Why have an article on marriage law appear in a journal dedicated to economics? Surely the “purely” private domestic arrangements of a cohabiting couple are of no consequence to economic policy, or wider economic principles? While these questions may well represent a typical response to an article of this kind, we distributists, of course, know otherwise, as indeed the ancients did too. The very word “economy” (oikonomia) pertains directly to the domestic sphere, to the family and its management (cf. Aristotle, Politics, 1256ª5). Consequently any attack on the family is an attack on the oikonomia, the management of the household and home, and so, by extension, on the economy itself. In each case such an attack would constitute a corruption of the mode of generation of “goods”, of those things that we need to live, and to continue our social existence into future generations. The most obvious example in this instance would be our offspring themselves, in whom all true wealth is made incarnate. While considering the means of generating wealth in the true “economy” (both inside and outside the home), Aristotle in the same sections of Book 1 of Politics also writes about the various forms of corruption, or perversion, of those means (where the art of getting wealth is given a different name, i.e. chrematistics, the science of amassing wealth).
In the meantime it is an interesting observation that while discussion of family and “private life” have on the one hand become more and more separated in our imaginations from what we think of as public life (they are no one else’s concerns), at the same time they are increasingly imbued with unmistakably political features. The watchword for this subversive (subterranean) politicisation of what is otherwise ostensibly private is sexuality, and what has come to be called homosexuality has often taken a disproportionately large role in this cultural and intellectual process. Another term implicated in this movement is the relatively recent notion of sexual identity, and once again it is homosexual identity that has been at the vanguard of this at first slow, but now increasingly rapid, revolution in our way of thinking about ourselves. Indeed we have now come to a critical point where the gay lobby, backed by the liberal establishment, have so contrived to bludgeon what is whimsically called “popular opinion” that any voice critical of this new establishment, settled as it is on the foundation-stone of “equal rights” is, in the words of the British newspaper The Guardian, ”an irrational and sinister campaign” (Martin Robbins, ‘The irrational and sinister campaign against gay marriage”, The Guardian, Monday, 20 February 2012). According to Robbins any argument against “gay marriage” must be “confused, irrational and ultimately self-defeating”.
What is most alarming about the campaign to alter marriage, then, is the absolute intolerance it manifests to any attempt to challenge its own preconceptions. Isn’t it obvious, after all? “Love is love, regardless of gender”; it’s just “different couples, same love”; “we’re just a couple of guys in love who might want to get married one day, and we can no longer sit by quietly whilst those who would have us wiped off the planet are given ever more public pulpits.” It’s all about love, and those who oppose gay marriage are barbaric, hate-filled and venomous monsters, who want to drive us all back into the “dark ages.” This is the argument from “private life” where no one else has any right to interfere with our personal choice of “lifestyle” (another heavily loaded term, which deserves an essay all its own).
On the other hand, the political angle from which the argument for gay “marriage” is made, and from which there is also supposed to be no answer, is “equal rights”. The facts are these: in both the United Kingdom and the United States marriage is defined as “the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others”, or words to that effect (this wording is from U.K. law). However, there already exists absolute equality before the law with regard to matrimony. Homosexuals are not forced to marry against their will, but they are perfectly free to marry if they so wish. To insist that marriage be open to gay “unions” is not a case of demanding equality before the law, but is, rather, an attempt to alter the law to suit a politically motivated interest group. There is absolutely no genuine social interest in same-sex couples getting married, so the only reason this campaign can possibly exist is on the basis of a disguised attack on the institution of marriage itself, dressed up as a “struggle for equality”. To demonstrate the intrinsically political nature of this campaign, one need only remember that the struggle for “gay rights” is part of a wider “sexual revolution”, the aim of which is to weaken the traditional institution of the family. While anyone making such a claim is instantly shouted down as reactionary in the media, there is no reason to doubt the truth of this. The facts speak eloquently for themselves, and if in the last decades there has been a strange inversion of that revolution, so that the institutions once attacked, are now cherished, it is only on the condition that they are gutted of any positive meaning.
This is part of the logic of inversion inherent to revolution. Once homosexuality has been institutionalized in the form of “marriage,” sexuality will have finally been freed from its true (its natural) end in procreation. Liberation from the family is, in the language of revolution, liberation from an unjust, oppressive and patriarchal institution that has held not only women and children, but men also, in a kind of perpetual slavery. To account for what an incredible inversion of the truth that is would require a much larger work than I can undertake here. However, that campaigners today talk the language of love and cozy family life should, nevertheless, not draw our attention away from the fact that historically the gay lobby has always been at the forefront of a revolutionary movement, whose goal has been that of destroying the family (the Christian family, it should be noted, in particular), at its very heart: the fertile union of one man and one woman.
