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Document Details :
Title: Temporalité, fidélité et conjugalité
Author(s): BÉLY, Marie-Etiennette
Journal: Marriage, Families & Spirituality
Volume: 5 Issue: 2 Date: Autumn 1999
Temporality, fidelity and conjugality
In Western societies, in which the present moment is privileged and the short term tends to become the norm for all action, fidelity to oneself and fidelity within the couple seems to offer a challenge to time. Is it still possible to recognise the value of a commitment that lasts “a lifetime”, especially given that longevity is perceptibly increasing? Analysing the experience of fidelity implies reflecting on the significance of temporality for man: does it allow a man to realise himself in a history in which his choices can bend the course of events, or is he subject in spite of himself to the flux of becoming? What are the consequences of this conception of time on the manner of living conjugal fidelity?
In a first part the author studies the relationship between temporality and fidelity. We can speak of the fidelity of a dog towards its master, but the human being, unlike the animal, is capable of questioning himself about his own identity and he thereby demonstrates that he is not totally submerged in duration, despite the fact that he appears to be subject to it. And yet he experiences a sort of inner loosening of the bonds between past, present and future. What does being faithful to oneselfmean in a perspective like this? The word “faithfulness” refers to the idea of trust; the primordial trust is the one that welds each person to his own existence on the basis of the trust that his nearest and dearest accord to him. The social bond is thus founded on a lack of threat which guarantees a minimum of vital security. The human being is however contingent and time is often synonymous with misfortune for him.
To consent to live always involves the risk of death. Contemporary philosophers – Heidegger in particular – lay great stress on finitude. In Being and Time Heidegger presents care as the originary structure of the existent destined to die. And yet the objective time measurable by scientists and engineers is contrasted with more inward subjective time. Paul Ricœur puts forward an original synthesis that situates human time at the heart of the verbal activity of the subject as “narrated” time (in Time and narrative). He thus develops the notion of narrative identity (in Oneself as another).
Between an identity that is focussed on permanence and one that is mobile and elusive appears an “ipseity” which embraces mutability in the coherent totality of an existence. It is the experience of the promise that allows Ricœur to articulate temporality and personal identity. The adventure of fidelity is dangerous, but behind it lies the adventure of existence itself.
How to apply this kind of conception of fidelity to the conjugal relation? In the second part of the article the author stresses the dimension of the project that forms the essence of marriage on the basis of freely expressed consent in front of witnesses and the promise of reciprocal fidelity given by the spouses. Acting together opens up a hope of a plenitude already proclaimed by the relational being built on fidelity which transcends time while fitting into history. This seems to be the paradox of time, unable to live itself humanly unless it has the taste for eternity.