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Why the Church cannot walk away from ‘marriage’

July 1, 2013

This bad idea keeps popping in various versions, most lately from Msgr. Charles Pope, a superb writer but alas not a canonist (so few are perfect), namely, the Church should get out of the marriage business, stop using the word ‘marriage’, and deal henceforth only in Matrimony (one presumes, the sacrament thereof).

Interesting idea, except it’s terrible. As Pope (the Monsignor, not the Successor of Peter) invites replies to his idea, I’ll oblige, though not in the detail I fear this bad idea (which doesn’t seem to go away) warrants.

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.

Update: Those interested in my response (Nov 2012) to a variation on this idea, might look here.

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