Are marriage and individualism opposed

Important things about marriage theology

Cormac Burke summarizes in his book “The Theology of Marriage. Personalism, Doctrine and Canon Law »1the essence of his innovative and versatile articles from the years 1988 to 2010.

Burke presents the institution of marriage as a remedy that can support the marriage partner's vocation to holiness through the sacramental graces received, away from self-centeredness and out of selfish individualism. In doing so, he develops a personalistic view of marriage, which does not regard the institution of marriage as opposing individual self-fulfillment. On the contrary, according to Burke, the canonical institution of marriage protects the personal rights of the individual Christian to grow in holiness.

Controversy between moral theology and canonical studies

Anyone expecting a general introduction to marriage theology with a special focus on personalism, doctrine and canon law, according to the title, may be disappointed. From the field of marriage theology and marriage law, Burke examines a selection of very special topics, in particular those topics on which, according to Burke's experience, controversial views between moral theologians and canonists predominate. Burke's positions show a strong reference to the "theology of the body" of John Paul II.

The eetheological topics presented by Burke in detail and almost exclusively from the point of view of his own position are the calling of spouses to holiness and the significance of the grace-giving effect of the sacrament of marriage, the inseparability of the marital goals of the CIC 1983 and the rejection of a hierarchy of marital goals, the derivation and Interpretation of the “bonum coniugum” and the rejection of the “remedium concupiscentiae”.

Christian personalism answer to individualism

Cormac Burke, attorney with a doctorate in Canon Law, professor of moral theology and specialist in the field of canonical marriage law, was appointed judge at the Roman Rota in 1986. This reputation only three years after the current version of canon law was promulgated was a challenge for Burke, just as the dispute and jurisdiction under the CIC 1983 was a challenge for most of the canonists involved in marriage law in the 1980s. During this time of intense controversy with the documents and the way of thinking of the Second Vatican Council, Burke finally came to the conviction that the Christian, personalistic view of the Second Vatican Council provided an answer to the problems of modern individualism. This conviction that a personalistic anthropology can protect against excessive modern individualism is not only the main theme of Burke's book “Man and Value: A Personalist Anthropology”, which he published in 2013, but also the common thread that runs through the thematically delimited chapters in “ The Theology of Marriage »pervades. The various explanations are held together by Burke's optimistic vision of the canonical marriage covenant as a good that leads to the holiness of the spouse when individualism and egoism can be overcome through the graces and prayer. In The Theology of Marriage, Burke also provides an excellent reflection on how the 1983 CIC marriage goals are rooted in the tradition of the Church.

The sacrament of marriage with a sanctifying effect

Each chapter in The Theology of Marriage corresponds to one of Burke's articles2. The first chapter "Marriage - Sacramentality and Faith" starts with fundamental canonical and sacramental theological statements. It establishes the prerequisites for the rest of the book: The legal elements of marriage are tied to the natural elements and should therefore not be seen as restrictive but liberating. Burke is convinced of the attraction of the "bona", the well-being of natural marriage (offspring, loyalty, exclusivity). However, it is the sacramentality of Christian marriage that makes these elements into means of salvation. Burke therefore suggests that we regularly become aware of these graces and experience them as a source of renewed and increasing graces in our lives. The marriage covenant is a constant source of grace for the spouse. Burke recalls that for a long time the sacrament of marriage was reduced to its "symbolic character" and theological reflections on the sanctifying effect on the spouse were undervalued. Burke suggests that priests place greater emphasis on the supportive graces that help spouses meet the demands of life.

In the second chapter "Marriage - Sacrament and Sanctity" Burke links the vocation of every baptized person to holiness with clear instructions on how this vocation to holiness can be lived in marriage.

The third chapter "The Ends of Marriage: A Personalist or an Institutional Understanding?" dedicates Burke to the hierarchy of marital goals. The personalistic goods of canonical marriage, love and self-surrender, were not an "invention" of the Second Vatican Council, but were already discussed in the encyclical Casti Connubii. The personalistic good of marriage also found a place in the CIC 1983 in the “good of the spouse” as the goal of marriage. There is still disagreement about the 1983 interpretation of this term. Burke emphasizes that both marital goals, the offspring and the well-being of the spouse, are both personal and institutional goals of marriage. His further argument leads to the conclusion that, instead of a hierarchy of marital property, an inseparability and unity of the marital goals of “offspring” and “well-being of the spouse” should be considered.

In the fourth chapter "A Further Look at the Goods of the Spouses" a personalistic interpretation of the well-being of the spouse is deepened. In the analysis of the "bonum coniugum" Burke points out that personalism and modern individualism are very different. While individualism emphasizes the uniqueness of the person and the right to autonomy and self-realization, Christian personalism teaches that only in giving oneself can a person find himself. He closes the chapter with reflections on what the good of the spouses provides in determining the validity of a marriage.

