Gay Marriage

I read on some blogs and in the news that the UK has passed laws allowing same-sex marriages. The same happened in France about a year ago, and there were fierce demonstrations organised by Civitas.

The big problem is that the world we live in is secular and no longer refers to Christian morality. We can only try to have spiritual influence, and only then will people make their moral lives consistent with their faith and spiritual lives. Gone are the days when churches had secular authorities in their pockets and could impose Christian moral laws on all.

It may sound anathema to Christians, but I advocate tolerance for those who are not of our faith. We have no choice in the matter. The world has passed us by, and the only place where we can insist on Christian morality is in the confessional.

Same-sex marriage is clearly an aberration in terms of the Christian family. However, there is the legal question of adopted children. A single person can legally adopt a child, and that child has the right of inheritance. If that single person is living in a relationship with another person, the filiation is not transferred to the partner when the adopting parent dies. This can lead to serious situations for the children. A marriage between the two partners, even if they are of the same sex, might be justified in this kind of situation to ensure the civil rights of the adopted children. This is a dimension that seems to be overlooked by Civitas and other conservative pressure groups.

The only justification for such an arrangement (civil marriage) would be this legal question of filiation. Here in France, our heterosexual marriages are first done before the Mayor of where the fiancée lives, and only then in church. In England, people can have a civil wedding at the Registry Office or at the church where the priest or minister has the legal faculties from the secular authorities as a registrar for marriages. There is no justification for attempting to marry a same-sex couple in church, as only heterosexual marriage was given the standing of a Sacrament by Christ.

There can be a good counter argument. You don’t change the law because of a fait accompli, because same sex couples are adopting children. Otherwise people can kill and steal, and then get the law changed in their favour! A couple involving a single person who has adopted a child and his/her partner knows that the child can only inherit from the adopting parent. Another problem with changing the essential definition of marriage is – Whatever next? There are many agonising moral problems that cannot be resolved by legislation. One is euthanasia. Legalise euthanasia and it will go down the slippery slope to killing people for their money or on a whim – or starting the Nazi Holocaust over again. Keep it illegal and allow judges and juries to look at each case carefully and have the power of discretion in matters of sentencing and mitigating circumstances. Killing is always killing, always intrinsically wrong, but sometimes can be justified in extreme cases of suffering. You can’t legislate for hard cases or base the law on exceptions. Likewise, same-sex marriage is not marriage. However, judges could allow the surviving partner to adopt the children when all the circumstances have been examined.

When examining questions of this kind, we need to see the legal dimensions, the human aspects, and we also need to have a clear sense of what is right and wrong. Wrong does not become right on the passing of a law that is not designed first to obey the natural law and Christian morality. It would be bad to see some kind of conservative blow-back happen and for homosexuals to suffer the kind of treatment they got in Victorian England and Europe in more recent times. This is what may happen if the gay lobby pushes too hard.

We live in a highly polarised world where politics and law no longer have the common good as their objective. The politicians are in it for money or their own egos, and laws are twisted according to the agenda of the day. This is the real problem. We are watching our civilisation crumble, not only from this single issue, but from a general environment of everything being questioned and contested. The argument is for greater freedom, but the reality is less freedom and the death spiral towards a totalitarian society such as Orwell prophesied in Nineteen Eighty Four.

Everything seems to be determined by mass hysteria and stupidity, surely the strongest argument against democracy. No doubt, I will be classed as homophobic because I do not recognise the possibility of two persons of the same sex to contract sacramental marriage, even if they can enter into a legal union for the sake of adopted children. I believe in tolerance for those who wish to live in a discreet homosexual lifestyle, respectful of others, when they are not of our faith. People have tattoos and piercings which make me cringe, but that’s what they like – and they do it to themselves. We have to be tolerant, but we can’t recognise it as “normal”.

With the degree of pressure on the majority of society not to be homophobic, racist, sexist, etc., there is bound to be one day a conservative blow-back. When reactions happen, they don’t go to a moderate position but to the other extreme. It happened under the Nazis after the “mad” years in Berlin in the 1920’s. We seem to be looking at a civilisation that will go out in a blazing Götterdämmerung or out with a whimper. I am afraid. Might Vladimir Putin help us? That’s another problem, and the man is former KGB. I don’t trust any of them, Cameron, Obama, Hollande or any of them.

We have to keep our heads down at present, but for how long? May the Lord give us not only the virtue of prudence, but also of courage.

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

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36 Responses to Gay Marriage

  1. Martin Hartley says:

    Dear Fr Chadwick

    A very good, sane and balanced post. As you imply, those of us who find it difficult to call a pork pie a cheese sandwich, even if the legislature insists that we now do, must keep our heads down. My fear, as a RC (having crossed the Tiber many years ago from Ecklesia Anglicana) is that, very quickly, we are going to be back into a time of actual persecution. Various bodies have made it perfectly clear, that there is no conscience let out, everyone has to accept or there will be serious consequences. We are certainly in for a most unpleasant time, the clergy may have a let out clause, but others certainly don’t. Back to the Elizabethan martyrs, or those of the Roman Empire!

    Anyway, the Blood of the Martyrs is the seed of a renewed church. We must pray for strength to persevere in the faith of Jesus. The examples of those in the USSR and nazi Germany who kept the faith should strengthen us. We must also pray and hope that, when , as you suggest, the pendulum swings the other way, we may alleviate the severity of response. Those who are rejoicing now, may, perhaps in a quite short time find themselves living in fear, and like the Vatican during WWII, we may find ourselves in a position of needing to protect those who cannot accept our way of thinking.

    Perhaps Fr, at a suitable opportunity, a Votive Mass for all our needs?

    Best wish

    Martin Hartley

    • At the same time, I would say that it is senseless to provoke persecution by getting involved in violent demonstrations or even in acts of terrorism. We need to show our attitude of tolerance and being reasonable, whilst refusing ideologies and “crowd thinking” from both sides. What is actually illegal is hate speech, so we should find out what the legislative texts say and write / speak whilst avoiding hatred and intolerance – but that doesn’t mean condoning something that is morally wrong or harmful to our culture.

      We might still get persecuted, but we should just make sure the persecution is unjust and that we are not being persecuted for persecuting others. It is not our duty to suffer persecution, but to stand up for right in a spirit of love and tolerance. It can be done. Many Saints have shown us the way, Christ himself to begin with…

      • Francis says:

        But, Father, there is so much a gulf between what is legal and what is moral these days. Actually, I would say that the relationship is almost if not totally broken. The law does no more take its source in custom or natural law – it is the naked will of a handful chosen from those who are presumed to represent the people, and sometimes not even that. Now, the whole question hinges upon the value, and I emphasize, value of civil wedding for Christians in those societies where civil weddings are extended to cover homosexual unions, and it also depends upon the civil laws of those societies. You can only be reasonable with an adversary who agrees on the standard of reasonableness – or even, of Rightness, – which is the case of those pro et contra “gay marriage” so-called.

        I mean, you’re in France, and I’m in Britain, – we have the statements of the dominant political classes on the subject and we have seen their determination in one case as in the other to get those “laws” passed. The appeal to equality is obviously fallacious from a traditional point of view – but not so from a modern democratic one which is precisely founded on some concept of equality.

        Those promoting “gay marriage” and those opposing it, in their arguments, in the articulation of their case, so to speak, are speaking two different language, to wit, respectively, a virtual one, based on abstract notion and the indiscriminate application thereof, and a real one ( le pays reel) based on the concrete principles that allow the perpetuation of society – custom, heredity, etc. Needless to say, we hit here on the dichotomy between “le pays legal” and “le pays reel” – which dichotomy we owe to none other than good old Charles, himself.

