ADDRESS OF JOHN PAUL II
28 January 1982
1. Monsignor Dean, dear prelates, and officials. I am happy that the inauguration of the new judicial year of the Tribunal of the Sacred Roman Rota gives me the opportunity of once again meeting you who carry out your work in the service of the Apostolic See with such great care and with skilful competence.
This traditional meeting takes on a special significance this year because, as is well known, the new norms (novæ normæ) come into force today. After a careful study of the amendments to the preceding regulations—I have approved them and I hope that they will make more fruitful the work you do with juridical competence and priestly spirit for the welfare of the Church.
I greet you with affection and I express my great appreciation for all your work. In particular I cordially greet the retiring dean, Monsignor Heinrich Ewers and also his successor. I assure them that I remember them both before the Lord, that he may reward the first for his long service given with unselfish dedication and that he may assist the second in the task he begins today.
2. I am pleased to draw your attention to the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio in which I have harvested the fruit of the bishops’ reflections during the 1980 Synod.
In fact, if this recent document is addressed to the whole Church with a view to expounding in it the role of the Christian family in the modern world, it closely concerns your work which mainly takes place in the field of the family, of marriage, and of conjugal love. The importance of your role is measured by the important decisions you are called upon to take with a sense of truth and of justice in view of the spiritual welfare of souls—with reference to the supreme judgment of God—having God alone before your eyes.
3. In entrusting to each of you this ecclesial task, God asks you through your work to continue in this way the work of Christ; to continue the apostolic ministry in exercising the mission entrusted to you; and with the powers transmitted to you, because you work, study, and judge in the name of the Apostolic See. Therefore, the carrying out of such activities must be proportionate to the office of judges, but this applies also to that of their collaborators. At this moment I am thinking of the very difficult task of the advocates who render their best services to their clients to the extent that they keep to the truth, love of the Church, and of God. Your mission then is first of all a service of love.
Of this love marriage is the reality and the mysterious sign. “God created humankind in his own image and likeness; calling them to existence through love, he called them at the same time for love. God is love and in himself he lives a mystery, of personal loving communion” (Familiaris consortio, no. 11).
As a sacrament marriage is a mysterious sign. An indissoluble bond unites the spouses, just as in the one love Christ and the Church are united (see Eph 5:32–33).
According to God’s design marriage finds its completion in the family of which it is the origin and foundation, and the mutual giving of the spouses blossoms into the gift of life, that is, in the begetting of those who, loving their parents, return their love to them, and express its depth (see Familiaris consortio, no. 14).
The Council saw marriage as a covenant of love (see GS, no. 48). This covenant is “freely and consciously chosen, whereby man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God himself” (Familiaris consortio, no. 11). Speaking here of love, we cannot reduce it to a love involving only the senses, to a passing attraction, to erotic sensation, to sexual impulse, to sentimental love, to the simple joy of living.
Love is essentially a gift. Speaking of the act of love the Council envisages an act of giving, which is one, decisive, irrevocable because it is a total giving which wants to be and to remain mutual and fruitful.
4. To understand fully the exact meaning of marriage consent we must allow ourselves to be enlightened by divine revelation. The marriage consent is an act of the will which signifies and involves a mutual giving which unites the spouses between themselves and at the same time binds them to the children which they may eventually have, with whom they constitute one family, one single home, a “domestic Church” (LG, no. 11).
Seen in this light marriage consent is a commitment in a bond of love, where in the same gift there is expressed the agreement of wills and hearts to realize all that marriage is and signifies for the world and for the Church.
5. What is more, for us the marriage consent is an ecclesial act. It establishes the “domestic Church” and constitutes a sacramental reality where two elements are united: a spiritual element, as a communion of life in faith, hope, and charity; and a social element as an organized hierarchical society, a living cell of human society raised to the dignity of the great sacrament, the Church of Christ, in which it takes its place as the domestic Church (see LG, no. 11). Therefore, in the family founded on marriage one must recognize in some measure the same analogy of the whole Church with the mystery of the Incarnate Word, where in one sole reality the divine and the human are united, the earthly Church and the Church possessing heavenly goods, a hierarchically ordered society and the Mystical Body of Christ (see LG, no. 8).
