Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Women. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What did the Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?

Gioacchino Vincenzo Raffaele Luigi Pecci became Pope Leo XIII and served from 1878-1903. His encyclical, Arcanum, was delivered to the Church on February 10, 1880. The content of the encyclical reveals certain difficulties confronting the Church at that time with regard to the institution of marriage. Many of his comments remain remarkably pertinent in 2013 as the institution of marriage faces consistent opposition from the secular culture. Following is an examination of several paragraphs in the encyclical. (bold subheads are mine, bold emphasis is mine; paragraph numbers follow each)
We record what is to all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation, having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his face the breath of life, gave him a companion... [Christ] bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder. ... This form of marriage, however, so excellent and so pre-eminent, began to be corrupted by degrees, and to disappear among the heathen; and became even among the Jewish race clouded in a measure and obscured. For in their midst a common custom was gradually introduced, by which it was accounted as lawful for a man to have more than one wife; and eventually when "by reason of the hardness of their heart," Moses indulgently permitted them to put away their wives, the way was open to divorce. (#5-6)
Early in the encyclical, the Pope points out how the original pedigree of marriage occurred between "one man and one woman." The phrase echoes unto today. Anyone who would claim that the Church  attempted to impose this definition only in light of current challenges to marriage would be mistaken.

Where history attempted to justify multiple wives, for example, the Church was there to point out the proper order for the institution of marriage as between one man and one woman.

It seems the natural law, to which biology itself speaks, is signal to the proper quality of a single male-single female relationship. All persons are the fruit of one man and one woman, which points to the natural order of a child raised by his or her parents, a family unit, a natural foundation for humanity. Properly functioning biology admits to no exceptions to this reality. In fact, once the female egg is fertilized by a sperm, a "cortical reaction" occurs which ensures only one sperm fertilizes the egg. Biology itself is a signpost to the order of one man and one woman, to its potency, that it is only this arrangement which "bears fruit." Nothing other than one man and woman in a marital act is capable of such potency.

This is not to exclude the religious aspect to the Church's teaching on marriage. The natural order merely fortifies that which the Church teaches, and serves as a signpost that this sort of union is unique. The evidence we can observe empirically supports the Church's teaching. The Catechism reflects continuity with Pope Leo in the following:
"The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws. . . . God himself is the author 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. Marriage is not a purely human institution despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics. Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life." (CCC#1603)
Elsewhere in the encyclical Arcanum, Pope Leo speaks of the divine pedigree of marriage itself. He writes: "marriage was not instituted by the will of man, but, from the very beginning, by the authority and command of God." (#39) As throughout the centuries, unto today, the divine origins of marriage are denied, and the religious background of marriage, particularly in western culture, is rejected. Thus marriage is considered a malleable institution, changeable at the whim of man, a law to be rewritten if so voted, no more or less special, not more or less permanent than any other vote of a senate. One could expound a lengthy treatise on the religious foundation of marriage, and its strength in the Church. Suffice it to say for the purposes of this analysis, and as we will see further below, the Church's teaching on marriage remains the empirically superior foundation for society.

One of the arguments set forth by proponents of same-gendered unions to be called "marriages" goes something like this: marriage is already in such shambles, with over 50% divorce rate, etc.,  thus, why not give same-gendered couples a chance. The argument, of course, fails to confront what a marriage actually is. The reason the Church cannot call any non-one man-one woman union a marriage is because it cannot. The example above from Pope Leo regarding concubines exemplifies that. The matter, despite the many derogatory names thrown at the Church, is not one related to any sort bigotry, but one of reality. Defending reality, defending the truth, done with due respect and humility, is an act of love toward another, especially when emotions run high.

The "divorce" argument set forth also highlights the prophetic accuracy of the Church, such as Pope Leo XIII when he spoke out against divorce. Yes, marriage in society is poisoned, but it is because various powers have fought to deviate its characteristics from that which the Church and natural law and reason have taught. In other words, marriage did not become a sick institution because modern society listened to the Church. Marriage became a sick institution because society didn't listen to the Church. Even unto today, modern society seeks to deviate from that which the Church exhorts. One wonders how many times the Church has to be right before the masses listen to her.