        And in this Babel of languages, confrontation and conflict is bound to happen. “Gay marriage” is probably just one such issue which allow the ongoing, subterranean conflict to raise its head – we had such issues in the pass, we will still have them in the future.

      • Answering both of your thoughtful comments, Ed and Francis, the whole thing seems to be resumed in a simple expression Separation of Church and State, a concept familiar to Americans. How can the Church live when joined to the kind of states and political structures that have existed since the gory days of Robespierre? The State always gets the upper hand, as it has everything the Church doesn’t have, the means to enforce its will.

        Whether we like it or not, the Church is separate from what happens in secular life. To say otherwise would be like going to stand before the Palace of Westminster or the Congress Building with a sandwich board and playing the prophet to a world that would simply dismiss us as nuts. Talk about the mouse that roared! We can teach our own faithful about traditional moral standards and sexual ethics, but no one else is listening. We can teach by witness and example, but we can’t go round calling people names and expect to be respected.

        As for persecution, it might happen. I remember seeing a film about an air battle and a co-pilot beginning to panic. The pilot of the fighter plane would shout “We’re not hit! We’re not hit!”. We might get hit, but we’re not yet hit. Let’s not worry about the future and live for today. That’s Christ’s teaching – carpe diem.

        I also agree that it’s time for us to live our separation from secular authorities. We should not care who contracts civil weddings in the Registry Office or someone else’s church. People are going to do what they want. If they come to us for marriage or other pastoral services, then they have to accept our conditions. Perhaps we’ll get persecuted for that, perhaps not if our Church is not “mainstream” enough to be noticed. That’s one thing I like about being marginal!

        Absolutely, love the sinner and do all we can to create a situation in which divine grace can do its work.

        Many things are allowed by law but are immoral. The reason for this is the separation between secular life and the Church. We can bewail that all we want, but they have their policemen, soldiers, law courts and prisons.

        I reiterate the need to avoid being “haters” ourselves, being bitter and full of reproach. That doesn’t bring souls to God. As I wrote in my reflections on Romanticism, we are called to be our true selves, not “reformed” caricatures and types. We need to discover a moral teaching that is interior and spiritual, not a collection of extrinsic laws that make us try to imitate the secular system. That is the difference between moral theology and ethical philosophy.

        We do well to be out of the towns, away from the noise and hubbub and close to our roots. Silence is golden!

  2. Fr. David Marriott SSC says:

    The threat of persecution and of being hauled in front of a ‘Human Rights Tribunal’ does exist here in Canada: but it can be avoided by confining comment to a reading of the preface for the Solemnization of Matrimony from the (1962 Canadian) BCP:

    DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church. This holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended in holy Scripture to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered upon, nor taken In hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

    Matrimony was ordained for the hallowing of the union betwixt man and woman; for the procreation of children to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord; and for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, in both prosperity and adversity.

    Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can show any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

    This represents a definition of who we are and what we believe – and clearly tells all who may be interested what our beliefs are with regards to the state of Holy Matrimony. Indeed, there are those who prefer unholy matrimony: that is their prerogative, but it is not something which we have to condone.

  3. ed pacht says:

    Question: What role does a Christian view of marriage have in a secular society? Is it proper for the Church to attempt to impose its standards on a society that rejects its right to have standards? What authority does it possess in such a society beyond its own borders? Conversely, Christians, if they be consistent to their calling, will seek to live as they are called to live, regardless of the consequences. The noble army of martyrs proclaims that loudly.

    Maybe it is time for the Church to simply ignore what civil society has to say about marriage. A civil marriage is not necessarily Holy Matrimony any more than a civil divorce can dissolve a Christian marriage. If civil society should declare two men or two women or a divorced man and a divorced woman to be legally married, let them. What the government now says about marriage has so little resemblance to what the Church teaches that such a contract requires no recognition at all from the Church. Whether the law grants it to us or not, we need to exercise the freedom to determine for those among us or for those who come to us whether they are married in God’s sight.

    That said, there is only one permissible Christian attitude toward sexually active gays. It is the same that is enjoined with regard to all sinners, even to our enemies: love. Love doesn’t mean a blanket approval of behavior. That often needs to be dealt with firmly. But it does mean an open and obvious invitation for sinners to come to Christ — exactly the opposite of rejection.

    Will we be called ‘homophobes’? Of course we will. Will we pay legal consequences for that? Probably. Should we resent that? Or shouldn’t we be inviting our persecutors to receive the grace of God?

  4. Stephen K says:

    I can’t help throwing in my two bobs’ worth at the confident assertions of moral rectitude and truth. Once again, the ‘secular’ bogeyman is the benighted purveyor of “non-real” values.

    Well, that non-religious people are going to think and do things against or without regard for the things different religious people think and want, is no surprise. But to assume that where we do not disagree with what they think or do is because they have come on board with us is an assertion too far: it may be rather that this is where our own thinking and faith is not so obstinant or anachronistic or exotic that we have failed to get on board with them. The classic case of our own times is undoubtedly the scandal of the hierarchy’s protection of the ecclesiastical authority at all costs behind the failure to deal with clerical child / minor abuse. The attitude that the “church is right even when it’s wrong” – a typical religious syndrome – is one for whose eventual demise we must thank many non-religious people and representatives of the separated secular State.

    But here we are talking about what sounds very much like a “take my bat and ball and go home” response to the frustration we might feel that our cherished status quo is being upset by people we cannot control. Don’t misunderstand me: I don’t like many things that happen over and around me, and will resist some where I can, but I thank God that, apart from psychological devices, Christian churches and religious authorities no longer have the means to compel their rejects, heretics or enemies, because had they such means they would use them, human nature being what it is.

    Father Chadwick’s instincts for seeking the kingdom without from within seem to me to reflect the essential paradox involved with Jesus’ call. Whilst it is not wrong per se to have feelings about social developments not to our liking or comfort, and not illegitimate to debate and argue against them, what I think we cannot assume is that the minutiae of Christian ethics or any principles we may hold at any time are quarantined from constantly deeper and revised comprehension. This is because it is not so much, in my view at least, that the orthodox conservative Christian speaks a different language from his or her secular, non-religious counterpart, but rather that each thinks or tends to think the other intrinsically stupid, wrong or evil. Thus neighbours become opponents in an interminable two-way hostility. St Augustine, in the long tradition of dualism has, for his City of God, a lot to answer.

    Surely the unavoidable significance of a belief in the Incarnation is that we and our democratic, environmentalist, modernistic, heretical enemies are all mired in sin in one way or the other and are made of the same compost.

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Fr. Anthony,

    Do you see yourself as sounding a semi-coenobitic or Fratres Vitae Communis-like or even eremitical note, here?

    And what of the rich and various history of ‘fools for Christ’, mendicant and other?

    • I’m not sure if I see any connection between your question and the subject of this posting.

      Are you wanting me to justify why I don’t get involved in politics, something like that? Could you ask your question a little more clearly?

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I was thinking, in part, of much of this paragraph: “Whether we like it or not, the Church is separate from what happens in secular life. To say otherwise would be like going to stand before the Palace of Westminster or the Congress Building with a sandwich board and playing the prophet to a world that would simply dismiss us as nuts. Talk about the mouse that roared! We can teach our own faithful about traditional moral standards and sexual ethics, but no one else is listening. We can teach by witness and example”. But also, for instance, of “We are watching our civilisation crumble […] from a general environment of everything being questioned and contested” and “The State always gets the upper hand, as it has everything the Church doesn’t have, the means to enforce its will.”

