The Meaning of Marriage

What does a word mean, if it can mean anything? Is there a difference between a word meaning anything, and one that means nothing at all?

This isn’t merely a semantic problem if that word is “marriage.” When I maintain that the definition of marriage has been all but lost, I intend both senses of “definition.” It no longer has definite meaning as a word or determinate form as a cultural reality. The two are related. Since our culture has chosen, bit by larger bit, to remove all determinate form from marriage, the word “marriage” ever more closely approaches meaninglessness.

Nor is the loss of meaning only of antiquarian interest. For those struggling to recover the meaning of marriage, or those who are so blessed never to have lost it, every day is a desperate fight against the torrents of a culture bent on wearing away any definite meaning to marriage, like the waters of a persistent river that change sharp rocks to smooth, smooth rocks to sand, and then carry the sand, swirling and aimless, downstream whither it will.




A Fuzzier and Fuzzier Cultural Picture of Marriage

Words matter; and smooth, aimless, and abstract words are crowding out the sharply defined matrimonial vocabulary. “Significant other”; “relationship”; “companion”; “partner.” All mark the decline of marriage into meaninglessness, a step into abstraction from man and woman, husband and wife. Even the beautiful and precise word “friend” has been forced into service.

I recall standing in line at my local bank a while back and noticing a small placard propped up on the counter. There was a picture of a young, happy… what? Couple? Well, “couple” would be too strong and exact, an affront to the sexually casual. The ad read: “Open a checking account today, and enter to win a trip to Europe for you and your friend!”

Friend? The assumption in my moral dinosaurian mind was that if you go to Europe and stay in the same hotel rooms together as you travel, then you are going to be, not just a man and a woman, but having tied the nuptial knot, a husband and a wife. But “friend” implies (at least in our culture) both casualness and gender inspecificity.

I can imagine the unbearable angst of the folks in advertising at having to make the nail-biting decision even to put a young man and woman in the ad, and risk offending homosexuals and lesbians. “Well, the bank is only going to pay for two people on this trip, so we’ve got to have a picture of two of something, even though they’ll pay for two of anything. But we can say ‘friend’ as a wink to the homosexuals. They’ll get it!”

Of course, the bank would never dream of putting in fine print: “This contest is limited to those who are married.” That would not only offend everyone else, but cut down on the number that might open an account. Moral specificity is bad for business.

And other businesses know it too. There was an ad in the Sunday paper for a mattress, showing a man and woman luxuriating in somnolent bliss. “You and your partner can finally get that good night’s sleep.”

Partner? What is a partner? Or even more, what isn’t? How long ago was it that such ads would have read “spouse” or “you and your husband” or “you and your wife” — the cultural assumption being that if you were sharing the same bed, you were sharing the same last name?

Why the displacement of morally specific terms “husband,” “wife,” and “marriage” by terms of carefully contrived moral imprecision? Clearly, the culture wants a fuzzy picture, one that does not sharply distinguish morally among any of the ways human beings might choose to relate sexually.

Things get fuzzier still. The problem is not just that other words are crowding marriage out, but that even when the word “marriage” itself is used, it is being blurred to complete distortion in practice. As I often tire of saying, if you’ve got to pass a constitutional amendment to define marriage as only existing between a man and a woman, the battle has been all but lost, a rearguard action of an army in desperate retreat.

A Sharp Image

For contrast’s sake, let us turn to a very clear picture of marriage. “The vocation to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came from the hand of the Creator” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 1603). A husband and wife are a man and a woman united by a covenant, a binding vow, for “the whole of life,” and this covenant “is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring…” (CCC 1601).

That’s about as sharp as it gets, although it is far sharper even than it first appears — a fact that becomes clearer if we begin to smear the edges of moral precision.

The first step of moral imprecision — in fact, the first step that was taken historically — is to leave off or qualify as optional the last stipulation, so that the “good of the spouses” includes companionship and sexual pleasure but not necessarily procreation. The problem is that while procreation compels the covenant to be between a man and a woman, mere companionship and sexual pleasure do not. And furthermore, if companionship and sexual pleasure define the good of marriage, then it is unclear how or why anyone would consider it a binding covenant for life. But then what does the term “marriage” add to just having companionship and sexual pleasure in a relationship with your partner, significant other, or friend? If it doesn’t add anything, then it must not mean anything.

