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So wrote Luther in the introduction to the scathing critique of the Roman Catholic sacramental system of his day, which marked his fundamental break with the Church. His project included the task of freeing the "divine institution" of marriage from the unholy bonds of its "babylonian captivity," from the juridical powers and impediments of the papacy. From the perspective of at least some contemporary Roman Catholics, marriage remains in bonds. Yet the present project is, in the main, not about freeing a captive or forcing another break in an already fractured Christian community. I conceive it rather as a fundamentally positive and constructive effort by a practicing Catholic to retell within the broad bounds of the Christian story the "chapter" on marriage as it is found in contemporary papal teachings.2
This "retelling" will involve both the critical analysis and appropriation of certain basic reference points demonstrably evident in those teachings, as well as the construction, on traditional grounds, of the foundations for a general theological ethic of marriage distinct in character from that of the popes. While the conclusions I reach and the ethical redescription of marriage which I propose do indeed fall within the scope of a Christian moral vision which could be embraced by a Roman Catholic, I do not claim for those same conclusions coherence with the juridico-moral tenets of contemporary papal marriage teachings. Yet this study is a response to the call to theologians by Pope John Paul II to extend the understanding of Catholic teaching on marriage and the family.3 This first and introductory chapter, devoted to setting up the main problem which I address in this study, is divided into four main sections. The first section outlines the social and ecclesial reference points which warrant this constructive critique. The second section highlights the papal teachings in terms of the conceptual reference points which serve as the focus of investigation. In the third section I take up the development and statement of the thesis of this study. In the fourth section, a brief outline of the remainder of the study is provided.
(excerpted from the introduction to Marriage, A Habit of Love, by Gil Hedley, 1994)