|If Adam and Eve are Paradigm Spouses, Who is Married?|
Pope Francis said Thursday that many sacramental marriages today are not valid, because couples do not enter into them with a proper understanding of permanence and commitment.
While he initially said in unscripted comments that “the great majority of our sacramental marriages are null,” he later approved a revision of these remarks. When the Vatican released its official transcript of the encounter the following day, they had changed the comment to say that “a portion of our sacramental marriages are null.”Most of the attacks on Francis' position are really grounded in the policies supporting canon law's presumptions in favor of a valid marriage in disciplinary proceedings. They think questioning the validity of most marriages will undermine those in troubled marriages because if such people are told that their marriages are probably invalid anyway, they are more likely to proceed to annulment and divorce.
And, the presumption in favor of marital validity seems right as a canonical policy. If two people come to a church with a record of marriage, you ought to presume they are married. The alternative would be to treat them as unmarried until they offered proof and a de novo judgment had been made about whether they were married. It would weaken the protection of the rights and obligations of marriage to be constantly questioning and requiring new proof of marital validity. If a man and a woman present themselves with an authenticated record of marriage, we ought to presume that they are married for disciplinary purposes, like deciding whether one of them can marry someone else.
But I don't think Francis' remarks are best taken as sounding in canon law or attacking its presumption. It reads like an absolute judgment concerning modern culture before the background of absolute theological truth. (Francis' skepticism about canon law is well known.) Against Francis' neocon opponents, I think Francis' attack on modern marriages is important and timely, especially given the widespread acceptance of same-sex marriage, no-fault divorce, the propriety of the unmarried having sex and bearing children, and marriages formed with no sense of a general duty to seek and educate children. Real belief in any of these logically conflicts with the intent necessary to form a marriage. This is enough to raise serious questions.
By calling into question most marriages, Francis demands that we ask: what exactly must people intend to do if they are to make a valid marriage and are most people doing it today? And, Francis' factual premise is surely right, not only for Roman Catholics. Most people who purport to marry do not intend to marry as God defined the institution with respect to the substance of the marital commitment and its permanence.
That is, most people do not intend to enter into (1) a moral and legal covenant based on the unique potentiality for union between a man and a woman, given their created sexual differences, and the order of headship and support intended by God between the sexes (Gen. 2:18 ff.), (2) through which husband and wife comport themselves as an image of Christ and the church (Eph 5:22-33), (3) by means of permanent consent to sexual relations with their spouse, by an effective giving of each one's body to the other (1 Co 7:2-5), (4) in order to restrain sin, to maintain faithfulness and to conceive and raise godly children (Mal 2:14-16). Instead, most people derive their idea of marriage from the prevailing legal and cultural understanding.
For example, in the Western world, as sexual egalitarians, this means that moderns reject that the unique possibility for union in marriage is based on the hierarchical differentiation between man and woman. A hierarchical difference is a difference based one the sacred (hier-) order (arche) of things, through which many participate in the same divine order equally within different orders of function and authority among them. For example, Paul compares the different spiritual gifts distributed in the church, e.g., among elders who teach and deacons who serve, to different parts of Christ's body. Though the different parts of a body are ordered in different relations to the body (so that the parts of the head have one function and the hand another), they are all equally members of the body of Christ. Their honor is to be judged not by their relation to other functions (as if the eye was superior to the hand because it guided its motion) but by the fact that all are part of the sacred body. Though some have greater teaching authority or leadership in the church, as eyes or ears, they are all equal with the limbs and hands, equally dignified by and subordinated to the Spirit, who gives all gifts. (See 1 Cor 12:4 ff.) As we learn from Scripture, marriage is another kind of hierarchy where the relation of husband to wife is ordered according to the relation of Christ and the Church:
Eph 5:31 "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." 32 This is a profound mystery-- but I am talking about Christ and the church.Because Western culture and law denies that the difference between the male and female sexes is a moral ground for differentiated treatment between persons, spouses lost in this feminist ideology cannot intend to enter into the hierarchical relationship that is marriage. It depends on sexual difference, which they deny. What feminist raised in the U.S. could consent to recognize male headship or the specific form of submission to a man appropriate for a woman that the Scriptures teach is necessary for the meaning of marriage:
Eph 5:22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
1Pe 3:5 For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, 6 like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.And, what feminist man, the kind who accepts sending women into combat and condones the U.S. Senate's legislation to permit the drafting of women, could accept the distinct and different masculine marital obligations to protect and serve his wife with self-sacrifice and responsibility for her holiness:
Eph 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,Christ died for the sake of the church. But modern men have cast off as an atavistic prejudice any special notion of male duty toward women. Why should they have any special concern to die for their wives or daughter? Do male feminists believe today that women are in any way deserving or needing protection. Can they accept the teaching of Peter?
