The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was the main sponsor of the three-day international and interreligious Humanum colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage.
The congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, sat down with the Register Nov. 18 near the end of the conference to share his assessment on how the meeting had gone, discuss what more can be done to defend marriage and assess how the colloquium will complement the synod of bishops on the family.
How has this colloquium gone? Has it matched your expectations?
It’s gone very well up to now. All our expectations have been fulfilled and even exceeded! It’s an extraordinary thing that so many Christian communities and 14 world religions could come together to give witness to basic convictions about matrimony. Even coming from different traditions, understandings, categories and conceptions, there has been remarkable unity about the nature of marriage.
Certainly, a large number of the Christian traditions are here, each having the Bible as a basic reference point, much of which would also be held in common with the Jewish representatives. What we all share is a common point of reference in human nature, the essentials of human existence and the relationship between man and woman, as a cell, as an origin for the good of the married couple and also of children.
The family is not an isolated thing. It belongs to the wider family, to its own people, history, region and culture. This underlines that we are not isolated individuals, but created by God as beings who live together; and we have responsibility for the other by taking responsibility for the lives of future generations. I cannot say I have an autonomous personality — I must give thanks for all these people who gave so much of themselves for me: my parents, my brothers and sisters, relatives, teachers and pastors. One theme to which many testified during the colloquium was a clear emphasis that we have received and we must, in turn, give back to the other generations, to other people.
It seems strange this conference hasn’t happened before, that there hasn’t been this emphasis on marriage, given that it has been so much under attack over the past 50 years. Would you have liked to have seen such an event as this happen earlier?
Indeed! During the more than a year we have been planning for the colloquium, we at the CDF have heard many times: “This is new” or “We have not done something like this before!” Perhaps it should have happened before, but now the crisis facing the family has sharpened our sense of how much this kind of international and interreligious witness is needed.
The way the family is undervalued or threatened in many places is akin to standing on a precipice; we must stop and not make that final step from which there is no return. In attacks against marriage as a complementary union of man and woman, we are seeing a kind of suicide of humanity itself, especially in the secularized West — in Europe, the United States, North America. The difference between man and woman is a positive reality because it reflects the will of God in creation, and the will of God is good and aimed at human flourishing!
What can be done, apart from a conference like this, to get the silent majority to be heard — what can be done to counteract the very vocal minority trying to redefine marriage?
This is key. So many people focus on struggles to redefine marriage or focus on problems in the family. Many think the relationship between men and women is discussed all the time … but it is not. The discussion is about sex or failed relationships, but not about why men and women are drawn together, how they complement and fulfill one another. This is what the vast majority of people are interested in: how to make marriage better, stronger, more fulfilling and life-giving.
The silent majority up to now didn’t understand what was happening in society or have been silenced by the use of the word “discrimination” applied to those who want to defend the traditional family. But we cannot say the basic relation of man and woman is only a cultural or social product, a “gift” of a government or a construct of man, but it is, rather, a basis. Similarly, personal dignity and freedom are not cultural and social products, but are written into our very nature as men and women created in God’s image, as is the existence of man and woman in matrimony.
Children, too, are not a product of society or only an object of the state, of government. Governments cannot supplant the primordial responsibility of parents for their children nor deny children their right to grow up with a mother and a father.
In your address, you talked about man and woman giving a pathway to the divine through marriage. Can you expand on that a little?
In the Catholic tradition, matrimony is based on creation, and that creation expresses the will of God. In the history of salvation, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, which is the will of God incarnate for our salvation. In Christ, the natural state of marriage, the natural link between man and woman in matrimony, is elevated to a sacrament, to a sign and instrument of his grace and his very relationship with the Church.
The link of unity of man and woman in love, in matrimony, is expressed by the love of Jesus Christ towards his Church. And that is a self-giving love, a crucified love: What power there is in the holy matrimony of spouses to truly realize that they are experiencing a means, an instrument, for not only their own sanctification, but for the divinization of all people who come into contact with the divine love of the Trinity through their married life.
Those from other religions have been very pleased to come together for this colloquium. What are your reflections on this?
If matrimony is a common good for mankind (we have our theory of natural law, which is given by God), it’s helpful to have contact with other Christian confessions, other denominations and other religions. Together we can demonstrate that matrimony is not only a preoccupation of the Catholic Church, but a profoundly human project, a great gift for all mankind.
Nuptial love is also a sign of hope for mankind in a world so in need of such signs. Witnessing to this together, we can show that we are brothers and sisters and not enemies.
How could this colloquium complement the synod? Will it have any impact or bearing on it?
We have been working on the colloquium for well over a year, so in a formal sense, it is independent from the synod. But, certainly, the level of discussion at the colloquium has been very high, and we see people from various traditions who are personally engaged and committed.
In this sense, it can only be a contribution to the discussions under way in the Catholic Church and others, bearing witness to the sublime beauty of marriage as a complementary union, which must be nurtured, protected and allowed to thrive.
Edward Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent.