Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Love. Show all posts

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Difficult questions modern Catholics face

I spoke at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton church in Naperville, IL on Feb. 25, 2014 on the subject of difficult questions modern Catholics face. Topics included suffering, hell, marriage, contraception, abortion.

Right-click here to download an MP3 of the talk. (40:21 minutes)

Monday, December 23, 2013

4 ways pre-marital sex is harmful

The Marriage Feast at Cana by Juan de Flandes, 1500 (acquired from Wikimedia Commons)

There are many resources demonstrating the various harms that pre-marital sexual activity often induces. This post is intended to collect a few. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

All other harms of extra-marital sex should be supplementary to the moral harm done. The moral detriment to the individual can never be altered by any future technology or medicine. To recognize the moral quality of the sexual act, one not even need to be overtly religious, although, certainly Jesus Christ spoke to the proper order of marriage between the "male and female" and as it was "in the beginning" (i.e. Adam and Eve). (Matt. 19:4,8)1

But as was discussed in a prior post, What did the Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, the very nature of the human body supports the idea that one man and woman belong together in the sexual order. One example is that a female egg naturally closes itself to receiving sperm from more than one father.

This is further fortified when we recognize the body's release of certain chemicals, which will be further addressed below, that tend toward attachment or even "addiction" to the recipient of a person's sexual attention. In other words, the body itself wants to move toward monogamous permanence when engaged in sexual activity.

These kinds of things are what belong to the natural law. For example, if someone came up to you and punched you for no reason, you would would rightly cry foul, that it was a violation of some kind to be struck unjustly. If you were at a restaurant and laid your wallet on the table for a moment and someone snatched it, you would rightly cry foul, as they took something that belonged to you. These examples speak to the sensibilities we have that human beings possess certain dignity and that it is morally wrong to violate that dignity.

In the same way, the various signposts of sexual activity toward committed, one-man, one-woman relationships communicate proper use of our human gifts, including our sexual faculties. Outside that committed relationship, persons engaged in sexual activity violate their own humanity and that of anyone else involved in the activity, whether or not they "feel" violated at that moment.

As I said, one needn't even be "religious" to draw such conclusions. But, certainly, if Jesus Christ is truly God, rose from the dead as witnesses attest, and taught his disciples about eternity for those living in accord with his teaching and damnation for those opposed, then the issue of proper sexuality is paramount.

As stated above and in a prior post, during sexual activity, various chemicals are released by the body, such as oxytocin, vasopressin, and endorphins, which cause attachment to the recipient of sexual attention.

A clear example of this, even in secular studies, is seen when examining pornographic addictions. When someone is looking at pornography, the chemical releases present tend toward attaching that person to physical imagery. This is one of the great harms of porn addiction, that it compromises a person's ability to see the beauty in a real person beyond the surface.

In a similar way, when these chemicals are released in the body outside of a committed relationship, the involved persons will tend toward that other person due to the physical bond they have exchanged. However, when those individuals move toward a decision for or against marriage with their partner, they may well make a decision induced more by chemicals rather than an objective analysis of their compatibility. This is not to say no couple that engaged in pre-marital sex could have a lasting, monogamous, or happy marriage. The point is rather to say how that potential is compromised by pre-marital sex.

The data supporting this is plenty. For example:
Dissolution rates are substantially higher among those who initiate sexual activity before marriage...and who cohabitated before marriage.2 
[M]arriages formed after cohabitation are rated as less stable and result in more divorces than marriages not preceded by living together. Cohabitation thus "does not seem to serve very well the function of a trial marriage... (Popenoe, 1993)."3
After marriage it was about 3.3 times more likely that a woman who had cohabited would have a secondary sex partner. ... If a woman has a previous history of multiple sex partners, the likelihood of her having a secondary sex partner during her current relationship greatly increases. This is particularly true for married women.4
Study results also indicate that out of divorced women, 81.8% had engaged in pre-marital sex as opposed to 17.8% who remained abstinent and did not cohabitate.5 Studies also indicate that once the number of sexual partners a person has exceeds one, so does the risk for marital failure.6 Divorces can be a detriment not only to the couple, but to any children who may suffer the consequences of the dissolution.

