Marriage “not for all”

23 01 2011

I am surprised that this has not gotten more coverage among Catholic talking (or typing) heads. Perhaps such an idea is now obvious among “informed Catholics”. To be married in the church, it is not enough to be in love, to want to have sex, or even to want kids. There is some sort of strange Gnostic illumination one must undergo (“be properly catechized”), otherwise, your marriage isn’t really valid. Of course, this isn’t really the position of the Vatican, but it can seem to be when faced with an explosion in the American context of annulments, often for frivolous reasons.

I am conflicted regarding this issue. On the one hand, I don’t want to be mean about it, saying to people, “well, you’re already married, I don’t care if your marriage broke down twenty years ago, deal with it”. On the other hand, I come from a culture where being married outside the church and cohabitation are more accepted by “practicing Catholics” without much cognitive dissonance. The Church hasn’t had any authority over marriage in Mexico since the 1910 Revolution, and since then a church wedding has sort of been a statement of: “really, I love you a lot and we have enough money to invite two villages to our wedding where they will get drunk on our bill for three days straight”. If you have just met someone and want to shack up, or just get married by the judge (which you would have to do anyway even if the priest marries you), that is perfectly understandable, if not the best option. In other words, I think there is a subtext that a church wedding is “for good” and the civil wedding is a trial run.

That, of course, is the attitude that Pope Benedict is trying to avoid, but maybe it is time for the Church to get out of the marriage business altogether. It wasn’t as if the Church has always been in the business of regulating marriage and the workings of the familial hearth. People used to get married on the porch of the church for that reason, and often were not married by a minister of the Church at all. What Benedict is bumping into now is the historical reality that the Church’s laws are not the same as the societal laws, as has been the case for about a millenium. The Church can’t coerce or pressure couples to stay together, so the number of people who can and will follow such laws will be few relative to the rest of the population.

And I would include that this is another case where sex proves to be a problematic nexus of virtue, which perhaps is why the early Church tended to steer clear of talking about marriage, and was even considered “anti-sex” at times.


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33 responses

25 01 2011
Dave

Excellent observation. I’ve noticed that but not been able to express it so pithily.

25 01 2011
Turmarion

Luke 6:24-25; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:18-25; Acts 4:32-5:11; 2 Cor 8:12-15; these quotes from St. Augustine; this from St. Ambrose, Chapter 1, paragraph 5; and plenty of others, but this is a starter. I’ll leave it to Arturo to give a better Marxist critique.

25 01 2011
waywardhermit

Yes … if only the Church would get out of the marriage (and sexuality) business … but, should it really get involved in the social justice business? The social justice “business” always seems to involve the shifting sands of whatever the social justice activitsts latch onto at any given period (and these are nearly always motivated as much by greed, resentment, and retaliation as they are by “fraternal concern”). The only consistent message I have ever been able to divine from them is that the evil of the wealthy accumulating too much money should be met with the evil (er, that is, social justice) of stealing the money from whomever is designated to be the wealthy or the “favored” so that it can be dispersed to their alleged victims. And the only justification for the theft is that it is “the people’s will.” And of course, ironically, “the people” are always represented by a new class of wealthy elites who have to administer everything of course. One hundred years of the rhetoric of “social justice” and its consequences – repression of personal rights and freedoms, gulags and prison camps, millions upon millions of corpses – and still people cling to this grim conceptual chimera. Isn’t it time for a new model?

24 01 2011
M.Z.

The statistics work out to destitution is really bad for marriage. High school drop outs fit this. More generally the youth effect of marriage peters out at 21 for woman and 23 for men, or something like that.

I don’t think we should romanticize how well the poor had it in the past. Poverty was still just as real in the happy Catholic ghetto with both parents working and 4 or 6 kids at home. The big difference was that a woman with children could not support herself in previous days in traditional ways. Single mothers often went into prostitution to support themselves. Placing children in orphanages was more pushed as a way to relieve poverty, sometimes involuntarily.

Marriage didn’t make life miraculously better back then like people pretend it will if we just get the poor forming stable households today. (Stable being more an ideal given limitations in our economy.)

24 01 2011
Och: on Obama the Communist | The Prodigal Modern

[…] from the comment section on this somewhat unrelated post. This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← A Wendell […]

24 01 2011
Turmarion

Regarding statistics, it’s true that the divorce rate for teen marriages is enormously high, and plummets for later marriages. Let me put a spin on it, though:

In the past, marriages tended to be more stable for the lower classes for the obvious reason of necessity. If you were a serf or a factory worker, you needed all hands on board to keep the family economically functional. Divorce was rare because it simply wasn’t feasible. Divorce was the luxury of the wealthy, who could afford to shuffle spouses for whatever reasons.

