "Why is light given to him that is
in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not,
and dig for it more than for hid treasures?" (3:20-21). But even when the
darkness is deepest, faith points to a trusting and adoring acknowledgment of
the "mystery": "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours
can be thwarted" (Job 42:2).
Revelation progressively allows the first notion of immortal life planted by
the Creator in the human heart to be grasped with ever greater clarity: "He has
made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man's mind"
(Ec 3:11). This first notion of totality and fullness is waiting
to be manifested in love and brought to perfection, by God's free gift, through
sharing in his eternal life.
"The name of Jesus ... has made this man strong" (Acts 3:16):
in the uncertainties of human life, Jesus brings life's meaning to fulfilment
32. The experience of the people of the Covenant is renewed in the experience
of all the "poor" who meet Jesus of Nazareth. Just as God who "loves the living"
(cf. Wis 11:26) had reassured Israel in the midst of danger, so now the
Son of God proclaims to all who feel threatened and hindered that their lives
too are a good to which the Father's love gives meaning and value.
"The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the
deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them" (Lk
7:22). With these words of the Prophet Isaiah (35:5-6, 61:1), Jesus sets forth
the meaning of his own mission: all who suffer because their lives are in some
way "diminished" thus hear from him the "good news" of God's concern for them,
and they know for certain that their lives too are a gift carefully guarded in
the hands of the Father (cf. Mt
It is above all the "poor" to whom Jesus speaks in his preaching and actions.
The crowds of the sick and the outcasts who follow him and seek him out (cf.
Mt 4:23-25) find in his words and actions a revelation of the great value of
their lives and of how their hope of salvation is well-founded.
The same thing has taken place in the Church's mission from the beginning.
When the Church proclaims Christ as the one who "went about doing good and
healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him" (Acts
10:38), she is conscious of being the bearer of a message of salvation which
resounds in all its newness precisely amid the hardships and poverty of human
life. Peter cured the cripple who daily sought alms at the "Beautiful Gate" of
the Temple in Jerusalem, saying: "I have no silver and gold, but I give you what
I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk" (Acts 3:6). By
faith in Jesus, "the Author of life" (Acts 3:15), life which lies
abandoned and cries out for help regains self-esteem and full dignity.
The words and deeds of Jesus and those of his Church are not meant only for
those who are sick or suffering or in some way neglected by society. On a deeper
level they affect the very meaning of every person's life in its moral and
spiritual dimensions. Only those who recognize that their life is marked by
the evil of sin can discover in an encounter with Jesus the Saviour the truth
and the authenticity of their own existence. Jesus himself says as much: "Those
who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have not
come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lk 5:31-32).
But the person who, like the rich land-owner in the Gospel parable, thinks
that he can make his life secure by the possession of material goods alone, is
deluding himself. Life is slipping away from him, and very soon he will find
himself bereft of it without ever having appreciated its real meaning: "Fool!
This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose
will they be?" (Lk 12:20).
33. In Jesus' own life, from beginning to end, we find a singular "dialectic"
between the experience of the uncertainty of human life and the affirmation of
its value. Jesus' life is marked by uncertainty from the very moment of his
birth. He is certainly accepted
by the righteous, who echo Mary's immediate and joyful "yes" (cf. Lk
1:38). But there is also, from the start, rejection on the part of a
world which grows hostile and looks for the child in order "to destroy him" (Mt
2:13); a world which remains indifferent and unconcerned about the fulfilment of
the mystery of this life entering the world: "there was no place for them in the
inn" (Lk 2:7). In this contrast between threats and insecurity on the one
hand and the power of God's gift on the other, there shines forth all the more
clearly the glory which radiates from the house at Nazareth and from the manger
at Bethlehem: this life which is born is salvation for all humanity (cf. Lk
Life's contradictions and risks were fully accepted by Jesus: "though he was
rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become
rich" (2 Cor 8:9). The poverty of which Paul speaks is not only a
stripping of divine privileges, but also a sharing in the lowliest and most
vulnerable conditions of human life (cf. Phil 2:6-7). Jesus lived this
poverty throughout his life, until the culminating moment of the Cross: "he
humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore
God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every
name" (Phil 2:8-9). It is precisely by his death that
Jesus reveals all the splendour and value of life, inasmuch as his
self-oblation on the Cross becomes the source of new life for all people (cf.
Jn 12:32). In his journeying amid contradictions and in the very loss of his
life, Jesus is guided by the certainty that his life is in the hands of the
Father. Consequently, on the Cross, he can say to him: "Father, into your hands
I commend my spirit!" (Lk 23:46), that is, my life. Truly great must be
the value of human life if the Son of God has taken it up and made it the
instrument of the salvation of all humanity!
"Called ... to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom
8:28-29): God's glory shines on the face of man
34. Life is always a good. This is an instinctive perception and a fact of
experience, and man is called to grasp the profound reason why this is so.
Why is life a good? This question is found everywhere in the Bible, and
from the very first pages it receives a powerful and amazing answer. The life
which God gives man is quite different from the life of all other living
creatures, inasmuch as man, although formed from the dust of the earth (cf.
Gen 2:7, 3:19; Job 34:15; Ps 103:14; 104:29), is a
manifestation of God in the world, a sign of his presence, a trace of his glory
(cf. Gen 1:26-27; Ps 8:6). This is what Saint Irenaeus of Lyons
wanted to emphasize in his celebrated definition: "Man, living man, is the glory
of God".23 Man has been given a sublime dignity,
based on the intimate bond which unites him to his Creator: in man there shines
forth a reflection of God himself.
The Book of Genesis affirms this when, in the first account of creation, it
places man at the summit of God's creative activity, as its crown, at the
culmination of a process which leads from indistinct chaos to the most perfect
of creatures. Everything in creation is ordered to man and everything is made
subject to him: "Fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over ...
every living thing" (1:28); this is God's command to the man and the woman. A
similar message is found also in the other account of creation: "The Lord God
took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it" (Gen
2:15). We see here a clear affirmation of the primacy of man over things; these
are made subject to him and entrusted to his responsible care, whereas for no
reason can he be made subject to other men and almost reduced to the level of a
In the biblical narrative, the difference between man and other creatures is
shown above all by the fact that only the creation of man is presented as the
result of a special decision on the part of God, a deliberation to establish
a particular and specific bond with the Creator: "Let us make man in our
image, after our likeness" (Gen 1:26). The life which God offers
to man is a gift by which God shares something of himself with his creature.
Israel would ponder at length the meaning of this particular bond between man
and God. The Book of Sirach too recognizes that God, in creating human beings,
"endowed them with strength like his own, and made them in his own image"
(17:3). The biblical author sees as part of this image not only man's dominion
over the world but also those spiritual faculties which are distinctively
human, such as reason, discernment between good and evil, and free will: "He
filled them with knowledge and understanding, and showed them good and evil" (Sir
17:7). The ability to attain truth and freedom are human prerogatives
inasmuch as man is created in the image of his Creator, God who is true and just
(cf. Dt 32:4). Man alone, among all visible creatures, is "capable of
knowing and loving his Creator".24 The life which God
bestows upon man is much more than mere existence in time. It is a drive towards
fullness of life; it is the seed of an existence which transcends the very
limits of time: "For God created man for incorruption, and made him in the
image of his own eternity" (Wis 2:23).
35. The Yahwist account of creation expresses the same conviction. This
ancient narrative speaks of a divine breath which is breathed into man
so that he may come to life: "The Lord God formed man of dust from the ground,
and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living
being" (Gen 2:7).
The divine origin of this spirit of life explains the perennial
dissatisfaction which man feels throughout his days on earth. Because he is made
by God and bears within himself an indelible imprint of God, man is naturally
drawn to God. When he heeds the deepest yearnings of the heart, every man must
make his own the words of truth expressed by Saint Augustine: "You have made us
for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you".25
How very significant is the dissatisfaction which marks man's life in Eden as
long as his sole point of reference is the world of plants and animals (cf.
Gen 2:20). Only the appearance of the woman, a being who is flesh of his
flesh and bone of his bones (cf. Gen
2:23), and in whom the spirit of God the Creator is also alive, can satisfy
the need for interpersonal dialogue, so vital for human existence. In the other,
whether man or woman, there is a reflection of God himself, the definitive goal
and fulfilment of every person.
"What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care
for him?", the Psalmist wonders (Ps 8:4). Compared to the immensity of
the universe, man is very small, and yet this very contrast reveals his
greatness: "You have made him little less than a god, and crown him with glory
and honour" (Ps 8:5).
The glory of God shines on the face of man. In man the Creator finds his
rest, as Saint Ambrose comments with a sense of awe: "The sixth day is finished
and the creation of the world ends with the formation of that masterpiece which
is man, who exercises dominion over all living creatures and is as it were the
crown of the universe and the supreme beauty of every created being. Truly we
should maintain a reverential silence, since the Lord rested from every work he
had undertaken in the world. He rested then in the depths of man, he rested in
man's mind and in his thought; after all, he had created man endowed with
reason, capable of imitating him, of emulating his virtue, of hungering for
heavenly graces. In these his gifts God reposes, who has said: 'Upon whom shall
I rest, if not upon the one who is humble, contrite in spirit and trembles at my
word?' (Is 66:1-2). I thank the Lord our God who has created so wonderful
a work in which to take his rest".26
36. Unfortunately, God's marvellous plan was marred by the appearance of sin
in history. Through sin, man rebels against his Creator and ends up by
worshipping creatures: "They exchanged the truth about God for a lie and
worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator" (Rom 1:25).
As a result man not only deforms the image of God in his own person, but is
tempted to offences against it in others as well, replacing relationships of
communion by attitudes of distrust, indifference, hostility and even murderous
hatred. When God is not acknowledged as God, the profound meaning
of man is betrayed and communion between people is compromised.
In the life of man, God's image shines forth anew and is again revealed in
all its fullness at the coming of the Son of God in human flesh. "Christ is the
image of the invisible God" (Col 1:15), he "reflects the glory of God and
bears the very stamp of his nature" (Heb 1:3). He is the perfect image of
The plan of life given to the first Adam finds at last its fulfilment in
Christ. Whereas the disobedience of Adam had ruined and marred God's plan for
human life and introduced death into the world, the redemptive obedience of
Christ is the source of grace poured out upon the human race, opening wide to
everyone the gates of the kingdom of life (cf. Rom 5:12-21). As the
Apostle Paul states: "The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam
became a life-giving spirit" (1 Cor 15:45).
All who commit themselves to following Christ are given the fullness of life:
the divine image is restored, renewed and brought to perfection in them. God's
plan for human beings is this, that they should "be conformed to the image of
his Son" (Rom 8:29). Only thus, in the splendour of this image, can man
be freed from the slavery of idolatry, rebuild lost fellowship and rediscover
his true identity.
"Whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:26):
the gift of eternal life
37. The life which the Son of God came to give to human beings cannot be
reduced to mere existence in time. The life which was always "in him" and which
is the "light of men" (Jn 1:4) consists in being begotten of God and
sharing in the fullness of his love: "To all who received him, who believed
in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of
blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God" (Jn
Sometimes Jesus refers to this life which he came to give simply as "life",
and he presents being born of God as a necessary condition if man is to attain
the end for which God has created him: "Unless one is born anew, he cannot see
the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:3). To give this life is the real object of
Jesus' mission: he is the one who "comes down from heaven, and gives life to the
world" (Jn 6:33). Thus can he truly say: "He who follows me ... will have
the light of life" (Jn
At other times, Jesus speaks of "eternal life". Here the adjective does more
than merely evoke a perspective which is beyond time. The life which Jesus
promises and gives is "eternal" because it is a full participation in the life
of the "Eternal One". Whoever believes in Jesus and enters into communion with
him has eternal life (cf. Jn 3:15; 6:40) because he hears from Jesus the
only words which reveal and communicate to his existence the fullness of life.
These are the "words of eternal life" which Peter acknowledges in his confession
of faith: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we
have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God" (Jn
6:68-69). Jesus himself, addressing the Father in the great priestly prayer,
declares what eternal life consists in: "This is eternal life, that they may
know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent" (Jn
17:3). To know God and his Son is to accept the mystery of the loving communion
of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit into one's own life, which even
now is open to eternal life because it shares in the life of God.
38. Eternal life is therefore the life of God himself and at the same time
the life of the children of God. As they ponder this unexpected and
inexpressible truth which comes to us from God in Christ, believers cannot fail
to be filled with ever new wonder and unbounded gratitude. They can say in the
words of the Apostle John: "See what love the Father has given us, that we
should be called children of God; and so we are. ... Beloved, we are God's
children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he
appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is" (1 Jn
Here the Christian truth about life becomes most sublime. The dignity of
this life is linked not only to its beginning, to the fact that it comes from
God, but also to its final end, to its destiny of fellowship with God in
knowledge and love of him. In the light of this truth Saint Irenaeus qualifies
and completes his praise of man: "the glory of God" is indeed, "man, living
man", but "the life of man consists in the vision of God".27
Immediate consequences arise from this for human life in its earthly
state, in which, for that matter, eternal life already springs forth and
begins to grow. Although man instinctively loves life because it is a good, this
love will find further inspiration and strength, and new breadth and depth, in
the divine dimensions of this good. Similarly, the love which every human being
has for life cannot be reduced simply to a desire to have sufficient space for
self-expression and for entering into relationships with others; rather, it
develops in a joyous awareness that life can become the "place" where God
manifests himself, where we meet him and enter into communion with him. The life
which Jesus gives in no way lessens the value of our existence in time; it takes
it and directs it to its final destiny: "I am the resurrection and the life ...
whoever lives and believes in me shall never die" (Jn 11:25-26).
"From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting" (Gen
9:5): reverence and love for every human life
39. Man's life comes from God; it is his gift, his image and imprint, a
sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this
life: man cannot do with it as he wills. God himself makes this clear to
Noah after the Flood: "For your own lifeblood, too, I will demand an accounting
... and from man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for
human life" (Gen 9:5). The biblical text is concerned to emphasize how
the sacredness of life has its foundation in God and in his creative activity:
"For God made man in his own image" (Gen 9:6).
Human life and death are thus in the hands of God, in his power: "In his hand
is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind", exclaims Job
(12:10). "The Lord brings to death and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol
and raises up" (1 Sam 2:6). He alone can say: "It is I who bring both
death and life" (Dt 32:39).
But God does not exercise this power in an arbitrary and threatening way, but
rather as part of his care and loving concern for his creatures. If it is
true that human life is in the hands of God, it is no less true that these are
loving hands, like those of a mother who accepts, nurtures and takes care of her
child: "I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's
breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul" (Ps 131:2; cf. Is
49:15; 66:12-13; Hos 11:4). Thus Israel does not see in the history of
peoples and in the destiny of individuals the outcome of mere chance or of blind
fate, but rather the results of a loving plan by which God brings together all
the possibilities of life and opposes the powers of death arising from sin: "God
did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he
created all things that they might exist" (Wis 1:13-14).
40. The sacredness of life gives rise to its inviolability, written from
the beginning in man's heart, in his conscience. The question: "What have
you done?" (Gen 4:10), which God addresses to Cain after he has killed
his brother Abel, interprets the experience of every person: in the depths of
his conscience, man is always reminded of the inviolability of life—his own life
and that of others—as something which does not belong to him, because it is the
property and gift of God the Creator and Father.
The commandment regarding the inviolability of human life reverberates at
the heart of the "ten words" in the covenant of Sinai (cf. Ex 34:28).
In the first place that commandment prohibits murder: "You shall not kill" (Ex
20:13); "do not slay the innocent and righteous" (Ex 23:7). But, as is
brought out in Israel's later legislation, it also prohibits all personal injury
inflicted on another (cf. Ex 21:12-27). Of course we must recognize that
in the Old Testament this sense of the value of life, though already quite
marked, does not yet reach the refinement found in the Sermon on the Mount. This
is apparent in some aspects of the current penal legislation, which provided for
severe forms of corporal punishment and even the death penalty. But the overall
message, which the New Testament will bring to perfection, is a forceful appeal
for respect for the inviolability of physical life and the integrity of the
person. It culminates in the positive commandment which obliges us to be
responsible for our neighbour as for ourselves: "You shall love your neighbour
as yourself" (Lev 19:18).
41. The commandment "You shall not kill", included and more fully expressed
in the positive command of love for one's neighbour, is reaffirmed in all its
force by the Lord Jesus. To the rich young man who asks him: "Teacher, what
good deed must I do, to have eternal life?", Jesus replies: "If you would enter
life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:16,17). And he quotes, as the first
of these: "You shall not kill" (Mt 19:18). In the Sermon on the Mount,
Jesus demands from his disciples a righteousness which surpasses that of
the Scribes and Pharisees, also with regard to respect for life: "You have heard
that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall
be liable to judgment'. But I say to you that every one who is angry with his
brother shall be liable to judgment" (Mt 5:21-22).
By his words and actions Jesus further unveils the positive requirements of
the commandment regarding the inviolability of life. These requirements were
already present in the Old Testament, where legislation dealt with protecting
and defending life when it was weak and threatened: in the case of foreigners,
widows, orphans, the sick and the poor in general, including children in the
womb (cf. Ex 21:22; 22:20-26). With Jesus these positive requirements
assume new force and urgency, and are revealed in all their breadth and depth:
they range from caring for the life of one's brother (whether a blood
brother, someone belonging to the same people, or a foreigner living in the land
of Israel) to showing concern for the stranger, even to the point of
loving one's enemy.
A stranger is no longer a stranger for the person who must become a
neighbour to someone in need, to the point of accepting responsibility for
his life, as the parable of the Good Samaritan shows so clearly (cf. Lk
10:25-37). Even an enemy ceases to be an enemy for the person who is obliged to
love him (cf. Mt 5:38-48; Lk 6:27-35), to "do good" to him (cf.
Lk 6:27, 33, 35) and to respond to his immediate needs promptly and with no
expectation of repayment (cf. Lk 6:34-35). The height of this love is to
pray for one's enemy. By so doing we achieve harmony with the providential love
of God: "But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute
you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes
his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the
5:44-45; cf. Lk 6:28, 35).
