Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cardinal Mercier and the Natural Law, Part 18: Family Rights

THAT THE FAMILY HAS RIGHTS, natural rights at that, is forgotten in modern Western thought. The family has suffered assault from the existential, relativistic, liberal ethic, just like the individual. As the individual is said to be able to define himself without regard to his nature, so, analogously, is he able to define what he means by family. Man is answerable neither to God nor to his nature in respect to self or to family. This is the modern creed of liberalism, and it gives us such foul perversions and natural aberrations, indeed monsters, as homosexual "marriage." The intellectual dishonesty among its advocates is rank. Suggesting that homosexual "marriage" is constitutional is untenable under any reasonable theory of a written constitution, at least the U.S. Constitution. In no wise can it be said to have incorporated implicitly, much less explicitly, the right to homosexual activity, much less homosexual marriage. The suggestion is a legal enormity as much as it is a moral enormity.

The institution of marriage is a natural institution between a man and a woman formed by their mutual consent to join for life. The institution of the family derives from the institution of marriage and the procreation of children. Thus there are two societies or relationships: a conjugal "horizontal" one between spouses (which arises out of the marital covenant), and a "vertical" parental one between parents and children (arising out of consanguinity and procreation). In his discussion of right and duty, Mercier treats of the institution of marriage--its purpose, the perpetuity of the marital bond--and then family.

Mercier steps slightly outside of the typical presentation of marriage, at least at the time that he wrote his A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy. In his discussion on the purpose of the institution of marriage, he designates the first end of the family as the good of the spouses. He describes the second end of the family as the procreation and education of children. In most classical treatments of marriage, the hierarchy of ends is reversed. What Mercier appears to be doing, however, is not contradicting the classical treatment, but presenting the ends in chronological order. First there is marriage and union of the spouses, and second there is procreation. The chronology in ends is thus distinguished from the hierarchical ordering of ends.

A man and a woman generally agree to unite themselves in marriage each with a view to his or her own well-being and the well-being of his or her partner. "This is the reason why they give themselves to one another, each being the complement, as it were, of the other by sharing in common the physical, intellectual, and moral resources of their individual natures." [316(99)] The couple seek happiness in their wedlock. There is thus conveniently joined in marriage the happiness sought by the couple with the means to assure the perpetuation of the human race and the allaying of the "importunities of passion."*

Couple and Child by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

The second end of marriage and the family is the procreation and education of children. [317(100)] Human development is a lengthy process, and the marital relationship is accordingly naturally designed to be long-lasting, indeed permanent. Parents have the duty to form and educate their children.
To parents above all others falls the duty of being the protectors and educators of their child. This is not difficult to understand. Together they have been instrumental in bringing into being a human person like themselves, possessing the same imprescriptible right both to life and perfection and yet incapable of providing for himself. Tho whom should such a one turn to obtain the assistance to which he has a right unless to those who are the authors of his being? To their instrumentality his life is due; by bringing him into being they have taken upon themselves the duty of providing the means for his preservation and his full development. Such is what right order would require. . . . This is the dictate of logic, and is not the natural law the law of reason?
[317(100)] The natural disposition or natural inclination that parents have to their children is evidentiary of what reason would require of parents.

[In slightly different presentation, this is the Augustinian/Thomistic trilogy of the ends of marriage of marriage: offspring (procreatio), mutual help and aid (mutuum adiutorium or auxilium), and the legitimate expression for sexual desire (honestum remedium concupiscentiae). These are closely tied to the three goods (bona) of marriage: the good of children (bonum prolis), the good of fidelity (bonum fidei), and the good of a "natural" sacrament (bonum sacramenti).]

Mercier elaborates on what is meant by education of children. The education is holistic, and includes physical, intellectual and aesthetic, moral, and religious education. Physical education looks to the health of the body, and so includes providing a healthy physical environment, with opportunity of exercise. The physical development is important to the intellectual and moral life. Intellectual education helps develop those specific human faculties that have as their object the true and the beautiful. This requires the development of the senses, the memory, and intelligence. "The primary purpose of [intellectual] education is not to stock the mind with erudition, but to make it capable of thought." [319(101)] Although parents are preeminently the educators of their children, "public authority has here the right to interfere in the last resort in order to safeguard the right of the child [to education] against any remissness or selfishness on the part of the parent." [319(101)] The religious and moral faculties of the child must not be neglected.
As morality is meaningless if divorced from the idea of the Absolute--the proper object of religion--the moral upbringing of anyone must have religious education as its foundation. By the first he will be shown the law which must govern his conduct, he will be taught how to conform to it, and for this end his will-power will be strengthened against the allurements of the senses; by the second he will be shown the august origin of this law and the sovereign sanctions on which it rests. Parents owe to their children this moral and religious education . . . .
[320(101)] The duty that the parents have to their children suggests that the children have correlative duties, and they do:
The duty of parents towards their children implies as its counterpart the rights to obedience, respect and affection from the latter towards them.

