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"Each One of Us is an Icon of the Beginning"

My debt to Familiaris Consortio, by Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II conducts a dialogue, as it were, between the revealed nature of God, the fact of the family, and the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

In general he inspired me to see creation - and particularly the creation of the family - as a mirror on the Creator's singular and plural Being.  This is of especial relevance to our time-not just because doctrines have, as it were, their relation to each other and to Revelation: a relation that may very well have an intrinsic historical order and a corresponding 'logic'20 - but also because we live in a time in which the nature of the human community is increasingly obvious and, correspondingly it seems, there is a widespread desire for a way of life which in some way, indeed in diverse ways, makes it possible for people to live the good of community life.

One of the fundamental connections that Pope John Paul II'nd implies in Familiaris Consortio is that between the family as a community of persons and the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, a doctrine which Gaudium et Spes says is of especial significance to our time and which offers us 'new horizons closed to human reason'21.

The Pope22 implies this connection between the family and the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity in an extremely moving vision of love which begins at article eleven and culminates at article sixteen of Familiaris Consortio.  I will present his argument in a simplied and schematic form.

Firstly: 'God is love (1 Jn 4: 8) and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion.'

Secondly: 'God created the human race in his own image.'

Therefore 'God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation ... of love and communion'23.  For as it says in article twelve of Gaudium et Spes, cited in the footnote to this last statement: 'God did not create man a solitary being.  (...)  This partnership of man and woman constitutes the first form of communion between persons.  For by his innermost nature man is a social being; and if he does not enter into relations with others he can neither live nor develop his gifts'24.

Fourthly: 'Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being'25.

This vocation involves the whole man: man 'is called to love in his unified totality.'26  Thus the body is written through with the incarnate27 sign of the vocation of the person to make of themselves a gift.  For, as it also says in Gaudium et Spes: 'if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself'28.  The Pope elsewhere calls this sign language of the body, the nuptial meaning of the body29.  The nuptial meaning of the body could be defined in the following way: it is the theological significance of the bodily expressiveness of the person.  In other words, the bodily sign of the nature of the person being ordained to be a 'gift' in the power of the person to give30, is the fact that man, from the beginning31, is made male and female.

The conclusion of this schematic presentation of the argument in the first three paragraphs of article eleven of Familiaris Consortio, is expressed in paragraph four: 'Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.  Either one is, in its own proper form, an actuation of the most profound truth of man, of his being "created in the image of God"'32.

If, then, it is possible to say that marriage is one of the two fundamental forms of the actuation of the vocation to love which is, in a sense, the prior sense in which man is made in the 'image of God,' then two things follow from this: each actuation of the vocation to love must irreplaceably communicate the God who's image it is; and both forms of the vocation to love must, in the mystery of their complementarity33, communicate a fullnes of that vision of God which comes to us through the dialogue between each of these 'vocational perceptions' of the one image of God.  This phemonenon is in a way paralled by the following observation in the Letter Of Pope John Paul II To Women: 'Womanhood and manhood are complementary not only from the physical and psychological points of view, but also from the ontological.  It is only through the duality of the "masculine" and the "feminine" that the "human" finds full realization'34.

The Pope has therefore sketched the vision of God through Christ as the context within which to understand the two vocations which actuate God's embodiment of this in man: 'So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them' (Gn 1: 27).  It then seems that the Pope follows the order of this first account of the creation of man and proceeds to consider the reciprocal giving of marriage, which he calls the 'covenant of conjugal love'35, just as the Priestly account, as it is called by scholars, first defines man as created 'in the image of God' and then goes on give man the blessing of God: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it' (Gn 1: 28).  This inserts what Pope Paul VI'th, in Humanae Vitae, called the inseparable connection 'between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are inherent to the marriage act'36., into the vision of marriage which follows on the vision of God through Christ: the vision of God who is Love.  For Pope John Paul II'nd takes the program expressed by Pope Paul VI'th and considers the unitive and then the procreative significance of the marital act.

