MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS
ON THE VALUE AND INVIOLABILITY
OF HUMAN LIFE
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
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
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 VOICEOF 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 4:2-16).
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 against 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
And yet God, who is always merciful even when he punishes, "put a mark on Cain, 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 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 life
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 health-care
personnel. 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 life".
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 of heroism.
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
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 responsibility.
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 proabortion culture is especially strong precisely
where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception
and abortion arespecifically 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
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 the dying. 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
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 suffering.
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 overpopulation 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 policy.
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 unreservedly pro-life.
"Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9): a perverse idea of freedom
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
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
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 moral blindness.
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
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, 24).
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 3:
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 1:27; 2:18-24).
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 Cor 15:54-
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 10:10).
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 6:25-34).
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 2:11).
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
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 thing.
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
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
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 Father.
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 1:12-
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 8:12).
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 3:1-2).
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 mustbecome 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 unjust" (Mt 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 8:6-8).
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 dominion 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 with impunity".(29)
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 1:28).(30)
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 God".(34)
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 too".(36)
"I kept my faith even when I said, 'I am greatly afflicted' " (Ps 116:10): life in old age and at times of
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. Mk 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 the Son of God is revealed for who he is: on the Cross his glory is
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 redemption.
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 19:
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. Rom 5:8).
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 2:21).
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
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; Lk 19:12-27).
"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 9:5-6).
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 Didache, 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
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
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
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 action".(52)
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 life.
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 born.
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 person?".(58)
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
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 witness (60) — 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
well (61) — 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 creative activity".(67) 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 unchangeable.(72) 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
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 of euthanasia
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 used".(76)
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 universal Magisterium.(82)
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 terminal stages.
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".
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"
"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 and euthanasia.
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 others.
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 conduct.
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 ignored.
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 manoeuvering not only the levers of
power but also of shaping the formation of consensus. In such a situation, democracy easily becomes an empty
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
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, co-ordinated, 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; 14:12).
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" life
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 Christ himself.
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
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 evangelize".(101)
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 ministry.
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 everyone.
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 1:3): 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 nonbelievers, 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 integrity. 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 Magisterium.
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
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 life".(109)
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
85. In celebrating the Gospel of life we also need toappreciate 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 immortality.
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 circumstances demand.
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 of themselves".(111) 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 dead" (2:14-17).
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 ornear 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 and nakedness".(113)
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 phases.
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
healthcare profession, which is meant to be an impassioned and unflinching affirmation of life. Biomedical
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 reestablishment 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 of peoples.
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 civilization.
"Your children will be like olive shoots around your table" (Ps 128:3): the family as the "sanctuary of
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 attentive.
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 irreplaceable.
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 and
This celebration thus becomes a service to the Gospel of life, expressed through 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 to
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
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
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
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 having,(130) 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 in society.
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 mass media, 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. You will come to understand that nothing is definitively lost and you will also be able to ask
forgiveness from your child, who is now living in the Lord. 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
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 everyone.
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
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
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 human society.
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
"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 Revelation: "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
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
"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 of evil
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
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 person".(140) 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 Resurrection
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
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 21:4).
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.
JOHN PAUL II
1 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.
2 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
3 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 10; AAS 71 (1979), 275.
4 Cf. ibid., 14: loc.cit., 285.
5 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 27.
6 Cf. Letter to all my Brothers in the Episcopate regarding the "Gospel of Life" (19 May 1991): Insegnamenti XIV,
1 (1991), 1293-1296.
7 Ibid., loc.cit., p. 1294.
8 Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2 February 1994), 4: AAS 86 (1994), 871.
9 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 39: AAS 83 (1991), 842.
10 No. 2259.
11 Saint Ambrose, De Noe, 26:94-96: CSEL 32, 480-481.
12 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1867 and 2268.
13 De Cain et Abel, II, 10, 38: CSEL, 32, 408.
14 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.