Now, the situation seems to be reversed. Demographically, divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing are overwhelmingly seen among those who have not completed high school or have a high school education only, whereas these rates are very low among college graduates. In short, it is now the lower socioeconomic classes, those least equipped to deal with such issues, among whom divorce and attendant phenomena are rampant, and the upper class that is more stable. Coming from an Appalachian state and teaching in a context where a large portion of my students of lower socioeconomic status, I’d say that my anecdotal observations bear this out.

What causes this, or what conclusions we should take from it, are above my pay scale; but it can’t be a good thing.

On a theological note, I tend to think the Orthodox have it better on this. They discourage divorce and have canonical proceedings to permit remarriage, but they don’t have any Scholastic obfuscation about “putative” marriages. If a marriage is dissolved they call it what it is–divorce–and they consider it a concession to fallen human nature, or oikonomia (“housekeeping”). Also, remarriages have a different rite that is more subdued and penitential in nature. I really respect that–I’ve been to weddings where both partners were re-marrying, with kids, etc., and you had middle-aged people putting on a big show as if they were two blushing kids tying the know for the first time. It’s really nauseating. I’m not saying people don’t deserve second chances; just that they should be grown-up about the imperfections of life and not make thing out to be other than they are.

24 01 2011
synLeszkax

Mr.Vasquez, you are mistaken.
The current construction of marriage in European society is a result of the Church’s incessant legal activity through the centuries. The Roman or Church (Canon) Law courts created the substance of our European marriage law. After the fall of the Roman Empire, in the West, the Germanic conquerors forced onto the Western world their tribal laws. The Church, on the otherhand upheld the Roman legal order (not the Roman Constitution of governance but the private law Roman tradition). The Church fought for the right to judge its faithful based on Roman Law, and eventually won this right, so thus deciding about the future legal conscience of Europe. The Church had exclusive authority over marital and inheritance affairs for many centuries in most of Europe except England and Turkey. Even the current Code of Canon Law foresees that the Church has exclusive rule over conjugal rights if the civil law of that jurisdictions does not state to the contrary. In reality, I think that the only country where the Canon Law of the Church is applied in conjugal affairs is Egypt. Even though the Church submits itself under the authority of the civil marriage law, it is written in the Code of Canon Law, that it views its marriage law as an unchangeable directive which to be the measure by which civil law is to be measured.
To state the Church has no influence over marriage law for a thousand years is a gross overstatement. You state that in Mexico, the church controlled marriage law until 1910. Furthermore, in Austria-Hungary, the Church ruled over marital affairs until its downfall. In Italy, divorce was only allowed in the 1970’s. As an aside, even in the Federal Republic of Germany and UK, in the 1950’s there were plans to criminalise homosexuality.
From 1968 to 2011, there has been only 43 years not a thousand years. But I despise the sexual revolution since 1968, because I am full of ressentiment, being a poor person, who cannot afford to live life “sexually-free” like the sons and daughters of the rich bourgeois, whose feces my parents have to pick up to help me get through school. Why is that rich people do not know how to s^#t properly? Pierre Legendre said that during the revolution of 1968, he had to be escorted by police to carry out an exam. He wondered how the well to do students shit on the floor of the bathroom, besides the toilet, yelling about their liberty, not noticing how the poor Porteguese immigrants have to clean up after them, becoming their slaves.

24 01 2011
Robert Hiyane

Mr. Ochlophobist:

I was making an analogy and not describing Trots (as you call them). I put “probably” in the sentence. The point remains that it depends on the blog and the blog’s audience.

24 01 2011
A Sinner

It’s funny you should ask how old I am, because I almost said in my last post “I’m only 21 and I think I’m still a child.” I wouldn’t be ready to be married. My 19 year old brother certainly wouldn’t. People are prolonging adolescence. It’s not just a question of age, though, of course. Some couples make clearly bad decisions. I wouldn’t have married Britney Spears and Jason Alexander in Vegas. I probably wouldn’t have married her to K-Fed either. I would have been right both times…

24 01 2011
ochlophobist

On a truly Trostkyite blog they would probably not be critical about President Obama for his “not moving towards communism enough.” Correct me if I am wrong Arturo, but in my experience and from what I can tell reading Trot sites a true believer Trot would never expect Obama to move toward communism (and there is no “enough” in terms of degree for true believer Trots, either one is or one isn’t a communist), and would see reformist measures by Obama as an attempt to prolong the time until revolution, instead of facilitating it. For most Trots in the U.S., full out reactionary measures are better than reformist measures as they are more expedient in creating the conditions upon which revolution is built.

