All News Marriage

What the Biblical Teaching Says to Us Today

Second in a series

The reality of marriage presented in a homily to Pope Francis and his associates during Lent 2016, by the Preacher of the Pontifical Household, Fr. Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, Cap.

This, in brief, is the doctrine of the Bible (See part 1), but we cannot stop there. “Scripture,” said Gregory the Great, “grows with those who read it” (cum legentibus crescit).[5] It reveals new implications little by little that come to light because of new questions. And today new questions, or challenges, about marriage and family abound.

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Marriage and Family in Gaudium et Spes and Today

  1. Marriage and family in the divine plan and in the gospel of Christ
  2. What the biblical teaching says to us today 
  3. An ideal to rediscover

We find ourselves facing a firestorm that is apparently global about the biblical plan for sexuality, marriage, and family. How are we to act in relation to this disturbing phenomenon?

The Council initiated a new approach that involves dialogue rather than confrontation with the world and even includes self-criticism. I believe we need to apply this very approach to the discussion about marriage and family. Applying this method of dialogue means trying to see if, behind even the most radical challenges, there is something we can receive.

The criticism of the traditional model of marriage and family that has brought us to today’s unacceptable proposals for their deconstruction began with the Enlightenment and Romanticism. For different reasons, these two movements expressed their opposition to the traditional view of marriage, understood exclusively in its objective “ends” — offspring, society, and the Church — and viewed too little in its subjective and interpersonal value. Everything was required of future spouses except that they love each other and freely choose each other. Even today, in many parts of the world there are spouses who meet and see each other for the first time on their wedding day. In contrast to that kind of model, the Enlightenment saw marriage as a pact between married people and Romanticism saw it as a communion of love between spouses.

But this criticism is in agreement with the original meaning of marriage in the Bible, not against it! The Second Vatican Council already accepted this perspective when, as I said, it recognized the mutual love and assistance between the spouses as an equally primary good of marriage. In line with Gaudium et spes, St. John Paul II said in one of his Wednesday teachings,

The human body, with its sex, and its masculinity and femininity … is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order. It includes right from the beginning the nuptial attribute, that is, the capacity of expressing love, that love in which the person becomes a gift and — by means of this gift — fulfills the meaning of his being and existence.[6]

In his encyclical Deus caritas est, Pope Benedict XVI went even further, writing profound new things regarding eros in marriage and in the relationship between God and human beings. He wrote, “This close connection between eros and marriage in the Bible has practically no equivalent in extra-biblical literature.”[7] One of the most serious wrongs we do to God is to end up making everything that concerns love and sex be an area saturated with wickedness in which God should not enter and is unwanted. It is as if Satan, and not God, were the creator of the sexes and the specialist in love.

We believers, and many non-believers as well, are far from accepting the conclusions that some people draw from these premises today, for example, that any kind of eros is enough to constitute a marriage, including between people of the same sex. However, our rejection of this acquires greater strength and credibility if it is combined with a recognition of the fundamental goodness of sexuality together with a healthy self-criticism.

We cannot omit the mention of what Christians have contributed to forming the negative vision of marriage that modern western culture has rejected so vehemently. The authority of Augustine, reinforced on this point by Thomas Aquinas, ended up casting a negative light on the physical union of spouses, which was considered as the means through which original sin was transmitted and was not even free itself of “at least venial” sin. According to the Doctor of Hippo, spouses should make use of the sexual act for begetting children but should do so “with regret” (cum dolore) and only because there is no other way to provide citizens for the state and members for the Church.[8]

Another modern position that we can also accept concerns the equal dignity of the woman in marriage. As we have seen, it is at the very heart of God’s original plan and in the thinking of Christ, but it has often been disregarded over the centuries. God’s word to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you,” has had a tragic fulfillment in history.

Among the representatives of the so-called “Gender Revolution,” their call for the equality of women has led to crazy proposals like abolishing the distinction between the sexes and replacing it with the more flexible and subjective distinction of “genders” (masculine, feminine, variable) or like freeing women from “the slavery of maternity” by arranging for newly invented ways to give birth to children. In recent months there has been a succession of news reports about men who will very soon be able to become pregnant and give birth to a child. “Adam gives birth to Eve,” they write with a smile, but this is something we should weep about. The ancients would have defined all this with the word Hubris, the arrogance of human beings before God.

Our choice of dialogue and self-criticism gives us the right to denounce these plans as “inhuman”: they are contrary not only to God’s will but also to the good of humanity. Putting them into practice on a large scale would lead to unforeseeable human and social catastrophes. Our only hope is that people’s common sense, combined with the natural “desire” for the other sex and the instinct for motherhood and fatherhood that God has inscribed in human nature, will resist these attempts to substitute ourselves for God. They are dictated more by a belated sense of guilt on the part of men than by genuine respect and love for woman herself.

Continue With: An Ideal to Rediscover


[5] See Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job, 20, 1, 1, in Gregory the Great, trans. John Moorhead (New York: Routledge, 2005), p. 49.

[6] John Paul II, “The Human Person Becomes a Gift in the Freedom of Love,” General Audience, January 16, 1980.

[7] Benedict XVI, Deus caritas est, n. 11.

[8] Augustine, “Sermon 51,” 25, in Sermons (51-94) on the New Testament, Part 3, vol. 1, trans. Edmund Hill, The Works of Saint Augustine, ed. John E. Rotelle (Brooklyn, NY: New City Press, 1991), p. 36.