The Meaning of Marriage
and the Contemporary Problem

Fr. Peter Dugandzic
Pastor’s Articles Spring 2011, revised and updated Winter 2011
Note: The last tab is a PDF of the whole article.

Introduction

Within days of being elected governor of New York State in 2010, Andrew Cuomo, a nominal Catholic whose public life betrays his Catholicism, began an all out push to legalize same-sex marriage in New York. His quick action was an attempt to fulfill a campaign promise and from the moment he took office he was determined to fulfill this particular promise. Thus, it came as no surprise in the Spring of 2011 that the newly elected governor pushed for a vote by the New York State Senate to legalize gay marriage in New York. Although a few years earlier a similar bill had been defeated, the governor was confident it would pass under his watch. In May of 2011, the New York State Catholic Conference asked all Catholics to resist the measure by contacting their senators and letting them know that the definition of Marriage, which has been established by God, is not something that can be changed by Man. In addition, the faithful were to remind their elected public servants that all civil legislation must respect the Truth as revealed through the Natural Law. Unfortunately, the campaign to stop the legislation began late in the process and in June 2011 same-sex marriage became legal in New York State, with several Catholic senators voting in favor of the measure.

Although many do not realize it, the significance of Marriage has been in the forefront of public scrutiny for centuries and many, including Catholics, apparently misunderstand what was at stake in the vote and what was lost by its passage. It should be made clear that the opposition to redefining Marriage to include same-sex unions is not directed toward homosexual persons and in no way should be perceived as a justification for any sort of hate crime or prejudice. The legislation proposed and that is now in effect comes from a Promethean-like approach to reality and government that believes Man has the power to “redefine” a reality that is not under the His dominion. As Pope John Paul II noted many years ago, Marriage is
the primordial Sacrament, the original revelation of God’s plan of Salvation. The significance of Marriage is under God’s dominion, not Man’s. In reasserting this Truth, the pontiff was not talking about Marriage as merely one of the seven Sacraments but as the original and ongoing revelatory sign that has existed from the time before the Fall of Man. Marriage is the original sign instituted by God from the beginning and, as a revelation of God’s Love for Man, has been a reality under attack throughout history, and most especially in modern times. In this regard, same-sex marriage is not the first attack but certainly is the most recent and destructive one.

What must be kept in mind in this discussion, especially as beings created by God and enlightened by Christ, is that there has been an ideological shift in the approach to reality that has made this particular discussion necessary. In times past, such a discussion would not have occurred because the apprehension of reality was secure and the only acceptable “matter” for Marriage was not questioned – one man and one woman. As all Catholics should recognize, there have been persistent forces in recent centuries that have been cultivating a worldview in which there is no need for God, Truth is no longer absolute, and individual subjectivity is the definitive arbiter of all reality. Particularly during the most recent century, this cultivation has been advanced by secular humanists whose approach to reality undergirds the education system and popular media. This process has occurred throughout the modern era and has been referred to as the “turn to the subject.” How this turn occurred involves an in depth study of modern philosophical thought, a discussion which is beyond the scope of this presentation. However, those who have grown up in modern western culture are usually steeped in this errant approach to interpreting reality and should be aware of its effects as the Salvation of the Soul hangs in the balance. Over recent centuries, the result has been a series of gross misinterpretations of what specific things are
in se and thus a rejection that things have an inherent significance before any human subjective apprehension of it. In this errant approach, the only acceptable “meaning” of thing is developed from our relative Fallen “experience” of it, which means that meaning is ascribed, not inscribed. To rely solely on a subjective apprehension of a thing will always be tainted by our Fallen Nature and, to be understood fully, requires further knowledge, which God has provided to Man through Revelation and the Natural Law. The problem is that this “further knowledge” is dismissed because it cannot be measured or experienced directly.

This essay will examine the growing secular approach that has cultivated a worldview through which many now deny God’s Revelation and have allowed Marriage to be disparaged in the modern mind, even by those who are Catholic. It will also present brief overview of the proper understanding of Marriage, which is endowed with specific goods by God. The following is not a presentation of “one view” among many others as such an approach reflects the modern relativistic approach. Marriage, in the Mind of God, is quite specific in Its goods and God has been very forthright in revealing what Marriage Truly is.

The Dictator and Marriage

Cardinal Ratzinger, in a homily delivered to his fellow cardinals just before being elected pope, summarized the contemporary situation and called for a Catholic response to it. In this homily, he noted that the world today finds itself laboring under the “dictatorship of relativism.” The problem, he noted, is that “relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires.” This simple statement identifies a very subtle and widespread approach to the proper apprehension of the Truth of human existence and reality as ordained by God. The key to this discussion is recognizing that such is the case and all people, particularly Catholics, must grow in awareness of how pervasive the approach has become and how it has affected the moral life. As part of this awareness, one must identify the forces in our society today that prefer this approach and have been slowly indoctrinating recent generations in it. It is not that those who promote this approach are devious in any way as those who promote it are convinced it is the only way to moderate differences of opinion, especially within a pluralistic context. With this in mind, one should recognize that secular humanists have been promulgating a reliance on relativism as the only method for interpreting reality within the plurality of views found in the world today, especially in the American public forum and have, in their call for tolerance, become intolerant of any other approach that does not support their conclusions.

As an ethical system, relativism attempts to establish ethical standards and principles without appeal to objective reality or divine authority. In effect, the approach is built on the premise that Man is the sole authority and thus has the capacity
give meaning to all things. For this approach to be effective, its first principle must be skepticism. From this basis, the process begins with a survey of individual subjective apprehensions with the premise that, at least initially, no one particular apprehension is authoritative or definitive. Just because another perceives a particular reality differently does not make that perception invalid or wrong and so each perspective should tolerated in any discussion. Thus, all must be tolerant of the other’s perspective since it should be treated as equal in potential veracity to one’s own. In the United States, this method has become the modus operandi in all discussions of morality and reality because it seeks to be open to the broadest spectrum from which it will hopefully be able to provide an acceptable synthesis from the plethora of views. When applied to all things moral, which has happened in recent decades, this approach relies on individual subjectivity and preference as the key determinant in ascertaining what is right and wrong. This process, which has given rise to rampant individualism, has dovetailed with utilitarianism and the Freudian pleasure principle and the result has been a system that results in a level of hedonism.

