The Vatican is sponsoring this week (Nov 1719) an international colloquium on the complementarity of man and woman in marriage called Humanum. It is sponsored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith along with the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. The curial sponsors reflect the broad import the Vatican is giving this three-day event, as well as its significance for ecumenism and inter-religious cooperation.
In an opening address, Pope Francis declared that “children have a right to a mother and father capable of creating a suitable environment for the child’s development and emotional maturity.” He also criticized devastating spiritual and material effects of cultures that withdraw “public commitment” to conjugal marriage. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks apparently gave an eloquent speech in defense of marriage, and I am sure we will be hearing about many of the other great speeches.
Also notable are a set of accompanying fifteen-minute videos, whose sophistication and production quality far exceed the usual Vatican media effort.
The first video “The Destiny of Humanity: On the Meaning of Marriage” begins with a night sky filled with the stars. The voiceover begins “In all myths, humans were trying to find the meaning of life. To find where they are coming from and to find where they are going to.” The images shift from the rotating stars of the night to deep, hidden caverns below the earth, where we find those red and sepia-toned primitive images painted on rocksimages of men and women with their children. The lush images of nature pile up to remind the viewer that to ask about the meaning of marriage is really to ask about the meaning of nature and existence itself. Why is there something rather than nothing?
The philosopher Peter Kreeft sits on rocks with the forceful waves bashing up against the backdrop. He says:
The masculine and the feminine are cosmological. They are not limited to humans, or even just to animals. Every language that I know of, except English, has masculine or feminine nouns . . . the sun and moon, the day and night, the water and the rocks . . . but most today think this is a projection of our sexuality into the universe. That makes us strangers to the universe. The God who invented human sexuality also invented the universe; the two fit. It’s a much happier philosophy: we fit the nature of things.
From the philosopher at the primordial sea we move across lush landscapes, both topographical and humanfrom Lebanon to Africa to England. And in England, the pastoral scenes give way to scenes of church and academy as we cut to N. T. Wright who helps us move from thinking about the philosophical to the biblical. Wright speaks about how Genesis unfolds creation as a story of complementarities (Pope Francis joked in his opening address that the word does not exactly fall off the tongue). He spoke also about the complementarities of creation, “reaching its climax in the creation of human beings in the image of God . . . an image which has male-plus-female at the heart of it.”
The final parts of the video are the most moving of all as they rise from the testimonies of every level of culture: an ordinary farmer, an artist, and a professor.
A Spanish-speaking farmer shows us his crop of peppers, and holds his wife’s hand as he says:
The love of a marriage has a special fertility, which is the capacity to cooperate with God to bring into the world another person, which is the greatest thing one can do in this world.
A French artist talks about August Rodin’s famous sculpture “The Cathedral” (1908) wherein we see two right-hands, male and female, delicately touching at the finger-tips, forming as she puts it “a perfect architecture” between a man and a woman. She says “every couple is like a cathedral.”
This thought is finally brought back to the Bible by returning to N. T. Wright who reminds us that “Genesis imagines man and woman as a temple too. And the final thing you put in a temple is the image of God . . . so that the life and power of God can flow into the world.”
The high-production quality doesn’t distract from the profound statement being made here. It is essentially this: the male and female union is the universal heart of human life and existence. It has a ripple-effect on all of humanity. But this truth has a powerful corollary: new sexual ideologies will fall not simply because Christians oppose them, but because they cannot withstand the gravity of nature, or the weight of glory given in human existence itself. That’s a stunning argument for not desecrating the temple.