Let us examine another paragraph from Pope Leo's Arcanum:
Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families. (#29)
Here the Pope reflects on some of the harms of divorce, including the seemingly often forgotten victims of divorce: the children. Again, the empirical consequences of divorce demonstrate its inferiority, and thus support the Gospels' teaching that divorce severs something holy. And I would exhort pause to any reader hurt by divorce either directly or indirectly, as if hope is beyond their reach, or as if the Church does not grieve for such suffering in this fallen, temporal world. The general purpose of this blog post relates to moral doctrines. Assistance for those hurt by divorce or other harms relating to imperfect marriage or sinful relationships is a pastoral matter. There are many resources online and at local parishes for such souls (here are several resources from

On a related note, the Pope also criticized cohabitation as immoral (44). Not only is this considered immoral because it invariably interjects the marital act outside the commitment in which it is belongs, but the the empirical evidence against cohabitation indicates it may be even more harmful to families, children, and society than divorce. There is also science lending evidence to support the idea that sexual activity belongs to a committed relationship. For instance, a University of California-San Francisco study concluded that during such activity, the body releases chemicals like oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphines that tend toward fortifying monogamous relationships. A non-committed, sexual relationship may be prone to a variety of problems, perhaps due in part from the confusion of a committed activity in a non-committed environment.

Continuing the preceding paragraph on divorce, the Pope next wrote that with divorce
the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. (29)
The Pope seeks to protect the "dignity of womanhood." He also implies the problem of men uniting with women for purposes of physical pleasure, and departing from them once gratified. Whether such an act occurs in the context of divorce or in an extra-marital action, either is a violation of her dignity, to sin against her and the divine. In 1880, a culture that frowned upon extra-marital relations far more than 2013's culture, if a man sought to use a woman for sexual gratification, he may have been more prone to delude himself into marriage and then rid himself of her once the fleeting auspices under which he entered the sacrament disintegrated. Since today's culture condones and even promotes extra-marital sexual activity, the Pope's warning about the objectification of women runs all the greater risk.

What makes such a statement in the encyclical the more profound is how much it contradicts modern stereotypes of misogyny in the Church today and yesterday. Vocal, modern feminists have been known even in recent days to belittlingly brand the Church as "octogenarian men" or use the media buzz-phrase that the Church wages "war on women." The tragedy of the matter is that the Church seeks to protect and provide that which is best for all genders, and yet a number of souls, including women, do not recognize the protection fought for them by the Church. Nor do they acknowledge those occasions when the Church was a leading voice for the cause of women.

Against a modern culture which does not hesitate to make the claim that the Church's views on women are "outdated," the 19th century Pope, a little shy of 70 years at the time of Arcanum, here was the Pope of the Catholic Church, condemning not only divorce, but affronts to women, including mistreatment by men, and objectification by men. How can this "'old man,' this 'Church' man, be concerned with women? How does he not condone whatever men want to the detriment of women?" the modern skeptic might cry. Yet the cry belies the reality.

The Church's voice today remains one of a few striving for women's best interests. The current U.S. government openly admits to requiring health care plans, including those of religious entities, provide for chemical drugs that increase the risk of several cancers in women. Although the Church's ultimate caution against such drugs relates to spiritual health, it has been the Church, and members of the Church that have been the most vocal about informing the public of the physical risks involved with these chemicals. Proponents of such drugs have been consistently silent on the drugs' harmful side effects. Additionally, it is sometimes pointed out that approximately half of aborted children are female. And yet it is the Church striving to protect these females as well. Other examples could be given. Fortunately, there are a number of current female researchers and authors striving to communicate the message that the Church's teaching is for the best interests of women and men alike. (see links at bottom)

Earlier in the encyclical, Pope Leo states:
All nations seem, more or less, to have forgotten the true notion and origin of marriage; and thus everywhere laws were enacted with reference to marriage, prompted to all appearance by State reasons, but not such as nature required. Solemn rites, invented at will of the law-givers, brought about that women should, as might be, bear either the honorable name of wife or the disgraceful name of concubine; and things came to such a pitch that permission to marry, or the refusal of the permission, depended on the will of the heads of the State, whose laws were greatly against equity or even to the highest degree unjust. Moreover, plurality of wives and husbands, as well as divorce, caused the nuptial bond to be relaxed exceedingly. Hence, too, sprang up the greatest confusion as to the mutual rights and duties of husbands and wives, inasmuch as a man assumed right of dominion over his wife, ordering her to go about her business, often without any just cause; while he was himself at liberty "to run headlong with impunity into lust, unbridled and unrestrained, in houses of ill-fame and amongst his female slaves, as if the dignity of the persons sinned with, and not the will of the sinner, made the guilt." When the licentiousness of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of passion, or for the production of offspring. (7)
For someone who is familiar with various blogs or media voices claiming the Church is against women or just wants women to manufacture babies (it is not hard to find exactly that claim), the above quote, from the 19th century, should steer them into shock. Here is the Pope from 1880, warning against women being used for gratification or merely "for the production of offspring."