So we are back to our sad beginning. What does a word mean, if it can mean anything? Is there a difference between a word meaning anything, and one that means nothing at all? But again, this is not a question of semantics. Words are about things, and to lose the meaning of marriage is to lose marriage itself.

Back to Ozzie and Harriet?

We might be tempted to think that we can easily reverse this decline. After all, marriage was rock-solid just a generation ago. Or is it two now… or three? Time passes, but surely it hasn’t been that long, has it? You know, Ozzie and Harriet, the nuclear family.

Well, gear up the mailroom for some hate-mail: The Ozzie and Harriet icon of marriage was halfway to perdition. This was the picture of no-mess, two-kid suburban bliss, a family downsized by contraception so all the struggles could be resolved in a half-hour by a bumbling father and immaculately dressed mother. No dirt. No sweat. No cross. All because procreation became optional, rather than central, to marriage.

The so-called nuclear family was a shrinkage of the meaning of marriage, an implosion waiting to happen. It became an icon of marriage at a time in our society — the 1950s and 1960s — when effective contraception was being introduced to the world for the very first time. Ozzie, Harriet, Rick, and Dave Nelson were the poster family for this great experiment, the cheerful weekly assurance it would turn out well.

But things soon unwound in Hollywood, on television, and in real life. The “Harriets” with only two kids, a house full of labor-saving appliances, and all day to dress up became bored, chose careers, and put “Rick” and “Dave” in daycare. The “Ozzies” found themselves newer-model “Harriets.” Obviously things could not have been wound that tightly in the 1950s if they became unwound so quickly in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. The so-called nuclear family was ready to implode at its inception.

The cultural currents undermining the meaning of marriage would not be a relentless torrent now if they had just been a trickle a mere half-century ago. To get a true measure of the problem, we must trace the stream backwards, not a few decades but several centuries. Marriage has been under attack for that long.

The New Atom

The Genesis account presents the deepest truth about marriage: It is a union of a man and a woman, who are made for each other, a union that is so close that it is one flesh. This one flesh is defined both by the deep and complete complementary nature of male and female, and by the fact that this union yields a child, a living being, one flesh expressing in his or her person the unity of the marriage.

In the 17th century there arose another vision of human nature, one that was based on an entirely different picture of our natural state. This picture was — as compared to the merely “mythical” view put forth in Scripture — truly scientific because it was built upon the latest scientific hypothesis that, all appearances to the contrary, nature consisted of myriads of atoms, randomly jostling for position. This atomism, writ large on the level of human society, became the foundation for modern individualism.

In the mid-1600s, Thomas Hobbes put forth the first snapshot of the new Atom in the state of nature, the counterpart and antagonist of the old Adam in the Garden of Eden. For Hobbes, human beings are defined primarily as equally desirous — equally desirous to get pleasure, equally desirous to avoid pain and death, and therefore, equally desirous of power. In defining human beings by such desire, he not only homogenizes them, but completely abstracts from male and female. Not Adam and Eve, Man and Woman, but indistinguishable atomic individuals.

According to Hobbes, we are asocial by nature, and social only by accident. Individual desiring Atoms sometimes desire sex. Sometimes that desire produces children. But they are accidents of individual desire, not the goal that defines that desire.

Hobbes’s picture of human origins is bleak and uninviting. All this asocial, fervently goalless desire ends in chaos, “a warre, as is of every man, against every man. . . . And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

But only 40 years later another Englishman would repaint Hobbes’s new Atom in softer colors, and that Englishman was one of the most influential philosophers of modernity, shaping almost single-handedly the entire European Enlightenment, and more particularly, American self-understanding. That man was John Locke.

As with Hobbes, Locke lived through the chaotic English Civil War years of the mid-17th century, where pro-monarchical and anti-monarchical forces tore apart the English soil and social fabric for two decades, killing a king, lapsing into social and moral chaos, then experimenting with a republic (only to descend into military dictatorship), and finally lurching toward a kind of constitutional monarchy with the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Locke was the philosopher of the revolution.

