AN ESSAY ON CATHOLIC MARRIAGE
Rama Coomaraswamy, M.D.
"It is no accident, as the Socialists say, that Socialism and Sex (or "free love") come in together as "advanced" ideas. They supplement each other. Russian dissident Igor Shafarevich, in his profound book The Socialist Phenomenon, explains that the Socialist project of homogenizing society demands that the family be vitiated or destroyed. This can be accomplished in good measure by profaning conjugal love and breaking monogamy's link between sex and loyalty. Hence, in their missionary phases Socialist movements often stress sexual "liberation," and members of radical organizations may impose mandatory promiscuity within the group, everyone sharing a bed with each of the others, each equally related to each. It is the ultimate in leveling...Few Americans will buy a bottle labeled Socialism. The cunning of the Socialist hive has consisted largely in its skill in piggybacking on the more attractive things. Like Sex.
"Now it is obvious that the Evil one, who from the beginning has wanted to poison and destroy the work of the Creator, will rage incessantly against these four - marriage, sexuality, love, procreation - for he hates everything about them."
"In all times and places it has been man's delight to think of human love as a type of divine Love and of human marriage as a type of the marriage of the soul with God."
Many marriages get into trouble. The causes of this can be listed as "the world, the flesh and the devil." This old canard is not without meaning. The world imposes innumerable pressures on marriage both by its value system or rather, negative value system, and by the difficulties of earning an adequate and honorable living. How often our children are mis-educated and our women forced to work outside the home if the family is to survive as an economic unit. The flesh relates to those problems that arise from within ourselves. A marital couple in conflict can truly be said to be at war - one is reminded of St. Paul's question, "whence come your wars? - they come from your greeds and your lusts. And finally, there is the devil - or evil - which greatly delights in the destruction of marriage and the perversion of sex. There is much talk in Catholic literature of marriage, but very little of sex. Hence I shall try in what follows to deal with this delicate topic, as well as with love and marriage.
Catholics are faced with a serious dilemma with regard to sex. Brought up in an alien culture, bombarded with the distortions of the media, and strongly influenced by a scientific and biological educational background based on false philosophical and theological principles, they have increasingly tended to see sex only in its biological setting. In addition to such influences, they are also subjected to a variety of distorted opinions on the subject from supposedly traditional sources. What I hope to do in what follows is present some insights into the Catholic view of sex based on documents drawn from the Church's Magisterium.
In order to do this let us for a moment consider the nature of man - for sex must be placed within a given context. Unfortunately most of us have been influenced by evolutionary theory and hence we tend to see Natural Selection as a driving force in our lives. If man is only a higher form of animal, the product of natural evolution, then it logically follows that man's sexual and erotic life is seen in terms of an extension of animal instincts. The ultimate, positive basis of human eroticism becomes the biological purpose of the species, usually seen in terms of survival.
Not dissimilar to the purely biological point of view, is that which embraces the concept that sex is "natural" and that repressive cultural forces or religious attitudes have distorted our sexual lives. According to this view, the only normal attitude towards sex is that of the uninhibited and amoral primitive savage - an opinion that refuses to recognize that even the most primitive of tribes in Africa and South America have strict rules with regard to sexual activity. This Rousseauian viewpoint is often embraced by modern writers. Thus, for example, Aldous Huxley in Point Counter Point describes D.H. Lawrence's attitude in the following terms: "the natural appetites and desires of men are not what makes them so bestial... It is the imagination, the intellect, the principles, the education, the tradition. Leave the instincts to themselves and they will do very little evil."
The problem with both these viewpoints is that neither says anything about love. Without love, sexuality becomes like the activities of the birds and the bees. Most philosophers hold that man is distinguished from the beast because of his ability to think and will; similarly, most philosophers place love within the realm of the will.For man to reduce sex to a "natural" or "instinctive" act, or to use the words of Lawrence, "to blood and flesh," can only signify degradation, for what is called natural for man as man is not at all the same as what the term "natural" signifies in the case of animals. This does not mean that sex for man is not natural, but rather that, like all his acts, both his intellect and will to some degree are involved. Clearly man shares certain instincts with animals - but a man is not said to act in an animal manner unless he refuses to use his higher powers to modify his instinctual drives. (The reader is referred to the essay on Psychological Integration and the Religious Outlook in this collection.) Conformity is natural when it is conformity to one's own type. A horse would not be seen as natural if he ran like a rabbit, and vice versa. What is normal to man must take into consideration the fact that he is placed at the apex of God's creation and made in the image of God. For him to act in a manner that refuses recognition to his stature is for him to act unnaturally.