        And I was trying to imagine the realities of early periods of Church history – admittedly with Charles Kingsley’s Hypatia looming large in part of the back of my mind. One of the characters there, as I recall, was someone very highly-placed in the Imperial government, who simply decided to retire to a monastic existence. Such an existence, or something like it, can be solitary, or communal, and, the example of Fratres Vitae Communis coming to mind, need not be ‘enclosed’. Of course, mendicants, like St. Francis and his companions at the very earliest period, were/are not ‘enclosed’, or apart from the world (for better or worse, I love the Zeffirelli film – and was interested in your Oscar Wilde quotation in another post). And I have certainly seen St. Francis discussed in the context of ‘fools for Christ’, though Russian examples spring easily to mind, like the St, Basil commemorated by the Cathedral in Red Square – I cannot imagine he would mind being dismissed as nuts!

        So, I was wondering if, faced with crumbling civilization and authorarian-(ish) states, you were thinking about possible modern analogues – or what you might think, if you did turn you thoughts to some such things.

      • I have found your explanation poignant. Between monastic life, eremitism and the “fools for Christ”, I am probably more of the latter than anything else. I could not be a monastic, nor could I be a hermit – because I am married. At the same time, I spend a lot of time alone as my wife works in Rouen. Marriage is not the same kind of community life as religious life, and perhaps fortunately.

        I increasingly identify with the Romantics, those from the time of William Blake to Coleridge and Wordsworth, from the 1890s to the Great War (and its continuation / resumption from the 1930’s until 1945), and finally something brewing in the desolation of our modern existence. I didn’t choose it. I find the same themes throughout my life, my love of nature and the imagination and the possibility to express something other than rational thinking. It is a noble way, but one that is fraught with danger.

        A world died in 1789, again in the “dark satanic mills”, above all in the trenches of Verdun and the Somme and again in our own times under the weight of the electronic gadgets and our dependence on money. I was brought up in the country, in the same Lake District as Wordsworth, and I only lived for a few short years in cities before retreating again to the country. My wife seemed to accept all these things of my complex personality before we married, but she is more in tune with urban life than I am.

        There is something of the hermit in my life as a priest. The priestly vocation is also a part of my Romantic vision, hardly the mortification of the imagination in true sons of St Benedict! It’s all rather difficult to sort out, but there it is.

        I am naturally alarmed by the disdain of human life, the “culture of death” and this redefinition of marriage together with a “normalisation” of the homosexual agenda. I also find the conservative reaction distasteful and a sign of an excessive kind of rationalism against which some of us react or from which we retreat. I am interested in the role of beauty and love, rare commodities in the world today.

        So, if anything, I am a poor fool for Christ!

      • Stephen K says:

        It’s all rather difficult to sort out, but there it is..

        How true. We can all be complex, or, to be more correct, I feel I am at times (or is it ‘complicated’?), and this is one of the reasons why I feel an affinity with you, Father. It’s why I think the doctrinaire approach is often not connected with the way things are.

        For example, I recognise in myself a part that desires the simple and ascetic eremitical life, but it’s not so dominant that I am going to strip off my clothes au François and go out into the forests. I have my own entanglements or commitments, unfinished business, however you like to call them! And personality traits and faults and mistakes. In fact, I know only too well that this part is an aberration, an exotic curio with no moral foundation since I am spiritual, religious, complicatedly agnostic and a sinner. The last above all.

        I imagine occasionally what it would be like to have nothing. It seems so clean and fresh a concept. But I wouldn’t survive a day. I believe if we all dig a little we will uncover some hypocrisy in ourselves, although even in the very instant of saying this I wonder whether this is no more than the articulation of the desire for the fellowship of the damned, rather than the truth. Still, I think I see all kinds of hypocrisy around me in my fellow religionistas.

        That being the case, of course, I can’t condemn. Even mild bemusement seems inappropriate. My conscience, and my understanding of the essence of Christianity, tells me I should confine myself to Francis’ Peace Prayer. The instant we open our mouths, lies and posturing and vanities stream out. But, like everyone else it seems, my ego insists I share my “insights” with others!

        We are not only “in” the world, we “are” the very world we love to despise.

  6. Dalene Gill says:

    The simplest way to counter any gay marriage argument is: God made Adam and Eve, NOT Adam and Steve.

    • If only things were simple like in the 1940’s! That being said, you are right. Two persons of the same sex can’t get married. That’s a fact.

    • Stephen K says:

      We should unpack your quip, Dalene, in the interests of moving from wit to wisdom. Let us begin by saying that God “made” the universe. This covers the being of each sex who might be called the first humans. But it also covers every being before and since. I believe sex is necessary for reproduction in most species at any time, and it seems to be of the purposive essence for the concept of male-female (otherwise why both?). Like the native blind person who cannot have the direct experience of colour, if all creatures were what we would call “male” (or “female”) there would be no concept of sex – or male – or female. If God made sex, then, we assume it was for a reason. Mind you, not every reason has to be considered purely functionalistic. Aesthetics and pleasure and cosmic symmetry may each or all apply, though even there we might say they serve a function in their own right.

      But to say that God made sex (i.e. male/female) says nothing on this subject yet unless we go further and say that God made sex for marriage, not reproduction, per se. Is that true? What are we asserting here? Does marriage entail reproduction? Or does reproduction entail marriage? Now that I look at it, the answer is not so straightforward; it can hardly avoid some circularity. Did you know ducks (or many of them) pair for life? They mate, naturally, but is their relationship ‘marriage’? They have particular and faithful attachment to each other and pine if the other dies. What is the essential difference, if any, between this and a human marriage?

      Human children remain very vulnerable for a considerable time. It makes sense that they will be nurtured in a stable safe environment, and, instinct being what it is, the safest environment seems to be where the child develops at the breast of the mother who is in turn protected by the father until it reaches independence. At the heart of the concept of marriage seems to be then the commitment to provide this mutual protection environment.

      It is at the heart, I believe, but must it take only one form? Keeping, for the time being, on the subject of men and women, can two sterile but sexually active people marry? What do we think of those marital partnerships entered into for business and taxation benefit, even if sexual intercourse is thrown in? Christians themselves have done this, with religious blessing. We know that sex is not a synonym for love even if either or both can flow from each other. Often, as we know, they don’t.

      It is interesting how many Christians recognise as valid many marriages that have nothing to do with religious feeling or commitment, or children, or age or condition, or belief, so long as the parties have not undergone the ‘marrying ceremony’ a previous time. This selectiveness is based on, when it really boils down, to a root Gospel Jesus saying, that Man must not separate what God has joined. From this, though bride and groom are theologically the ministers of the sacrament, or legally the active parties to the act of marrying, ultimately their vows mean God, not they, joins them, all.

      This analysis helps identify what we might think about the proposition of marriage between two people of the same sex. Marriage, sacramentally, or legally, it appears, has nothing to do with reproduction per se: it has, rather, to do with the action of free and final fidelity. This means that in saying that marriage is only able to be acted between men and women, we are ultimately asserting that a notional reproductive reciprocity is essential for the ability and will to make a human act of personal faithfulness commitment.

      Vows take various forms: but they cannot generally – I would have thought – require a commitment much further than the mutual exclusivity of each person’s body for the other – certainly not a commitment to have children in any number. So, the widespread acceptance that married parents will best nurture their own children is an argument of social benefit, first and foremost, but it doesn’t prove that only parents who have children can marry or should be.

      Ultimately, the position that two men or two women cannot marry seems to be based on the linking of marriage to sexual reproduction, even though in practice some who can sexually reproduce in stable relationships are not considered married and some who cannot sexually reproduce are. Thus, that God made Adam and Eve has less to do with the problem than at first appears and not only because God also made Steve and Lizzie.

