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From Vatican Information Service, a reports on Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments on the relationship between faith and marriage:
Vatican City, 26 January 2013 (VIS) – This morning in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, the Holy Father received members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota on the occasion of the opening of the judicial year. His address, from which ample extracts follow, focused on the relationship between faith and marriage in light of the “current crisis of faith that affects various areas of the world, bearing with it a crisis of conjugal society.”
“The Code of Canon Law defines the natural reality of marriage as the irrevocable covenant between a man and a woman. Mutual trust, in fact, is the indispensable basis of any agreement or covenant. On a theological level, the relationship between faith and marriage has an even deeper meaning. Even though a natural reality, the spousal bond between two baptised persons has been elevated by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament.”
“Contemporary culture, marked by a strong subjectivism and an ethical and religious relativism, poses serious challenges to the person and the family. First, the very capacity of human beings to bond themselves to another and whether a union that lasts an entire life is truly possible. … Thinking that persons might become themselves while remaining ‘autonomous’ and only entering into relationships with others that can be interrupted at any time is part of a widespread mentality. Everyone is aware of how a human being’s choice to bind themself with a bond lasting an entire life influences each person’s basic perspective according to which they are either anchored to a merely human plane or open themselves to the light of faith in the Lord.”
“‘Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing,’ Jesus taught His disciples, reminding them of the human being’s essential incapacity to carry out alone that which is necessary for the true good. Rejecting the divine proposal leads, in fact, to a profound imbalance in all human relationships, including marriage, and facilitates an erroneous understanding of freedom and self-realization. These, together with the flight from patiently borne suffering, condemns humanity to becoming locked within its own selfishness and self-centredness. On the contrary, accepting faith makes human persons capable of giving themselves … and thus of discovering the extent of being a human person.”
“Faith in God, sustained by God’s grace, is therefore a very important element in living mutual devotion and conjugal faithfulness. This does not mean to assert that faithfulness, among other properties, are not possible in the legitimate marriage between unbaptised couples. In fact, it is not devoid of goods that ‘come from God the Creator and are included, in a certain inchoative way, in the marital love that unites Christ with His Church’. But, of course, closing oneself off from God or rejecting the sacred dimension of the conjugal bond and its value in the order of grace make the concrete embodiment of the highest model of marriage conceived of by the Church, according to God’s plan, arduous. It may even undermine the very validity of the covenant if … it results in a rejection of the very principle of the conjugal obligation of faithfulness or of other essential elements or properties of the marriage.”
“Tertullian, in his famous “Letter to His Wife”, which speaks about married life marked by faith, writes that Christian couples are truly ‘two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit too. Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining one another.’”
“The saints who lived their matrimonial and familial union within a Christian perspective were able to overcome even the most adverse situations, sometimes achieving the sanctification of their spouse and children through a love reinforced by a strong faith in God, sincere religious piety, and an intense sacramental life. Such experiences, marked by faith, allow us to understand, even today, how precious is the sacrifice offered by the spouse who has been abandoned or who has suffered a divorce—’being well aware that the valid marriage bond is indissoluble, and refraining from becoming involved in a new union. … In such cases their example of fidelity and Christian consistency takes on particular value as a witness before the world and the Church’.”
Lastly, I would like to reflect briefly on the ‘bonum coniugum’. Faith is important in carrying out the authentic conjugal good, which consists simply in wanting, always and in every case, the welfare of the other, on the basis of a true and indissoluble ‘consortium vitae’. Indeed, the context of Christian spouses living a true ‘communio coniugalis’ has its own dynamism of faith by which the ‘confessio’—the personal, sincere response to the announcement of salvation—involves the believer in the action of God’s love. ‘Confessio’ and ‘caritas’ are ‘the two ways in which God involves us, make us act with Him, in Him and for humanity, for His creation. … “Confessio” is not an abstract thing, it is “caritas”, it is love. Only in this way is it really the reflection of divine truth, which as truth is also, inseparably, love’.”
“Only through the call of love, does the presence of the Gospel become not just a word but a living reality. In other words, while it is true that ‘Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt’, we must conclude that ‘Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path.’ If this holds true in the broader context of communal life, it should be even more valuable to the conjugal union. It is in that union, in fact, that faith makes the spouses’ love grow and bear fruit, giving space to the presence of the Triune God and making the conjugal life itself, lived thusly, to be ‘joyful news’ to the world.”
“I recognize the difficulties, from a legal and a practical perspective, in elucidating the essential element of the ‘bonum coniugum’, understood so far mainly in relation to the circumstance of invalidity. The ‘bonum coniugum’ also takes on importance in the area of simulating consent. Certainly, in cases submitted to your judgement, there will be an ‘in facto’ inquiry that can verify the possible validity of the grounds for annulment, predominant to or coexistent with the three Augustinian ‘goods’: procreativity, exclusivity, and perpetuity. Therefore, don’t let it escape your consideration that there might be cases where, precisely because of the absence of faith, the good of the spouses is damaged and thus excluded from the consent itself. For example, this can happen when one member of the couple has an erroneous understanding of the martial bond or of the principle of parity or when there is a refusal of the dual union that characterizes the marital bond by either excluding fidelity or by excluding the use of intercourse ‘humano modo’.
“With these considerations I certainly do not wish to suggest any facile relationship between a lack of faith and the invalidity of a marital union, but rather to highlight how such a deficiency may, but not necessarily, damage the goods of marriage, since the reference to the natural order desired by God is inherent to the conjugal covenant.”