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The Synod on the Family: Multi-disciplinary Perspectives from the American Context

This DSPT Symposium—part of the 2016 Convocation of the College of Fellows—considered the 2015 Synod on the Family in relation to our American context and explored the family in the USA from a variety of perspectives, seeking to more deeply understand the Church’s teaching on the family with an aim to discern how to creatively and faithfully apply it in our culture today.

For more information about the College of Fellows, visit

Philosophical Considerations – Anselm Ramelow

Subtracting an atom from a mere agglomerate of atoms would not change what the agglomerate is, but only how many. In a molecule, on the other hand, one cannot subtract an element without changing the identity of the molecule. Likewise, marriages and families are changed by the subtraction of a member; they cohere by complementarity and by relationships that are constitutive of their identity.

John and Sally’s union in marriage would not be what it is without reference to their offspring, whether potential or actual. Just as we do not understand what an acorn is without reference to the oak tree, so we will not understand the nature of the union of husband and wife without what it is meant to do, without the telos into which it is to unfold. … Bonding and babies go together: the one-flesh-union that cannot be had literally for the married couple alone, comes about in the offspring. … Children in turn need to know their parents for the sake of their own identity; they need to know them as the union that their own genetic material embodies.

Thus, children are stakeholders in the union of their parents and need to be able to trust the marriage vows, i.e., the promise of their parents. Friedrich Nietzsche calls the human person “the animal that can make promises.” In some way, the human person himself is a promise by being that being which can make a promise. Someone who is not reliable in his promises is not reliable as a person. The contemporary crisis of promising is the crisis of our identity as persons (R. Spaemann). Marriage might be a paradigm case, because in marriage we promise not something, but ourselves and thereby gain a new identity – an identity that is inseparable from the person with whom we have merged our biography and begun a family.

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