Jul 022013

With the constant attack on the reality of marriage one of the responses is the idea to separate “civil marriage” and being “married in the church”. That churches should get out of the marriage business.

Recently Msgr. Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington D.C. has again proposed this. I greatly admire Msgr. Charles Pope and his postings, but I can’t fully agree with him here. In the first part of his post he proposes that we set aside the word “Marriage” and use “Holy Matrimony” exclusively. That the word marriage has become so corrupted and what the Church means by marriage and what the state means by marriage are quite different things.

I am all for using the term “Holy Matrimony” more and to return to a understanding of the Conventional aspects. Using words and phrases that better project the reality of something is certainly something we should do. I am though tired of having words taken from us and having to deduct them from our vocabulary. While I like the use of “Holy Matrimony” I will use marriage as a shortcut term in this post. Also for purposes of this post “two people” is used to mean “one man and one women.” I wonder what we will have to start using as caveats in years to come?

A secondary but related proposal is that we begin to consider getting out of the business of having our clergy act as civil magistrates in weddings. Right now we clergy in most of America sign the civil license and act, as such, as partners with the State. But with increasing States interpreting marriage so differently, can we really say we are partners? Should we even give the impression of credibility to the State’s increasingly meaningless piece of paper? It may remain the case that the Catholic faithful, for legal and tax reasons may need to get a civil license, but why should clergy have anything to do with it?

Frankly, I am uncomfortable signing DC Marriage licenses, and do so only because my Ordinary has indicated we should continue doing this. I am happy to obey him in this and defer to his judgment in the matter. There is a reason his is the Ordinary and I am not. That said, I have told him what I think. But for now, it seems clear we must stay the course and still sign them until the Bishop says, no more.

I think this idea only ends up reinforcing the secularization of the reality of marriage. Despite the governments misunderstanding of marriage this does not change the ontological aspects of marriage. Two people married under a “Justice of Peace” can incur a “Natural” marriage and for example two baptized Protestants can contract a “Sacramental” marriage in the same circumstance. Note: I specifically left out an example regarding Catholics in this example as Catholics are obliged to the canonical form of marriage (excepting the circumstances where an indult has been granted by he local ordinary).

This two tier idea of secular marriage and religious marriage would only deconstruct marriage even more.

Ed Peters’ replies to Monsignor Pope’s post and puts it much better than I can:

… Marriage (and I’m talking about marriage, not Matrimony yet) is part of the natural law and, I think, one just does not walk away from the natural law. Marriage was not abolished by Jesus, it was (under certain circumstances the Church has worked out over the centuries) raised by Him to the level of a sacrament we call Matrimony. But before anything else, Matrimony is marriage, and it never ceases to be marriage, and if whatever we’re talking about is not marriage then it CANNOT be Matrimony.

This is serious stuff: the Church proclaims some infallible doctrines regarding marriage (like, e.g., that marriage consists of the union of one man and one woman) and she proclaims some infallible doctrines about Matrimony (like, e.g., once Matrimony is consummated, it cannot be dissolved by any power on earth, something not true of marriage). Both institutions, natural marriage and its Christian perfection, are objects of doctrinal solicitude, which tells me, there’s something pretty important about both.

The vast majority of the world enters marriage (not Matrimony), and if the Church stops defending and promoting marriage, she abandons most of the human race to whatever havoc the Evil One feels like waging in its regard. But there’s still more wrong here with dumping marriage.

Many Catholics enter, with the Church’s approval, not Matrimony (as in the sacrament), but marriage only (as in the natural union). To suggest that we deal from now on only with Matrimony leaves Catholics in marriages (not Matrimony) with no recognition or support. Every way you look, this is a bad idea.

Look, I wish everybody were Catholic, that all marriages were sacramental, and that we could spend our time helping Catholic married couples better live out their vocation. But as long as marriage is ABSOLUTELY essential to the Church’s teaching on Matrimony, as long as most human beings enter marriage and not Matrimony, and as long as some Catholics live in marriage and not Matrimony, the Church has to stay in the marriage business and defend marriage itself.

Earlier this year I was reading C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” where he espoused a two-tier understanding of marriage that just ignores the natural law. The argument he put forth was rather embarrassing. Recently I found an article which quotes what Lewis wrote about this along with a letter where J.R.R. Tolkien replies to his friend’s argument.

On a side note I do love Christianity Today posting an article titled “Why C.S. Lewis Was Wrong on Marriage (and J.R.R. Tolkien Was Right)

  One Response to “Divorcing marriage”

  1. […] Charles Pope and Fr. Dwight Longenecker: neither of whom drew quite the same kind of reaction even from those of us who disagreed with them. This proposal is essentially the separation of civil […]

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