Locke was a Whig — a man on the left wing of English politics of the time — unfriendly at best to the nobility, and absolutely hostile to divine-right monarchy. In order to undermine the Tory claims of divine-right monarchy and the rule of noble families, Locke believed he had to attack paternal authority itself, and that attack has left an enduring scar on the self-image of the family, and hence marriage, in the West.

Locke follows Hobbes in placing human individuals in a state of nature, where the primary concern of each is self-preservation. He does this so that, against the claims of monarchs, we can be defined as essentially, naturally free and independent of all rule. The “state all men are naturally in,” declares Locke, “is a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit . . . .”

But what of the family? Are male and female naturally free and independent? Are children born naturally free and independent? Are parents naturally free and independent of their children? How does the family fit into the state of nature?

Not very well. Although Locke (to give him the benefit of the doubt) tries his best to fit the family back in the Hobbesian framework, once human beings are defined first and foremost by individual freedom, independence, and desire, it is deucedly difficult to make room for — let alone sense of — marriage and the family.

If we are naturally free and independent, then we, male and female, are not naturally made for each other. Rather than marriage being a sacrament, a holy covenant built upon nature and bringing nature to its intended fulfillment supernaturally, “conjugal society is made by a voluntary compact between man and woman.” From covenant to contract — and such contracts mirror the contract of the larger society, the social contract: They can be made and broken.

Again, Locke tries to fit the family in. He even claims that there is “a right in one another’s bodies as is necessary to its chief end, procreation,” and the children have “a right to be nourished and maintained by them till they are able to provide for themselves.” But the damage is done. The husband, wife, and children are related by individual rights, rather than by natural love.

Defining marriage in terms of individual rights also makes it all too easy for the man and woman to yearn for that “state of nature” before marriage, where both were in a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they thought fit. That Locke realizes he has introduced a fundamental unnaturalness and impermanency to marriage is evident. Witness his slippery rumination:

 
And herein, I think, lies the chief, if not the only, reason why the male and female in mankind are tied to a longer conjunction than other creatures, viz., because the female is capable of conceiving, and de facto is commonly with child again and brings forth, too, a new birth long before the former is out of a dependency for support on his parents’ help and able to shift for himself and has all the assistance that is due to him from his parents; whereby the father, who is bound to take care for those he hath begot, is under an obligation to continue in conjugal society with the same woman longer than other creatures, whose young being able to subsist of themselves, before the time of procreation returns again, the conjugal bond dissolves of itself, and they are at liberty, till Hymen at his usual anniversary season summons them again to choose new mates (emphases added).
 

The only reason man and woman are tied to a longer conjunction? By so qualifying marriage, Locke finds that he must jettison permanency, so that the best he can say theologically is that “the wisdom of the great Creator… hath made it necessary that society of man and wife should be more lasting than of male and female amongst other creatures…” (emphasis added). Till death do us part just died.

Locke’s attempt to define us as primarily desire-driven, independent individuals nearly destroys fatherhood as well. Or if we wanted to put it in the political context of the time, Locke is so concerned to destroy the notion that a king has a natural right to rule his subjects, that he is willing to do significant damage to the parallel belief that a father has a natural right to rule his children. Part of his strategy is to reduce children to an accident of lust, thereby affirming the Hobbesian notion that human beings are governed by desire rather than by reason. “What father of a thousand, when he begets a child, thinks farther than the satisfying [of] his present appetite?”

Sex: one more appetite. Note that all that it takes to undermine the “only reason why the male and female in mankind are tied to a longer conjunction than other creatures” is birth control. All that is necessary to remove the child’s dependency is, first of all, not to be born to begin with, and failing that, daycare — which, of course, removes the father’s “obligation to continue in conjugal society” if it is state-subsidized. This unwinding of obligations, aided and abetted by technology and the welfare state, brings the man and woman back to the state of nature, “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit.”

I focus on Locke for a very good reason. Locke is the acknowledged father of modern liberalism, in both its “conservative” and “liberal” manifestations. “Conservatives” affirm Locke’s worldview, but want an abridged form of marriage to sit in the middle of the state of nature and resist the tide. “Liberals” just want the tide to finish its work and wash the family away.