Proof for this contention can be found in the fact that the false notion of sexual love as a physical need. As Julius Evola points out, "A physical sexual desire never exists in man; the desire of man is substantially always psychic, and his physical desire is only a translation and transposition of psychic desire. Only in the most primitive individual does the circuit close so fast that only the terminal fact of the process is present in their conscious as a sharp, driving carnal lust unmistakably linked to physiological conditional qualities which take the foremost place in animal sexuality."Nor can it be claimed that human sex is driven by an instinct for reproduction. As one wit put it, "when Adam awoke next to Eve, he did not cry out and say 'behold the mother of my children.'
I have said that the problem of the biological or Rousseauian viewpoints is that while they speak of the emotions, they say nothing of love. Now, despite innumerable attempts to define the nature of love, none of them have been wholly successful. This is not surprising in that there is something mysterious about this "affliction." However, I believe there are certain characteristics - perhaps one could say "symptoms" that are fairly universally recognized. Love by its very nature seems to 1) involve the whole being. No one ever claimed to love another other than with their whole body, soul, and spirit. 2) love demands or longs for eternity. A person truly in love wants to bind himself forever to his beloved. 3) love sees in the beloved, not his or her faults, but rather his or her perfections. The very names of endearment speak to this, for the beloved is an angel if not a god or goddess; he or she embodies - or at least potentially embodies - all the qualities of the divine prototype - the solar hero, the flawless maiden. 4) both parties to the loving relationship see their worldly, if not their eternal happiness to lie in the perpetual enjoyment of each other's company. 5) love requires an act of the will - a commitment - directed towards what is understood as desirable - an act of the will which also excludes anything that intrudes upon the unity of the parties involved. To say this is not to exclude the emotions, for as has been pointed out above, the act of loving involves the whole of what one is. It follows then that one who refuses to commit himself, or who breaks a commitment in order to start another relationship, fools himself. Such a person confuses the excitement of novelty with authentic happiness.
What role does marriage play in all this? Borrowing from von Hildebrand, "marriage is the friend and protector of love. Marriage gives love the structure and shelteredness, the climate in which alone it can grow. Marriage teaches spouses humility and makes them realize that the human person is a very poor lover. Much as we long to love and to be loved, we repeatedly fall short and desperately need help. We must bind ourselves through sacred vows so that the bond will grant our love the strength necessary to face the tempest-tossed sea of our human condition.... Marriage, because it implies will, commitment, duty, and responsibility, braces spouses to fight to save the precious gift of their love."
Almost all cultures initiate and establish marriage with religious rites. For those that believe in God, knowing how difficult marriage can be when we lose sight of the inner essence of the beloved and see only his or her outer accidental qualities, realizing that they have made a commitment or a vow made to God, and asking a higher power to succor their weakness, becomes an inestimable source of strength; a means of renewing their commitment and of assuming their responsibilities which not infrequently take on the form of a cross. Marriages involve commitments "in illness and in health, for better or for worse."
Religions tend to view marriage as a contract. This in no way is meant to exclude love, regardless of whether that love has led to the marriage, or the arranged marriage has opened the door to love. This is not only because every commitment has a contractual aspect to it, but also because religions tend to see marriage in a broader context - that of society as a whole, and therefore as directed towards what philosophers call the "common good." Whereas modern social theory tends to view each individual as tied to the state, traditional societies tend to see the family as the basic building block of society. The very word economia means family, and so it is that both religion and traditionally minded governments do everything possible to maintain and foster the integrity of the family.
