Indice > Dialoghi Interconfessionali > L-R-RC > The Theology of Mariage | CONT. > sez. 4

Marriage For Life
  V. (PASTORAL CARE) - selez.

  (CONCLUSION) - selez.



24. It is our common conviction that in the conjugal union a man and a woman commit themselves for their whole lives, and that the couple is destined through marriage to remain united "as long as life lasts," as is said in our liturgies. Being a reciprocal gift that makes the spouses "one flesh," it must be total, without reserve and unconditional. This is required by the dynamism inherent in any authentic love which by its very nature tends to be life-long. It is a matter of the deep respect for each other of those who mutually commit themselves, and of the good of their children, as well of the common good of the human community. That is why, in our efforts to be in our Churches constant witnesses to this conjugal love, we feel we can render a service to humanity and to the individual couples concerned.

25. Although we have this common conviction, the fact remains that we also have divisions, clear divisions just as we have with regard to the "sacramental" aspect of marriage. In this latter case our divisions are rather of a theological nature. In the present matter our divisions concern, in great measure, pastoral work. They are so important that it is necessary at this point to give a brief exposition of the motives underlying these differences.

26. The Catholic Church acknowledges it is powerless over a marriage that has been validly contracted and truly agreed upon between two Christians (what is called by the Church a marriage ratum et consummatum). In fact, in the Church's view such a marriage is the sacrament or sign of the union of Christ with the Church, and thus it is as indissoluble as this union.

27. Confronted by the difficulties that such a marriage can encounter, one may ask oneself from the Catholic Church's viewpoint - whether these may not derive from a certain shortcoming inherent in this marriage, and which in effect renders such a union in existent or null. If the marriage appears to be truly valid and effected in the normal manner, one tries by every possible means to save the union by having recourse to the grace that the relationship of marriage to the mystery of grace puts at the disposal of the spouses. If in the end the continuation of conjugal life seems impossible, a separation is then considered legitimate. But if the spouses decide to obtain a divorce, then the Catholic Church considers that it has not the right to view the second marriage which might follow as a Christian marriage or even as a valid one. That is, it denies that this second marriage, following upon a divorce, can represent the union of Christ with the Church, a union which lasts for ever.

28. The Catholic Church does not, therefore, consider that the passages in Matthew 5 and 19 imply tolerance of divorce. The purpose of the Church's severe exclusion from the sacraments of such spouses, is to manifest her disagreement with their behavior, and to point out how they are acting against the mystery of Christ by contracting a second marriage. But this exclusion (from the sacraments) should not mean withholding the spiritual support which such spouses have the right to find, in any event, within the Church.

29. Even though they hold that marriage is a sign of the Covenant, the Reformation Churches do not consider Christian marriage to be a sacrament in the full sense of the word. Undoubtedly they see in the union of Christ with his church the model of Christian marriage. Therefore they too, in accordance with Ephesians 5, endeavor in every possible way that marriage should possess the quality of fidelity which Christ expects of it. But this relationship with Christ does not mean that the spouses who are mutually committed consider incompatible with the mystery of Christ the fact that they might possibly, in the case of a complete failure, seek a divorce.

30. That is why, when it seems that the marriage cannot continue any longer, the Reformation Churches consider that the bond of marriage has been destroyed, a fact which is ascertainable, like death. Nothing remains of the first marriage, therefore, that could prevent re-marriage. This does not mean that in this way the Reformation Churches resign themselves to divorce; but once divorce exists, they would not consider themselves bound to hold that a new Christian marriage is always impossible. The second marriage might perhaps achieve what was not possible in the first one, that is, a greater conformity with the love of Christ for the Church.

31. The difference between this and the Catholic position is clear. In the Catholic Church marriage exists as a Christian marriage only in so far as it represents-must and can represent-in its fidelity the love of Christ for the Church. The Reformation Churches, on the other hand, consider that, since marriage needs to conform to the unity of Christ with the Church, the unity that the first marriage has not been able to realize, may possibly be realized in a second marriage after a divorce. They do not therefore view divorce as a radical obstacle to a second marriage.

32. The presuppositions of such an attitude are numerous. Without entering here into the relation between creation and sin, we shall refer to the following points: 1) the doctrine of the justification of the sinner; 2) a view of the Gospel which, over and above all its requirements, sees the need for a spirit of mercy and forgiveness; 3) an interpretation of the passage in Matthew as indicating a Christian tolerance of divorce. As regards these last two points, the Reformation Churches adopt a position that is close to the Orthodox practice of "oikonomia," since they too in their own manner wish to give witness to the Gospel by showing mercy toward those who are divorced. And lastly, 4) there is some support for this doctrine in certain facts in the history of the Catholic Church. Moreover, attention is called to the fact that although the Catholic Church reaffirmed the indissolubility of marriage at the Councils of Florence and Trent, she has never formally condemned the position of the Orthodox.

33. The differences between our various Churches, therefore, are considerable. None of us dreams of denying this, and none imagines that such problems can be resolved by us in an artificial way. But one thing is certain, a thing we all share in common: that we all desire, each in his own way, to be submissive to Christ who indicates for marriage a fidelity which before his time was too often sacrificed. It is therefore in his presence that we must together place ourselves.