The Pope here also warns against husbands who abuse what are "mutual rights and duties of husbands and wives." The Church is sometimes negatively deemed "patriarchal" because the ordained clergy, who by necessity as participants in a sacrament representing the male Christ, are exclusively male. The critique is to suggest males will not treat women fairly (e.g. see "war on women" link above). Often, those who hear the Scripture on wives called to be submissive to their husbands (Eph. 5:22, 1 Pet. 3:1) have difficulty with the passage because they understand the passages to suggest men are to give orders to be carried out by women who are merely servants. One can find lengthy discussions of the topic among friends or even on forums such those at However, here the Pope criticizes men who "order her to go about her business"  in violation of their "mutual rights." The Pope develops more on this concept a few paragraphs later:
[T]he mutual duties of husband and wife have been defined, and their several rights accurately established. They are bound, namely, to have such feelings for one another as to cherish always very great mutual love, to be ever faithful to their marriage vow, and to give one another an unfailing and unselfish help. The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. (11)
You see here the Pope addressing the concept of a wife being "subject to her husband." And he explicitly rejects the idea that this arrangement means a wife is a "servant." Rather, she is subject in the order of "companion." Modern ears may have trouble with this, for it may be automatic to presume the Pope's use of "obedience" just means taking orders. Yet the comparison is to Christ and the Church. The Church is subject to Christ, yet Christ's leadership entails the sign of dying for his bride and even suggests serving her as Christ served his Church. There is a mutual exchange of, as the Pope says, "unfailing and unselfish help."

The man's part of loving his wife as Christ loved the Church is vital to the functionality of the equation. Pope Leo explicitly affirms this call of husbands when he says
[M]arriage [is the] example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church, He not only perfected that love which is according to nature, but also made the naturally indivisible union of one man with one woman far more perfect through the bond of heavenly love. Paul says to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it. (9)
The entire dimension of wives being "subject to" their husbands as a "companion" must be understood in concert with the idea that the husband must, as head, grant her "unselfish help," and love her as Christ loved the Church. When one meditates on the bloodiness of the crucifixion, which was the ultimate expression of Christ's love as head of his bride, the context of the role of husband becomes profound. Although both spouses are called to an unselfish giving to the other, it is Christ the bridegroom who leads the way, who initiates the pattern. The husband can do this in a variety of ways, whether it be protecting the household from various evils, or even sacrificing some leisure activity when his wife needs him to take out the trash, or watch the children, or listen to her, or whatever may entail his "dying to self" for the sanctification of his bride.

Undoubtedly, husbands who have not represented Christ in this regard have repelled many women from the very thought of subjecting themselves to such headship of a man. But if a man loved his wife like Christ loved the Church, what reasonable woman would not clamor for such love. If she should give herself as a companion to such a husband, to submit to such love as the Church is called to receive Christ's love, what strength such a marriage would possess.

Pope Leo goes on to quote the 4th/5th century's St. Jerome:
[A] law of marriage just to all, and the same for all, was enacted by the abolition of the old distinction between slaves and free-born men and women; 'and thus the rights of husbands and wives were made equal: for, as St. Jerome says, "with us that which is unlawful for women is unlawful for men also, and the same restraint is imposed on equal conditions." The self-same rights also were firmly established for reciprocal affection and for the interchange of duties. (14)
This is, of course, not to belittle the parts of Scripture exhorting the husband to a theological headship of the family. Pope Leo does speak of the husband as "chief of the family and the head of the wife."  The pendulum should not swing too far and reach a point of some modern feminists who believe gender equality means some dilution of gifts between men and women. As Catholic blogger and author Melinda Selmys wrote in a 3-part essay: "Perhaps the greatest mistake of mainstream feminism is the assumption that difference equals inequality. ... while God has created us as equals, we reflect his image in different ways."

The purview of Pope Leo's encyclical, as we have seen, emphasizes the contributions of husband and wife as analogous to Christ and the Church. Such theology has been since developed, keeping with Pope Leo all the way back to St. Paul. For example, Pope Pius XI spoke of the husband as "head" and wife as "heart," and if the husband should fail in his leadership duties, the wife must assume responsibility of "directing the family" (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 27-28, December 31, 1930). In Bl. Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body, he emphasized a certain responsibility of husbands relative to Christ and the Church: "The love of Christ for the Church has essentially her sanctification as its scope." (Theology of the Body, St Paul's Analogy of Union of Head and Body Does Not Destroy Individuality of the Person, 6, August 25, 1982) The following week, he spoke of the husband's emphasis to love. When he speaks of the bride's "submission," he refers to the bride submitting to this love, to "experience" this love. (Theology of the Body, Sacredness of Human Body and Marriage, 6, September 1, 1982).