Thus the deepest element of God's commandment to protect human life is the
requirement to show reverence and love for every person and the life of
every person. This is the teaching which the Apostle Paul, echoing the words of
Jesus, addresses to the Christians in Rome: "The commandments, 'You shall not
commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet',
and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, 'You shall love
your neighbour as yourself'. Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore
love is the fulfilling of the law" (Rom 13:9-10).
"Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen
1:28): man's responsibility for life
42. To defend and promote life, to show reverence and love for it, is a task
which God entrusts to every man, calling him as his living image to share in his
own lordship over the world: "God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be
fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing
that moves upon the earth' " (Gen 1:28).
The biblical text clearly shows the breadth and depth of the lordship which
God bestows on man. It is a matter first of all of dominion over the earth
and over every living creature, as the Book of Wisdom makes clear: "O God of
my fathers and Lord of mercy ... by your wisdom you have formed man, to have
dominion over the creatures you have made, and rule the world in holiness and
righteousness" (Wis 9:1, 2-3). The Psalmist too extols the dominion given
to man as a sign of glory and honour from his Creator: "You have given him
dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and
the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the sea" (Ps
As one called to till and look after the garden of the world (cf. Gen
2:15), man has a specific responsibility towards the environment in which he
lives, towards the creation which God has put at the service of his personal
dignity, of his life, not only for the present but also for future generations.
It is the ecological question—ranging from the preservation of the
natural habitats of the different species of animals and of other forms of life
to "human ecology" properly speaking 28— which finds in
the Bible clear and strong ethical direction, leading to a solution which
respects the great good of life, of every life. In fact, "the do- minion granted
to man by the Creator is not an absolute power, nor can one speak of a freedom
to 'use and misuse', or to dispose of things as one pleases. The limitation
imposed from the beginning by the Creator himself and expressed symbolically by
the prohibition not to 'eat of the fruit of the tree' (cf. Gen 2:16-17)
shows clearly enough that, when it comes to the natural world, we are subject
not only to biological laws but also to moral ones, which cannot be violated
43. A certain sharing by man in God's lordship is also evident in the
specific responsibility which he is given for human life as such. It
is a responsibility which reaches its highest point in the giving of life
through procreation by man and woman in marriage. As the Second Vatican
Council teaches: "God himself who said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Gen
2:18) and 'who made man from the beginning male and female' (Mt 19:4),
wished to share with man a certain special participation in his own creative
work. Thus he blessed male and female saying: 'Increase and multiply' (Gen
By speaking of "a certain special participation" of man and woman in the
"creative work" of God, the Council wishes to point out that having a child is
an event which is deeply human and full of religious meaning, insofar as it
involves both the spouses, who form "one flesh" (Gen 2:24), and God who
makes himself present. As I wrote in my Letter to Families: "When a new
person is born of the conjugal union of the two, he brings with him into the
world a particular image and likeness of God himself: the genealogy of the
person is inscribed in the very biology of generation. In affirming that the
spouses, as parents, cooperate with God the Creator in conceiving and giving
birth to a new human being, we are not speaking merely with reference to the
laws of biology. Instead, we wish to emphasize that God himself is present in
human fatherhood and motherhood quite differently than he is present in all
other instances of begetting 'on earth'. Indeed, God alone is the source of that
'image and likeness' which is proper to the human being, as it was received at
Creation. Begetting is the continuation of Creation".31
This is what the Bible teaches in direct and eloquent language when it
reports the joyful cry of the first woman, "the mother of all the living" (Gen
3:20). Aware that God has intervened, Eve exclaims: "I have begotten a man with
the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). In procreation therefore, through the
communication of life from parents to child, God's own image and likeness is
transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul.32
The beginning of the "book of the genealogy of Adam" expresses it in this way:
"When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he
created them, and he blessed them and called them man when they were created.
When Adam had lived a hundred and thirty years, he became the father of a son in
his own likeness, after his image, and named him Seth" (Gen 5:1-3). It is
precisely in their role as co-workers with God who transmits his image to the
new creature that we see the greatness of couples who are ready "to
cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Saviour, who through them will
enlarge and enrich his own family day by day".33 This is
why the Bishop Amphilochius extolled "holy matrimony, chosen and elevated above
all other earthly gifts" as "the begetter of humanity, the creator of images of
Thus, a man and woman joined in matrimony become partners in a divine
undertaking: through the act of procreation, God's gift is accepted and a new
life opens to the future.
But over and above the specific mission of parents, the task of accepting
and serving life involves everyone; and this task must be fulfilled above all
towards life when it is at its weakest. It is Christ himself who reminds us
of this when he asks to be loved and served in his brothers and sisters who are
suffering in any way: the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the
sick, the imprisoned ... Whatever is done to each of them is done to Christ
himself (cf. Mt 25:31-46).
"For you formed my inmost being" (Ps 139:13): the dignity of
the unborn child
44. Human life finds itself most vulnerable when it enters the world and when
it leaves the realm of time to embark upon eternity. The word of God frequently
repeats the call to show care and respect, above all where life is undermined by
sickness and old age. Although there are no direct and explicit calls to protect
human life at its very beginning, specifically life not yet born, and life
nearing its end, this can easily be explained by the fact that the mere
possibility of harming, attacking, or actually denying life in these
circumstances is completely foreign to the religious and cultural way of
thinking of the People of God.
In the Old Testament, sterility is dreaded as a curse, while numerous
offspring are viewed as a blessing: "Sons are a heritage from the Lord, the
fruit of the womb a reward" (Ps 127:3; cf. Ps 128:3-4). This
belief is also based on Israel's awareness of being the people of the Covenant,
called to increase in accordance with the promise made to Abraham: "Look towards
heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them ... so shall your
descendants be" (Gen 15:5). But more than anything else, at work here is
the certainty that the life which parents transmit has its origins in God. We
see this attested in the many biblical passages which respectfully and lovingly
speak of conception, of the forming of life in the mother's womb, of giving
birth and of the intimate connection between the initial moment of life and the
action of God the Creator.
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I
consecrated you" (Jer 1:5): the life of every individual, from its
very beginning, is part of God's plan. Job, from the depth of his pain,
stops to contemplate the work of God who miraculously formed his body in his
mother's womb. Here he finds reason for trust, and he expresses his belief that
there is a divine plan for his life: "You have fashioned and made me; will you
then turn and destroy me? Remember that you have made me of clay; and will you
turn me to dust again? Did you not pour me out like milk and curdle me like
cheese? You clothed me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and
sinews. You have granted me life and steadfast love; and your care has preserved
my spirit" (Job 10:8-12). Expressions of awe and wonder at God's
intervention in the life of a child in its mother's womb occur again and again
in the Psalms.35
How can anyone think that even a single moment of this marvellous process of
the unfolding of life could be separated from the wise and loving work of the
Creator, and left prey to human caprice? Certainly the mother of the seven
brothers did not think so; she professes her faith in God, both the source and
guarantee of life from its very conception, and the foundation of the hope of
new life beyond death: "I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was
not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within
each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man
and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath
back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws" (2
45. The New Testament revelation confirms the indisputable recognition of
the value of life from its very beginning. The exaltation of fruitfulness
and the eager expectation of life resound in the words with which Elizabeth
rejoices in her pregnancy: "The Lord has looked on me ... to take away my
reproach among men" (Lk 1:25). And even more so, the value of the person
from the moment of conception is celebrated in the meeting between the Virgin
Mary and Elizabeth, and between the two children whom they are carrying in the
womb. It is precisely the children who reveal the advent of the Messianic age:
in their meeting, the redemptive power of the presence of the Son of God among
men first becomes operative. As Saint Ambrose writes: "The arrival of Mary and
the blessings of the Lord's presence are also speedily declared ... Elizabeth
was the first to hear the voice; but John was the first to experience grace. She
heard according to the order of nature; he leaped because of the mystery. She
recognized the arrival of Mary; he the arrival of the Lord. The woman recognized
the woman's arrival; the child, that of the child. The women speak of grace; the
babies make it effective from within to the advantage of their mothers who, by a
double miracle, prophesy under the inspiration of their children. The infant
leaped, the mother was filled with the Spirit. The mother was not filled before
the son, but after the son was filled with the Holy Spirit, he filled his mother
"I kept my faith even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted' " (Ps
life in old age and at times of suffering
46. With regard to the last moments of life too, it would be anachronistic to
expect biblical revelation to make express reference to present-day issues
concerning respect for elderly and sick persons, or to condemn explicitly
attempts to hasten their end by force. The cultural and religious context of the
Bible is in no way touched by such temptations; indeed, in that context the
wisdom and experience of the elderly are recognized as a unique source of
enrichment for the family and for society.
Old age is characterized by dignity and surrounded with reverence (cf.
2 Mac 6:23). The just man does not seek to be delivered from old age and its
burden; on the contrary his prayer is this: "You, O Lord, are my hope, my trust,
O Lord, from my youth ... so even to old age and grey hairs, O God, do not
forsake me, till I proclaim your might to all the generations to come" (Ps
71:5, 18). The ideal of the Messianic age is presented as a time when "no more
shall there be ... an old man who does not fill out his days" (Is 65:20).
In old age, how should one face the inevitable decline of life? How should
one act in the face of death? The believer knows that his life is in the hands
of God: "You, O Lord, hold my lot" (cf. Ps 16:5), and he accepts from
God the need to die: "This is the decree from the Lord for all flesh, and how
can you reject the good pleasure of the Most High?" (Sir 41:3-4). Man is
not the master of life, nor is he the master of death. In life and in death, he
has to entrust himself completely to the "good pleasure of the Most High", to
his loving plan.
In moments of sickness too, man is called to have the same trust in
the Lord and to renew his fundamental faith in the One who "heals all your
diseases" (cf. Ps
103:3). When every hope of good health seems to fade before a person's
eyes—so as to make him cry out: "My days are like an evening shadow; I wither
away like grass" (Ps 102:11)— even then the believer is sustained by an
unshakable faith in God's life-giving power. Illness does not drive such a
person to despair and to seek death, but makes him cry out in hope: "I kept my
faith, even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted' " (Ps 116:10); "O Lord
my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me. O Lord, you have
brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to
the pit" (Ps 30:2-3).
47. The mission of Jesus, with the many healings he performed, shows God's
great concern even for man's bodily life. Jesus, as "the physician of the
body and of the spirit",37 was sent by the Father to
proclaim the good news to the poor and to heal the brokenhearted (cf. Lk
4:18; Is 61:1). Later, when he sends his disciples into the world, he
gives them a mission, a mission in which healing the sick goes hand in hand with
the proclamation of the Gospel: "And preach as you go, saying, 'The kingdom of
heaven is at hand'. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out
demons" (Mt 10:7-8; cf. Mk 6:13; 16:18).
Certainly the life of the body in its earthly state is not an absolute
good for the believer, especially as he may be asked to give up his life for
a greater good. As Jesus says: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and
whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mk
8:35). The New Testament gives many different examples of this. Jesus does not
hesitate to sacrifice himself and he freely makes of his life an offering to the
Father (cf. Jn 10:17) and to those who belong to him (cf. Jn
10:15). The death of John the Baptist, precursor of the Saviour, also testifies
that earthly existence is not an absolute good; what is more important is
remaining faithful to the word of the Lord even at the risk of one's life (cf.
6:17-29). Stephen, losing his earthly life because of his faithful witness to
the Lord's Resurrection, follows in the Master's footsteps and meets those who
are stoning him with words of forgiveness (cf. Acts 7:59-60), thus
becoming the first of a countless host of martyrs whom the Church has venerated
since the very beginning.
No one, however, can arbitrarily choose whether to live or die; the absolute
master of such a decision is the Creator alone, in whom "we live and move and
have our being" (Acts 17:28).
"All who hold her fast will live" (Bar 4:1): from the law of
Sinai to the gift of the Spirit
48. Life is indelibly marked by a truth of its own. By accepting God's
gift, man is obliged to maintain life in this truth which is essential to
it. To detach oneself from this truth is to condemn oneself to meaninglessness
and unhappiness, and possibly to become a threat to the existence of others,
since the barriers guaranteeing respect for life and the defence of life, in
every circumstance, have been broken down.
The truth of life is revealed by God's commandment. The word of the Lord
shows concretely the course which life must follow if it is to respect its own
truth and to preserve its own dignity. The protection of life is not only
ensured by the specific commandment "You shall not kill" (Ex 20:13; Dt
5:17); the entire Law of the Lord serves to protect life, because it
reveals that truth in which life finds its full meaning.
It is not surprising, therefore, that God's Covenant with his people is so
closely linked to the perspective of life, also in its bodily dimension. In that
Covenant, God's commandment
is offered as the path of life: "I have set before you this day life
and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God
which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his
ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then
you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land
which you are entering to take possession of" (Dt 30:15-16). What is at
stake is not only the land of Canaan and the existence of the people of Israel,
but also the world of today and of the future, and the existence of all
humanity. In fact, it is altogether impossible for life to remain authentic and
complete once it is detached from the good; and the good, in its turn, is
essentially bound to the commandments of the Lord, that is, to the "law of life"
(Sir 17:11). The good to be done is not added to life as a burden which
weighs on it, since the very purpose of life is that good and only by doing it
can life be built up.
It is thus the Law as a whole which fully protects human life. This
explains why it is so hard to remain faithful to the commandment "You shall not
kill" when the other "words of life" (cf. Acts 7:38) with which this
commandment is bound up are not observed. Detached from this wider framework,
the commandment is destined to become nothing more than an obligation imposed
from without, and very soon we begin to look for its limits and try to find
mitigating factors and exceptions. Only when people are open to the fullness of
the truth about God, man and history will the words "You shall not kill" shine
forth once more as a good for man in himself and in his relations with others.
In such a perspective we can grasp the full truth of the passage of the Book of
Deuteronomy which Jesus repeats in reply to the first temptation: "Man does not
live by bread alone, but ... by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the
Lord" (Dt 8:3; cf. Mt 4:4).
It is by listening to the word of the Lord that we are able to live in
dignity and justice. It is by observing the Law of God that we are able to bring
forth fruits of life and happiness: "All who hold her fast will live, and those
who forsake her will die" (Bar 4:1).
49. The history of Israel shows how difficult it is to remain faithful to
the Law of life which God has inscribed in human hearts and which he gave on
Sinai to the people of the Covenant. When the people look for ways of living
which ignore God's plan, it is the Prophets in particular who forcefully remind
them that the Lord alone is the authentic source of life. Thus Jeremiah writes:
"My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of
living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can
hold no water" (2:13). The Prophets point an accusing finger at those who show
contempt for life and violate people's rights: "They trample the head of the
poor into the dust of the earth" (Amos 2:7); "they have filled this place
with the blood of innocents" (Jer 19:4). Among them, the Prophet Ezekiel
frequently condemns the city of Jerusalem, calling it "the bloody city" (22:2;
24:6, 9), the "city that sheds blood in her own midst" (22:3).
But while the Prophets condemn offences against life, they are concerned
above all to awaken hope for a new principle of life, capable of bringing
about a renewed relationship with God and with others, and of opening up new and
extraordinary possibilities for understanding and carrying out all the demands
inherent in the Gospel of life. This will only be possible thanks to the
gift of God who purifies and renews: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and
you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will
cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within
you" (Ezek 36:25-26; cf. Jer 31:34). This "new heart" will make it
possible to appreciate and achieve the deepest and most authentic meaning of
life: namely, that of being a gift which is fully realized in the giving of
self. This is the splendid message about the value of life which comes to us
from the figure of the Servant of the Lord: "When he makes himself an offering
for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his life ... he shall see
the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied" (Is 53:10, 11).
It is in the coming of Jesus of Nazareth that the Law is fulfilled and that a
new heart is given through his Spirit. Jesus does not deny the Law but brings it
to fulfilment (cf. Mt
5:17): the Law and the Prophets are summed up in the golden rule of mutual
love (cf. Mt
7:12). In Jesus the Law becomes once and for all the "gospel", the good news
of God's lordship over the world, which brings all life back to its roots and
its original purpose. This is the New Law, "the law of the Spirit of life
in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2), and its fundamental expression, following the
example of the Lord who gave his life for his friends (cf. Jn 15:13), is
the gift of self in love for one's brothers and sisters: "We know that we
have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren" (1 Jn
3:14). This is the law of freedom, joy and blessedness.
"They shall look on him whom they have pierced" (Jn 19:37): the
Gospel of life is brought to fulfilment on the tree of the Cross
50. At the end of this chapter, in which we have reflected on the Christian
message about life, I would like to pause with each one of you to contemplate
the One who was pierced and who draws all people to himself (cf. Jn
19:37; 12:32). Looking at "the spectacle" of the Cross (cf. Lk 23:48) we
shall discover in this glorious tree the fulfilment and the complete revelation
of the whole Gospel of life.
In the early afternoon of Good Friday, "there was darkness over the whole
land ... while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in
two" (Lk 23:44, 45). This is the symbol of a great cosmic disturbance and
a massive conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil, between
life and death. Today we too find ourselves in the midst of a dramatic conflict
between the "culture of death" and the "culture of life". But the glory of the
Cross is not overcome by this darkness; rather, it shines forth ever more
radiantly and brightly, and is revealed as the centre, meaning and goal of all
history and of every human life.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross and is lifted up from the earth. He experiences
the moment of his greatest "powerlessness", and his life seems completely
delivered to the derision of his adversaries and into the hands of his
executioners: he is mocked, jeered at, insulted (cf. Mk 15:24-36). And
yet, precisely amid all this, having seen him breathe his last, the Roman
centurion exclaims: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk 15:39). It
is thus, at the moment of his greatest weakness, that the Son of God is revealed
for who he is: on the Cross his glory is made manifest.
By his death, Jesus sheds light on the meaning of the life and death of every
human being. Before he dies, Jesus prays to the Father, asking forgiveness for
his persecutors (cf. Lk 23:34), and to the criminal who asks him to
remember him in his kingdom he replies: "Truly, I say to you, today you will be
with me in Paradise" (Lk 23:43). After his death "the tombs also were
opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised" (Mt
27:52). The salvation wrought by Jesus is the bestowal of life and resurrection.
Throughout his earthly life, Jesus had indeed bestowed salvation by healing and
doing good to all (cf. Acts 10:38). But his miracles, healings and even
his raising of the dead were signs of another salvation, a salvation which
consists in the forgiveness of sins, that is, in setting man free from his
greatest sickness and in raising him to the very life of God.