Since Locke’s political views have been so firmly ensconced in modern political life, marriage is increasingly harder to fit into contemporary liberal society — a society based upon the notion that human beings are defined, first and foremost, by individual freedom and the right to fulfill their desires.

And as individual freedom and the right to fulfill our desires ever more completely define our self-understanding, marriage ever more quickly unwinds. As marriage unwinds, it means less and less, until it simply becomes unintelligible, an archaic burden tied to primitive notions that there is anything deeply defining man and woman that would entail that marriage is a natural union — the natural union.

Back to Our Future

Restoring meaning to marriage means not only holding against the tide, but swimming against it — acting in complete antagonism to contemporary culture. There is much glib braggadocio about being “countercultural,” mainly by those on the left who are not acting counter to the culture, but gleefully running a few feet ahead of the tide. Being truly countercultural means doing an about-face and slamming headlong into the cultural breakers.

That is a most painful exercise, especially for women. The assumption of the culture is that the fulfillment of individual freedom and individual desires demands that a woman be financially independent, even and especially within marriage. The maximum independence is achieved by working for wages outside the home and severely limiting the number of children. The terms “wife” and “mother” smack of servitude. If a woman would dare to consider being a wife and mother, her defining goal — not “her” in the vague, Lockean sense of a particular preference, as in the perky “I’m a stay-at-home soccer mom!” but “her” as in defining womanhood itself, the fulfillment of her very nature, her vocation as a woman — that would be truly countercultural.

It may seem as if such a thing only opposes the cultural Left, but it ain’t so. When the cultural Right thunders about a woman’s place being in the home, what is generally meant is that Ozzie wants Harriet back in the neat suburban house to tend the two children. The problem is that Ozzie doesn’t see his natural fulfillment, his true vocation, as being a husband and father. He wants to minimize the burdens of being a father so he can maximize the freedoms of being a husband. Having Harriet at home cuts down upon the frictions and restrictions of his free time outside the workplace.

Having children as a vocation, the fulfillment of male and female as husband and wife, is as countercultural as you can get. If you doubt that, then you haven’t experienced the shock of disbelief, the incredulous gasps, the nervous laughter, the rude murmurings when you parade with your family of nine in public — and this includes many Catholic parishes where the pews are filled with freshly scrubbed families of four: Dad, Mom, and the two kids.

But it is not (as some orthodox Catholics think) simply a matter of having a lot of children. It is a matter of recovering the depths of male and female, husband and wife, father and mother, in a culture that has all but wiped out such fundamental natural distinctions.

Where to begin? The most fundamental natural distinction, prior to husband and wife, father and mother, and the one on which they depend, is male and female. We live in an androgynous culture, where this most fundamental natural distinction, male and female, has been replaced by the notion of the “individual,” the androgynous desiring unit, bursting with rights that demand satisfaction. As a result, we have become alienated, strangers to the depths of our own nature, genderless both-and-neithers.

What if — dare one even think, let alone speak it — a man is a very particular thing, not just on the surface, but all the way down? That a woman is a woman, not a frustrated man, or a naturally blank slate scribbled on by patriarchal culture, but deep down, a very peculiar creature, a woman?

What if a husband and wife were not just two people, two desiring units of indifferent gender, living for an indefinite time in the same house, but the perfection of male and female as if “marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman”? Perfection thus understood is not another form of individualism. When man and woman are made one flesh, they belong to each other. I am my wife’s husband, and she is my wife — not just a little on the surface, or according to a legal contract, but to the very depths of our being. Likewise, I do not play at being father as a “role.” I am a father. My wife does not play at being a mother. She is a mother.

If marriage is to have meaning, we shall have to embrace again this revolutionary truth.

 

Benjamin D. Wiker

By

Benjamin Wiker is Professor of Political Science and Senior Fellow of the Veritas Center at Franciscan University. His newest book is The Reformation 500 Years Later: 12 Things You Need To Know. His website is www.benjaminwiker.com, and you can follow him on Facebook.

  • Greg Sully

    I agree fully with the author’s understanding of marriage, but I’m convinced that the suggested fix is too abstract and conceptual to have any real muscle or traction.