What I think Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Arcanum demonstrates is at least two-fold. First, the evidence proves that modern society's stereotype of a misogynistic Church is off the mark. Second, 143 years removed from this encyclical, we can see the consequences of not heeding the warnings of the Church with regard to marriage and its inherent qualities. Such evidence speaks of the divine assistance promised to the Church. If modernists continue dismissing the Church's wisdom, the disordered consequences in society will persist.

Additional resources:
How Abortion Hurts Women, CNA
Physicians for Life stats on harms of abortion on women
Women Speak for Themselves.
EWTN's The Catholic View for Women
Catholic Womanhood section at
Important background information about the CDF-LCWR situation
Life Site News
Radio show A Closer Look with Sheila Liaugminas
Radio show Catholic Connection with Teresa Tomeo
Bloggers Jill Stanek, Jennifer Fulwiler, Kathryn Jean LopezMelinda Selmyz
Dr. Jennifer Robak Morse
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand
There are so many other great resources out there on Catholic women's issues and issues on marriage. If you have a favorite not mentioned here, please share in the comment section.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Sally Quinn's unreasonable attack on Church hierarchy

On April 24, 2012, Washington Post Reporter Sally Quinn wrote a piece against the Catholic Church titled: A Catholic ‘war on women’.

Although her blog article provides no link to the document in question, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith recently released a document titled Doctrinal Assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR).

It's worth noting right from the title, that the matter is one of doctrinal consistency among those who lead in the name of the Church. At no point does Quinn's article address the doctrinal position of the women religious in question.
At the onset, the CDF document reads: 
The Holy See acknowledges with gratitude the great contribution of women Religious to the Church in the United States as seen particularly in the many schools, hospitals, and institutions of support for the poor which have been founded and staffed by Religious over the years. Pope John Paul II expressed this gratitude well in his meeting with Religious from the United States in San Francisco on September 17, 1987...
And it goes on to quote the Pope and recount the great value of women religious in the history of the Church.

With regard to doctrinal problems, the document cites a vocal sister who encouraged the faithful into "'moving beyond the Church' or even beyond Jesus."

Ironically, the beginning of Quinn's blog offers what she thinks Jesus Christ would think about a doctrinal assessment of religious women: "Jesus would be rolling over in his grave..." She offers no defense or analysis of the notion that a religious sister may have encouraged the faithful to go "beyond Jesus." If that's true, then Jesus obviously wouldn't be rolling over in His would-be grave because of the Bishops' assessment, but because of dissenting religious sisters.

Quinn went on to cite two words from the context of the CDF document and write in her blog post: "Vatican bishops issued a report condemning nuns...for 'radical feminism'." But this statement fails to describe the matter at hand. The CDF's larger context on the issue of "radical feminism" is entirely a doctrinal matter:

The Cardinal noted a prevalence of certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith in some of the programs and presentations sponsored by the LCWR, including theological interpretations that risk distorting faith in Jesus and his loving Father who sent his Son for the salvation of the world.  Moreover, some commentaries on “patriarchy” distort the way in which Jesus has structured sacramental life in the Church; others even undermine the revealed doctrines of the Holy Trinity, the divinity of Christ, and the inspiration of Sacred Scripture.     
Quinn neither presents this context, nor addresses its assertions, and nor, as I mentioned, does she link to the document for a reader to assess. She merely presses forward with the idea that the bishops are attacking nuns simply for being "women," to the point of "war," according to Quinn's own headline.

More than once, Quinn belittles and makes caricature of the bishops' concerns. She writes:
What were the crimes of these devout ladies? Well, they supported the White House over health care reform, lining up against the bishops. Big mistake.
Again, this statement is incomplete, not to mention Quinn's personal conjecture. The primary reason the bishops stood against the so-called "health care" reform plan was because it advanced the occasion of abortion, contraception, and sterilization. These matters have been considered intrinsic evils in the Church even before the United States existed. Furthermore, as part of the "health care" plan, the department of Health and Human Services attempted to force Catholic and other institutions and individuals morally opposed to such things to personally pay for such things. After much public outcry, the Obama Administration claimed to compromise on the mandate, but instead masked or shifted the payment of activities to other potentially religious institutions and citizens morally opposed to those activities.

In this article, Quinn demonstrates no awareness as to why the bishops have been opposed to the plan. There is no such analysis whatsoever of Catholic teaching. This undermines her entire thesis that the Church is just out to make "war on women."

