Holy Family? Theological Reflections on the Ecclesial Understanding of Family
The article undertakes a theological reflection on the ecclesial discourse about the family. It first examines the question of whether there is a specifically Christian doctrine of the family. The New Testament shows that Jesus and his disciples had little to say on the themes of marriage and family while the early Church adopted the standard model of the family present in the hellenstic world. Thus the Church today, when talking about the family, does not refer to a biblical image of the family but rather takes up the model of the middle class nuclear family of the 18th and 19th centuries. It thus follows that Church preaching can in principle be open in regard to the historical variety of family forms. The second part of the article addresses the form of married life. Marriage and family are given in creation, they can thus be set forth as elementary forms of communal life. The specificity of this created form cannot, however, be articulated in a way that is universal and valid for all time; it can only be said that forms of marriage and family should be creative, responsible, and productive. Various forms of marriage and family life can be evaluated by the Christian understanding of love, which serves as the basic norm for all human relationships. It is for this reason that the Church should limit itself to proposing preferential models that are open and transparent in the face of other forms of life and love. The third part takes up the relationship between family and marriage. Until recently the Church has taught that the primary end of marriage is procreation and the education of offspring, and as a result forged a single concept of “marriage and family”. The article argues that this basic binding of marriage to family life does not do justice to either marriage or family; the discussion should differentiate between two different life situations. Marriage should be firmly presented as a positive and complete communion of life and love between man and woman (without restricting it to the production of children). Church preaching could then take account of the reality of today’s forms of family (even when they are not based on marriage).