Despite its pitfalls, this particular approach, being heavily favored by secular humanists and educators, has been inculcated in most of the Western World through the public education system and the media. It is not that the pitfalls are ignored but that those who favor the approach are convinced that through the process of ethical “trial and error” they will eventually determine the correct solution, which will stand as the law until something better comes along. To this end, the “dictator of this world” continues to support schools of thought in which it is customary to doubt that there is objective Truth or anything apart from what can be known subjectively. Thus, for many today the only knowledge that can be completely accepted as reliable is that which is arrived at through subjective “experience.” While skepticism may have its place in the scientific world, this methodology, when applied to morality, has created a milieu in which recourse to words like “tolerance” has become the avenue for resolving all “perceptual” disputes. In this regard, this system appeals to a cross section of opinions and experiences because among them will most likely be the elusive “truths” that are being sought. In scientific terms, more data provides reliable conclusions so particular behaviors and actions should be tolerated with the goal of obtaining sufficient data. If “observed” long enough and allowed to flourish, all will eventually come to an acceptance of the validity of these other perspectives. Because everyone’s experience is different yet potentially valid, no one can claim to be authoritative. It is for this reason that there must be a level of tolerance for the variety of perspectives in order to find a balance that will appease everyone. No one should ever be dissuaded from certain behaviors and an appeal should be made to the larger public to find if there are those who can offer more data. In this way, lives are truly “tossed about by every wind of doctrine.” The root error in this formulation is that it begins with a denial of Being and thus any “signification” apart from what can be ascertained through a subjective analysis of our fallen historical existence. The resultant ethical standards are developed from a study of that which has happened since the Fall and, since the future is unknowable, there is no consideration given as to where Man is ultimately headed.

In the political and worldly forum, this methodology may at times be helpful but
cannot be the sole and definitive method for establishing to what our lives must necessarily conform, which is the immutable Truth that has been established by God and is available through Revelation. Part of what God reveals has been known through the science of ontology, which is the study of things in themselves. All reality is created by God and all reality has significance and meaning inherent in itself that flows from His creative Act. This inherent significance in created being is revealed in its fullness despite the perceptual limits of individual subjectivity. We know from Revelation that human nature transcends the “historical” dimension in that humans have knowledge of existence before the Fall and of Life beyond the grave. Any discussion of reality that impacts human morality or human existence yet omits any one of these three dimensions will fall short in providing Man the fullness of information He needs to conform Himself to the reality of His nature as ordained by God. This shortfall becomes the opening to the occasion of Sin.

Under the dictatorship of relativism, even Catholics in the United States have come to believe that there are no absolutes and that the resolution to all disputes is the acceptance of solutions that are derived from a consensus of relative perspectives. If enough people have a particular experience or proclivity, within certain limits, it should be tolerated and even promoted as a valid experience that simply originates from a differing perspective. However, the Catholic Church and Her Teaching
is not one relative perspective among many but a preservation and presentation of the Truth entrusted to Her by God. When it comes to a reality like Marriage, we must first come to an understanding of what Marriage is in itself, which can only be answered by starting with a proper understanding of what God created and ordained from the beginning. In this regard, Marriage is a reality that is not under Man’s control and thus cannot be redefined.

The Dictator Must Be Challenged

As was noted in the previous section, while the “dictatorship of relativism” has been growing in influence for many centuries, it was during the twentieth century that relativism was promulgated as the only way to interpret all reality. This approach has become particularly damaging to the proper understanding of morality and moral absolutes in that it has reduced all discussions of human ontology to a functionalist dimension alone. For relativists, the reality of what something is can only be discussed in terms of what is observable and measurable, which effectively limits any discussion to function based on what a thing does. In this approach, being does not inhere in things and what a thing is can only be determined on the basis of an examination of its role and function. The resultant ascription of meaning depends on the perception of the individual subjective experience, which becomes the basis for a “relative” discussion of what something means. It is in this light that we often hear the expression, “That is what it means to you but it does not mean that for me.” The discussion of “meaning” no longer includes what something is but is limited to what it means to the perceiving individual and its usefulness in that moment. Thus, the whim of the moment is what something “is” and, especially with regard to questions of human morality, a solution that best appeals the largest number is the one that is acceptable and will remain in force until the survey of opinion changes.

One of the best philosophical minds of the twentieth century was that of Karol
Wojtyła who became Pope John Paul II. The particular relativistic error he identified and spent his life correcting had to do with the excessive dependence on subjectivism that grew out of the modern schools of philosophy and psychology. As noted above, large numbers of people have been indoctrinated into these schools of thought, which wield influence over them whether they realize it or not. This process has thrived because this approach has been embraced by secularists, scientists, politicians, and educators who have promulgated it in order to bring constituents in line with their particular worldview. By the mid-twentieth century these schools of thought have succeeded in making individual subjectivity as the only acceptable approach to interpreting existence, particularly through the blending of utilitarianism and Freudianism. In these models, the gauge for determining what is “good” is often pleasure. When anyone pushes this hybrid approach to its logical conclusion, the result is exactly what we find today – an excessive emphasis on egoism, which in turn gives rise to hedonism.