No communist, even those in the CPUSA who supported voting for Obama as a triage measure against the ultra-right, believe that Obama is anything other than a capitalist acting in the interests of capitalists. For most Trots, he is worse than other capitalists because he supports some reformist measures. For most Marxist-Leninists, he is better, or at least more useful than other capitalists, because he supports reformist measures and reformist measures are the best we can possibly hope for at this time, hopefully buying us some time until conditions are better for creating a general consciousness of class conflict. Considering Obama’s justice department is now going after Maoists (at least some of the Freedom Road folks), I doubt the Maoists are complaining about Obama not being communist enough right now, but probably think of him more as a fascist, or something to that effect.

All this is to say that anyone who suggests that Obama is a communist or even has communist tendencies is a complete idiot and should be ridiculed to no end.

24 01 2011
Robert Hiyane

Chris:

It depends on what type of blog and audience.

If it was a Trostkyte Blog they would be probably critical about President Obama about not moving towards communism enough.

This blog claims to be about Aesthetic Christianity. So most people who read it will be interested in religious and spiritual topics.

The bitterness on this blog is not from the topics.

I sometimes read this blog and sometimes enjoy it and can read things I disagree with. There are some interesting posts and topics. That doesn’t mean that I cannot criticize it.

24 01 2011
Chris

I can’t help but wonder if there would be a similar lament if the “bitter and disrespectful tone” went along instead with complaints about the lack of fidelity to the Holy Father and the Magisterium in the Church today, about how Barack Obama and the democrats are leading us toward communism, etc.

24 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

I notice a flux of people who read things on the Internet just to piss themselves off. I don’t quite know what to think of that.

24 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

If you say so. How old are you, anyway?

You don’t have to answer that.

Seriously, I don’t believe youngsters are any better or worse now than they were then. Only back then, they had to deal with things like honor killings and such. If you actually look at the religiosity and customs that governed those societies, one would see that we are pretty much in the same boat.

And my grandparents mentioned, they eloped, or more properly speaking, he stole her.

24 01 2011
KarlH

Oh, Jesus.

24 01 2011
A Sinner

Well, if I were a priest 60 years ago (and in Mexico?), I probably would have gone along with it. But 18-year-old Americans today are children.

24 01 2011
Robert Hiyane

The Reditus has become more pompous and pretentious over the last couple of years. This blog has become more insulting and disrespectful and seems to being borderline non Catholic or even anti-Catholic. There is a bitterness in the last year or 2 that is downright scary and an anger that is evident; and without psychoanalyzing over the internet. The real issue of the bitterness and the anger is not over the issues discussed in this blog. The blog can be interesting and funny and there are certain topics that I can enjoy but the bitter and disrespectful tone is becoming annoying and sad. The author of this blog has become a Pope unto himself contradicting himself infallibly as his own doctrine develops.

A sinner:

Nobody has earned the right to be pompous and ignorant and disrespectful to others and certainly not the author of this blog.

24 01 2011
M.Z.

Not to be grossly profound, but perhaps the Church could recognize that she isn’t a partner in the marriage. Her job is to simply bless it. Something about God taking care of sorting the wheat from the chaff comes to mind.

Oh, and I’ve also noticed the huge problem of 18 and 19-year-olds negotiating the parish bureaucracy so that they can have a church wedding. Not. If I were to speculate, I would guess fewer than half my confirmation class has been married in the church. Even among my Catholic relatives, the church wedding is pretty exceptional. But rest assured the problem is too many people wanting to marry in the Church. And on the issue of annulments, somewhere over a third of them are granted for lack of form, or in other words for not marrying in the Church.

24 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

But if I were a priest and a just-18 boy and girl showed up at my office asking to married, I’d probably say, “Come back in 4-6 years.” This makes total pastoral sense. I’d be negligent to do otherwise.

Shit, that sounds like my grandparents, who will have been married sixty years this May. They didn’t even know that they needed a wedding ring.

24 01 2011
Duncan

Ironically, and just as an aside, I found Stephen Hands’s old blog through The Western Confucian, a blog that Arturo often links to a few years back, and enjoyed some of the distributist/anti-NWO/trad perspectives there. Don’t visit his site anymore, but judging from the above comment he seems to have grown a bit more crotchety.
BTW, I found this blog through a comment on ‘athanasiuscontramundum’ blog which descibed Atruro as ‘either completely crazy or the last sane man left’, which intrigued me. I’m still intrigued.
Keep it up you pretentious prick!

