Friday, January 4, 2013

"Gay Marriage": Fall-Out from the "Unitive End" of Marriage?

A reader, commenting via email on the homosexual “marriage” issue in Illinois, noted that the Church has, for over 1900 years, taught a hierarchical order to the ends of marriage – procreation has traditionally been considered primary, with “union” or “mutual help” or the “unitive end” of marriage being secondary.  Since Vatican II, though, it seems that the ends of marriage are to be considered “co-equal”. Many argue for this interpretation now, or at least one close to it, which at the very least relegates procreation to just “one of the ends” of marriage, rather than its primary purpose.

The reader states:

I can’t help but ponder … if the Church didn’t cause harm to the world’s understanding of what marriage is primarily for, and hence made it possible for people to distort the meaning of marriage?

She points out that in Bishop Paprocki’s letter on the subject of the pending vote to change the definition of marriage in the state of Illinois,

…most of his arguments stem from the idea that marriage is not primarily about the satisfaction of the spouses, but about the children, and that in the past even the State recognized this truth. Basically the bishop is affirming a hierarchy of order in the ends of marriage.

That is certainly true of both Bishop Paprocki’s letter and Cardinal George’s statement. Bishop Paprocki wrote (my emphases):

It would enshrine in our law – and thus in public opinion and practice – three harmful ideas:

1. What essentially makes a marriage is romantic-emotional union.
2. Children don’t need both a mother and a father.
3. The main purpose of marriage is adult satisfactions.

Indeed, children’s need – and right – to be reared by the mother and father whose union brought them into being explains why our law has recognized marriage as a conjugal partnership – the union of husband and wife – at all. Our lawmakers have understood that marriage is naturally oriented to procreation, to family. Of course, marriage also includes a committed, intimate relationship…But our law never recognized and supported marriage in order to regulate intimacy for its own sake. The reason marriage is recognized in civil law at all…is specific to the committed, intimate relationships of opposite-sex couples: they are by nature oriented to having children. Their love-making acts are life-giving acts.

Cardinal George made a similar point in his article (my emphases):

Nature and Nature’s God, to use the expression in the Declaration of Independence of our country, give the human species two mutually complementary sexes, able to transmit life through what the law has hitherto recognized as a marital union. Consummated sexual relations between a man and a woman are ideally based on mutual love and must always be based on mutual consent, if they are genuinely human actions.

In other words, the reason for two sexes, and the reason for marriage, is primarily procreation. That is not to say that the “unitive end” is not important, but clearly both prelates are restating Church teaching that the primary purpose and the primary gift of marriage is children. 

But the reader who wrote to me is absolutely right: in the last 50 years, there’s been more of an emphasis on that “unitive” end of marriage. She notes:

Consider NFP and those who support it: a plethora of the articles written on this subject focus primarily on the end of the union of spouses. Yes, there may be “openness” to children in the NFP mindset, but it is often written about within the framework of the union of the spouses. This is an inversion of over 1900 years of Church teaching that had procreation as the primary end with “union” taking a secondary consideration to the primary end.

Could the personalism in the Vatican II documents and Theology of the Body be diluting the understanding of marriage? Pope Pius XII specifically speaks to this personalism in his “Allocution to Italian Midwives”, and denounces the idea that procreative and unitive can be co-equal. Why, given this evaluation by Pope Pius XII, would the Church, within 10 years or so, then ignore this warning and the previous 1900 years’ worth of teaching?

Should we not take another look at this theory of personalism, which is less than 100 years old, in light of the current issues of the day? We should also remember that those who embraced personalism before Vatican II had a foundation in the Church’s teaching of a hierarchy of order, whereas, most people today do not. This lack of a foundation in a 1900-year understanding/tradition of the Church can make a huge difference in how a person understands and implements personalism within marriage.

Even Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the hierarchy of order, according to tradition, in a general audience given in October 1984:

“In this renewed formulation the traditional teaching on the purposes of marriage (and their hierarchy) is reaffirmed and at the same time deepened from the viewpoint of the interior life of the spouses, that is, of conjugal and family spirituality.”

