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west_basic_theology_of_marriage - A Basic Theology of...

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1 A Basic Theology of Marriage Christopher West Over two thirds of what the Catholic Church has ever said about marriage in her two thousand year history has come from John Paul II’s pontificate. The twentieth century witnessed significant developments in the Church's theology of marriage, beginning with Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, passing through the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, and culminating in the manifold writings and original insights of Pope John Paul II. In fact, over two thirds of what the Catholic Church has ever said about marriage in her two thousand year history has come from John Paul II's pontificate. 1 The Second Vatican Council marked a shift from a merely "juridical" presentation of marriage, typical of many previous Church pronouncements, to a more "personalist" approach. In other words, rather than focusing merely on the objective "duties," "rights," and "ends" of marriage, the Council Fathers emphasized how these same duties, rights, and ends are informed by the intimate, interpersonal love of the spouses. "Such love, merging the human and the divine, leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift providing itself by gentle affection, and by deed; such love pervades the whole of their lives, growing better and growing greater by its generosity." 2 Explaining how conjugal love is a "merging of the human and the divine" is the task of a theology of marriage. While much more can and should be said than this article allows, 3 we can at least present a basic marital theology. We'll start with a definition of marriage gleaned from Vatican II and Canon Law, and then explain each of its points. A Definition of Marriage Marriage is the intimate, exclusive, indissoluble communion of life and love entered by man and woman at the design of the Creator for the purpose of their own good and the procreation and education of children; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament. 4 Intimate communion of life and love: Marriage is the closest and most intimate of human friendships. It involves the sharing of the whole of a person's life with his/her spouse. Marriage calls for a mutual self-surrender so intimate and complete that spouses — without losing their individuality — become "one," not only in body, but in soul. Exclusive communion of life and love: As a mutual gift of two persons to each other, this intimate union excludes such union with anyone else. It demands the total fidelity of the spouses. This exclusivity is essential for the good of the couple's children as well. Indissoluble communion of life and love: Husband and wife are not joined by passing emotion or mere erotic inclination which, selfishly pursued, fades quickly away. 5 They are joined in 1
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authentic conjugal love by the firm and irrevocable act of their own will. Once their mutual consent has been consummated by genital intercourse, an unbreakable bond is established between the spouses. For the baptized, this bond is sealed by the Holy Spirit and becomes
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