On the Cross, the miracle of the serpent lifted up by Moses in the desert (Jn
3:14-15; cf. Num 21:8-9) is renewed and brought to full and definitive
perfection. Today too, by looking upon the one who was pierced, every person
whose life is threatened encounters the sure hope of finding freedom and
51. But there is yet another particular event which moves me deeply when I
consider it. "When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished';
and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit" (Jn 19:30). Afterwards, the
Roman soldier "pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood
and water" (Jn
Everything has now reached its complete fulfilment. The "giving up" of the
spirit describes Jesus' death, a death like that of every other human being, but
it also seems to allude to the "gift of the Spirit", by which Jesus ransoms us
from death and opens before us a new life.
It is the very life of God which is now shared with man. It is the life which
through the Sacraments of the Church—symbolized by the blood and water flowing
from Christ's side—is continually given to God's children, making them the
people of the New Covenant. From the Cross, the source of life, the "people
of life" is born and increases.
The contemplation of the Cross thus brings us to the very heart of all that
has taken place. Jesus, who upon entering into the world said: "I have come, O
God, to do your will" (cf. Heb 10:9), made himself obedient to the Father
in everything and, "having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to
the end" (Jn 13:1), giving himself completely for them.
He who had come "not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a
ransom for many" (Mk 10:45), attains on the Cross the heights of love:
"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his
friends" (Jn 15:13). And he died for us while we were yet sinners (cf.
In this way Jesus proclaims that life finds its centre, its meaning and
its fulfilment when it is given up.
At this point our meditation becomes praise and thanksgiving, and at the same
time urges us to imitate Christ and follow in his footsteps (cf. 1 Pt
We too are called to give our lives for our brothers and sisters, and thus to
realize in the fullness of truth the meaning and destiny of our existence.
We shall be able to do this because you, O Lord, have given us the example
and have bestowed on us the power of your Spirit. We shall be able to do this if
every day, with you and like you, we are obedient to the Father and do his will.
Grant, therefore, that we may listen with open and generous hearts to every
word which proceeds from the mouth of God. Thus we shall learn not only to obey
the commandment not to kill human life, but also to revere life, to love it and
to foster it.
YOU SHALL NOT KILL
GOD'S HOLY LAW
"If you would enter life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17):
Gospel and commandment
52. "And behold, one came up to him, saying, 'Teacher, what good deed must I
do, to have eternal life?' " (Mt 19:6). Jesus replied, "If you would
enter life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). The Teacher is speaking
about eternal life, that is, a sharing in the life of God himself. This life is
attained through the observance of the Lord's commandments, including the
commandment "You shall not kill". This is the first precept from the Decalogue
which Jesus quotes to the young man who asks him what commandments he should
observe: "Jesus said, 'You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You
shall not steal...' " (Mt 19:18).
God's commandment is never detached from his love: it is always a gift
meant for man's growth and joy. As such, it represents an essential and
indispensable aspect of the Gospel, actually becoming "gospel" itself: joyful
good news. The Gospel of life is both a great gift of God and an exacting
task for humanity. It gives rise to amazement and gratitude in the person graced
with freedom, and it asks to be welcomed, preserved and esteemed, with a deep
sense of responsibility. In giving life to man, God
demands that he love, respect and promote life. The gift thus
becomes a commandment, and the commandment is itself a gift.
Man, as the living image of God, is willed by his Creator to be ruler and
lord. Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes that "God made man capable of carrying out
his role as king of the earth ... Man was created in the image of the One who
governs the universe. Everything demonstrates that from the beginning man's
nature was marked by royalty... Man is a king. Created to exercise dominion over
the world, he was given a likeness to the king of the universe; he is the living
image who participates by his dignity in the perfection of the divine
archetype".38 Called to be fruitful and multiply, to
subdue the earth and to exercise dominion over other lesser creatures (cf.
Gen 1:28), man is ruler and lord not only over things but especially over
himself,39 and in a certain sense, over the life which he
has received and which he is able to transmit through procreation, carried out
with love and respect for God's plan. Man's lordship however is not
absolute, but ministerial:
it is a real reflection of the unique and infinite lordship of God. Hence
man must exercise it with wisdom and love, sharing in the boundless
wisdom and love of God. And this comes about through obedience to God's holy
Law: a free and joyful obedience (cf.
Ps 119), born of and fostered by an awareness that the precepts of the
Lord are a gift of grace entrusted to man always and solely for his good, for
the preservation of his personal dignity and the pursuit of his happiness.
With regard to things, but even more with regard to life, man is not the
absolute master and final judge, but rather—and this is where his incomparable
greatness lies—he is the "minister of God's plan".40
Life is entrusted to man as a treasure which must not be squandered, as a
talent which must be used well. Man must render an account of it to his Master
(cf. Mt 25:14-30;
"From man in regard to his fellow man I will demand an accounting for human
life" (Gen 9:5): human life is sacred and inviolable
53. "Human life is sacred because from its beginning it involves 'the
creative action of God', and it remains forever in a special relationship with
the Creator, who is its sole end. God alone is the Lord of life from its
beginning until its end: no one can, in any circumstance, claim for himself the
right to destroy directly an innocent human being".41 With
these words the Instruction Donum Vitae sets forth the central content of
God's revelation on the sacredness and inviolability of human life.
Sacred Scripture in fact presents the precept "You shall not kill" as a
divine commandment (Ex 20:13; Dt 5:17). As I have already
emphasized, this commandment is found in the Decalogue, at the heart of the
Covenant which the Lord makes with his chosen people; but it was already
contained in the original covenant between God and humanity after the purifying
punishment of the Flood, caused by the spread of sin and violence (cf. Gen
God proclaims that he is absolute Lord of the life of man, who is formed in
his image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-28). Human life is thus given a
sacred and inviolable character, which reflects the inviolability of the Creator
himself. Precisely for this reason God will severely judge every violation of
the commandment "You shall not kill", the commandment which is at the basis of
all life together in society. He is the "goel", the defender of the
innocent (cf. Gen 4:9-15; Is 41:14;
Jer 50:34; Ps 19:14). God thus shows that he does not delight in
the death of the living (cf. Wis 1:13). Only Satan can delight therein:
for through his envy death entered the world (cf. Wis 2:24). He who is "a
murderer from the beginning", is also "a liar and the father of lies" (Jn
8:44). By deceiving man he leads him to projects of sin and death, making them
appear as goals and fruits of life.
54. As explicitly formulated, the precept "You shall not kill" is strongly
negative: it indicates the extreme limit which can never be exceeded.
Implicitly, however, it encourages a positive attitude of absolute respect for
life; it leads to the promotion of life and to progress along the way of a love
which gives, receives and serves. The people of the Covenant, although slowly
and with some contradictions, progressively matured in this way of thinking, and
thus prepared for the great proclamation of Jesus that the commandment to love
one's neighbour is like the commandment to love God; "on these two commandments
depend all the law and the prophets" (cf. Mt 22:36-40). Saint Paul
emphasizes that "the commandment ... you shall not kill ... and any other
commandment, are summed up in this phrase: 'You shall love your neighbour as
yourself' " (Rom 13:9; cf. Gal 5:14). Taken up and brought to
fulfilment in the New Law, the commandment "You shall not kill" stands as an
indispensable condition for being able "to enter life" (cf. Mt 19:16-19).
In this same perspective, the words of the Apostle John have a categorical ring:
"Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has
eternal life abiding in him" (1 Jn 3:15).
From the beginning, the living Tradition of the Church—as shown by the
the most ancient non-biblical Christian writing—categorically repeated the
commandment "You shall not kill": "There are two ways, a way of life and a way
of death; there is a great difference between them... In accordance with the
precept of the teaching: you shall not kill ... you shall not put a child to
death by abortion nor kill it once it is born ... The way of death is this: ...
they show no compassion for the poor, they do not suffer with the suffering,
they do not acknowledge their Creator, they kill their children and by abortion
cause God's creatures to perish; they drive away the needy, oppress the
suffering, they are advocates of the rich and unjust judges of the poor; they
are filled with every sin. May you be able to stay ever apart, o children, from
all these sins!".42
As time passed, the Church's Tradition has always consistently taught the
absolute and unchanging value of the commandment "You shall not kill". It is a
known fact that in the first centuries, murder was put among the three most
serious sins–along with apostasy and adultery–and required a particularly heavy
and lengthy public penance before the repentant murderer could be granted
forgiveness and readmission to the ecclesial community.
55. This should not cause surprise: to kill a human being, in whom the image
of God is present, is a particularly serious sin. Only God is the master of
life! Yet from the beginning, faced with the many and often tragic cases
which occur in the life of individuals and society, Christian reflection has
sought a fuller and deeper understanding of what God's commandment prohibits and
prescribes.43 There are in fact situations in which values
proposed by God's Law seem to involve a genuine paradox. This happens for
example in the case of legitimate defence, in which the right to protect
one's own life and the duty not to harm someone else's life are difficult to
reconcile in practice. Certainly, the intrinsic value of life and the duty to
love oneself no less than others are the basis of a true right to
self-defence. The demanding commandment of love of neighbour, set forth in
the Old Testament and confirmed by Jesus, itself presupposes love of oneself as
the basis of comparison: "You shall love your neighbour as yourself " (Mk
12:31). Consequently, no one can renounce the right to self-defence out of lack
of love for life or for self. This can only be done in virtue of a heroic love
which deepens and transfigures the love of self into a radical self-offering,
according to the spirit of the Gospel Beatitudes (cf. Mt 5:38-40). The
sublime example of this self-offering is the Lord Jesus himself.
Moreover, "legitimate defence can be not only a right but a grave duty for
someone responsible for another's life, the common good of the family or of the
State".44 Unfortunately it happens that the need to render
the aggressor incapable of causing harm sometimes involves taking his life. In
this case, the fatal outcome is attributable to the aggressor whose action
brought it about, even though he may not be morally responsible because of a
lack of the use of reason.45
56. This is the context in which to place the problem of the death
penalty. On this matter there is a growing tendency, both in the Church and
in civil society, to demand that it be applied in a very limited way or even
that it be abolished completely. The problem must be viewed in the context of a
system of penal justice ever more in line with human dignity and thus, in the
end, with God's plan for man and society. The primary purpose of the punishment
which society inflicts is "to redress the disorder caused by the offence".46
Public authority must redress the violation of personal and social rights by
imposing on the offender an adequate punishment for the crime, as a condition
for the offender to regain the exercise of his or her freedom. In this way
authority also fulfils the purpose of defending public order and ensuring
people's safety, while at the same time offering the offender an incentive and
help to change his or her behaviour and be rehabilitated.47
It is clear that, for these purposes to be achieved, the nature and extent
of the punishment must be carefully evaluated and decided upon, and ought
not go to the extreme of executing the offender except in cases of absolute
necessity: in other words, when it would not be possible otherwise to defend
society. Today however, as a result of steady improvements in the organization
of the penal system, such cases are very rare, if not practically non-existent.
In any event, the principle set forth in the new Catechism of the Catholic
Church remains valid: "If bloodless means are sufficient to defend human
lives against an aggressor and to protect public order and the safety of
persons, public authority must limit itself to such means, because they better
correspond to the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in
conformity to the dignity of the human person".48
57. If such great care must be taken to respect every life, even that of
criminals and unjust aggressors, the commandment "You shall not kill" has
absolute value when it refers to the innocent person. And all the more so
in the case of weak and defenceless human beings, who find their ultimate
defence against the arrogance and caprice of others only in the absolute binding
force of God's commandment.
In effect, the absolute inviolability of innocent human life is a moral truth
clearly taught by Sacred Scripture, constantly upheld in the Church's Tradition
and consistently proposed by her Magisterium. This consistent teaching is the
evident result of that "supernatural sense of the faith" which, inspired and
sustained by the Holy Spirit, safeguards the People of God from error when "it
shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals".49
Faced with the progressive weakening in individual consciences and in society
of the sense of the absolute and grave moral illicitness of the direct taking of
all innocent human life, especially at its beginning and at its end, the
Church's Magisterium has spoken out with increasing frequency in defence of
the sacredness and inviolability of human life. The Papal Magisterium,
particularly insistent in this regard, has always been seconded by that of the
Bishops, with numerous and comprehensive doctrinal and pastoral documents issued
either by Episcopal Conferences or by individual Bishops. The Second Vatican
Council also addressed the matter forcefully, in a brief but incisive passage.50
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his
Successors, and in communion with the Bishops of the Catholic Church, I
confirm that the direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being is
always gravely immoral. This doctrine, based upon that unwritten law which
man, in the light of reason, finds in his own heart (cf. Rom 2:14-15), is
reaffirmed by Sacred Scripture, transmitted by the Tradition of the Church and
taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.51
The deliberate decision to deprive an innocent human being of his life is
always morally evil and can never be licit either as an end in itself or as a
means to a good end. It is in fact a grave act of disobedience to the moral law,
and indeed to God himself, the author and guarantor of that law; it contradicts
the fundamental virtues of justice and charity. "Nothing and no one can in any
way permit the killing of an innocent human being, whether a fetus or an embryo,
an infant or an adult, an old person, or one suffering from an incurable
disease, or a person who is dying. Furthermore, no one is permitted to ask for
this act of killing, either for himself or herself or for another person
entrusted to his or her care, nor can he or she consent to it, either explicitly
or implicitly. Nor can any authority legitimately recommend or permit such an
As far as the right to life is concerned, every innocent human being is
absolutely equal to all others. This equality is the basis of all authentic
social relationships which, to be truly such, can only be founded on truth and
justice, recognizing and protecting every man and woman as a person and not as
an object to be used. Before the moral norm which prohibits the direct taking of
the life of an innocent human being "there are no privileges or exceptions for
anyone. It makes no difference whether one is the master of the world or the
'poorest of the poor' on the face of the earth. Before the demands of morality
we are all absolutely equal".53
"Your eyes beheld my unformed substance" (Ps 139:16): the
unspeakable crime of abortion
58. Among all the crimes which can be committed against life, procured
abortion has characteristics making it particularly serious and deplorable. The
Second Vatican Council defines abortion, together with infanticide, as an
But today, in many people's consciences, the perception of its gravity has
become progressively obscured. The acceptance of abortion in the popular mind,
in behaviour and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous
crisis of the moral sense, which is becoming more and more incapable of
distinguishing between good and evil, even when the fundamental right to life is
at stake. Given such a grave situation, we need now more than ever to have the
courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name,
without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of
self-deception. In this regard the reproach of the Prophet is extremely
straightforward: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put
darkness for light and light for darkness" (Is 5:20). Especially in the
case of abortion there is a widespread use of ambiguous terminology, such as
"interruption of pregnancy", which tends to hide abortion's true nature and to
attenuate its seriousness in public opinion. Perhaps this linguistic phenomenon
is itself a symptom of an uneasiness of conscience. But no word has the power to
change the reality of things: procured abortion is the deliberate and direct
killing, by whatever means it is carried out, of a human being in the initial
phase of his or her existence, extending from conception to birth.
The moral gravity of procured abortion is apparent in all its truth if we
recognize that we are dealing with murder and, in particular, when we consider
the specific elements involved. The one eliminated is a human being at the very
beginning of life. No one more absolutely innocent could be imagined. In
no way could this human being ever be considered an aggressor, much less an
unjust aggressor! He or she is weak, defenceless, even to the point of
lacking that minimal form of defence consisting in the poignant power of a
newborn baby's cries and tears. The unborn child is totally entrusted to
the protection and care of the woman carrying him or her in the womb. And yet
sometimes it is precisely the mother herself who makes the decision and asks for
the child to be eliminated, and who then goes about having it done.
It is true that the decision to have an abortion is often tragic and painful
for the mother, insofar as the decision to rid herself of the fruit of
conception is not made for purely selfish reasons or out of convenience, but out
of a desire to protect certain important values such as her own health or a
decent standard of living for the other members of the family. Sometimes it is
feared that the child to be born would live in such conditions that it would be
better if the birth did not take place. Nevertheless, these reasons and others
like them, however serious and tragic, can never justify the deliberate
killing of an innocent human being.
59. As well as the mother, there are often other people too who decide upon
the death of the child in the womb. In the first place, the father of the child
may be to blame, not only when he directly pressures the woman to have an
abortion, but also when he indirectly encourages such a decision on her part by
leaving her alone to face the problems of pregnancy: 55 in
this way the family is thus mortally wounded and profaned in its nature as a
community of love and in its vocation to be the "sanctuary of life". Nor can one
overlook the pressures which sometimes come from the wider family circle and
from friends. Sometimes the woman is subjected to such strong pressure that she
feels psychologically forced to have an abortion: certainly in this case moral
responsibility lies particularly with those who have directly or indirectly
obliged her to have an abortion. Doctors and nurses are also responsible, when
they place at the service of death skills which were acquired for promoting
But responsibility likewise falls on the legislators who have promoted and
approved abortion laws, and, to the extent that they have a say in the matter,
on the administrators of the health-care centres where abortions are performed.
A general and no less serious responsibility lies with those who have encouraged
the spread of an attitude of sexual permissiveness and a lack of esteem for
motherhood, and with those who should have ensured—but did not—effective family
and social policies in support of families, especially larger families and those
with particular financial and educational needs. Finally, one cannot overlook
the network of complicity which reaches out to include international
institutions, foundations and associations which systematically campaign for the
legalization and spread of abortion in the world. In this sense abortion goes
beyond the responsibility of individuals and beyond the harm done to them, and
takes on a distinctly social dimension. It is a most serious wound
inflicted on society and its culture by the very people who ought to be
society's promoters and defenders. As I wrote in my Letter to Families,
"we are facing an immense threat to life: not only to the life of individuals
but also to that of civilization itself".56 We are facing
what can be called a "structure of sin" which opposes human life not yet
60. Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of
conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a
personal human life. But in fact, "from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a
life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather
the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human
if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and ... modern genetic
science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first
instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a
person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well
determined. Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and
each of its capacities requires time—a rather lengthy time—to find its place and
to be in a position to act".57 Even if the presence of a
spiritual soul cannot be ascertained by empirical data, the results themselves
of scientific research on the human embryo provide "a valuable indication for
discerning by the use of reason a personal presence at the moment of the first
appearance of a human life: how could a human individual not be a human
Furthermore, what is at stake is so important that, from the standpoint of
moral obligation, the mere probability that a human person is involved would
suffice to justify an absolutely clear prohibition of any intervention aimed at
killing a human embryo. Precisely for this reason, over and above all scientific
debates and those philosophical affirmations to which the Magisterium has not
expressly committed itself, the Church has always taught and continues to teach
that the result of human procreation, from the first moment of its existence,
must be guaranteed that unconditional respect which is morally due to the human
being in his or her totality and unity as body and spirit: "The human being
is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception;
and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized,
among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human
being to life".59
61. The texts of Sacred Scripture never address the question of
deliberate abortion and so do not directly and specifically condemn it. But they
show such great respect for the human being in the mother's womb that they
require as a logical consequence that God's commandment "You shall not kill" be
extended to the unborn child as well.