    Basically the suggested fix was to “embrace again a revolutionary truth,” namely that husband and wife are a perfection of male and female as if marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman.

    The problem with this plan for restoration is it exists in the realm of theory—that is, our theory of marriage vs. the other theories of marriage that have come to be. But the fact is that the other theories of marriage have come about by *concrete legal and societal events and forces,* such as the impact on marriage posed by the two-parent working family, the legal imposition of no-fault divorce, and the reality of artificial contraception.

    In other words, if it took concrete incarnate events and forces to give us the errant redefinition of marriage, it will also take concrete incarnate events and forces to restore it.

    What are some concrete events that would reinstate marriage? Well, the most powerful force that dictates what happens in a society is law and enforcement. If Christians regain the leadership of the nation they can develop the pro-marriage laws, definitions, and initiatives necessary to re-impose the contractual reality of marriage which has eroded to nothing.

    I can think of many laws from many different angles that would produce the desired outcome. For example, if leaving one’s “partner” with whom one has a child were to trigger **hefty financial consequences** by law—in the name of “saving children/victims from abandonment”—then the social and legal pressure ensures the concrete form of traditional marriage.

    If changing marriage law is out of reach due to lack of Christian leadership in the government, powerful coalitions could launch various nationwide PSA campaigns against child-and-partner abandonment. These campaigns must play on the “victimization-of-kids” theme and the “it’s-not-cool-to-abandon-your-kids” theme and the “save-the-children” themes. The campaign could show up in music, in popular TV ads, in teen-targeted PSA. The campaign could be advocated by famous people who have large cultural influence. It is a concrete thing to stigmatize the widespread abandonment of kids and partners with whom one has a baby. It could have the same national power and impact as today’s “green eco movement” is having.

    Simply put, you can’t win a culture war with abstract debates and mere words. Culture wars are won only by using the “weaponry” of top-tier institutions, laws, media, schools, and other concrete social and national forces.

  • Karen

    You believe males and females are completely and utterly different. There are some consequences that flow from this assumption:

    1. Men and women must be governed by different sets of laws. If women are not capable of responding to logic as men are, then women cannot be expected to follow laws that men understand. Please provide a detailed description of the laws that will govern women and how they differ from the laws governing men.

    2. Men and women will not be able to have the same education. Will women be permitted to play sports, study math and science and history? What classes will be prohibited to women?

    3. Will the law punish wife beaters? Since men get to assert their authority in marriage, there must be some mechanism to enforce that authority. Please describe it.

  • BenK

    The fact is that both the author and the commentator Greg Sully are missing some very serious issues: namely, that laws are relatively easily changed, that fads and subcultures come and go, but the existence of knowledge and technology, patterns of relating, and deep seated social conventions are much more powerful than either.

    In short, there is a deep social desire at the present time to not have children, an approval of it, and an incarnate means of avoiding it – and no matter what happens, since there is a means and a desire, laws will not change it and a few people going upstream will simply get swamped. Changing some laws to reward bigger families won’t work while people have smaller families. Some people will have children just to get the rewards, the scandal of how poorly they care for these children will get a law reversed almost instantaneously – and that’s just an example. Laws are easily shifted, they are not the first step or the most important step, they are just a piece of the instantiation of a culture.

    Also, making a new culture doesn’t just mean making your own choice and going for it. It means making that choice rewarded and all other choices painful. We have seen what happens in a culture that deeply values children and childbearing. Barrenness is viewed as a curse, for instance, and those women and men are despised (most particularly the women). There are some serious costs to this kind of culture, costs that early Christians sought to ameliorate. We need to be careful about what we wish to return.

    Technology is also a powerful genie not easily returned to the box. Children can now be avoided or produced late etc etc. It may not be so healthy to do so, but the technology for ‘reproductive choice’ keeps advancing – so if we shift the desire, from ‘no kids’ to ‘many kids,’ for example – we won’t simply see a return of the ‘old days.’ We will see new distortions and new possibilities. Nobody can simply eliminate a technology, even if they outlaw it. Black market fertilizations, black market contraceptives, whatever people really want – including what the minority populations want – will be available once a technology exists.

