The pagans of ancient times lacked the concept of person, which was developed by Christians to articulate the mysteries of three persons in one God and a divine person who also is human. From its theological roots, the concept gathered meaning in its application to human individuals, considered as beings made in God’s image and called to be his children. To call a human individual “a person,” then, is to say more than that he or she is a member of the species homo sapiens; person connotes the dignity, the intrinsic worth, of a human being as a subject of rights and responsibilities.
Because most contemporary secular humanists regard consciousness as the source and bearer of all intrinsic values, they tend to identify the human person with the conscious human subject, and to regard the body as something other than the person himself or herself: something personal insofar as each individual depends on his or her own body, but something subpersonal insofar as the body is outside the consciousness, whose material substratum and instrument it is.
This view of the human person, the body, and their relationship has direct implications for moral questions regarding acts which affect human persons as bodily. If a living human individual is not yet conscious or never again will be conscious, it is not a person, according to a consistent secular humanist view, but a potential person or a vegetable. Moreover, if bodily life is not intrinsically good but is valuable only as a necessary condition for preferred conscious states, when suffering prevails over satisfaction in a person’s experience, his or her quality of life is poor; and if there is no prospect of its improving, he or she is better off dead. Thus, to many people influenced by secular humanism, abortion and euthanasia seem entirely reasonable, while Christian morality on these matters seems to them irrational. In the same perspective, it seems that feeling well is the most important part of health, with the result that health care transcends pain relief only if shortsightedness is avoided and a long-term view taken.
Nevertheless, because human life is a basic human good (see CMP, 5.D), one need not be a believer to appreciate its value. In practice, even secular humanists usually take life’s intrinsic goodness for granted, though they deny it in theoretical reflection and may act contrary to it in particular instances. In the tradition of faith common to Jews and Christians, human life not only is good but sacred. To speak of the sacredness or sanctity of human life presupposes its intrinsic goodness but also says something more: not only that it deserves special respect but that it participates in various ways in God’s own holiness.
Scripture makes it clear that the life of human persons, made in God’s image, is sacred. The ultimate basis for the human body’s sacredness lies in this: the Word of God became flesh and calls humankind into bodily solidarity with himself. Moreover, the person as bodily is social, and the human body is the medium through which the rest of material creation will belong to the heavenly kingdom. Therefore, human life always should be treated with reverence, and every person’s life, health, and bodily integrity and inviolability are to be fostered and respected.
God makes it clear that all human beings are related to him in a special way. Sin disrupts humankind’s relationship with God, and death results from sin, but the Incarnation enables human persons to hope for resurrection and everlasting life.1
a) God makes persons in his own image and prohibits killing them. God creates human persons in his own image and likeness, not only insofar as they are intelligent and free, but also insofar as they are made for communion with one another, empowered to procreate, and given dominion over the rest of the material world (see Gn 1.26–30).2 Many other philosophical and religious views sharply contrast spirit with matter, and regard matter as bad in itself or as the source of evil; but Scripture makes it clear not only that the material world is good but that with the creation of man and woman, the whole created world, including human persons’ relationships with other things, is very good (see Gn 1.12, 18, 21, 25, 31).
Since human persons are the image of God, he treats human life as sacred, requires that men and women themselves respect life’s sanctity, and encourages them to procreate:
For your own lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning: from every animal I will require it and from human beings, each one for the blood of another, I will require a reckoning for human life. Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed; for in his own image God made humankind. And you, be fruitful and multiply, abound on the earth and multiply in it. (Gn 9.5–7)
Thus, because of their similarity to God, human persons’ lives are to be treated with reverence.
b) Sin alienates humankind from God and leads to death. God makes people in his own image and likeness so that they will be capable of friendship with him. Although human persons do not entirely cease to be in God’s image even when they sin mortally, they do abandon the friendship with God for which he made them. Spiritual alienation from God, the Lord of life, has inevitable bad effects on the human person as a whole, and God warned the first humans that sin would lead to their death (see Gn 3.3).3 Genesis makes it clear that death means the destruction of bodily persons: God tells the first couple they will have a hard life “until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gn 3.19).