      Are we right to call the act of fidelity between a man and a woman ‘marriage’ but not the acts of fidelity between two persons of the same sex? Are we right to call or officially presume a man and a woman ‘married’ as they walk down the aisle when the partnership ends in the woman hiding in a refuge in five years? Are a man and a woman married at the exchange of vows, even if they never consummate? Or, if consummation is essential, then are they only married at the moment of consummation? And if the latter, how could we presume in many cases where there are no ensuing children? What do Christians really think about the capacity of just-pubescent, just-reproductive teenagers of say, 12 or 13, to marry validly? We know that many secular laws prohibit this, but, for consistency’s sake, where such young people have already long passed the age of reason, and may have witnessed and comprehended all sorts of reality, can a Christian accept their marital capacity? Or does Christian orthodoxy require that only those who have attained the secular legal age can marry? And if so, is the question of capacity so dependent on the official secular attitude?

      We seem to equate ‘marriage’ with any or all of the following: a specific public act of fidelity performed in a ceremony; a legal contract of mutual exclusivity; a routine and ongoing cohabitation with or without children between people we assume love each other; a screaming, mutually abusive cohabitation between people whose common surname appears on the telephone bill etc. In saying that marriage is only between a man and a woman and once and for all, we may at times alternate between extolling the ideal and confining ourselves to the letter rather than the spirit, the particular rather than the general, of the Gospel narration, and end up confusing the two.

      There is no doubt that orthodox Christian teaching is that only a man and a woman can marry. There is considerable doubt, in my view, as to whether we have exhausted the question whether this is right or which reason is obvious. I must say myself that the concept is confronting and not a little jarring. There is no doubt that universal and exclusive homosexuality would extinguish the human – and most – species within a century without some as-yet-unheard-of Asimovian intervention, so, assuming our continued existence is a good thing – something that is sometimes less obvious – it seems the ultimate argument for a Christian about same-sex ‘marriage’ is – when it all comes down to it – no more or less than “I believe what Jesus said means you shouldn’t do it.”

      Does it? (here may begin further prayer and theological reflection by each of us)

      • Francis says:

        Dear Stephen K.,

        Could you please clarify how and why you doubt many things about orthodox christianity? What is the ground of your scepticism? This is not me trying to be clever or to corner you – its just out of an earnest desire to understand. It would greatly help our ongoing dialogue on this blog.

        On another note, we must distinguish between two things: the assertion of the validity/invalidity of gay marriage, and the possibility/impossibility of “gay marriage”. The validity/invalidity assertion requires not merely the possibility but the certainty that gay marriage does occur, is a fact. For something to be valid/invalid, first it must be. If we assert that gay marriage is impossible at the outset, the question of validity/invalidity, does not even arise.

        We might say that what occurs between people of the same sex in front of the civil magistrate or his representative is not marriage at all, and that a number of people, starting with the legislators, are confused as to the meaning of marriage. Therefore, when promoters and opponents of “gay marriage” use the term “marriage” in their arguments against one another, they are all guilty of equivocation. They are using the same word to refer to two different things.

        I think it would help clarify the confusion in a first phase, if the RCC, the Orthodox and Oriental Churches, and other ecclesial bodies committed to the traditional christian teaching on matrimony come together (very unlikely) with a pronouncement on “civil marriage” so-callled, and how it stands with respect to the sacrament of matrimony.

      • Stephen K says:

        In my earlier post, Francis, I asked myself various questions that occurred to me when considering how people speak and act in different situations about marriage. It seems clear to me that we have various ideas about it in our subconscious. You have pointed to yet another term and another concept, i.e. matrimony, or the ‘sacrament of matrimony’, which sometimes mean one or other of the other ideas underpinning our attitudes. I quite agree that we need to clarify where the differences lie and in what they consist.

        I won’t repeat those questions here. But new ones arise from your suggestion that civil marriage is nothing like matrimony: is the logical conclusion from that suggestion that people who are civilly married (or married under a teepee etc) are not, in Christians’ eyes, “really” married after all? Are you suggesting in fact that there is only one “real” marriage, and that is Christian matrimony overseen by a priest or minister? That in fact, the acknowledging of non-Christians’ marital status by Christians is actually a dishonesty for the sake of politeness? Or should Christians think that non-Christian marriage is the East German Trabant to the Rolls Royce of their own?

        You see, I can’t see how this cannot be the conclusion to your distinction. Moreover, if the “ministers” of the sacrament of matrimony are the bride and groom, then not only are the priest, and his blessing, superfluous (except by arbitrary ecclesiastical regulation), but there would seem to be no reason why the sacrament does not occur whenever two people exchange their vows in any place, even without witnesses. (In fact, if I dredge my memory for ancient readings of Tanquerey, I believe that is quite correct or open theologically). If that is the case there may be in fact no genuine civil marriage that is not a sacrament, and that must go for other religions’ marriages too.

        I am, Francis, all for revisiting the assumptions we often use, to see whether they in fact may be relied upon after all. There is definitely a view among some Christians that marriage is a once-and-for-all affair that hinges on the wedding day rather than on the ongoing day-to-day relationship, but others think the reverse. Your pessimism that the Christian churches will never get together to agree on what it is they mean by matrimony, is well-founded, I think.

        In the end, it’s up to each person to spend as much or as little time as they choose examining this. But I think the question is more complex and less certain than the debate that I have encountered so far reflects.

      • Stephen, I think you might have been a seminarian and don’t need anyone to give you a rundown of the classical teaching about the two aspects of marriage – a “natural contract” that is as old as mankind, and a Sacrament which places this aspect of marriage under the control of the Church. In canon law, the diriment impediments multiplied, as it becomes quite a subject of study. All marriages are marriages, but not all marriages are Sacraments in addition to being natural contracts.

        Here in France, the law forbids a couple from contracting marriage in church (or the place of worship of any other religion – synagogue, mosque, temple, etc.) before they have been before the Mayor. My wife and I, like everyone else in France, had two wedding ceremonies – civil in Rouen and the religious wedding in the parish church of her grandparents’ country house. Usually, the two ceremonies are in the same village and on the same day. Couples would go directly from the Mairie to the church in the same dress. Many couples, for example without religion, have only the civil wedding, but no one has a religious wedding without a civil wedding. It’s different in countries where ministers of religion obtain legal faculties from the civil authorities as registrars.

        I take the Roman Catholic Church as an example. It recognises all marriages of those who have never been Roman Catholics, but will not recognise the marriage of a former or current Roman Catholic who marries outside his or her Church’s canonical norms. That principle goes for many things.

        In short, civil marriage between two persons of the same sex is “valid” (legal) as soon as the country where the wedding takes place passes laws to allow it. The Church has not the power to change the matter of a sacrament: heterosexual couple, bread and wine for Mass and not (for example) cake and whiskey, a human being of the male sex for ordination. It a Church does bring in changes of this nature, it is unfaithful to its own principles. That is the general argument.

        Of course, all arguments can be flattened or denied. No one can stop that. We live in a time when arguing over these points does little or no good, because we are caught in a sterile conservative – liberal dialectic. Each position is “all or nothing” – winner takes all. Discussion is very difficult in those conditions. Indeed, these matters are complex, and making changes in an emotionally charged environment is dangerous.

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, yes, I am aware of the natural contract-sacrament distinction, but thank you for expressing it in your own words.

        I won’t belabour the issue of same sex marriage. In fact, as the discussion trend shows, we have begun to drill beyond this idea to the more fundamental question of what we think about ‘marriage’ and what its constituent elements might be. Indeed, I don’t think anyone has a hope in Hades of answering the issue of same-sex marriage unless and until they know and can articulate what marriage is in the first place!

        It is no real help to distinguish between ‘contract’ and ‘sacrament’ however. I wish I still had my moral theology manuals but I will have to rely on my understanding and memory. Let us therefore begin with basics.