Human life is sacred and inviolable at every moment of existence, including
the initial phase which precedes birth. All human beings, from their mothers'
womb, belong to God who searches them and knows them, who forms them and knits
them together with his own hands, who gazes on them when they are tiny shapeless
embryos and already sees in them the adults of tomorrow whose days are numbered
and whose vocation is even now written in the "book of life" (cf. Ps 139:
1, 13-16). There too, when they are still in their mothers' womb—as many
passages of the Bible bear witness60—they are the personal
objects of God's loving and fatherly providence.
Christian Tradition—as the Declaration issued by the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith points out so well61—is
clear and unanimous, from the beginning up to our own day, in describing
abortion as a particularly grave moral disorder. From its first contacts with
the Greco-Roman world, where abortion and infanticide were widely practised, the
first Christian community, by its teaching and practice, radically opposed the
customs rampant in that society, as is clearly shown by the Didache
mentioned earlier.62 Among the Greek ecclesiastical
writers, Athenagoras records that Christians consider as murderesses women who
have recourse to abortifacient medicines, because children, even if they are
still in their mother's womb, "are already under the protection of Divine
Providence".63 Among the Latin authors, Tertullian
affirms: "It is anticipated murder to prevent someone from being born; it makes
little difference whether one kills a soul already born or puts it to death at
birth. He who will one day be a man is a man already".64
Throughout Christianity's two thousand year history, this same doctrine has
been constantly taught by the Fathers of the Church and by her Pastors and
Doctors. Even scientific and philosophical discussions about the precise moment
of the infusion of the spiritual soul have never given rise to any hesitation
about the moral condemnation of abortion.
62. The more recent Papal Magisterium has vigorously reaffirmed this
common doctrine. Pius XI in particular, in his Encyclical Casti Connubii,
rejected the specious justifications of abortion.65 Pius
XII excluded all direct abortion, i.e., every act tending directly to destroy
human life in the womb "whether such destruction is intended as an end or only
as a means to an end".66 John XXIII reaffirmed that human
life is sacred because "from its very beginning it directly involves God's
The Second Vatican Council, as mentioned earlier, sternly condemned abortion:
"From the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care,
while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes".68
The Church's canonical discipline, from the earliest centuries, has
inflicted penal sanctions on those guilty of abortion. This practice, with more
or less severe penalties, has been confirmed in various periods of history. The
1917 Code of Canon Law
punished abortion with excommunication.69 The revised
canonical legislation continues this tradition when it decrees that "a person
who actually procures an abortion incurs automatic (latae sententiae)
excommunication".70 The excommunication affects all those
who commit this crime with knowledge of the penalty attached, and thus includes
those accomplices without whose help the crime would not have been committed.71
By this reiterated sanction, the Church makes clear that abortion is a most
serious and dangerous crime, thereby encouraging those who commit it to seek
without delay the path of conversion. In the Church the purpose of the penalty
of excommunication is to make an individual fully aware of the gravity of a
certain sin and then to foster genuine conversion and repentance.
Given such unanimity in the doctrinal and disciplinary tradition of the
Church, Paul VI was able to declare that this tradition is unchanged and
Therefore, by the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his
Successors, in communion with the Bishops—who on various occasions have
condemned abortion and who in the aforementioned consultation, albeit dispersed
throughout the world, have shown unanimous agreement concerning this doctrine—I
declare that direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means,
always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate
killing of an innocent human being. This doctrine is based upon the natural law
and upon the written Word of God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and
taught by the ordinary and universal Magisterium.73
No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act
which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is
written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the
63. This evaluation of the morality of abortion is to be applied also to the
recent forms of intervention on human embryos which, although carried out
for purposes legitimate in themselves, inevitably involve the killing of those
embryos. This is the case with experimentation on embryos, which is
becoming increasingly widespread in the field of biomedical research and is
legally permitted in some countries. Although "one must uphold as licit
procedures carried out on the human embryo which respect the life and integrity
of the embryo and do not involve disproportionate risks for it, but rather are
directed to its healing, the improvement of its condition of health, or its
individual survival",74 it must nonetheless be stated that
the use of human embryos or fetuses as an object of experimentation constitutes
a crime against their dignity as human beings who have a right to the same
respect owed to a child once born, just as to every person.75
This moral condemnation also regards procedures that exploit living human
embryos and fetuses—sometimes specifically "produced" for this purpose by in
vitro fertilization—either to be used as "biological material" or as
providers of organs or tissue for transplants in the treatment of certain
diseases. The killing of innocent human creatures, even if carried out to help
others, constitutes an absolutely unacceptable act.
Special attention must be given to evaluating the morality of prenatal
diagnostic techniques which enable the early detection of possible anomalies
in the unborn child. In view of the complexity of these techniques, an accurate
and systematic moral judgment is necessary. When they do not involve
disproportionate risks for the child and the mother, and are meant to make
possible early therapy or even to favour a serene and informed acceptance of the
child not yet born, these techniques are morally licit. But since the
possibilities of prenatal therapy are today still limited, it not infrequently
happens that these techniques are used with a eugenic intention which accepts
selective abortion in order to prevent the birth of children affected by various
types of anomalies. Such an attitude is shameful and utterly reprehensible,
since it presumes to measure the value of a human life only within the
parameters of "normality" and physical well-being, thus opening the way to
legitimizing infanticide and euthanasia as well.
And yet the courage and the serenity with which so many of our brothers and
sisters suffering from serious disabilities lead their lives when they are shown
acceptance and love bears eloquent witness to what gives authentic value to
life, and makes it, even in difficult conditions, something precious for them
and for others. The Church is close to those married couples who, with great
anguish and suffering, willingly accept gravely handicapped children. She is
also grateful to all those families which, through adoption, welcome children
abandoned by their parents because of disabilities or illnesses.
"It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39): the tragedy
64. At the other end of life's spectrum, men and women find themselves facing
the mystery of death. Today, as a result of advances in medicine and in a
cultural context frequently closed to the transcendent, the experience of dying
is marked by new features. When the prevailing tendency is to value life only to
the extent that it brings pleasure and well-being, suffering seems like an
unbearable setback, something from which one must be freed at all costs. Death
is considered "senseless" if it suddenly interrupts a life still open to a
future of new and interesting experiences. But it becomes a "rightful
liberation" once life is held to be no longer meaningful because it is filled
with pain and inexorably doomed to even greater suffering.
Furthermore, when he denies or neglects his fundamental relationship to God,
man thinks he is his own rule and measure, with the right to demand that society
should guarantee him the ways and means of deciding what to do with his life in
full and complete autonomy. It is especially people in the developed countries
who act in this way: they feel encouraged to do so also by the constant progress
of medicine and its ever more advanced techniques. By using highly sophisticated
systems and equipment, science and medical practice today are able not only to
attend to cases formerly considered untreatable and to reduce or eliminate pain,
but also to sustain and prolong life even in situations of extreme frailty, to
resuscitate artificially patients whose basic biological functions have
undergone sudden collapse, and to use special procedures to make organs
available for transplanting.
In this context the temptation grows to have recourse to euthanasia,
that is, to take control of death and bring it about before its time,
"gently" ending one's own life or the life of others. In reality, what might
seem logical and humane, when looked at more closely is seen to be senseless
and inhumane. Here we are faced with one of the more alarming symptoms of
the "culture of death", which is advancing above all in prosperous societies,
marked by an attitude of excessive preoccupation with efficiency and which sees
the growing number of elderly and disabled people as intolerable and too
burdensome. These people are very often isolated by their families and by
society, which are organized almost exclusively on the basis of criteria of
productive efficiency, according to which a hopelessly impaired life no longer
has any value.
65. For a correct moral judgment on euthanasia, in the first place a clear
definition is required. Euthanasia in the strict sense is understood to
be an action or omission which of itself and by intention causes death, with the
purpose of eliminating all suffering. "Euthanasia's terms of reference,
therefore, are to be found in the intention of the will and in the methods
Euthanasia must be distinguished from the decision to forego so-called
"aggressive medical treatment", in other words, medical procedures which no
longer correspond to the real situation of the patient, either because they are
by now disproportionate to any expected results or because they impose an
excessive burden on the patient and his family. In such situations, when death
is clearly imminent and inevitable, one can in conscience "refuse forms of
treatment that would only secure a precarious and burdensome prolongation of
life, so long as the normal care due to the sick person in similar cases is not
interrupted".77 Certainly there is a moral obligation to
care for oneself and to allow oneself to be cared for, but this duty must take
account of concrete circumstances. It needs to be determined whether the means
of treatment available are objectively proportionate to the prospects for
improvement. To forego extraordinary or disproportionate means is not the
equivalent of suicide or euthanasia; it rather expresses acceptance of the human
condition in the face of death.78
In modern medicine, increased attention is being given to what are called
"methods of palliative care", which seek to make suffering more bearable in the
final stages of illness and to ensure that the patient is supported and
accompanied in his or her ordeal. Among the questions which arise in this
context is that of the licitness of using various types of painkillers and
sedatives for relieving the patient's pain when this involves the risk of
shortening life. While praise may be due to the person who voluntarily accepts
suffering by forgoing treatment with pain-killers in order to remain fully lucid
and, if a believer, to share consciously in the Lord's Passion, such "heroic"
behaviour cannot be considered the duty of everyone. Pius XII affirmed that it
is licit to relieve pain by narcotics, even when the result is decreased
consciousness and a shortening of life, "if no other means exist, and if, in the
given circumstances, this does not prevent the carrying out of other religious
and moral duties".79 In such a case, death is not willed
or sought, even though for reasonable motives one runs the risk of it: there is
simply a desire to ease pain effectively by using the analgesics which medicine
provides. All the same, "it is not right to deprive the dying person of
consciousness without a serious reason": 80 as they
approach death people ought to be able to satisfy their moral and family duties,
and above all they ought to be able to prepare in a fully conscious way for
their definitive meeting with God.
Taking into account these distinctions, in harmony with the Magisterium of my
Predecessors 81 and in communion with the Bishops of the
Catholic Church, I confirm that euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of
God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human
person. This doctrine is based upon the natural law and upon the written word of
God, is transmitted by the Church's Tradition and taught by the ordinary and
Depending on the circumstances, this practice involves the malice proper to
suicide or murder.
66. Suicide is always as morally objectionable as murder. The Church's
tradition has always rejected it as a gravely evil choice.83
Even though a certain psychological, cultural and social conditioning may induce
a person to carry out an action which so radically contradicts the innate
inclination to life, thus lessening or removing subjective responsibility,
suicide, when viewed objectively, is a gravely immoral act. In fact, it
involves the rejection of love of self and the renunciation of the obligation of
justice and charity towards one's neighbour, towards the communities to which
one belongs, and towards society as a whole.84 In its
deepest reality, suicide represents a rejection of God's absolute sovereignty
over life and death, as proclaimed in the prayer of the ancient sage of Israel:
"You have power over life and death; you lead men down to the gates of Hades and
back again" (Wis 16:13; cf. Tob 13:2).
To concur with the intention of another person to commit suicide and to help
in carrying it out through so-called "assisted suicide" means to cooperate in,
and at times to be the actual perpetrator of, an injustice which can never be
excused, even if it is requested. In a remarkably relevant passage Saint
Augustine writes that "it is never licit to kill another: even if he should wish
it, indeed if he request it because, hanging between life and death, he begs for
help in freeing the soul struggling against the bonds of the body and longing to
be released; nor is it licit even when a sick person is no longer able to live".85
Even when not motivated by a selfish refusal to be burdened with the life of
someone who is suffering, euthanasia must be called a false mercy, and
indeed a disturbing "perversion" of mercy. True "compassion" leads to sharing
another's pain; it does not kill the person whose suffering we cannot bear.
Moreover, the act of euthanasia appears all the more perverse if it is carried
out by those, like relatives, who are supposed to treat a family member with
patience and love, or by those, such as doctors, who by virtue of their specific
profession are supposed to care for the sick person even in the most painful
The choice of euthanasia becomes more serious when it takes the form of a
murder committed by others on a person who has in no way requested it and
who has never consented to it. The height of arbitrariness and injustice is
reached when certain people, such as physicians or legislators, arrogate to
themselves the power to decide who ought to live and who ought to die. Once
again we find ourselves before the temptation of Eden: to become like God who
"knows good and evil" (cf. Gen 3:5). God alone has the power over life
and death: "It is I who bring both death and life" (Dt 32:39; cf. 2 Kg
5:7; 1 Sam 2:6). But he only exercises this power in accordance with a
plan of wisdom and love. When man usurps this power, being enslaved by a foolish
and selfish way of thinking, he inevitably uses it for injustice and death. Thus
the life of the person who is weak is put into the hands of the one who is
strong; in society the sense of justice is lost, and mutual trust, the basis of
every authentic interpersonal relationship, is undermined at its root.
67. Quite different from this is the way of love and true mercy, which
our common humanity calls for, and upon which faith in Christ the Redeemer, who
died and rose again, sheds ever new light. The request which arises from the
human heart in the supreme confrontation with suffering and death, especially
when faced with the temptation to give up in utter desperation, is above all a
request for companionship, sympathy and support in the time of trial. It is a
plea for help to keep on hoping when all human hopes fail. As the Second Vatican
Council reminds us: "It is in the face of death that the riddle of human
existence becomes most acute" and yet "man rightly follows the intuition of his
heart when he abhors and repudiates the absolute ruin and total disappearance of
his own person. Man rebels against death because he bears in himself an eternal
seed which cannot be reduced to mere matter".86
This natural aversion to death and this incipient hope of immortality are
illumined and brought to fulfilment by Christian faith, which both promises and
offers a share in the victory of the Risen Christ: it is the victory of the One
who, by his redemptive death, has set man free from death, "the wages of sin" (Rom
6:23), and has given him the Spirit, the pledge of resurrection and of life (cf.
Rom 8:11). The certainty of future immortality and hope in the promised
resurrection cast new light on the mystery of suffering and death, and fill
the believer with an extraordinary capacity to trust fully in the plan of God.
The Apostle Paul expressed this newness in terms of belonging completely to
the Lord who embraces every human condition: "None of us lives to himself, and
none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we
die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's"
(Rom 14:7-8). Dying to the Lord means experiencing one's death as
the supreme act of obedience to the Father (cf. Phil 2:8), being ready to
meet death at the "hour" willed and chosen by him (cf.Jn 13:1), which can
only mean when one's earthly pilgrimage is completed. Living to the Lord
also means recognizing that suffering, while still an evil and a trial in
itself, can always become a source of good. It becomes such if it is experienced
for love and with love through sharing, by God's gracious gift and one's own
personal and free choice, in the suffering of Christ Crucified. In this way, the
person who lives his suffering in the Lord grows more fully conformed to him
(cf. Phil 3:10;
1 Pet 2:21) and more closely associated with his redemptive work on
behalf of the Church and humanity.87 This was the
experience of Saint Paul, which every person who suffers is called to relive: "I
rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is
lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church" (Col
"We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29): civil law and
the moral law
68. One of the specific characteristics of present-day attacks on human
life—as has already been said several times—consists in the trend to demand a
legal justification for them, as if they were rights which the State, at
least under certain conditions, must acknowledge as belonging to citizens.
Consequently, there is a tendency to claim that it should be possible to
exercise these rights with the safe and free assistance of doctors and medical
It is often claimed that the life of an unborn child or a seriously disabled
person is only a relative good: according to a proportionalist approach, or one
of sheer calculation, this good should be compared with and balanced against
other goods. It is even maintained that only someone present and personally
involved in a concrete situation can correctly judge the goods at stake:
consequently, only that person would be able to decide on the morality of his
choice. The State therefore, in the interest of civil coexistence and social
harmony, should respect this choice, even to the point of permitting abortion
At other times, it is claimed that civil law cannot demand that all citizens
should live according to moral standards higher than what all citizens
themselves acknowledge and share. Hence the law should always express the
opinion and will of the majority of citizens and recognize that they have, at
least in certain extreme cases, the right even to abortion and euthanasia.
Moreover the prohibition and the punishment of abortion and euthanasia in these
cases would inevitably lead—so it is said—to an increase of illegal practices:
and these would not be subject to necessary control by society and would be
carried out in a medically unsafe way. The question is also raised whether
supporting a law which in practice cannot be enforced would not ultimately
undermine the authority of all laws.
Finally, the more radical views go so far as to maintain that in a modern and
pluralistic society people should be allowed complete freedom to dispose of
their own lives as well as of the lives of the unborn: it is asserted that it is
not the task of the law to choose between different moral opinions, and still
less can the law claim to impose one particular opinion to the detriment of
69. In any case, in the democratic culture of our time it is commonly held
that the legal system of any society should limit itself to taking account of
and accepting the convictions of the majority. It should therefore be based
solely upon what the majority itself considers moral and actually practises.
Furthermore, if it is believed that an objective truth shared by all is de
facto unattainable, then respect for the freedom of the citizens—who in a
democratic system are considered the true rulers—would require that on the
legislative level the autonomy of individual consciences be acknowledged.
Consequently, when establishing those norms which are absolutely necessary for
social coexistence, the only determining factor should be the will of the
majority, whatever this may be. Hence every politician, in his or her activity,
should clearly separate the realm of private conscience from that of public
As a result we have what appear to be two diametrically opposed tendencies.