But how many today would agree that there is according to the teachings of the Church still a hierarchy of order to the ends of marriage?

I think she has made some very good points here.

After decades of focusing on the “unitive” end of marriage, and after decades of Catholics using artificial contraception at about the same rate as non-Catholics, and after the promotion of NFP to licitly regulate the number of children within a family, it is not surprising that most people – Catholic or not – don’t see procreation as the primary purpose of marriage.

Well, not on the surface at least. I’m not sure how it is these days, but in the recent past, you would see couples “living together” without benefit of marriage until they decided that they wanted to have a child. Marriage was seen as necessary at that point, or at least desirable. Artificial contraception had created the sense that the sexual/emotional relationship between the couple was completely separate from the procreative end to which that sexual relationship was ordered.

It’s a small step from that “mindset” to the idea that sexual relations and “love” are all that constitute a marriage. Who needs kids?

The Church, I think, failed to make a firm stand on issues of contraception and cohabitation for two reasons: first, there was the huge wave of dissent following Humanae Vitae, led by theologians and bishops, and Catholics were “doing it anyway”. The second reason is related to the first: the Church, not being prepared for the cultural and sexual revolution of the ‘60’s, didn’t want to look like the old fuddy-duddy, out-of-step-with-the-times authority figure, shaking Her finger under the noses of disobedient children; it was easier to just look the other way.

Well, we know where permissive parenting leads…but it can be corrected.

The HHS mandate provided and continues to provide a timely opportunity to review what the Church teaches about artificial contraception. For some Catholics, such teaching might even be something they’ve never heard before! Unfortunately, it seems like the opportunity to teach on the subject has been left largely untouched; instead, the idea that the HHS mandate flies in the face of religious liberty is underscored. Although that might be true, it begs the question of why providing artificial contraception should be objectionable to Catholic employers.

The homosexual “marriage” issue is also offering a “teachable moment”, and it seems that more and more bishops and priests are taking advantage of this opportunity. We’ve seen a number of good pastoral letters and pronouncements on the issue, and it’s shown, too, how much dissent there is in the Church on “gay marriage”.

But it’s all related: artificial contraception, promoting NFP as being “as effective as the Pill”, and homosexual “marriage” are all clues that reveal the concupiscence of our society. It’s all about feeling good, enjoying “the best sex in the universe”, and not having to worry about unwanted children spoiling the fun. Even NFP has been taken to this extreme – not by all who use it, but by some. And by and large, diocesan programs – and even the USCCB website – fail to explain and emphasize that NFP is to be used only for grave reasons – not just as “Catholic birth control”.

Here’s the bottom line, really: our society has become “anti-children”.  And that’s dangerous, because we’ve now reached the critical point of lower-than-replacement birth rates in this country. Other countries (like Japan) who reached that point before we did are showing us what’s in store for a society that does not produce enough children to perpetuate its own population. It’s not a pretty picture.


  1. I was just catching up on the last month or so of your blog, and it caught my attention how many beautiful pictures you had posted. But of all of them, I love this one of the Irish family best. Everything about this photo moves me -- the fruitful generosity, the beautiful children, the testimony to a genuine Catholic faith, even the stone house reminds me of Ezra Pound's poem "Usura":

    With usura hath no man a house of good stone
    each block cut smooth and well fitting
    that design might cover their face,
    with usura
    hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
    with usura, sin against nature,
    is thy bread ever more of stale rags
    is thy bread dry as paper,
    with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
    with usura the line grows thick
    with usura is no clear demarcation
    and no man can find site for his dwelling.
    Stonecutter is kept from his tone
    weaver is kept from his loom
    Usura slayeth the child in the womb
    It stayeth the young man’s courting
    It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
    between the young bride and her bridegroom

  2. Oops, I meant to add my name at the bottom of the post since I have to post my comments as "Anonymous."
    -John Galvin

  3. That's beautiful and haunting. I never heard of it before (some gaps in my education). Had to do a little googling to get the picture, but it was worth it.

    Thanks for sharing.


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