If marriage is a contract, it is not a contract in the ordinary sense of the word. It is not a contract in which man's subsidiary goods - his house or property - are transferred, but one in which it is his and her very person which is transferred. No man or woman has the right to say of another that "you are mine." Two beings alone can say this to one another because they have truly and freely given themselves to one another. What is exchanged is their will and consent, and this, unlike any other contract, irrevocably. "This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh... what God has joined together let no man put asunder." And subsequent to this proclamation God instructs the couple to "increase and multiply."
To speak of family is to speak of progeny.Now there is no question but that, as St. Augustine says, "the sanctity of the sacrament is more important than the fecundity of the womb."Yet, the childless family always bears a tragic aspect. No wonder then that most religions agree with the Catholic principle that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and the secondary purpose of marriage is the fostering of the unitive relationship of the parties involved.Let us be clear on what the procreation and education of children means. It does not mean that one should have as many children as possible, but rather that in a marriage the children come first - not just their production, but their upbringing. Further, by education one does not necessarily mean a Harvard degree, but rather the formation and development of complete human beings; individuals whose physical, psychic and spiritual development is fostered. What this means is that, should love grow cold and the unitive aspect of marriage fall apart, the parents are obliged to sacrifice their personal needs - their desires to love and be loved - for the sake of the children. This may seem to us to be a painful course to follow. But, as St. Seraphim of Sarov points out:
"Christian marriage is a life-work. It is easy only in ideal circumstances. Fidelity to the end, St. Seraphim taught, is essential to happiness. If Christians find they cannot live together, they go on living together for their homes, their children, for the Church and for God. It may mean much suffering, but this married life is the way to heaven. For only those who take up the cross can follow Christ."
All of us are familiar with the arguments against remaining married when the interpersonal relationship breaks down. Always rooted in this breakdown is self-will or selfishness. (If as discussed below, the wife is obedient and the husband an alter Christus, there is no real possibility of divorce.) Even apart from the spiritual effects on the partners, one must consider the devastating effects of divorce on children. One has only to consider the studies of Wallerstein to see the long term effects. And so it is that religions either forbid divorce, or make it extremely difficult to obtain. Obtaining a Gett in Judaism is, I am told, almost impossible. In Islam where divorce is allowed, there is a Hadith or teaching of Mohammed to the effect that "God hates nothing more than divorce." Among Hindus, divorce is forbidden in the higher castes, though allowed for the "untouchables," who are those considered outside the pale of religion and hence those not held to high moral values. Before we raise objections to the concept of untouchables, let me remind you that from the orthodox Hindu point of view, those that are not born and do not live in accord with Hindu moral principles are all untouchables.
But the religious outlook on marriage is by no means limited to strengthening its contractual character or safeguarding its social or unitive purpose. Orthodox religion places marriage in the overall context of what, for lack of a better word, I will call "salvation." Religion desires for all men and women, regardless of their state of life, sanctity and ultimately the beatific vision. Morality is not an end in itself, but only predispositive to the sanctified life. And with this in view it encourages each and every person to love Truth, Beauty and Goodness, the essential qualities and names of God. It sees human love as a reflection of divine love and human marriage macroscosmically as a reflection of the relationship between the soul and God; microscosmically as the relationship between what spiritual writers have called the lesser self and the greater Self or spiritual center of our being. This moral and spiritual outlook is clearly stated by St. Paul in Ephesians, Chapter V. After stressing the need to live a life dedicated to their sanctification, Paul instructs the partners in marriage to be "subject to one another, in the fear of Christ." He continues:
"Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord: Because the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the savior of his body. Therefore as the church is subject to Christ, so also let the wives be to their husbands in all things. Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it, That he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life... so also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies... For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament..." 
This is by no means the only place where Scripture teaches the hierarchical nature of marriage. Leaving apart the passage in Genesis II:24 and innumerable examples of the relationship of men and women in the Old Testament, let us turn to the new dispensation. In the First Letter to the Corinthians Paul treats of abuses in divine worship in this manner: "But, I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying with his head covered, disgraceth his head. But every woman praying or prophesying with her head not covered, disgraceth her head... The man indeed ought not to cover his head, because he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. For the man was not created for the woman, but the woman for the man. Therefore ought the woman to have a cover over her head, because of the angels" (XI: 3-10). The Apostle Paul here confirms again the teaching of the submission of the woman to the man. He holds this submission to be important, and under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, institutes a sign of recognition for this submission. The woman should cover her head during worship services, so as to honor her head, that is to say, her husband.