But let us take a moment to go back and see what the Church actually teaches about the institution of marriage, and how that teaching has finally been inverted even within the Church herself. It will then be clearer why Martin Robbins is not entirely wrong in his analysis of the campaign against “gay marriage”, and why unless that campaign fully understands what is at stake it will remain “confused, irrational and ultimately self-defeating”. The big problem is that the campaign has already conceded the first and ultimately most significant point to their opponents: that the basic foundation of marriage is “love,” understood in terms only of the affection that the partners involved have for each other. The Church, on the contrary, has always taught that the basis of marriage is its fertile union: i.e. the generation of offspring. Thus, in the words of Leo XIII, marriage is the basis of “family union”, and hence “family union” is the primary end of marriage (Arcanum Divinæ Sapientiæ, 1880, §5) The Pope introduces his account of marriage in these essential terms, which also demonstrate the essentially Divine nature of the institution: “[Christ] bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder. ‘For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.’”(§5) In the encyclical, Leo lists in order the points which bring “Christian perfection and completeness” to the institution of marriage. In the first place “it not only looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of children for the Church, ‘fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God’”;(16) so that “a people might be born and brought up for the worship and religion of the true God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.”[§10] It is in second place, then, that Leo mentions the bond of love that is also (but in no sense primarily) an integral part of every marriage: “Secondly… they are bound, namely, to have such feelings for one another as to cherish always very great mutual love, to be ever faithful to their marriage vow, and to give one another an unfailing and unselfish help … 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 in their respective duties.”[§11] Arcanum can also be usefully quoted in response to those who raise the issue of equality: “In like manner, moreover, a law of marriage just to all, and the same for all, was enacted by the abolition of the old distinction between slaves and free-born men and women; and thus the rights of husbands and wives were made equal: for, as St. Jerome says, ‘with us that which is unlawful for women is unlawful for men also, and the same restraint is imposed on equal conditions.’ The self-same rights also were firmly established for reciprocal affection and for the interchange of duties; the dignity of the woman was asserted and assured; and it was forbidden to the man to inflict capital punishment for adultery, or lustfully and shamelessly to violate his plighted faith.”[§14]
What stands out as a peculiarly Christian institution of matrimony is its sacramental nature, founded as it is on its figuration of the nuptial relation between Christ (Bridegroom) and Church (Bride):
“Marriage, moreover, is a sacrament, because it is a holy sign which gives grace, showing forth an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the Church. But the form and image of these nuptials is shown precisely by the very bond of that most close union in which man and woman are bound together in one; which bond is nothing else but the marriage itself. Hence it is clear that among Christians every true marriage is, in itself and by itself, a sacrament; and that nothing can be further from the truth than to say that the sacrament is a certain added ornament, or outward endowment, which can be separated and torn away from the contract at the caprice of man.” [§24]
The sexual revolution was clearly already under way at the time of Leo’s issuing this encyclical letter. We have his own word for this: “When the Christian religion is reflected and repudiated, marriage sinks of necessity into the slavery of man’s vicious nature and vile passions, and finds but little protection in the help of natural goodness. A very torrent of evil has flowed from this source, not only into private families, but also into States. For, the salutary fear of God being removed, and there being no longer that refreshment in toil which is nowhere more abounding than in the Christian religion, it very often happens, as indeed is natural, that the mutual services and duties of marriage seem almost unbearable; and thus very many yearn for the loosening of the tie which they believe to be woven by human law and of their own will, whenever incompatibility of temper, or quarrels, or the violation of the marriage vow, or mutual consent, or other reasons induce them to think that it would be well to be set free. Then, if they are hindered by law from carrying out this shameless desire, they contend that the laws are iniquitous, inhuman, and at variance with the rights of free citizens; adding that every effort should be made to repeal such enactments, and to introduce a more humane code sanctioning divorce.”[§27]
The main burden of Leo’s encyclical is to counterattack moves being made at the time to “reform” marriage laws by easing restrictions on divorce. That the slow introduction of divorce legislation would have an entirely negative impact on society is clear from his writings, and has, despite many declarations to the contrary by the media, been borne out by psychiatric studies on its effects on both spouses and children (see for example the studies of Amato and Hetherington).