        A ‘sacrament’ is an ‘effective sign of grace, that is, an action that through symbols brings grace, which is a name for ‘divine power’. There seems no doubt that people can enter into a contract with each other. But the idea of sacrament is that through it what would otherwise be a simple contract becomes a kind of ‘super-charged’ commitment, which we call ‘matrimony”. What does the grace, theoretically do? It seems to me to be the power to sustain it in love.

        Can this be expressed analogically? Two couples agree to love each other exclusively for ever: one couple believes in Christ and make their agreement in front of a religious witness. They get a spiritual bank account deposit of sacramental grace. The other couple do not believe in Christ and make their agreement to each other in private or in front of civil or other kinds of witnesses: they get a “good luck card” from their well-wishers, but alas, no spiritual bank account deposit. However they both walk away with solid gold rings on their fingers.

        How realistic is this idea of ‘sacrament’? Is it borne out by the beauteous longevity of Christian marriages, and the dysfunctional character and failure of non-Christian marriages? Do the facts bear this out? I’m doubtful. Or are all failures at Christian marriage not failures of grace but simply failures of Christian faith?

        Are we, in postulating the idea of “sacrament” effectively postulating not two types of marriage, but simply super-grade marriage (if you fail, it’s your own fault) and bog-standard crude gasoline grade marriage, i.e. one with no hope of warranty, destined to fail (so it’s hardly only your fault)?
        Are we also saying that only Christians can administer/receive the sacrament? My understanding of sacraments is that they are indeed products and processes of faith, both those of the ministers (in this case the bride and groom) and other participants. If there is no faith, or intention consistent with faith, there is no sacrament.

        So, what we seem to be saying is that both civil and Christian marriages are the same kind of thing but the latter starts at the off, or leaves the display room, in a superior condition. Is that a fair summary of Christians’ attitudes?

        If we agree that that is the case, then we can move on to an analysis of what brings about a marriage, into being, so to speak? Is it the exchange of vows? Is it the consummation? Is it the blessing/approval of the official Church? For example, Father, when you and your wife left the Mairie after having been civilly married, but before you were married in the church, were you ‘married’? Did you consider yourself married? Had some unforseen delay occurred, preventing you from repeating your vows in the church for six months, would you have been married in the interval? Did your marriage come into existence at the registry?

        If you say yes, of course I would agree with you, but it does suggest that it is the act of vows exchange – without impediment – and not the presence of a priest, that makes a marriage. And if that is the case, then, since the ministers of the marriage are the bride and groom, the sacrament is confected and received, at least for Christians, in the registry, not the church.

        We may not have yet worked out the final argument for or against same sex marriage, but I think we need to think out all the implications and sort out what is and what is not an inconsistency, before we can do so, and I hope this has assisted. I don’t expect readers to answer each and every one of my questions, but if they do, they will be closely considered and appreciated.

  7. Francis says:

    Stephen K. Thanks for your reply. First, I think we agree that terms like “marriage”, “matrimony”, “civil marriage” should be clarified as to their practices, purposes and ends. In my own view, I would see a Christian marriage and, say, a Hindu marriage (it is the one whereof next to the Christian that I have the most knowledge), as matrimony. In the Christian institution, there is the blessing(supernatural) of a natural act. In the Hindu one, the Gods themselves attend to the creation of a new household, with the rituals around the sacred fire, and the bridegroom’s lighting of a new fire. And if we take Hinduism to be one of the oldest continuing civilization/culture, we realize that marriage was not considered to be a uniquely human institution.

    In Christianity, there is the notion that through the sacramental engagement the husband and wife are also engaging themselves to unite with God’s creative work – matrimony through the lens of sub-creation- matrimony in short is a divine institution that is strongly related to our createdness, the perpetuation and cultivation of all that this createdness implies within the most basic social context, the family.

    In the redeemed people of God, elevated to the order of grace, matrimony itself becomes more truly sacramental. For Christians, matrimony, it is not just a question of getting a union witnessed, but above witnessed in the Ecclesia, blessed by the Ecclesia, and entered in, not just for themselves, but also for the Ecclesia, which is the Body of Christ. The most proximate end, or issue of the love of the two persons is procreation. Out of the act of love, other beings “emerge”.

    But sometimes, due to nature or to violence done to nature willingly or unwillingly, this proximate end cannot be realized. Where this is the case, we can rely on faith that grace will supply what nature cannot give. I remember an old childless couple in my childhood parish- very much engaged in parish activities – Zechariah and Elizabeth – gentle and holy. With whom several other parish kids and I spent a good deal of our week-ends, mid-term vacations and holidays. It was not something forced. We kids were just attracted to them, and we would do activities together, and even to this day, most of us have kept in touch with the old couple. Through our living together, our games, discussions, high moments, low moments, we kids learnt a lot from them.

    The Holy Family was not a normal family – but it was also not contra naturam, it was truly supernatural. And until and unless we recognize the supernatural as an integral category of our lives in Christ, and to see the Church (not this church, that church) not as the proprietor of this supernatural (however much sinister minds within it would like to be) but as the space which enables our supernatural life – primarily, of course, through the Liturgy.

    Thus, to call sacramental, an engagement taken in front of the representative of godless states, of states that conceive of sovereignty as sui generis and not as coming from God’s sovereignty is a grave mistake in my view.

  8. Stephen K says:

    I must admit to some sadness that no-one has ventured to answer the questions that occurred to me. I’m genuinely trying to test whether the questions have answers, or whether this is what other people agree or disagree are the implications of much of the formulaic Christian discourse on sacraments, marriage, grace etc, especially in the wake of the same-sex marriage issue onslaught.

    I find it absolutely imperative that we periodically look behind what it is we say. I can’t see how we can avoid communication problems, or even, as George Orwell might have coined for Newspeak, “thinkstop”, if we don’t. One cannot revisit or plumb the depths of something unless we do this. I see that even when we dig only a little inconsistencies or problems arise and they demand, or at least teasingly beckon solutions.

    Or don’t other people see the sorts of problems I see? I am colour blind which means I don’t see certain colours the way I understand people with full colour vision see them. Is something like that happening here? Are the problems or fallacies I see, not there at all? If not, I would love to hear someone show me why that is so! Does each of us have to live, alone, with our own problems? Are we, despite appearances, really quite existentially alone when we begin to ponder things?

    Perhaps it is the discursive nature of my presentation that obscures the questions or issues I believe I have identified. Or is it simply a case that no-one cares? I can’t quite believe that people who are earnest about their religion, anxious about the direction society takes them, concerned with a love of Truth and Rightness, would not want to do what they could to explain or elucidate for others as well as for themselves, issues of importance. Let me try to reduce the questions to these, all designed to elicit what people think makes marriage ‘marriage’. I will also try to make sure they are capable of a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

    Does marriage come into full existence at the point of the exchange of vows?

    Or, does it come into full existence only at the point of post-vow sexual consummation?

    If the former – just to make sure – would marriage continue to exist if, immediately after exchanging vows, one of the spouses is disabled and sexual consummation is impossible?

    Or, does it come into existence at the point of the exchange of vows like an infant and grows into “fuller” marriage as the years pass and love increases?

    Is there an inconsistency between saying that marriage ceases with the death of a uniquely loved spouse, but does not cease with the escape of one partner from the hatred and violence of the other?

    If we think that whether marriage exists or not does not depend on the way the spouses behave, then is it true that marriage, whether sacramental or not, is a value-neutral institution?

    Or is it true that we think of marriage in a formal technical categorical sense that is different from a relational, organic sense and that sometimes these senses conflict?

    If we think marriage exists independently of sexual consummation, then does there remain a logical link explaining why we might think marriage must only be between a man or a woman?

    If we say that marriage is for causa progenitiva AND causa unitiva, are we saying that both must be present?

    Or will only one suffice?

