You thought that Pope Francis was making questionable and confusing statements? Here’s what the Catholic Register and the chief marriage canonist of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops are saying about marriage:
Most people on their wedding day are thinking about love. But the Catholic Church rule says that the necessary condition for a sacramental marriage is free and informed consent — not love. When marriages break down and after divorce Catholics seek a declaration of nullity, they are not asked “Did you love him?” They are asked “Did you know what a marriage is and did you freely enter into it?”
“When (I) talk to people who are not canonists, I’m very embarrassed to say that according to canon law it’s not love that makes a marriage but consent,” Canada’s top canon lawyer told The Catholic Register. (Source)
That’s a sloppy and misleading thing to say. It’s borderline defamatory towards Christ and his Church. It makes the Church seem like a cold, arbitrary law firm.
It’s true that the exchange of vows between the spouses is the key element that ties the knot. But why create a false dichotomy between consent and love? Just what exactly are the spouses consenting to? They’re not consenting to “being married”, as if they were applying for citizenship. They’re consenting to love as Christ loves us, the Church. This involves a complete and unconditional gift of the spouses to each other, holding nothing back. As the Catechism says:
The consent consists in a “human act by which the partners mutually give themselves to each other”: “I take you to be my wife” – “I take you to be my husband.” This consent that binds the spouses to each other finds its fulfillment in the two “becoming one flesh.” (CCC #1627)
The wedding vows of indissolubility, fidelity and openness to children are precisely designed to manifest the same qualities of free, total, faithful and fruitful love that Christ has for the Church. A withholding of consent that leads to a decree of nullity really means that at least one the spouses, at the time of the vows on their wedding day, did not intend to love as Christ loves. So consent has everything to do with love and it makes no sense to create a dichotomy between the two.
Perhaps the men in the article were speaking of “love” in the Hollywood sense of the term, meaning a fleeting emotion, infatuation or other elusive state of mind. But that’s not the Christian meaning of love in the context of marriage.
It may be convenient for some circles in the Church to make marriage seem like a legal proceeding devoid of love, because that makes people more pre-disposed to demand changes. Nobody likes legalism and lawyers, right? It’s the good ol’ straw man rhetorical approach.
But there’s another angle they’re missing. Given that the sacrament of marriage is a special sign of Christ’s unconditional and faithful love for the Church, what sacramental image would we be sending by diluting the indissolubility of marriage? The dirty sacramental implication is that Christ isn’t faithful, that he will only love and forgive us until he gets bored, at which point he may dump us any time. You see, the indissolubility of marriage goes to the very heart of the revelation of God to humanity. Good luck evangelizing with a notion of an unfaithful god.