You can see the pattern here that the virgin bride and groom have the statistically and significantly superior advantage for a successful marriage. Reason alone communicates that this is so because the virgin bride and groom have not developed those physical attachments to another person that could otherwise cloud their appraisal of a lasting mate. To boot, there are numerous testimonials and studies indicating that sexual activity is more fulfilling when exercised in marriage alone.

It does not take a great intellectual leap to realize that sexually transmitted diseases (or infections; i.e. STIs) are significantly reduced in persons who are abstinent. They are likewise reduced in a permanently monogamous relationship, i.e. marriage. As the Mayo Clinic puts it, "The more people you have sexual contact with, the greater your overall exposure risks."

Secular culture responds to this with the promotion of various contraceptives. However, this "solution" does not only not always solve the STI problem, but can perpetuate and even foster the other chemical and moral problems described. Contraceptives also instill a mentality toward the sexual partner that tend to objectify that person. A man who is closed to conception with a woman and contracepts with her will view her differently than if he had to consider her as a mother and a partner with whom to raise a child. One tends toward objectification, the other considers her more completely. (For resources on contraceptive information and on child regulation in accord with Catholic teaching, see some of the resources below.)

In reviewing all of the above detriments of pre-marital sexual activity, we can see how this would harm society at large. Working our way back up the list, if extra-marital sexual activity contributes to the spread of STIs, persons facilitating or engaging in that behavior are contributing to that spread. And a variety of STIs are currently on the rise despite all the medical remedies and solutions which foster promiscuity.

As well, if greater pre-marital sexual activity clouds one's judgment toward identifying a marriage partner, then those persons have in some way contributed to the normalization of that behavior, and hence, the resulting marriage failures and STIs.

And finally, the moral decay resulting in the spread of pre-marital sexual behavior, supported by the emotional and physical data, literally de-humanizes us. That is one reason why proponents of abstinence before marriage invite everyone to embrace the beauty of reserving the sexual faculties for the marriage bed. The more individuals who embrace sexuality exclusive to marriage grows the pool of available mates with that disposition, and in turn, will result in more solid marriages. Such a movement could also help current practitioners of abstinence, who have the call and self-giving disposition to serve a spouse, in finding a suitable mate they may otherwise have difficulty finding.

Those who may not have practiced abstinence outside of marriage should not be discouraged by the data. It's never too late to practice a moral virtue. Such persons could be considered particular kinds of heroes of society, along side those who already practice abstinence, by embracing a virtue against what the pressures of a sexually addicted society might impose. See also the previous post, On Reconciliation: Can virginity be restored?

Even if such a person has already married, it is never to late to encourage others to practice proper use of the sexual faculties, teaching their children or others. Plus, simply learning about humanity can help married couples "see" each other for the unique beauty instilled in each other, and the unique value and societal pillar extant in the stable foundation of a family.

Effects of Cohabitation Research Summary
Premarital sex and greater risk of divorce
What does the Church teach about Birth Control?
The Harms of Contraception
What a Woman Should Know about Contraceptives

1Some writers and commentators like to talk about a confusing message in the Bible, going so far as to say the Bible endorses polygamy or divorce. Yet there is are no such passages making such moral definitions. Typically, those who claim the Bible supports polygamy will point to examples of characters in Scripture practicing it and interpret that as a moral endorsement, which does not automatically follow. This is especially so when one realizes that the events and figures of the Old Testament are often an inferior form to that which is to come in the New Testament. This is basic Christian typology. Something in the OT reflecting the natural law, like thou shall not kill, remains in the moral order. The behavior of any individual may or may not be proper.
2(Heaton, Tim B., Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States, Brigham Young University, 2002) 
3 (Smith, Tom W. American Sexual Behavior: Trends, Socio-Demographic Differences, and Risk Behavior. National Opinion Research Center University of Chicago. March 2006)
4(Forste, Renata and Tanfer, Koray. Sexual Exclusivity Among Dating, Cohabiting, and Married Women. Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58, No. 1. (Feb. 1996) p. 43, 46)
5Teachman, Jay. Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, And the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women. Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (May 2003): 444–455
6The National Survey of Family Growth. 1995. Cited at The Wintery Knight.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Parable of the Great Feast: On marriage, God, and Pope Francis