    If the former, can it be truly said that a marriage can exist post-vow between physically incapable partners or between maturer post-menopausal couples?

    Is the reason for admitting menopausal couples to marry that they have the “bits” necessary for reproduction even if they can’t possibly result in it?

    Does Christian theology trump or override or hold validity against secular law?

    If so, even though secular law might prohibit a marriage between two sexually competent 13 year olds, does Christian theology admit their capacity to be married?

    If anyone answering either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ feels that to do justice to their answer they must explain why, so much the better!

    • ed pacht says:

      Patience, my friend. Your questions deserve consideration, and I. for one (and possibly others) am thinking hard about them. These are the kind of questions that cannot be answered simply or quickly and probably can’t be answered adequately. I’ll be posting something eventually, but not until I’m confident that I can speak intelligently to these issue. I’m suspecting that the questions themselves miss the point, but if that is so, I need to be able to say why. Thank you for asking, and don’t think you’re being ignored.

      • I second this, Ed. I have a lot of things going through my mind about these and related questions. Unfortunately, I have no time today, perhaps tomorrow afternoon. Stephen has also written to me privately, and I need to reply to him. All these are profound issues, and sometimes like the children’s game of Pass the Parcel with a bomb or some deadly disease in a vial.

        I’ll get to it.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, ed.

      • ed pacht says:

        Well, here we go. I’ll try to deal with some of your questions. Please remember that I’m not a highly trained theologian, speaking my own opinions, but that those opinions are thoroughly grounded in traditional teaching so far as I understand it. One thing I am aware of is that precisely none of your questions will yield a single definitive answer even in a traditional context, and that perfectly orthodox theologians will differ on much of this.

        First off, you suggest that it is no real help to distinguish between ‘contract’ and ‘sacrament’. I have to reject that suggestion. The distinction is absolutely crucial, and in a secular society marks a radical difference in the nature and purpose of marriage, perhaps to the extent that they are (or at least can be) two entirely different things. We seem still to be operating on the assumption (pretty much accurate in the Middle Ages) that this is a Christian society and therefore that the civil and sacramental dimension coincide. That is no longer true.

        Secular society is concerned entirely with the contractual nature of a marriage, in other words, with the laws and privileges given to this building block of society, and can therefore feel free to manage and change the definition and working of civil marriage according to the practical/political effects of such a contract. A secular society (unfortunately in my view) is unable to concern itself with the spiritual dimension of such a relationship, and is therefore perfectly free to determine for itself what ‘works’ in the building of the kind of society that is being thought – i.e. to decide just what makes a marriage – when is it legal – what are the requirements for it to have the effect in law that it has – what those effects, privileges, duties, and legal status, actually are; and to determine when it can be declared to have ended.

        Marriage as a sacrament is little concerned with these legalities. What it is concerned with is a bond, a relationship, a making of two – by God – to be ‘one flesh’. Like all sacraments it is visible on earth, but has its primary reference to the realm of the spirit. Sacramental marriage is first and foremost a living icon of Christ and the Church, of God and His people.

        Secular society is perfectly able to set up a legal contract, called marriage, that is not in accord with what God requires of Holy Matrimony. Such a contract is not sacramental. Secular society is also perfectly able to withhold its legal approval from a sacramental marriage or to declare a marriage dissolved. That does not negate the sacrament.

        Civil government, therefore, is competent to define what is a legal contractual marriage and to apply laws to it as it will, and is (by divine permission) able to do so without God’s approval, but not with His blessing. Civil government, however, is unable to determine what makes it sacramental – to define what is ‘Holy Matrimony’.

        The Church (perhaps one needs to say, ‘a church’) does not, in a secular society, have the power to determine what constitutes a contractual marriage. Various groupings in that society will have varying expectations, depending upon their own spiritual (or unspiritual) convictions. Nor can any church demand civil recognition for its own concept of matrimony or insist on particular privileges or regulations. But the Church (“each church”) is competent to decide for its own people what constitutes the sacrament.

        You’ve asked a great deal, and, so far, I’ve only touched on a little of what you have asked. The length of this response should serve to illustrate how far from a simple yes or no the quired attempts at answering have to be. No simplistic answer will do. I’ll have to pause at this point, and perhaps come back to some of the rest of it later.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, ed. That’s a good start, and already giving me something substantial to work through. But yes, there are many issues, but take whatever time you need, I’ll be paying attention.

      • ed pacht says:

        I could potentially give an appearance of wanting to dominate the discussion, but this isn’t my blog. However, having been asked, I will attempt to put out more of my thinking for your consideration. Looks like this will also be long.

        Almost all answers given to questions of this nature are given in categorical either/or, yes/no formulation, as if those are really valid choices, as if affirming one side demolishes the apparent opposite. The law of noncontradiction in logic has surprisingly little real application in the real world. Perceived contradictions are rarely contradictory in every sense, and may just turn out to be complementary in ways we do not/cannot perceive. Catch phrases often seem to say something when they do not. Above is found a reference to calling a pork pie a cheese sandwich. Quite obviously the labels describe different things, but wait a minute – couldn’t it be said that these two items are far more alike than dissimilar, both edible, both composed of animal products and grain, both excellent sources of protein, etc. Yes, they are different, but might they not both be instances of the class pork-pie-cheese-sandwich-comestibles? Another said that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, but God did create Adam, and he did create Steve, and he did intend there to be some sort of relationship between them. The false opposition simply refuses to consider what that relationship is, and there is where the question in this thread lies. All that is to preface my following answers (or non-answers) to Stephen’s questions. I doubt if any of them will be satisfactory to anyone. They certainly are not to me. I doubt further whether there can be any really satisfactory answers graspable by the human mind, as there is frequently a noncontradiction depending on an infinite mind to comprehend it.

        Does marriage come into full existence at the point of the exchange of vows?

        Much more perplexing than it seems. Legally speaking, for civil marriage, at least in the legal structure under which I live, the vows, though they must be spoken before proper authority, are actually irrelevant. It is the registration of the marriage by the proper authority that initiates a civil marriage. I worked with a man who had been married by a Baptist preacher some thirty years before he determined upon divorce. He could not be divorced as the preacher had neglected to register the marriage and he therefore had never been legally married. In France, what would be the result if one went to the mairie, repeated the vows, signed the papers, and paid the fees, but the official never did the paperwork? Would the marriage be legal? The status of the vows is really no clearer for sacramental marriage in the church, regardless of the theological categories that have been erected. Would it be true marriage if the couple took their vows but the priest dropped dead or refused (for whatever reason) to pronounce them man and wife? You’d get argument on this one, and it could only be resolved by finding another priest. Perhaps the couple are the true ministers as most Western thought has asserted, but clearly there is more to it than that.

        Or does it come into full existence at the point of post-vow sexual consummation?

        Ah, that brings in the whole issue of annulment. Such a question only arises if there is a desire to break the bonds that had been declared. An unconsummated marriage between a man and a woman who nonetheless desire to continue as husband and wife goes unquestioned by church or by state unless one of them ultimately complains and seeks dissolution.
        A legal and a church annulment are two different things, and neither has to recognize the decision of the other, but either one declares that, in the eyes of that authority, the vows never had effect — although, if unquestioned, they would have always been in effect. A logical tangle here. And, yes, if one of the spouses were immediately disabled, the situation would be exactly the same. They would continue married unless they didn’t. Not satisfactory, but the way it is.

        I’ll leave the legal implications to the civil authorities as I’m no lawyer,
        but in considering sacramental matrimony, it becomes (to my mind) nonsensical to seek to identify a point in time as rigidly as that. God stands above and beyond time. To Him incipience is not distinct from continuance, and, though we must live within time, our relationship with the timeless one transcends that, and our entry into sacramental grace likewise transcends the bonds of time. This probably isn’t very helpful in ‘straightening’ all of this out, but perhaps we are not intended to do so.