On the one hand, individuals claim for themselves in the moral sphere the most
complete freedom of choice and demand that the State should not adopt or impose
any ethical position but limit itself to guaranteeing maximum space for the
freedom of each individual, with the sole limitation of not infringing on the
freedom and rights of any other citizen. On the other hand, it is held that, in
the exercise of public and professional duties, respect for other people's
freedom of choice requires that each one should set aside his or her own
convictions in order to satisfy every demand of the citizens which is recognized
and guaranteed by law; in carrying out one's duties the only moral criterion
should be what is laid down by the law itself. Individual responsibility is thus
turned over to the civil law, with a renouncing of personal conscience, at least
in the public sphere.
70. At the basis of all these tendencies lies the ethical relativism
which characterizes much of present-day culture. There are those who consider
such relativism an essential condition of democracy, inasmuch as it alone is
held to guarantee tolerance, mutual respect between people and acceptance of the
decisions of the majority, whereas moral norms considered to be objective and
binding are held to lead to authoritarianism and intolerance.
But it is precisely the issue of respect for life which shows what
misunderstandings and contradictions, accompanied by terrible practical
consequences, are concealed in this position.
It is true that history has known cases where crimes have been committed in
the name of "truth". But equally grave crimes and radical denials of freedom
have also been committed and are still being committed in the name of "ethical
relativism". When a parliamentary or social majority decrees that it is legal,
at least under certain conditions, to kill unborn human life, is it not really
making a "tyrannical" decision with regard to the weakest and most defenceless
of human beings? Everyone's conscience rightly rejects those crimes against
humanity of which our century has had such sad experience. But would these
crimes cease to be crimes if, instead of being committed by unscrupulous
tyrants, they were legitimated by popular consensus?
Democracy cannot be idolized to the point of making it a substitute for
morality or a panacea for immorality. Fundamentally, democracy is a "system" and
as such is a means and not an end. Its "moral" value is not automatic, but
depends on conformity to the moral law to which it, like every other form of
human behaviour, must be subject: in other words, its morality depends on the
morality of the ends which it pursues and of the means which it employs. If
today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of
democracy, this is to be considered a positive "sign of the times", as the
Church's Magisterium has frequently noted.88 But the value
of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes. Of
course, values such as the dignity of every human person, respect for inviolable
and inalienable human rights, and the adoption of the "common good" as the end
and criterion regulating political life are certainly fundamental and not to be
The basis of these values cannot be provisional and changeable "majority"
opinions, but only the acknowledgment of an objective moral law which, as the
"natural law" written in the human heart, is the obligatory point of reference
for civil law itself. If, as a result of a tragic obscuring of the collective
conscience, an attitude of scepticism were to succeed in bringing into question
even the fundamental principles of the moral law, the democratic system itself
would be shaken in its foundations, and would be reduced to a mere mechanism for
regulating different and opposing interests on a purely empirical basis.89
Some might think that even this function, in the absence of anything better,
should be valued for the sake of peace in society. While one acknowledges some
element of truth in this point of view, it is easy to see that without an
objective moral grounding not even democracy is capable of ensuring a stable
peace, especially since peace which is not built upon the values of the dignity
of every individual and of solidarity between all people frequently proves to be
illusory. Even in participatory systems of government, the regulation of
interests often occurs to the advantage of the most powerful, since they are the
ones most capable of maneuvering not only the levers of power but also of
shaping the formation of consensus. In such a situation, democracy easily
becomes an empty word.
71. It is therefore urgently necessary, for the future of society and the
development of a sound democracy, to rediscover those essential and innate human
and moral values which flow from the very truth of the human being and express
and safeguard the dignity of the person: values which no individual, no majority
and no State can ever create, modify or destroy, but must only acknowledge,
respect and promote.
Consequently there is a need to recover the basic elements of a vision of
the relationship between civil law and moral law, which are put forward by
the Church, but which are also part of the patrimony of the great juridical
traditions of humanity.
Certainly the purpose of civil law is different and more limited in
scope than that of the moral law. But "in no sphere of life can the civil law
take the place of conscience or dictate norms concerning things which are
outside its competence",90 which is that of ensuring the
common good of people through the recognition and defence of their fundamental
rights, and the promotion of peace and of public morality.91
The real purpose of civil law is to guarantee an ordered social coexistence in
true justice, so that all may "lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and
respectful in every way" (1 Tim 2:2). Precisely for this reason, civil
law must ensure that all members of society enjoy respect for certain
fundamental rights which innately belong to the person, rights which every
positive law must recognize and guarantee. First and fundamental among these is
the inviolable right to life of every innocent human being. While public
authority can sometimes choose not to put a stop to something which—were it
prohibited— would cause more serious harm,92 it can never
presume to legitimize as a right of individuals—even if they are the majority of
the members of society—an offence against other persons caused by the disregard
of so fundamental a right as the right to life. The legal toleration of abortion
or of euthanasia can in no way claim to be based on respect for the conscience
of others, precisely because society has the right and the duty to protect
itself against the abuses which can occur in the name of conscience and under
the pretext of freedom.93
In the Encyclical Pacem in Terris, John XXIII pointed out that "it is
generally accepted today that the common good is best safeguarded when personal
rights and duties are guaranteed. The chief concern of civil authorities must
therefore be to ensure that these rights are recognized, respected, coordinated,
defended and promoted, and that each individual is enabled to perform his duties
more easily. For 'to safeguard the inviolable rights of the human person, and to
facilitate the performance of his duties, is the principal duty of every public
authority'. Thus any government which refused to recognize human rights or acted
in violation of them, would not only fail in its duty; its decrees would be
wholly lacking in binding force".94
72. The doctrine on the necessary conformity of civil law with the moral
law is in continuity with the whole tradition of the Church. This is clear
once more from John XXIII's Encyclical: "Authority is a postulate of the moral
order and derives from God. Consequently, laws and decrees enacted in
contravention of the moral order, and hence of the divine will, can have no
binding force in conscience...; indeed, the passing of such laws undermines the
very nature of authority and results in shameful abuse".95
This is the clear teaching of Saint Thomas Aquinas, who writes that "human law
is law inasmuch as it is in conformity with right reason and thus derives from
the eternal law. But when a law is contrary to reason, it is called an unjust
law; but in this case it ceases to be a law and becomes instead an act of
violence".96 And again: "Every law made by man can be
called a law insofar as it derives from the natural law. But if it is somehow
opposed to the natural law, then it is not really a law but rather a corruption
of the law".97
Now the first and most immediate application of this teaching concerns a
human law which disregards the fundamental right and source of all other rights
which is the right to life, a right belonging to every individual. Consequently,
laws which legitimize the direct killing of innocent human beings through
abortion or euthanasia are in complete opposition to the inviolable right to
life proper to every individual; they thus deny the equality of everyone before
the law. It might be objected that such is not the case in euthanasia, when it
is requested with full awareness by the person involved. But any State which
made such a request legitimate and authorized it to be carried out would be
legalizing a case of suicide-murder, contrary to the fundamental principles of
absolute respect for life and of the protection of every innocent life. In this
way the State contributes to lessening respect for life and opens the door to
ways of acting which are destructive of trust in relations between people. Laws
which authorize and promote abortion and euthanasia are therefore radically
opposed not only to the good of the individual but also to the common good; as
such they are completely lacking in authentic juridical validity. Disregard for
the right to life, precisely because it leads to the killing of the person whom
society exists to serve, is what most directly conflicts with the possibility of
achieving the common good. Consequently, a civil law authorizing abortion or
euthanasia ceases by that very fact to be a true, morally binding civil law.
73. Abortion and euthanasia are thus crimes which no human law can claim to
legitimize. There is no obligation in conscience to obey such laws; instead
there is a grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious
objection. From the very beginnings of the Church, the apostolic preaching
reminded Christians of their duty to obey legitimately constituted public
authorities (cf. Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-14), but at the same time
it firmly warned that "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts
5:29). In the Old Testament, precisely in regard to threats against life, we
find a significant example of resistance to the unjust command of those in
authority. After Pharaoh ordered the killing of all newborn males, the Hebrew
midwives refused. "They did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let
the male children live" (Ex
1:17). But the ultimate reason for their action should be noted: "the
midwives feared God" (ibid.). It is precisely from obedience to
God—to whom alone is due that fear which is acknowledgment of his absolute
sovereignty—that the strength and the courage to resist unjust human laws are
born. It is the strength and the courage of those prepared even to be imprisoned
or put to the sword, in the certainty that this is what makes for "the endurance
and faith of the saints" (Rev 13:10).
In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion
or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to "take part in a
propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it".98
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative
vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at
limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law
already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a
fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to
introduce laws favouring abortion, often supported by powerful international
organizations, in other nations—particularly those which have already
experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation—there are growing
signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned,
when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law,
an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was
well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm
done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of
general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit
cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to
limit its evil aspects.
74. The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience
for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation, since they
have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions.
Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the
sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of
reasonable hopes of career advancement. In other cases, it can happen that
carrying out certain actions, which are provided for by legislation that overall
is unjust, but which in themselves are indifferent, or even positive, can serve
to protect human lives under threat. There may be reason to fear, however, that
willingness to carry out such actions will not only cause scandal and weaken the
necessary opposition to attacks on life, but will gradually lead to further
capitulation to a mentality of permissiveness.
In order to shed light on this difficult question, it is necessary to recall
the general principles concerning cooperation in evil actions.
Christians, like all people of good will, are called upon under grave obligation
of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by
civil legislation, are contrary to God's law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint,
it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. Such cooperation occurs when an
action, either by its very nature or by the form it takes in a concrete
situation, can be defined as a direct participation in an act against innocent
human life or a sharing in the immoral intention of the person committing it.
This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the
freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or
requires it. Each individual in fact has moral responsibility for the acts which
he personally performs; no one can be exempted from this responsibility, and on
the basis of it everyone will be judged by God himself (cf. Rom 2:6;
To refuse to take part in committing an injustice is not only a moral duty;
it is also a basic human right. Were this not so, the human person would be
forced to perform an action intrinsically incompatible with human dignity, and
in this way human freedom itself, the authentic meaning and purpose of which are
found in its orientation to the true and the good, would be radically
compromised. What is at stake therefore is an essential right which, precisely
as such, should be acknowledged and protected by civil law. In this sense, the
opportunity to refuse to take part in the phases of consultation, preparation
and execution of these acts against life should be guaranteed to physicians,
health-care personnel, and directors of hospitals, clinics and convalescent
facilities. Those who have recourse to conscientious objection must be protected
not only from legal penalties but also from any negative effects on the legal,
disciplinary, financial and professional plane.
"You shall love your neighbour as yourself" (Lk 10:27):"promote"
75. God's commandments teach us the way of life. The negative moral
precepts, which declare that the choice of certain actions is morally
unacceptable, have an absolute value for human freedom: they are valid always
and everywhere, without exception. They make it clear that the choice of certain
ways of acting is radically incompatible with the love of God and with the
dignity of the person created in his image. Such choices cannot be redeemed by
the goodness of any intention or of any consequence; they are irrevocably
opposed to the bond between persons; they contradict the fundamental decision to
direct one's life to God.99
In this sense, the negative moral precepts have an extremely important
positive function. The "no" which they unconditionally require makes clear the
absolute limit beneath which free individuals cannot lower themselves. At the
same time they indicate the minimum which they must respect and from which they
must start out in order to say "yes" over and over again, a "yes" which will
gradually embrace the entire horizon of the good (cf. Mt 5:48).
The commandments, in particular the negative moral precepts, are the beginning
and the first necessary stage of the journey towards freedom. As Saint Augustine
writes, "the beginning of freedom is to be free from crimes... like murder,
adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. Only when one stops
committing these crimes (and no Christian should commit them), one begins to
lift up one's head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom,
not perfect freedom".100
76. The commandment "You shall not kill" thus establishes the point of
departure for the start of true freedom. It leads us to promote life actively,
and to develop particular ways of thinking and acting which serve life. In this
way we exercise our responsibility towards the persons entrusted to us and we
show, in deeds and in truth, our gratitude to God for the great gift of life
(cf. Ps 139:13-14).
The Creator has entrusted man's life to his responsible concern, not to make
arbitrary use of it, but to preserve it with wisdom and to care for it with
loving fidelity. The God of the Covenant has entrusted the life of every
individual to his or her fellow human beings, brothers and sisters, according to
the law of reciprocity in giving and receiving, of self-giving and of the
acceptance of others. In the fullness of time, by taking flesh and giving his
life for us, the Son of God showed what heights and depths this law of
reciprocity can reach. With the gift of his Spirit, Christ gives new content and
meaning to the law of reciprocity, to our being entrusted to one another. The
Spirit who builds up communion in love creates between us a new fraternity and
solidarity, a true reflection of the mystery of mutual self-giving and receiving
proper to the Most Holy Trinity. The Spirit becomes the new law which gives
strength to believers and awakens in them a responsibility for sharing the gift
of self and for accepting others, as a sharing in the boundless love of Jesus
77. This new law also gives spirit and shape to the commandment "You shall
not kill". For the Christian it involves an absolute imperative to respect, love
and promote the life of every brother and sister, in accordance with the
requirements of God's bountiful love in Jesus Christ. "He laid down his life for
us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 Jn 3:16).
The commandment "You shall not kill", even in its more positive aspects of
respecting, loving and promoting human life, is binding on every individual
human being. It resounds in the moral conscience of everyone as an irrepressible
echo of the original covenant of God the Creator with mankind. It can be
recognized by everyone through the light of reason and it can be observed thanks
to the mysterious working of the Spirit who, blowing where he wills (cf. Jn
3:8), comes to and involves every person living in this world.
It is therefore a service of love which we are all committed to ensure to our
neighbour, that his or her life may be always defended and promoted, especially
when it is weak or threatened. It is not only a personal but a social concern
which we must all foster: a concern to make unconditional respect for human life
the foundation of a renewed society.
We are asked to love and honour the life of every man and woman and to work
with perseverance and courage so that our time, marked by all too many signs of
death, may at last witness the establishment of a new culture of life, the fruit
of the culture of truth and of love.
YOU DID IT TO ME
FOR A NEW CULTURE OF HUMAN LIFE
"You are God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him
who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light" (1 Pet
2:9): a people of life and for life
78. The Church has received the Gospel as a proclamation and a source of joy
and salvation. She has received it as a gift from Jesus, sent by the Father "to
preach good news to the poor" (Lk 4:18). She has received it through the
Apostles, sent by Christ to the whole world (cf. Mk 16:15; Mt
28:19-20). Born from this evangelizing activity, the Church hears every day the
echo of Saint Paul's words of warning: "Woe to me if I do not preach the
Gospel!" (1 Cor 9:16). As Paul VI wrote, "evangelization is the grace
and vocation proper to the Church, her deepest identity. She exists in order to
Evangelization is an all-embracing, progressive activity through which the
Church participates in the prophetic, priestly and royal mission of the Lord
Jesus. It is therefore inextricably linked to preaching, celebration and the
service of charity.
Evangelization is a profoundly ecclesial act, which calls all the various
workers of the Gospel to action, according to their individual charisms and
This is also the case with regard to the proclamation of the Gospel of
life, an integral part of that Gospel which is Jesus Christ himself. We are
at the service of this Gospel, sustained by the awareness that we have received
it as a gift and are sent to preach it to all humanity, "to the ends of the
earth" (Acts 1:8). With humility and gratitude we know that we are the
people of life and for life, and this is how we present ourselves to
79. We are the people of life because God, in his unconditional love,
has given us the Gospel of life and by this same Gospel we have been
transformed and saved. We have been ransomed by the "Author of life" (Acts
3:15) at the price of his precious blood (cf. 1 Cor 6:20; 7:23; 1 Pet
1:19). Through the waters of Baptism we have been made a part of him (cf. Rom
6:4-5; Col 2:12), as branches which draw nourishment and fruitfulness
from the one tree (cf. Jn 15:5). Interiorly renewed by the grace of the
Spirit, "who is the Lord and giver of life", we have become a people for life
and we are called to act accordingly.
We have been sent. For us, being at the service of life is not a boast
but rather a duty, born of our awareness of being "God's own people, that we may
declare the wonderful deeds of him who called us out of darkness into his
marvellous light" (cf. 1 Pet 2:9). On our journey we are guided and
sustained by the law of love: a love which has as its source and model the
Son of God made man, who "by dying gave life to the world".102
We have been sent as a people. Everyone has an obligation to be at the
service of life. This is a properly "ecclesial" responsibility, which requires
concerted and generous action by all the members and by all sectors of the
Christian community. This community commitment does not however eliminate or
lessen the responsibility of each individual,
called by the Lord to "become the neighbour" of everyone: "Go and do
likewise" (Lk 10:37).
Together we all sense our duty to preach the Gospel of life, to
celebrate it in the Liturgy and in our whole existence, and to serve it
with the various programmes and structures which support and promote life.
"That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you" (1 Jn
proclaiming the Gospel of life
80. "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have
seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands,
concerning the word of life ... we proclaim also to you, so that you may have
fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:1, 3). Jesus is the only Gospel: we
have nothing further to say or any other witness to bear.
To proclaim Jesus is itself to proclaim life. For Jesus is "the word of
life" (1 Jn 1:1). In him "life was made manifest" (1 Jn 1:2); he
himself is "the eternal life which was with the Father and was made manifest to
us" (1 Jn 1:2). By the gift of the Spirit, this same life has been
bestowed on us. It is in being destined to life in its fullness, to "eternal
life", that every person's earthly life acquires its full meaning.
Enlightened by this Gospel of life, we feel a need to proclaim it and
to bear witness to it in all its marvellous newness. Since it is one with
Jesus himself, who makes all things new 103 and conquers
the "oldness" which comes from sin and leads to death,104
this Gospel exceeds every human expectation and reveals the sublime heights to
which the dignity of the human person is raised through grace. This is how Saint
Gregory of Nyssa understands it: "Man, as a being, is of no account; he is dust,
grass, vanity. But once he is adopted by the God of the universe as a son, he
becomes part of the family of that Being, whose excellence and greatness no one
can see, hear or understand. What words, thoughts or flight of the spirit can
praise the superabundance of this grace? Man surpasses his nature: mortal, he
becomes immortal; perishable, he becomes imperishable; fleeting, he becomes
eternal; human, he becomes divine".105
Gratitude and joy at the incomparable dignity of man impel us to share this
message with everyone: "that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to
you, so that you may have fellowship with us" (1 Jn 1:3). We need to
bring the Gospel of life to the heart of every man and woman and to make
it penetrate every part of society.