Parable of the Great Banquet, Brunswick Monogrammist, (ca 1525-1545), 
acquired from Wikimedia Commons

16b A man once gave a great banquet, and invited many; 17and at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, "Come; for all is now ready." 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, "I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it; I pray you, have me excused." 19And another said, "I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them; I pray you, have me excused." 20And another said, "I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come." 21So the servant came and reported this to his master. Then the householder in anger said to his servant, "Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and maimed and blind and lame." 22And the servant said, "Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room." 23And the master said to the servant, "Go out to the highways and hedges, and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. 24For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet." (Luke 14:16-24)
The context proceeds a moment later to the infamous line:
If any one comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. (14:26)
As with many parables, there is a master and servants with the master representing God and the servants representing the people. The "invitation" to a banquet in the above parable corresponds to the eternal banquet (Rev. 19:9ff, CCC#1344, etc.).

In the parable, there are those who decline to attend. The passage refers to these "excuses." One points to his wife. The other two point to their professions. Of these persons, the master in the parable says they shall "[not] taste my banquet."

A cursory reading of the text may lead one to think one must follow God so "exclusively" that one cannot have a spouse, a family, a job, or even a "life." And that cursory reading would think the other of this text mad that any deviation from that exclusivity results in failure to attend the banquet––the figure of going to hell.

What could be so horrible about getting married or making a living or having a family? The answer is: nothing, in and of themselves.

I'll focus on the married servant, which I think will reveal the answer to each servant. We see Jesus opening his ministry in John's gospel account by attending a wedding and turning water into wine there at the prompt of his mother. (John 2:1-11). Jesus also affirms the sacrament of marriage as a divine event when he recalls Genesis:
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Matthew 19:5-6)
Is Jesus here contradicting what he said in Luke? If the parable's servant in Luke is to part from his wife for God's sake, isn't that a contradiction to Matthew 19 which states that the marriage was God's doing in the first place?

Again, a cursory reading of both texts may appear that way at first, but within them is the answer. A proper understanding of the totality of the teaching would recognize that a true marriage is indeed godly and bears mutual love, of giving oneself to the other (cf. Eph. 5:33). I also treated this teaching in a prior post, What did the Catholic Church teach about marriage, men and women in 1880?, in which we saw in Scripture and Pope Leo's words the beauty of a marriage which resembles Christ and the Church as bridegroom and bride, respectively.

If one's marriage bears those characteristics, if the partners love one another in the figure of Christ and the Church, then that marriage has not become an "excuse" to refuse God's invitation. Rather, that marriage is united with God and united with God's invitation. Choosing that kind of marriage does not result in excluding God.

The two most profound commandments of Christ are to love God and to love neighbor (e.g. Mark 12:30-31). There is not a dichotomy between the two. Thus, we can recognize that in The Parable of the Great Banquet, the married servant, by "refusing" the master's invitation, revealed that he had separated the two commandments. His marriage was ungodly. He chose his wife instead of God rather than his wife together with God. In a sense, in this servant's mind, his wife had replaced God, and thus became an idol of sorts.

Consider a couple views from the early Church. St. Basil (d. 379) writes of the verse in this way:
But he says, I cannot come, because that the human mind when it is degenerating to worldly pleasures, is feeble in attending to the things of God. (St. Basil, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
St. Gregory (d. 604) writes:
But although marriage is good, and appointed by Divine Providence for the propagation of children, some seek therein not fruitfulness of offspring, but the lust of pleasure. And so by means of a righteous thing may not unfitly an unrighteous thing be represented. (St. Gregory, comment on Luke 14:20, quoted in Catena Aura)
Both of their points are that the foolish servant represented someone who took something good, marriage, and amputated it from God.