24 01 2011
A Sinner

Arturo, I’m not saying that priests get to act as strict gatekeepers, and I don’t think that’s what the Pope is proposing either.

But even priests are not so naive as to not be able to see when a relationship is clearly abusive or impulsive, etc. If a mean priest is trying to enforce the “Gnosticism” you speak of, they can always find another priest or appeal to the bishop.

But if I were a priest and a just-18 boy and girl showed up at my office asking to married, I’d probably say, “Come back in 4-6 years.” This makes total pastoral sense. I’d be negligent to do otherwise.

Now, as I proposed, I’d be open to the idea that these two could actually still contract a valid NATURAL marriage and have licit sex that way. Current canons say that, for the baptized, it’s either a Sacrament, or it’s nothing. But that might be able to change. And then maybe they could get the Sacrament later on if their relationship seemed to be working. But at least if it weren’t, then they aren’t stuck with it (or the prospect of proving how psychologically immature they were in a lengthy and expensive annulment process).

The other way to try to deal with it, of course, might be to raise the canonical age for marriage to 25 or something like that (as it is for ordination, after all). But, expecting people to abstain that long is perhaps unrealistic, and most divorces/annulments don’t seem to be for people who married under 25 anyway. So I think my solution is better.

24 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Yes, because you are so clericalist that you will let the priests determine who can reproduce and who can’t.

Good luck with that.

***Addendum***

…Which sort of proves my point about the new “hermeneutic of continuity”, conservative farcical rhetoric: Vatican II was all about treating people like adults, having an adult faith, etc., but now you don’t even trust the laity to make their own mistakes and determine themselves if they can get married in the Church or not. At least the Church pre-Vatican II allowed couples to screw up themselves and live with the conseqences. Now, we just treat people like the perpetual adolescents that we accuse them of being. Oh well, if there are priests who are all about measuring the vaginal mucus, we should expect the celibate clergy to try to play matchmaker.

23 01 2011
A Sinner

But lots of couples SHOULDN’T be having sex, shouldn’t be breeding or raising kids together, shouldn’t be married.

He’s not saying that Joe and Jill Clearly-Unhealthy-Relationship should shack up and have sex. He’s saying, I guess, that they may, but at least we’re not going to sanction what is clearly the ill-conceived, selfish, impetuous idea of two broken adolescent personalities.

If a couple comes to a parish and the priest thinks “this is a trainwreck, this is clearly never going to work”…he doesn’t have to marry these people, and probably shouldn’t.

23 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

“…why you are using a Salon article ”

I don’t see the problem with that, you right-wing troglodyte.

“Which would seem to bring the Pope *closer* to your ideal of separating the various types of marriage.”

No, that would mean that people shouldn’t have sex unless they have such a Gnostic initiation. Or is the Pope saying that it is okay to shack up and have sex outside of marriage, as long as you don’t get married in the Church, and thus become “our problem”? I don’t think that the Pope is in any position to posit any type of marriage other than the acceptable paradigm of marriage.

23 01 2011
Arturo Vasquez

23 01 2011
A Sinner

Stephen, I disagree with “puerile”…but some people are smart enough that they earn the right to be pompous and pretentious, and I think Arturo is one of them.

23 01 2011
Chris

“I only rarely comment in boxes like this”

Judging by the comment you just left, that’s an unqualifiedly good thing.

23 01 2011
Stephen Hand

Aesthetic Christianity? I see nothing aesthetic here at all. In any case, I only rarely comment in boxes like this, but having found you a real doozy, the genuine Thing, I wanted to let you know you have won the Most Pretentious Pompous and Puerile award. Congrats! BTW, is that you in the ballerina slippers

23 01 2011
A Sinner

To clarify what I’m saying:

Might it not be possible to change the canons so that two Catholics who get married by a justice of the peace are validly Naturally Married, even if not bound in that case by the indissoluble Sacrament? I know there is a theological position that says, “No, the marriage between two Christians is either the Sacrament, or it is nothing, merely ‘putative’ marriage.” But I wonder whether this is really dogma, or just a theological opinion.

Deliberately seeking out such a Natural as opposed to Sacramental marriage might still, in itself, be considered sinful for Catholics…but, at the same time, it would at least still be recognized as a Natural marriage as opposed to merely “putative” (always a bizarre canonical concept). Meaning: the children would be legitimate (without needing the special canonical exemption for children of “putative” marriages), and their sex would be recognized as not the sin of fornication.