The unitive significance of the marital act is expressed in the total physical self-giving which is 'the sign and the fruit37' of the reciprocal giving which begins, consummates and in a way constitutes by its continuation, the vocation of marriage.  A brief analysis of the procreative significance of the marital act is then begun with the words: 'This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility'38.

What now emerges is that Pope John Paul II'nd has continued the investigation begun by Pope Paul VI: the investigation, not just of the significance of each element of the marital act-but the significance of the very inseparability of each element of the marital act.  The concept which is pivotal to grasping the inseparability of each element of the marital act, is the vision of the differently expressed, but equally 'total' giving which each element of the marital act requires.  For the spousal love of the married couple is fundamentally a total gift of each to the other; and there flows from this spousal love of the married couple the equally total but different parental love of the married couple.  The married couple give together a parental love which is a necessarily 'persevering and unified contribution by both parents'39.  Thus one begins to see what one might call the structure of love.

The structure of love begins with God, perceived through Christ, and passes through the two vocations of man made in the 'image of God,' and then ends with 'the covenant of conjugal love'40, which involves the inseparable connection between the different but complementary spousal and parental loves.  But the structure of love is not complete until the nature of 'the covenant of conjugal love' is shown forth in all its comprehensiveness.

The Pope begins this exposition of the covenant of conjugal love, at article twelve, and proceeds with what I will schematically present as a three staged development.

The first is the juxtaposition of two perceptions: 'The communion of love between God and people, * a fundamental part of the Revelation and faith experience of Israel, finds a meaningful expression in the marriage covenant which is established between a man and a woman*'.

The second stage is that 'the infidelity of the Israel does not destroy the eternal fidelity of the Lord, and therefore the ever faithful love of God is put forward as the model of the relations of faithful love which should exist between spouses'41.  In other words the history of salvation is a Revelation of the spousal love of God42 for the people of God: a spousal love which one can say is "The Love" which God gives the possibility to man of participating in (cf. 2 Pt 1: 4) when he laid the foundational possibility for this by creating man, male and female, in the image of God.

The third and final stage of this exposition of what is rapidly coming to be called Spousal Love, can be summarily indicated by juxtaposing two statements from article thirteen of Familiaris Consortio.  The first expresses the fullness of Christ, the culmination, 'mediator and the sum total of Revelation'43: 'This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the Word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes himself on the Cross for his bride, the Church'44.  The second quotation concerns the relationship between Christ's love for His bride the Church and the sacrament of matrimony: 'Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ who gave himself on the Cross'45.

Pope John Paul II'nd, however, summarises all this in a way which almost transcends what he has said already, by bringing these things together in such a synthesis that it is a new departure in the discussion: 'the Christian conjugal bond ... represents the mystery of Christ's incarnation* and the mystery of his covenant*'46.  For this statement seems to consist in just that balance of poles by which Pope Paul VI'th expressed himself when he said that it was God who established the 'inseparable connection ... between the unitive and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act'47.  In other words, is one to conclude from this that God has given expression in the flesh, in the mystery of the conjugal act, to the indissolubly incarnational and spiritually procreative love of Christ and the Church?  In other words: the love of Christ and the Church is the ultimately fruitful incarnation of the vocation to virginal love.

Finally, and this is the terminal point in this consideration of the depths of Familiaris Consortio: it is in the context of the following two principles that one moves to the conclusion that this work of God is the incarnation of the Spousal Love of the Blessed Trinity.  The first principle is the complementarity of the two forms of the vocation to love: the vocation to virginity and the vocation to marriage; and the second principle, while it seems a negation of the first is in fact its requisite clarification: it is the 'superiority' of the charism of virginity or celibacy, to that of marriage, as a sign of witness to the Kingdom of God48.  This superiority of the virginal witness to the Kingdom of God follows on from the mystery of the ontological order of salvation: the fact that salvation is a fruit of the virginal marriage of Christ and the Church.