In the context of the discussion at hand, Pope John Paul II sought to reintroduce traditional scholastic thought into the subjective in an effort to refocus moral discussions on the objective reality of all things as they are. In this regard, the pontiff was a proud recipient and promulgator of the great Catholic Tradition that has been continuous from the Creation of Adam and Eve until today. Until modern times, the apprehension of reality
as it is in itself was understood and accepted as the basis for presenting and explaining Truth. On the basis of this correct approach to reality, the Church has always taught that human beings must conform their actions to the reality of all things as ordained by God rather than attempt to conform reality into observable concepts in line with how they would prefer to act. This traditional approach to wisdom has withstood the test of time and has been embraced by the greatest cultures and minds since the beginning of time. It is only in recent times that such wisdom has been questioned and, for the most part, has been marginalized in public discussions of morality through a misinterpretation of the separation between Church and State.

As Catholics, we must remain aware of the fact that this widespread error continues to challenge Divine Wisdom by encouraging an approach to existence that is based solely on relative experience and perception. In this approach to reality, anything that cannot be subjectively perceived and verified cannot be admitted to the overall understanding of what constitutes the
reality of what a thing is. The result of this process has been a reduction of things to a discussion of their function rather than their being. This reduction is particularly problematic in discussions about the human person, and what it means to be human, because the answer to this question is the basis for a proper approach to morality. Man possesses a nature that is an endowment and the basis for His being. This nature must be understood in relation to Original Sin. To resolve any questions in the moral realm requires an adequate anthropology, the pursuit of which was the life work of Pope John Paul II and remains the task of the Church today. Based on a biblical anthropology, the Magisterium has consistently rejected the various reductivist and subjectivist approaches to understanding reality in favor of more objective approaches, particularly with regard to what constitutes human nature and morality.

Unfortunately, the pervasiveness of this error has brought confusion to many discussions and, of greater concern, the tenets of this errant approach have been embraced by some Catholic theologians, even though these errant Catholic approaches were condemned in the encyclical
Veritatis Splendor. The conclusions drawn from this error have lead many to believe that Man can decide for Himself what is right and wrong and can even “change” what something is based on how He perceives it or desires it to be. This power to change the meaning of something has even been applied to primordial realities like Marriage. Thus, in recent years, the definition of Marriage has once again taken center stage in public debate. Unfortunately in the public forum today, none of the discussions accurately present the whole and continuous picture of Man’s existence and the plan of God for Man from the beginning. The only way this can be properly resolved is to place the discussion of Marriage within the larger anthropological discussion. This means that, in order to understand Marriage, we must first answer the question, “what does it mean to be human?” The answer to this question is the only way to challenge the dictator. It is only after answering this question that we can begin to speak of how to properly live out that existence. The answer to this question and the significance of marriage are intimately intertwined and mutually interdependent.

The Ontological and Anthropological Basis for Marriage

Pope Benedict was accurate in using the term dictatorship to describe the philosophical trends of the current era. Since the time of Rene Descartes and the Protestant revolt against the one True Church, the rules of public discussion have been constantly changing to favor the dictator. For almost five centuries the dictatorship of relativism has been able to flourish through the active promotion of skepticism as the starting point for all discussions. And as dictators are wont to do, the rules for these discussions are adapted to favor the conclusions of the dictator. As we can see in our time, public discussions regularly exclude Catholic or religious thought. In fact, these discussions generally exclude any position that challenges or contradicts relativist notions. In any real discussion, all knowledge should be admitted. The fullness of knowledge is essential because it goes beyond the mere study of observable things. In this regard the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of His works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation” (CCC, 50). It is this latter knowledge that relativists omit claiming that it is at best an opinion that has no basis in scientific discussions.

Today, many are being lead away from the Truth through the widespread inculcation of relativism. This inculcation has been made possible by its presence in the media, politics, and education system, all of which have marginalized Catholic and Biblical Truth. The result has been that many now believe that
each individual is responsible for giving meaning to his or her own life, as if he or she is his or her own first and last principle. This conclusion is inevitable if subjectivity can be claimed as the only reliable source of knowledge. While the reliance on subjectivism had been developing for centuries, it became the mainstream “philosophy of life” in the 20th century. In a correct philosophy of life, however, we must first admit that meaning is derived from Being and is thus not something given by or under the dominion of an individual. We are not what we do but ought do what we are.

In this regard, I propose the following axioms: “Being precedes function,” and “all Being already is and, through revelation, must be discovered for what it is.” In questions of morality, before we ever “do” anything, we must be sure that the actions done are in conformity with our first cause and final end, which is the source for understanding what is Good. It is in this light that the words of the
Catechism become clear, “The world, and man, attest that they contain within themselves neither their first principle nor their final end, but rather they participate in Being itself, which alone is without origin or end. Thus, in different ways, man can come to know that there exists a reality which is the first cause and final end of all things, a reality ‘that everyone calls ‘God’” (CCC, 34). With this in mind, it is clear that reality, which participates in Being, is not relative to one’s perspective and one cannot “give” it meaning. Meaning itself is drawn from God and is returned to God. This is particularly true with regard to the existence of Man for if Man is to achieve His final end of eternal life with God, then all that is “done” in this life must be ordered to that end.

Marriage is not something that is simply “done” or a social convention that can be adapted as situations require. Critical to understanding Marriage are the anthropological questions – what is Man and what does is mean to be human? The answer to these questions, which are really one and the same, must be completely grasped and sufficiently answered if we are to understand the depth of the same-sex marriage law that has been enacted in New York State and the debate that continues in our country. The “meaning” of Marriage is contained in the answer to these questions and so the answer must be grounded within a true and comprehensive
science. Any error or omission of knowledge will mislead many souls into doing things in their lives that will render them unworthy of their end, that is, eternal life with God. Based on the fullness of knowledge, which must include natural reason and divine Revelation, Marriage is more than mere “function” as understood through relative perspective, as it is radicated in Being Itself. Marriage is the primordial Mystery and Revelation of God Who created Man in His image and likeness.

