"The Split between the gospel and culture", said Pope Paul VI, "is without a doubt the drama of our time". The drama is still being played out today in two main theaters, each with very distinctive features.
Marriage: a personalist or an institutional understanding? (Communio 19 (1992), 278-304)
For a large part of this century, theologians, canonists and anthropologists have been engaged in a vigorous debate about the ends of marriage, and at times about its very nature. On the one hand was the traditional (often termed the "procreative" or "institutional") understanding, which presented the ends of matrimony in a clear hierarchical manner: a "primary" end (procreation) and two "secondary" ends (mutual help and the remedy for concupiscence). On the other hand, there had emerged a new view which, without necessarily denying the importance of procreation, wished at least equal standing to be given to other personalist values linking husband and wife: mutual love, the conjugal union in its spiritual and not just its physical aspect, etc.
Culture suggests art; and the Chinese are renowned world-wide for an artistic tradition that goes back thousands of years, and is still expressed today with that fine touch of delicacy and beauty so often lacking in modern western art. I was reminded of this just yesterday when looking once again at one of those marvellous representations of Our Lady, Queen and Empress of China. What taste, I thought, the artist has!; what sense of beauty and tenderness!; just to look at that work of art raises one's heart to God.
"Why can't a woman be more like a man?", complained Henry Higgins in "My Fair Lady". Today he wouldn't be let get away with the remark without some people (not necessarily feminists) retorting: "and why can't a man be more like a woman?" Others might not only reject both complaints, but even question the importance of a man having to be like a man or a woman having to be like a woman. Indeed, if asked, they might be hard put to say what being a man or being a woman properly means, apart from elementary bodily differences. We live in fact in an historical period when sexual differentiation is becoming confused, sexual character is of little value, and sexual identity is in danger of being lost.