The conclusion to which all this tends, and to which I have already alluded, is that while the vocation to virginity is ontologically superior to that of the vocation to marriage, it is the vocation to marriage which, paradoxically, illuminates the form of our eschatological end to which the vocation of virginity gives concrete witness.  For the end of all is the 'marriage of the Lamb' (Rev 19: 7) of the Book of Revelation.  Thus it is marriage which bears this gift of God to man: to assist in revealing that the Love that God is, is Spousal Love.  And it is because the spiritual love that God is, is spousal, is the definitive act of self-giving, is the communion of the Divine Persons, that it is possible for the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to say, in the Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The World, otherwise known as Gaudium et Spes: 'the Lord Jesus, when praying to the Father "that they may all be one ... even as we are one" (Jn. 17: 21-22), has opened up new horizons closed to human reason by implying that there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love.  It follows, then, that if man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake, man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself49.

Furthermore, this is why the mystery of the structure of love begins with God, for 'God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion'50., passes through the vocation of spousal virginity pre-eminently expressed in Christ and the Church, and comes to the eschatological end envisioned through the spiritualization of the vocation to marriage, the fruit of which is the family: 'The family, which is founded and given life by love, is a community of persons: of husband and wife, of parents and children, of relatives'51.  In other words, the Spousal Love that God is, becomes incarnate in the "marriage of the Lamb," (cf. Rev 21: verses 2 and 9) through which God creates the Family of Man52.

20 I cannot remember exactly where I came across this idea.  It may be attributable to St. Charles Borromeo's view of a historical logic to the way that heresies have attacked the Creed down the centuries.    Back
21 Gaudium et Spes, art 24, page 925 of VCII.    Back
22 The expression "the Pope" will until further notice refer to Pope John Paul II.    Back
23 FC, art 11, page 19.    Back
24 Gaudium et Spes, art 12, page 913 of VCII.    Back
25 FC, art 11, page 19.    Back
26 Ibid.    Back
27 Ibid.    Back
28 Gaudium et Spes, art 24, page 925 of VCII.    Back
29 Pope John Paul II, Original Unity of Man and Woman, Catechesis on the Book of Genesis, (Boston: St. Paul Books & Media, 1981).  Cf. art 5 of the General audience of January 9, 1980, on pages 110-111 of this book.  Abbrev OUMW.    Back
30 Gaudium et Spes, art 24, page 925 of VCII.    Back
31 OUMW, pages 15-19, but particularly article 4, page 18.    Back
32 FC, art 11, page 20.    Back
33 Cf. John O' Donnell SJ, Hans Urs von Balthasar, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1992), page 137: the title of the section is 'The Complementarity Of The States Of Life.'  Abbrev HUvB.    Back
34 Letter Of Pope John Paul II To Women, (London: CTS [Do 638], 1995), art 7, page 12.  Abbrev. LTW.    Back
35 FC, art 11, page 21.    Back
36 HV, art 12, page 14.    Back
37 FC, art 11, page 20.    Back
38 Ibid.    Back
39 FC, art 11, page 21.    Back
40 Ibid.    Back
41 FC, art 12, page 22.    Back
42 Cf. Angelo Scola, The Formation of Priests in the Pastoral Care of the Family, Communio Vol XXIV, No 1, (Sping 1997), pages 66 and 73.    Back
43 Dei Verbum, art 2, page 751.    Back
44 FC, art 13, page 23.    Back
45 Ibid.    Back
46 FC, art 13, page 25.    Back
47 HV, art 12, page 14.    Back
48 FC, art 16, page 30.    Back
49 Gaudium et Spes, art 24, page 925 of VCII.    Back
50 FC, art 11, page 19.    Back
51 FC, art 18, page 34.    Back
52 Cf. Angelo Scola, The Nuptial Mystery At The Heart Of The Church, (Oxford, 21 March 1998) and footnote 59: cf. John Paul II, Ecclesia in Africa 63: the synod's call for 'an ecclesiology centred on the concept of the Church as the family of God' (Translation: C. L.).    Back

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