The problem we face today, especially in public dialogue, is that although accurate knowledge can be gained from divine Revelation any arguments based on that knowledge is not admitted as “relevant” to the discussion. Rather than appreciating the science obtained through theology, it is rejected because it is claimed to be unscientific. However, this omission is unacceptable as the information contained in the Scriptures and Tradition is science in the truest sense of the word. True science has to do with the fullness of knowledge and, as noted above, such knowledge is more than mere observable facts. Theology is a scientific discipline that takes into account the fullness of knowledge and has “through the course of the centuries… developed into a true and proper science” because it transcends the limitations in the use of human reason alone. Theological science incorporates divine Revelation, which is essential because it deals with the full Truth as ordained by God. The Truth of which we speak is so regardless of the human limitations that have arisen due to our fallen nature in the perceiving and living out of this Truth.

The suppression of theological knowledge has allowed many to be lead astray into individualistic interpretations of reality. While debates on the meaning of Marriage have once again taken center stage, debating what constitutes Marriage is not new or unique to this time alone. The reality of
what Marriage is was established at the beginning of time and had been universally understood until recent centuries. The issue of same-sex marriage is only one in a long series of challenges that have been proposed in recent centuries. In response to any challenge, the Church must present a clear apologetic. To this end, early in his pontificate, Pope John Paul II offered an extended 129 part catechesis over a five-year span that has since been collected and entitled The Theology of the Body. This work is rooted in Scripture and Tradition and offers insight into the complexity of human existence from an anthropological and ontological basis.

Marriage and the Words of Christ

The current debates regarding the definition of Marriage may seem to be a recent phenomenon but an examination of history will show that such is not the case. In fact, since the significance of Marriage can only be properly understood within a well-developed theological anthropology, the question itself must be asked by every generation and each successive generation must answer it within the hermeneutic of continuity. The nature of being human is the constant throughout time and the correct understanding of it flows from a true theological anthropology. It is only through a well-formed anthropology that every generation can attain its proper fulfillment as this fulfillment can only be accomplished when Man lives in accord with what it means to be human.

To assist this present generation, at the beginning of his pontificate Pope John Paul II offered an extensive theological examination in what is known as the
Theology of the Body. The first part of this work is entitled “The Words of Christ” and, when taken as a whole, develops an adequate anthropology. Without this foundation it is impossible to understand what it means to be human and thus how to live faithfully in accord with that nature, which originates in God. In the second part of the work, entitled “The Sacrament,” he continued his examination by presenting the original and ongoing significance of Marriage and how It is rooted and revealed in the very fabric of Man’s being. The meaning itself is revealed to all generations through the original “body” language as authored by God. This language has its own syntax and grammar that cannot be violated without violating the very Truth as communicated by God. God intended this language to be revelatory and has inscribed it in the being of Man.

A full treatment of John Paul’s
Theology of the Body is beyond the scope of this essay. Within the context of the current discussion, it is important to note that the starting point for his discussion, which forms the basis for an adequate anthropology, comes from the words of Christ Himself in the Gospel of Matthew. The specific passage is Matthew 19:3-8 in which the worldly powers of Jesus’ time questioned Him regarding the nature of Marriage. The passage reads as follows:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him and asked him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason?” And he answered them, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator created them male and female and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and unite with his wife, and the two will be one flesh’? So it is that they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined let man not separate.” They objected, “Why then did Moses order to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus answered, “Because of the hardness of your heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Taken from Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body, 2006, pp. 131-132.)



This particular passage offers several very important insights. The first is that even Jesus had to defend Marriage from those who wanted to mire it in juridical and casuistic terms in an attempt to make it into what it is not. Of note is the fact that the Evangelist presents the query as a “test” from the “educated” Pharisees to see if Jesus was up to date on the “popular” approach to dealing with marital issues and is framed in such a way that leads a respondent to their errant conclusion. A wrong answer could be used to attack His personal credibility and usurp His authority. Yet, as Pope John Paul II points out, Jesus “does not approve the dimension they tried to give the problem… instead, he appeals twice to the ‘beginning.’ By doing so, he clearly refers to the relevant words of Genesis… From these words of the most ancient revelation, Christ draws the conclusion and the dialogue ends.” This appeal by Christ to the “beginning” is foundational for developing an adequate anthropology and allows us to gain insight into God’s intention for Marriage before the corruption of Original Sin that even still renders a “hardness of heart” toward the will of God.

A second key insight is that from the time of Adam and Eve until now, Marriage has existed and has not been commissioned by Man’s initiative. As Jesus clearly points out, the mistakes that history has seen regarding Marriage have resulted from a disordered human heart
but that disordering has not and cannot change what was originally ordered by God or the requirement of Man to conform Himself to the ordering. It is the original ordering by God that is the basis for the continuity of Marriage throughout historical Man’s existence.

Christ’s reference to “the beginning” should draw our attention to the state of Man’s being before the corruption of Original Sin, which throughout history has been the source of Man’s disordered passions. By looking to the “beginning,” we are given an insight into the spark that remains in all human beings. It is from this that we recognize the need to conform our beings to that original ordering of human existence. While we cannot return to that original state, we do look forward to the redemption won by Christ and thus realize how we must live today in order to one day fully participate in that redemption. In this original state, Marriage was not imposed upon Man for a “functional” reason but was the Original Grace, that is, the “participation in the inner life of God Himself, in His holiness.” It is in this prelapsarian and totally graced state that we come to know of the specific facet of being created male and female and thus the ontological ordering of masculinity and femininity. Marriage, in this original graced state, is given as the original gift and Sign that reveals the very nature of God’s Love as
Communio Personarum. It is this Grace that was lost by sin and restored in Christ, a grace that is necessary for our redemption.

Thus, a key third insight is anthropological. Although many today reject the notion of God as Creator and do not accept Man’s createdness, Jesus points to this Truth once again. While science has presented a great number of “facts” regarding Man’s historical existence and has been able to provide more information about that existence, there is a significant piece of knowledge omitted. God is the Creator Who created all things and it is God Who created Man in His Own image and likeness. As we read in Genesis 1:27-28,

God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them, saying: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.”