Pius XI in his truly great encyclical letter Casti Connubii (1930), which celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Arcanum, starts from this same position, commenting on the decadence of the institution of marriage: “Yet not only do We, looking with paternal eye on the universal world from this Apostolic See as from a watch-tower, but you, also, Venerable Brethren, see, and seeing deeply grieve with Us that a great number of men, forgetful of that divine work of redemption, either entirely ignore or shamelessly deny the great sanctity of Christian wedlock, or relying on the false principles of a new and utterly perverse morality, too often trample it under foot.”[§3] His next words couldn’t be more appropriate to the present case: “And since these most pernicious errors and depraved morals have begun to spread even amongst the faithful and are gradually gaining ground, in Our office as Christ’s Vicar upon earth and Supreme Shepherd and Teacher We consider it Our duty to raise Our voice to keep the flock committed to Our care from poisoned pastures and, as far as in Us lies, to preserve it from harm.” Like his predecessor, Pius XI also lists the graces that flow from the sacrament of matrimony, and in the same traditional order. Hence: “Now when We come to explain, Venerable Brethren, what are the blessings that God has attached to true matrimony, and how great they are, there occur to Us the words of that illustrious Doctor of the Church whom We commemorated recently in Our Encyclical Ad salutem on the occasion of the fifteenth centenary of his death: ‘These,’ says St. Augustine, ‘are all the blessings of matrimony on account of which matrimony itself is a blessing; offspring, conjugal faith and the sacrament.’ And how under these three heads is contained a splendid summary of the whole doctrine of Christian marriage… Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place.“[§10-11] In other words it is the natural fruitfulness of marriage which is its foundation and primary raison d’être: “St. Augustine admirably deduces [this] from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy when he says: ‘The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: ‘I wish,’ he says, ‘young girls to marry.’ And, as if someone said to him, ‘Why?,’ he immediately adds: ‘To bear children, to be mothers of families.’”[§11]
The Biblical grounds for this understanding of marriage are incontrovertible:
“And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply.” (Genesis, 1:27-28)
“But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (St. Mark, 10:6-9)
God, therefore, established matrimony with the primary purpose to propagate the human race by the procreation of children, and He intended it to endure forever. Furthermore, this is expressly stated in Canon Law: ‘The primary end of matrimony is the procreation of children,”[Canon 1013.1] bearing in mind that we are speaking here of the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code, since in the 1983 Code this traditional teaching has already been undermined, and indeed this is among the more serious charges to be made against it.
What is also fundamental for a correct understanding of marriage, and again one that has been undermined since Vatican II, is the hierarchical nature of marriage. This is important, because in its sacramental character, as we have noted, marriage mirrors the relations between Head and Body, Bridegroom and Bride in the love between Christ and His Church. This is almost the very meaning of the Sacrament, and so the family also becomes a mirror of hierarchy in society and in the cosmos itself. Clearly a “gay marriage” would also annihilate this sense of holy wedlock as a microcosm of society, Church and cosmos, since the partners would of necessity be intrinsically “equal” in the flattened and bland sense that that word has come to have.
Having explained the primary function and role of marriage as the procreation of children and their Christian education, Pius XI goes on to explain the corollary of this, which is the necessity of enduring fidelity and chastity within a marriage: ‘The second blessing of matrimony which We said was mentioned by St. Augustine, is the blessing of conjugal honor which consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses… Wherefore, conjugal faith, or honor, demands in the first place the complete unity of matrimony which the Creator Himself laid down in the beginning when He wished it to be not otherwise than between one man and one woman.” (§19-20) It is only having said this that the Holy Father discusses the importance of the bond of love to marriage: ‘This conjugal faith, however, which is most aptly called by St. Augustine the ‘faith of chastity’ blooms more freely, more beautifully and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, the love of husband and wife which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage. For matrimonial faith demands that husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church.” (§23) This is not, of course, in order to downplay the status of love within a marriage. It is, of course, central, and “holds pride of place in Christian marriage”; yet it can only truly be said to flourish, to exist at all even, if it based on the fruitfulness and fidelity which serve as its foundation, and which the Holy Father had already outlined earlier in his letter, as quoted above.
It may be noted that in all this I have said very little about homosexuality itself, but have instead been concerned with various deformations of the institution of matrimony that have already come about, of which divorce and birth control are the most obvious. In one sense this is because the arguments against gay “marriage” are so obvious from the case outlined above that they scarcely need to be made. If marriage is based on the fertile union of one man and woman, and that by an absolutely binding decree of the Divine Will, what more needs to be said? That the fruitful union of one man and one woman in holy wedlock is also the basis and foundation stone of a stable, prosperous and religious society, likewise invincibly demonstrates the absolute absurdity of gay “marriage”. Once we have made the argument that contraception is wrong, and any and every sexual act that deliberately frustrates the Divine life-giving plan, then no additional case is required to condemn homosexuality, at least insofar as it constitutes a sexual practice.
