For nearly 60 years now, a new conception of the sacrament of marriage has been developing within the Church. Is it an evolution that is consistent with Catholic doctrine or must we regret a rupture in Church teaching? Three points in particular command our attention.
The Inversion of the Ends of Marriage
At Vatican Council II, marriage was defined twice as a “community of love.”1 This claim is not false but it does open the door to a personalistic view of marriage in which the love of the spouses becomes more important than procreation. Archbishop Lefebvre, in a remark filed during the Council on September 9, 1965, pointed out: “This chapter on marriage presents conjugal love as the primary element of marriage, from which the second element, procreation, proceeds. Throughout this chapter, conjugal love and marriage are made identical. This also is contrary to the traditional teaching of the Church, and if it were admitted, the worst consequences would follow. People could say, in fact, ‘No conjugal love, so no marriage!’ Now, there are very many marriages without conjugal love, yet they are genuine marriages.”2
The Council abstained from recalling that procreation is the primary end of marriage. It simply said: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children(…)while not making the other purposes of matrimony of lesser account.” The verb posthabere, translated here as to make of lesser account, means to make secondary. In this same spirit, the 1983 Code of Canon Law writes in Canon 1055 that marriage is “ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.”
The 1917 Code was much clearer in Canon 1013: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary end is mutual help and the remedy for concupiscence.” The official commenter on the new Code, Canon Roger Paralieu, pointed out: “This implies a radical change in the doctrine taught up until Vatican II, in which there was a hierarchy in the ends of marriage. The Council refused to establish this hierarchy; the text of the Code is the consequence of this conciliar position.”3
This could seem a purely theoretical debate with no practical implications. But the stakes are very important. In 1968, Pope Paul VI courageously condemned birth control. Entire episcopates immediately refused this condemnation, saying spouses needed “a physical expression of their love.”4 Consequently, the episcopal conferences of the United States, France and Germany publicly opposed Paul VI and invited spouses to follow their own consciences. And to justify their position, they did not hesitate to quote Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, paragraph 51. This was a direct consequence of the inversion of the ends of marriage.
A Danger for the Faith
Pope Paul VI unfortunately marked matrimonial law with his Motu Proprio Matrimonia Mixta on March 31, 1970. The Church has always forbidden her faithful to marry non-Catholics. The authorities sometimes gave dispensations, but on very precise conditions: the Church required the non-Catholic to promise to avoid any danger of corrupting the Catholic spouse. She also asked that the two spouses make a written promise to baptize all their children and give them an exclusively Catholic education (CIC 1017, Canon 1061). The Church added in the following canon that the Catholic spouse was obliged to work prudently for the conversion of the non-Catholic spouse.
Alas, the pope put an end to these wise conditions. Since 1970, the non-Catholic spouse no longer has to make any promises. Paul VI simply wrote: “At an opportune time the non-Catholic party must be informed of these promises which the Catholic party has to make.” This reform was incorporated in the new 1983 Code, in Canon 1125. It places the Faith of the Catholic spouse and that of the children in grave danger. It therefore goes against divine law and is unacceptable. That is why the Society of Saint Pius X, after the example of its founder, has always refused it, continuing to follow the wise canons of the 1917 Code in this matter.
The Indissolubility of Marriage Attacked.
On September 8, 2015, with the Motu Proprio Mitis Judex, Pope Francis promulgated an in-depth reform of Canon Law with regards to marriage annulments. By simplifying and accelerating the procedure, the pope shattered all the barriers that protected the indissolubility of marriage. As Bishop Bernard Fellay, then Superior General of the Society of Saint Pius X, wrote on September 15, 2015, in his Petition to the Holy Father,
...the canonical changes required by the Moto Proprio Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus facilitating declarations of nullity will de facto open the door to legal proceedings authorizing ‘Catholic divorce’, even if it goes by another name.
Pope Francis also published the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia on March 19, 2016. Chapter 8 discusses the issue of people who are divorced and civilly “remarried.” In paragraph 305, the pope explains that certain divorced and civilly “remarried” persons, while living their new and purely civil union as if they were married, can be in the state of grace. They can therefore benefit from the help of the Church. And he added in note 351:
In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence, I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy. I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
In other words, in certain cases, the divorced and civilly remarried who live in a state of infidelity to their true spouse, in a situation of adultery, can receive the Holy Eucharist. Such a doctrine is contrary to divine law and to the constant teaching of the Church; therefore, it cannot be accepted.
The Modernist conception of marriage is far from the Catholic conception of marriage as presented by the Magisterium of the Church and in particular by Pope Pius XI in 1930 in the encyclical Casti connubii. It is therefore important for all Catholics to remain faithful to the traditional teaching of the Church in this matter, and to firmly refuse all these novelties that go against divine law. The salvation of the Catholic family, and therefore of all of society, depends upon it.
- 1. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, December 7, 1965, §47 and 48.
- 2. Archbishop Lefebvre, I Accuse the Council.
- 3. Roger Paralieu, Guide pratique du Code de droit canonique, éditions Tardy, 1985, p. 316.
- 4. Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of France, November 8, 1968.