II. GENERAL ASPECTS OF MARRIAGE
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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