It is in this passage that the late pontiff noted we find an account that “is concise, free from any trace of subjectivism: it contains only the objective fact and defines objective reality, both when it speaks about the creation of the human being, male and female, in the image of God, and when it adds a little later the words of the first blessing, ‘God blessed them and said to them, ‘be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and rule.’” In this passage it is clear that being indeed precedes function and it is only from an examination of being that function can be derived. All creation tends toward doing what it is. Only Man can turn away from such and sin.

Marriage and the Words of Christ - II

“In the beginning, God created them male and female.” Christ echoed these words of Genesis in response to the prevailing trend of His time and it is important that we echo them again today. This fact of creation gives insight into Being and demands a spiritual science if Man is to attain His ultimate fulfillment. As we continue examining the third insight derived from Matthew 19:3-8, we find that Man’s being reveals a depth beyond what meets the eye. Part of this depth requires an examination of the constitutive dimension of Man’s being, which God created Male and Female. Unfortunately today, social science has reduced mother and father, male and female, masculinity and femininity to role and function alone, essentially stripping from created human existence the constitutive ontological dimension of masculinity and femininity. While completely equal in their dignity as created being and human person, there is a constitutive difference, marked by an ontological complementarity, with regard to God creating them male and female. And this ontological complementarity is endowed with fruitfulness.

To better understand this ontological significance of human createdness and its constitutive difference, the book of Genesis offers a second more detailed account of the highest moment of creation. In fact, it is not until we examine the second account of creation that this anthropological insight with regard to the constitutive difference becomes clear and thus determine that the difference is specific in revealing
what marriage is. In the second account, the solitary human being, who was created to be in direct relation to God, is distinguished from the rest of creation through the capacity for self-understanding. According to Pope John Paul, this difference indicates the subjectivity with which Man is endowed and allows us to “reach the conviction that this subjectivity corresponds to the objective reality of man created ‘in the image of God.’” The problem we face today is that the “objective reality” of human subjectivity has been reduced beyond an acceptable point by the modern emphasis on subjectivism and the subsequent rise in relativism as outlined previously. However, despite this attempt to obfuscate reality, Man is the only the creature created in the image of God and capable of apprehending this fact of human uniqueness.

In the second account of creation, it is the human being who examines the created world around Him and recognizes His solitude due to the lack of another person of equal being. While God created this being for Himself, it is God Who
remedied the Original Man’s solitude by creating another from the being of the original human person. In all of creation, it is only the being created in God’s image that has the capacity to recognize and welcome this other equal being who is constitutively different. It is through Revelation we receive the knowledge that these equal yet constitutively different beings, endowed with a complementarity ordered to one another, are the matter for Marriage. It is this account of creation that Jesus invokes in His reply and it is this passage that gives us a truly objective understanding of God’s plan in creation. The solitary human person receives a gift and blessing of another equal yet constitutively different human being. It should be noted that God’s gift of these human persons to one another precedes any “function” or “roles” that flow from the fact of being. And it is to both in their difference that the command is given to become one. Thus, before being told what to do, their being revealed constitutively different persons who were then told that their difference is a complementarity ordered to a Communion of Persons. And it is only to human persons who enter this communion that fruitfulness is added. This latter commandment is an instruction to Man about the proper moral ordering of human sexuality.

The constitutive difference of masculinity and femininity, which is not limited to a mere biological or physiological difference, is
not determined by function but is a matter of being. This difference is created and ordained by God and cannot be reduced to role or function or changed by human whim or caprice. While modern science has been able to accumulate data with regard to these differences, because the approach rests solely on observable and measurable facts that are limited to our fallen existence alone, the conclusions drawn are reductivist in nature. Through the scientific method widely employed today, rather than raising Man to the dignity inscribed in His Being, the understanding of Man has been reduced to the level of the biological and functional world. This reduction is ultimately the source of destruction to Man’s dignity because His uniqueness in creation and His lofty stature as the highest of created beings is lost, a stature that has been established and maintained by God. There is a real irony that the original solitary human was able to recognize the constitutive difference of His Own being in the created world and modern biology, evolution, and genetics have effectively brought Man to a point where He no longer appreciates that primordial distinctiveness of His Own being.

In any case, it should be clear that the results garnered through the scientific method only offers a limited form of knowledge. Just because Man
does something or is capable of doing something does not mean it should be affirmed in any way nor should it be accepted, particularly when it violates the Natural Law of God. Since the Fall, Man has “done” many things that are a violation of God’s Law but such violations have never been normalized. In recent centuries, the preponderance of scientific research and resultant data have increased exponentially and its results are often accepted uncritically as an absolute. The effect has been a steady normalization of our fallen proclivities and that which is considered normal in our culture is propagated as a good by secularists. Upon propagation, the incidence of certain behaviors increases to the delight of secularists and scientists who tout such increases as further proof that the observed behaviors are normal and thus good.

However, if such observation and promulgation is done without moral insight or judgment, that is, if it is done without the
fullness of science and knowledge, which is often the case, the result will be a mere cataloguing of actions devoid of the critical insight into which are truly good and which are sinful. The subsequent propagation, therefore, only causes a proliferation of Sin through the deception of many into believing that Man’s rebel passions ought to be indulged. Nothing could be further from the Truth. The Church, for Her part, has always taken a moral stand in favor of the Truth, particularly when it comes to human complementarity and sexuality. In this regard, the Church has always maintained that the masculine and feminine complementarity, and its properly ordered sexual expression, holds a distinct place in Marriage alone. And the Church has been often ridiculed for Her stance. More will be said about this tension between the Church’s defense of Marriage and the secular attempts at promulgating counterfeits in the next section.