In a twist of irony, Quinn defends the federal health care plan while condemning its critics as waging war on women. However, as documented in an earlier post, the HHS readily admits on its own website that contraceptives covered by the health care plan are known to increase the risk of cancer in women. You see the grotesque perversity of Quinn's position. The bishops, who are against using drugs that increase cancer in women, are the ones Quinn says are waging "war on women."

At one point, she states, "How can one follow leaders who would condemn nuns for their charity...?" Quinn's statement is at worst, a fork-tongued lie, and at best, an accidental typo on her keyboard. As I quoted earlier, the CDF document begins with praise for the charitable work from the sisters. It is a completely false assertion that the LCWR is being "condemned" for "charity." The document specifically states that is one of the reasons the sisters are to be praised. Quinn's statement does not make sense. And, like the rest of the article, avoids confronting whether the bishops are right to investigate doctrinal abuses.

At another point, she makes the very anti-male comment: "That those in charge of the Catholic Church are all celibate men already eliminates the possibility of justice." Thus, according to Quinn, if you are a male who is not sexually active, you will treat women unjustly. The self-evidently nonsensical assertion merits no in depth analysis. One could argue that it's even shameful the Washington Post willed to publish such a sentiment uncritically. At least she admits that the bishops are "in charge."

Finally, Quinn plays the "sex abuse" card against the Church's handling of sexual abuse accusations flourishing in the last ten years or so. The gist of her argument on that matter is if some bishops failed to properly police sex abuse in the Church, the nuns should be left alone even by bishops who are innocent of such things. You won't find a shortage of bishops who will admit that some of their peers, perhaps favoring public relations over sexual crime prevention, failed to act prudently. But there is also no shortage of committees and investigations into Church sexual abuse, although that might be the impression one gets after reading Quinn's article which all but says the Church excuses sex abuse by men because they are men and attacks nuns because they are women. 

It is possible Quinn is unaware that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops initiated in 2002 the Mixed Commission which established such policies as the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons, the Office of Child and Youth Protection, etc...

These and other commissions established in the U.S. and around the world seem to be preventing abuse from leaking into the Church. The most recent audit of abuse shows that accusations are down while almost half of the accusations in 2011 were made against priests who are already deceased.

But the point is, Quinn sorely misrepresents the bishops' motives when she insinuates the Church does little or nothing about sex abuse but attacks nuns for doing works of "charity." It renders her article silly and embarrassing.

It reminds me of page 1 of C.S. Lewis' book The Screwtape Letters, a famous work postulating the strategies of a master devil and his apprentice. Screwtape, the master, tells the apprentice how to get his human subject not to think of doctrines "as primarily 'true' or 'false', but as 'academic' or 'practical, 'outworn' or 'contemporary', 'conventional' or 'ruthless'. Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church." Quinn's strategy likewise uses jargon, not argument. She simply substitutes "war on women," or that the nuns are just doing works of "charity," etc. instead of ever confronting the crux of the LCWR assessment.

If the LCWR is defying and advancing anti-Church doctrines, the bishops have every right and obligation to curb such doctrinal abuse, even if some of their predecessors have acted imprudently in the past.

Related reading:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

U.S. government candidly admits oral contraception increases risk of cancer in women

The National Cancer Institute has an informational web page called Oral Contraceptives and Cancer Risk: Questions and Answers. On that page is the startling summary*:

Because medical research suggests that some cancers depend on naturally occurring sex hormones for their development and growth, scientists have been investigating a possible link between OC use and cancer risk. Researchers have focused a great deal of attention on OC users over the past 40 years. This scrutiny has produced a wealth of data on OC use and the development of certain cancers, although results of these studies have not always been consistent. The risk of endometrial and ovarian cancers is reduced with the use of OCs, while the risk of breast and cervical cancers is increased.
And to top it off, the article later goes on to say oral contraceptives also increase the risk for liver cancer in women otherwise considered low risk.

We are all well aware now of the federal government's controversial demand to force religious and other entities to pay henceforth for all FDA-approved contraceptives desired by their insured employees, even if such action violates the consciences, the right of religious liberty, of those entities. What's more, the National Cancer Institute that made the statements above is part of the larger group of the National Institutes of Health––which in turn is part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

That's right. It seems the same HHS trying to force religious and other entities to pay for universal contraception in the name of "women's rights" also claims that hormonal oral contraceptives increase the risk of several forms of cancer in women.