Now, if sin, by alienating bodily persons from God, brings about their destruction, their concrete reality as bodily beings can hardly be incidental to their relationship with God. So, because God made human persons for communion with himself, their lives are sacred.
c) God wants not death but life for human persons. Like other intelligible evils, death is not a positive reality created by God; rather, it is the privation of life (see CMP, 5.A). Moreover, although death is a punishment for sin, it should not be regarded as arbitrarily imposed on sinners. Death is by no means what God wants for the bodily persons he created:
God did not make death,
Thus, death is opposed to God; it is part of sin’s affront to him. Therefore, despite sin, to live and to hand on life remain great goods for human persons, and God promises blessings to those who obey him:
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them. (Wis 1.13–14)
See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. (Dt 30.15–16)
And so God exhorts his people: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live” (Dt 30.19; cf. Prv 8.34–36, Sir 15.16–20, Jer 21.8).
The possibility of choosing life is a real one, more so than God’s people of the old covenant ever knew. God is stronger than death, and he refuses to tolerate it. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees that human persons united with him also will rise from the dead and live forever in their own bodies (see 1 Cor 15). This promise of resurrection makes it clear that, despite death, God intends life for human persons. Moreover, Christians’ hope for everlasting bodily communion in Jesus with God brings out a further dimension of his relationship with human persons and the sacredness of human bodily life: the human body is made for communion, not only among human persons but even with God.
d) The Incarnation gives human life its ultimate sanctity. The divine Word gives human life its ultimate sanctity by becoming flesh (see Jn 1.14). This sanctification of living human flesh is not limited to Jesus’ individual body. Jesus says: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (Jn 6.51). Thus, the Eucharist extends the Incarnation’s sanctification of life to human persons who are Jesus’ members: “The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor 10.16–17). Through communion with Jesus, Christians share in divine life, and their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor 6.13–20). Even more than God’s people of the old covenant, therefore, Christians have good reason to treat human life with reverence.4
e) Despite hope, death remains in itself a great evil. While death is a consequence of sin, it is not itself an existential evil (a privation in the moral order); yet it is inherently bad, since it deprives people of the good of life (see CMP, 5.H). Insofar as death is the necessary path to resurrection and everlasting life, Christians should be ready to suffer it; indeed, they rightly look forward to death as their ultimate way of offering themselves to God in union with Jesus.
But it does not follow that hope of resurrection takes away the evil proper to death. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15.26) remains true until the end of time, for only then will death be destroyed. Hope presupposes realism about the great evil of death. Rather than taking away death’s inherent badness, hope honestly acknowledges that loss of life is a great evil; only then does it go beyond this hard truth, counting on God to destroy death by his re-creative act (see GS 18). Therefore, Christians should not suppose that death really is not so great an evil and that in practice they need not take life’s goodness and sanctity with utter seriousness.
The secularized climate of opinion encourages this mistake. Lacking the hope of resurrection, nonbelievers can be led by dread of death to utter despair. But if they resist, they usually go to the opposite extreme, and fail to appreciate how great an evil death is. Committed to the view that everything good must end, they consider death merely the boundary of the life process; and because everyone’s life eventually becomes unpleasant, they regard death as a potential friend, the final solution to life’s problems.5 Usually, then, nonbelievers who resist despair are oblivious not only to human life’s sanctity but even to the full moral significance of acts against it. For they not only ignore the relationship of humankind with God, which gives human life its sanctity, but also deny the essential badness of human death, which gives acts against human life a unique evil.
Christians who live in cultures largely shaped by nonbelief must be careful not to adopt this non-Christian attitude toward life and death. In particular, they should not mingle it with elements of a Christian conception of hope or allow false optimism about life and death to lessen their appreciation of life’s goodness and sanctity.
Bodily life is a good intrinsic to human persons—part of their very reality—not something extrinsic and valuable only as a means to other human goods. Therefore, life retains its sanctity even for those who suffer under various bad conditions.