Even if there was also the concept that such a Catholic couple is morally obligated to convalidate the natural marriage into the full Sacrament. But the Sacrament would be recognized as coming only from the church ceremony. The marriages between Protestants would then NOT be recognized as the Sacrament (but merely natural marriages), and even some marriages that DID take place within the church ritual might be found later (ie, the concept of annulment) to have not reached the level of the full Sacrament, but would nevertheless still be true natural marriages as opposed to “nothing” or merely “apparent” marriages.

23 01 2011
A Sinner

I agree. What the Pope seems to be saying is that not every couple that wants to shack up or be civilly married (for a while) should be bound by the Sacrament. Or they “should” be in some theoretical moral sense, but that practically speaking it’s a bad idea in the long run (especially if the marriage breaks down, as many of these will).

The problem is that the Church, in the West at least, does not currently admit the possibility of a purely/merely Natural Marriage (theoretically dissolvable, though that’s still very unideal) for Christians. There is the “For Christians, it’s either a Sacrament, or it’s nothing, just fornication” attitude. Whether that is a dogmatic point or a purely canonical one…I think could be discussed.

I’ve discussed this on my blog before vis a vis the Orthodox, whose attitude seems in some ways healthier to me, though I do think the principle of the Sacrament being indissoluble needs to be maintained. There IS a Sacrament of Matrimony, but perhaps not all marriages (even between Christians, even which took place in the church ceremony) reach that level, and yet could nevertheless be conceded as still Natural Marriages (as opposed to merely “putative” marriages).

Whether two Christians could ever morally attempt to contract a “merely” natural marriage without the Sacrament…would then be another thorny question raised (I mean, it would basically seem to imply a “trial run” attitude about the other person, or at the very least some hesitancy about the fullness of the commitment; which should be completely full if children are to be involved! They deserve to have their parents together.)

Still, these are distinctions that I think could be explored more, especially in dialogue with the Eastern tradition on the whole question.

23 01 2011
Tracy

I am confused and admittedly dense.

First confused as to why you are using a Salon article as a source on this matter. I mean…what?

Secondly. It seems to me that the Pope is saying to priests, “No, you don’t have to marry every couple that walks in wanting a Church marriage. In fact, please don’t.”

Which would seem to bring the Pope *closer* to your ideal of separating the various types of marriage.

Most priests, if they are honest, will tell you that most of the couples that come to them shouldn’t be married, but the pressure is intense to just go with it.

23 01 2011
john burnett

i was amused that the google ad just below your post was, “Perfect Ukraine Women, Surf 15,000 Ukraine Women Profiles Find your Special Someone & Marry!” Would you like them with, or without ‘adequate catechesis’?

Anyway, good point. Apparently in the early church, marriages were a village affair, and once the knot was tied, the couple came to church and received communion together. That was all the ‘church wedding’ there was, and this was also the origin of the little cup of wine that’s shared in the wedding rite used in Orthodoxy, which is seldom performed in the context of the eucharist.

Jesus’ whole teaching on marriage in the gospels wasn’t based on some mystical notion of the ‘sanctity of marriage’. He was concerned about the destructiveness of divorce on community, and was opposing the ease with which divorces were made and remarriages undertaken particularly by the ruling classes whom the Pharisees supported— in order to consolidate ownership and power, as for example with Herod: “John the Baptist was condemning Antipas for far more than simply his personal morality. Besides his divorce of the Arab king Aretas’s daughter having international political fallout, his remarriage to Herodias, the last remaining member of the Hasmonean family, [would have] had ominous implications for further Herodian consolidation of power in Palestine.” (RA Horsley, Hearing the Whole Story: The Politics of Plot in Mark’s Gospel*: Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2001, p 173).

The gospels were written in/to/for an agrarian economy that still largely obtained throughout Europe all the way up to the last couple of centuries, that is, until industrialization and urbanization began to change everything. But since we’ve drifted into a completely difference economic reality now, many of the concerns underlying the gospel teachings simply aren’t present, at least quite so directly, any more. The church senses its hold eroding, but doesn’t quite understand why or what to do about it, and turns to blaming ‘secularism’ or ‘modernism’ or whatever, and becomes more and more shrill, hysterical, authoritarian, irrational, and mystifying (in the marxist sense).

I think we need to deal with modernity and postmodernity at last. It would be nice if we could start talking sense again, even in Latin.

23 01 2011
Chris

The Church should never have gotten into the marriage business to begin with. Human beings got on marrying one another perfectly well enough for millennia before the Church stuck its nose in and declared it a sacrament, and its scriptural justification for doing so is strained beyond endurance.

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