Text of Montreal Cardinal’s Speech on Marriage at Council

This is a translation of a speech on marriage delivered at the ecumenical council by Paul-Emile Cardinal Leger of Montreal during debate on the schema on the Church in the modern world on Sept. 29.

I will deal with the chapter concerning the question of marriage under the two following aspects: first of all, I will express my opinion on the doctrine itself, which the schema proposes; and then I will speak of the way in which this doctrine was framed and was outlined.

The Doctrine of the Schema

In the new drafting of this chapter, the doctrine of the importance and of the legitimacy of conjugal love is better described and affirmed than in the previous one.

Nevertheless, I believe that the doctrine here proposed will not be of great help for the Christians of our time and I fear that it may disappoint their legitimate expectations. Since a correct statement on the nature of marriage is of decisive importance for the daily life of the faithful, may I be allowed to inquire with particular care why this text is still leaving us dissatisfied?

The main fault of this schema lies in that it does not succeed in reflecting correctly the project pursued by the human person in marriage. Consequently, it is the very meaning of marriage, such as it appears today to the most fervent Christians, that it expresses in an unsatisfactory manner.

Undoubtedly the faithful will rejoice at the fact that certain phrases of the schema exalt conjugal love. However, the main formulae of this text which express the very nature of marriage may not seem to them to be in perfect harmony with those passages, and may seem to deform the true aspect and the beauty of marriage. This would be true, for instance, of the formula which defines marriage as an “institution ordained for the procreation and the education of the children.” In my opinion, this formula is incomplete and ambiguous; an opinion which seems to be supported, after all, by the schema itself, since it adds a correction to the effect that marriage is not “a simple instrument of procreation.”

This formula, it is true, might perhaps express the meaning which marriage has for the human species. For the human species in fact, marriage has but this one sense: it is the means for its preservation and its propagation. But since it is persons that marriage unites, it is above all the meaning marriage has for persons that it is important to describe, evidently without neglecting the meaning it has for the human species.

Now the formulae I referred to above express incorrectly the meaning marriage has for the person. And this is why it is necessary to change them.

First of all, these formulae are incomplete. For human persons marriage is not only an institution ordained for the procreation of children. It is also — it is above all — a community of life and of love. In addition these formulae are ambiguous: they may seem to be suggesting that love and the conjugal community are simply means ordained for procreation.

This is evidently wrong, and presents love and the conjugal community in such a way as to debase them.

I therefore propose that in the principal passage describing marriage, the relation between love and the conjugal community and procreation be presented as follows:

  1. Let it be clearly and openly said that marriage is a close community of life and love;
  1. Let the profound meaning be carefully described which the child has for love and for the conjugal life. The couple will thus understand that fecundity is like a summit of the love they have for each other;
  1. Let it be said lastly that it is the will of God that the married couple give birth to children and become thereby His cooperators. This is made evident by the words of Genesis and by the very nature of love and of the conjugal community. And so, this time, the couple will understand that their love is not shut within itself and that it must be part of the great plan of the creating Providence of God.

The Division and the Style of the Schema

The text of the schema will disappoint the faithful for yet other reasons, regarding the form of the schema rather than its matter but nevertheless not negligible.

  1. The thought of this chapter is presented in a manner so sparsely organic that one has trouble in trying to understand its profound intentions. When it is a matter of the most important points of doctrine, the same themes and the same thoughts, which are never wholly expressed, are repeated two and three times. The thought develops often without logic, the ideas overlaying each other or else being linked together only by artificial links. If we do not want our conciliar text to appear like a compromise between various theological schools; if on the contrary we are anxious that it enlightens the faithful, it is necessary that the doctrinal statement be clearer and more firmly structured.
  1. The exhortative style has been used too frequently, with the result that at times the text sounds moralizing. In addition, it seems necessary to me to avoid moving continuously from the descriptive or simply affirmative style to the exhortative style.

In conclusion: No one is unaware that the council must express itself regarding marriage. That is why, despite the great doctrinal difficulties which the council is encountering in the treatment of this question, I believe that it should not promulgate a text the ideas of which could hardly be understood by the pastors themselves. May I therefore be allowed to propose, in writing to the competent commission, a few formulations which might help toward improving it?

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