a) Human life is a person’s concrete reality. The human person is neither the body nor the soul taken separately, but a unity of these coprinciples. Vatican II clearly affirms the unity of the human person: “The human person is a unity of body and soul” (GS 14). Because of this unity, a person’s body is not something he or she has, but a constitutive part of what he or she is. In explaining the sanctity of human life, John Paul II points out an important consequence of the person’s unity:
All human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops; human life is the concrete reality of a being that is capable of love, and of service to humanity.6
For any living being, to be is to live, and to die is to cease to be. Hence, “human life is the concrete reality of” human persons, who are by definition rational, sentient, living bodies.7
b) Salvation requires resurrection. That human persons really are organisms, not spirits temporarily encased in flesh, is confirmed by the doctrine of the resurrection of the body, as St. Thomas clearly explains: “Now, since the soul is part of the human body, it is not the entire human being, and my soul is not I. So, even if the soul reached salvation in another life, neither I nor any human being would thereby do so.”8 A separated soul is not a human person but a spiritual element which survives a person’s death; and while this spiritual element has consciousness and will, so that it is a “self,” the whole person will exist again only when he or she is raised up.9 Thus, the resurrection really is necessary to overcome the evil that a human person suffers in dying.
For those who die in grace, resurrection will perfect them precisely as bodily persons (see 1 Cor 15.42–44, 53). The dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary further confirms this, inasmuch as that teaching prescinds entirely from the question whether she actually died, and focuses exclusively on the fact that at the end of her earthly life, she was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory (see DS 3903/2333; LG 59).
c) Bodily life is an intrinsic good of persons. Since a person is an organism whose life is his or her concrete reality, bodily life is an intrinsic good of the person. Life is not an instrumental good, with a merely relative value, varying with its usefulness for pursuing or protecting other personal ends. Therefore, to maintain that under some conditions human life loses its value and may be disposed of without violating its sanctity implies that human persons, instead of being bodily realities, are nonbodily selves which have and use bodies. This view occasionally is stated explicitly:
Physical nature—the body and its members, our organs and their functions—all of these things are a part of “what is over against us,” and if we live by the rules and conditions set in physiology or any other it we are not men, we are not thou. When we discussed the problem of giving life to new creatures, and the authority of natural processes as over against the human values of responsibility and self-preservation (when nature and they are at cross-purposes), we remarked that spiritual reality and moral integrity belong to man alone, in whatever degree we may possess them as made imago Dei. Freedom, knowledge, choice, responsibility—all these things of personal or moral stature are in us, not out there. Physical nature is what is over against us, out there. It represents the world of its. Only men and God are thou; they only are persons.10
Here the line between the personal and the subpersonal, the intrinsically good and the instrumentally good, plainly is drawn in the wrong place: between God and the spiritual part of human persons, on the one hand, and, on the other, human bodies and the rest of physical nature. Scripture, tradition, and the Catholic Church’s constant and most firm teaching draw that line between God, angels, and human bodily persons, on the one hand, and, on the other, the remainder of the material world.11 Human persons can rightly use the latter for their own fulfillment, but may not treat their own or other persons’ bodies as mere instruments or objects for use.
d) No bad condition can lessen the goodness and sanctity of human life. Disease, debility, and mutilation reduce participation in the good of life, yet a person’s life remains an intrinsic, not instrumental, good, so that its goodness and sanctity are unaffected by such conditions. Some people deny this, thinking life not to have its full value close to its beginning or end, or to lose its value if the quality of a person’s functioning and experience is poor because of disease, disability, or the wretchedness of extreme poverty. Today many even unquestioningly assume a standard for human bodily perfection and suppose that people who do not meet it should never have been born or are less worthy of respect.12 However, the Church plainly teaches that human life has the same goodness and sanctity “in every phase of development, from conception until natural death; and in every condition, whether healthy or sick, whole or disabled, rich or poor.”13
e) Life is good apart from its being a condition for fulfillment. Not everyone who supposes the goodness and sanctity of life to depend on some condition means to deny the unity of the human person and assert that the person’s body is part of physical nature “over against us.” Some take a different tack, arguing that even though human life is a good intrinsic to persons, it is valuable only insofar as it is a condition for a person’s integral fulfillment; that aside, it is without value.