34. When confronted with the problem that divorce presents to the conjugal union, Christ, taking up again the teaching of Genesis, proclaims formally: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:6). The weakness and "hardness of heart" of men had obscured the plan laid down "from the beginning" by God himself, and the Lord Christ opposes with all His authority the tolerance introduced by the mosaic law. He calls spouses to an irrevocable fidelity with such great force that His disciples take fright, forgetting that what is impossible for men is possible for God.

35. In reality, just as God goes to meet His people in a Covenant of love and fidelity, one that is described by Hosea and other prophets with symbolism derived from conjugal life, so too Christ, the Savior of men and the Spouse of the Church, goes toward the love of Christian spouses, whose model He is through His union with the Church. If He spoke, therefore, about the indefectible union of man and woman, this was not just in virtue of the lucidity of a legislator, but principally because He is in His person the very source of this requirement of married love. Or better, this requirement flows directly from His way of being in regard to men. In His saving power, in effect, He remains ever-present with them so that, as He himself has loved the Church and given Himself for her, so too the spouses may be able to love each other faithfully as long as life lasts.

36. This fidelity to God, which was fully revealed by Christ through the crucifixion and resurrection, renders possible and supports the fidelity of the spouses to the love which they have promised and owe one another. The sexual impulse is assuredly an essential component of this love; but notwithstanding its great importance, it does not suffice by itself to ensure the perennial quality of love. As long as sin exists in the world, conjugal love will remain vulnerable, just as marriage itself is vulnerable. But since the promise made by Christ to the spouses is a promise of fidelity, it is able to make their love durable. This promise which is both a gift and an expression of God's will, a vocation and an exigence, can also become a judgement when it is refused.

37. The mark of the Christian couple, therefore, consists in this promise which precedes and accompanies them. It is also the fact that this promise is received with faith, is lived out and verified, as it were, every single day. By means of it the conjugal union is enabled to persevere, to grow through joys, as well as perils and sufferings, and even to last throughout life.

38. The indissolubility of conjugal love is manifested to us from then on as a fruit of the fidelity of God which demands and makes possible a similar fidelity in the spouses. And so, before being a law, indissolubility is a vital requirement of the love which the spouses have for each other and which they also owe to their children.

39. It is true that we live in a society that tends to question the validity of institutions and of marriage in particular. The aim of a protest of this kind against marriage is to protect couples from what used to be, or seems to be, a mere formality. This is why many young couples refuse to give their relationship any official character, whether civil or religious. Sociology and psychology have contributed to the fact that today perhaps more than in the past marriage is seen as a means to success, personal fulfilment and happiness, a view which tends to make marriage more vulnerable. Also, life together is envisaged as an experience the duration of which one cannot, and does not wish to, guarantee. However difficult it may be to evaluate all the consequences of this calling in question of marriage - consequences which are not all negative and which go beyond the boundaries of marriage itself - our common concern is to see that nothing should damage marriage as a cell of life and of love.

40. This concern is for Christians and indeed for all men. The problem is such a profound one that it goes beyond our doctrinal and practical differences. Therefore, with one heart and one faith we proclaim once more our common conviction that God wishes marriage to be a bond for the whole of life, in both depth and duration; and this is for the good of humanity. The doctrine and behavior of our Churches should therefore proclaim this message unceasingly, just as it is proclaimed in our liturgies in such a strikingly similar way and with a conviction born of faith.

41. And yet, however deep this accord, the fact remains that, as we have pointed out, our views and our practical pastoral approaches are opposed to each other in regard to the relation of Christian marriage to divorce. While Christian marriage and divorce remain incompatible in the Catholic Church, this is not always the case for the Reformation Churches and for the Orthodox. But each of us is convinced to be faithful to the Gospel, even if this does not exclude serious differences between us.

42. Lutherans and the Reformed Churches ask Catholics whether in their approach to the indissolubility of Christian marriage they forget the quality of mercy for the sake of a "mystery" which to their brothers of the Lutheran and Reformed Churches seems to have become a "law" that has not much to do with the Gospel. Catholics ask Lutherans and members of the Reformed Churches whether the way they reconcile divorce and Christian marriage does not contradict the mystery of Christ, and also whether the practice of re-marriage after a divorce does not blur the principle itself of indissolubility.

43. To these questions there are no ready-made answers which could satisfy all concerned. On the one hand it is true that an attitude of mercy should never favor solutions that are destructive of marriage and of love. On the other hand, there is the Orthodox usage of "oikonomia," and the passage of Matthew is a fact which remains a problem. It is clear, therefore, that we cannot overcome these difficulties by employing any short-cuts which might, mistakenly, be considered ecumenical. It is better to face the fact that our pastoral differences on this matter for the time being remain unreconciled, if not, perhaps unreconcilable.

44. However, since we all wish to be faithful to the mystery of Christ, our main concern is with this mystery, and not just with our mutual relations. Consequently, we all need to answer a question which should exclude the possibility of any complacency: how are we serving, and do we truly serve, or do we serve as much as we should, the truth of Christian marriage through our different practical approaches to this matter, above all at a time when this spiritual service, both in regard to marriage and to love, is more than ever necessary in society?

45. And so we are led to Him whom we have never ceased to discover at the heart and source of Christian marriage: the Christ whose mystery of life and salvation we want to make shine out among us: something we are never completely certain that we are doing, but also never give up hope of doing. It is in any case this desire which should inspire the attitude we have to adopt toward mixed marriage, without minimizing or over-stating either our points of agreement or our points of dissent.

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