And yet it cannot be denied that the crime of sodomy has held a special, even a unique, place in Christian thought, and is listed among the “four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance”. The other three are the taking of innocent blood (Genesis 4,10); the oppression of the poor (Exodus, 3.7-10) and the defrauding of a labourer of his just wage (Deuteronomy, 24.14-15). Two of these, to wit the oppression of the poor, and the defrauding of a labourer’s wages, are of immediate and obvious concern to a distributist. But what to make of the sin of Sodom? That greatest of all Christian poets, Dante, had an immediate answer, which is much to the point: that sodomy and usury are intimately related since both destroy, and bring to death, what ought to lead to life: the male seed and the work of our hands! In neither is labour forthcoming. Both usurers and sodomites are confined, in his vision, to the same (the seventh) ring of Hell, described in Cantos 12-17 of Inferno. Here usurers and sodomites are punished with fiery rain in an entirely unnatural landscape that represents their own rejection of the natural law. It is in Canto 15 that Brunetto Latini, the humanist poet and formerly Dante’s teacher, represents the sodomites. In Dante’s poem, however, his crime is symbolically troped as a sort of rhetorical or artistic perversion, where the poet’s sin is his attempt to reproduce himself in a kind of sterile and false clone, like the false coining of usury.
To fully understand what is being said here we need to understand a little better what the traditional censure of usury involved. In Aristotle’s influential interpretation, usury amounted to an unnatural and sterile means of getting wealth that strangles true production at its source: ‘The most hated sort [of wealth getting], and with the greatest reason, is usury, which makes a gain out of money itself, and not from the natural object of it. For money was intended to be used in exchange, but not to increase at interest. And this term interest (tokos), which means the birth of money from money, is applied to the breeding of money because the offspring resembles the parent. That is why of all modes of getting wealth this is the most unnatural.” (Politics, 1258?2-7) In the production of wealth through usury there is no real production and nothing new comes out of it, but rather an empty clone of the “parent”. We scarcely need to replace the terms employed to see why the ancients, as well as the scholastics, saw a resemblance between usury and the “crime against nature”. Consider this condemnation of usurers, also from Aristotle: “Others again exceed in respect of taking by taking anything and from any source, e.g. those who ply sordid trades, pimps and all such people, and those who lend small sums at high rates. For all these take more than they ought, and from wrong sources. What is common to them is evidently sordid love of gain…” (Nicomachean Ethics, 1121?32-1122ª2)
It is the sordid love of pleasure, then, that is at issue, and it is that “love” whose primary goal is pleasure for its own sake that ought to take pride of place in the critique of the suggested “reform” of marital law both in the United Kingdom and the United States. Any relationship that posits the personal pleasure of the partners (even if it is a mutual pleasuring) as the foundation of that relationship is, like usury in the field of economics, contrary to nature, and a strangulation of the true and fertile foundation of human love, which is found in its most basic form in the “family union” referred to by Leo XIII. That is to say, it is in the giving up of oneself to another (first to one’s spouse and then, God willing, to one’s children) in a way always open to fruitfulness, and not the taking into oneself of a pleasure that comes from another, that constitutes the authentic ground of love, and hence of marriage. We might remember here the following words of Our Lord, albeit that His intention was somewhat different: “Amen, amen I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world, keepeth it unto life eternal.” (St. John, 12.24-25) Marriage is the sacrament whereby one man and one woman give each to the other in an act of total self abandonment so that the two become “one flesh”, and from which not only a new (Christian) family may arise, but perhaps even new saints, formed in the economy of that “union”. Sodomy is almost the proper name of love’s antonym, its barren counterfeit. Remember that the crime of the Sodomites was not merely their desire for sexual relations with other men, but that they wanted to take Lot’s angelic guests by force, thus sinning both against nature, but also against the laws of hospitality and family privacy, against love itself in the wider sense. (Genesis, 19.5) We must bear that in mind lest we make criticism of homosexuality into something that is genuinely “phobic” and destructive.