81. This involves above all proclaiming the core of this Gospel. It is
the proclamation of a living God who is close to us, who calls us to profound
communion with himself and awakens in us the certain hope of eternal life. It is
the affirmation of the inseparable connection between the person, his life and
his bodiliness. It is the presentation of human life as a life of relationship,
a gift of God, the fruit and sign of his love. It is the proclamation that Jesus
has a unique relationship with every person, which enables us to see in every
human face the face of Christ. It is the call for a "sincere gift of self" as
the fullest way to realize our personal freedom.
It also involves making clear all the consequences of this Gospel.
These can be summed up as follows: human life, as a gift of God, is sacred and
inviolable. For this reason procured abortion and euthanasia are absolutely
unacceptable. Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected
with loving concern. The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love,
and in this light human sexuality and procreation reach their true and full
significance. Love also gives meaning to suffering and death; despite the
mystery which surrounds them, they can become saving events. Respect for life
requires that science and technology should always be at the service of man and
his integral development. Society as a whole must respect, defend and promote
the dignity of every human person, at every moment and in every condition of
that person's life.
82. To be truly a people at the service of life we must propose these truths
constantly and courageously from the very first proclamation of the Gospel, and
thereafter in catechesis, in the various forms of preaching, in personal
dialogue and in all educational activity. Teachers, catechists and
theologians have the task of emphasizing the anthropological reasons upon
which respect for every human life is based. In this way, by making the newness
of the Gospel of life shine forth, we can also help everyone discover in
the light of reason and of personal experience how the Christian message fully
reveals what man is and the meaning of his being and existence. We shall find
important points of contact and dialogue also with non- believers, in our common
commitment to the establishment of a new culture of life.
Faced with so many opposing points of view, and a widespread rejection of
sound doctrine concerning human life, we can feel that Paul's entreaty to
Timothy is also addressed to us: "Preach the word, be urgent in season and out
of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in
teaching" (2 Tim 4:2). This exhortation should resound with special force
in the hearts of those members of the Church who directly share, in different
ways, in her mission as "teacher" of the truth. May it resound above all for us
who are Bishops: we are the first ones called to be untiring preachers of
the Gospel of life. We are also entrusted with the task of ensuring that
the doctrine which is once again being set forth in this Encyclical is
faithfully handed on in its integ- rity. We must use appropriate means to defend
the faithful from all teaching which is contrary to it. We need to make sure
that in theological faculties, seminaries and Catholic institutions sound
doctrine is taught, explained and more fully investigated.106
May Paul's exhortation strike a chord in all theologians, pastors, teachers
and in all those responsible for catechesis and the formation of consciences.
Aware of their specific role, may they never be so grievously irresponsible as
to betray the truth and their own mission by proposing personal ideas contrary
to the Gospel of life as faithfully presented and interpreted by the
In the proclamation of this Gospel, we must not fear hostility or
unpopularity, and we must refuse any compromise or ambiguity which might conform
us to the world's way of thinking (cf. Rom 12:2). We must be in the
world but not of the world (cf.
Jn 15:19; 17:16), drawing our strength from Christ, who by his Death and
Resurrection has overcome the world (cf. Jn 16:33).
"I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made" (Ps
139:14): celebrating the Gospel of life
83. Because we have been sent into the world as a "people for life", our
proclamation must also become a genuine celebration of the Gospel of life.
This celebration, with the evocative power of its gestures, symbols and rites,
should become a precious and significant setting in which the beauty and
grandeur of this Gospel is handed on.
For this to happen, we need first of all to foster, in ourselves and
in others, a contemplative outlook.107 Such an
outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual
as a "wonder" (cf. Ps 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in
its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its
invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not
presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift,
discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every
person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps 8:5). This outlook does
not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering,
outcast or at death's door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged
to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving
in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.
It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe
to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person, as Paul VI
invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages.108
Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot
but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift
of life, for the mystery of every individual's call to share through Christ
in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our
Creator and Father.
84. To celebrate the Gospel of life means to celebrate the God of life,
the God who gives life: "We must celebrate Eternal Life, from which every
other life proceeds. From this, in proportion to its capacities, every being
which in any way participates in life, receives life. This Divine Life, which is
above every other life, gives and preserves life. Every life and every living
movement proceed from this Life which transcends all life and every principle of
life. It is to this that souls owe their incorruptibility; and because of this
all animals and plants live, which receive only the faintest glimmer of life. To
men, beings made of spirit and matter, Life grants life. Even if we should
abandon Life, because of its overflowing love for man, it converts us and calls
us back to itself. Not only this: it promises to bring us, soul and body, to
perfect life, to immortality. It is too little to say that this Life is alive:
it is the Principle of life, the Cause and sole Wellspring of life. Every living
thing must contemplate it and give it praise: it is Life which overflows with
Like the Psalmist, we too, in our daily prayer as individuals and as a
community, praise and bless God our Father, who knitted us together in our
mother's womb, and saw and loved us while we were still without form (cf. Ps
139:13, 15-16). We exclaim with overwhelming joy: "I give you thanks that I am
fearfully, wonderfully made; wonderful are your works. You know me through and
through" (Ps 139:14). Indeed, "despite its hardships, its hidden
mysteries, its suffering and its inevitable frailty, this mortal life is a most
beautiful thing, a marvel ever new and moving, an event worthy of being exalted
in joy and glory".110
Moreover, man and his life appear to us not only as one of the greatest marvels
of creation: for God has granted to man a dignity which is near to divine (Ps
8:5-6). In every child which is born and in every person who lives or dies we
see the image of God's glory. We celebrate this glory in every human being, a
sign of the living God, an icon of Jesus Christ.
We are called to express wonder and gratitude for the gift of life and to
welcome, savour and share the Gospel of life not only in our personal and
community prayer, but above all in the celebrations of the liturgical year.
Particularly important in this regard are the Sacraments, the efficacious
signs of the presence and saving action of the Lord Jesus in Christian life. The
Sacraments make us sharers in divine life, and provide the spiritual strength
necessary to experience life, suffering and death in their fullest meaning.
Thanks to a genuine rediscovery and a better appreciation of the significance of
these rites, our liturgical celebrations, especially celebrations of the
Sacraments, will be ever more capable of expressing the full truth about birth,
life, suffering and death, and will help us to live these moments as a
participation in the Paschal Mystery of the Crucified and Risen Christ.
85. In celebrating the Gospel of life we also need to appreciate
and make good use of the wealth of gestures and symbols present in the
traditions and customs of different cultures and peoples. There are special
times and ways in which the peoples of different nations and cultures express
joy for a newborn life, respect for and protection of individual human lives,
care for the suffering or needy, closeness to the elderly and the dying,
participation in the sorrow of those who mourn, and hope and desire for
In view of this and following the suggestion made by the Cardinals in the
Consistory of 1991, I propose that a Day for Life be celebrated each year
in every country, as already established by some Episcopal Conferences. The
celebration of this Day should be planned and carried out with the active
participation of all sectors of the local Church. Its primary purpose should be
to foster in individual consciences, in families, in the Church and in civil
society a recognition of the meaning and value of human life at every stage and
in every condition. Particular attention should be drawn to the seriousness of
abortion and euthanasia, without neglecting other aspects of life which from
time to time deserve to be given careful consideration, as occasion and
86. As part of the spiritual worship acceptable to God (cf. Rom 12:1),
the Gospel of life is to be celebrated above all in daily living,
which should be filled with self-giving love for others. In this way, our lives
will become a genuine and responsible acceptance of the gift of life and a
heartfelt song of praise and gratitude to God who has given us this gift. This
is already happening in the many different acts of selfless generosity, often
humble and hidden, carried out by men and women, children and adults, the young
and the old, the healthy and the sick.
It is in this context, so humanly rich and filled with love, that heroic
actions too are born. These are the most solemn celebration of the Gospel
of life, for they proclaim it by the total gift of self. They are the
radiant manifestation of the highest degree of love, which is to give one's life
for the person loved (cf. Jn 15:13). They are a sharing in the mystery of
the Cross, in which Jesus reveals the value of every person, and how life
attains its fullness in the sincere gift of self. Over and above such
outstanding moments, there is an everyday heroism, made up of gestures of
sharing, big or small, which build up an authentic culture of life. A
particularly praiseworthy example of such gestures is the donation of organs,
performed in an ethically acceptable manner, with a view to offering a chance of
health and even of life itself to the sick who sometimes have no other hope.
Part of this daily heroism is also the silent but effective and eloquent
witness of all those "brave mothers who devote themselves to their own family
without reserve, who suffer in giving birth to their children and who are ready
to make any effort, to face any sacrifice, in order to pass on to them the best
In living out their mission "these heroic women do not always find support in
the world around them. On the contrary, the cultural models frequently promoted
and broadcast by the media do not encourage motherhood. In the name of progress
and modernity the values of fidelity, chastity, sacrifice, to which a host of
Christian wives and mothers have borne and continue to bear outstanding witness,
are presented as obsolete ... We thank you, heroic mothers, for your invincible
love! We thank you for your intrepid trust in God and in his love. We thank you
for the sacrifice of your life ... In the Paschal Mystery, Christ restores to
you the gift you gave him. Indeed, he has the power to give you back the life
you gave him as an offering".112
"What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not
works?" (Jas 2:14): serving the Gospel of life
87. By virtue of our sharing in Christ's royal mission, our support and
promotion of human life must be accomplished through the service of charity,
which finds expression in personal witness, various forms of volunteer work,
social activity and political commitment. This is a particularly pressing
need at the present time, when the "culture of death" so forcefully opposes
the "culture of life" and often seems to have the upper hand. But even before
that it is a need which springs from "faith working through love" (Gal
5:6). As the Letter of James admonishes us: "What does it profit, my brethren,
if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him? If a
brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to
them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled', without giving them the things needed
for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is
In our service of charity, we must be inspired and distinguished by a
specific attitude: we must care for the other as a person for whom God has
made us responsible. As disciples of Jesus, we are called to become neighbours
to everyone (cf. Lk
10:29-37), and to show special favour to those who are poorest, most alone and
most in need. In helping the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the naked, the
sick, the imprisoned—as well as the child in the womb and the old person who is
suffering or near death—we have the opportunity to serve Jesus. He himself said:
"As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt
25:40). Hence we cannot but feel called to account and judged by the ever
relevant words of Saint John Chrysostom: "Do you wish to honour the body of
Christ? Do not neglect it when you find it naked. Do not do it homage here in
the church with silk fabrics only to neglect it outside where it suffers cold
Where life is involved, the service of charity must be profoundly
consistent. It cannot tolerate bias and discrimination, for human life is
sacred and inviolable at every stage and in every situation; it is an
indivisible good. We need then to "show care" for all life and for the life
of everyone. Indeed, at an even deeper level, we need to go to the very
roots of life and love.
It is this deep love for every man and woman which has given rise down the
centuries to an outstanding history of charity, a history which has
brought into being in the Church and society many forms of service to life which
evoke admiration from all unbiased observers. Every Christian community, with a
renewed sense of responsibility, must continue to write this history through
various kinds of pastoral and social activity. To this end, appropriate and
effective programmes of support for new life must be implemented, with
special closeness to mothers who, even without the help of the father, are not
afraid to bring their child into the world and to raise it. Similar care must be
shown for the life of the marginalized or suffering, especially in its final
88. All of this involves a patient and fearless work of education
aimed at encouraging one and all to bear each other's burdens (cf. Gal
6:2). It requires a continuous promotion of vocations to service,
particularly among the young. It involves the implementation of long-term
practical projects and initiatives inspired by the Gospel.
Many are the means towards this end which need to be developed
with skill and serious commitment. At the first stage of life, centres for
natural methods of regulating fertility should be promoted as a valuable
help to responsible parenthood, in which all individuals, and in the first place
the child, are recognized and respected in their own right, and where every
decision is guided by the ideal of the sincere gift of self. Marriage and
family counselling agencies by their specific work of guidance and
prevention, carried out in accordance with an anthropology consistent with the
Christian vision of the person, of the couple and of sexuality, also offer
valuable help in rediscovering the meaning of love and life, and in supporting
and accompanying every family in its mission as the "sanctuary of life". Newborn
life is also served by
centres of assistance and homes or centres where new life receives a welcome.
Thanks to the work of such centres, many unmarried mothers and couples in
difficulty discover new hope and find assistance and support in overcoming
hardship and the fear of accepting a newly conceived life or life which has just
come into the world.
When life is challenged by conditions of hardship, maladjustment, sickness or
rejection, other programmes—such as communities for treating drug addiction,
residential communities for minors or the mentally ill, care and relief centres
for AIDS patients, associations for solidarity especially towards the disabled—are
eloquent expressions of what charity is able to devise in order to give everyone
new reasons for hope and practical possibilities for life.
And when earthly existence draws to a close, it is again charity which finds
the most appropriate means for enabling the elderly, especially those who
can no longer look after themselves, and the terminally ill to enjoy
genuinely humane assistance and to receive an adequate response to their needs,
in particular their anxiety and their loneliness. In these cases the role of
families is indispensable; yet families can receive much help from social
welfare agencies and, if necessary, from recourse to palliative care,
taking advantage of suitable medical and social services available in public
institutions or in the home.
In particular, the role of hospitals, clinics and convalescent
homes needs to be reconsidered. These should not merely be institutions
where care is provided for the sick or the dying. Above all they should be
places where suffering, pain and death are acknowledged and understood in their
human and specifically Christian meaning. This must be especially evident and
effective in institutes staffed by Religious or in any way connected with the
89. Agencies and centres of service to life, and all other initiatives of
support and solidarity which circumstances may from time to time suggest, need
to be directed by people who are generous in their involvement and fully
aware of the importance of the Gospel of life for the good of
individuals and society.
A unique responsibility belongs to health-care personnel: doctors,
pharmacists, nurses, chaplains, men and women religious, administrators and
volunteers. Their profession calls for them to be guardians and servants of
human life. In today's cultural and social context, in which science and the
practice of medicine risk losing sight of their inherent ethical dimension,
health-care professionals can be strongly tempted at times to become
manipulators of life, or even agents of death. In the face of this temptation
their responsibility today is greatly increased. Its deepest inspiration and
strongest support lie in the intrinsic and undeniable ethical dimension of the
health-care profession, something already recognized by the ancient and still
relevant Hippocratic Oath, which requires every doctor to commit himself
to absolute respect for human life and its sacredness.
Absolute respect for every innocent human life also requires the exercise
of conscientious objection in relation to procured abortion and euthanasia.
"Causing death" can never be considered a form of medical treatment, even when
the intention is solely to comply with the patient's request. Rather, it runs
completely counter to the health- care profession, which is meant to be an
impassioned and unflinching affirmation of life. Bio- medical research too, a
field which promises great benefits for humanity, must always reject
experimentation, research or applications which disregard the inviolable dignity
of the human being, and thus cease to be at the service of people and become
instead means which, under the guise of helping people, actually harm them.
90. Volunteer workers have a specific role to play: they make a
valuable contribution to the service of life when they combine professional
ability and generous, selfless love. The Gospel of life inspires them to
lift their feelings of good will towards others to the heights of Christ's
charity; to renew every day, amid hard work and weariness, their awareness of
the dignity of every person; to search out people's needs and, when necessary,
to set out on new paths where needs are greater but care and support weaker.
If charity is to be realistic and effective, it demands that the Gospel of
life be implemented also by means of certain forms of social activity and
commitment in the political field, as a way of defending and promoting the
value of life in our ever more complex and pluralistic societies.
Individuals, families, groups and associations,
albeit for different reasons and in different ways, all have a
responsibility for shaping society and developing cultural, economic, political
and legislative projects which, with respect for all and in keeping with
democratic principles, will contribute to the building of a society in which the
dignity of each person is recognized and protected and the lives of all are
defended and enhanced.
This task is the particular responsibility of civil leaders. Called to
serve the people and the common good, they have a duty to make courageous
choices in support of life, especially through legislative measures. In a
democratic system, where laws and decisions are made on the basis of the
consensus of many, the sense of personal responsibility in the consciences of
individuals invested with authority may be weakened. But no one can ever
renounce this responsibility, especially when he or she has a legislative or
decision-making mandate, which calls that person to answer to God, to his or her
own conscience and to the whole of society for choices which may be contrary to
the common good. Although laws are not the only means of protecting human life,
nevertheless they do play a very important and sometimes decisive role in
influencing patterns of thought and behaviour. I repeat once more that a law
which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as
such, is not valid as a law. For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all
political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the
person, undermine the very fabric of society.
The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal
defence of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong
cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral
truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the
Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not
to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is
realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in
the defence and promotion of the value of life. Here it must be noted that it is
not enough to remove unjust laws. The underlying causes of attacks on life have
to be eliminated, especially by ensuring proper support for families and
motherhood. A family policy must be the basis and driving force of all social
policies. For this reason there need to be set in place social and political
initiatives capable of guaranteeing conditions of true freedom of choice in
matters of parenthood. It is also necessary to rethink labour, urban,
residential and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules
with time available for the family, so that it becomes effectively possible to
take care of children and the elderly.
91. Today an important part of policies which favour life is the issue of
population growth. Certainly public authorities have a responsibility to
"intervene to orient the demography of the population".114
But such interventions must always take into account and respect the primary and
inalienable responsibility of married couples and families, and cannot employ
methods which fail to respect the person and fundamental human rights, beginning
with the right to life of every innocent human being. It is therefore morally
unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as
contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births. The ways
of solving the population problem are quite different. Governments and the
various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social,
public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make
their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility.
They must then make efforts to ensure "greater opportunities and a fairer
distribution of wealth so that everyone can share equitably in the goods of
creation. Solutions must be sought on the global level by establishing a true
economy of communion and sharing of goods, in both the national and
international order".115 This is the only way to respect
the dignity of persons and families, as well as the authentic cultural patrimony
Service of the Gospel of life is thus an immense and complex task.