The decisions of the man with the field and the man with the oxen reveal the same. Their professions became something of a false god in place of God. There was no time for God in their work on the farm. The idea is the same here. Our work must not be something that we use as an excuse to avoid God's prompts. The same would go for the hyperbolic statement in Luke 14:26, that we must "hate" our family for God's sake, again shows how much we must keep God in the equation. The foolish servants in the parable all flocked to "good" things, but made them bad by refusing to consider God in their engagement with those good things.

St. Paul synthesized this idea well:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)
All this leads to a final thought on the mistake of seeing someone write a criticism of a particular category of a thing and presume he is criticizing the entire category. In the above examples, it is proper to recognize only the folly of participating in marriage or work if those things are absent of God. It is faulty to presume Christ condemned marriage and work categorically.

This past week, the media engaged in another poor representation of Pope Francis' words in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium. Various voices seem to think he categorically condemned free financial markets and capitalism. For example, the Pope writes the following:
While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. ... In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule. ... Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God. Ethics has come to be viewed with a certain scornful derision. It is seen as counterproductive, too human, because it makes money and power relative. It is felt to be a threat, since it condemns the manipulation and debasement of the person. (Evangelii Gaudium, 56-57)
You see if we read carefully, the Pope is not calling for categorical rejection of a free market. He is rather calling for a balance. He is calling for a market that includes ethics and due consideration of God––just as the master in The Great Banquet parable calls for those workers to still accept his invitation. What Pope Francis is condemning is a marketplace that has excluded ethics, excluded God. In other words, a business that commoditizes human beings commits offense against those persons. This can be seen, for example, in countries where workers are deprived of their due wage, or where there is price fixing, or monopolies, or collusion, etc.

Some opining in the media go so far as to brand the Pope a Marxist or Communist or that he wants a world government. But such representations of the document belie statements within it such as:
All this becomes even more exasperating for the marginalized in the light of the widespread and deeply rooted corruption found in many countries – in their governments, businesses and institutions – whatever the political ideology of their leaders. (#60)

If we really want to achieve a healthy world economy, what is needed at this juncture of history is a more efficient way of interacting which, with due regard for the sovereignty of each nation, ensures the economic well-being of all countries, not just of a few.

It is the responsibility of the State to safeguard and promote the common good of society. Based on the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, and fully committed to political dialogue and consensus building, it plays a fundamental role, one which cannot be delegated, in working for the integral development of all. This role, at present, calls for profound social humility. (#240)
So these are just a few excerpts where the Pope condemns government corruption (not just financial corruption in marketplaces) and also emphasizes the principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, which are concepts in Catholic thought based on the due freedom of an entity, whether individual, corporate, or public, such as a nation. He criticizes not free markets, but free markets which violate and manipulate persons. He criticizes not the wealthy, but the wealthy who exploit and debase persons. He even writes "The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike." (58)

In a 2011 book, On Heaven and Earth, the Pope, then-Cardinal Bergoglio, clearly did not create a dichotomy between rogue economies and communist thought. 
[The Church] condemns economic liberalism. Everyone thinks that the Church is against Communism, but it is as opposed to that system as it is to the savage economic liberalism which exists today. That is not Christian either and we cannot accept it.
In other words, everyone already knows the Church is opposed to Communist thought, but not everyone knows that the Church is opposed to what Pope Francis here calls "savage economic liberalism." To recognize him to condemn one is not to understand him to embrace the other. Yet many in the media have committed that exact error in interpretation.

The media also seems deluded that Pope Francis' teaching here is revolutionary. The media did not have the same sort of frenzy when Pope Benedict XVI said:
It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism. (Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 2013)
This statement by Pope Benedict encompasses a point Pope Francis drives home in Evangelii Gaudium––that a market which is "selfish and individualistic" (i.e. disregarding God) is what should be criticized.