Marriage and the Counterfeits of the World

As has already been noted, throughout history Man has repeatedly attempted to change the Truth of what Marriage is as established by God. Even Jesus had to defend Marriage from the error of His contemporaries who did not accept the permanence and indissolubility of the bond. He reminded them that their position grew out of the human stubbornness of heart, a stubbornness that has rendered Man opposed to the will of God, a stubbornness that is intimately linked with the Fallen Nature of Man. This same stubbornness persists in the heart of Man even to this day. Despite their juridical and circumstantial arguments in favor of divorce, Jesus demonstrated that Marriage is the primordial Sacrament given to Man by God and expected that all come to accept Marriage for what it really is. This acceptance will then allow Man to conform His life more precisely in accord with the will of God. From the time of Christ until now, Man has been tasked with overcoming His stubbornness of heart and conforming Himself to reality as ordained by God, a task that requires Grace. Unfortunately, this stubbornness of heart continues to play itself out in the public debates that have occurred in recent centuries. For the most part, these debates have been attempts to ideologically separate the inherent “goods” of Marriage as established by God from Marriage Itself. Along each step of the way, the Church has responded and reaffirmed the Truth of Marriage, even when such proclamations were unpopular.

The Truth of Marriage, both as the Union of Christ and the Church as well as the sacrament that binds a Man and a Woman, has been the constant in human existence despite the repeated attempts to substitute some fallen counterfeit. Against each attempt,
the Church has always held firm to the Words of Christ and defended Marriage for what it is in the mind of God. In the early centuries of the Church, groups such as the Manichees, a heretical Christian sect in the fourth century, disparaged marriage and condemned procreation on the basis of their errant view of creation. In response, St. Augustine responded in a work entitled De Bono Coniugali. In this brief yet dense work, the great saint determined that God has infused several fundamental “goods” in Marriage, goods that should never be separated one from another or from Marriage Itself. When Marriage is, the goods are. The three goods he presented are fides (fidelity), proles (procreation), and sacramentum (the indissolubility of the sacrament).

For bishops like St. Augustine, as has happened many times in Church history, a clarification or development of a particular Teaching has to be developed in response to challenges of the
status quo. In most cases the resolution to the discussion is not easily arrived at and thus requires a definitive resolution from the highest levels of the Church hierarchy. These resolutions are not the result of a mere whim of human authority but the result of prayer and discernment under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It must be kept in mind that it is Christ Himself Who forms the Church and tasks Her Pastors with guiding the faithful through the narrow gate. Thus, true pastoral care demands pastors be committed to the Truth, first and foremost, and not to the whim of human capriciousness.

For the most part, the understanding of Marriage in the early Church and into the Middle Ages was not contentious as the theology of Marriage was generally accepted. According to a contemporary theologian named Ramon Garcia de Haro, the first challenge within Christianity Itself, “or at any rate the most significant one, was the Council of Trent, when the deposit of revelation was threatened by the Protestant Reformation.” Before the Protestant revolt against the Teachings of the Church, all of Christendom generally accepted the authority of Sacred Scripture and Tradition as the pillars of revealed Truth, an authority that included the proper understanding of Marriage. Since that time, the theology and significance of Marriage has been undergoing many public debates, which has only served to further clarify the Church’s Teaching on the topic. In this regard, until the time of Trent, all believers embraced the theology of Marriage and consistently contributed to a correct understanding of It. The gauge that has been the measuring stick of the orthodoxy of Teaching on Marriage is that any theological development must maintain the three theological goods presented by St. Augustine, goods that require Divine Revelation for proper understanding. The debates and subsequent practices over the most recent centuries have been directed at rendering these goods asunder yet the Holy Roman Catholic Church has continually maintained Her Teaching throughout.

As noted above, these goods are
Proles, Fides, and Sacramentum. The latter two affirm the sacramentality of Marriage and its indissolubility as well as the requisite fidelity spouses are to render to one another to maintain the bond. Recall that at the time of the Council of Trent “secret” marriages and the public scandal of divorce were among the challenges to these goods. In the years following Martin Luther’s revolt against and departure from the One True Church, the king of England also challenged Church authority on the indissolubility and permanence of the sacrament of marriage. This human individual, endowed with worldly power, did not accept the Church’s divinely instituted authority and so he publicly defied the Church and God. While divorce and remarriage were among the many issues that lead to the formation of the Church of England, it marks a very public act in which these two goods of Marriage were placed in question and the theology of Marriage rejected on the basis of an individualistic desire to engage in a form of serial polygamy. The Magisterium of that time reiterated and confirmed the indissolubility of Marriage as stated by Jesus Himself. It is this same adherence to the good of the Sacrament that has been affirmed throughout the Tradition of the Church. In that particular case, it was determined that the union was a sacrament and could not be dissolved by Man. Instead of rendering fidelity to his spouse and Christ, the earthly king followed his own desire and had that desire ratified by his newly formed church.

This
particular attack on Marriage continues to this day as divorce rates continue to skyrocket in this country and around the world. Even though this “practice” has become widespread and a normal course for many, the Church still maintains the permanence of the sacramental bond in Marriages validly and licitly established. In this regard, the Teaching of the Church remains the same – any marital union of a man and woman is assumed to be valid and licit until declared null by a competent authority in the Church. And any Catholic who divorces and remarries without such a declaration, finds himself or herself “in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic Communion as long as this situation persists” (CCC, 1649). Unfortunately, the widespread practice of divorce and remarriage has many Catholics seeking a declaration of nullity under the mistaken idea that an annulment is merely a “Church sanctioned divorce.” Nothing could be further from the truth and many are surprised to find that few annulments are actually granted. It must be kept in mind that an annulment is a determination that a sacramental bond never existed, which is considered a rare occurrence. To this end, as recently as January 2010, Pope Benedict reminded the tribunals to avoid “pseudo-pastoral” declarations of nullity on the basis of “subjective” factors alone or on the mistaken pastoral desire to restore an individual to Eucharistic Communion. If the Sacrament exists, the Marriage is indissoluble. In addition, he does acknowledge that this Teaching is difficult for many to embrace – yet one the Church holds in high regard, to the point of being chastised by the general public for Her stance.

