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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Family: The Economy of Love

THE WORD ECONOMY comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which literally means law of the house or law of the hearth. There is an oikonomia, a law of the hearth, a law of the family, and that law is a law of love. The means of exchange in the family economy is not one measured in specie, but one measured in communion.

In the oikonomia, the family "business," investments are made not in securities or manufacturing plants or in fixed assets, but in persons. "The family is present as a place where communion . . . is brought about. It is the place where an authentic community of persons develops and grows thanks to the dynamism of love . . . ." (Compendium, No. 221)

In the economy of the family, profit is of no motive, and there is not thing such as Pareto efficiency; rather, love is at the heart of it all. And love does not think in terms of efficiency or net margins. "To love means to give and to receive something which can neither be bought nor sold, but only given freely and mutually." (Compendium, No. 221) Indeed, love is profligate, wasteful, heedless of efficiency and gain.

In the family economy, men and women not exploited in self-interest, sharp practice, or fraud. No. The relationship is one as distant from mutual exploitation as can be possible, for the dignity of the other is what is at the heart of all labor and effort. It is in marriage and family that the person "is recognized, accepted, and respected in his dignity." The "only basis for value" in this family economy is the dignity of the other, and this results in "heartfelt acceptance, encounter, and dialogue, disinterested availability, generous service, and deep solidarity." (Compendium, No. 221) (quoting JP II, Familiaris consortio, 43) These are the goods that are traded.

What a contradiction is the economy of the family from the economy on Wall Street or even Main Street! Indeed, the "existence of families living this way exposes the failings and contradictions of society that is for the most part, even if not exclusively, based on efficiency and functionality." (Compendium, No. 221)

If the "Occupy Wall Street" folks want to challenge Wall Street greed, be more that adult street urchins, and see a stimulus that works, then the first thing they should do, after taking showers and finding jobs, is to found families. For it is by "constructing daily a network of interpersonal relationship, both internal and external," that the family becomes "the first and irreplaceable school of social life, and example and stimulus for the broader community relationships by respect, justice, dialogue, and love." (Compendium, No. 221) (quoting Familiaris consortio, 43)

The family thrives on this reversal of values, and that is why the law of the jungle that seems to govern businessmen will cast away those things that are most treasured in the law of the hearth: The young--who are treasured for their promise and their innocence, and the elderly--who are treasured for their prior contributions and their current wisdom. The usufruct of the old never declines. The elderly in particular have something to teach us, for "they show that there are aspects of life--human, cultural, moral, and social values--which cannot be judged in terms of economic efficiency . . . ." (Compendium, No. 222)

The elderly are therefore a source of capital never exhausted:

As the Sacred Scripture says: "They still bring forth fruit in old age" (Ps. 92:15). The elderly constitute an important school of life, [one] capable of transmitting values and traditions and of fostering the growth of younger generations, who thus learn to seek not only their own good but also that of others.

(Compendium, No. 222)

At the foundation of the family is a contract. But this is no ordinary contract, one based on the consideration or peppercorn. And it is a contract without any condition, without any escape clause. It is a contract more properly called a covenant, where force majeure based upon fickle feelings is unknown, and where the only "act of God" clause is this: "what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder." (Mark 10:9)
When it is manifested as the total gift of two persons in their complementarities, love cannot be reduced to emotions or feelings, much less to sexual expression. In a society that tends more and more to relativize and trivialize the very experience of love and sexuality, exalting its fleeting aspects and obscuring its fundamental values, it is more urgent than ever to proclaim and bear witness that the truth of conjugal love and sexuality exist where there is a full and total gift of persons, with the characteristics of unity and fidelity.
(Compendium, No. 223)

In the greater economy, at least modernly, the ideal seeks to erase distinctions between man and woman: equal work, equal pay. Women and men are to be judged solely on individual merit, without regard to sexual identity. Asexual beings is the preference.