A little later in the same Epistle St. Paul writes again on the subject of divine worship: "Let women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted them to speak, but to be subject, as also the [old] law saith. But if they would learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is a shame for a woman to speak in the church... If any seem to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him know the things that I write to you, that they are commandments of the Lord" (XIV:35). This law of the Lord is addressed above all to women, who should keep silent during divine worship. And from this we have to conclude that liturgical functions, such as lector or priest, are forbidden to them according to divine law. To consider that the submission of the wife to her husband is an order from God appears to us to be a proximate notion. For the law states that they ought "to be subject" not only in Church, but everywhere, as for example in the family. St. Paul is only drawing out the consequences of this principle. This law, which should not only be applied to Jews, but also to Christians, is part of the natural law. The submission of the wife in the order of natural law is demanded in marriage and in divine worship, but also by Christ from whom the Apostle conveys this Revelation. Not to accept the Apostle's views is to question the dogma which teaches that every book of the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Apostle Paul also confirms his teaching on the submission of the wife to her husband in his Epistle to Timothy (II: 9-15). It would be erroneous to assert that this teaching is exceptional and only presented by St. Paul. St. Peter has stated it in similar terms: "In like manner also, let wives be subject to their husbands" (I Pet. III:1). Thus the Apostles Peter and Paul conjointly attest to the veracity of this doctrine.
The position taken by the popes on the question as to who is head of the family is likewise very clear. Leo XIII's Encyclical Arcanum divinae sapientiae states: "The husband is the chief of the family and the head of the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both of their respective duties."
Pius XI was also strongly attached to this principle. In his famous Encyclical on marriage, Casti connubii, he states: "domestic society being confirmed therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that 'order of love,' as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commands in these words: 'Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is head of the wife and Christ is head of the Church'."
"This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity of a wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on the level with persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary not to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is the family, the heart be separated from the head to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."
"Again, this subjection of wife to husband in its degrees and manner may vary according to the different conditions of persons, place and time. In fact, if the husband neglects his duty, it falls to the wife to take his place in directing the family. But the structure of the family and its fundamental law, established and confirmed by God, must always and everywhere be maintained intact."
I have reproduced this passage in its entirety because Pius XI comes to an important conclusion, the content of which is the basis for the document: the submission of woman to man is the fundamental law of the family established and fixed by God.
Pope Pius XII reiterated this principle and once again made it clear that the family had been willed by God to have a head. "This head has authority over the one who has been given to be his companion... and over those who, when the Lord gives his blessing, will be multiplied and rejoice like the luxuriant shoots of an olive tree." When asked whether or not this teaching was still relevant for modern families he responded: "We indeed know that, just as equality in studies at school, in the sciences, sports and other competitions, gives rise to sentiments of pride in the hearts of many women... All about you many voices will portray this subjection as something unjust; they will suggest to you a prouder independence... Be on your guard against these words of the serpent, of temptation and of lies: do not become other Eves, do not turn away from the only road which can lead you, even from the here and now, to true happiness." One last quote taken from Scripture: "authority as head of the family comes from God, as formerly God had accorded power and authority to Adam, the head of all mankind; Adam should have transmitted all these gifts to his descendants. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not seduced; but the woman being seduced... fell into disobedience" (I Tim., II:13-14).
We will see later that marriage must be entered into with the proper intentions. At least one Catholic theologian has opinioned that the acceptance of a hierarchical relationship in marriage is requisite for the intention to be proper. According to Moersdorf, a marriage is realized through uniformity of the will of both people. Both parties to the marriage have to be in agreement in order to affirm "the essential content of the marriage contract, which is to say the one who wishes to conclude a marriage must be ready to accept the three characteristics of marriage. These are" the right to the body, the indissolubility of marriage and the unity of marriage. The unity of marriage signifies, according to this author, the union of one man with one woman, and therefore a single couple, and that the man and women be united in a hierarchical order by a holy unity. According to Moersdorf, for the realization of a valid marriage, it is indispensable that the contracting parties recognize and fulfill these conditions. "If the necessary understanding and will for the conclusion of a marriage are seriously lacking, the marriage will not be valid."
