John Paul II Addresses the Faculty

John Paul II - Address to the Faculty of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at Its International Study Week

August 27, 1999

Your Eminences, Esteemed Brothers in the Episcopate, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen. I am glad to welcome all of you who are taking part in the International Study Week organized by the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family. In the first place I would like to greet Bishop Angelo Scola, Rector of the Pontifical Lateran University and President of the Institute, and to thank him for his words to me at the beginning of our meeting. Along with Bishop Scola, I also greet his predecessor, Bishop Carlo Caffarra, now the Archbishop of Ferrara, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome, Camillo Ruini, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Prelates present here, the professors whose interesting presentations I have just heard, and all those who, in various ways, are helping to make this gathering a success. My greetings to you, dear members of the teaching staff of the many sessions of the Institute, who have gathered in Rome for an organic reflection on the foundation of God’s plan for marriage and the family [il disegno divino sul matrimonio e la famiglia].

Remembering my experience with youth at the University of Krakow

Since its inception eighteen years ago, the Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family has made it a special task to delve more deeply into God’s plan for the person, marriage, and the family, joining theological, philosophical, and scientific reflection with an unflagging concern for the cura animarum.

This relation between thought and life, between theology and pastoral care, is truly decisive. Looking back on my own experience, I can see to what extent my work with young people as a student chaplain at the University of Krakow has been an aid to my meditation on certain fundamental aspects of Christian life. The fact of sharing daily life with the students, the opportunity to be with them in their joys and difficulties, their own desire to live to the full the vocation to which the Lord was calling them—all of this helped me to understand more and more deeply the truth that man grows and matures in love, that is, in self-gift, and that precisely in giving himself he is enabled in turn to attain his own fulfillment. One of the highest expressions of this principle is marriage, “which God the Creator, in his wisdom and providence, instituted in order to realize in humanity his plan of love. By means of their exclusive mutual self-giving as persons, spouses tend towards the communion of their persons, whereby they perfect one another, thus collaborating with God in the generation and education of new lives” (Humanae vitae, 8).

The praiseworthy service of the Institute in many parts of the world

Inspired by this profound unity between the truth proclaimed by the Church and concrete life options and experiences, your Institute has performed a praiseworthy service in the years since its founding. With the sessions located in Rome (at the Lateran University), Washington, Mexico City, and Valencia, the academic centers in Cotonou (Benin) and Changanacherry (India), which are already on their way to full incorporation, and the soon-to-be-inaugurated center in Melbourne (Australia), the Institute will have seats on the five continents. This is a development for which we want to give thanks to the Lord, while expressing the gratitude that we owe to those who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to making this work a reality.

The urgent challenges that the Church's mission must face

I would now like to turn our gaze towards the future, beginning with a careful look at the urgent challenges in this area that the Church’s mission and, therefore, your Institute, must face.

The challenge posed by the secularist mentality to the truth about the person, marriage, and the family has in a certain sense become even more radical than what it was when you set out on your academic venture eighteen years ago. It is no longer a matter simply of calling into question individual moral norms regarding sexual and family ethics. An alternative anthropology is being offered in place of the image of man/woman belonging to natural reason and, in particular, Christianity. This anthropology refuses to acknowledge the basic given that the sexual difference constitutes the very identity of the person. As a result, the idea that the family, grounded in the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman, is the natural and basic cell of society, is in a state of crisis. Fatherhood and motherhood are conceived merely as a private project to be realized, if necessary, by using biomedical techniques that can bypass the exercise of conjugal sexuality. Presupposed, then, is an unacceptable “division between freedom and nature,” which in reality “are harmoniously joined and intimately allied” (Veritatis splendor, 50).

The truth is that the sexual configuration of bodiliness is an integral part of God’s original plan, in which man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27) and are called to enact a faithful and free, indissoluble and fruitful communion that is a reflection of the richness of trinitarian love (cf. Col. 1:15-16).

St.John Paul II with people

Fatherhood and motherhood, then, before being a project of human freedom, constitute a vocation inscribed in conjugal love. This vocation is meant to be lived as a unique responsibility before God by welcoming children as his gift (cf. Gen. 4:1) in the worship of that divine fatherhood “from whom all fatherhood in the heavens and on earth takes its name” (Eph. 3:15).

To eliminate the mediation of the body in the conjugal act as the enabling locus of the origination of new life means, at the same time, to degrade procreation from a collaboration with God the Creator to a technically controlled “re-production” of another specimen of a species and, therefore, to lose the child’s unique personal dignity (cf. Donum vitae, II B/5). In fact, only integral respect for the essential characteristics of the conjugal act as a personal gift of the spouses that is at once bodily and spiritual also ensures respect for the person of the child and enables a manifestation of his origin from God, the source of every gift.

By contrast, when one treats one’s own body, the sexual difference inscribed in it, and one’s procreative powers themselves as nothing but inferior biological items that are susceptible to manipulation, one ends up denying the limit and the vocation in bodiliness. At the same time, one displays a presumption that, beyond one’s subjective intentions, fails to acknowledge one’s own being as a gift from God. In the light of these most pressing issues, I want to reaffirm with even greater conviction what I taught in the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio: “The destiny of humanity passes through the family” (86).

Deeper reflection on God's plan for the person, marriage, and the family

Faced with these challenges, the Church has no other recourse than to turn her eyes to Christ, the Redeemer of man, the fullness of revelation. As I stated in the Encyclical Fides et ratio, “Christian revelation is the true lodestar of man as he makes his way amidst the pressures of an immanentist habit of mind and the constrictions of a technocratic logic” (15). We are offered this guidance precisely through the revelation of the foundation of reality, that is, of the Father who created it and keeps it in being from moment to moment.

