Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sacramental marriage and the absence of faith revisited

In two earlier posts I wrote about the upcoming Extraordinary Synod on the Family. In both I wrote about faith and the Sacrament of Matrimony, about whether or not it matters that when a man and a woman celebrate this sacrament in the Church they both have faith, at least enough faith to enter into this sacramental way of living, intending to do what the Church intends couples who are married to do, or whether they merely have a lovely day at Church and are married with quite a different mindset. The question about lack of sufficient, evident, or minimal faith at the time of marriage as a potential grounds for an annulment was first broached by Pope Benedict XVI in his final annual speech as Supreme Pontiff to the Roman Rota on 26 January 2013. Pope Benedict began that speech in a rather straightforward manner:
I would like to reflect in particular on several aspects of the relationship between faith and marriage, noting that the current crisis of faith, which is affecting various parts of the world, brings with it a crisis of the conjugal society with the whole burden of suffering and hardship that this entails, also for the offspring. We can take as a starting point the linguistic root that the Latin terms fides and foedus have in common. Foedus is a word with which the Code of Canon Law designates the natural reality of matrimony as an irrevocable covenant between a man and a woman (cf. can. 1055 § 1). Mutual entrustment is in fact the indispensable basis for any pact or covenant.

At the theological level, the relationship between faith and marriage acquires an even deeper meaning. Indeed, although the spousal bond is a natural reality, it has been raised by Christ to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized (cf. ibid.).

The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely
In early July I mentioned this in an interview I did for an article (see "A Few More Thoughts on the Instrumentum Laboris"). Later in July, after reading excerpts from Cardinal Müller's lengthy interview on marriage, which will soon be published by Ignatius Press with the title The Hope of the Family: A Dialogue with Cardinal Gerhard Müller, I wrote about it again. This post sparked a lively and largely charitable discussion (see "The validity of marriage and presence or absence of faith").

Earlier this week I received the most recent issue of Communio. This issue is dedicated to Marriage: Theological and Pastoral Considerations in advance of the Extraordinary Synod. The first piece I read in this issue was Cardinal Scola's "Marriage and the Family: Between Anthropology and the Eucharist" (you can read the article for free here). My point in drawing attention to this particular article is that towards the end of it Cardinal Scola takes up the issue of faith and the validity of marriage in a section entitled "Faith and the sacrament of matrimony":
Among the questions requiring further examination we should mention the relation between faith and the sacrament of matrimony, which Benedict XVI addressed several times, including at the end of his pontificate [the footnote here directs the reader to the speech I linked to above]. Indeed, the relevance of faith to the validity of the sacrament is one of the topics that the current cultural situation, especially in the West, compels us to weigh very carefully. Today, at least in certain contexts, it cannot be taken for granted that spouses who celebrate a wedding intend “to do what the Church intends to do.” A lack of faith could lead nowadays to the exclusion of the very goods of marriage. Although it is impossible to pass final judgment on a person’s faith, we cannot deny the necessity of a minimum of faith, without which the sacrament of matrimony is invalid [all italicized words in original]
An interesting parallel to this is something I read a few weeks ago in Hans Urs Von Balthasar's recently translated Who Is a Christian? (also published by Ignatius Press) that touched on a related matter- infant baptism. In one of the short chapters that comprise Part I of this work, entitled "The Burden of the Dead," Balthasar commented on the need to reform or even do away with old, useless, and unnecessary structures and practices in the wake of the Council (this book was originally published in German in 1983): "Let us not shrink from naming the most questionable of these... I refer to infant baptism" (18).
The preempting of the proud, once-in-a-lifetime decision for God on behalf of one still in a state of unawareness; the awakening to the use of reason and the capacity to make choices, only to find oneself faced with an already accomplished fact that one must either ratify or not - what a problem this is! And, indeed, still more so today, when the popular traditions, the sociological embedding within a generally accepted Christianity, are dwindling or have, indeed, in many cases already completely disappeared
In some comments he made in a documentary film released several ago, Diarmuid Martin, archbishop of Dublin, Ireland, highlighted the issue about which Balthasar wrote, when he said, "It requires maturity on those people who want their children to become members of the church community and maturity on those people who say 'I don't believe in God and I really shouldn't be hanging on to the vestiges of faith when I don't really believe in it'" (see "Archbishop Martin on acting in accord with conscience"). As Catholics, we, too, acknowledge that God has no grandchildren.

To broach such questions is not not legalistic, or an attempt to impose legalistic criteria. On the contrary, faith constitutes the cornerstone of Christianity, not just ecclesial faith, but personal faith in Christ. Even as Catholics we believe that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. So much of what we do presumes personal faith, which, in turn, has an ecclesial dimension. It is important never to lose sight of the fact that, being a theological virtue, faith is a gift from God. But it is a gift offered to all. So, faith entails a choice, a choice to receive the gift, the acceptance of which justifies us and puts on the road to sanctification.

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