This service increasingly appears as a valuable and fruitful area for positive
cooperation with our brothers and sisters of other Churches and ecclesial
communities, in accordance with the practical ecumenism which the Second
Vatican Council authoritatively encouraged.116 It also
appears as a providential area for dialogue and joint efforts with the followers
of other religions and with all people of good will. No single person or
group has a monopoly on the defence and promotion of life. These are everyone's
task and responsibility. On the eve of the Third Millennium, the challenge
facing us is an arduous one: only the concerted efforts of all those who believe
in the value of life can prevent a setback of unforeseeable consequences for
"Your children will be like olive shoots around your table" (Ps
128:3): the family as the "sanctuary of life"
92. Within the "people of life and the people for life", the family has a
decisive responsibility. This responsibility flows from its very nature as a
community of life and love, founded upon marriage, and from its mission to
"guard, reveal and communicate love".117 Here it is a
matter of God's own love, of which parents are co-workers and as it were
interpreters when they transmit life and raise it according to his fatherly
plan.118 This is the love that becomes selflessness,
receptiveness and gift. Within the family each member is accepted, respected and
honoured precisely because he or she is a person; and if any family member is in
greater need, the care which he or she receives is all the more intense and
The family has a special role to play throughout the life of its members,
from birth to death. It is truly "the sanctuary of life: the place in
which life–the gift of God–can be properly welcomed and protected against the
many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what
constitutes authentic human growth".119 Consequently the
role of the family in building a culture of life is decisive and
As the domestic church, the family is summoned to proclaim, celebrate
and serve the Gospel of life. This is a responsibility which first
concerns married couples, called to be givers of life, on the basis of an ever
greater awareness of the meaning of procreation as a unique event which
clearly reveals that human life is a gift received in order then to be given
as a gift. In giving origin to a new life, parents recognize that the child,
"as the fruit of their mutual gift of love, is, in turn, a gift for both of
them, a gift which flows from them".120
It is above all in raising children that the family fulfils its
mission to proclaim the Gospel of life. By word and example, in the daily
round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs, parents
lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of
self, and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial
openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which
help people to live life as a gift. In raising children Christian parents must
be concerned about their children's faith and help them to fulfil the vocation
God has given them. The parents' mission as educators also includes teaching and
giving their children an example of the true meaning of suffering and death.
They will be able to do this if they are sensitive to all kinds of suffering
around them and, even more, if they succeed in fostering attitudes of closeness,
assistance and sharing towards sick or elderly members of the family.
93. The family celebrates the Gospel of life through daily prayer,
both individual prayer and family prayer. The family prays in order to glorify
and give thanks to God for the gift of life, and implores his light and strength
in order to face times of difficulty and suffering without losing hope. But the
celebration which gives meaning to every other form of prayer and worship is
found in the family's actual daily life together, if it is a life of love
This celebration thus becomes a service to the Gospel of life,
solidarity as experienced within and around the family in the form of
concerned, attentive and loving care shown in the humble, ordinary events of
each day. A particularly significant expression of solidarity between families
is a willingness to adopt or take in children abandoned by their
parents or in situations of serious hardship. True parental love is ready to go
beyond the bonds of flesh and blood in order to accept children from other
families, offering them whatever is necessary for their well-being and full
development. Among the various forms of adoption, consideration should be given
adoption-at-a-distance, preferable in cases where the only reason for giving
up the child is the extreme poverty of the child's family. Through this type of
adoption, parents are given the help needed to support and raise their children,
without their being uprooted from their natural environment.
As "a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common
good",121 solidarity also needs to be practised through
participation in social and political life. Serving the Gospel of life
thus means that the family, particularly through its membership of family
associations, works to ensure that the laws and institutions of the State in no
way violate the right to life, from conception to natural death, but rather
protect and promote it.
94. Special attention must be given to the elderly. While in some
cultures older people remain a part of the family with an important and active
role, in others the elderly are regarded as a useless burden and are left to
themselves. Here the temptation to resort to euthanasia can more easily arise.
Neglect of the elderly or their outright rejection are intolerable. Their
presence in the family, or at least their closeness to the family in cases where
limited living space or other reasons make this impossible, is of fundamental
importance in creating a climate of mutual interaction and enriching
communication between the different age-groups. It is therefore important to
preserve, or to re-establish where it has been lost, a sort of "covenant"
between generations. In this way parents, in their later years, can receive from
their children the acceptance and solidarity which they themselves gave to their
children when they brought them into the world. This is required by obedience to
the divine commandment to honour one's father and mother (cf. Ex 20:12;
Lev 19:3). But there is more. The elderly are not only to be considered the
object of our concern, closeness and service. They themselves have a valuable
contribution to make to the Gospel of life. Thanks to the rich treasury
of experiences they have acquired through the years, the elderly can and must
be sources of wisdom and witnesses of hope and love.
Although it is true that "the future of humanity passes by way of the
family",122 it must be admitted that modern social,
economic and cultural conditions make the family's task of serving life more
difficult and demanding. In order to fulfil its vocation as the "sanctuary of
life", as the cell of a society which loves and welcomes life, the family
urgently needs to be helped and supported. Communities and States must
guarantee all the support, including economic support, which families need in
order to meet their problems in a truly human way. For her part, the Church must
untiringly promote a plan of pastoral care for families, capable of making every
family rediscover and live with joy and courage its mission to further the
Gospel of life.
"Walk as children of light" (Eph 5:8): bringing about a
transformation of culture
95. "Walk as children of light ... and try to learn what is pleasing to the
Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness" (Eph 5:8, 10-11).
In our present social context, marked by a dramatic struggle between the
"culture of life" and the "culture of death", there is need to develop a deep
critical sense, capable of discerning true values and authentic needs.
What is urgently called for is a general mobilization of consciences
and a united ethical effort to activate a great campaign in support of
life. All together, we must build a new culture of life: new, because it
will be able to confront and solve today's unprecedented problems affecting
human life; new, because it will be adopted with deeper and more dynamic
conviction by all Christians; new, because it will be capable of bringing about
a serious and courageous cultural dialogue among all parties. While the urgent
need for such a cultural transformation is linked to the present historical
situation, it is also rooted in the Church's mission of evangelization. The
purpose of the Gospel, in fact, is "to transform humanity from within and to
make it new".123 Like the yeast which leavens the whole
measure of dough (cf. Mt
13:33), the Gospel is meant to permeate all cultures and give them life from
within,124 so that they may express the full truth about
the human person and about human life.
We need to begin with the renewal of a culture of life within Christian
communities themselves. Too often it happens that believers, even those who
take an active part in the life of the Church, end up by separating their
Christian faith from its ethical requirements concerning life, and thus fall
into moral subjectivism and certain objectionable ways of acting. With great
openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life
today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities in our
Dioceses. With equal clarity and determination we must identify the steps we are
called to take in order to serve life in all its truth. At the same time, we
need to promote a serious and in-depth exchange about basic issues of human life
with everyone, including non-believers, in intellectual circles, in the various
professional spheres and at the level of people's everyday life.
96. The first and fundamental step towards this cultural transformation
consists in forming consciences with regard to the incomparable and
inviolable worth of every human life. It is of the greatest importance to
re-establish the essential connection between life and freedom. These are
inseparable goods: where one is violated, the other also ends up being violated.
There is no true freedom where life is not welcomed and loved; and there is no
fullness of life except in freedom. Both realities have something inherent and
specific which links them inextricably: the vocation to love. Love, as a sincere
gift of self,125 is what gives the life and freedom of
the person their truest meaning.
No less critical in the formation of conscience is the recovery of the
necessary link between freedom and truth. As I have frequently stated, when
freedom is detached from objective truth it becomes impossible to establish
personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to
be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive
totalitarianism of public authority.126
It is therefore essential that man should acknowledge his inherent condition
as a creature to whom God has granted being and life as a gift and a duty. Only
by admitting his innate dependence can man live and use his freedom to the full,
and at the same time respect the life and freedom of every other person. Here
especially one sees that "at the heart of every culture lies the attitude man
takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God".127
Where God is denied and people live as though he did not exist, or his
commandments are not taken into account, the dignity of the human person and the
inviolability of human life also end up being rejected or compromised.
97. Closely connected with the formation of conscience is the work of
education, which helps individuals to be ever more human, leads them ever
more fully to the truth, instils in them growing respect for life, and trains
them in right interpersonal relationships.
In particular, there is a need for education about the value of life from
its very origins. It is an illusion to think that we can build a true
culture of human life if we do not help the young to accept and experience
sexuality and love and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in
their close interconnection. Sexuality, which enriches the whole person,
"manifests its inmost meaning in leading the person to the gift of self in
love".128 The trivialization of sexuality is among the
principal factors which have led to contempt for new life. Only a true love is
able to protect life. There can be no avoiding the duty to offer, especially to
adolescents and young adults, an authentic education in sexuality and in
love, an education which involves training in chastity as a virtue
which fosters personal maturity and makes one capable of respecting the
"spousal" meaning of the body.
The work of educating in the service of life involves the training of
married couples in responsible procreation. In its true meaning, responsible
procreation requires couples to be obedient to the Lord's call and to act as
faithful interpreters of his plan. This happens when the family is generously
open to new lives, and when couples maintain an attitude of openness and service
to life, even if, for serious reasons and in respect for the moral law, they
choose to avoid a new birth for the time being or indefinitely. The moral law
obliges them in every case to control the impulse of instinct and passion, and
to respect the biological laws inscribed in their person. It is precisely this
respect which makes legitimate, at the service of responsible procreation, the
use of natural methods of regulating fertility. From the scientific point of
view, these methods are becoming more and more accurate and make it possible in
practice to make choices in harmony with moral values. An honest appraisal of
their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely
held, and should convince married couples, as well as health-care and social
workers, of the importance of proper training in this area. The Church is
grateful to those who, with personal sacrifice and often unacknowledged
dedication, devote themselves to the study and spread of these methods, as well
to the promotion of education in the moral values which they presuppose.
The work of education cannot avoid a consideration of suffering and death.
These are a part of human existence, and it is futile, not to say misleading, to
try to hide them or ignore them. On the contrary, people must be helped to
understand their profound mystery in all its harsh reality. Even pain and
suffering have meaning and value when they are experienced in close connection
with love received and given. In this regard, I have called for the yearly
celebration of the World Day of the Sick, emphasizing "the salvific
nature of the offering up of suffering which, experienced in communion with
Christ, belongs to the very essence of the Redemption".129
Death itself is anything but an event without hope. It is the door which opens
wide on eternity and, for those who live in Christ, an experience of
participation in the mystery of his Death and Resurrection.
98. In a word, we can say that the cultural change which we are calling for
demands from everyone the courage to adopt a new life-style, consisting
in making practical choices—at the personal, family, social and international
level—on the basis of a correct scale of values: the primacy of being over
of the person over things.131 This renewed
life-style involves a passing from indifference to concern for others, from
rejection to acceptance of them. Other people are not rivals from whom we
must defend ourselves, but brothers and sisters to be supported. They are to be
loved for their own sakes, and they enrich us by their very presence.
In this mobilization for a new culture of life no one must feel excluded:
everyone has an important role to play. Together with the family,
teachers and educators
have a particularly valuable contribution to make. Much will depend on them
if young people, trained in true freedom, are to be able to preserve for
themselves and make known to others new, authentic ideals of life, and if they
are to grow in respect for and service to every other person, in the family and
Intellectuals can also do much to build a new culture of human life. A
special task falls to Catholic intellectuals, who are called to be
present and active in the leading centres where culture is formed, in schools
and universities, in places of scientific and technological research, of
artistic creativity and of the study of man. Allowing their talents and activity
to be nourished by the living force of the Gospel, they ought to place
themselves at the service of a new culture of life by offering serious and well
documented contributions, capable of commanding general respect and interest by
reason of their merit. It was precisely for this purpose that I established the
Pontifical Academy for Life, assigning it the task of "studying and
providing information and training about the principal problems of law and
biomedicine pertaining to the promotion of life, especially in the direct
relationship they have with Christian morality and the directives of the
Church's Magisterium".132 A specific contribution will
also have to come from Universities, particularly from Catholic
Universities, and from Centres, Institutes and Committees of Bioethics.
An important and serious responsibility belongs to those involved in the
who are called to ensure that the messages which they so effectively
transmit will support the culture of life. They need to present noble models of
life and make room for instances of people's positive and sometimes heroic love
for others. With great respect they should also present the positive values of
sexuality and human love, and not insist on what defiles and cheapens human
dignity. In their interpretation of things, they should refrain from emphasizing
anything that suggests or fosters feelings or attitudes of indifference,
contempt or rejection in relation to life. With scrupulous concern for factual
truth, they are called to combine freedom of information with respect for every
person and a profound sense of humanity.
99. In transforming culture so that it supports life, women occupy a
place, in thought and action, which is unique and decisive. It depends on them
to promote a "new feminism" which rejects the temptation of imitating models of
"male domination", in order to acknowledge and affirm the true genius of women
in every aspect of the life of society, and overcome all discrimination,
violence and exploitation.
Making my own the words of the concluding message of the Second Vatican
Council, I address to women this urgent appeal: "Reconcile people with life".133
You are called to bear witness to the meaning of genuine love, of that
gift of self and of that acceptance of others which are present in a special way
in the relationship of husband and wife, but which ought also to be at the heart
of every other interpersonal relationship. The experience of motherhood makes
you acutely aware of the other person and, at the same time, confers on you a
particular task: "Motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of
life, as it develops in the woman's womb ... This unique contact with the new
human being developing within her gives rise to an attitude towards human beings
not only towards her own child, but every human being, which profoundly marks
the woman's personality".134 A mother welcomes and
carries in herself another human being, enabling it to grow inside her, giving
it room, respecting it in its otherness. Women first learn and then teach others
that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other
person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes
from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness,
strength, intelligence, beauty or health. This is the fundamental contribution
which the Church and humanity expect from women. And it is the indispensable
prerequisite for an authentic cultural change.
I would now like to say a special word to women who have had an abortion.
The Church is aware of the many factors which may have influenced your decision,
and she does not doubt that in many cases it was a painful and even shattering
decision. The wound in your heart may not yet have healed. Certainly what
happened was and remains terribly wrong. But do not give in to discouragement
and do not lose hope. Try rather to understand what happened and face it
honestly. If you have not already done so, give yourselves over with humility
and trust to repentance. The Father of mercies is ready to give you his
forgiveness and his peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. To the same Father
and to his mercy you can with sure hope entrust your child. With the friendly
and expert help and advice of other people, and as a result of your own painful
experience, you can be among the most eloquent defenders of everyone's right to
life. Through your commitment to life, whether by accepting the birth of other
children or by welcoming and caring for those most in need of someone to be
close to them, you will become promoters of a new way of looking at human life.
100. In this great endeavour to create a new culture of life we are
inspired and sustained by the confidence that comes from knowing that the
Gospel of life, like the Kingdom of God itself, is growing and producing
abundant fruit (cf. Mk 4:26-29). There is certainly an enormous disparity
between the powerful resources available to the forces promoting the "culture of
death" and the means at the disposal of those working for a "culture of life and
love". But we know that we can rely on the help of God, for whom nothing is
impossible (cf. Mt 19:26).
Filled with this certainty, and moved by profound concern for the destiny of
every man and woman, I repeat what I said to those families who carry out their
challenging mission amid so many difficulties: 135 a
great prayer for life is urgently needed, a prayer which will rise up
throughout the world. Through special initiatives and in daily prayer, may an
impassioned plea rise to God, the Creator and lover of life, from every
Christian community, from every group and association, from every family and
from the heart of every believer. Jesus himself has shown us by his own example
that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the
forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As he taught his disciples, some demons
cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29). Let us therefore
discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power
from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit: the walls which
conceal from the sight of so many of our brothers and sisters the evil of
practices and laws which are hostile to life. May this same power turn their
hearts to resolutions and goals inspired by the civilization of life and love.
"We are writing this that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn 1:4):
the Gospel of life is for the whole of human society
101. "We are writing you this that our joy may be complete" (1 Jn
1:4). The revelation of the Gospel of life is given to us as a good to be
shared with all people: so that all men and women may have fellowship with us
and with the Trinity (cf. 1
Jn 1:3). Our own joy would not be complete if we failed to share this Gospel
with others but kept it only for ourselves.
The Gospel of life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone.
The issue of life and its defence and promotion is not a concern of Christians
alone. Although faith provides special light and strength, this question arises
in every human conscience which seeks the truth and which cares about the future
of humanity. Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is
that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every
human being can grasp by the light of reason; thus it necessarily concerns
Consequently, all that we do as the "people of life and for life" should be
interpreted correctly and welcomed with favour. When the Church declares that
unconditional respect for the right to life of every innocent person—from
conception to natural death—is one of the pillars on which every civil society
stands, she "wants simply to promote a human State. A State which
recognizes the defence of the fundamental rights of the human person, especially
of the weakest, as its primary duty".136
The Gospel of life is for the whole of human society. To be actively
pro-life is to contribute to the renewal of society through the promotion
of the common good. It is impossible to further the common good without
acknowledging and defending the right to life, upon which all the other
inalienable rights of individuals are founded and from which they develop. A
society lacks solid foundations when, on the one hand, it asserts values such as
the dignity of the person, justice and peace, but then, on the other hand,
radically acts to the contrary by allowing or tolerating a variety of ways in
which human life is devalued and violated, especially where it is weak or
marginalized. Only respect for life can be the foundation and guarantee of the
most precious and essential goods of society, such as democracy and peace.
There can be no true democracy without a recognition of every person's
dignity and without respect for his or her rights.
Nor can there be true peace unless life is defended and promoted.
As Paul VI pointed out: "Every crime against life is an attack on peace,
especially if it strikes at the moral conduct of people... But where human
rights are truly professed and publicly recognized and defended, peace becomes
the joyful and operative climate of life in society".137
The "people of life" rejoices in being able to share its commitment with so
many others. Thus may the "people for life" constantly grow in number and may a
new culture of love and solidarity develop for the true good of the whole of
102. At the end of this Encyclical, we naturally look again to the Lord
Jesus, "the Child born for us" (cf. Is 9:6), that in him we may
contemplate "the Life" which "was made manifest" (1 Jn 1:2). In the
mystery of Christ's Birth the encounter of God with man takes place and the
earthly journey of the Son of God begins, a journey which will culminate in the
gift of his life on the Cross. By his death Christ will conquer death and become
for all humanity the source of new life.
