Today, the marriage institution poses a lot of challenges to young couples, such that even the not-so-young couples still find that, after many years of marriage, they hardly understand why problems continually abound, why sometimes the union just does not work, and why marital life is at times seemingly impossible.

In a recent discussion I had with some young people (mostly ladies), there seemed to be a consensus that many young women marry men who are ready; not necessarily those they are in love with.

I believe you must have come across the saying, “women date men they love, and marry men who are ready.” I don’t know the origin of this saying. But while it may not be entirely realistic, it does hold some truth.

Statement of Problem

70% of the young couples I’ve interacted with in the last couple of months agree there is something fundamentally wrong with their marriages. While many of the men aren’t talking about it, the women (on the other hand) complained their husbands were either unfaithful or emotionally absent. Some other women complained they had been beaten a few times by their husbands.

A particular lady noted that communication between her and her husband had totally collapsed, to the extent that they were now considering divorce (all means to set things right having failed). There were two other ladies who mentioned that their husbands had accused them of infidelity without taking the pains to consider the facts of the case. The list is endless.

The big question therefore is, “Why are marriages falling apart?” We can of course say it’s partly due to what my young friends said above. Perhaps too many women are compelled by society to marry those they’re not in love with, so that menopause doesn’t catch up with them.

Perhaps too many women see marriage, more as a “status” thing, than as a lifelong commitment of mutual love and commitment to each other. There are however many other reasons; the biggest of which, I think, remains psychological incapacity to assume essential marital obligations.

At the Second Vatican Council, the Fathers of the Church noted that Christians and many other people of good will were overjoyed that marital partnerships of love, which encourage reverence for human life, were being fostered; although sadly, many of these unions were being overshadowed by polygamy, the plague of divorce, so-called free love, and similar blemishes (cf. VATICAN COUNCIL II, “Pastoral Const. Gaudium et Spes”, no. 47., 835).

Of the couples who face these numerous issues today; many are Catholics. Of these Catholic couples, only a few fully understand their faith, not to mention the teachings of the Church on marriage and marriage-related issues.

Most times this ignorance is as a result of poor pre-marriage catechesis. Some other times factors arising from a deep lack of pastoral care for already married couples may be responsible. We’re sometimes guilty of abandoning our young couples after their wedding ceremonies.

Again, perhaps the very advanced and complex nature of our world itself is a factor. Also included in the problem is the fact that many couples no longer see the need for sacrifice, especially when there exist, some psychological factors which may render marriages extremely difficult (cf. JOHN PAUL II, Apost. Exhort., Familiaris Consortio, n.66, AAS 74, 1982, 159).

What marriage is

At the Second Vatican Council, the fathers introduced the word ‘covenant’ (foedus) in place of ‘contract’ (contractus), to qualify the kind of bond that exists in marriage. They “found the existing concepts and categories inadequate to communicate to the world the richness and the complexity of the reality of marriage as revealed in the Scriptures and enlightened by the Christian conscience” (cf. THE CANON LAW SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, The Canon Law: Letter and Spirit, 595).

Canon 1055 § 1 of the 1983 code of canon law aptly captures this novel understanding. It says: “The marriage covenant, by which a man and a womanestablish between themselves a partnership of their whole life, and which of its own very nature is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of children, has, between the baptized, been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (cf. CANON LAW SOCIETY OF GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND, The Code of Canon Law, New Revised English Trans., Bangalore: Theological Publications in India, 2005, 237).

By introducing foedus into the canon, the legislator sought to apply a more personalist approach to the meaning of marriage in line with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

The Nature of Marriage

To fully understand what marriage is, there is need to briefly touch on some core aspects of the marital institution.

Essential Elements/Properties of Marriage

When consent is expressed, it is presumed that it corresponds with what goes on in the mind of the contracting parties. As such, when either or both parties consent to marry, they agree to mutually give and accept all the essential elements and properties that come with it. Hence the code warns: “if however, either or both of the parties by a positive act of the will exclude marriage itself, some essential element of marriage, or some essential prosperities of marriage, the party contracts invalidly” (cf. C. 1101§2).

In the personalist thought of the Vatican II fathers, the essential elements of marriage are embedded in the intimate community of conjugal life and love (intima communitae et amoris coniugalis) cf. URBANO NAVARRETE, “Amor Conjugalis et Consensus Matrimonialis,” Periodica, 65 (1976), 205.

Essential Rights and Obligations of Marriage

Although the code of canon law does not present a detailed list of what essential rights and obligations of marriage are, or should be, there is the certainty that they must necessarily revolve around: the perpetual and exclusive right to conjugal acts, the perpetual and exclusive right to a healthy inter-personal relationship, the right to the physical well-being of the child from the moment of its conception, the right to the moral and spiritual upbringing of the child, etc. In short, essential rights and obligations center on the good of the spouses as well as the children (cf. AUGUSTINE MENDONCA, “Schizophrenia and Nullity of Marriage”, 261-217).

Ends and Goods of Marriage

From the definition given by the code in c. 1055 § 1, it is explicit that marriage has two main ends; the good of the spouses (bonum coniugum), and the procreation and upbringing of children (bonum generatio et educatio prolis). These ends of marriage do not depend on the will or intention of the spouses (finis operantis); rather, they exist as a consequence of the institution itself (finis operis), cf. JOHN P. BEAL et al, eds., New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, 1245.

Canon 1095 and the Notion of Psychic Incapacity

Canon 1095 states: “The following are incapable of contracting marriage: 1) those who lack sufficient use of reason: 2) those who suffer from a grave lack of sound judgment concerning the essential rights and obligations to be mutually given accepted; 3) those who because of causes of a psychological nature, are unable to assume the essential obligations of marriage.”

There can be no doubt that the above canon is usually the most misinterpreted, most misunderstood canon in the code, as far as marriage nullity cases are concerned. Apart from its first section, which is very clear and straight forward, the other two sections have been the reason for much debate among canonists.

Attempting to shed some light on this difficulty, Pope John Paul II, in his 1987 address to the Roman Rota, said, “For the canonist, the principle must remain clear that only incapacity and not difficulty in giving consent and in realizing a true community of life and love invalidates a marriage. Moreover, the breakdown of a marriage union is never in itself proof of such incapacity on the part of the contracting parties…The hypothesis of real incapacity is to be considered only when an anomaly of a serious nature is present, which, however it may be defined, must, substantially vitiate the capacity of the individual to understand and/or to will“(cf. JOHN PAUL II, Allocution to the Roman Rota, 5 Feb. 1987. no. 7)…

To be continued…

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