Cardinal Caffarra on the Value of Marriage (Part 2)

"the witnesses to the truth of marriage will have a hard life, as is not unusual for witnesses to truth"

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Here is a translation of the second and final part of the keynote lecture given Sept. 12 in Bologna by Cardinal Carlo Caffarra at the “Family: Womb of the ‘I’” conference, which inaugurated the formation year 2013-2014 of the Itinerary of Catholic Education for Teachers promoted by the Instituto Veritatis Splendor.

Part 1 was published Thursday.

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2. The good of marriage

Having seen what marriage is, we now ask what its value is, its proper and specific worth (“preziosità”). In a word: its goodness.

Before getting into the second part of our reflection, I must set down a very important premise. There is a truth about the good of the person that is shareable by every rational person. What is meant by the “truth about the good”? It does not in the first place mean that which you must/must not do. It is the perception of the proper value of a reality (in our case marriage).

Let me give an example. Seeing the “Pietà” of Michelangelo, we “see” a sublime beauty, which makes that piece of marble unique: it has its own value in itself. In this case it is an aesthetic value. The answer to the questions “What is good?” “What is evil?” is not simplistically: “Whatever each person thinks is good or evil, without the possibility of many people rationally sharing the same answer.” On the contrary, there is a truth about the good that can be discovered and shared by every reasonable person. We ask ourselves what is the value of marriage, its specific worth, its unmistakable beauty. The good that is marriage has two fundamental aspects.

1. Marriage is a “communio personarum” (a communion of persons). The goodness of marriage is a communal goodness. I would like to show you some dimensions of it.

(a) Such a relationship can only be given among persons, and the basis is the perception of goodness, of worth proper to the person. The husband and wife are persons for each other.

(b) The communion of persons that constitutes the good of marriage is not based on emotions, on mere psycho-physical attraction. Animals too are capable of connections based on these factors. Only persons are capable of making the following promise: “I promise to be faithful to you always ... all the days of my life.” Only persons are capable of living in communion because they are capable of choosing in a free and conscious way.

(c) Only the person is capable of making a gift of himself and only the person is capable of accepting the gift. The person – and only the person – is capable of self-donation because he is capable of self-possession in virtue of his freedom. It is obvious that you cannot give what you do not have, and the person is capable of possessing himself in virtue of his freedom. But the person can also give up his freedom and live in the manner of those who let themselves be carried along by social mainstream or by his own impulses. Marriage is particularly vulnerable to this trap.

(d) The communion of conjugal persons – mutual self-donation and reception – is rooted in the depths of the person: in one’s own “I.” It is the person as such that is given/received. Here is perhaps the most profound mystery of marriage. You know well that Sacred Scripture indicates the sexual relationship between a man and a woman with the verb “to know.” There is a revelation of one to the other in their intimate identity.

It is in this event that a kind of indolence can introduce itself, of spiritual laziness that impedes the husband and wife from accomplishing that act that can only be born from their free and spiritual center. At this point the communion of persons becomes numb.

2. The second aspect of ethical value (“preziosità”) that is proper to marriage is its intrinsic capacity to originate another human person.

The possibility of giving life to a new person is inscribed in the nature itself of marriage. In the created universe this is the greatest power that man and woman have. It is one of the “points” where God’s creative action enters into our created universe. The time that I have does not permit me to expand my reflection on this sublime topic.

Conclusion

Two basic concluding reflections. First, you have seen that I have been careful to avoid using the word “love.” Why? Because it has been mugged. Love is one of the key words of the Christian proposal but it has been appropriated by modern culture and become an empty word, a kind of receptacle into which everybody puts what he wants. The truth about love is hard to convey today. “Without truth, charity slips into sentimentalism. Love becomes an empty shell that gets filled in an arbitrary way. This is the dangerous risk that love takes in a culture without truth” (Benedict XVI, “Caritas in veritate,” 3).

Second, the witnesses to the truth of marriage will have a hard life, as is not unusual for witnesses to truth. But this is the educators most urgent task.

[Translation by Joseph G Trabbic]