Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > L-R-RC > The Theology of Mariage | CONT. > sez.2

General Aspects Of Marriagee
  IV. (MARRIAGE FOR LIFE) - selez.
  V. (PASTORAL CARE) - selez.

  (CONCLUSION) - selez.



6. The starting point for our analysis of marriage is the fact that marriage is subject to constant change. The historicity of man comes to the fore also in this matter. Particular changes have been brought about in modem times, and among these changes one must include the transition from the pre-industrial form of life to the complex industrial society of the present time. This transition does not occur simultaneously in all places, and all stages of the process may therefore exist side by side with each other. Examples of this are provided by comparing the characteristic forms of marriage in different cultures and also by the influence that in one way or another is being continuously exerted on individuals in modem society, i.e., in political, moral, economic and other respects. The history and ethnology, as well as psychology and sociology, give striking accounts of these factors of transformation, influence and change. In the most recent past this transformation has been considerably influenced by the technological development that has made man independent of nature to an extent hitherto unknown. Other developments therefore occurred in the wake of this technological process, the "sexual revolution" being a case in point.

7. It is quite astonishing that even a radical change in marriage uses and customs could not destroy the basis character of marriage. The transformation of marriage uses and customs is a consequence of the historicity of man. Culture is not something static or invariable, but is in a constant process of development. The nature of many of these developments is not alien to the Church, and indeed many aspects of the transformation only bring her face to face with the effects of her own preaching. Examples of this are provided by the idea of man as a person, the importance of personal freedom, and the preeminence of love. These themes have always stood in the fore ground of church teaching. But even in the secularized world they have become dominant concepts governing the general way of life.

8. A description of the exterior reality of marriage leads to a catalogue of complementary characteristics that are common everywhere:

- Marriage, especially in Western tradition, means a free union based on reciprocity.

- It means cohabitation that involves the life, the work and the interests of the partners.

- It is based on a community of life that embraces and gives security to the persons and becomes enlarged into a community for the begetting and raising of children.

- The description of marriage as a "spiritual community" expresses the fact that in marriage the fundamental and all-embracing questions of life have to be answered jointly by the partners. Since the community regards the binding and all-of-life-embracing nature of such questions, marriage has a religious character which is essential to its nature.

In the case of an individual marriage, these characteristics never constitute an invariable and fixed inventory. Neither the spouses nor the marriage itself remain stationary at their starting point. The decision of the partners to share their entire existence forms part of a development that permits maturation and growth in all fields.

9. The lived marriage of the present day cannot therefore by any means be understood as a mere multiplicity of forms of life that have nothing in common and are of quite different stamp. Everywhere in the world marriage is the institution that responds to the fundamental experience of humanity, according to which the human person exists as a sexual being. Notwithstanding all the historical, cultural and psycho-sociological differences, marriage contains a number of common and important elements. One of these lies in the fact that a man and a woman enter into a community both with respect to themselves and with respect to society. The fact that marriage as a primary institution confers a social form upon the relationship between the sexes excludes the arbitrary treatment of the relationship. A man and a woman who enter into a marriage therefore know that - in this marriage they are accepted, sheltered and protected by society and all social authorities. On the other hand, especially in modern times, it is precisely in the sexual relationship that people seek personal love and private happiness clearly stands in a state of tension with marriage as an institution: Marriage cannot be founded exclusively on the loving sentiments of the spouses and have its fate depend on these sentiments. but it is just as obvious that it cannot be said to be nothing more than a social institution. This polarity may harbor dangers that - in individual cases - lead to the destruction of a marriage. In a successful marriage, on the other hand, the unity of this tension-filled polarity is experienced as an enhancement of the quality of life. A lived marriage is the place where such genuinely human life is attained, where the opposition between institution and persona and between self-love and conjugal love becomes canceled. It is the framework in which one - partner accepts the other with all his limitations, but also has the good fortune of being accepted by the other, again with all his limitations. The partners free each other of the fear that this acceptance may be withdrawn and they do so by seeking "institutional support," i.e., by making a public promise of constancy and, consequently, being taken at their word by society.

10. We can therefore speak of three aspects or dimensions of marriage. These are three aspects of its significance or its function. The first aspect shows the married couple in its own life, its history, and its fate. The second aspect brings the family as such into sharper focus: Children are an expression of both the nature of the institution and of personal love, they add nothing alien to the marriage but rather enlarge it to the other dimensions. Lastly, the third aspect throws the limelight on the importance of marriage for society. Marriage represents the living cell, the fundamental element of both civil society and of the religious community. These three dimensions mark the living expression of marriage, and also its significance as going far beyond mere individual interest. But at the same time they also indicate aspects of menace for each individual marriage. In each of these three dimensions, indeed, a lived marriage is liable to failure or lack of success: It is menaced to an equal extent by a failure of the conjugal partnership, by a breakdown of the family relationship and by a destruction of its social integration. A marriage is already threatened when one of these dimensions is neglected as compared with the others or is considered to be less relevant. One of the best means of preventing marriage failure is to help individual married people to gain insight into these aspects and to accept responsibility for all dimensions. In this way they become in the full sense it for marriage.

11. The third of these aspects merits some additional remarks. The relationship between a marriage and the culture or the society in which that marriage is lived is the result of interaction. On the one hand, marriage represents the formative and effective element out of which society and community are constructed. On the other hand, the values, the yardsticks and the criteria for the orientation of married life are derived from society. And it is precisely within this interaction that both the life of society and the history of each lived marriage unfold. But this makes marriage depend in an altogether particular manner on the things that a given society considers to be valid: Society must be open to the vital needs of marriage in all its dimensions. Marriage proves to be vulnerable and sensitive not only to limitation of and interference with its living space ("Lebensraum"), but even to shortcomings in the public support and sustenance that it needs. Although the religious community is able to provide essential foundations for marriage, it can also become a threat in a similar way. Indeed, it is just the religious community that must allow marriage the space and the support to develop its life in all dimensions. A religious community that recognizes only one of these dimensions-the family aspect say and neglects or undervalues the others represents a menace to the vitality of marriage. In this sense the religious community too must be open to all the vital needs of marriage. In married life, of course, none of these aspects is in practice separated from the others. Together, rather, they form a complex and irrevocable unity.

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