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Document Details :
Title: Marriage and Love
Subtitle: Too Much of a 'Breakthrough'?
Author(s): THATCHER, Adrian
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 8 Issue: 1 Date: Spring 2002
The article argues that the phrase "intimate communion of married life and love", adopted by Vatican II as a description of marriage (see GS 48), is a new development in Church teaching and has important implications for a theology of marriage. The council adds to previous understandings by defining the partnership of marriage in terms of a communion of love. Church documents on marriage in the past, dominated by canonical questions, preferred to locate the essence of marriage in the mutual consent of the couple, understanding marriage as a contract. Even though the importance of love in marriage was highlighted in theological and literary sources throughout the middle ages, the legal conception prevailed until Vatican II. In this sense the council's teaching was a real breakthrough. Recent years have also seen a renewed understanding of the person as a being that exists primarily in relation with other persons. This understanding is enriched by reflecting on the Trinity as an ideal communion of persons. John Paul II, in particular, has pursued this line of thought. Such developments have led to a shift in the understanding of love from seeing it primarily as an attitude that people have toward others to understanding love as a quality of the relation between people. This provides a highly appropriate vocabulary for describing the dynamics of real marriages. If marriage is first and foremost a communion of love, this new emphasis sits uneasily with more traditional themes. The beginning and end of married existence seems to be linked with the existence or non-existence of the loving relationship. If there is no longer an intimate communion of love between the two people, the question arises as to whether one can speak any longer of a marriage. If human love is an image of Trinitarian love, this suggests that the proper understanding of love between humans is one with an equal sharing of power in the relationship, a love that is not structured through gender hierarchy or androcentrism and that knows no distinction between heterosexual and homosexual love. A marital spirituality can thus develop that sees marriage as a true image of the love of God: the experience of loving and being loved brings the partners closer to God, and frees them to support one another in their love of neighbour.