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Dear members of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota!
It is a joy for me to meet with you on the occasion of the inauguration of the new judicial year. I thank your dean, Monsignor Pio Vito Pinto, for the sentiments expressed on behalf of all of you and from my heart I return them. This meeting offers me the opportunity to reaffirm my esteem and gratitude for the service you provide the Successor of Peter and the whole Church and to encourage you to invest yourselves still more in an area that is certainly difficult but of incomparable worth for the salvation of souls. The principle that the “salus animarum” (salvation of souls) is the supreme law in the Church (cf. CIC, can. 1752) must be kept firmly in mind and be responded to daily in your work strictly and dutifully.
1. In the context of the Year of Faith, I would like to reflect, in a special way, on certain aspects of the relationship between faith and marriage, observing that the current crisis of faith, which involves various parts of the world, brings with it a crisis of the conjugal relationship, with all the weight of suffering and turmoil that this causes for the children. We can begin from the common linguistic root of the Latin terms “fides” (faith) and “foedus” (covenant). The latter term is used by the Code of Canon Law to designate the natural reality of marriage as an irrevocable pact between man and woman (cf. can. 1055 §1). The reciprocal commitment of self is, in fact, the irreplaceable basis of any pact or covenant.
At the theological level, the relation between faith and matrimony assumes a still greater and more profound meaning. The spousal bond, in fact, although it is a natural reality between the baptized has been elevated to the dignity of a sacrament by Christ (cf. ibid.).
For sacramentality the indissoluble pact between man and woman does not require their personal faith; what it requires, as the minimal necessary condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. But if it is important not to confuse the problem of intention with that of the faith of those entering into the covenant, nevertheless, it is not possible to totally separate them.
As the International Theological Commission noted in a 1977 document: “Where there is no trace of faith (in the sense of “belief”—being disposed to believe), and no desire for grace or salvation is found, then a real doubt arises as to whether there is the above-mentioned general and truly sacramental intention and whether the contracted marriage is validly contracted or not” (“Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage,” 2.3). John Paul II, speaking to this Tribunal 10 years ago, in any case, specified “that an attitude on the part of those getting married that does not take into account the supernatural dimension of marriage can render it null and void only if it undermines its validity on the natural level on which the sacramental sign itself takes place” (Address to the Roman Rota, January 30, 2003. 8). It is above all necessary in the present context to develop further reflections on this topic.
2. The contemporary culture, marked by an accentuated ethical and religious subjectivism, places the person and the family before pressing challenges. In the first place it places them before the question about the capacity of man to bind himself, and, if it is a bond that lasts his whole life, whether it is truly possible and corresponds to human nature, or, rather, whether it is not contrary to his freedom and self-realization. It is a part of a widespread mentality, in fact, to think that the person becomes himself remaining “autonomous” and entering into contact with the other only through relations that can be broken at any time (cf. Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012). No one can fail to see that the decision of the human being to bind himself in a life-long relationship is influenced by each person’s fundamental perspective according as it is anchored at a merely human level or opens to the light of faith in the Lord.
Only in opening ourselves up to the truth of God is it possible to understand the truth of man as his son, reborn in Baptism and to realize this in the concreteness of conjugal and family life. “Whoever abides in me and I in him bears much fruit because without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5): this is what Jesus taught his disciples, reminding them of the substantial human incapacity to do alone what is required to achieve the true good. A rejection of the divine perspective leads to a profound imbalance in all human relationships (cf. Address to the International Theological Commission, December 8, 2012), including marriage, and facilitates an erroneous understanding of freedom and self-realization that, combined with the flight from the patient endurance of suffering, condemns man to being shut up in his egoism and egocentrism. On the other hand, the welcoming of faith makes man capable of the gift of self. Only in “opening himself to the other, to others, to children, to the family, only by letting himself be changed through suffering, does he discover the breadth of his humanity” (cf. Address to the Roman Curia, December 21, 2012).
Faith in God, sustained by divine grace, is therefore a very important element for living mutual dedication and conjugal fidelity (General Audience, June 8, 2011). There is no intention by this statement to deny that fidelity is possible in natural marriage contracted by unbaptized persons. In fact, it is not deprived of the goods that “come from God the Creator and are included, in a certain inchoative way, in the marital love that unites Christ with his Church” (International Theological Commission, “Propositions on the Doctrine of Christian Marriage,” 1977. 3.4). Certainly, however, closure to God and the rejection of the sacral dimension of the conjugal union and its value in the order of grace make it difficult to incarnate concretely the high model of marriage conceived by the Church according to God’s plan, possibly threatening the validity itself of the pact – assumed by the consolidated jurisprudence of this Tribunal – if it is translated into a rejection in principle of the conjugal obligation of fidelity, that is, of the essential elements or properties of marriage.