    Any fully formed concept of what ‘to do’ needs to include a concept of the desired goal, a kinetically feasible route to achieving the goal, and an awareness of side effects that will occur as one overshoots the goal, as people resist, and in pursuit of it. I don’t imagine that we can predict everything – but we should better try to at least see the obvious issues, because willful blindness is an unfortunate and damning condition.

  • Karen

    You believe males and females are completely and utterly different. There are some consequences that flow from this assumption:

    1. Men and women must be governed by different sets of laws. If women are not capable of responding to logic as men are, then women cannot be expected to follow laws that men understand. Please provide a detailed description of the laws that will govern women and how they differ from the laws governing men.

    2. Men and women will not be able to have the same education. Will women be permitted to play sports, study math and science and history? What classes will be prohibited to women?

    3. Will the law punish wife beaters? Since men get to assert their authority in marriage, there must be some mechanism to enforce that authority. Please describe it.

  • Greg Sully

    BenK,

    Actually, laws are not easily changed. Rather, they are very stubborn and resistant to change. (Of course, the Left knows that stacking the courts with leftist judges means you don’t have to bother with changing law through legitimate legislative processes, as Sotomayor was caught admitting on video tape. If you have the judges rule their courts as little kings, presto, judges become lawmakers.)

    More importantly, laws and enforcement (via fines and punishment) are the instruments by which any social or economic change can be accomplished almost overnight. Nobody knows this better than the secular Left in the U.S. The Leftists have a robust legal strategy for social changes, which has been shockingly successful. Then they use media, public school, and Hollywood to educate the youth on their point of view.

    Consider: by laws an entire economic system can be erased and replaced by another, practically overnight. By laws Christmas and pervasive christian presence in the public square can be censored and forced out of the public eye. By laws a nation with a divorce rate of just 15% can be re-engineered so that divorces soar to 50% or more. By laws every citizen in the country can be compelled to use a certain kind of light bulb. By laws smoking can disappear from the big cities and downtown areas. By laws the type of cooking oils that restaurants use can be eliminated. By laws people can be silenced on their views of traditional marriage. And by laws every couple can be forced to produce just one child.

    Moreover, the change in laws creates new “norms” that are accepted by the public a normal and unquestionable. That’s amazing power, and the Left knows it.

    The Left is brilliant to make generation-long plans and goals and then work each day scheming their next incremental victory. If only Catholics and other conservatives were so dedicated, methodical, and aware of the proper tools for “change.”

    If we can adopt some of these “incarnational” tools for change, we can have a more Catholic nation over the next 3 to 4 decades. It’s a worthy mission, and it inspires the youth to participate, too.

    Think about that.

  • Greg Sully

    Okay, everyone. I’d like to offer this story from today’s news as a *generalized example of organized resistance* that works in response to any piece of oppressive or godless federal legislation. Though I have one caveat to offer.

    Here’s the link:

    “Arizona sheriff sweeps for illegals”
    http://tinyurl.com/yzsu3dr

    Now, when you read the story, you see that the sheriff is asserting his rights over against the Federal Government’s attempt to remove his authority. In a word, the sheriff is refusing to comply with the unconstitutional Federal power grab by Obama and Janet Napolitano. The sheriff’s civil resistance works, but with the caveat that *ONE CRITICAL THING* is missing from this man’s strategy: he’s acting alone, which is a big mistake, for he can be easily crushed if acting alone.

    Therefore, he needs to make this move *in cooperation with multiple state police agencies and legal partners and the Governor* so that a whole coalition is resisting together, and not one man. If he is all alone in this act of resistance, he won’t last—the Feds will crush him one way or another. But if he has a whole coalition committed to the civil resistance he is staging, the Federal Government cannot impose its oppressive orders.

    Now, if Christians and conservatives adopt these tactics they can refuse at the state level any oppressive, unconstitutional, and ungodly Federal orders. But it must, must be done as a coalition of authorized leaders and decision makers, probably in union with the governor.

