by Pierangelo Sequeri
The JP2 Institute is an international university formation and research centre for the in-depth study of the Christian understanding of the conjugal and family condition, in all its connections with ecclesial practice, spiritual life and social culture. The JP2 Institute’s specialisation has made it a unicum amongst the higher education institutions of the Catholic Church, becoming a centre of choice for the detailed study of the theological-pastoral and anthropological-cultural analysis of a subject which is unquestionably central to the ministry of faith in contemporary times. The pontifical foundation of the JP2 Institute emphasizes the designation of service and representation through which it is entrusted with a special responsibility to cooperate with the Petrine Ministry, above all in relation to harmonising the Christian wisdom of faith with the Church’s evangelising mission. In first establishing the Institute, pope John Paul II gave shape and content to the farsighted idea of a centre of studies dedicated to marriage and family. When pope Francis re-founded the Institute, while embracing the legacy of that first period that had definitely not lapsed, he gave the Institute a more modernised academic profile and a more distinct pastoral orientation.
The project that, within the framework of the new Statute, orientates the new phase in scientific research and the corresponding project concerning the educational offer, is inspired above all by a richer and more diversified structure of the theological subject matter. The thematic specialisation that defines the mission of the Institute requires sound validation in relation to the fundamentals of faith: epistemologically and methodologically equal to the new testimonial and community paradigm of the forma fidei that Catholic teaching vigorously urges should be assimilated theologically and culturally implemented.
A renewed Christian wisdom concerning marriage and family, harmonised with the theological view of faith, must be more explicitly linked to the overall ethical-practical intelligence of the form of belief. A proper theology for the conjugal-family condition, as known, is a recent development in Christian culture. The decisive stimulus was provided by the importance, recognised by Vatican Council II, of anthropology for the family, included amongst the fundamental themes of the human condition on which the Church’s dialogue with society tests the humanistic quality of faith. John Paul II’s great legacy lies precisely in the deep and farsighted perception of the need to develop this stimulus progressively and systematically, emphasizing, within the contemporary ecclesiastic magisterium itself, the theological relevance and anthropological centrality of human love that is established as a generative covenant between man and woman, in the framework of the original constellation of family ties that – by virtue of the ethics resulting from the specific grace of the Christian sacrament – emphasize within it the humanism of the person and of communio in the ecclesial dynamism of faith and the mission. Pope Wojtyla’s magisterium, on its part, drew on a personal process of reflection already innovatively involved in this anthropological development of theology, through phenomenology. This legacy must be invested creatively in the tracks of his generous boldness, carefully avoiding mortifying it in the inertia of a scholastic arrangement of his method and formulas. The master line of this investment indeed requires a stronger understanding of the meaning that the phenomenological development of the forma fidei itself is currently to take on: not just that of an appropriate anthropology that can enlighten and culturally support the project of human love that establishes the conjugal covenant and the family constellation.
This phenomenological adjustment of the intelligence of the forma fidei – not yet adequately and consensually available in Catholic theology – must indeed make it possible to practice testimony – ecclesial and cultural – of the evangelical truth of God that corresponds to the realism of the appeal and the act of faith. The decisive factor is that, even before the simple integration of anthropology suited to its moral profile, this realistic recomposition of the intelligence of faith requires the contribution of a Christology suited to the evangelical canon.
The focus of this adjustment is on the assimilation and transmission of the ontological (Christological, Trinitarian) bond established by the connection between the origin of the creative act, revealed in God’s salvific agape, and the destination of the human order of affections, inscribed in the evangelical justice of love.
(The virtuous circularity of Christology, ecclesiology and anthropology)
- ‘Christological Phenomenology’ of the truth of God
This phenomenological adjustment of the intelligence of the forma fidei first of all requires the contribution of a Christology suited to the evangelical canon. The actions through which Jesus of Nazareth questioned and suffered, looked at and touched the human condition, and what we have “heard, seen and touched” of the Logos of life, are inseparable. The phenomenology of the event belongs by right, according to faith, to the ontology of the revealed mystery of God’s agape. On the other hand, the manifestation and action of the agape that reveals God is inscribed in the elementary and fundamental forms of the human condition: and it concerns everyone and each individual (“all men and the whole of man”). The fundamentals of the human condition, therefore, are the noble subject of Christian theology: the place and time of initiation to the mystery hidden in Jesus Christ, since before the creation of the world.
- The covenant between man and woman in the ecclesial horizon
In today’s secular city, the Church is to view herself – and practice – according to this evangelical perspective of the attestation of God’s agape. Jesus, the disciples, the crowd: this is the evangelical setting of the revelation that is to inspire a Church that by “going out”, “assembles”; “sowing”, “gathers”. The assignment of the world and history to the covenant between man and woman resonates in the word of God’s intention and creative action and envelops the wholeness of history and of the human condition, in good and evil. An ecclesiology capable of fully taking on this original creaturely vocation of man and woman is the urgency of the epochal kairos and the crucial stage of the Christian form for our times. An ecclesiology equal to the integral and dynamic vision of Ecclesiam suam is something we have simply not yet achieved. Evangelii gaudium and Amoris laetitia have definitively planted the seed in the soil that needs to be tilled.
- The family constellation, in the order of affections
Affection for the coming kingdom of God is so decisive with a view to assimilation of the power of God’s love destined for the world, that no other affection must bar its way. At the same time, it is specifically to the symbolic power of the experience of human affection, originally family-related, that the word of God refers to indicate the depths and the transcendence of the love that comes from God. In a culture such as ours, the homologating effect of the tradition of romantic love, that gives absolute value to a couple’s love, removing generation and community, exposes even receiving the Christian word to misunderstanding. The theology of the couple and a theology of the community must reinforce the substantial mediation of a radical theology of family relations that cannot be reduced to the romantic mysticism of sexual intimacy or the political correctness of social exchanges.
