CHRISTOPHER WEST writes: The twentieth century witnessed significant developments in the Church’s theology of marriage, beginning with Pope Pius XI’s 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, passing through the Second Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae, and culminating in the manifold writings and original insights of Pope John Paul II. In fact, over two thirds of what the Catholic Church has ever said about marriage in her two thousand year history has come from John Paul II’s pontificate.
The Second Vatican Council marked a shift from a merely “juridical” presentation of marriage, typical of many previous Church pronouncements, to a more “personalist” approach. In other words, rather than focusing merely on the objective “duties,” “rights,” and “ends” of marriage, the Council Fathers emphasized how these same duties, rights, and ends are informed by the intimate, interpersonal love of the spouses. “Such love, merging the human and the divine, leads the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift providing itself by gentle affection, and by deed; such love pervades the whole of their lives, growing better and growing greater by its generosity.”
Explaining how conjugal love is a “merging of the human and the divine” is the task of a theology of marriage. While much more can and should be said than this article allows,we can at least present a basic marital theology. We’ll start with a definition of marriage gleaned from Vatican II and Canon Law, and then explain each of its points.