Viewed strictly from a natural law standpoint, and not from any religiously doctrinal point of view, marriage is, by nature, "an indissoluble contract." The reason for its indissolubility is that it s founded upon love, not sensual love, but "a love that is rational, which alone is worthy of the dignity of man." [321(103)] Thus, superficial, fleeting, passing qualities are not the substance of marriage. Marriage "has the grasp of a substance that is enduring." "Its very nature is that it should last." [321(103)]

The perpetuity of the marriage bond is made more manifest by the link it has to the procreation and education of children and their correlative duty to honor their parents. The education of children is a lengthy, laborious, and enduring one, which calls for a stable, long-lasting relationship between the parents. More, once the children become emancipated, they are still bound to their parents by the claims of gratitude which "may put upon them imperious obligations binding in strict justice." [321(103)] So the parental union would seem to endure by nature beyond the emancipation of the children. "The dissolution of the latter [marriage] would shake the very foundations of the economy of the former [obligations of gratitude, perhaps even care, that children should have to their parents]." [322(103)]

Mercier then handles the problem of divorce. He acknowledges that legislators have made exception to the perpetuity of the marital covenant and have permitted divorce. In discussing the issue of divorce, Mercier divides the issue into three separate parts: divorce by mutual consent, divorce for incompatibility of temper, and divorce for reasons of adultery, cruelty, or ill-treatment.
It is evident that divorce by mutual consent, or for mere incompatibility of temperament, notwithstanding the legal [civil] formalities that accompany it, is nothing short of a direct negation of the whole principle of the perpetuity of the marriage tie.
[322(103)] The entire edifice upon which such notion of divorce rests--the rescindability of the marital covenant--makes marriage as an institution less enduring.

Divorce on the account of adultery or some grave crime (violence against a spouse, for example) is a harder case. "For certainly the innocent party, condemned to live a solitary life under the hard law of continence, has a claim on our sympathy." But marriage is more than a contract for the convenience of two individuals; it also has a social role. And divorce, which is always an evil, may be viewed by some as the lesser of two evils. The Catholic Church has thought otherwise:
The Catholic Church has . . . absolutely prohibited divorce in the name of the higher interests of morality and social order. And the experience of centuries has clearly justified her action. We are well aware that when divorce is once sanctioned by law it slowly by surely becomes a practice in all classes of society. It works as a germ bringing social dissolution and death. In vain does legislation [or marital counseling, for that matter] attempt to restrain the growth of this evil. The time comes when the restrictions of thought to be capable of opposing further developments are swept away by the impulse of passion. . . . It was for this reason that the Founder of Christianity laid down the principle, 'what God hath joined together let no man put asunder.'

Holy Family by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82)

Let any modern argue that no-fault divorce has raised the health and welfare of family life. Let any modern argue that the current marital regime has led to more stable, more fulfilling family life. It is an impossible burden. The very opposite seems manifestly the case. In the West, the family is in shambles. And divorce and contraception are, above all, the principal culprits. They are fundamentally opposed to marriage, deny its very nature. Is it any wonder that, accustomed to such marital evils, we have lost the sense of what marriage is, and now hear arguments seriously entertained that marriage is even possible between two members of the same sex? It is but a short step, however, from marriage made artificially unfruitful to marriage by its nature unfruitful. But marriage made unfruitful, either by nature or by artifice, is no longer marriage. It is a travesty of marriage.
[S]igns are not lacking of a disturbing degradation of some fundamental values [relating to marriage and the family]: a mistaken theoretical and practical concept of the independence of the spouses in relation to each other; serious misconceptions regarding the relationship of authority between parents and children; the concrete difficulties that the family itself experiences in the transmission of values; the growing number of divorces; the scourge of abortion; the ever more frequent recourse to sterilization; the appearance of a truly contraceptive mentality.
Familiaris consortio, No. 6.

Before Mercier takes leave of his discussion of marriage and family, he briefly discusses the relationship between marriage and family and the State. "[T]he institution of the family is not the result of legislation, nor are the rights and duties of its members created by it." [324(105)] It is the height of hubris, indeed, it is absolutely tyrannous, for the State to suggest that it has the power of defining marriage through positive law. While the State should have a supportive role in its citizens' marriages, and may address certain aspects of marriage life, such as formalities of marriage, and financial and other social or public aspects of it, marriage and family life remain fundamentally outside and independent of the State. Marriage is a natural institution established by God, and is governed by natural law and natural right, which are absolutely preeminent over the State, and to which the State must be subordinate. For the State to arrogate to itself the right to re-define marriage, whether under the mantle of "equal rights" or any other pennant or standard, is an arrogation of power it does not have. In a sense, it is a claim to divinity, of power over nature, over man, and over God. The advocates of homosexual marriage are doing nothing other than feeding the ravenous appetite of a tyrannous state that sees no natural limitations on its legislative powers. If it can define marriage, it can define man, and that means he can define who is man, and who is not (as indeed it has done in legislating or by judicial opinion holding that children in the womb are not "persons" subject to legal protection).


*Cardinal Mercier emphasizes that the fact that marriage "allay[s] in some measure the importunities of passion," that is, acts as a honestum remedium concupiscentiae, a legitimate remedy for sexual concupiscence, "must not have a preponderating influence." "Sensual gratification," Mercier reminds us, "must always be subordinated to a higher motive, for if this is sought as an exclusive end, the worst excesses may result. The union of marriage is not that of merely material organisms but of persons with spiritual natures. To be of one flesh is but a means to a closer union of soul. This the dignity of human personality requires." [316-17(99)]

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