Sentence of June 12, 1997 (In Iure only) (personalism)

It is trite to say that the christian - and also the canonical - perception of marriage, especially since the Second Vatican Council, has become more and more "personalistic". Personalism itself needs to be properly understood. It is not to be confused with subjectivism or individualism, which convey the false suggestion that the individual person can find human fufillment in relating just to himself and making himself the centre of his concerns and ambitions. In order to preclude this possible confusion, some wisely insist that personalism necessarily involves interpersonalism. Interpersonalism in fact stresses more directly the capacity and need for self-transcendence in the individual; and insists on man's "social dimension" as a vital aspect to his personalistic fulfillment. Pointing this out, Karol Wojtyla notes that marriage is the first expression of this "social dimension", enriched also by the "new duties and demands" which the married commitment calls for (Person & Community: Selected Essays, 1993, 248). The commitment of marriage is personalist also because it is essentially interpersonalist.

            This is clearly expressed in the key conciliar phrase reflecting the essence of christian personalism, "man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself" (GS 24), as well as in its major references to the nature of marriage and marital consent: "This [conjugal] partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons. For by his innermost nature man is a social being; and if he does not enter into relations with others he can neither live nor develop his gifts" (GS 12); "è dall'atto umano col quale i coniugi mutuamente si danno e si ricevono, che nasce anche davanti alla società, l'istitutuzione del matrimonio... Questa intima unione, in quanto mutua donazione di due persone..." (ib. 48).

            This conciliar married personalism directly inspires one of the most striking innovations to be found in the 1983 Code of Canon Law: the totally new formula used to describe marital consent: that "act of the will by which a man and a woman, through an irrevocable covenant, mutually give and accept each other in order to establish a marriage" (c. 1057, § 2).

            The judges in second instance in the case before the Court today, responding affirmatively to the doubt proposed concerning the respondent's grave lack of discretion of judgment concerning the essential matrimonial rights and duties which are to be mutually given and accepted (c. 1095, 2° ), stated: "We are convinced that in this marriage the Respondent had no idea of what was entailed in the giving of himself to his wife" (Acts, 82-83). However they do not state what they in fact consider to be essentially involved, from the juridic viewpoint, in this concept of marital "self-gift and other-acceptance".

            It seems just to observe that most post-Code commentators, writing from the viewpoint of canonical personalism, center practically all their attention on the "bonum coniugum" of c. 1055. They make little or no reference to the "giving and accepting each other" of c. 1057 (a phrase of even more clearly personalist derivation than the "bonum coniugum"), and pass over the task of its juridical analysis. Certainly this task is not easy; yet it clearly must be attempted.

            What follows continues a line of possible analysis suggested in previous sentences coram the undersigned (cfr. d. 5 novembris 1987, nos. 3-4, RRD, vol. 79, p. 618; d. 11 aprilis 1988, nos. 5-8, vol. 80, pp. 213-215; d. 1 martii 1990, nos. 2-4, vol. 82, pp. 177-178; d. 3 martii 1994, nos. 2-13: Forum 6 (1995):2, pp. 142-152). Working from personalist and anthropological parameters, it seeks to approximate to more strictly juridic conclusions.

            The conjugal commitment. Marriage is the highest expression of human intersexual commitment. This affirmation naturally takes into account that true human sexuality concerns the whole person, and therefore has spiritual dimensions which are even more important than those that are merely physical (cf. Sent of March 3, 1994, no. 11: Forum, loc. cit., pp. 150-151). In our context, then, the term "sexual" is used not in a merely corporal sense, but also as denoting all the complementary aspects of the mutual attraction - spiritual and characterial, even more than physical - that two persons of different sex can reciprocally experience. A man and a woman deeply in love are normally drawn to the maximum possible sexual commitment, as a means of fulfilling their desire for union and life-communion.

            Lovers - who love with a conjugal love - would like to give themselves totally to each other, to be fused into one. Their desire cannot be literally achieved, for neither party is owner of himself or herself to the extent of being able to give all of that self to the other. Parts of one's self must always remain inalienable: responsibility for one's own salvation, for instance. Other aspects of self do not necessarily have to be integrated into married unity (it may be ideal that the spouses are at one in political opinions, recreational interests, etc.; but very few would suggest this as requisite for a valid or for a happy marriage). Within a pastoral or spiritual context, it may be useful to speak of marriage as involving a total mutual "donation of persons" between the spouses; but this is clearly not acceptable in a strictly juridical context (cfr. Oggetto, *).

            To fulfil their desire for mutual self-donation and union, all that lovers can do is to establish between themselves a relationship so close and so unique that it places each in the privileged position of spouse, and so singles him or her out from all others, also in terms of juridical rights and obligations. This is marriage, a covenant in which a man and a woman by mutual consent make each other object of a personalized relationship (unique among forms of human association), exclusive of all others (in respect of its distinctive mutual rights/obligations), binding for life, and open to sexual union and to the most personalized fruit - the child - of sexual intercourse, which itself is the most exceptional bodily expression of the conjugal love-union between the spouses.