But why all this talk of sodomy? It is such an ugly and outmoded word, isn’t it? And, after all, it is homosexual, or “gay”, marriage that we are discussing, not people’s sexual practices. When I put quotes around the word “gay (to show that I consider its use in the context of homosexual identity as in some sense problematic), I may just as well have done the same with the word “homosexual”, since it is an equally awkward and uncertain word. Although there are uses of the term earlier in the nineteenth century (the first recorded being in 1869), it was really the German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing, who produced the first “scientific” use of the term in his 1886 work Psychopathia Sexualis. Indeed some thinkers have cast doubt on whether the terms heterosexual and homosexual are anything other than social constructs that emerged around a specific episode in western cultural history (cf. Michel Foucault’s classic account in his three-volume work The History of Sexuality). This is an idea that needs to be taken seriously in order to see that the very idea of there being “homosexual” men and women who might wish to get married is non-obvious, indeed alien to every other time and place in human history.
The main emphasis of such a critique would be to challenge the notion that we can meaningfully identify the essence of someone’s psyche on the basis of his or her preferred sexual “object”. The whole basis on which this form of sexual “identity” has grown up is, after all, nothing more than a nineteenth century classification of supposed pathological disturbances. Why, after all, should some oddity in our choice of sexual “object” have anything to do with who we are, per se? And to go from the classification of psycho-sexual pathologies to the normalisation of something that has only ever had a marginal (and usually undesirable) place in social life has taken nothing less than a complete revolution in the way we think of ourselves. Of course, we are now used to the idea of the “consumer society” where what we consume is the default marker of our “identity”. And, certainly, it is not just a question of what we buy, but of all the choices that we make in satisfying our desires. There are shopping junkies, but also alcoholics, drug-users, gambling addicts, and of course sex addicts. And what is the definition of an addict? A typical answer might be that an addict is someone whose behaviour in relation to the object of their addiction is out of control or not appropriately apportioned to it. Another way of saying this is that an addict is someone who has allowed their desire for something so to dominate their behaviour that they have lost the ability to control or modify it. A scholastic, or Aristotelian, definition (and for many people the common sense approach) might be that what we now call “addiction” is a moral disorder, in which a real good is perverted by allowing its enjoyment to be separated from the end to which it is in truth directed. Wine, for example, is meant for the joy of the heart: “Wine drunken with moderation is the joy of the soul and the heart.” (Ecclesiasticus, 31.36) But whereas “sober drinking is health to soul and body”, “wine drunken with excess is bitterness of the soul”. (Ecclesiasticus, 31.37,39) This is more true the greater the good concerned, so that food addicts are in a terrible bind, because their addiction is also necessary for life, so it is impossible for them completely to kick their habit. How people become addicted to substances, or to habits, however, is at present unclear, and their treatment difficult at best, and in the case of some disorders (eating disorders like anorexia are like a kind of addiction in reverse) nearly impossible.
It is not my intention in this article to go into details about sexual psychology, but it seems probable to me that what we now call homosexuality, and, thus defined, have raised to the level of an “identity” that requires “equal rights”, is in fact a perversion of the admittedly extremely complex sexual function of humans, and that it is most akin to sex addiction in that its sufferers misuse the good that is human sexuality; and since sexual pleasure is thus taken as an end in itself, and is no longer tied to its real end which is procreation, it loses all order and proportion relative to the very real good it entails. There is always, therefore, a tendency among homosexuals towards not only promiscuity (consider the notorious gay bathhouses in California that had such an important role on the spread of HIV at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s), but to promiscuity’s concomitants: mental illness, depression, violence, and other forms of addictive behaviour, all of which are statistically much higher among the homosexual population in comparison to the population at large, as numerous studies have shown.
This is what the Fathers of the Church call concupiscence, and it is the specific name for that weakness which entered humanity as “original sin” at the time of the Fall. Joseph Tixeront, in his magnum opus on the history of dogmas, outlined St. Augustine’s classic account of concupiscence thus: “By concupiscence, the Bishop of Hippo does not understand merely the appetite for bodily pleasures; he understands that general tendency away from the highest good and towards the lower pleasures: ‘When one turns away from godly things which are truly lasting and turns towards things which are changeable and insecure.’” (J. Tixeront, History of Dogmas, 1910, II, p. 469) It is not just homosexuals, then, but every one of us who is open to the temptations of concupiscence, and the misuse of sexuality, thanks to birth control, abortion, divorce, and the prevalence of pornography and prostitution, is now almost universal. It had been the aim of the Holy Fathers, Leo XIII and Pius XI to hold back this immense tide of impurity, and to set out in unambiguous terms, what the Catholic understanding of marriage is. Criticism of “gay marriage” is not, then, a question of homophobia, of singling out for punishment “gay” men and women, or of treating them with unfair discrimination. It is much more a case of making a positive case for the traditional understanding of marriage. But that is exactly my point. It seems to me that the case has not been made strongly enough by the main lobbying organisations, because they too have forgotten that what is at the heart of marriage is the rearing of children, of which the affections of the spouses is but a necessary bond, but not the essence of the thing.