6. The Council emphasized the aspect of giving. It is then appropriate for us to pause here for a moment to deepen our understanding of the meaning of the act of the gift of oneself in a total oblation by means of a consent, which, if given in time, has a value for eternity. If a gift is to be total, it must be irrevocable and without reserve. Therefore in the act in which the giving is expressed we must accept the symbolic value of the duties undertaken. One who gives oneself does it wit h the awareness of obliging oneself to live one’s giving of oneself to the other. If one grants to the other person a right, it is because one wishes to give oneself; and one gives oneself with the intention of obliging oneself to carry out what is required by the total giving one has freely made. If from the juridical point of view these obligations are more easily defined, if they are expressed more as a right one gives than as an obligation one assumes, it is also true that the giving is only symbolized by the obligations arising from a contract, which expresses on the human level the obligations inherent in every true and sincere marriage consent. It is in this way that one is able to understand the teaching of the Council and also to rediscover the traditional teaching by seeing it in a deeper and at the same time more Christian light.
All these values are not only admitted, refined, and defined by ecclesiastical law, they are also defended and protected. Moreover, that constitutes the nobility of its jurisprudence and the strength of the norms which it applies.
7. Now, especially today, the danger of seeing the global value of marriage consent becoming the subject of debate is not merely imaginary. This is due to the fact that some elements which constitute it, which are its object and which express its fulfillment, are ever more frequently distinct or completely separated according to the attention given them by specialists in different fields or according to the specific character of the different human sciences. It is inconceivable that the consent as such would be rejected because of a subsequent failure in fidelity. Without doubt the problem of fidelity is often the cross for the spouses.
Your first task in the service of love will then be to recognize the full value of marriage; to respect its existence in the best way possible; to protect those whom it has united in one single family. It will only be for valid grounds and proven facts that one can put its existence in doubt and declare it to be null and void. Your first duty is to show respect for the persons who have given their word, who have expressed their consent, and have thus made a total giving of self.
8. Undoubtedly, because of sin human nature has become disordered, wounded. Nevertheless it has not been corrupted; it has been restored by the intervention of him who came to save it and to raise it to the point of sharing in the divine life. Truly, to consider human nature incapable of assuming a real obligation; of giving a definitive consent; of making a covenant of love expressing what it is; of receiving a sacrament instituted by the Lord to heal it, to strengthen it; and to elevate it by grace would be to destroy it.
So it is in the context of the ecclesial view of the sacrament of marriage that the progress of human science, its methods, its research, and its results are placed. The continuation of its endeavors also puts in relief the weakness of some of its previous conclusions or working hypotheses that did not survive their evaluation.
For such reasons the judge in issuing a judgment is after all the one responsible for that common work that I spoke of at the beginning. The decision must be taken in the global view already mentioned and which the apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio wants to emphasize.
While the investigation into the validity of a marriage bond is taking place, and one is looking for arguments which can eventually lead to a declaration of nullity, the judges remain at the service of love, subject to the divine law, taking notice of all advice and serious evaluations by experts. It would be extremely harmful if one or the other expert would influence the definitive decision with the risk of seeing the cause judged according to only one of its aspects.
Hence arises the necessity of recognizing in the judges the importance of their role, the importance of their responsible and autonomous judgment, the need for their ecclesial consent and their concern for the welfare of souls. Just because in matrimonial cases a judgment can always be contested because of serious new reasons which surface, on this account the judge will not feel himself constrained to give less care in preparing the judgment, less firmness in expressing it, and less courage in issuing it.
9. In this light, one is in a position to appreciate all the more the particular responsibility of the defender of the bond, whose duty is not to define at all costs a nonexistent reality or to oppose in every way a well-founded decision, but as Pius XII said to present observations “for the bond, without prejudice to the truth” (October 2, 1944, supra pp. 25–27). One notes at times tendencies that tend to reduce the defender’s role. The same person cannot exercise two offices at the same time—to be judge and defender of the bond. Only a competent person can assume one such responsibility and it will be a grave error to consider it of minor importance.
10. The promotor of justice, concerned about the common good, will also act in the global context of the mystery of love lived out in family life. In the same way the promoter of justice—impelled by truth and justice, not by condescension, but to save—can feel the duty to put forward a request for a declaration of nullity.
11. Finally, in the same global view of family life, there is a need to hope for an always more active collaboration of ecclesiastical advocates.
Their activity must be at the service of the Church and for this reason it is seen almost as an ecclesial ministry. It must be at the service of love which demands dedication and charity, especially in favor of the destitute and the very poor.
12. At the conclusion of this meeting I wish to exhort you to collaborate “cordially and courageously with all people of good will who are serving the family in accordance with their responsibilities” (Familiaris consortio, no. 86), in a very special way, you who should recognize its base and foundation in the marriage consent the sacrament of love, the sign of the love that unites Christ to his Church, his Spouse, and which for all humanity is a revelation of the life of God and the introduction to the Trinitarian life of divine Love.
In asking the Lord to assist you in your mission at the service of those saved by Christ, our Redeemer, I heartily give you my blessing, as a sign of the grace of the God of Love.