This argument is unsound. It is true that life will be most good as a constituent of everlasting life, but faith makes it clear that goodness belongs to human life even apart from its ultimate fulfillment. For even the life of the damned remains in itself a good, as is shown by the fact that God does not annihilate them.14
Because a human person’s life always retains its goodness and sanctity, it always must be treated with reverence. To see what that means, it is necessary to take into account the social character of bodily life, the human body’s central place in God’s plan for material creation, and the relationship which health, bodily integrity, inviolability, and physical mobility have to a person’s life.
a) Persons as bodily are social. Although human beings are more than bodily realities, they are organisms which reproduce sexually, and as such are not only individuals but members of a natural community sharing in a common life. They do not communicate and give themselves to one another through some purely spiritual meeting of souls, but in and by bodily performances and contact. Bodily life and functioning, therefore, are important not only insofar as life is the very reality of the person, but insofar as the body is the medium of interpersonal communion in and through which persons fulfill themselves.15
Furthermore, human sexual capacity does not acquire its personal meaning solely from the interpersonal communion which it enables a couple to realize and celebrate.16 Rather, human biological fecundity is of itself personal and interpersonal, because by it persons hand on personal life to new persons.17 Thus, the sanctity of life embraces life in its transmission, and reverence for life must respond to that fact.
b) Persons as bodily fulfill both themselves and the world. All work and play involve bodily performances which affect the surrounding world. In this way, human persons both fulfill their capacities and endow the world with human significance (see 10.A.1, 10.B.3). The human goods that are realized in the process are more than expendable means for reaching heaven; they are material for the kingdom, where they will be found perfected and glorified (see GS 38–39). Moreover, through bodily performances, human persons bring the rest of material creation to its fulfillment: “The human person is a unity of body and soul. By one’s bodily condition, one gathers in oneself the elements of the material world, so that, through the human person, these elements reach their most exalted condition and raise their voice in free praise of the creator” (GS 14). Therefore, the good of life embraces the bodily functioning that is essential to the various activities by which human persons both fulfill themselves and bring the world to its own fulfillment.
c) Reverence for life entails many responsibilities. Since human life is an intrinsic good of persons, the requirements of reverence for life include a moral absolute forbidding the intentional killing of the innocent. And since life is a person’s concrete reality, love for persons requires expressing reverence for life by cherishing it. This means at least not killing people through negligence. But since life is vulnerable and everyone’s life is threatened in many ways—by natural forces and animals, by sickness and accident, by one’s own foolishness or carelessness, and by the malicious or careless acts of others—cherishing life also means that one should act to protect oneself and others against loss of life. Being affirmative, this responsibility is limited by other responsibilities; but when anyone’s life is threatened, there often is a strict and grave obligation to do what one can to protect it.
Protecting and promoting health also are part of reverencing life, since life is diminished and threatened by ill health. And since every bodily organ and part is personal, reverence for life requires respect for the body’s integrity. Further, since bodily contact among persons often is meaningful and sometimes helpful or harmful, reverence for life requires due care in all bodily contact with others. Finally, since every organism needs its own space and must move about, human persons need both room and mobility; and so reverence for life also includes respect for others’ space and freedom to move about.
The moral character of actions often depends on whether they carry out an intention bearing on the good of life or carry out some other intention, with the foreseen effect on life accepted as a side effect. For example, it is morally evil to choose to kill oneself even to further a good cause, but freely accepting death (as Jesus did) can be morally excellent; it is bad to choose to contracept, but avoiding pregnancy by abstaining from sexual intercourse always is obligatory outside marriage and can be obligatory within marriage; it is bad to withhold medical treatment in order to hasten death, but it can be good to administer drugs for pain relief even if their use also shortens life.
Many people presently feel that such distinctions are unintelligible. More or less explicitly, they assume that the goodness or badness of actions depends on whether or not they are effective in bringing about results which are wanted or unwanted (see CMP, 6). But the morality of actions depends more on the heart from which they flow than on the results to which they lead (see CMP, 7). Someone who loves neighbors and loves self in communion with God and neighbor will avoid intending ends or choosing means whose intending or choosing would be at odds with that love of God, neighbor, and self.
Since a human being’s life is his or her concrete reality, intending a person’s death as an end in itself or as a chosen means to some other end is always inconsistent with volitional love for that person.18 True, before making a choice, one also should consider the foreseeable results of adopting and carrying out each possible alternative, since a loving heart seeks to benefit persons and not harm them. But such a heart often must accept some result which it would not intend or choose, because love for life or some other human good calls for the action or inaction which brings about that result.
In studying the following questions, therefore, it should be kept in mind that the will’s orientation, in intending and choosing, toward life and other basic human goods makes an act be the kind of moral act it is.19 Thus, it will not seem surprising that similar behaviors with similar results often constitute acts differing in moral quality.