The Good of Procreation

Keeping in mind all that has been said about the words of Christ and God’s intent in creating them “male and female,” it is clear that the constitutive sexual complementarity is ordered to the “good” of bringing about new human beings and that good is reserved to the married state alone. From those very words in the beginning of the Bible, and repeated by Christ, we see that God wants man and woman to be united in spirit before uniting in body, with one union being ordered to the other. This leads us to discussing the best-known and most contested “good” of Marriage – Proles, which is translated with the word that represents its proper end – procreation. However, there is a danger, especially today, of reducing this good to the specific “acts” of procreation alone or to the specific instances in which the conjugal act brings forth a new life, effectively separating it from its original significance of ontological fruitfulness. This particular good must be understood in the light of the fullness of Proles, which includes the totality and integrality of human sexuality and complementarity. A full treatment of this good is well beyond the scope of this forum but it is necessary to point out several important aspects of how this good relates to the topic at hand.

The first point of note is that there is a danger in allowing ourselves to be deceived that since procreation does happen outside of Marriage that it is not an intrinsic good of Marriage that
should be limited to the married state alone. While the conception of every new human person is good and every child conceived must be accepted as a gift from God, not every human act that brings that life into existence is morally licit. We must keep in mind that God is the One Who determined the proper ordering of human sexuality as a gift reserved to the marital embrace alone and it is He Who asks that Man respect this ordering in all cases. Any human act that involves sexuality or procreation has always been considered “grave matter” and no one should ever believe that such can be altered by human desire. With regard to human sexuality, any human person that acts in a way contrary to the order established by God, an order revealed through the Natural Law, has fulfilled at least one of the conditions for committing mortal sin. The conjugal act, which is truly an act of marital love in a union of persons, should always be ordered toward fruitfulness within an already existing union of persons that are bound by the Sacrament and committed in faithfulness. This sacramental and faithful union is the foundation and source of stability of the family and all others are counterfeits.

The second point of note is that it is unfortunate we live in an era in which human sexuality has been so egregiously debased. For more than a century, the beauty that is human sexuality and the marital good of procreation have been reduced to base desires alone. This degradation forms an attack on Marriage through an ongoing attempt to completely sever the
conjugal act from its dual ontological significance. As has been repeated in Church Teaching many times, the conjugal act, in every instance, must always be both unitive and procreative. In any human act in which there is one without the other, we are dealing with “grave matter,” which must be understood as an act that results in mortal sin. We must always keep in mind that we are speaking of an action freely willed by human beings and all truly free human actions must be conformed to the Truth. While human beings do frequently experience a sexual urge, not every urge is to be acted upon. In fact, there are many urges that occur in humans that are never acted upon. This is so because Man is the only creature endowed with reason and freedom of will and is the only creature who can understand the proper moral ordering of an act, particularly an act that brings a new human being into existence. And it is only Man who can understand that this new being is of the highest order of creation, that is in the image and likeness of God, and that bringing that life into existence demands a great deal of responsibility on the part of those who act toward this end.

It is important that this particular good be understood in light of the whole vision of human sexuality and its unique place in the marital bond. Pope John Paul II likened human sexuality with that of language, which has the
power to reveal what is and thus requires a respect for laws that govern honest communication. Any misuse of language that betrays what is should be understood as a lie, which is a sin. The same holds true for the syntax of human sexuality and its place in human existence. The key to understanding the proper ordering of human sexuality, as Pope John Paul indicated, is to realize that this body language was “not authored by Man” and it is therefore not Man’s to alter. For this reason, the sacramental bond of Marriage depends upon the consummation communicated through the body of the vows communicated through the mouths of the man and woman. In the moral ordering, the verbal must precede the non-verbal. Thus, an important aspect with regard to the existence of the indissoluble Marriage Bond depends on several factors, one of which is consummation. The right ordering of communicating Truthfully is essential in making sure the Good of procreation is safeguarded, an ordering that has vows exchanged with consummation to follow.

The third point of note is that one must appreciate the Church’s Teaching regarding the place of God’s commandments in gaining Eternal life. Part of this Teaching has always been a proper understanding that human sexual complementarity is a gift from God
ordered toward union of the spouses and procreation and the acts of human sexuality, which even within Marriage has limits, are morally reserved to Marriage alone. It is for this reason that the Church continues to teach the sinfulness of cohabitation outside of marriage, fornication, adultery, self-abuse, and homosexual acts. All of these betray the Truth of Marriage and the good of Proles. In this light, one can see why the Church teaches that there is no parvity of matter with regard to human sexual acts. All acts that involve the sexual faculty are grave matter in the moral realm and any disordered sexual act freely willed is matter for mortal sin. Human beings are the only creatures capable of freely willing acts in the sexual realm. Only human beings are free to decide when and where to act in response to the sexual urge and only human beings can know when they should or should not act in response to particular urges.

It is for this reason that St. Alphonsus Liguori wrote that, in his judgment, most of the souls in hell are there because of
unrepentant sins against chastity. In the secular dialogue today, which labors under the dictatorship of relativism, the Church is ridiculed for Her stance on sexuality and Marriage. Yet getting this right is essential for the salvation of souls and it is the responsibility of the divinely instituted shepherds to lead the flock in the ways of Truth, even if it means they will be insulted and persecuted for holding fast to the Truth. As we can see in the world around us today, and even at times by those within the walls of the Church, the virtue of chastity is no longer valued and sins of impurity are given approval by secular authorities. Such approval endangers the salvation of many souls.

