Cardinal Caffarra on What Is Marriage

Author: Cardinal Carlo Caffarra


Cardinal Caffarra on What Is Marriage

Part 1 "The question is the following: Is marriage a reality that is totally determined by man or does it have a 'hard core' that cannot be touched?"

ROME, 07 November 2013 (ZENIT)
Here is a translation of the first 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 2 will be published Friday.

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I would like to focus with you on a question whose importance I hope will be shown over the course of this reflection.
There is a question in the background of our discussion that I will respond to directly but that will also continue to accompany us. The question is the following: Is marriage a reality that is totally determined by man or does it have a “hard core” that cannot be touched? Since we know, without being logic scholars, that the definition of, say, X, is the answer to the question “What is X?” we can reformulate our question in the following way: Is the definition of marriage – that which marriage is – entirely dependent on social consensus? Is it social consensus that decides what marriage is?

If I now begin to speak to you about the truth of marriage (coniugalità), I can do so insofar as I think that the definition of marriage, its intimate nature, is not the exclusive fruit of social consensus. If I did not think this, then our reflection would have no point; everything would be settled by answering that social consensus decides what marriage is.

1. The truth of marriage

So we begin with the current state of affairs: “homosexual marriage” has been introduced into many public legal systems. This implies that sexual difference is irrelevant to the definition of marriage. The spouses who establish the marital covenant can be of the same sex. Nevertheless, marital friendship is always an affection that also has a sexual dimension. This is what distinguishes marital friendship from every other form of friendship.

Objectively – that is, whether I think so or not, whether I want it or not – the definition of marriage implied in the recognition of the homosexual couple totally disconnects the origin of the human person from marriage itself. Homosexual marriage is incapable of providing the conditions for the appearance of a new human life. So, only one of these can be true: either homosexual marriage is just inconceivable or the origin of new human persons has nothing to do with marriage.

Let us try to reflect on this disconnection. It seems to be contradicted by the fact that the same legal systems that have recognized homosexual marriage, have also recognized the right of same-sex spouses to adoption or recourse to artificial reproduction. So, only one of these can be true: either this right that is recognized brings what was chased out the front door in through the window – that is, there is an undeniable perception or evidence of the link between procreation and marriage; or the way that the new human person is introduced to life is something ethically neutral – that is, it does not matter whether the human person is generated or produced.

Let us pause for a moment to reflect on the path that we have taken. While up until only a few years ago the term “marriage” (coniugalità) was univocal, had only one meaning, and was the vehicle for the representation of only one reality, the sexual affection between a man and woman, today the term has become ambiguous because it can also signify a homosexual union. From this ambiguity derives a total and objective disconnection from the beginning of a human life. This is the path that we have followed so far: (a) the term “marriage” has been made ambiguous; (b) the origin of a new human person has been disconnected from marriage. Let us reflect for a moment on this disconnection.

This is truly a radical shake-up in the categories of the genealogy of the person. It is something very serious. I am constrained by time to be brief.

The category of paternity-maternity has disappeared, being replaced by the generic category of parenthood. The biological dimension has disappeared as a constitutive (but not sufficient!) element in the genealogy, whereas the genealogy of the person is inscribed in the biology of the person. Conception – the event that constitutes you in ontological relation with father and mother – can be purely artificial. The category of generation becomes optional in the account of the person’s genealogy.

How is it, then, with the human person who comes into the world? He is a person who is deeply alone, deprived of the relationships that make him exist.

Having considered this route that many western societies are taking, we come to a conclusion. It is this: holding that “marriage” is a term lacking meaning, that social consensus can determine its meaning, is the destruction of the fundamental fabric of human sociality: the genealogy of the person.

It is in this cultural context that we have to ask ourselves about the true nature of marriage, discover the truth of marriage.
Masculinity and femininity are expressive diversifications of the human person. It is not the case that there is a human person who is male or female; there is only a human person who is man or woman.

Neither can we forget for a moment that the body is simply something that is possessed, a possession of the person. The human person is his body: he is a person-body. And the body is the person: he is a body-person.
Femininity and masculinity are not mere biological data. They form the face of the person; they are the “form.” The person is masculinely or femininely “formed,” constructed.

Why are there two “forms” of humanity, masculine form and the feminine form? Sacred Scripture, which is also confirmed by our deepest experience, responds in the following way: so that both can leave behind their “original solitude,” and realize themselves in each other (cf. Genesis 2).

Being rooted in humanity itself, man and woman are also able to constitute a communion of persons and to find in this communion their fullness as human persons.

This capacity, characteristic of man as a person, the capacity for self-gift, has both a spiritual and bodily dimension. It is also through the body that man and woman are predisposed to form that communion of persons in which marriage consists. The male and female bodies are not only an expressive but a performative language of conjugality.

In marriage understood and founded in this way paternity and maternity are inscribed. It is only in the context of marriage that the new human person can be introduced into the universe of being in a manner that is adequate to his dignity. He is not produced but generated. He is awaited as a gift, not demanded as a right.

Before concluding our reflection on the truth of marriage, I would like to draw your attention to three conclusions. They merit extensive consideration. I will only assert them.

1. This vision of marriage alone respects the whole reality of our humanity; it introduces us into a truly adequate anthropology. It does not reduce the body to a reality that entirely depends for its meaning on the one arbitrarily assigned to it by the individual. It rather sees the human person as a person-body and the body as a body-person, and therefore as person-man and as person-woman.

2. This vision of marriage at the same time affirms the highest autonomy of the “I” in the gift of self, and the intrinsic relation to the “different,” in the deepest sense of that term. In the end so-called homosexual “marriage” objectively conveys this message: “Half of humanity has no purpose for me; it is superfluous to the most intimate realization of myself.”

3. This vision of marriage roots human sociality in the nature itself of the human person: “prima societas in conjugio est” (society exists first in marriage). This is not primarily meant in the chronological sense but in the ontological and axiological sense. And it prevents the reduction of human sociality to a contract.

___________________________________________________________________________________________Part 2"the witnesses to the truth of marriage will have a hard life, as is not unusual for witnesses to truth"

ROME, 08 November 2013 (ZENIT)
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.


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]

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