Deeper reflection on God’s plan for the person, marriage, and the family is the task in which you must be engaged, with renewed vigor, at the beginning of the third millennium.

In the light of the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity

I would now like to suggest some perspectives for this deeper reflection. The first concerns the foundation in the strict sense: the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity, the very source of being and, therefore, the ultimate key to anthropology. In the light of the mystery of the Trinity, the sexual difference fully reveals its nature as an expressive sign of the whole person.

Deeper reflection on God’s plan for the person, marriage, and the family is the task in which you must be engaged, with renewed vigor, at the beginning of the third millennium.

The vocation of man and woman to communion

The second perspective that I would like to recommend to your study regards the vocation of man and woman to communion. This vocation likewise sinks its roots in the mystery of the Trinity; it is fully revealed to us in the incarnation of the Son of God—in whom human nature and divine nature are united in the Person of the Word—and it enters historically into the sacramental dynamism of the Christian economy. In fact, the nuptial mystery of Christ, the Church’s Bridegroom, finds a unique expression through sacramental marriage, which is a fruitful community of life and love.

In the sacramental reality of the Church

In this way, the theology of marriage and the family—and this is my third suggestion for further reflection—is inscribed in the mystery of the triune God who invites all human beings to the wedding feast of the Lamb that is celebrated in the Lord’s Passover and offered to man’s freedom in the sacramental reality of the Church.

Special attention to the relation between the person and society

Furthermore, reflection on the person, marriage, and the family can be deepened by devoting special attention to the relationship between person and society. The Christian response to the failure of individualist and collectivist anthropology calls for an ontological personalism rooted in the analysis of the primary family relations. The rationality and relationality of the human person, unity and difference in communion, and the constitutive polarities of man and woman, spirit and body, and individual and community are co-essential and inseparable dimensions. In this way, reflection on the person, marriage, and the family can be integrated into the Church’s social teaching and become one of its most solid roots.

St. John Paul II portrait

Interactive dialogue with the findings of philosophical reason and the human sciences

These and other perspectives for the future work of the Institute require development in line with the twofold methodological dimension that is also displayed in your meeting.

On the one hand, it is a sine qua non to begin with the unity of God’s plan for the person, marriage, and the family. Only this unitary starting-point can ensure that the teaching offered by the Institute does not become the simple juxtaposition of what theology, philosophy, and the human sciences have to tell us about these matters. Christian revelation is the source of an adequate anthropology and a sacramental vision of marriage that can engage in interactive dialogue with the findings of philosophical reason and the human sciences. This original unity also forms the basis of collaboration among teachers of various subjects and enables an interdisciplinary research and teaching whose object is the “unum” of the person, marriage, and the family, which is investigated with specific methodologies from different, complementary points of view.

On the other hand, we should underscore the importance of the three thematic areas around which all of the Institute’s “curricula” are in fact organized. All three of these areas are necessary for the completeness and the consistency of your research, teaching, and study. How, in fact, could we prescind from the “phenomenon of man” as the various sciences present it to us? How could we forego the study of freedom, which is the linchpin of every anthropology and the gateway to the primordial ontological questions? How could we do without a theology in which nature, freedom, and grace are seen in [their] articulated unity in the light of the mystery of Christ? This is the point of synthesis for all your work, since “in truth, it is only in the mystery of the incarnate Word that the mystery of man is illumined” (Gaudium et spes, 22).

The Institute: model of the dual unity of the Roman and the universal

The novelty of the Pontifical Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family does not have to do only with the content and method of research, but is also expressed in its specific juridical and institutional figure. The Institute is in a certain sense an “unicum” among the Ecclesiastical Academies. In fact, the Institute is one (with one Chancellor and one President) and, at the same time, it is structured on each continent by means of the juridical figure known as the session.

The Institute thus translates, in juridical and institutional terms, the normal dynamism of communion that flows between the universal Church and the particular Churches. The Institute is thus a model of the dual unity of the Roman and the universal that characterizes the universities of the Urbe, especially the Pontifical Lateran University, where the central session is located and which article 1 of the Statutes defines as “the university of the Supreme Pontiff par excellence.”

If we consider the Institute and its history, we see the fruitfulness of the principle of unity in pluriformity! This principle finds concrete expression not only in a doctrinal unity vitalizing research and teaching, but in actual communion among teachers, students, and staff. This is true, moreover, both within each session and in the reciprocal exchange among sessions that are otherwise so different. In this way, you collaborate in the enrichment of the life of the Churches and, in the final analysis, of the Catholica itself.

The Holy Family of Nazareth: A privileged guide for your work

The Son of God chose to become a member of a human family so that human beings might participate, as members of the Church, in his very life. For this reason, the Holy Family of Nazareth, which is the “primordial domestic Church” (Redemptoris custos, 7), is a privileged guide for the work of the Institute. The Holy Family shows clearly the family’s role within the mission of the incarnate, redeeming Word, and sheds light on the mission of the Church itself.

May Mary, Virgin, Spouse, and Mother, protect the teachers, students, and staff of your Institute. May she accompany and sustain your reflection and your work so that the Church of God may find in you an assiduous and invaluable help in her task of proclaiming to all men the truth of God about the person, marriage, and the family.

To all of you my thanks and my blessing.

Translated by Adrian Walker