15 Address during the Prayer Vigil for the Eighth World Youth Day, Denver, 14 August 1993, II, 3: AAS 86 (1994),
16 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.
17 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 36.
18 Cf. ibid., 16.
19 Cf. Saint Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 13, 23: CCL 143A, 683.
20 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 10; AAS 71 (1979), 274.
21 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
22 Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 4.
23 "Gloria Dei vivens homo": Adversus Haereses, IV, 20, 7: SCh 100/2, 648-649.
24 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
25 Confessions, I, 1: CCL 27, 1.
26 Exameron, VI, 75-76: CSEL 32, 260-261.
27 "Vita autem hominis visio Dei": Adversus Haereses, IV, 20, 7: SCh 100/2, 648-649.
28 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 840-841.
29 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 560.
30 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.
31 Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2 February 1994), 9: AAS 86 (1994), 878; cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter
Humani Generis (12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 574.
32 "Animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubet": Pius XII, Encyclical Letter Humani
Generis (12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 575.
33 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 (22 November 1981), 28: AAS
74 (1982), 114.
34 Homilies, II, 1; CCSG 3, 39.
35 See, for example, Psalms 22:10-11; 71:6; 139:13-14.
36 Expositio Evangelii secundum Lucam, II, 22-23: CCL, 14, 40-41.
37 Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 7, 2: Patres Apostolici, ed. F.X. Funk, II, 82.
38 De Hominis Opificio, 4: PG 44, 136.
39 Cf. Saint John Damascene, De Fide Orthodoxa, 2, 12: PG 94, 920.922, quoted in Saint Thomas Aquinas,
Summa Theologiae, I-II, Prologue.
40 Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968), 13: AAS 60 (1968), 489.
41 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.
42 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.
43 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 2263-2269; cf. also Catechism of the Council of Trent III, §§ 327-
44 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2265.
45 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 64, a. 7; Saint Alphonsus De' Liguori, Theologia
Moralis, l. III, tr. 4, c. 1, dub.3.
46 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2266.
47 Cf. ibid.
48 No. 2267.
49 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 12.
50 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
51 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
52 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72
53 Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 96: AAS 85 (1993), 1209.
54 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et
Spes, 51, "Abortus necnon infanticidium nefanda sunt crimina".
55 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (15 August 1988), 14: AAS 80 (1988), 1686.
56 No. 21: AAS 86 (1994), 920.
57 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), Nos. 12-
13: AAS 66 (1974), 738.
58 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), 78-79.
59 Ibid., loc. cit., 79.
60 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.
61 Cf. Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 7: AAS 66 (1974), 740-747.
62 "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,
63 Apologia on behalf of the Christians, 35: PG 6, 969.
64 Apologeticum, IX, 8: CSEL 69, 24.
65 Cf. Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31 December 1930), II: AAS 22 (1930), 562-592.
66 Address to the Biomedical Association "San Luca" (12 November 1944): 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.
67 Encyclical Letter Mater et Magistra (15 May 1961), 3: AAS 53 (1961), 447.
68 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 51.
69 Canon 2350, § 1.
70 Code of Canon Law, canon 1398; cf. Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1450, § 2.
71 Cf. ibid., canon 1329; also Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 1417.
72 Cf. Address to the National Congress of Italian Jurists (9 December 1972): AAS 64 (1972), 777; Encyclical
Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490.
73 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
74 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.
75 Charter of the Rights of the Family (22 October 1983), article 4b: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1983.
76 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Euthanasia Iura et Bona (5 May 1980), II: AAS 72
77 Ibid., IV: loc. cit., 551.
78 Cf. ibid.
79 Pius XII, Address to an International Group of Physicians (24 February 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.
80 Pius XII, Address to an International Group of Physicians (24 February 1957), III: AAS 49 (1957), 145.
81 Pius XII, Address to an International Group of Physicians (24 February 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.
82 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 25.
83 Cf. Saint Augustine, De Civitate Dei I, 20: CCL 47, 22; Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 6, a.
84 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.
