Page 2, 10th December 1965

10th December 1965
Page 2
Page 2, 10th December 1965 — How the Council's text on marriage was changed

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People: Browne, Paul, Canto, Paul VI
Locations: Abbot Butler, Detroit, Rome


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How the Council's text on marriage was changed

THE occurrences that toot place in the Vatican Council's Theological Commission on November 26 and 27 were the cause of considerable consternation among the Council Fathers.

Chapter 1 of Schema 13, part 2, deals with marriage. After the subject was debated on the Council floor during two sessions, the final text has become an extraordinary statement of Christian doctrine. In the first place, the present chapter transcends the old position according to which marriage must be understood In terms of its primary and secondary ends.

The chapter teaches that ends of marriage are the communion between two persons in love and the procreation and education of children. These ends are mutually related to one another so that they cannot be placed in an hierarchical order. The growing intensity of conjugal love makes married people better parents and the magnificent gift of children ties husband and wife more closely to one another. The chapter on marriage, therefore, no longer speaks of primary and secondary ends of marriage.


The chapter on marriage. moreover, speaks of marriage in personalistic terms. There is an attempt to avoid all that smacks of biologism. Marriage is a covenant relationship between man and woman constituting a permanent community of life and love. The chapter explains that the objective moral criteria for sexual intercourse in married life ntust be based on the dignity of the human person and the human integrity of the act expressing the mutual surrender of two people in love, The criteria of morality are not biological,llogical, hut humeri and peso What is not stated in the chapter is whether. in all circumstances, the conjugal act ceases to express this mutual surrender whenever conception is mechanically prevented. While the chapter clearly teaches responsible parenthood, it does not deal with the question of the means for limiting the family,

This has been the wish of Pope Paul VI. The subject was only alluded to in the Council hall ; it was not discussed, The T'heological Cornmission did not study the issue at all. The official report (relatio) introducing the document to the Council, explained that this question was reserved for study in the Papal Commission appointed for this Purpose.

The present chapter had been accepted by an ample majority in a general congregation of the Council. There was a good number of modi (amendments), But since their number was less than a third of the total votes, the chapter had been substantially approved. According to the statutes of the Council modifications introducing a substantial change could now no longer be accepted,

It was, therefore, a cause of great consternation to the members of the Theological Commission, when, on November 26, a letter from the Secretary of State, Cardinal Cicognianl, was read to them, proposing in the name of the highest authority four modi which intended to introduce into the chapter, at this final stage (1) the doctrinal position of the primary and secondary end of marriage, and (2) the prohibition of contraception in the terms of Pope Pius XI encyclical Casti Connubil.

The first change would have been a substantial modification of the approved text ; and the second would have made the Council take a position on a subject which had not been discussed on the floor or studied in the Commission, The Theologicai CommisLion was not present in full strength on that day. Because of the recess of the Council, several Fathers among whom the outspoken Cardinals Koenig, Seper, and Silvas, were not present. Cardinals Browne and Canto, present at the meeting, suggested that the commission accept the moth from reverence for the Holy Father.

At a moment of great psychological tension Cardinal Leger got up and insisted that he did not see how the Commission could modify a text approved by the Council on such a crucial issue. The discussion was eventually postponed to the next day.

The whole incident immediately got into the ecclesiastical newspaper L'Avvenire d'Italia. Everyone in Rome knew about it. No one, of course, denied that as universal teacher the Pope had the right to state his position to the Church with supreme authority, Yet it would have been irregular for the Conciliar Commission to insert this position into an approved text and make the Council say what it had not intended to say, One must seriously doubt whether the Pope really stood behind the letter from the Secretariat of State, BISHOPS REFUSE ADVICE In a situation of altogether unusual strain, the Fathers proceeded with courage and determination. They refused to alter the substance of the approved text. The promise of Archbishop Dearden of Detroit and Abbot Butler of Downside was in the mouth of everyone for many days.

The whole issue is so important that I shall give an account of the modi proposed by the Secretariat of State and of their modification by the Commission, I might add that all this was public the following day. Then mimeographed sheets with the modi from the Secretariat of State got into the hands of the Press.

received my copy, the original sheet distributed at the Commission, from a Protestant journalist!

The first modu.i. of the Secretariat of State (actually number 2 on the list) tried to insert into the text the tradi

tional distinction between primary and secondary ends of marriage, The second sentence of the section on the fecundity of marriage, stated that conjugal love and the whole of family life "also" (Mom) had the purpose of making married people willing collaborators with God in procreation. The modus of the Secretariat of State demanded that "also" be suppressed. This would have made the sentence say that conjugal love was a secondary end of marriage, subordinate to the procreation of children.