Salus Animarum Suprema Lex

Ultimately, everything in the discussion thus far must be understood in light of the coming Judgment. As the Day of Final Judgment draws near, we know there will be increased attempts at deceiving people, even the faithful, to live in ways contrary to the Gospel. As we read in Chapter 24 of the Gospel of Matthew:
Jesus said to them in reply, “See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and they will deceive many… And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.”

Of course, we know that no secular law can ever change the reality that has been ordained by God. However, enacting laws that betray the Divine Law is tantamount to deceiving the faithful into believing that what is Sin is somehow permitted. To those who enact or support such laws, Jesus said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” In the background of this entire discussion has been the issue of Salvation. One of the Church’s central mottos has always been: “Salus Animarum Suprema Lex” (The Salvation of the Soul is the Supreme Law). This motto is what drives the Church and forms Her Teaching. Any human law that misleads or misguides souls from the path of Salvation must be rejected and any human person who gives approval to living in a manner contrary to God’s law must be challenged. In addition, anyone who votes in support of such laws or lobbies to have them passed is formally cooperating in the moral evil that will inevitably ensue. As Catholics, we must recall that what is at stake is the salvation of souls and every member of the Church, out of a True Love for God and neighbor, should be concerned about the deceptive weeds that are being sown amidst the wheat.

With regard to the topic at hand we must ask, will same-sex marriage laws be the end of society as we know it? Will such unions be catastrophic? While such questions have merit and there will be some ill effects, we must remember that we are not primarily concerned with the worldly effects that may result from approving moral evils but with the eternal effects. As we have seen with other attacks on Marriage, proposing a response based solely on worldly arguments and effects will be weakened when some of those who enter illicit unions still manage to thrive in this life. The ill effects of Sin rarely manifest themselves in the physical order. The problem we face in the discussion is that the dictator has set the parameters for the public discussion and has forced arguments that do not take into consideration the whole and authentic Truth. What has been missing in the public discussion, especially in the most recent century, is the word Sin and the eternal effect on one’s soul who commits mortal sin. We, as Catholics, must not be deceived into believing that Sin does not exist or that there will be no judgment.

What the passage of these laws has done and will continue to do is cultivate an ever-increasing complacency toward the Divine Law and foster a greater resistance to living virtuously according to the plan established by God. In this regard, we have witnessed how establishing other secular laws have deteriorated the understanding of Marriage and morality, even by Catholics. As we know, in recent centuries secularists have promulgated errant thought with regard to the good of procreation, which is ordered alone to those who are Married, and they have thus deceived many generations into ideologically separating the unitive and procreative significance of the conjugal act from one another. Their efforts have cultivated an acceptance of fornication and cohabitation, which has been fueled by the widespread availability of contraception, and these couples believe that what they are doing is not sinful. In point of fact, many young couples come to arrange a church wedding and
show no shame at all in giving the same address and phone number to the priest or deacon during their initial interview. Yet the Church still teaches that fornication is grave matter which when committed is mortal sin and those who do so are in danger with regard to the salvation of the soul.

This trajectory is worsened by the fact that there are many Catholics today who agree with and even promote some of the modernized so-called “health” standards. For instance, there are Catholics who believe that contraception or illicit fertility treatments are morally justifiable, albeit some adding the qualification that the couple be married. Yet the Church still teaches that using of any form of contraception, which betrays the procreative significance of the act, or engaging in fertility procedures such as
in vitro fertilization, which betrays the unitive significance of the act, are grave matter which when committed is mortal sin, even for those who are married. And for anyone who willfully engage in the act outside of marriage, that is, commits adultery, has clearly betrayed the unitive significance. In this regard, the Church teaches that only those who are sacramentally married and practice natural family planning, which not only can assist in the spacing of children but also can assist those with infertility problems, are following the Divine Law. Thus, those who act in such a way as to separate the procreative and the unitive significance of the conjugal act have placed themselves in danger with regard to the salvation of the soul.

Finally, it is clear that the secular divorce laws have deceived many Catholics into thinking that once a civil divorce is granted an individual is free to begin dating or remarry outside the Church. However, a civil divorce is not a declaration of nullity and, as noted above, the presumption is that a
sacramental Marriage exists until a competent Church authority declares otherwise, which is a rare occurrence. What this means is that even though one has received a civil divorce, the Church still considers the person married. And any married person who engages in an intimate relationship with someone who is not his or her sacramental spouse is committing adultery in the objective order, which is grave matter and when committed is mortal sin. In effect, what civil divorce laws have done is deceive people, including many Catholics, with regard to the marital goods of fidelity and sacrament, even though the Church still upholds them and teaches that committing adultery endangers the salvation of the soul. No civil law can ever change the Truth established by God and all Catholics should make sure the deceptive seeds sown in our culture do not obscure the Will of God as the salvation of souls hangs in the balance.

In bringing this brief reflection to an end, it should be clear that
the Church remains steadfast in Her commitment to the Salvation of Souls. When it comes to Marriage, the Church has spoken out against a myriad of other civil laws and moral errors, not just same-sex marriage. This issue is only the most recent one in which people are being deceived into believing that something disordered in the Natural Law can be permissible without committing Sin. The reality that is Marriage, which has been established by God, must be respected by Man. In this regard, it is a matter of understanding the integral dimension of Marriage in God’s plan of salvation. To this end, it is only the Church that has been admitting the fullness of knowledge in the proper appreciation of Marriage and it is only the Church that has kept the salvation of the soul as the supreme law. While Man’s situation has certainly shown much improvement through the scientific interventions of modern times, there has also been a concurrent deterioration of morals and virtuous living. In no other area have there been more souls lead into mortal sin than in the consistent and growing misrepresentation of the Goods of Marriage and nowhere else has such a deterioration of morals been evidenced than that which has resulted from the disparagement of Marriage. Today, more than ever, Catholics must not only defend Marriage but should encourage all to live a life worthy of eternity with God for the crux of the matter has to do with the Salvation of Souls.

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