So, once again, one should not make the false assumption that the Pope has "categorically" condemned free markets or all forms of government or all persons with wealth. Rather he is exhorting those entities to do what the master in The Parable of the Great Banquet asks of everyone––to include God in all that they do.

Friday, November 8, 2013

A brief theology of gravity

I've been reading Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration. In it is an interesting analogy of gravity, a scientific law speaking to theological realities. While analyzing the statement in the Our Father prayer "thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," he writes:
...Jesus himself is "heaven" in the deepest and truest sense of the word––he in whom and through whom God's will is wholly done. Looking at him, we realize that left to ourselves we can never be completely just: The gravitational pull of our own will constantly draws us away from God's will and turns us into mere "earth." ... what we are ultimately praying for in this third petition of the Our Father is that we come closer and closer to him, so that God's will can conquer the downward pull of our selfishness and make us capable of the lofty height to which we are called. (p. 150)
The idea of recognizing divine things within nature is called a theophany. In breaking down the etymology of theophany, we see theos "god"  and phainein "to show." Now, in certain Scriptural contexts, the term "the world" does not always refer to mountains and oceans and merely a created domain, but it can refer to the fallenness of creation, marred by the original sin (e.g. John 15:19; 17:14). Man lives in a damaged state and does not always love his neighbor as he ought. Lies, greed, lust, uncharity, and other sins abound, even sometimes from our own hearts.

Thus, the figure of a "gravitational pull" toward "mere 'earth'" is the Pope's way of analogizing the idea that we have a tendency to fall away from God. But the thing about gravity is that it is a conquerable force. Even a person can "jump" and defeat, so-to-speak, gravity for a moment. And with a powerful enough vessel, the gravitational force of the earth can be escaped. The Pope's analogy sees Christ as this vessel without which we are doomed to continue falling back into the murk of this world. He writes "left to ourselves we can never be completely just" but that Christ is the one "through whom God's will is wholly done." Attachment to Christ is the means to escape the gravitational pull toward a world grasping to draw us back to a life of uncharity, of "un-love."

Although the Pope does not delve into the following, I recalled another related analogy in a prior master's theology class. The moon is the figure of the Church.
CCC#748 The Church has no other light than Christ's; according to a favorite image of the Church Fathers, the Church is like the moon, all its light reflected from the sun.
You see in the above Catechism sentence, the reason the moon is able to reflect light is because it first receives and redirects that light from the sun. The moon is not the source of light, but is that which receives it. In the same way, we, the Church, are not the source of divine light, but we receive it from Christ, who is in this analogy the sun.

Continuing with these theophanies and this thought experiment, consider what effect the earth and moon have on each other. The gravitational pull of the earth has paralyzed the moon, so to speak, such that its rotation has conformed to the earth's, and the same side of the moon always faces the earth. This is called tidal locking. However, even though the moon has the weaker gravitational force, it still has its effect on the earth, tugging at the oceans, causing the tides, which is called tidal bulging.

If we look at this phenomenon in light of the fallen world and Christ's Church, we can see sort of an inspirational figure. Even though the moon is subject to the earth (i.e. the Church faces forces from the "world"), the moon can change the very shape of the earth with its own power (i.e. the Church, when operating by its strength, transforms the "world").

We can contribute to this "gravitational" phenomenon in the spiritual sense when we contribute to the power of the Church by loving neighbor, defending the truth, giving due care to the needy, selflessly giving of oneself to one's spouse, and so forth. These are the things in accord with the will of God. These are the kinds of virtues Christ accomplished "wholly" as Pope Benedict writes. In doing this, we are accepting the hand of Christ, his empowering graces and the "sunlight" he sends, and we can escape the sinful gravitational tendencies of this world––tendencies we could not escape without Christ––and ascend to "lofty heights."

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.