        The question about growing into “fuller” marriage also comes in here. Of course a good marriage grows in depth, but in the eternal perspective it does not become a different thing in doing so, but is what it is and was and will be.

        …inconsistency between saying that marriage ceases with the death … but does not cease with the escape …?

        None. I’ve never been able to see a correlation between those two scenarios. The question of divorce is another and also complex one.

        If we think that whether marriage exists or not does not depend on the way the spouses behave, then is it true that marriage, whether sacramental or not, is a value neutral institution?

        Marriage is a value-proclaiming, value-demanding institution. The fact that someone refuses to honor its values doesn’t make it not exist. It simply marks him/her as a scoundrel within marriage.

        I’ve spent enough time for one day, so will stop here.

      • Stephen K says:

        Thank you, ed, for the time you are taking with this. Your comments always shed light. I think you are already touching on the problem, when you say that non-contradiction has little application in the real world. Our tendency to insist on rigid categories is a blunt instrument and frequently leads to collateral damage, which is not a good. Of course there must be definitions somewhere: when an issue of property is involved, the law must consistently rely on some fact or circumstance so that disputes can be settled or situations avoided; where the sacramental or other religious economies are concerned, the churches must do the same. The problem seems to me that in practice, as you imply, ‘reality’ is all over the shop, and there is a significant disjunct between the formulation of an ideal and the practical managing of life. The foundations for stridency in rejecting other models are not supported terribly by how things are. Now we have the proposition of same sex-marriage. To take up your approach – with which, as you know, I am much in sympathy – as much as it is different from a marriage between a man and a woman, it may be the same insofar as it may belong in the class of two people-committing-exclusively-to-each-other-for -life-for-better-or-worse.

        We are of course talking concepts here, ideals, not statistics, if you will. But pastoral approaches aside, the consequence is that the terms in which people might respond to the proposition of same sex marriage might have to be revised from the simple binary “no-they-can’t” / “yes-they-can”.

        I found it helpful that you drew our attention to the fact that civil marriage is regarded as effective upon the official registration of the fact, and not directly upon anything the couples do. Similarly, you have been very clear in articulating how in religious terms, a marriage is regarded as effective so long as it is unquestioned, which I think is so, but rather cute, because it effectively means that marriage will not be questioned so long as it is not questioned! When you have the over-zealous or the untried protesting about what is or is not a marriage on the one hand and a long tradition of professionals (both in the law and the church) saying “Don’t tell me, I don’t want to know!” on the other, it is hard to feel confident that the controversy over same sex marriage is going to be close to a reasonable settlement.

        I like your point about God being outside and above our desire to pinpoint things in time. But I take from your point that perhaps we are not meant to straighten everything out that in fact we ought to be less doctrinaire about a whole of things to do with what we think is God or what we ought to be doing in relation to God. Does that mean we are to adopt the approach that we will never quite get to the bottom of things and that everything is a bit of a working hypothesis? Or does it simply mean that we do far better to embrace a position of practical religious subjectivism?

        I find your explanations very helpful, ed, and I look forward to whatever further thoughts you have.

      • ed pacht says:

        A little more time has emerged, so here is a bit more.

        There is a distinction between marriage in “a formal technical categorical sense” and in a “relational organic sense.” These have become quite entangled in our thinking, largely (it seems to me) because of the intermixing of politics and faith from Constantine until recent times. I’ve pointed out the distinction as it emerges in a secular society. The formal organizational aspect is a part of the civil governance, the constructing of legally enforcible structures on which the society is built. These become very technical inasmuch as they have to be clear under the law and legal definitions. It is structure rather than meaning with which law is concerned, and it is these aspects that the state must regulate and enforce. the relational and organic aspects are immeasurable and seen only indirectly, and these become the concern of the church. When either delves to far into the other’s concern it is confusion that results. It is not that one is in opposition to the other, but rather that the view taken is from a radically different direction.

        Marriage does not exist “independently of sexual consummation”, but rather the consummation is implicit in marriage itself, whether in actuality or in potentiality. Consummation is a result of marriage, not its cause. Both church and state become concerned not because it has not yet happened, but if and when its nonoccurrence becomes an issue. Otherwise consummation simply must be assumed. How does this question relate to the issue of gay marriage? I would assume that such an attitude toward consummation would have to be applied were gay marriage to be accepted.

        “causa progenetiva and/or causa unitiva”? Either and also both or perhaps in come cases neither. Civil marriage and Holy Matrimony are both taken as facts-on-the-ground regardless of what causes may be attributed. Marriage itself is actually so conceived as to lead to both as effects, rather than to proceed from them as causes.

        When I come back to this I’ll return to the actual subject of the original post.

  9. ed pacht says:

    Well, let this be seen as the final installment of one humungous long reply:

    This whole debate over ‘gay marriage’ has been dominated by oversimplification to the extent of dumbing down. One hears catch phrases (often with a sneering overtone) and categorical statements that marriage is this (only) or that (only) along with a foggy inability to distinguish civil and sacramental marriage, to separate the various distinct meanings of ‘love’, and a hopeless entangling of love and sex, of desire and necessity. It’s all very discouraging and I rarely hear anything from either side of this debate that makes sense.

    My perspective is that of a gay (i.e. same-sex-attracted) man thoroughly committed to traditional Christian moral teaching, therefore celibate, but NOT unable to love. I know on a very deep level the emotional forces that can be followed into a gay lifestyle, and also the emotional forces that can lead someone to revulsion and intolerance. I’ve tasted both, and believe that either path is one of self-destruction, and that either also leads to the destruction of other precious souls.

    Some observations, hopefully not so simple as to be boring:
    1. God made male and female (Genesis 1)
    2. He made them out of the same substance (Genesis 2)
    3. Though separate beings they are made ‘one flesh’ (Genesis, Jesus, St. Paul)
    4. They are told to be fruitful and multiply.
    5. God must like sex – he made so much of it in His creation
    6. The overwhelming majority of humans (and higher animals) are sexually drawn toward the opposite sex.
    7. There are those of us who (for reasons still unclear) experience a drawing toward the same sex.
    8. Scripture is clear that sexual relations are confined to those who are married.
    9. Thus sexual relations outside marriage are sin.
    10. There is not one set of rules for ‘straights’ and another for ‘gays’.

    If I couple this with my discussion above of the dramatic difference between civil marriage and Holy Matrimony I come down to a conclusion that pleases no one: that, if the state should choose to place gay couples within the bounds of CIVIL marriage, that is the affair of civil society. If Christians are not running that society (the whole question of Christians in politics is another fraught discussion), then there does not exist the power to change that. I say, let it be. However, I cannot see that this arrangement fulfills Scripture’s description of Holy (i.e Sacramental) Matrimony, and therefore cannot be recognized as such within the church. A church that does make this kind of recognition is turning its back on both Scripture and Tradition, and, perhaps, thus unchurching itself .

    Regardless of attempts to wrest its words in one direction or another, Scripture is very clear indeed in refusing to approve of same-sex intercourse, while very clearly endorsing a deep love such as that of David and Jonathan. Never once does Scripture speak of a same-sex marriage. Such a thing is entirely outside Judeo-Christian moral teaching, and represents a decided innovation, a distinct reversal. How can a Christian be less than uncomfortable with such a state of affairs?

    One of the catch phrases I often see, used above, is to characterize the debate as being over which ‘bits’ one possesses. THAT IS PROFOUNDLY OFFENSIVE. I am a male, not because I have certain bits, but because every cell of my body is marked as male, and because of this overweening maleness, I have the ‘bits’ as well as a host of secondary characteristics. Please, let both sides in this discussion cease identifying human beings as penises and vaginas, and start looking at the whole person, right down to the cellular level.

