Friday, May 9, 2014

So What is Marriage Anyway?

In the light of these facts [about the nature of marriage and love] the characteristic features and exigencies of married love are clearly indicated, and it is of the highest importance to evaluate them exactly.

This love is above all fully human, a compound of sense and spirit. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct or emotional drive. It is also, and above all, an act of the free will, whose trust is such that it is meant not only to survive the joys and sorrows of daily life, but also to grow, so that husband and wife become in a way one heart and one soul, and together attain their human fulfillment.

It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner's own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.

Married love is also faithful and exclusive of all other, and this until death. This is how husband and wife understood it on the day on which, fully aware of what they were doing, they freely vowed themselves to one another in marriage. Though this fidelity of husband and wife sometimes presents difficulties, no one has the right to assert that it is impossible; it is, on the contrary, always honorable and meritorious. The example of countless married couples proves not only that fidelity is in accord with the nature of marriage, but also that it is the source of profound and enduring happiness.

Finally, this love is fecund. It is not confined wholly to the loving interchange of husband and wife; it also contrives to go beyond this to bring new life into being. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the procreation and education of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to their parents' welfare."
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, 7-8

Reflection – Well, back to ‘weekends with Humanae Vitae’. The next three days we’ll read together through the next bit of the encyclical.

Here we see such a clear and beautiful presentation of what marriage is, the necessary pre-condition to discussing what can or cannot happen within a marriage. If you don’t know what a thing is, you cannot know what it can or cannot do—agere sequitur esse is the philosophical principle here—doing follows from being, what a thing is determines what its right operation is.

The previous paragraph had rooted this esse of marriage in its reflection of the love of the Father for his creation and for the human person, and the love of Christ for the Church. Marriage in the natural order is an echo of God’s ‘it is very good’ to creation; marriage in the supernatural order manifests and in fact expresses the union of God and humanity that is the mystery of Christ the Bridegroom and his Bride the Church. And in this expression man and woman receive grace to live out the communion of love to which they are called.

It is because marriage is these things, because a validly contracted marriage of two baptized people is this, whether they are saintly paragons or utter messes or like 99% of us, a jumbled mix of both, that the ‘laws’ of marriage are what they are.

Marriage cannot be broken, because God’s covenant of love cannot be broken, God cannot stop loving his creation, Christ cannot ‘divorce’ the Church. Divorce is impossible, and no human laws can change that—this is the plain and unequivocal teaching of Christ himself in the Gospels. To ask the Catholic Church to change its laws to allow divorce and remarriage is to ask the Catholic Church to renounce Jesus Christ.

Marriage is exclusive and total, because that is who God is, who Jesus is. Infidelity in a marriage is a direct denial of the very nature of marriage.

And marriage is fruitful, ordered towards fruitfulness, because God’s love is creative, Christ’s love for us is fruitful within us. God’s love gives life; the expression of human love which most intimately corresponds to God’s love, which is nuptial sexual expression, must conform to the pattern of love to which it is made. And it must conform to it according to a fully human way of being and acting—in other words, in freedom, rational choice, and the deeply human decision to move in trust and in communion with one another and with God.

All of this is not just a bunch of arbitrary rules, but flows directly from the reality of what marriage is, revealed by God, revealed by Jesus Christ, and communicated to us through the Tradition of the Church. Agere sequitur esse – what a married couple does flows from who they are. Or as Pope St. John Paul II put it—families, be what you are!


  1. Whatever one thinks of Paul VI and his own personally dubious moral behavior, a good case can be made for Humane Vitae, empirically, as a personal choice and guide for behavior.

    To advocate Humane Vitae as a template for civil law that all of society arbitrarily hew to is repugnant. People have a right to choose.

    Most Catholics do not adhere to the precepts of Humane Vitae. Many other religious traditions have no imperative to do so and choose not to. Many of those who feel a same sex attraction, including Pope Paul VI and the the majority of your own clergy, choose not to be chaste. If they wish to have the same type of relationship with their partners as is available to heterosexual couples or not, those options should be open to them out of simple fairness to all.

    Non Catholics do not care what moral strictures their priests teach, it is most Catholics who object. This should be telling you something. When you try and force a moral code that you yourselves do not even follow upon society as a whole, you immerse yourselves in the toxic depths of tyranny.