27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
1Pe 3:7 Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.We can certainly hope that male and female feminists don't believe what they say. But for those who believe what feminists claim to believe, they cannot consistently form an intent to enter into marriage. They don't want to form one flesh, as Scripture teaches, with different functions. (Ge 2:18 The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.") To put it in a more contemporary way, those who believe in feminism are as much capable of intending a marriage as a fish is of riding a bicycle.
Moreover, given our individualistic ethos of exclusive self-ownership and unalienable individual self-possession, who today consents to give their body as a co-possession to their spouse? Certainly, not those feminists who believe that their body ownership ("my body: my choice!") gives them the right to murder an infant through abortion -- even one born in marriage -- without any obligation to her baby or her spouse because of her sole self-ownership. But if we are to intend marriage, we must intend a real mutual self-giving of the body and consenting to sexual relations:
1Co 7:2-5 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.Until Obergefell, all states recognized the obligation of spouses to consent to sexual relations because sexual consent has been recognized everywhere always as part of the essence of marriage. And, what good feminist acknowledges that marriage fundamentally transforms the spouses' relation to their own body so that they are mutually given to another. Enlightened moderns do not give their bodies to each other. Instead of mutual self-gift, feminists are much more interested in deforming sex outside of marriage into a good and sex within marriage into rape. Unless one incants regularly the great feminist shibboleth "marital rape," unless one has been made to see that "one plus one is three" and that the consent of marriage does nothing to transform the physical relation of the spouses, then one cannot enter into the feminist worldview. But if one does, there is nothing left of the mutual giving of bodies.
The capstone of all this: modern inhabitants of the secular liberal polis do not intend a permanent relation. They cannot do so legally because there is no legal form for permanent marriage. All marriage can not only be terminated but terminated without cause. They reject completely Jesus' most basic teaching about marriage:
Mr 10:6 "But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.' 7 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."They fully accept the role of the State to separate what God has put together without any cause.They likewise do not accept an obligation to order their union around having and raising children. Here's the prophet Malachi on marriage, divorce and the purpose of marriage in having and raising godly children:
Mal 2:13 And this again you do. You cover the LORD's altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor at your hand. 14 You ask, "Why does he not?" Because the LORD was witness to the covenant between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Has not the one God made and sustained for us the spirit of life? And what does he desire? Godly offspring. So take heed to yourselves, and let none be faithless to the wife of his youth. 16 "For I hate divorce, says the LORD the God of Israel, and covering one's garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So take heed to yourselves and do not be faithless."I don't think there is really much debate that Francis is right about the facts: most moderns don't intend marriage as God instituted it.
The only question is how intent matters to marriage. The traditional answer is that the spouses' consent, their intent freely to give themselves to their spouse for the purposes of marriage, is essential to marriage. It is their own action of consent, rather than the words of a minister or priest, that makes the marriage. Without consent to the marriage, the marriage is invalid no matter what is said outwardly. Thus, a coerced marriage is no marriage at all, even if the spouses say all the right words in the right tones.
But consent is not just about freedom from coercion. To consent to something, one has to know enough about that to which one is consenting. Here is where things get complicated. Generally, one does not have to have a perfect understanding of something in order to consent to it. But if the lack of understanding goes to the essence of the subject of the consent, then the lack of consent can void the consent. If I consent to a doctor performing surgery on me, the consent fails if I fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the surgery or that the doctor is qualified in sociology instead of medicine. If people are agreeing to be married but understand none of the essential features of marriage -- if they think per Obergefell, that marriage is about sexless "intimacy" until they tire of one another -- then are they really consenting to marry? It's hardly clear that they are.
This is not an argument about whether we should continue to presume that people who have gone through the forms of marriage really are for many social purposes. We presume all accused criminal defendants are innocent, not because we think they are, but to protect the innocent. This is a sufficient justification for continuing the presumption. But the fact that some innocents are accused is not a reason to stop defining and prosecuting crimes. It's certainly not a good reason to condemn Francis for boldly prompting a searching inquiry about the real state of modern marriage. To focus on the U.S., modern American marriage law violates God's law. No-fault divorce is frequently the highest form of oppression, separating a spouse from their spouse and children without fault. The radical undemocratic revolution of Obergefell, making it illegal for states to afford rights to spouses around sexual fidelity, is tyrannical. There is much reason to believe that the resulting social culture is misleading most Americans into forms of life that are little more than organized fornication or serial adultery.