Arthur R. Madigan, S.J.
PERMIT ME TO BEGIN with a feature of the encyclical Evangelium Vitae that I find extremely helpful. Instead of simply restating a series of categorical prohibitions (of abortion, suicide, euthanasia, and so on), and arguing for these prohibitions one by one, the encyclical situates these prohibitions within the larger positive context of the gospel of life. I find this helpful. Helpful in what sense? Arguments for categorical moral prohibitions have a way of being less than cogent. However self-evident the premises, however rigorous the logic, arguments for categorical prohibitions have a way of leaving some of the audience unconvinced.
There are always people who say “I just don't see it. You haven't proved it to me.” The encyclical speaks to this problem. In effect, it says: “Stand back for just a moment from the individual issues and arguments. They all really come down to one basic issue: Are you for life, or are you against life? Search your mind and your heart: which side are you on? Surely you see that deep down you want to be on the side of life. Once you get a grip on that fact, on the deep affirmation of your own heart and mind, you can start to appreciate what the gospel of life means in the details of your life.”
This is the right move to make, both theologically and pastorally. The culture that Pope John Paul II terms a “culture of death” has, however, a subtlety and complexity that chapter 1 of the encyclical only begins to explore, but that we will have to explore and understand if we expect to promote the gospel of