I know I heard repeated statements during the February 16 House Committee on Oversight hearing by supporters of the current HHS mandate that oral contraceptives help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer according to medical studies. They did not mention the HHS' medical studies regarding the increased risk of breast, cervical, and liver cancer in women linked with use of oral contraceptives.

Are supporters of so-called "free" contraception so politically or socially eager to push this HHS mandate that they will ignore or bury the same HHS' claim that numerous studies link oral contraception to cancer in women? And that's just the scientific side of contraception, not the moral. (The HHS mandate itself is an issue of religious freedom.)

Have we been sold OC's medical benefits to ovarian cancer while being turned away from the detrimental effects of other cancers? It seems the people have been told, "Come into my fire, I promise you won't freeze."

*[Update Oct. 11, 2012] On March 21, 2012, it seems the NCI updated the page I quoted and removed the quote as it was worded. This blog post was originally made March 6. The current version at NCI still includes similar language to that which I quoted. It now reads: "Overall, however, the risks of endometrial and ovarian cancer appear to be reduced with the use of oral contraceptives, whereas the risks of breast, cervical, and liver cancer appear to be increased." To see an archived version of the NCI page with my original quote, visit this filing of the NCI page from July 2011.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Christ, the bridegroom (why a priest must be male)

In an era where there remains confusion or ignorance on why the Catholic Church only ordains men to the office of the priesthood, I thought it helpful to delve a little into a dimension of the theology of why this must be so.

In Church theology:
[T]he bishop or the priest, in the exercise of his ministry, does not act in his own name, "in persona propria:" he represents Christ, who acts through him: "the priest truly acts in the place of Christ", as Saint Cyprian already wrote in the third century.[15] It is this ability to represent Christ that Saint Paul considered as characteristic of his apostolic function (cf. 2 Cor 5:20; Gal 4:14). The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the source and centre of the Church's unity, the sacrificial meal in which the People of God are associated in the sacrifice of Christ: the priest...then acts..."in persona Christi,"[16] taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.[17] (Inter Insigniores, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 5b, 1976)
I'd like to further examine the notion that Christ acts through the priest supremely through the celebration of the Eucharist. Without getting into a long apologetic, Catholic theology teaches that the Eucharist is the sacrifice of Christ that transpired on Calvary, extended through time.

CCC#1367 The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice: "The victim is one and the same: the same now offers through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the manner of offering is different."
One can find many apologetic treatments on why the Church teaches this is so. A couple Scriptural examples include Christ at the Last Supper holding up the bread and saying "This is my body which is given for you" (Lk. 22:19). In the verse, the Greek verb "is" in both instances is in the present tense. The sacrifice of Calvary was thus already extended through time at the Last Supper. Many translations, such as the literal King James, have the words: "lamb slain before the foundation of the world" (Rev. 13:8). This also speaks to the timelessness of the sacrifice of Christ the Lamb (cf. John 1:29). Other examples include the discourse of John 6, in which Jesus repeats phrases like: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" (John 6:51). Paul echoes the same sentiment when he writes: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" (1 Cor. 10:16); and immediately after describing the Last Supper: "Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. ... For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself" (1 Cor. 11:27,29). Catholics also call the blessing the "consecration," echoing Christ's Last Supper words when he held up the bread, spoke the words, and told the Apostles to "do this" in his memory.

Going forward with the theology that the Eucharist is truly the single sacrifice of Calvary offered in "an unbloody manner" (cf. CCC#1367), it is vital to understand the teaching of a male-only priesthood with the idea that Christ's sacrifice was a "nuptial" event. Christ's wedding was on the Cross. He was the bridegroom wedded to the Church, his bride.

Even from the most ancient days, God's covenant with his people has been revealed with nuptial imagery. For example, God in reconciling the Israelites' loyalty to the false god Ba'al describes His union with the people of God in nuptial terms:
And there I will give her her vineyards, and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt. "And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, 'My husband,' and no longer will you call me, 'My Ba'al.' For I will remove the names of the Ba'als from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. And I will make for you a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the creeping things of the ground; and I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land; and I will make you lie down in safety. And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the LORD. (Hosea 2:15-20)
It is no accident that God intermingles his betrothal to Israel as making a "covenant" with them. God makes a "covenant" with Abraham, promising him many descendants (Gen. 17:6-9). This covenant is completed when Abraham demonstrates his faith in God by preparing to sacrifice his son at God's prompt (Gen 22:16-17). Abraham is allowed to sacrifice a "ram" instead (v. 13).

