“Every individual, precisely by reason of the mystery of the Word of God who was made flesh, is entrusted to the maternal care of the Church.” (EV 3)
For this reason, John Paul II saw it to be of great importance and a primary concern of the flock he oversaw as the vicar of Christ to “look with renewed confidence to every household and… 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.’”(EV 6) and as he says later in the encyclical, “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.”(EV 43)
The letter, in its very introduction, makes claim to teach dogmatic truths of the Church: “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.”(EV 5) The pontiff does just that on several specific issues in the body of the encyclical as well. In EV 57 he in no uncertain terms condemns the killing of an innocent human being as always gravely immoral with the authority of the successor of Peter, and in EV 65 he does likewise with regards to euthanasia specifically. In EV 62, he reaffirms the penalty of excommunication by Canon law regarding abortion, and in the same section also invokes the Chair of Peter when he states that abortion as a means or and end is always gravely immoral.
It is sad that such things must be declared with such authority at this time, for they should be known to all through natural law and through revelation. Yet, in the current state of our world, as John Paul II so well recognized, “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.”(EV 4) In fact, in the secularized world we live in today, “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.’(EV 11)
The affirmation of these things in depth was certainly nothing new for John Paul the Great. Early works of his, such as Love and Responsibility, certainly looked at such issues in depth. In that work, he spent many pages just looking into what it means “to use” when speaking of human beings. A utilitarian philosophy pervades our culture to great detriment, and the Gospel of Life presents the truth of this throughout.
Pope John Paul II’s series of talks he gave at his Wednesday Audiences, that have come to be known as the Theology of the Body, are often labeled a “theological time bomb” waiting to go off. There, among other things, he explores in great depth the meaning of the human body, which is so distorted in our modern world. Much of the problem is that of our materialism, which knows no evil but the physical evils. “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.”(EV 15)
“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 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.” (EV 2) Unfortunately, it seems that our world has lost its desire to seek the truth, or has at least turned away from it to seek the instant but fleeting pleasures of this world instead of the eternal one’s for which we were created.
The pope, therefore, knowing that the Gospel of Life is none other than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, wrote the encyclical Evangelium vitae to speak boldly of the truth of the dignity of every human person that, because of the Incarnation of our Lord, is somehow united to God. “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!” (EV 5)