01. Matrimonial Consent and Christian Personalism

            The Second Vatican Council is the great council of ecclesial "communio"; and from many viewpoints is also marked by a strong personalist inspiration. Between "communio" and christian personalism, there is no opposition but rather complementariety: a point to which we have given some consideration elsewhere ("Personalism, Individualism, and the "Communio" of Vatican II" Osservatore Romano (English Ed.), April 28, 1993.). For our present purpose, it is important to recall that there is a true and a false personalism; or, to be more exact, there is christian personalism - which characterizes both the Second Vatican Council and the writings on marriage of Pope John Paul II - and secular atheistic individualism. It is important to bear this in mind because some of the currents that have influenced church thought and practice since Vatican II (also within the canonical field) have, perhaps unconsciously, taken their inspiration more from individualistic principles than from those that are truly personalistic.

            True christian personalism exalts the dignity of each person, made in the image of God. It therefore stresses his rights but also his duties, his freedom but also his responsibility. The personalistic philosophy, seeing the same dignity and rights in others, tends to self-giving (cfr. GS 24), and is therefore open to the creation of "communio" or community, which is the natural application and extension of personalism on the social scale. Individualism, on the contrary, is essentially self-centered (it is particularly expressed today in the psychological cult of "self"); tends to self-sufficiency and self-protection; is quick to claim rights and slow to recognize duties; and is constitutionally hostile to any idea of commitment or permanent bond, as well as to any community which is not seen and experienced as serving self-interest. Christian personalism can renew the conjugal community, as well as the broader ecclesial community; secular individualism tends to destroy both.

            The personalist end of marriage is at times understood not only in exclusively earth-bound terms, but also often judged mainly from the viewpoint of the personal satisfaction of each spouse considered separately, rather than from that of their common maturing as persons, and their openness to the community, according to God's design for married couples.

            When such a view (lacking in true christian personalism) is present, there is no doubt but that it can influence people who marry, and possibly change in a radical way not only their idea of marriage, but the very matrimonial consent they give or ought to give - with far-reaching anthropological and juridic repercussions. It is also of course true that such a view (more marked by individualism than by personalism) can influence canonists themselves, and lead them to interpret matrimony, and particularly the consent necessary for the setting up of the "consortium coniugale", in an inadequate way. Then one could begin to see pathologies in a consent that is basically healthy and valid, or to postulate requisites for valid consent that are not in fact necessary from a truly human and christian viewpoint.

            Gaudium et Spes offered a strongly personalist presentation of marriage, It was both inevitable and right that this married personalism should have had a deep influence on the canons related to marriage in the revised Code of 1983 - the "last document of the Second Vatican Council" as Pope John Paul II has described it (AAS 76 (1984), 644.). This personalism is particularly reflected in the approach of the Code to the act of consent which is vital to the constitution of marriage. Canons which cover defects of consent (cc. 1095ss) have been qualified in a more personalist line, particularly by the introduction of c. 1098 which declares invalid consent obtained by fraud.

            It is in c. 1057 however, where married personalism enters codified church law with particular force and impact. This canon, which provides powerful inspiration for those considering marriage from the pastoral and theological angles, offers the canonist with no small challenge in striving to determine its juridic scope and application. A long period of analysis in this sense undoubtedly lies before us. Our present study wishes simply to offer one line of investigation which may warrant further pursuit.