Tertullian, in his celebrated Letter to Wives, speaking of a married life marked by faith, writes that Christian spouses “are truly two in one flesh, and where flesh is one, the spirit is one. They pray together, fall prostrate together and fast together; they teach other, honor each other, support each other” (Ad uxorem libri duo, II, IX: PL1, 1415B-1417A). St. Clement of Alexandria expresses himself in similar terms: “If, in fact, for both there is one God, then there is one teacher, Christ, there is one Church, one wisdom, one modesty, together they are nourished, matrimony unites them ... And if their life is in common, in common also are grace, slavation, virtue, the moral life” (Pædagogus, I, IV, 10.1: PG 8, 259B). The saints who lived the union of marriage and family from the Christian standpoint, were able to overcome even the most difficult situations, achieving their own sanctification and that of the children with a love always strengthened by firm trust in God, by a sincere religious piety and an intense sacramental life. Precisely these experiences, marked by faith, help us to understand, even today, how precious is the sacrifice made by the spouse who has been abandoned or who has suffered divorce if – recognizing the indisoluability of the valid marriatal bond – he or she succeeds in not “getting involved in a new relationship ... In that case the example of fidelity and Christian consistency assumes a special value of witness before the world and the Church” John Paul II, “Familiaris consortio,” 83).
3. Finally, I would like to reflect briefly on the “bonum coniugum” (the good of the spouses). Faith is important in the realization of the authentic conjugal good, which consists simply in always and in every case willing the good of the other in function of a real and indissoluable “consortium vitae” (sharing of life). In truth, in the project of the Christian spouese to live a real “communio coniugalis” (conjugal communion) there is a dynamism of faith for which the “confessio” (witness), the sincere personal response to the proclamation of salvation, involves the believer in the movement of God’s love. “Confessio” and “caritas” are “the two ways in which God involves us, makes us act with him, in him and for humanity, for his creation … ‘Confessio’ is not an abstract thing, it is ‘caritas,’ it is love. Only in this way is it really the reflection of divine truth, which as truth is also, inseparably, love” (Meditation During the First General Congregation of the VIII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 8, 2012). Only through the flame of charity is the presence of the Gospel not a mere word but a lived reality. In other words, if it is true that “faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt,” we must conclude that “faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path” (“Porta fidei,” October 11, 2012. 14).
4. If this is true in the larger context of community life, it must be all the more true in the marital union. It is in it, in fact, that faith makes the love of the spouses grow and fructify, giving place to the presence of God the Trinity and making the conjugal life itself, lived in this way, “good news” for the world.
I recognize the difficulties from a juridical and practical point of view of a clarifying the essential element of the “conum coniugum,” prevalently understood up to this point in relation to the hypotheses of incapacity (cf. CIC, can. 1095). The “bonum coniugum” also assumes relevance in the sphere of the simulation of consent. Of course, in the cases brought before you, there will be the inquiry “in facto” to ascertain the possible legitimacy of this ground for nullity, prevalent or coexistent with another ground of the three Augustinian “goods,” procreativity, exclusivity and perpetuity. So we must not prescind from the consideration that there may be cases in which, precisely because of the absence of faith, the good of the spouses is compromised and thus excluded from the consent itself; for example, on the hypothesis of a subversion by one of them becaue of an erroneous conception of the marital bond, of the principle of parity, or on the the hypothesis of a rejection of the dual union that distinguishes the marital bond, in relationship with a possible coexistent exclusion of fidelity and of intercourse accomplished “humano modo” (in a human way).
Withthe present considerations, I certainly do not wish to suggest any facile automotism between lack of faith and the invalidity of the marital union, but rather to show how this lack can, though not necessarily, also harm the goods of marriage, from the moment that the reference to the natural order willed by God is inherent in the conjugal pact (cf. Genesis 2:24).
Dear brothers, I invoke the help of God for you and those in the Church who work to safeguard the truth and justice that regard the sacred bond of matrimony and, thereby, the Christian family. I entrust you to the protection of Mary Most Holy, Mother of Christ, and St. Joseph, Guardian of the Family of Nazareth, silent and obedient executor of the divine plan of salvation, as I glady impart to you and your loved ones the apostolic benediction.
[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]