            Here we have the major dimensions or connotations of the conjugal self-gift of c. 1057 § 2, connotations which are both personalist and juridic at one and the same time. Any analysis of this marital self-gift naturally centers in the first place on these three unique expressions of a committed conjugal love-choice between a man and a woman: that the choice be exclusive of others, at least in a similar relationship; that it be permanent (a gift for a time is a loan, not a gift); that it be open to the life-giving power of sexuality (a couple can express the uniqueness of their relationship in no more striking a way than being ready to have a child together).

            The personalist meaning of the augustinian "bona". This approach to a juridic analysis of c. 1057 calls for a fresh consideration of the augustinian "bona", in a progressive line which finds old roots in new expressions.

            Canonists may well have to make a particular effort to integrate the augustinian "bona" into their understanding of married personalism, precisely because their natural concern with the invalidating effect of the exclusion of these "bona" (or one of them) has made them focus on the juridic obligations involved in each, and so see them in a negative perspective. The unfortunate result has often been to obscure the inherent attractiveness of these marital values, and to create a mindset sceptical about the fittedness of man for marriage or of marriage for man. That was not the mind of St. Augustine as he developed the doctrine of the "bona", in his defense of the dignity of marriage against the pessimism of the Manicheans (cf. C. Burke: "St. Augustine and Conjugal Sexuality": Communio 1990-IV, 545-565).

            Augustine insists that marriage is good because of three fundamental "goods" or values. "Let these nuptial goods be the objects of our love: offspring, fidelity, the unbreakable bond... Let these nuptial goods be praised in marriage by him who wishes to extol the nuptial institution" (De nupt. et conc. I, c. 17, n. 19). For him, each of the essential properties of the conjugal society - its exclusiveness, its permanence, its procreativity - is a good thing, that gives dignity to matrimony and shows its deep corespondence to the innate aspirations of human nature, which can therefore take glory in this goodness: "This is the goodness [bonum] of marriage, from which it takes its glory: offspring, chaste fidelity, unbreakable bond" (De pecc. orig., c. 37, n. 42). In his view, then, these values appear as main features of a true marital bond which underline the natural goodness of marriage and show it as something admirable and attractive to human consideration.

            Is St. Augustine's notion of the basic goodness of the exclusive, unbreakable, fruitful nature of the married relationship valid today? His view certainly needs to be reechoed in teaching and preaching, precisely because our modern world appears to see so little in marriage, and is not likely to recover its appreciation until it comes to reevaluate the worth of the augustinian values and the way each coresponds to the deeper aspirations of genuine human love between a man and a woman.

            Yes; many people today are suspicious of an exclusive relationship. And yet everyone wants to be "someone very special" in some other person's eyes. Hence arises the good or value of the commitment to a faithful and exclusive love in marriage. "You are unique to me" is the first truly personalised affirmation of conjugal love; and echoes the words God addresses to each one of us in the book of Isaiah: "You are mine" (Is 43:1). The person who does not wish to "belong" to someone else (in a mutual "belonging") risks consigning himself or herself to growing isolation and loneliness.

            Yes; many people today are suspicious of binding themselves for ever. And nevertheless, "I'll love you for always" is what love aspires after. "Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement 'until further notice'..." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1646). With the acceptance of a permanent bond of love comes the goodness of knowing that one's "belonging" to another, and that other's belonging to one, is for keeps. People want this, and while they know that it will require sacrifices, there is a natural sense that the sacrifices are worth it. "It is natural for the human heart to accept demands, even difficult ones, in the name of love for an ideal, and above all in the name of love for a person" (John Paul II, Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, V, 1 (1982), 1344).

            Yes again; many people today are suspicious of the burdens of having children. And yet the fruitfulness of the conjugal union fulfils man's and woman's normal longing for self-perpetuation and for the perpetuation in offspring of the conjugal love between them.

            A revival in understanding of marriage as a normal commitment and as a way of fulfillment calls for a renewed perception of the positive nature of these "bona", of how they corespond to the innate aspirations of conjugal love between man and woman. True married personalism does not reject the augustinian "bona". It conceives genuine progress as a consequence not of abandoning them, but rather of integrating them into its own vision.