Obedience and the acceptance of a hierarchy of authority are difficult for moderns to bear with.How are such concepts compatible with the principles of freedom equality and brotherhood?Well clearly they are not. But before wives get too upset about the need to obey - a Fiat reflective of that made by the Blessed Virgin, and implicitly one made by the Church, let us consider the far heavier obligation on the husband - namely that he love the wife as Christ loves His Church. Note here the seemingly double command - to be alter Christus or another Christ and to love as Christ loves. Now such is no easy task, and what woman would not want to be married to such a man? Even God has limits, for He cannot be other than what He is - He cannot be other than love. And there is yet another mystery involved - one that becomes present when the marriage is blessed with children. Consider how it is that God is called Father, the priest is called father and is truly father to the community; and finally, the head of the family is also called father - for all three share in authority, in procreativity, and in love. I will speak in the following passages of "procreativity, " because, just as the fruit of God's love is his creation, so also the fruit of the couple's love is fecund, not apart from God, but because the couple participate in God's creativity.
Custom recognizes this in the practice of the husband carrying the wife over the lintel into their future home. The husband is a psychopomp - a guide of souls to the other world. The lintel or door through which the wife is carried represents an entrance into that state of unity where the two are joined in one flesh. In this relationship the husband bears a spiritual as well as a material responsibility for his wife and offspring - one he will ultimately have to answer to God for. Marriage is ultimately a rather serious affair.
The acceptance of these principles makes Marriage a spiritual path. St. Alphonsus Liguori clearly states that for someone called to the state of marriage to become a priest is to risk damning his soul - he says the same with regard to someone called to the priesthood entering marriage.Let me stress the word "called." This in Latin translates as vocation. Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to exclusively applying this term to the religious life. But such is not the attitude of the saints. St. Francis de Sales once exclaimed "O how agreeable to God are the virtues of a married woman, for they must be strong and excellent to survive this vocation."Similarly, Pope Pius XII spoke to newlyweds on May 3, 1939, telling them that it was "their vocation to found a home" and that this what God had asked of them. Actually, the concept of vocation is broader than at first would appear to be the case - or rather, it is a concept that can be understood on many levels. We all have a vocation to sanctity, regardless of our state in life. And similarly, the professions we engage in - providing they are legitimate - are also vocations. Thus medicine and law are also seen as "callings."
Vocations are of course, a means to an end, and thus ultimately they are a means of sanctification, for sanctification is the true goal which God wishes for all of us. As St. Therese of Liseaux wrote to Mme. Pottier, a married woman with children: "So for both of us the blest days of our childhood are over! We are now in the serious stage of life; we are following very different roads, but the end is the same. Each of us must have but one same purpose, to sanctify ourselves in the road that God has marked out for us.Vocations can be seen as existing on several levels of reference - for example, one's state in life, and one's means of making a living. Strictly speaking, we should all be artists and make our livings by some craft. The craftsman makes useful objects - consider the stone mason who, parallel with his work fashions his soul in view to uniting it with God. How sad that in our day, most of us are denied the opportunity to follow a craft. By practicing one's vocation, one practices the virtues, or more precisely, one eliminates the vices which are their opposite.The obligation to sanctity falls upon all of us. When some of the laity protested to St. John Chrysostom that they were not monks, he responded that "all the precepts of the Law apply equally to monks and to the laity, with the exception of one, celibacy."And who of us can dare to proclaim that the sexual act precludes the possibility of sanctity, especially when this act in its proper setting, as will be shown, is a reflection of the true relationship between God and the soul. To speak of vocations however is not to say they are all of equal stature. Just as a loving father provides each of his children with what is necessary for their proper development, so also does Our Lord provide each of us with a vocation suitable to our needs and abilities. A surgeon is a higher calling than that of a plumber - though both can perfect their souls by the manner in which they practice their calling. And so it is that the religious life in which the individual is "married" to Christ, is a higher calling than the married state.
We of course know that there have been many married saints. St. Marcarius and St. Anthony of the Desert both sent postulants to learn from people in t