  • Ellen

    In the early years of Christianity Catholics were a tiny minority surrounded by an horrific pagan culture, but look what happened. Catholics must be faithful again to the teachings of Our Lord. From the top down – annulments must again be rare and we must see the end of “Catholic divorce”. Engaged couples could be required to state in writing their understanding of a Catholic marriage so that there would not be a doubt about the validity of the marriage in the future. When Catholics divorce and “remarry”, the extended family and Catholic friends should not accept the situation and treat the new relationship as a valid marriage. That is, the two people should not be invited to family gatherings as if they are a married couple. The same rules should be applied to an unmarried pair who are living together. It will be bitterly painful for families to apply this remedy and society will accuse them of being harsh and judgemental, but unless Catholics are willing to pay the price for witnessing to the truth there will not be a change. The suffering can be offered to God for the salvation of the errant children. After all these years, how can we possibly continue to delude ourselves that “keeping the door open” is justification for cooperating with the evil?

  • Austin

    In the Catholic Church today, there are many annulments, some of which are bogus, but I think to dismiss them across the board is incorrect. I have known couples who married way too young, or couples where one party was engaged in something of a fraud, where an annulment is the means for a person to try again at marriage. Annulments are not something that should be “routine” but I have noticed some posters to dismiss them all out of hand, which I think is unfair.

    Are there some annulments which should not be granted? Of course, many of them are bogus. All that being said, I have personally seen instances where they are appropriate.

    I have also noticed among some authors, such as this one, a tendency to pine for the “good old days” of divine right monarcy, aristocracy, etc. The good, old days proor to the enlightenment. I think those good old days may not have been so good. The monarchs and aristocrats often grossly abued their authority and position. Democracy has its warts, but I will take it any day over the divine right monarchies that some of the authors of this site seem to miss.

  • Greg Sully

    You’re absolutely right, Ellen. The Church’s teachings exist to preserve us Catholics as a people to the end of time. And in fact, one of the wonders of the Catholic Church is that it has been preserved intact for 20 centuries now, and is the continuation of the Hebrew religion, which preserved God’s Covenant people from the time of Father Abraham to Christ.

    Central to this preservation is the nuclear Catholic family. Families are the key institution through which we pass on our Faith and way of life, generation after generation. Any group that dissolves its family structure in large numbers loses its traditions and eventually is absorbed into another culture or tradition. Or worse, it goes extinct from history.

    So, the Catholic teaching on marriage is central to our preservation and well being as a people, and the number one enemy of marriage is divorce-and-remarriage. The number two enemy is annulment. When these take place in large numbers, they destroy us as a people with a unique way of life and a divine tradition.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    Again I might find myself alone on this blog, but Marriage, as undertaken by those in the sight of God and His Body the Church is to be a manifestation of God’s covenant to His Body, the Church….. to us. I believe the numbers of divorces and the breakdown of this covenant points to the quality of our relationship with God. How well do we really know Him… How intimate is our relationship with God…. We can’t pass down to the next generation authentic marriage if we don’t have it or didn’t experience it in our parent’s marriage. Therefore the work or the amazing contagiously wonderful way out of our current situation is pressing into the heart of GOD. To see each other as He sees us..irresistibly beautiful!!. God is completely head over hills in love with us…. He made us each one of us unique, never to be repeated.. and His love and faithfulness is new each day…. we can never stop growing and expanding in who we are individually and together……. It is the lack of marriages who share this kind of love, the vibrant, ever-flowing spring of living water…. this lack of HIS love is the problem….
    The Good News is, HE is the answer…. If we turn to HIM, fill up on Him, daily, individually and together as couples as families and as Parish communities and beyond, it will be too contagious of a covenant to not want to have and to hold until death do us part! Ozzie and Harriett wasn’t real, God and His transforming, highly creative LOVE is real, though unknown, in the Bibilical sense of the Word by most!
    I know that some of you are saying…. what planet is she on….. and you might think that I have watched too many Hollywood movies….. and to that I would say, in fact the majority of marriages are settling… for the Hollywood knock-off version of marriage and are sitting in broken down/tarnished/fake/feaux marriages…..
    Imagine, if you can, when you walk into the REAL presence of Jesus, what will that be like….. standing in the presence of someone who knows everything about you…. knows you inside and out…… what would that be like right this moment…. especially as you reflect on the covenant of marriage you have been living….
    knowing Him as I know Him, He will take His nail pierced hands, the reminder of the price He has already paid for you, and He will embrace you with a Love that will both restore your sense of wholeness and awaken in you a deep passionate desire to bring that embrace of love, that quality of love back into your covenant…. your baptismal vows and marriage vows…. we are all to point to His Heart, open 24/7 with salvific love for all who come!
    We get wore out because we are trying to keep our covenants without Him…. or are taking on God’s part, or our spouse or children’s part…. and then because we don’t live authentic Christian community, many find they have no where to turn to for encouragement, spiritual counsel, enlightenment. Covenants are live and need daily exchanges of tender authentic love … continuous flow of LOVE….