As the late, great Bishop Fulton Sheen said:
Throughout the Old Testament, the union of God and Israel is described as Nuptials. God is pictured as the Husband; Israel as the Bride; and their union is consummated in sacrifice. (Bishop Fulton Sheen, Three to Get Married, chapter 11)
The event of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son is a strong foreshadowing of God sending His Son as a sacrifice, with the blood of "a new covenant" (e.g. Lk. 22:20). Reading texts like Hosea in light of covenant and sacrifice, we can begin to see how Christ's sacrifice on the Cross was a nuptial event.

Consider the nuptial imagery in Christ's life leading up to his sacrifice.

He performs his first public miracle at the wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11). Notice the inclusion of "wine" in the episode. In addition to holding up wine at the Last Supper and equating it with his blood, wine is a consistent theme in nuptial episodes in Scripture. The Song of Songs, a tale about a bride-to-be longing for her bridegroom, is fraught with references to wine or vineyards (e.g. Sg. 1:2,6,14; 2:13,15; 4:10; 5:1; 6:11; 7:2,8-9,12; 8:2,11,12). Remember the Hosea passage we referenced earlier when God promises a "vineyard" to his betrothed Israel. From such passages, we can view and understand the Eucharist in a new light, and how the people of God are wedded, so to speak, to Christ through the sacrifice.

Christ's Parable of the Ten Virgins describes the Church seeking to enter the kingdom as the bride uniting with the bridegroom: "Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom" (Mat. 25:1). Christ even compared himself to a "bridegroom" when speaking to John the Baptist's disciples (Mat. 9:14-15).

John makes reference to rejoicing "at the bridegroom's voice" (John 3:29) which is a strong echo of the excited bride-to-be: "The voice of my beloved!" again from the nuptial Song of Songs (2:8).

Shortly before Christ is crucified, nuptial imagery lines the Biblical text. In Song of Songs, the bride marvels at the fragrant "anointing oils" (Sg. 1:3) of the bridegroom, and the fragrance of his "cheeks" and lips compared to "myrrh" (Sg. 5:13). It was customary in Jewish antiquity for both nuptial parties to be heavily perfumed:
Garments were perfumed to such an extent that an old marriage song (Ps. xlv. 9 [A. V. 8]) could say of the royal bridegroom, "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia." Beds were perfumed with "myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon" (Prov. vii. 17). The bride in Cant. iii. 6 was perfumed with all sorts of incense; and noble guests were honored by being sprinkled with perfume or incense (Luke vii. 46; comp. Lane, "Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians," iii. 8). It was customary among noble Jews to pass incense ("mugmar") around on a brazier after meals (comp. Ber. vi. 6). (Jewish Encyclopedia entry on Incense)
Myrrh of course is one of the fragrant gifts brought by the wise men to the newborn Jesus (e.g.Mat. 2:11). The bride-to-be in Song of Songs is adorned with the perfume "nard" (1:12), which is the same perfume with which Mary of Bethany anointed Christ's feet (Mk. 14:3; John 12:3) shortly before his Passion.

Even closer to the final Crucifixion, Christ is stripped of his garments (e.g. Mat. 27:31-35), which of course is an action the marital couple does prior to consummation.

Finally, Christ is preparing to breath his last breath on the Cross, and what does he say but: "It is finished," (John 19:30) which can also be translated "It is consummated." The full verse reads: "When Jesus had received the vinegar, he said, 'It is finished'; and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit." The beverage was vinegar or sour "wine" (e.g. ESV, NASB, NJB), the beverage of a wedding ceremony. The marriage of the bridegroom with his bride the Church was consummated.

That understanding does not replace other interpretations of "it is finished," but rather works in concert with them to showcase the richness and depth of holy Scripture. For instance, Dr. Scott Hahn's treatment The Hunt for the Fourth Cup shows how "it is finished" also refers to the completion of the Passover sacrifice meal begun in the upper room.

And so we come full-circle. The priest, when confecting the Eucharist, which is the same sacrifice of Calvary, is the instrument of Christ himself who performs the sacrifice.

When we grasp this reality, we can better understand why in order for the sacrament to be an effective "sign," the priest must be male. Christ's very incarnation as a man accomplishes the masculine function of the bridegroom. It would be an ontological impossibility for this to be performed by a bride. It is Christ who "gives" to the bride on the Cross, begetting spiritual life. A good study of Scripture recognizes the theophanies in life and how they reflect unseen realities. In the role of a man as the giver during intercourse, we can understand how it is an outward sign of Christ the bridegroom who is the "giver" of himself at his nuptial event on the Cross. The outward masculinity points to the ontological reality of a man giving himself mystically for his bride.

