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Can the Relationship between Fact and Moral Norm, as indicated in Humanae Vitae be Further Explained?

Appendix II to footnote 292

'the generativity of man'

The word 'generativity' is attributed by Mary Shivanandan to Hans Urs von Balthasar and is explained as pertaining to the male sex and to 'initiation.'  On one level this is in contrast to 'receptivity', which pertains to the female sex360.  But she also says, this time in connection with the work of Pope John Paul II, the Pope 'sees both sexes in a primary relationship of receptivity to God'361.

This reference to the term, however, does not account for the use of it in the phrase: 'the very generativity of man'.  For this word, while no doubt brought to use by the instance of it in Crossing the Threshold of Love, nevertheless reflects a line of research that did not find a more extensive input into the dissertation, namely what is the nature of the good of existence?  This research was in part prompted by G. E. Moore's Principia Ethica in which he argued that good was the unique existence of a thing and, as such, pertained to what was beyond a verbal definition of it.  He says that 'good' is indefinable in that it is not a whole which can be defined by its parts362; it is a term 'of that simple kind, out of which definitions are composed and with which the power of further defining ceases'363.  He develops this idea by saying that what he means by 'good' is that aspect of a thing which is its uniqueness: "Whenever ... he has before his mind the unique object - the unique property of things - which I mean by 'good'"364.

Secondly, St. Thomas Aquinas writes about the good which can be willed, and speaks of it as the communication of what is possessed: 'A natural thing has a natural tendency ... to make it as available as possible to others'365; and in the translation of this by W. Norris Clarke we read: 'natural things have a natural inclination ... to diffuse their own goodness among others as far as possible'366.  In other words, there is the impression that what is willed by God is not just some kind of general good, but a 'good' which is imitative of what it is for God to be good: a good which, in the case of God the Father, gives forth in the generation of the Son.

A third strand to this questioning was from posing a question to Scripture itself.  In Genesis, the author says: 'And God saw that the light was good' (1: 4).  What is the nature of the good of what it is to be light, bearing in mind that God did not call the 'darkness' (ibid) good and that the good of light is created by the God Who is Good: "No one is good but God alone" (Mk 10: 18).  We find through commentaries367 and cross references (cf. Wis 7: 24-26) that there is the possibility that the first created thing, the first thing in an ordered account of what is created, is the light of grace: the grace in which what comes to be, comes to be in the grace of Christ Jesus.  Grace 'is not so much in existence itself, as a way in which something else exists; and so grace is not created, but men are created in it, established in a new existence out of nothing, without earning it: Created in Christ Jesus in good works'368.  The question of light as a natural light of the eyes comes up later, when God says "Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens" (Gn 1: 14).  Finally, however, the good is a good to behold: 'And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good' (Gn 1: 31).  This theme of beholding the good is significant because it indicates it is as it were transparent in what is made.

The point of all this is, then, to convey the idea that what is behind the expression 'the generativity of man' is the generativity of the Good.  This use of it refers to a fundamental characteristic of human being: being generative of good things as God is generative of what is good (Gn 1: 4), notwithstanding the fact that we are not generative as God is generative in that we do not create from nothing nor as perfectly as our Creator.  Nevertheless the idea to be conveyed is that this characteristic of our being is both deeply imitative of God and at the same time as inseparable to our being as it is to exist.  In other words, just as it is inseparable from the Father to be the unoriginate origin of the Son, so it is as inseparable from what we are, for us to be generative of what is good in accordance with our capacitating willingness (cf. Gn 1: 22 and 28; Jas 2: 26).  This capacity for good action can be subdivided into various kinds of actions; however, in keeping with the doctrine of the Second Vatican Council, the actions that are here under consideration are actions which contribute to the common good: the common good which will be transfigured in Christ369.

It is not possible to investigate this further, nor to consider the relationship between these thoughts and those of Hans Urs von Balthasar on this same theme.  Suffice it to say that the purpose of this Appendix (II) has been to give some definition to the phrase: the generativity of man.  It is therefore used to denote the activity which follows on being, not just in the sense that activity manifests being370, but also in the sense that activity is an expression of the very inclination of being.  Generativity, then, denotes the tendency towards good action in the act of existence.  However, just as the Father gives existence to the Son as a self-gift of Himself, so the good action which follows on the good existence of created being, is a good which follows in the spirit of a gift.  What we do, which is in our nature to do371, we are called to do in the spirit of the gift in which our nature is given to us.  But because we do what we do in Christ, the vocation of created being is to live out a created participation in the mystery of the generativity of the Good.

360 Mary Shivanandan, Crossing the Threshold of Love pp. 161-2.    Back
361 Ibid. p. 162.    Back
362 G. E. Moore, Principia Ethica, edited and with an introduction by Thomas Baldwin, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, revised edition reprinted 1996) pp. 60-61.    Back
363 Moore, Principia Ethica pp. 59-60.    Back
364 Ibid. p. 68.    Back
365 ST, I, 19, 2.    Back
366 Sum. Theol., I, q. 19, art. 2, as found in: "Person, Being, and St. Thomas", p. 604.    Back
367 Cf. St. Augustine, not so much for this idea but the kind of interpretation that inspired it: Confessions, Book XIII, [III], 4, page 111.  From: Great Books of the Western World.  R. M. Hutchins (ed.), (London: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952); and cf. "Light and Dark" (no author given) pp. 316-319 of the Dictionary of Biblical Theology.    Back
368 ST, I-II, 110, 2; in italics are a few words from Eph 2: 9.    Back
369 Gaudium et Spes no. 39.    Back
370 Copleston, Aquinas p. 158.    Back
371 Rephrasing with the help of M. Higgins, 23/04/01.    Back

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