    In this day we do find ourselves and our culture, for sure, in a serious spiritual deprivation…. where most do not know the Lord intimately… and so we must do both….. seek out GOD as never before to open our hearts to know and love Him and our eyes to see others as He sees them… with LOVE… and to fight with all our might to protect the sacred union of marriage, one man and one woman, from which each of us came forth from and upon which all other covenants/contracts stand upon! If there is not a covenant that lasts forever, as God promised, what other kind of covenant would we want to build our society upon? All others are knock-offs and could never stand the test of time!

  • Christine

    Hi MoTS,

    As usual, you hit the nail on the head. I am a grateful wife in that I learn day by day what God’s love is like through the love of my wonderful husband.

    May God continue to bless you and everyone else [smiley=happy]

  • Ted Seeber

    In the end result, that’s my criteria for marriage and family design. Is it sustainable, over the long term, for more than two generations?

    Families without both a father and a mother fail utterly in this; the lack of parental input from one gender almost always makes itself felt by the third generation, with the result of the missing parental gender becoming horribly dysfunctional. The Southern US practice of removing fathers from slave families is still making itself felt in the black community.

    Same sex marriage families don’t pass the bill without adoption, and perhaps even with.

  • Mother of Two Sons

    Your post warms my heart and soul….. I will keep you, your husband and family in my daily prayers! that you will always cling to Him, Jesus, and to one another expecting your marriage to continue to grow ever more into His likeness…. and I hope that you will teach Young people and other couples how you walk in His garden, rather than in the desert!

  • sibyl

    I’d like to respond to Karen’s comments, as they contain several unwritten assumptions that did not come from the article.

    The writer never said men and women were utterly and completely different — he said they were distinct, particular beings. I thought that meant that a woman was not interchangeable with a man in essence. The author seemed to be making this point to combat the current notion (which he started with) that human pairings are all equal since all humans are interchangeable in their essence. Thus, in this mistaken notion, deep, passionate, committed sexual love can be called “marriage” whether between two men, two women, or one of each.

    But your assumption here was that in saying this, he was somehow referring to certain historical attitudes that put men above women. I didn’t see that in the article at all, and I don’t think he thinks that, although I don’t know him personally. And logic, of course, does not require us to say that just because two beings are distinct and have their own particular attributes that one must be better than another. Pick your analogy — sun and moon, apples and oranges, locks and keys, chocolate and peanut butter …

    Also, about education and wife-beating. I think you again fall into that same assumption — that somehow by admitting that men and women are not interchangeable, and that no amount of cultural reconditioning is going to make it so, we must subscribe to a weird and narrow attitude that men are better, more human, have more rights, etc. That just doesn’t follow. And the author also said nothing about the man asserting his authority in marriage. Simply that being a husband is something only a man can do, and being a mother is something that only a woman can do, and that both are completely necessary to children’s wellbeing, and you need one of each for anything that you call marriage to take place.

    Mr. Wiker. Keep on, sir. From one and her husband who feel the smashing breakers every day.

  • charles fisenne

    I have been looking for vigorous, catholic pragmatic warriors that are capable of engaging the false gay ideology in this secular country This web site is not it. If anyone has the official gay definition of marriage ,I would appreciate a posting to Cfisenne@verizon.net. I gather it is ME TOO, equality, fairness. civil rights. If every want is a civil right then I have at least a million civil rights, but never have I heard of their definition. Maybe it is an impossibility

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