Christ, when healing the paralytic lowered through the ceiling (e.g. Mark 2:1-12) relates the outward sign with the inward reality. The crowd doubts that Jesus forgave the man's sins when he said, "Yours sins are forgiven." To show the crowd that the man was truly spiritually "healed" he commanded the man to rise and walk. When the man stood, he showed outwardly the healing that had occurred inwardly.

The sacraments instituted by Christ utilize outward instruments that show us what occurs inwardly. For example, Baptism requires water (cf. Acts 8:36). Water is used to wash. As Peter teaches us, this water is not just for removing dirt, but for clearing the conscience by removing the stains of sin (1 Pet. 3:20-21). The outward sign effects the inward reality.

And so we see how the outward sign of a man brings about the inward reality of the true bridegroom, consummated to his bride on the Cross.1 It would be ontologically impossible for a woman to sacramentally and truly act in persona Christi, the bridegroom.

Here is more from Inter Insigniores:
The Christian priesthood is therefore of a sacramental nature: the priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible[18] and which the faithful must be able to recognize with ease. The whole sacramental economy is in fact based upon natural signs, on symbols imprinted upon the human psychology: "Sacramental signs", says Saint Thomas, "represent what they signify by natural resemblance".[19] The same natural resemblance is required for persons as for things: when Christ's role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this "natural resemblance" which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man. (Inter Insigniores, 5c)
This, of course, makes a woman no less human or competent than a man just because she cannot by her nature act in the person of the bridegroom. By the same token, a man is not inferior or less-than-human because he by his very nature cannot gestate human life within himself and give birth. "Male and female He created them," (Gen. 5:2) Scripture says. Paul does not tell us that differences in spiritual gifts are a matter of inequality but rather complementarity within the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27-30). Women and men participate in the "royal priesthood" (e.g. CCC#1268) of Christ, just as men participate as members of the "bride" the Church. Yet these are not sacramental realities as are the priest or the Eucharist which demand the natural outward sign. When we offer sacrifices in our lives, we do not truly and sacramentally make present the one sacrifice of Calvary in the way the Eucharist does.

Inter Insigniores expounds further:
Christ is the Bridegroom; the Church is his bride, whom he loves because he has gained her by his blood and made her glorious, holy and without blemish, and henceforth he is inseparable from her. This nuptial theme which is developed from the Letters of Saint Paul onwards (cf. 2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:22- 23) to the writings of Saint John (cf. especially Jn 3:29; Rev 19:7,9), is present also in the Synoptic Gospels: the Bridegroom's friends must not fast as long as he is with them (cf. Mk 2:19); the Kingdom of Heaven is like a king who gave a feast for his son's wedding (cf. Mt 22:1-14). It is through this Scriptural language, all interwoven with symbols, and which expresses and affects man and woman in their profound identity, that there is revealed to us the mystery of God and Christ, a mystery which of itself is unfathomable.

That is why we can never ignore the fact that Christ is a man. And therefore, unless one is to disregard the importance of this symbolism for the economy of Revelation, it must be admitted that, in actions which demand the character of ordination and in which Christ himself, the author of the Covenant, the Bridegroom and Head of the Church, is represented, exercising his ministry of salvation which is in the highest degree the case of the Eucharist—his role (this is the original sense of the word "persona") must be taken by a man. This does not stem from any personal superiority of the latter in the order of values, but only from a difference of fact on the level of functions and service. (Inter Insigniores, 5e-f)
If one meditates on the divine mystery of Christ as the bridegroom, it is easier to understand why Christ freely chose only men to serve in the office of Apostle. The same can be said of the Apostles who subsequently only appointed men to ministerial offices.

The one sacrifice of Christ on Calvary is the same sacrifice as that offered in the Eucharist during the Divine Liturgy. In that sacrifice, Christ is the bridegroom, consummating his marriage to his bride, the Church. This marriage is a new covenant. The priest acts in persona Christi when confecting the Eucharist. Since a sacrament demands the natural sign to truly bring about the reality at hand, any priest participating in the one priesthood of Christ must be a man.

Additional works of interest:
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II
Some Scriptural Arguments For The All-Male Priesthood by David P. Lang, Catholic Culture

1I would be remiss if I did not also point out that Christ as bridegroom is not the only reason why the priesthood can only be fulfilled by a man. Scripture, for instance, also teaches of the headship of a man befitting the role of a pastor and shepherd. The sacrificial Lamb foreshadowing Christ in the Old Testament had to be a male, (cf. Ex. 12:5). Etc... This article is intended to examine the richness of the nuptial nature of Christ and his sacrifice.