    I think the central issue here is complementarity. Humanity is not complete if there be only one sex. The ‘one flesh’ described in Scripture would seem (in part) to be a joining of XY and XX into a completion of the image of God, and it is from that completion that new life arises. I don’t think marriage is entirely a matter of procreation (that, after all, can be, and often is accomplished without marriage), but this completion of wholeness (wherein the potential does normally exist) would seem to be what the Church so rightly blesses. A gay relationship cannot provide that, no matter how deep the love or how satisfying the companionship may be. The imbalance of sexes would be, to my mind, fatal to the possibility. All of one and none of the other is not a principle that leads to completion or balance.

    There’s also the matter, to put it crudely, of plumbing. It certainly is possible to find ways to do a coupling of same-sex individuals. Gay men are especially inventive in such matters. But the very attempt well illustrates the lack of complementariness in such a situation. The plumbing can be made to work in such a fashion, but that is not the way it was designed to work. Male and female are designed to fit together, and there is biological purpose in it.

    I wonder how clear I’ve been in all this. Anyone want to comment.

  10. Stephen K says:

    Dear ed,
    Today is Good Friday, and I am doing nothing today except think of my sins and religious things. What could be more logical therefore than that I turn to “the Sun in its Orb” and see if my co-readers have anything to say to me? One thing leads to another and I have come across your “final instalment” on the same-sex marriage thread, which for some reason I had so far missed.

    I firstly want to say how much I appreciate the time you have taken to address what I think are important foundational questions about marriage. Your attention to the matter confirms my opinion that most other people who wish to assert something about marriage (or lots of things) either remain content to quote a formula or cite a law. But then, most people are not philosophers or contemplatives.

    I also want to say how much I appreciate your sincerity and courage. I think you have deep insights into yourself and the spiritual life and I respect you,.

    Let me then, make a couple of ‘final’ responses.

    If you find it offensive to be characterised as a male because of your “bits” – an expression I used – you must direct your resentment, not at me, but at the official Churches whose argument revolves around or pivots on, ultimately, the physical differences for marriage. It is this very reductio ad parvulum that I am questioning and challenging. In one sense, you are absolutely right, one’s sex is not determined by the penis or vagina, rather the penis or vagina is realised by one’s sex, but, in the ordinary course of nature, the sex and the organ go together, so it is not too outrageous a thing to characterise the arguments by reference to the physical attributes. I do agree with you that personhood is more than physical attributes but even you, yourself, have linked the impossibility of the fullness of same-sex marriage to the uncomplementarity of the physicality of the partners. It is, precisely, the very dependence of usual Church argument on physicality that I challenge. I have not yet heard a convincing argument from the churches on “full person” lines.

    Secondly, I wish to make clear that I appreciate your clear exposition of the distinction between civil notions of marriage and the Christian ideal of matrimony. I just wish the Churches would cease pretending that the latter exhausts reality or value. Perhaps I am suggesting that the Christian churches would convey more coherency or credibility if they framed their response to the same-sex marriage concept by saying merely that whilst the state and society can define marriage anyway they like, for Christian purposes, the churches will only bless those between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. In other words, the Churches would cease their usurpation of the control of “marriage”, but confine themselves to the function of blessing. Which seems to me to be, not only a very appropriate religious function, but about the limit of what they should be asserting.

    Finally, I wish to say that at this point I do think that there is a distinction between Christian matrimony and marriage. I see the difference between ‘sacrament’ and ‘contract’. All marriages will be the latter; those blessed by religions will also officially be the former. But what I do not yet agree is that only sacraments are marriages. The implication of much Roman Catholic and other conservative discourse on the subject is that this is the case. Thus they are either dishonest or inconsistent in their manners towards non-Christian marriages.

    I have come to the conclusion that there are many areas where theological systems or theories are designed and become ‘truth’, and that thenceforth people cease to question or challenge them before parroting them. Same-sex marriage is, in my view, a pearl-shell irritant that will not go away until the churches come up with honest, persuasive responses. Those responses will not be able to form until they revisit or re-articulate the Gospel values. But first they have to be understood, perhaps afresh.

    If the Churches wish to argue that ‘sacrament’ only makes sense and is confined, if the parties are Christian, they should be honest and direct enough to say so. If they mean to say that is not the vow-exchange that effects marriage but the Church’s blessing, then they should be direct enough to say so. If they think the latter, then they should change their theology manuals and erase the part where it says that the partners are the ministers of the sacrament.

    It will not be preaching about the Beatitudes or Calvary or the hope of Easter but the exposure of institutional child abuse, the exposed hypocrisy in the clerical caste-system and the global irreligiosity of millions of nominal Christians, as well as the refusal to rethink how the Churches should reframe their role or competence, that will bring them finally undone. The future of the Church will lie in small gatherings of friends in My name, whose guiding principle will be no more, nor less, than ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

    Thank you, ed, for your thoughts and comments. You’ve given me several things to ponder. Best wishes and God bless.

    • ed pacht says:

      Time travel? As I write this it is still Maundy Thursday. Friday is still 1 and 1/2 hours away here.

      A little postscript:

      Truly. most people (and, yes, most Christians) are neither scholars not contemplatives. The overwhelming majority are among those who need to be taught and of necessity follow teachers. When I hear foolishness from the taught, I am not likely to be condemning them for their errors, but rather to look to the teachers. I tend to be very impatient with foolishness from those who claim or try to be teachers — Even if I agree with their conclusions. A teacher who does not think should not teach.

      As to “bits” — yes, I am exasperated by ‘conservatives’ who allow their thinking to be distorted in that fashion, but I am, if anything, even more exasperated by those who will accept that distortion as a real expression of the traditional teaching and use that to condemn traditional teaching. That is rampantly untrue and unnecessarily polarizing. Both sides need to stop it immediately if they ever hope to stop speaking nonsense.

      Having picked those two nits, I do like what you say in the rest of this comment. The two of us, from sometimes opposing viewpoints, seem quite able to talk intelligently about such things. There is hope in this polarized world!

      • Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Scylla and Charybdis, the list goes on. As a Benedictine monk once said to me, we have to be above all that.

        Beware of assuming that The overwhelming majority are among those who need to be taught and of necessity follow teachers. This is the general assumption of clericalism and totalitarianism. Some of us can tend to believe that we are on the upper end of the elite, when we are just affirmed individuals. People need to grow up and find their way. It is as simple as that. That notion went out with territorial parishes and the secular arm in the Church’s pocket. We are responsible only for those who come to us voluntarily, and they won’t be the ones who need flogging!

        Most people are alienated from the Church because of our failings as priests and committed laymen. We must realise that and find humility therein. Morality can only come from grace, prayer and spiritual life. Without these, churchmen squander all our credibility telling people what they shouldn’t do. They will just tell us they don’t believe in the “bunk” and that we should “go away”.

      • ed pacht says:

        Trying to find a way to express what I see. Really, all of us are in the category of those who must be taught and need to rely upon teachers. If one does not humbly put oneself there, one ends up considering oneself the inventor of his thought and therefore superior to others. It’s what I meant in another thread when I said that originality is not all its made out to be. All of us can only do the best we can, and must then leave it to others (perhaps yet unborn) to judge.

      • Yes, indeed, we all need to be little and humble – and be guided. Some of us might not be superior to others, but perhaps different. For example, experienced musicians don’t need basic do, re, mi lessons, but always have progress to make through hard work. The higher we go, the more we can fall and the more responsibility we have before God.

        All we can do is be ourselves and do the best we can, loving God and other people, and leaving the judgement to posterity.

        What caused a mild reaction was the idea of us church people assuming authority over the world, but I know that’s not the kind of thing you have in mind.

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