More on Irish vote...
(Fr. Angel’s note: I received a long message which was thought provoking and presenting some points of view different from my own. I appreciate this author’s candor and civility. I respond to his concerns in the bold print).
GE: With regards to the whole
Ireland homosexual marriage thing all I can say is that Ireland was the first,
but it really is an inevitability that will come to pass in most western
countries. Does this mean it is in line with Catholic teaching? Absolutely not,
but I do not think getting upset and talking like the sky is falling is going
to “produce any fruit.” Fr. Angel—I
think whether I protest changes to the law is not based on whether they are “Catholic
enough.” I know that we live in a pluralistic society. The law has to enshrine
and protect the goods of society and promote justice, and this can be done
based on a secular reasoning that looks to Natural Law. That is what guided the
Romans and Greeks. The fruit I am hoping will result is 1) That I not suppress
my own convictions when I believe they are true and 2) That I contribute as a
private citizen to the discussion when I think that unnecessary, and unethical
changes, have been made to the law.
GE: If you look at the whole development of marriage from a socio-historical perspective, it has rarely ever has been “the ideal” in the eyes of sacramental theology. Fr. Angel—this is a broad statement, and IMO an over-generalization which paints in broad strokes. Can one even speak of a “socio-historical” development of marriage without citing examples of time period, region, culture, concrete realities and experiences, etc?
GE: Marriage is a unique sacrament in how it has developed socially because it has become involved with the state and secular life to such a large degree. No other sacrament is tied to the state in this way. We don’t get tax breaks or special dispensation from the state for receiving holy communion, and this is a good thing because communion stays purely sacred. Fr. Angel—Just to clarify, marriage, divorce, family life, etc. were codified in both Greek and Roman law, before Christianity existed and there was a “sacrament of matrimony” to speak of. The legal concerns and the laws passed were based on the vested interest of the State to protect the interests of the family as a building block of society and civilization. Marriage law, for Greeks and Romans, was not passed in order to uphold a particular “theology of sacramental marriage.” Later on, when the Church became a steward and guardian of Western law, there was an interest to pass on the best legal traditions of marriage found in Roman law so that the law honored “natural marriage” or marriage as a legal contract in accord with Natural Law. Yes, sacramental considerations were incorporated in the law, but the law did not take over or interfere with marriage so much as it protected the Church’s interests in marriage and the family.
GE: The moment this intermingling of sacraments with secular life and secular powers-that-be happened, marriage took on this “dual nature” of being both oriented largely to secular life, and yet also a supposedly holy sacrament. This is why you see arranged marriages in the dark and middle ages. Unions that were not at all about willful and voluntary love or self giving, but instead about securing property within families. Fr. Angel—May I ask what is your source for this idea you present? It is interesting, but not accurate IMO if you look at the historical record. My source is the Jesuit scholar, Theodore Mackin. In his tome “What is Marriage?” he gives a very thorough presentation of early, middle, and late Medieval marriage law. As he presents the facts, marriage was seen as a sacrament, only, with sacred purposes. The Church alone had authority to deal with marriage questions.The law deferred completely to the Church in the judgments and requirements of marriage. In those centuries, marriage did not have a secular orientation, nor secularist principles alongside the religious principles, until after the Englightenment, when governments removed the Church’s authority over marriage law and established “legal marriage” as something distinct from “church marriage.” True, many families arranged marriages for economic or political reasons, but the essential properties of freedom, fidelity, and fecundity had to be present or the Church would not bless the marriage.
GE: Henry the VIII split from the Catholic church over marriage because marriage is not just about a sacred union between a man and a woman; it is about all these other things that we have tied to it. You’ve now made it the state’s business what the church does, and the state doesn’t really care about the sacramental theology behind marriage. I’m sure many marriages throughout history would be travesty if evaluated from the perspective of sacramental theology. Yet they happened. Fr. Angel—Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church because he believed he was in an invalid union which was not sacramental. When the Church refused to dissolve it, he established himself as the head of the English Church in order to judge his case. But neither Henry VIII of England nor other monarchs said the State “doesn’t really care about the sacramental theology.” They were quite concerned, even after leaving the Catholic Church, that people in their European domains entered into what were Christian marriages where the Protestant guidelines of marriage were to be respected by order of the sovereign. As to whether history would judge most marriages in those centuries to be a travesty, again, I think perhaps you are over-generalizing and painting an image with broad strokes that is not demonstrable from the primary source material we have of marriages in those days.
GE: Fast-forward to the present. Marriage is not just marriage, it is tied up in legal rights and privileges that the state dispenses to the married for being married. At the same time in many areas, homosexual relationships have become more socially acceptable. In the eyes of the state, which is concerned with only with dispensing rights and privileges, and not sacramental theology, it is no longer sustainable or “fair” to give one type of relationship rights and privileges over another. This is consistent with egalitarian thought. Hence “gay marriage” being legalized, even though in the church’s eyes no such thing could ever really happen because marriage is about pro-creation. Fr. Angel—marriage law, in both England, the 13 Colonies, and later the United States, was concerned with much more than “dispensing rights and privileges.” If you research marriage law up until the 1950’s, you will see that the State had a vested interest in preserving stable families. True, no one can predict that even heterosexual married couples will have children, but for the most part, there was an assumption in the law.
