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.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Marriage, Natural Institution at the Foundation of the Family

IF SOCIETY IS VISUALIZED AS A BODY, then the family is its vital cell. It is the first natural society, the smallest indivisible unit of society, and is at the center of all social life. It is a marvelous society, one formed by the communion of two human persons in the bond of marriage. Marriage is a permanent union between a man and a woman, persons equal in dignity, yet each with a personhood distinct and complementary. Indeed, it is this complementarity that yields the great fruit of procreation, an office "which makes [the spouses] co-workers with the Creator." (Compendium, No. 209)

Though the family is a natural society, and though it is established through the "free choice of the spouses to unite themselves in marriage," the basic form of the family is not one that can be redefined by man. This is because marriage which is the family's foundation is an "institution that does not depend upon man but on God himself." (Compendium, No. 215) "For God himself is the author of marriage and has endowed it with various benefits and purposes." (Compendium, No.215) (quoting VII, Gaudium et spes, 48) What God has written, no man ought to unwrite or rewrite.

The institution of marriage might be defined as an "intimate partnership of life and love . . . established by the Creator and endowed with him with its own proper laws." (Compendium, No.215) (quoting VII, Gaudium et spes, 48) The institution of marriage, its form, and its laws, are therefore not something that is the result of "human conventions or legislative prescriptions." We therefore tamper with it at our peril. It is a gift given, not a gift we make for ourselves.

"Marriage is in fact endowed with its own proper, innate, and permanent characteristics." (Compendium, No. 216) While culture and societies may color marriage with different customs, at its center, marriage, which has a dignity of its own, remains unchanged. This intrinsic dignity of marriage must be respected and safeguarded. In fact, society is not at liberty "freely [to] legislate with regard to the marriage bond by which the two spouses promise each other fidelity,assistance, and acceptance of children." Rather, society is "authorized [only] to regulate its civil effects." (Compendium, No.216)

The characteristic traits of marriage are four: totality, unity, indissolubility and fidelity, and fruitfulness, but they are all interrelated.
  • totality: nothing is held back in the mutual spousal self-giving.
  • unity: the result of the spousal self-giving, which, in biblical language is expressed as the spouses become "one flesh." (Gen. 2:24)
  • indissolubility and fidelity: this characteristic comes from the total, permanent, and unique bond of marriage.
  • fruitfulness: the spouses are open to new life, as it is at the heart of their self-giving as expressed in the self-giving conjugal act. "In its 'objective' truth, marriage is ordered to the procreation and education of children." "Nonetheless, marriage was not instituted for the sole reason of procreation." It therefore retains its other characteristics even if "children, although greatly desired, do not arrive to complete conjugal life." (Compendium, No 218-19)
Any custom or law that does not respect these characteristics is unjust. Though we take them for granted, laws allowing for divorce and remarriage are therefore intrinsically unjust. They violate the dignity of marriage, its nature of indissolubility, and are a blemish and a scourge on the society which lives under them. A fortiori, laws that allow for polygamy or same-sex marriage or civil unions are even more execrable, as they make a mockery out of true marriage. Adultery is obviously a practice that is offensive to the characteristic of fidelity, and it represents a great act of injustice against the other spouse. Similarly, the use of artificial contraception violates the fundamental characteristic of marriage of fruitfulness.

Though of divine institution, marriage is something that is intimately human. Indeed, at its heart, marriage requires two reciprocal human acts. The spouses are the dispensers of their own marriage. Marriage arises "from the human act by which the partners mutually surrender themselves to each other," not for a time, but for all their lives.

This mutual giving of self-to-other self which is at the heart of conjugal love is what gives marriage its unchangeable nature. This mutual giving of self-to-other self is a "total and exclusive gift of a person to a person," a "definitive commitment expressed by mutual, irrevocable, and public consent." (Compendium, No. 215) It is not a commitment for a time, for a utilitarian purpose, for convenience. In this mutual giving self-to-other self, nothing is held back. Nothing is reserved. Because of this, marriage by its very nature has permanency.

Marriage is a natural right, a human right. For this reason, "[n]o power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits or purpose." (Compendium, No. 216)

Of course, the family, and the marital covenant which is at its heart, extends beyond procreation of children. It also includes the important function of the education of children. It is within the family, the "cradle of life and love" formed by a "communion of life and love," that children are "humanized." As children grow within the family, they are taught lessons of virtue, of wisdom, of truth and goodness, and of love as they "develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity, and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny." (Compendium, No. 212)

The family is "the first natural society," one of divine institution. As the "first natural society" of divine institution, the family has "underived rights that are proper to it" given to it by God. (Compendium, No. 211) "The family possesses inviolable rights and finds its legitimization in human nature and not in being recognized by the State. The family, then, does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family." (Compendium, No. 214)

In a country such as ours, where we nourish an unhealthy individualism, the family and hence society tend to suffer. There is a certain danger in this overemphasis on individualism. It is important to nourish health families because they constitute a bulwark against the danger of collectivism, of an overweening State. "A society built on a family scale is the best guarantee against drifting off course into individualism or collectivism, because within the family the person is always at the center of attention as an end and never a means." (Compendium, No. 213)

The conjugal bond and family life ought therefore to be protected and promoted by society and the State. "In their relationship to the family, society and the State are seriously obligated to observe the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 214) Of course, this means that the society and the State must not impede, frustrate, or needlessly interfere with the conjugal bond or family life. Therefore, ways of life, customs, laws, and institutions that do not support the permanency of the conjugal bond or the health of family life are to be condemned.

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