This is as true of the Catholic Church as other partners in the campaign. Since Vatican II, even the Church itself seems subtly to have altered its teaching, and formulations more recent than that of Casti Connubii and Pius XII’s famous allocution to Italian midwives of October 29, 1951, are open to the challenges made by the “gay” lobby that the Church, and others who claim to hold the traditional view of marriage are being disingenuous and hypocritical. For example, as late as 1951 Pius XII had taught in his allocution that: “the truth is that matrimony, as an institution of nature, in virtue of the Creator’s will, has not as a primary and intimate end the personal perfection of the married couple but the procreation and upbringing of a new life. The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, much less superior to the primary end, but are essentially subordinated to it.” Nevertheless Canon 1055 §1 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that: ‘The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring.” This not only makes the “good of the spouses” equal to procreation in the respective goods of marriage, but also puts it in first place; an innovation unthinkable before Vatican II. Not only that, in the outline of the sacrament of matrimony given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, where Canon 1055 §1 serves as the base text, this interpretation is reinforced. Paragraph 1604 of the second edition begins its account of the goods of matrimony from the mutual love of man and wife, and their need for each other, and fruitfulness when it is mentioned is not explicitly aligned to childbirth, but is described as being “realized in the common work of watching over creation,” which is at best ambiguous. Partly this feature of the Catechism is no doubt a reflection of John Paul II’s theological emphasis on what has been called “nuptial mysticism,” but whatever the provenance (one obvious source is the Council document Gaudium et Spes on the dignity of the human person, which in the context of marriage also seems to place the good of the spouses before parenthood) it provides a damaging precedent in that it would seem to do exactly what the popes quoted above were trying to avoid: that is to open the door to divorce, birth control, and now, “gay” marriage. Why, we might ask, is this the case, when quite explicitly it is not the intention of these documents? If it is the “good of the spouses” that is the first end of marriage, not only does it seem reasonable that when that good is not being met, under whatever subjective criteria are employed to determine this, there is no binding reason why the marriage shouldn’t be dissolved.
It is time to return to the economy of marriage, and the family, which is where we began. In this article I have been arguing that there are wider benefits of the traditional understanding of marriage that reforms such as those suggested by the current administrations in the UK and the USA would undermine. Pius XI, while enumerating the many benefits of marriage to the spouses themselves, lists also those which accrue to society itself:
“Nor do lesser benefits accrue to human society as a whole. For experience has taught that unassailable stability in matrimony is a fruitful source of virtuous life and of habits of integrity. Where this order of things obtains, the happiness and well being of the nation is safely guarded; what the families and individuals are, so also is the State, for a body is determined by its parts. Wherefore, both for the private good of husband, wife and children, as likewise for the public good of human society, they indeed deserve well who strenuously defend the inviolable stability of matrimony.” (Casti Connubii, §37)
The concomitant of this is to consider the intellectual sources of the enemies of matrimony (primarily naturalism) that argue against the Divine origin of marriage and see it as nothing more than a convenient legal fiction in order to propagate an essentially contingent social order (cf. §49). In §51-52 the Holy Father mentions advocacy for an “experimental” form of marriage pushed by such atheist thinkers as Bertrand Russell, which are in every way the forerunners of today’s even more extreme “reforms”. But as Pius XI notes with regard to the reformers of his own day: “they do not seem even to suspect that these proposals partake of nothing of the modern ‘culture’ in which they glory so much, but are simply hateful abominations which beyond all question reduce our truly cultured nations to the barbarous standards of savage peoples.” (§52)
The Distributist society is one that is founded essentially upon the institution of the family. It is always families that form the backbone of Distributist economies, and it is within families that authentic production takes place, just as Aristotle indicates in Politics. Campaigning for a Distributist economy is useless, therefore, unless we also campaign for the preservation and support of the traditional Christian family, which is the only institution capable of supporting such an economy. And the only legitimate way we can support the family is by reiterating what the Church has always taught: that the family is formed around holy wedlock, a holy and sacramental union of one man and one woman, the primary end of which is the rearing of the next generation of saints. Once again only the Church has the answer.
Originally published at The Distributist Review.