1. On life in the Bible, see H.-G. Link, “Life,” The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1975–78), 2:476–84.
2. See John Paul II, Mulieris dignitatem, 6–7, AAS 80 (1988) 1662–67, OR, 3 Oct. 1988, 3–4; General Audience (14 Nov. 1979), Inseg. 2.2 (1979) 1153–57, OR, 19 Nov. 1979, 1, 16.
3. For an account of how sin leads to death and a criticism of the view that human beings would have died even had they not sinned, see CMP, 14.H, including nn. 27, 28. Though not entirely consistent with Catholic teaching, a helpful attempt to explain how sin has inevitable bad effects on the person as a whole is found in R. W. L. Moberly, “Did the Serpent Get It Right?” Journal of Theological Studies, n.s., 39 (1988): 1–27.
4. Canon law manifests in many ways the importance of respecting human life and bodily integrity; subsequent notes call attention to some canons having specific relevance. One general indication: CIC, c. 1041, lists among those irregular (permanently impeded) as regards the reception of holy orders: “(4) a person who has committed voluntary homicide or who has procured an effective abortion and all persons who positively cooperated in either; (5) a person who has seriously and maliciously mutilated himself or another person or a person who has attempted suicide.” Moreover, c. 1044, §1, 3<198>, provides that those mentioned in both (4) and (5) are among those irregular as regards exercising orders already received, and c. 1047, §§2 and 3, provides that the impediment specified by (4) can be dispensed only by the Holy See.
5. The contemporary nonbeliever’s view of death is essentially similar to that rejected in Wis 1.16–2.24; see David Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible, 43 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), 111–23.
6. John Paul II, Homily at Capitol Mall (Washington, D.C.), 3, AAS 71 (1979) 1271, OR, 5 Nov. 1979, 7.
7. See S.t., 1, q. 18, a. 2; in its most proper sense, to live simply means to exist in a nature that has capacities for self-movement; less strictly, to live refers to vital functions: to take nourishment, to grow, to reproduce, to sense, to choose, and so on.
8. St. Thomas, Super primam epistolam ad Corinthios lectura, commenting on 15.19. Thomas says that “the soul is part of the human body,” because he holds that the soul is the “form” of the human body, that is, an intrinsic principle of the living, bodily person (see S.t., 1, q. 76). This position is more than a philosophical-theological doctrine, for against theories of the soul in conflict with the faith, the Council of Vienne (1312) and the Fifth Lateran Council (1513) taught that the soul is really and of itself the form of the human body (DS 902/481, 1440/738), thus insisting on the unity of the bodily person. A helpful exposition of this anthropology with a critique of certain recently proposed revisions to it: Augustine Regan, C.Ss.R., “Human Body in Moral Theology: Some Basic Orientations,” Studia Moralia 17 (1979): 151–88.
9. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Letter on Certain Questions Pertaining to Eschatology, AAS 71 (1979) 941, Flannery, 2:501, affirms that the Church understands the resurrection of the dead in which she believes “as referring to the whole person,” and then goes on (502): “The Church affirms that a spiritual element survives and subsists after death, an element endowed with consciousness and will, so that the ‘human self [ego humanum]’ subsists, though lacking meanwhile the complement of its body [the translation omits this phrase]. To designate this element, the Church uses the word ‘soul’, the accepted term in the usage of Scripture and Tradition.” In identifying the soul with ego humanum, the Congregation does not contradict St. Thomas, for the Congregation uses ego to refer to a subject of intellectual and volitional acts (“an element endowed with consciousness and will”), while Thomas uses ego to refer to a complete person. Thomas, of course, also holds that the separated soul is a subject (see S.t., 1, q. 89); and the Congregation, by describing the separated soul as a “spiritual element,” makes it clear that the whole person, destroyed by death, cannot again exist except by resurrection.