The one who accepted "Life" in the name of all and for the sake of all was
Mary, the Virgin Mother; she is thus most closely and personally associated with
the Gospel of life. Mary's consent at the Annunciation and her motherhood
stand at the very beginning of the mystery of life which Christ came to bestow
on humanity (cf. Jn 10:10). Through her acceptance and loving care for
the life of the Incarnate Word, human life has been rescued from condemnation to
final and eternal death.
For this reason, Mary, "like the Church of which she is the type, is a mother
of all who are reborn to life. She is in fact the mother of the Life by which
everyone lives, and when she brought it forth from herself she in some way
brought to rebirth all those who were to live by that Life".138
As the Church contemplates Mary's motherhood, she discovers the meaning of
her own motherhood and the way in which she is called to express it. At the same
time, the Church's experience of motherhood leads to a most profound
understanding of Mary's experience as the incomparable model of how life
should be welcomed and cared for.
"A great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun" (Rev
12:1): the motherhood of Mary and of the Church
103. The mutual relationship between the mystery of the Church and Mary
appears clearly in the "great portent" described in the Book of Rev- elation: "A
great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon
under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (12:1). In this sign
the Church recognizes an image of her own mystery: present in history, she knows
that she transcends history, inasmuch as she constitutes on earth the "seed and
beginning" of the Kingdom of God.139 The Church sees this
mystery fulfilled in complete and exemplary fashion in Mary. She is the woman of
glory in whom God's plan could be carried out with supreme perfection.
The "woman clothed with the sun"—the Book of Revelation tells us—"was with
child" (12:2). The Church is fully aware that she bears within herself the
Saviour of the world, Christ the Lord. She is aware that she is called to offer
Christ to the world, giving men and women new birth into God's own life. But the
Church cannot forget that her mission was made possible by the motherhood of
Mary, who conceived and bore the One who is "God from God", "true God from true
God". Mary is truly the Mother of God, the Theotokos, in whose motherhood
the vocation to motherhood bestowed by God on every woman is raised to its
highest level. Thus Mary becomes the model of the Church, called to be the "new
Eve", the mother of believers, the mother of the "living" (cf. Gen 3:20).
The Church's spiritual motherhood is only achieved—the Church knows this
too—through the pangs and "the labour" of childbirth (cf. Rev 12:2), that
is to say, in constant tension with the forces of evil which still roam the
world and affect human hearts, offering resistance to Christ: "In him was life,
and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the
darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:4-5).
Like the Church, Mary too had to live her motherhood amid suffering: "This
child is set ... for a sign that is spoken against—and a sword will pierce
through your own soul also—that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed" (Lk
2:34-35). The words which Simeon addresses to Mary at the very beginning of the
Saviour's earthly life sum up and prefigure the rejection of Jesus, and with him
of Mary, a rejection which will reach its culmination on Calvary. "Standing by
the cross of Jesus" (Jn
19:25), Mary shares in the gift which the Son makes of himself: she offers
Jesus, gives him over, and begets him to the end for our sake. The "yes" spoken
on the day of the Annunciation reaches full maturity on the day of the Cross,
when the time comes for Mary to receive and beget as her children all those who
become disciples, pouring out upon them the saving love of her Son: "When Jesus
saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his
mother, 'Woman, behold, your son!' " (Jn 19:26).
"And the dragon stood before the woman ... that he might devour her child
when she brought it forth" (Rev 12:4): life menaced by the forces
104. In the Book of Revelation, the "great portent" of the "woman" (12:1) is
accompanied by "another portent which appeared in heaven": "a great red dragon"
(Rev 12:3), which represents Satan, the personal power of evil, as well
as all the powers of evil at work in history and opposing the Church's mission.
Here too Mary sheds light on the Community of Believers. The hostility of the
powers of evil is, in fact, an insidious opposition which, before affecting the
disciples of Jesus, is directed against his mother. To save the life of her Son
from those who fear him as a dangerous threat, Mary has to flee with Joseph and
the Child into Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-15).
Mary thus helps the Church to realize that life is always at the centre of
a great struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness. The
dragon wishes to devour "the child brought forth" (cf. Rev 12:4), a
figure of Christ, whom Mary brought forth "in the fullness of time" (Gal
4:4) and whom the Church must unceasingly offer to people in every age. But in a
way that child is also a figure of every person, every child, especially every
helpless baby whose life is threatened, because—as the Council reminds us—"by
his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every
It is precisely in the "flesh" of every person that Christ continues to reveal
himself and to enter into fellowship with us, so that rejection of human
life, in whatever form that rejection takes, is really a rejection of
Christ. This is the fascinating but also demanding truth which Christ
reveals to us and which his Church continues untiringly to proclaim: "Whoever
receives one such child in my name receives me" (Mt 18:5); "Truly, I say
to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to
me" (Mt 25:40).
"Death shall be no more" (Rev 21:4): the splendour of the
105. The angel's Annunciation to Mary is framed by these reassuring words:
"Do not be afraid, Mary" and "with God nothing will be impossible" (Lk
1:30, 37). The whole of the Virgin Mother's life is in fact pervaded by the
certainty that God is near to her and that he accompanies her with his
providential care. The same is true of the Church, which finds "a place prepared
by God" (Rev 12:6) in the desert, the place of trial but also of the
manifestation of God's love for his people (cf.
Hos 2:16). Mary is a living word of comfort for the Church in her
struggle against death. Showing us the Son, the Church assures us that in him
the forces of death have already been defeated: "Death with life contended:
combat strangely ended! Life's own Champion, slain, yet lives to reign".141
The Lamb who was slain is alive, bearing the marks of his Passion in the
splendour of the Resurrection. He alone is master of all the events of history:
he opens its "seals" (cf. Rev 5:1-10) and proclaims, in time and beyond,
the power of life over death. In the "new Jerusalem", that new world towards
which human history is travelling, "death shall be no more, neither shall
there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have
passed away" (Rev
And as we, the pilgrim people, the people of life and for life, make our way
in confidence towards "a new heaven and a new earth" (Rev 21:1), we look
to her who is for us "a sign of sure hope and solace".142
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers
of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women
who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.
Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.
Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter's, on 25 March, the Solemnity of the
Annunciation of the Lord, in the year 1995, the seventeenth of my Pontificate.
- The expression Gospel of life is not found as
such in Sacred Scripture. But it does correspond to an essential dimension
of the biblical message.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor
Hominis (4 March1979), 10: AAS 71 (1979), 275.
- Cf. ibid., 14.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
- Cf. Letter to all my Brothers in the Episcopate
regarding the "Gospel of Life" (19 May 1991): Insegnamenti XIV, 1
- Ibid., loc. cit., p. 1294.
- Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane (2 February
19.94), 4: AAS 86 (1994) 871.
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus
(1 May 1991), 39 AAS 83 (1991), 842.
- No. 2259.
- Cf. SAINT AMBROSE, De Noe, 26:94-96: CSEL 32,
- Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1867 and
- De Cain et Abel, II, 10, 38: CSEL, 32, 408.
- Cf. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae: AAS 80 (1988), 70-102.
- Address during the Prayer Vigil for the Eighth World
Youth Day, Denver, 14 August 1993, II, 3: AAS 86 (1994), 419.
- JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Participants at the
Study Conference on "The Right to Life and Europe", 18 December 1987:
Insegnamenti, X, 3 (1987), 1446-1447.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 36.
- Cf. ibid., 16.
- Cf. SAINT GREGORY THE GREAT, Moralia in Job,
13, 23: CCL 143A,683.
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis
(4 March 1979) 10: AAS 71 (1979), 274.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
- Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei
- "Gloria Dei vivens homo": Adversus Haereses,
IV, 20, 7: SCh100/2, 648-649.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 12.
- Confessions, I, 1: CCL 27, 1.
- Exameron, VI, 75-76: CSEL 32, 260-261.
- "Vita autem hominis visio Dei": Adversus Haereses,
IV, 20, 7: SCh 100/2, 648- 649.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 840-841.
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei
(30December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 560.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
- Letter to Families Gratissimam Sane(2 February
1994), 9 AAS86 (1994), 878; cf. PIUS XII, Encyclical Letter Humani
Generis (12August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 574.
- "Animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides
nos retinereiubet": PIUS XII, Encyclical Letter Humani Generis (12
August1950): AAS 42 (1950), 575.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50;
cf. JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio
(22November 1981), 28: AAS 74 (1982), 114.
- Homilies, II, 1; CCSG 3, 39.
- See, for example, Psalms 22:10-11; 71:6; 139: 14.
- Expositio Evangelii Secundum Lucam, II, 22-23:
CCL, 14, 40-41.
- SAINT IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, Letter to the Ephesians,
7, 2:Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk, II, 82.
- De Hominis Opificio, 4: PG 44, 136.
- Cf. SAINT JOHN DAMASCENE, De Fide Orthodoxa,
2, 12: PG 94,920.922, quoted in SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae,
- PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25
July 1968), 13:AAS 60 (1968), 489.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), Introduction, No. 5: AAS
80 (1988), 76-77; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2258.
- Didache, I, 1; II, 1-2; V, 1 and 3: Patres
Apostolici, ed.F.X. Funk, I, 2-3, 6-9, 14-17; cf. Letter of Pseudo-Barnabas,
XIX, 5: loc. cit., 90-93.
- Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2263-2269;
cf. also Catechism of the Council of Trent III, #327-332.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2265.
- Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae,
II-II, q. 64, a. 7; SAINT ALPHONSUS DE LIGUORI, Theologia Moralis, 1.
III, tr. 4, c. 1,dub. 3.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2266.
- Cf. ibid.
- No. 2267.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 12.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor
(6 August1993), 96: AAS 85 (1993), 1209.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
et Spes, 51: "Abortus necnon infanticidium nefanda sunt crimina".
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
(15August 1988), 14: AAS 80 (1988), 1686.
- NO 21: AAS 86 (1994), 92.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), NOS. 12-13: AAS 66
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), I, No. 1: AAS 80 (1988),
- Ibid., loc. cit., 79.
- Hence the Prophet Jeremiah: "The word of the Lord
came to me saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before
you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations"'
(1:4-5). The Psalmist, for his part, addresses the Lord in these words:
"Upon you I have leaned from my birth; you are he who took me from my
mother's womb" (Ps 71:6; cf. Is 46:3; Job 10:8-12; Ps 22:10-11). So too the
Evangelist Luke in the magnificent episode of the meeting of the two
mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, and their two sons, John the Baptist and Jesus,
still hidden in their mothers' wombs (cf. 1:39-45) emphasizes how even
before their birth the two little ones are able to communicate: the child
recognizes the coming of the Child and leaps for joy.
- Cf. Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November
1974), No. 7: AAS 66 (1974), 740-747.
- "You shall not kill a child by abortion nor shall you
kill it once it is born": V, 2: Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X.
Funk, I, 17.
- Apologia on behalf of the Christians, 35: PG 6,
- Apologeticum, IX, 8: CSEL 69, 24.
- Cf. Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31
December 1930), 1:AAS 22 (1930), 562-592.
- Address to the Biomedical Association "San Luca" (12
November1944): Discorsi e Radiomessaggi, VI (1944-1945), 191; cf.
Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives (29 October 1951), No. 2:
AAS 43 (1951), 838.
- Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (15 May
1961), 3: AAS 53(1961), 447.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 51.
- Canon 2350,1.
- Cole of Canon Law, canon 1398; cf. Code of Canons of
the Eastern Churches, canon 1450,2.
- Cf. ibid., Canon 1329; also Code of Canons of the
Eastern Churches, canon 1417.
- Cf. Address to the National Congress of Italian
Jurists (9December 1972): AAS 64 (1972), 777; Encyclical Letter Humanae
Vitae (25 July 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987) I, 3: AAS 80 (1988), 80.
- Charter of the Rights of the Family (22 October
1983), article 4b: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1983.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72
- Ibid., IV: loc cit., 551.
- Cf. ibid.
- PIUS XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians (24February 1957), III: AAS 49 (1957), 147; cf. CONGREGATION FOR
THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona,
III: AAS 72 (1980), 547-548.
- Pius XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians (24February 1957), III: AAS 49 (1957), 145.
- Cf. Pius XII, Address to an International Group of
Physicians, (24February 1957): loc. cit., 129-147; CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY
OFFICE, Decretum de directa insontium occisione (2 December 1940):
AAS 32 (1940), 553-554; PAUL VI, Message to French Television: "Every life
is sacred" (27 January 1971): Insegnamenti
IX (1971)57-58; Address to the International College of Surgeons (1 June
1972)AAS 64 (1972), 432-436; SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
- Cf. SAINT AUGUSTINE, De Civitate Dei I, 20:
CCL 47, 22; SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 6, a.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration On Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), I: AAS 72
(1980), 545;Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2281-2283.
- Ep. 204, 5: CSEL 57, 320.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 18.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris
(11February 1984), 14-24: AAS 76 (1984), 214-234.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May1991), 46: AAS 83 (1991), 850; Pius XII, Christmas Radio
Message (24 December 1944): AAS 37 (1945) 10-20.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6 August1993), 97 and 99: AAS 85 (1993), 1209-1211.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Instruction on Respect for Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of
Procreation Donum Vitae (22 February 1987), III: AAS 80 (1988), 98.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on
Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
- Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae
I-II, q. 96, a. 2.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on
Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
- Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April
1963), II; AAS 55(1963), 273-274. The internal quote is from Pius XII, Radio
Message of Pentecost 1941 (1 June 1941): AAS 33 (1941), 200. On this topic,
the Encyclical cites: Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Mit Brennender Sorge
(14 March 1937): AAS 29 (1937), 159; Encyclical Letter Divini
Redemptoris (19 March 1937), III: AAS 29 (1937), 79; Pius XII,
Christmas Radio Message (24 December 1942): AAS 35 (1943),9-24.
- Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April
1963), II: loc. cit., 271.
- Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad 2um.
- Ibid., 1-11, q. 95, a. 2. Aquinas quotes SAINT
AUGUSTINE: "Nonvidetur esse lex, quae iusta non fuerit", De Libero
Arbitrio, I, 5,11: PL 32. 1227.
- CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH,
Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22: AAS 66 (1974),
- Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1755-1755;
JOHN PAULII, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993),
81-82:AAS 85 (1993), 1198-1199.
- In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 41, 10: CCL
36, 363; cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6
August 1993),13: AAS 85 (1993) 1144.
- Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8
December 1975),14: AAS 68 (1976), 13.
- Cf. Roman Missal, prayer of the celebrant before
- Cf. SAINT IRENAEUS: "Omnem novitatem attulit,
semetipsumafferens, qui fuerat annuntiatus", Adversus Haereses: IV,
34, 1:SCh 100/2, 846-847.
- Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Peccator inveterascit,
recedens anovitate Christi", In Psalmos Davidis Lectura: 6, 5.
- De Beatitudinibus, Oratio VII: PG 44, 1280.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis
Splendor (6August 1993), 116: AAS 85 (1993), 1224.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.
- Cf. Message for Christmas 1967: AAS 60 (1968), 40.
- PSEUDO-DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE, On the Divine
Names, 6, 1-3:PG 3, 856-857.
- PAUL VI, Pensiero alla Morte, Istituto Paolo
VI, Brescia 1988,24.
- JOHN PAUL II, Homily for the Beatification of
Isidore Bakanja,Elisabetta Canori Mora and Gianna Beretta Molla (24 April
1994):L'Osservatore Romano, 25-26 April 1994, 5.
- In Matthaeum, Hom. L. 3: PG 58, 508.
- Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2372.
- JOHN PAUL II, Address to the Fourth General
Conference of Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo (12 October 1992 ),
No. 15: AAS85 (1993), 819.
- Cf. Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio,
12; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
- JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 17: AAS 74 (1982), 100.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution onthe Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus
(1 May 1991),39 AAS 83 (1991), 842.
- JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants in the Seventh
Symposium of European Bishops, on the theme of "Contemporary Attitudes
towards Life and Death: a Challenge for Evangelization" (17 October 1989),
No. 5: Insegnamenti XII, 2 (1989), 945. Children are presented in the
Biblical tradition precisely as God's gift (cf. Ps 127:3) and as a sign of
his blessing on those who walk in his ways (cf. Ps 1283-4).
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei
(30December 1987), 38: AAS 80 (1988), 565-566.
- JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 86: AAS 74 (1982), 188.
- PAUL VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii
Nuntiandi (8 December1975), 18: AAS 68 (1976), 17.
- Cf. ibid., 20: loc. cit, 18.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 24.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus
Annus (1 May1991), 17: AAS 83 (1991), 814; Encyclical Letter
Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 95-101: AAS 85 (1993), 1208-1213.
- JOHN PAUL II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus
(1 May 1991), 24: AAS 83 (1991), 822.
- JOHN PAUL II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation
Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 37 AAS 74 (1982), 128.
- Letter establishing the World Day of the Sick (13
May 1992) No. 2 Insegnamenti
XV, 1 (1992), 1410.
- Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral
Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 35;
PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio (26 March 1967), 15:
AAS 59 (1967), 265.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Letter to Families Gratissimam
Sane (2February 1994), 13: AAS 86 (1994), 892.
- JOHN PAUL II, motu proprio Vitae Mysterium
(11 February 1994), 4: AAS 86 (1994), 386-387.
- Closing Messages of the Council (8 December
1965): To Women.
- JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris
Dignitatem (15 August1988), 18: AAS 80 (1988), 1696.
- Cf. JOHN PAUL II, Letter to Families Gratissimam
Sane(2February 1994), 5: AAS 86 (1994), 872.
- JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants in the Study
Conference on "The Right to Life in Europe" (18 December 1987):
Insegnamenti X, 3( 1987), 1446.
- Message for the 1977 World Day of Peace: AAS 68
- BLESSED GUERRIC OF IGNY, In Assumptione B. Mariae,
Sermo 1, 2:PL 185, 188.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 5.
- Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
- Roman Missal, Sequence for Easter Sunday.
- SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic
Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 68.
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Teachings of the Magisterium on Abortion