Text of Cardinal Suenens on Marriage, Family

This is a translation of the Latin-language address made by Leo Cardinal Suenens of Malines-Brussels (Oct. 29) at the ecumenical council on the problems of marriage and the family.

I should like to make a few observations on … the dignity of marriage and the family.

We all know how crucial the question of marriage, and particularly that of birth control, is for the world and for the Church. Consequently,

1) It seems to me necessary to add to the text certain elements of doctrine found in the appendices. This implies recasting the text so as to present a doctrinal synthesis at the same time more profound, more consistent and Biblical. I am presenting a sample of such a synthesis to the commission in writing.

2) It seems to me equally necessary for the council commission to work in close harmony with the commission which His Holiness the Pope has happily set up for a broad and detailed examination of these problems.

3) May I be allowed to voice the hope that this commission will make a very broad inquiry among renowned moralists from every corner of the world, intellectuals and university faculties of various disciplines, among the laity both men and women, and among Christian married couples.

One would wish that the names of the members of this commission were well known so that they could receive the most ample information and truly be representatives of the People of God.

4) In order that this commission know the spirit with which the council views these problems, it seems essential to me to formulate some basic orientation for the success of its work.

  1. a) In the realm of Faith:

The primary task of this commission is to be found in the realm of Faith and must consist in this: to find out whether we have to date thrown sufficient light on all aspects of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

There is certainly no question of modifying or of doubting the truly traditional teachings of the Church. That would be folly! It is a question of knowing if we are going to open our hearts entirely to the Holy Spirit so as to understand divine Truth.

The Gospel remains the same always. But no age can boast of having fully perceived the unfathomable riches of Christ. The Holy Spirit was promised us to introduce us gradually into the fullness of Truth.

In fact, the Church never has to repudiate a truth once it is taught, but, as she progresses in the more profound examination of the Gospel, she can and must integrate this Truth into a richer synthesis and reveal the fuller wealth of these same principles. In this way the Church draws from its treasury some things new and some old.

Granting this, it is necessary to examine whether we have kept all the dimensions of the teaching of the Church on marriage in perfect balance. It may be we have stressed the words of Scripture: “Increase and multiply” to the point of leaving in the shadow the other divine statement: “And they will be two in one flesh.” These two truths are central and both are Scriptural. They must clarify each other in the light of the fullness of truth revealed to us by Our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Paul has, in fact, spoken of the very love of Christ for His Church as the archetype for Christian marriage. This “two in one” is a mystery of inter-personal communion ratified and sanctified by the sacrament of marriage. And this union is so strong that divorce can never sever the two whom God has joined together.

Therefore it will be the task of the commission to tell us whether we have not laid too much stress on the primary purpose, which is procreation, to the detriment of an equally imperative purpose, which is growth in conjugal unity.

Likewise, it will be the task of the commission to respond to the immense problem posed by the present demographic explosion and over-population in many regions of the earth. This is the first time we have had to undertake such an examination in the light of the Faith. The matter is difficult, but in this field the world, more or less consciously, expects the Church to express its thought and be the “light of nations.”

Let it not be said that we are thus opening the way to moral laxity. The problem is incumbent upon us, not because the faithful try to satisfy their passions and their selfishness, but because the best among them are trying with anguish to observe a twofold fidelity — to the doctrine of the Church and to the demands of conjugal and parental love.

  1. b) In the realm of natural ethics and of science:

The second task of the commission lies in the field of scientific progress and of a deeper knowledge of natural ethics. The commission will have to examine whether classical doctrine, and particularly that contained in manuals, takes sufficiently into account the new data of modern science.

We have come a long way since Aristotle. We have discovered the complexity of reality whereby the biological touches upon the psychological, the conscious, the unconscious. New possibilities are constantly discovered in man regarding his power to direct the course of nature. Hence comes a deeper knowledge of man’s unity of being as a spirit incarnate, as well as of the dynamism of his whole life, a unity which is at the heart of Thomist anthropology. From this comes a more exact assessment of the rational power over the world which is entrusted to him. How could anyone help seeing that we might thus be led to further research on the question of what is “according to or against nature”? We shall follow the progress of science.

I implore you, brothers; let us avoid another Galileo trial. One is enough for the Church.

It will be the task of the commission to include new elements in the overall view and to submit conclusions to the Supreme Teaching Authority. Let it not be said that by this new synthesis we make concessions to so-called situation morality. It is proper for the exposition of doctrine, immutable in its principles, to take into account factors that are contingent or evolving in the course of history. This is what the popes did who wrote successively Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno and Mater et Magistra in order to express with greater precision the same principles in relation to new times.

Venerable brothers, we do not have the right to remain silent. Let us not be afraid to approach the study of these problems. The salvation of souls, of our families, as well as of the world, is at stake. Let us heed the Holy Spirit and accept fully every particle of truth suggested to us, remembering the words of the Lord: the truth — natural as well as supernatural — the truth — total and vital — will set you free.

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