10. Joseph Fletcher, Morals and Medicine: The Moral Problems of: The Patient’s Right to Know the Truth, Contraception, Artificial Insemination, Sterilization, and Euthanasia (Boston: Beacon, 1960), 211. Fletcher was not a Catholic, but a similar though more nuanced view appears in recent works by some Catholic moralists. For example, Timothy E. O’Connell, Principles for a Catholic Morality (New York: Seabury, 1978), having said (59) that the body “is the ‘belonging’ of a person and yet also is the person,” at once goes on to treat the person as a metaphysical principle of which one is not even directly aware, describes “the person himself or herself—the I” as a “dimensionless pinpoint around which everything else revolves,” and concludes (59–60): “So I do not assert my personhood, and the personhood of all human beings, because I can see that personhood. No, that personhood is subject, not object to be seen. Rather I assert the existence of personhood because I am aware that it is the subject implied by and experienced in the contemplation of all objects. In the terminology of Karl Rahner, personhood is not something we consider; rather it is the ‘condition of the possibility’ of all things that we consider.” Thus, under the influence of Kant’s dualism, the human person is reduced to the transcendental ego. By contrast, see Robert M. Cooper, “Do ‘I Own My Body’?” Anglican Theological Review, 55 (1973): 420–33.
11. On the anthropology implicit in sacred Scripture, see Wulstan Mork, O.S.B., The Biblical Meaning of Man (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1967), 1–125.
12. See Barbara M. Stafford, John La Puma, and David L. Schiedermayer, “One Face of Beauty, One Picture of Health: The Hidden Aesthetic of Medical Practice,” Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 14 (1989): 213–30, for some of the historical roots of this quite relative standard.
13. John Paul II, Christifideles laici, 38, AAS 81 (1989) 463, OR, 6 Feb. 1989, 12.
14. Annihilationism is incompatible with the biblical evidence: E. J. Fortman, S.J., Everlasting Life after Death (New York: Alba House, 1976), 169–70. See also S.t., 1, q. 104, a. 4.
15. See John Paul II, General Audience (9 Jan. 1980), Inseg. 3.1 (1980) 88–92, OR, 14 Jan. 1980, 1, 20; General Audience (16 Jan. 1980), Inseg. 3.1 (1980) 148–52, OR, 21 Jan. 1980, 1, 12.
16. The view rejected here is implicit in the claim that the teaching of Humanae vitae against contraception involves “biologism.” The truth is that the denial of the personal significance of human biological fecundity implies dualism. That denial and its implication of dualism are found in the so-called majority working paper of Paul VI’s Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Births, Documentum syntheticum de moralitate regulationis nativitatum, 2.4: “Ipsum donum mutuum per totam vitam perdurat, foecunditas biologica non est continua et est subiecta multis irregularitatibus, ideo in sfaerem humanam assumi et in ea regulari debet.” Since nothing assumes what it already is or has of itself, those who wrote that “biological fecunity ought to be assumed into the human sphere” clearly presupposed that the biological fecundity of human persons is not per se human. See Germain Grisez, “Dualism and the New Morality,” Atti del congresso internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino nel suo settimo centenario, vol. 5, L’agire morale (Naples: Edizioni Domenicane Italiane, 1977), 323-30.
17. Vatican II (see GS 51) teaches that human sexuality and reproductive capacity marvelously surpass those found in lower forms of life; John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 11, AAS 74 (1982) 92, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 3, explains that human “fertility is directed to the generation of a human being, and so by its nature it surpasses the purely biological order and involves a whole series of personal values.”
18. Killing in war and as capital punishment require special treatment. Since they are authorized by public authority, they will be treated in 11.E.3 and 11.E.1.j, where the treatment here will be presupposed, and no exception to it will be made.
19. St. Thomas often makes the point, for example: S.t., 2–2, q. 64, a. 7, “Moral acts receive their species according to that which is intended”; see 1–2, q. 72, a. 8, on the specification of sins; cf. John Finnis, “Object and Intention in Moral Judgments According to Aquinas,” Thomist 55 (1991): 1–27. This position must not be confused with subjectivism. A subjectivist thinks that an act, while being what it is in itself, can be either good or evil depending on one’s thoughts, feelings, or wishes regarding it. By contrast, the position proposed by St. Thomas and accepted here is that, while thoughts, wishes, and feelings about an act sometimes can affect one’s subjective responsibility in choosing it, a human act has an inherent goodness or badness which cannot be affected by such subjective factors. Intentions intrinsically constitute moral acts inasmuch as these acts are the carrying out of choices; but the acts constituted by intentions are either good or evil by their conformity or lack of conformity to right reason, that is, to practical reason, unfettered by nonrational factors, bringing to bear the truth about what is humanly good.