In the economy of the family, this sort of reasoning is unknown:

[T]he Church does not tire of repeating her teaching: "Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarities are oriented towards the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way in which the complementarities, needs, and mutual support between the sexes are lived out. According to this perspective, it is obligatory that positive law be conformed to the natural law, according to which sexual identity is indispensable, because it is the objective condition for forming a couple in marriage.*

(Compendium, No. 224)

In the world at large, unions are measured in terms of convenience, not of permanency. And while it may be acceptable for the consumer to shift loyalties from Kellogg's Frosted Flakes to General Mill's Cheerios, or from the Blackberry to the iPhone, and from Sprint to Vonage, such fickleness is not part of marriage and family life. In the family, loyalties outlast even death.
The nature of conjugal love requires the stability of the married relationship and its indissolubility. The absence of these characteristics compromises the relationship of exclusive and total love that is proper to the marriage bond, bringing great pain to the children and damaging repercussions also on the fabric of society.

The stability and indissolubility of the marriage union must not be entrusted solely to the intention and effort of the individual persons involved. The responsibility for protecting and promoting the family as a fundamental natural institution, precisely in consideration of its vital and essential aspects, falls to the whole of society. The need to confer an institutional character on marriage, basing this on a public act that is socially and legally recognized, arises from the basic requirements of social nature.

The introduction of divorce into civil legislation has fueled a relativistic vision of the marriage bond and is broadly manifested as it becomes "truly a plague on society."
(Compendium, No. 225) (quoting CCC § 2385)

Marriage is a natural institution between two persons, but it is also a social institution since it has "a social dimension that is unique . . . attending as it does to caring for and educating children," with the aim of having them both self-integrated and integrated into social life. That is one reason, among others, that the law ought not to legitimize forms of relationships that are nothing but ersatz marriages or relationships that ape--even mock--marriage.

De facto unions . . . are based on a false conception of an individual's freedom to choose and on a completely privatistic vision of marriage and family. . . . . Making "de facto unions"** legally equivalent to the family would discredit the model of the family, which cannot be brought about in a precarious relationship between persons but only in a permanent union originating in marriage, that is, in a covenant between one man and one woman, founded on the mutual and free choice that entails full communion oriented towards procreation.

The fact is that there will never be anything close to approaching a just society as long as our laws do not recognize the characteristic traits of marriage: a relationship between one man and one woman that is marked by unity, indissolubility and fidelity, and fruitfulness. It must reject other false models of marriage. Similarly, it must promote the unique oikonomia of the family.

Granted, where the social evil reigns as it does in our society, the law may have to tolerate evil. In the current state of Western society, it would impossible to enforce the natural law of marriage. Yet toleration is not promotion. Positively, the law ought not to "weaken the recognition of indissoluble monogamous marriage as the only authentic form of the family." Though it may cut against the grain of specious liberty, there is such a thing as the pedagogy of the law. The law must teach of the importance of marriage and family life as understood by the Church:
It is therefore necessary that public authorities "resist these tendencies which divide society and are harmful to the dignity, security, and welfare of the citizens as individuals, and they must try to ensure that public opinion is not led to undervalue the institutional importance of marriage and the family."
(Compendium, No. 229) (quoting JP II, Familiaris consortio, 81)

Clearly, positive law alone will not cure the social ills we suffer from false concepts of marriage and family. Positive law is a slim reed, and is a poor tool to hold social corruption in check. The cure for our social disease will require the concerted action of the entirety of civil society:

It is the task of the Christian community and of all who have the good of society at heart to reaffirm that "the family constitutes, much more than a mere juridical, social, and economic unity, a community of love and solidarity, which is uniquely suited to teach and transmit cultural, ethical, social, spiritual, and religious values essential for the development and well-being of its members and of society."

(Compendium, No. 229) (quoting Holy See, Charter of the Rights of the Family (24 November 1983), Preamble, E)

*For those Catholics that are tone deaf as a result of listening to the loud music of modernity: this means no civil unions or same sex travesties of "marriage." Later, the Compendium tackles the issue head on when it refers to the demands of legal recognition of homosexual unions. Under the light of authentic anthropology, the incongruity of the demand to accord marital status to such unions is patent. (Compendium, No. 228) By nature, these unions are unopen to life, infertile per se. Moreover, the requisite complementarity is absent. And while homosexual persons (but not homosexual acts!) are to be given the respect due all persons, there is no justification for "the legitimization of behavior that is not consistent with moral law." "By putting homosexual unions on a legal plane analogous to that of marriage and the family, the State acts arbitrarily and in contradiction with its duties." What God has clearly sundered, let no man join.
**A pastoral way of saying what used to be called in the days of a moral theology less pastoral but more accurate: in peccato existens, living in sin. Legally, it was called concubinage.

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