The fifth chapter "Church Law and The Rights of Persons" seems to be dedicated to all those who understand the pastoral path as a casual approach to canon law. Burke highlights the value of laws for a society, how institutions protect the rights of the individual, and what this means for the distinction between personalism and individualism. Personalism emphasizes the dignity and rights of every person as a creature of God and in their call to divine discipleship in Jesus Christ. This results in obligations towards other people and towards the community. Burke sees the fulfillment of these duties as a way of personal development and self-fulfillment. In contrast, individualism emphasizes the interests and advantages of the individual as an end in itself and regardless of the relationship and dependence of the individual on and on the community. Burke uses his argumentative argument to plead the high value of the indissolubility of marriage for the partner, for the children and for society as a whole. From this, Burke deduces the need to give the marriage preparation an appropriate space, a far larger space than has been previously used. Priests should help spouses understand the excellence of marriage and marriage law in order to adequately address the challenges of marriage. He concludes with a prognosis that spouses who work their way through the difficulties of a weakened marriage will ultimately experience greater happiness than those who seek an escape route in a divorce.

The sixth chapter "The 'Good' and the 'Bad' in Marriage according to St. Augustine" is a defense of the Augustinian doctrine of marriage. Burke goes into detail on why the Augustinian marriage attitude, mostly judged as negative and sexually pessimistic, from his point of view is in truth an optimistic-realistic attitude towards the institution of marriage and against currents of his time: Augustine was an optimistic defender of marriage against the sexually pessimistic Teachings of Manichaeism and a realistic defender of marriage against the exceedingly permissive teachings of Pelagianism.

The seventh and shortest chapter "The Inseperability of the Unitive and Procreative Aspects of the Conjugal Act" provides Burke's main reason for refusing birth control. Similar to the argument on the inseparability of the two marital goals of the CIC 1983 from chapter three, Burke emphasizes here that the personalistic character of the act of marriage cannot be separated from the procreative aspect. The marital union of two people contains in its personalistic aspect of giving oneself the gift of procreation.

The last chapter is that "Remedium concupiscentiae" dedicated. It is not marriage that provides a cure for excessive sexual desire. Sacramental marriage, however, can purify inappropriate and no longer self-controlled sexual desires from their self-centeredness through the action of grace. For Burke, the secondary purpose of marriage, ‹remedium concupiscentiae›, was one of the obstacles that contributed to the understanding of spouses as second-class Christians (after religious). A rejection of this marital purpose is therefore a condition in order to support the equality of the spouses to the religious and to recognize marriage as a way to holiness.

Sound reasoning

Overall, Cormac Burke's “Theology of Marriage” impresses with a coherent compilation of well-founded arguments from selected topics in the field of marriage theology. For this, Burke draws extensively from various academic, historical, and ehetheological documents as well as from various passages of the Holy Scriptures. Burke's vision of Christian marriage as a way of life for holiness and his calls for action to priests, pastors and spouses derived from it testify to a very positive view of marriage and sexuality. Burke sees man as a "sick" creature with divine foresight, called to regain its original perfection. On the basis of this perspective, Burke's positive point of view, which runs through the entire book, does not appear naive, but consistently realistic.


1 Published in English in The Catholic University of America Press August 2015.

2 The various chapters of the book presented here are mainly based on the following publications by the author: Chap. 1 The Sacramentality of Marriage: Theological Reflections, Annales Theologici 7 (1993) 47-69; Cape. 2 Marriage as a Sacrament of Santification, Annales Theologici 9 (1995) 71-87; Chapter 3 Marriage: A Personalist or an Institutional Understanding ?, Communio 19 (1992) 278–304; Cape. 4 Personalism and the bona of Marriage, Studia canonica 27 (1993): 401-412, Autorealizzazione e Dono di Se, nel Matrimonio e nella Famiglia, Studi Cattolici (Feb. 1997) 84-90 and The Object of Matrimonial Consent: A Personalist Analysis, Forum 9, no. 1 (1998) 39-117; Cape. 5 The Pastoral Character of Church Law, Homiletic and Pastoral Review (March 1988) and Marriage: A Personalistic Focus on Indissolubility, Linacre Quaterly 61 (1994) 48-56; Cape. 6 San Augustin, Matrimonio y Sexualidad, El pensamiento de San Augustin para el hombre de hoy (3 vols.), Ed. By Jose Antonio Galindo Rodrigo, Valencia 2010, 3, 601-649; Cape. 7 Marriage and Contraception, Osservatore Romano (English Edition) October 10, 1988; Cape. 8 A Postscript to the Remedium Concupiscentiae.