The Personalist Project

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Accessed on August 10, 2022 - 10:17:25

Amoris Laetitia, 58 - 75: a summary of the teaching on marriage, and “headship” nowhere to be found

Katie van Schaijik, Jun 10, 2016

Chapter 3 of Amoris Laetitia reviews the Church's teaching (including especially post-conciliar developments) on marriage as an indissoluble "communion of life and love." It's familiar territory to me. And I'm taking mental note as I go: the word "mutual" comes up often—mutual self-giving, mutual love, mutual commitment, mutual belonging—the word "headship" not at all. I'll say it again:  There is no support in post-conciliar Church teaching for the headship/submission model of marriage, which, lamentably, some Catholics still preach and teach. 

I'll say more. I think that that "headship" teaching is directly contrary to the what "the spirit is saying to the churches" in our day.

1) It stresses the practical subordination of woman, when the Church wants to stress her dignity and equality. 

2) It focuses on external forms at a moment when the Church is directing our attention to interiority.

3) It prescribes roles and conformism, in the face of the Church's call for greater respect for freedom and individuality.

The family is the image of God, who is a communion of persons. (71)

The term "persons" has developed in the theological and philosophical tradition to denote subjectivity and individuality-in-relationship, as distinct from, say, "man" which refers to the human nature we hold in common. So, whereas humanism is about the nature of man as species in the cosmos, personalism is about the unique subjectivity and agency of the individual as an individual. To be more concrete: A humanistic view of abortion will emphasize the dignity of man as a rational animal, a creature with intelligence and free will; a personalist approach will focus on the dignity of each child as a unique and irrepeatable self. A humanistic approach to marriage will naturally stress its procreative end; a personalist approach centers rather on love, mutual self-donation, vocation.

These are complementary aspects of the same reality. But the Church has unquestionably  taken a deliberate personalist turn in since the Council—not (of course!) in a such a way that anything true in what she has taught before is lost, but in a way that put "person" (i.e. uniqueness, subjectivity, interiority) in the center of her attention. Three reasons for this turn:

1) It compensates for what Wojtyla excessively "cosmological" tendency in the tradition. (See his seminal essay "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in Man" for more on this point and the next.)

2) Especially when it comes to questions of faith and morals, our reality as persons—subjects—holds a certain priority over "mere" objectivity (again, it's not a priority that does away with objectivity; rather it helps us grasp it rightly. Think of the way the soul has priority over the body when it comes to knowing a person, and love has priority over the law when it comes to morality.)

3) It is the theme of our age. Here is then-Cardinal Wojtyla, in a letter to theologian Henri de Lubac:

I devote my very rare free moments to a work that is close to my heart and devoted to the metaphysical sense and mystery of the person. It seems to me that the debate today is being played out on that level. The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person. This evil is even more of the metaphysical order than of the moral order. To this disintegration planned at times by atheistic ideologies we must oppose, rather than sterile polemics, a kind of “recapitulation” of the inviolable mystery of the person.

And here is von Hildebrand: 

… the dignity of the human person is written over this period as its objective theme, regardless of how many persons hold the right and valid notion of this dignity and its metaphysical basis. 

If we want to understand the Church's teaching on marriage in its depth and fullness, we have to understand it personalistically. And we have to decisively reject outmoded and de-personalizing headship/submission teachings, however plausible and pious they may appear.

That's what I'm thinking as I'm reading paragraphs 58-75. The paragraphs after address "imperfect situations." I'll take those up separately.