6.3.3 Familiaris Consortio: ‘The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family’

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Unit 6 Contents

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The next reading is Pope John Paul’s most authoritative statement of the Catholic Church’s teaching about marriage and family life.

Look at the Reflection below it before you read.

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Reading (10pp)

Pope John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, ##11-21 (Part 2 and some of Part 3.I)

Note

As stated on p. 6.1.3, links to Familiaris Consortio are to the text at Intratext Digital Library (not at www.vatican.va).  Each section is on a different page.

Tip to ease reading: magnify the text – it will adjust to fit the screen.

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Reflection

Make a few notes on the things in this reading that surprise you and on others that especially strike you in other ways.

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Personally I find what Pope John Paul II says in this reading really inspiring.  This is even though sometimes the reasons for what the Pope teaches are not self-evident.  Of course many people would find some of what he says controversial and see it as needing to be challenged.

There is a great deal in that reading, much more than we can explore in this module.  The next two readings will be shorter passages from later in FC.  The second of these will focus on the idea of family as “domestic church”, which you have just read about in #21.  After that you will read a discussion of John Paul’s writing on family that is both highly sympathetic and critical, by a leading Catholic moral theologian, Lisa Sowle Cahill.

But before we come to the next reading, I’ll comment on three main aspects of what is in the text you have just read, conscious of our aim of focusing in this module on the place of family life in society.  This will, I hope, enable fuller understanding of it.

(i)  The “making” of a marriage and the extended family

A basic aspect of Catholic teaching about marriage is that a marriage comes to exist only by the authentically free action of both the man and the women in consenting to one another.

This lies behind some of the things John Paul says in FC.  The Catechism puts it even more plainly:

[It is] the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace [who] mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church…

The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to be the indispensable element that “makes the marriage.”  If consent is lacking there is no marriage…  The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other” [Gaudium et Spes, #48]: “I take you to be my wife” – “I take you to be my husband.”

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, ##1623, 1626-1627; the phrase “makes the marriage” comes from the code of the Church’s law (‘canon law’) in canon 1057 § 1.)

This emphasis on each person’s free action in consenting to marry can seem unremarkable to many people who have been brought up in the modern or post-modern Western world, with its very strong emphasis on individual freedom.  It can seem a statement of the obvious.

In fact, it reflects the way that marriage, as the Christian Church understands it, is a profoundly liberating institution.  It is not the extended families which make the marriage. (Nor is the wedding itself primarily their activity.)  It is not the priest, or any other agent of the Church, who makes the marriage.  It is not the State which makes the marriage.  It is only the free action of the bride and groom.  All the others only witness to the marriage, thereby recognizing it and giving it public status.

For anyone who comes from a background in which the power of extended family seems oppressive – and there are many in Western countries who continue to find this, as well as in other part of the world – this basic aspect of Christian teaching insists that whether and whom a person marries is not a matter for their parents or anyone else in the family.  A marriage is “made” only by the free action of the two spouses and it always establishes a new partnership.

This shows the particular way in which Catholic teaching does privilege the nuclear family: this is never just an extension of pre-existing families.  But, as we shall see shortly, CST’s vision of nuclear family life is radically different from a typically modern Western version that is introspective and consumerist.

At the same time, it is very clear from #21 in FC, and from #27 which you’ll read in a moment, that there is a very strong affirmation of extended family.  The privileging of nuclear family through the insistence that marriage is formed by the consent of the two partners itself gives the basis for celebration of the wider family.

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End of 6.3.3

Go to 6.3.4 “Two specific ways” of living the human vocation to love

 

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