To stress this, the modus demanded that a new sentence be added: Filii sun' praestanlissintunt matrinumii donum at ad ipsorum parentium bonum maximcontemn'. In English: children are the most precious gift of God (or-a most precious gift of God) contributing very much to the good of the parents themselves, After the suppression of etiant, this sentence, beautiful and true in itself, would have been interpreted as a support of the distinction between primary and secondary end.

Realising that this mode intended to change one of the main points of the whole chajeter of marriage, a chapter approved by the general congregation, the Theological Commission could not accept it. They left out the word edam, but in its place they put non posthabitis anis matrimonii finibus (without relegating the other ends of marriage).

This makes it clear that the stress, in this section, on the fecundity with which God blesses a marriage. does not put the other ends of marriage into second place. Once this was made clear, the beautiful sentence on children as God's most precious gift could remain. In the new context, it will not be interpreted as ad vacating the preference of one end of marriage over the others.

The other moth sent by the Secretariat of State attempted to introduce the ban on contraception contained in the Pius Xi's Cool connubii,

At the very beginning of the chapter, a sentence described the ills by which marriage is threatened in our days: polygamy, divorce, etc. One /nodes demanded that the words rules anti-conceptionales (artificial contraception) be inserted here, with a reference to Custi Connubii in the footnotes. Aries anti-conceptionales are the very words used in the condemnation of contraception in this encyclical. The Theological Commission did not feel free to introduce a crucial issue into the conciliar text, which had not been discussed by the Council. Prior to this, the commission had explained to the Council Fathers that this question was to remain open in the text. On this basis the vote had been taken, The commission therefore changed artes anti-conceptionales to unix illicitus contra generation (illicit practice against generation) without any reference to Cacti Connubil. What are licit and what are illicit practices remain open,


The next modus intended to modify a sentence stating that Catholics must not use methods of birth limitation which are proscribed by the magisterium, The modus demanded that instead be said: "which have been proscribed and will he proscribed by the

magisteriurn" (improbatae sunt ye! irriprobentus--the last verb is an unusual future, the usual form being improbabuntud.

The modus demanded that after "have been proscribed", a reference be introduced in the footnotes to Casti Connubii and to Pius X1I's speech to the obstetricians. This modus, therefore, clearly intended to reaffirm the teaching of Ca-en i Connubii, con

firmed in Pius speech, and therefore to close an issue which the chapter had intended to leave open.

The commission did not adopt the past and future of the verb ; it retained the present tense, "which are proscribed" (improbantur), and in the footnotes referred to Casa Connubii, to the speech of Pius XII, anti to Pope Paul VI's allocution to the Cardinals in 1964, announcing the creation of a papal commission studying the whole matter. The Conciliar Commission, therefore, placed Casti C'onnubii in the context of the develop" merit in the Church.

The fourth modus proposed by the Secretariat of State concerned a sentence which stated that there can be no true contradiction between the divine laws of transmitting life and of expressing conjugal love. The clause to be added was: "but in overcoming these difficulties it is required that the spouses sincerely practice conjugal chastity". (Sed ad diffiCil hates superandas omnino mink' ut coniuges castitatem coniugalem sincero ammo calcine)

Because of the way the ex. pression "conjugal chastity" sounds to Catholic ears, the impression was given that in a situation of apparent conflict, the only solution for married people is to abstain from sexual union. This question, however. the Council intended to leave open. The commission changed the proposed modus to: "always preserving the virtue of chastity" (salve semper virtute castitatis), thereby recalling that the entire sexual life in marriage is strengthened and perfected through the virtue of chastity.

Thanks to courageous bishops, the Council document retains its original meaning. Pope Paul accepted these modifications of the Commission without hesitation. It is likely that the Pope did not realise the force with which the Secettariat of State would propose the modi to the Fathers of the Conciliar Commission, Since the Pope's own Commission, at their last meeting in March, had expressed itself through a majority vote on not repeating the position of Cashi Connubii, it is improbable that the Pope now intended to insert this position into the Council document. It is known, on the other hand, that nimbi:Ts of the Curia desire to have the Papal Commission dissolved since their position on doctrinal continuity does not allow for a change in natural morality.

• Editor's note: Theologians agree that while the whole question of contraception remains an open question pending the Pope's expected pronouncement, the public teaching of the Church remains opposed to any form of artificial contraception,

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