In his annual speech to the Holy See's main court on Friday, Pope Francis affirmed the indissolubility of marriage and clarified that poorly developed “personal faith” is not itself a grounds for finding that a marriage is null.
“It should be clearly affirmed that the quality of faith is not an essential condition for matrimonial consent,” the Pope said in his Jan. 22 address to the judges of the Roman Rota at the Vatican's Clementine Hall.
Consent — the typical basis for a tribunal investigating the validity of a marriage — “according to the longstanding doctrine, can be undermined only at a natural level,” Pope Francis reminded the judges.
“Indeed, the habitus fidei (habit of faith) is infused in the moment of Baptism and continues to flow mysteriously into the soul, even when the faith is not developed or psychologically appears to be absent.”
He added that “it is not unusual for newlyweds, drawn to marriage by the instinctus naturae, at the moment of celebration have a limited awareness of the fullness of God's plan, and only later, in family life, discover all that God the Creator and Redeemer has established for them.”
“The lack of formation in faith and also an error regarding the unity, indissolubility and sacramental dignity of marriage may vitiate matrimonial consent only if they determine the will. It is precisely for this reason that errors regarding the sacramental nature of marriage must be evaluated very carefully.”
The question of the necessity of a “mature faith” or “minimum of faith” for a valid marriage between the baptized has been raised in recent years. It has arisen primarily because of the large numbers of “baptized non-believers”: those who were baptized as infants but have not personally appropriated the faith they received at baptism.
The dilemma was raised as early as the 1970s by the International Theological Commission, an advisory body to the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. And it was voiced several times by Benedict XVI, who in his last address to the Roman Rota, in 2013, affirmed that “The indissoluble pact between a man and a woman does not, for the purposes of the sacrament, require of those engaged to be married, their personal faith; what it does require, as a necessary minimal condition, is the intention to do what the Church does. However, if it is important not to confuse the problem of the intention with that of the personal faith of those contracting marriage, it is nonetheless impossible to separate them completely.”
The question was also brought up at the two recent Synods on the Family, and speculation about requiring a “minimum of faith” increased in September 2015 when Pope Francis released two motu proprio reforming the codes of canon law regarding annulments.
In one of them, Mitis Iudex Dominus Iesus, the Pope wrote that “the defect of faith which can generate simulation of consent or error that determines the will” is among the circumstances that can allow a case for nullity to be handled by a new, more brief process.
However, his words today to the Roman Rota are significant for affirming that a “minimum of faith” is not required for a valid marriage between the baptized.
The Pope delivers a speech to the members of the Rota, a court of higher instance at the Holy See, each January to inaugurate the court's judicial year.
“The family, founded on indissoluble marriage, unitive and procreative, belongs to the ‘dream’ of God and of his Church for the salvation of humanity,” Pope Francis said.
Both the family and the Church assist in “accompanying the human person until the end of their existence”, he said, noting that they do this “certainly with the teachings that they transmit, but also with their very nature as communities of love and life.”
He noted that along with its definition as the “Tribunal of the Family,” the Rota can also be considered “the Tribunal of the truth of the sacred bond.” These two qualities, he said, are complementary.
“Indeed the Church can show the merciful and indefectible love of God for families, especially those wounded by sin and by the trials of life, and at the same time, proclaim the essential truth of marriage according to God's plan.”
Francis pointed to the 2014 and 2015 Synods on the Family. The two-year reflection has made possible a “profound and wise discernment” on family life, he said, indicating to the world that “there can be no confusion between the family beloved by God and any other type of union.”
By their “work of the truth,” the Pope told the judges, the Church “proposes to declare the truth on marriage in a concrete case, for the good of the faithful, she keeps in mind at the same time those who, by their free choice or through unhappy circumstances live in a state of objective error, continue to receive Christ's merciful love, and therefore that of the Church herself.”
He affirmed that the Church continues to propose marriage “in its essential elements — offspring, the good of spouses, unity, indissolubility, sacramentality.”
These conditions are not simply “an ideal for the few,” but constitute a reality that, with Christ’s grace, “can be lived by all baptized faithful.”
Francis pointed to the “pastoral urgency” in the Church for an adequate preparation for marriage, and called for a “new catechesis” on marriage, repeating the phrase for added emphasis.
He closed his speech by recognizing that “the time in which we are living is very challenging both for the family, and for us pastors who are called to accompany them,” and wished them a good start to the new year.