85 Ep. 204, 5: CSEL 57, 320.
86 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 18.
87 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris (11 February 1984), 14-24: AAS 76 (1984), 214-234.
88 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 46: AAS 83 (1991), 850; Pius XII,
Christmas Radio Message (24 December 1944): AAS 37 (1945), 10-20.
89 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 97 and 99: AAS 85 (1993), 1209-1211.
90 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), III: AAS 80 (1988), 98.
91 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
92 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 96, a. 2.
93 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae, 7.
94 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
XII, Encyclical Letter Mit brennender Sorge (14 March 1937): AAS 29 (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.
95 Encyclical Letter Pacem in Terris (11 April 1963), II: loc. cit., 271.
96 Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad 2um.
97 Ibid., I-II, q. 95, a. 2. Aquinas quotes Saint Augustine: "Non videtur esse lex, quae iusta non fuerit", De Libero
Arbitrio, I, 5, 11: PL 32, 1227.
98 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Procured Abortion (18 November 1974), No. 22:
AAS 66 (1974), 744.
99 Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, Nos. 1753-1755; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6
August 1993), 81-82: AAS 85 (1993), 1198-1199.
100 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.
101 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 14: AAS 68 (1976), 13.
102 Cf. Roman Missal, prayer of the celebrant before communion.
103 Cf. Saint Irenaeus: "Omnem novitatem attulit, semetipsum afferens, qui fuerat annuntiatus", Adversus
Haereses: IV, 34, 1: SCh 100/2, 846-847.
104 Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, "Peccator inveterascit, recedens a novitate Christi", In Psalmos Davidis Lectura:
105 De Beatitudinibus, Oratio VII: PG 44, 1280.
106 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 116: AAS 85 (1993), 1224.
107 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.
108 Cf. Message for Christmas 1967: AAS 60 (1968), 40.
109 Pseudo- Dionysius the Areopagite, On the Divine Names, 6, 1-3: PG 3, 856-857.
110 Paul VI, Pensiero alla Morte, Istituto Paolo VI, Brescia 1988, 24.
111 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.
113 In Matthaeum, Hom. L, 3: PG 58, 508.
114 Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 2372.
115 John Paul II, Address to the Fourth General Conference of Latin American Bishops in Santo Domingo (12
October 1992), No. 15: AAS 85 (1993), 819.
116 Cf. Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio, 12; Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern
World Gaudium et Spes, 90.
117 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 17: AAS 74
118 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium
et Spes, 50.
119 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 39: AAS 83 (1991), 842.
120 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 128:3-4).
121 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (30 December 1987), 38: AAS 80 (1988), 565-566.
122 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 86: AAS 74
123 Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (8 December 1975), 18: AAS 68 (1976), 17.
124 Cf. ibid., 20: loc. cit., 18.
125 Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium
et Spes, 24.
126 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 17: AAS 83 (1991), 814; Encyclical Letter
Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993), 95-101: AAS 85 (1993), 1208-1213.
127 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1 May 1991), 24: AAS 83 (1991), 822.
128 John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 37: AAS 74
129 Letter establishing the World Day of the Sick (13 May 1992), No. 2: Insegnamenti XV, 1 (1992), 1410.
130 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.
131 Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2 February 1994), 13: AAS 86 (1994), 892.
132 John Paul II, Motu Proprio Vitae Mysterium (11 February 1994), 4: AAS 86 (1994), 386-387.
133 Closing Message of the Council (8 December 1965): To Women.
134 John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (15 August 1988), 18: AAS 80 (1988), 1696.
135 Cf. John Paul II, Letter to Families Gratissimam sane (2 February 1994), 5: AAS 86 (1994), 872.
136 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.
137 Message for the 1977 World Day of Peace: AAS 68 (1976), 711-712.
138 Blessed Guerric of Igny, In Assumptione B. Mariae, Sermo I, 2: PL 185, 188.
139 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 5.
140 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 22.
141 Roman Missal, Sequence for Easter Sunday.
142 Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 68.