First, the law was supposed to act as a teacher, a voice of the people at large that marriage was a serious and lifelong commitment for the good of families, which is why even secular law made divorce a difficult undertaking that was granted only when compelling proof was presented that divorce was necessary. Second, the other assumption of secular marriage law was that when men and women entered into marriage and physical intimacy, children came along.
Since gay couples, by human biology and nature were absolutely excluded from the possibility of having children, the law made no provision for calling a homosexual union a marriage. In fact, most states outlawed homosexual unions under the crime of “sodomy” which was seen as a dangerous perversion to stable marriages and families. After all, why legally codify a structure of family where possible children would be deprived of a mother, or a father? Why legalize a union where there is a guarantee that the only way to even conceive children was to go outside the marriage and ask for the help of third parties?
Instead of just granting rights and privileges
to couples, marriage laws in the past (before the coming of quick and easy divorce) focused on “duty” and “responsibility” of the couple
to the larger society. Their rights and privileges consisted of the right to
have their union protected, their parental obligations safeguarded, and their
ability to act with power of attorney on each other’s behalf in all legal
questions. There was no legal right to a divorce and no legal privilege to
present oneself for marriage with a partner of the same sex.
GE: What I’m trying to say with all this is that marriage is a strange sacrament in that both the church and the state claim ownership over it, but it means two entirely different things to each. If the Catholic church wanted marriage to stay true to sacramental theology, then it never should have looked to any state to bless or make any marriage valid through legal rights and privileges. It should have kept the sacrament “in house” like it has with all the other sacraments. But even this is complicated because marriage as a social institution pre-dates the other sacraments. Fr. Angel—The Catholic Church does not claim ownership over marriage, which is an institution that comes from biology and nature in order to form families and propagate the species. That a man and woman fall in love and engage in sexual intercourse predates both the Church and even legal codes. Having sexual intimacy using the natural parts of the body for this and having children to be raised in a loving family is the building block of any nation that hopes to survive.
The Church is happy to concede to the State, in a pluralistic society of Catholic and non-Catholic members, a legal and vested interest in the institution of marriage as it has always been defined in law even since the days of the Greeks and Romans. This definition is that it is a union which proceeds from Natural Law and gives rise to children and families in most cases, if the couple is open to new life.
The issue with legalizing gay marriage has nothing to do with the disruption of the sacrament of matrimony within the Catholic community. That sacrament will continue alive and well. Rather, the issue for the Church is that legal codes are now being employed to redefine marriage in a way that completely denies and dismisses the tenets of the Natural Law, human biology, and the absolutely essential role that both a mother and a father play in the rearing of the children they bore. These are values of the common good of a pluralistic society, and one does not have to be Catholic or even Christian to value these truths.
On secular reasoning alone, the Church is able to make a case to the wider society that codifying gay marriage is aberrant, and the imposition of an unethical structure of family based on judicial or legal fiat. And it was St. Thomas Aquinas who said that bad laws encourage bad conduct in people. Bad laws are also difficult to enforce because of the large numbers of people who pledge to disobey them and undermine them.
Finally, bad laws which redefine things away from truth and what is right are an imposition on the conscience, and the rights, of those who disagree with them in principle. While they claim to entitle a certain class of people to equality, they deprive another class of people of their equal rights before the law to disagree. That is the ultimate fruit of passing gay marriage laws.
GE: I’m rambling a bit. But I’m just trying to put this all in the perspective of “how did we get here?” “Why did we get here?” and when you think of it like that, it all makes a good deal of sense. Marriage has always been a battle ground because of it’s dual identity as both a sacred thing one the one hand, and a totally worldly thing on the other. Our times are not any more or less morally depraved than any other times. I refuse to buy into that idea that things are just always getting worse morally. I think what happens is humans get better in some areas and worse in others, and then everything switches again. There is constant flux but it is all kept more or less at equilibrium. Case in point: it’s a bummer that the state gets to dictate to the church what marriage is. But it’s a positive that the overall treatment and dignity that gay people receive in society is generally more humane and better than it has been in awhile, so these two things kind of cancel each other out. Fr. Angel—Well, I never wanted to address whether things are getting “worse morally.” People see the world differently and decide whether they will have hope based on their own criteria. I can only speak for myself and give my honest opinion that gay marriage in Ireland runs counter to past generations of devout Catholics who would never have thought to pass such a referendum. My concern is that Catholics have to witness—not impose their own religious morality in a pluralistic society.
However, they should and they can witness to their faith based on the logic and reasoning of a philosophy of Natural Law—which is how Greeks and Romans tried to reason in their legal codes as well. But instead we are swept up in slogans like “marriage equality”….whatever that is supposed to mean. Equal dignity does not mean having an equal calling to enter into marriage.
I see these changes as not even meant to help the gay community—very few gay couple even seek out marriage where it is legal. I think this referendum is part of a political ploy to validate and enforce a certain thinking on the wider populace the gay politics which surround the gay lifestyle. After all, in Ireland, gay couples already had legal unions with all the benefits and rights they would need without insisting on calling such unions a “marriage.”