            No small obstacle to progress in juridic thinking is the difficulty some writers experience in overcoming the categorization of the augustinian "bona" as "institutional", and therefore as "non-personalist", aspects of marriage. In other words, they see a contrast and even obligatory opposition between "personalist" and "institutional". It is legitimate to suggest that recourse to this contrast and categorization is dated, and shows a notable lack of integrated analysis - a failure to understand that the constitutional or institutional aspects of marriage (those deriving from its very institution) can be both institutional and personalist at one and the same time. "Institutional" in its most proper sense refers to what marriage is - and also therefore to what properties and finalities, etc. it possesses - in virtue of its institution. It is in this sense that the term is used here. An examination of the dual Genesis account of the creation of the sexes shows that the institutional purposes of marriage are both procreative and personalist (cf. C. Burke Communio *). The "bonum coniugum" is a personalist end of marriage but, for all that, no less an institutional end (cf. Gen 2: 18). In a similar fashion, the augustinian "bona" are institutional properties of marriage (cf. Gen 1: 1: 27-28; 2: 18-24; Mt 19:8); and, as the most characteristic qualities of the interpersonal covenant between the spouses, are at the same time fundamentally personalist. If one does not see this, it becomes hard to grasp that current church thinking on marriage is running along lines of synthesis, and not of opposition, between institutional and personalist, as is already clear in c. 1055.

            The augustinian "bona" and married personalism. In a recent article (in criticism precisely of the view that the augustinian "bona" represent the main defining parameters of marriage), the warning is given that "we must beware simply of clothing traditional concepts in a personalist garb, but rather must examine the importance given to the interpersonal relationship of the spouses" (*Dw, ? The Jurist, op. cit. 805.). The opposition implied in this passage does not seem justified. Can anything qualify the interpersonal relationship of the spouses more uniquely than their mutually pledging themselves in an exclusive, permanent and life-oriented personal union?

            Others seem to regard any understanding of the essence of marriage, centered mainly on the augustinian "bona", as over-narrow: "the approach adopted by the Second Vatican Council, by the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code, and ultimately by the legislator himself, is not the one circumscribed by the augustinian schema. The council described marriage as a human reality, an exclusive and permanent union or communion of a man and a woman ordered toward the good of the spouses and the generation and upbringing of children" (Mendonça, * 522-523). This argument is unusual: after the implication that Vatican II turned away from St. Augustine's analysis, what in effect are augustinian parameters (exclusive, permanent, ordered to generation) are used to describe the Council's view of the essence of marriage. The very summary of the Council's presentation of marriage offered in the passage quoted seems to bring out the underlying continuity of ecclesial thought.

            The analysis outlined above is misconstrued if it is seen as implying that marriage in its essence is to be defined in terms of the augustinian "bona" only (Mendonça, loc. cit.; Dewhirst, op. cit. 805). To hold that the juridic essence of marriage (for the point at issue concerns what is juridic) is primarily and most clearly defined by the augustinian "bona", is not necessarily to exclude other constitutive elements. An open mind must be maintained regarding any argument seeking to demonstrate that some other well-defined element is in fact juridically essential. But so far, it must be admitted, no convincing argument to this effect has been produced. No one will disagree with the remark that "the interpersonal relationship of the spouses surely embraces more than the traditional bona" (Dewhirst, op. cit. 805). Certainly it does; it embraces many expressions of loving care and many reciprocal moral duties between the spouses to treat each other with kindness, help, understanding... From the canonical viewpoint, however, the question is whether these other elements are essential in a constitutional-juridic sense or not.

            The words quoted above - that the contemporary understanding of marriage "is not the one circumscribed by the augustinian schema" - seem to reflect that negative concept of the "bona" according to which they are restrictive or impoverishing, rather than enriching, realities. Canonical reflection can only lose balance and depth if it overlooks the positive anthropological nature of the augustinian "bona" as well as their personalistic character. One can challenge whether it is correct to describe this view as "regressive" (cfr. Mendonça, op. cit., 519). If one loses something valuable in the course of a journey, worthwhile progress may first demand taking as many steps back as necessary ("regressing"), in order to find it. It is arguable that one of the greatest losses suffered by ecclesial thinking in the field of marriage (a loss plausibly to be attributed to canonical praxis more than to any other factor) is its diminished appreciation of the positive and personalist nature of the augustinian "bona". Due analysis of the object of matrimonial consent, as expressed in c. 1057, § 2, can hopefully lead to a recovery of what has been lost.

            Before ending, we must remark on a suggestion of the Defender of the Bond in first instance. Noting how the absence of any real evidence of lack of dsn in the Petitioner's contrasts with her strong feelings about the merits of the case, he comments: "Clearly the Petitioner feels strongly about the validity of her case, but the case cannot be evaluated on feelings or emotions. Only the weight of substantial, supporting, corroborative evidence can sustain the basis for a "constat de nullitate". Will the learned judges decide that the fresh evidence is sufficient to tip the scales in favour of the Petitioner? If not, then the Petitioner might be advised to seek a pastoral solution in the forum of conscience" (73). It is not easy to understand how a minister of justice can consider as a "solution", in any true pastoral sense, what he himself declares to be lacking in all objective proof; and to do so simply in view of the emotions (not the corroborated conviction) of a party.