(The wisdom of faith qualified by the agapic and pastoral dimension)
- Theology suited to faith: logos and agape
Our theology has taken great strides, generally, towards bringing together theological faith and human love. Not just by overcoming the strict juxtaposition of eros and agape, but also in the direction of bringing radically closer the emotional experience and cognitive openness to the truth of the revelation. The truth in which the ultimate meaning of life is determined is accessible only through the love that it sparks.
The place of this explicit appeal for a decisive paradigm shift may be recognised in the baton passing that connected Benedict XVI’s final magisterium (Deus caritas est, Caritas in veritate) and Francis’s initial magisterium (Lumen fidei, Veritatis gaudium). Love provides knowledge: and God’s agape, welcomed as grace and obedience in faith, determines the authentic meaning and the existential direction that relates to the truth recognised by the sensus fidei in the revelation of the mystery of God.
- The agape inhabits / hosts the humana communitas
Pope Francis mentions the global critical situation of western humanism brought into focus in his Encyclical Laudato si’, as the theme for a common commitment (VG, 3). The danger is shared: mobilisation must been shared. The emphasis is connected to the methodological and epistemological function that the programmatic orientation of Veritatis gaudium assigns to the dialogue and discussion, amongst and across different disciplines, cooperation and exchanges that intrinsically define the exercise of the intelligence of faith.
The intellectual perfecting of this orientation entails an ability to explore and illuminate its signs in a non-intellectualistic key, but rather by inhabiting in full the human condition to which they are destined. This inhabiting has the same logic as the incarnation of the Son: “entering” into the missionary dimension means “leaving” one’s own self-referentiality. This inhabiting also means acting with the necessary ease where ‘paradigms are formed’, and establishing a dialogue on points overlapping – even critically – with faith.
(Resumption of the fundamental themes, in the indication of four research lines)
- Son of God, the icon of love for our neighbour
The achievement of unity in what is human, in the difference between male and female, is the most difficult test and challenge – not the easiest one – for the original ethics of human love. The mystery of this difference – the difference of all possible differences – today presents a tendency to its removal, by way of resignation to the current dimensions of the challenge (women’s emancipation, the reconfiguration of role). And, on the other hand, to imagine that one can fully understand unity by delegating the task to sexual intimacy is simple naivety with dramatic consequences. Painstaking care of sexual intimacy itself learns from love for others – radically interpreted by the gift of the Son out of love for the world – to separate itself from the self-referentiality of pleasure, from the abuse of possession, from the exploitation of reciprocity. If the test is passed on this, trust in the entire order of human affections will emanate from it.
- Nuptiality and family ties: unity / difference
Family relationships do not reproduce conjugal relationships: they are not modified duplications, they are creative originals. This is what is lacking in a theology of the sacrament as a constituting event for the human and ecclesial community. It therefore seems necessary to rehabilitate the different perfection, and the relative absoluteness of the bond that is established through the conjugal bond and in the difference from it, as a family constellation. Human love must be capable of including them at the same level and dignity of human love. And theology needs to be intelligent enough to understand its irreplaceable role in the ecclesial edification of faith and the testimony of God’s agape. There is a strong tradition of divine spousality as a biblical and spiritual. But the Theotokos and the Son – with all their ontological implications – are founding dogmas like pillars for the rule of the language and of the reality of the faith.
- Aesthetics and dramatics of family history
The family constellation is a place of generation of individual constitution and social grammar. This family mediation is at the same time the subject and the object of care: this means that the dialectic of its aesthetics and dramatics constitutes the realistic normality of its life stories. The theology of marriage and of the family, first and foremost, must lovingly learn and process this concreteness of the human condition: the grace of agape lives within us taking on and confronting our vulnerability. There is no grace that can (or wishes to) kill the will to contradict love, cancelling the liberties of creatures; but there is no sin either that cannot be redeemed by God’s agape, humbly invoked and welcomed. On the other hand, the dramatics of conjugal and family stories will not allow itself to be referred simply to personal faults (poverty, calamity, infirmity, death). The availability to the community subsidiarity of family wounds should more seriously be inscribed in the project itself of the Christian sacrament.
- The covenant between those who are different, a total social fact
To reconstruct the covenant between the different, at the moment held hostage by the gender conflict, it appears to be necessary to raise the themes, the content, the style of the covenant between man and woman beyond the terms of sexual intimacy. The man-woman “couple” must take on, as such, command of politics, the economy, civil community: in fact, the governance of the world and history. Christianity undoubtedly possesses the prerequisites to discern, accompany, supplement this process that explains the real fulfilment of the Creator’s original project. Limited familiarity with the instrumentation that has become available in relation to knowledge of the human phenomenon however weakens the cultural mediation of the testimony of believers and its humanistic ferment. It is not a question of being told about reality by human sciences: it is a matter of discerning it in them, of understanding it in the faith. Nothing more, nothing less.
Our humble ambition is precisely to make the adventure of thinking about the human family joyful and exciting, giving the reason for and motivating the logos of hope for agape (1 Pt, 3, 14-15). Loyally positioned within the profile of a higher education pontifical institution and building upon the international network that can reinforce and disseminate the enrichment of the intellectual ministry that belongs to it, we trust we will succeed in honouring the task entrusted to us by the Christian kairos of these new times, in a manner worthy of the trust the Church bestows upon us.