    You priests are always sniveling that the Church is not a democracy. I ask you what good is a clerical autocracy that nobody attends to and everyone regards as corrupt, impotent and composed primarily of skulking,nefarious sexual predators? Maybe the church could use a little considered input from the laity. It certainly would benefit from not harassing and haranguing the whole of a non sympathetic secular society. That is simply asking for the kind of vigorous push back that is sure to send you into another shrill and tiresome chorus of feigned persecution.

    1. You know, Moe, your arguments are badly undercut by your use of absurd hyperbole and loaded language.
      Example of latter: 'snivelling.' I do not 'snivel' that the Church is not a democracy. I 'say' it. See the difference? I don't think I've ever snivelled in my life, and the priests I know and count as friends are not especially prone to that. Your need to use demeaning and abusive language indicates that you really don't have much of an argument.
      Hyperbole: 'nobody' attends to the Church's teachings. Well, as Jane pointed out below, that is not true. I personally know hundreds of Catholic couples who are living the Church's teachings, having lots of babies, and in general are pretty happy about the whole thing, given the inherent difficulty of what they are doing.
      I also know hundreds of unmarried Catholics who strive for chastity and even succeed at it, because they 'attend' the Church's teachings. I even know a number of men and women who are homosexual and who have chosen to 'attend' to the Church's teachings, and are also quite happy to be in that particular struggle.
      Your comments about Paul VI's personal life are based on gossip and ill natured speculation. Detraction and calumny are mortal sins, and I suggest that it really is beneath you to engage in such nonsense.
      My earlier reference to persecution was based on your speculation that the courts in this country would actually compel the Catholic church to change its teachings. I rightly termed that (as I said) remote possibility 'persecution', and I don't know what else it could possibly be called.
      Moe - honestly, you are not impressing me with your level of arguments, which rarely rise above personal abuse, detraction, straw men, ad hominems, and bizarre non sequiturs.

    2. What? Would you prefer "simpering"? Whatever. You're doing it now.

      I know a lot of Pacific Islanders and some of them have very large families, especially the Later Day Saints. Some of the Charismatics, not Catholics. I know orthodox Jews with very large families.

      You seriously claim to know "hundreds" of young couples, living the Humane Vitae dream? Priests aren't supposed to lie. Another fantasy punctured.

  2. " ... what good is a clerical autocracy that nobody attends to and everyone regards as corrupt, impotent and composed primarily of skulking, nefarious sexual predators?"

    I, Jane Hodgins, a layperson, a former Protestant, a former Anglo-Catholic, am not "nobody" and since I have attended to what the Catholic Church teaches, mediated through both Catholic laity and priests, I have found deep compassion, deep peace, and deep healing.

    Your comments, Slocum Moe, bear no resemblance to the reality of the majority of Catholic priests. While three percent ~ a number way too high ~ of Catholic priests may be abusers, the vast majority of Catholic clergy are mentors, coaches, teachers, spiritual directors, confessors, counselors, the list goes on and on, and live sacrificial lives.

    It's unfortunate that you seem not to have had this experience. How is it that the Catholic Church "harangues" and "harasses" "the whole of a non sympathetic secular society"? The Catholic Church does nothing of the kind. They articulate their beliefs and YOU are free to ignore what they say. No one is forcing you, kicking and screaming, into the Catholic Church or is forcing you to believe or live out its tenets.

    Rather, what I see is a secular society ~ your comments a stellar case in point ~ that enjoys harassing and haranguing the Catholic Church.

  3. A previous comment mentions a calumny against Paul VI and seems to perpetuate it. The commentor says "Many of those who feel a same sex attraction, including Pope Paul VI and the the majority of your own clergy, choose not to be chaste."

    This accusation was a calumny leveled against the pope by a homoseexual author in an interview with a French sex magazine. Here is the link to the Pope's response. Many of the traditional sites have misleading info on this saying that Paul VI never denied the charge. This is not only untrue but demonically so and I presume they are doing it to cast yet further doubt on the Second Vatican council.
    Here is the link to the pope's defense.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. sorry here is the link:,395778


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