May 16, 2013

Central or Usual?

The leaders of the Roman Church in England have issued another alert to legislators about the possible dangers of marriage equality. They worry that "Marriage will become an institution in which openness to children, and with it the responsibility on fathers and mothers to remain together to care for children born into their family, is no longer central to society’s understanding of marriage..."

Of course, this notion has never been true universally. "Openness to children" (whatever that means to an infertile couple, whose marriage is allowed even in the Roman Church, I can not grasp) and upbringing by their biological parents has been, in many cultures, one aspect or a possible outcome, or even expectation, of marriage. But it is not universal, nor has it always even been "central."

In particular, the Church of England has recognized that this "use" or "purpose" of marriage is only one among a number, explicitly since 1549, by directing that the prayer for procreation “shall be omitted” when the woman is beyond the age of childbearing.

It is a basic principle of logic that things that must be omitted in some circumstances cannot be central, and that things which are not present in all instances of an entity cannot be essential to that entity. The procreation and rearing of children are phenomena which can and do take place apart from marriage, and marriage can take place absent either. Do they need someone to draw a Venn diagram? Or is it merely the Roman tendency to try to force a desired form onto a reality that is far more spacious than they want to allow? I would argue that it is not even "best" in the abstract that children should be raised by their own parents. It all depends on the particular case, and in the case of bad parents foster care is to be preferred.

I will let pass here any extended reference to how poorly this Roman position reflects on the sacred history, with its rich imagery of adoption and foster-parenthood. But the absence of such references seem to me to indicate a particular blind spot, or a phenomenon in which marriage as they understand it has become like the apple in Maigritte's portrait of the man who can see nothing else, nor even understand it to be an apple, but as a green wall obstructing all knowledge of anything else.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


June Butler said...

The bishops sound desperate. At this point, I wonder if they believe their own rhetoric, as it makes no sense at all.

The long term consequences of the rule of celibacy mean that the bishops do not play their part in setting the example of marriage between one man and one woman with biological children, the institution which they see as so very vital to society.

Tim said...

At the risk of being overly cheeky, an "openness to children" has been far more of a problem within the Roman clergy than the lack of it has been for their laity.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Indeed, Mimi. It's like seeking advice from blind art critics...

Tim, as the Mad Priest would say, Kindly leave the stage... ;-)

Tim said...


Thank you, Tobias. After a long and dreary day, your witty riposte is as a leaven to my heart.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Tim. (BTW, love the cat avatar).

Further to Mimi's note, it struck me that when the Roman Church opines on this subject, we are listening to a group of people 98% or so of which have absolutely no experience of the thing about which they quite literally pontificate.

It also strikes me that their approach to marriage, fixated on its functions rather than its essence, is like the funtionalist/modalist error in Trinitarian theology.

More food for thought. Thanks to you both!

JCF said...

The thing that chaps my...donkey, Tobias, is that your argument would hold even if we were talking about Christian Marriage.

...but this RC Concern-Troll screed is in response to what is purely CIVIL marriage! In 2013, does the RCC *still* not grasp the Church/State distinction?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Yes, JCF. And what is odd is that the Roman Church (I'm no longer going to refer to them as "catholic") does precisely make that distinction. Civil marriage isn't "holy matrimony" and is not o.k. for Romans to engage in absent approval and succeeding church rites.

The situation in England is a bit different from here in the US, but not that different!

musculars said...

Your statement attests to the brittle state of ecumenical relations between the mainline Christian churches and the Roman Catholic Ecclesial Community

This is not only found in the binary relationships but also globally with the widely divergent views regarding interactions with the society as a whole. The presumption of the RCC hierarchy is that any rational person must accept the premises of natural law

The hierarchs then proceed to appropriate the authoritative role of reason based on nothing more than their assertions rather then engaging in the more arduous and more fruitful task of dialogue in a common search for either truth or accommodation when no agreements are forthcoming. Rather than gaining respect despite a difference of opinion they garner contempt for a winner takes all attitude that takes no due notice of their opponents or co religionists as truth takes no prisoners.
We would however be remiss in acting the same way as the hierarchy does if we do not acknowledge as catholic the faithful in the RCC manifesting the gospel in word and deed in frequent opposition to or in benign neglect of the bishops.
Belatedly the bishops have discovered this church triumphant hasn't worked out too well for them now anymore than it has in the past.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, M. This is the peril of a magisterium that rests on its laurels and simply does not have a built-in corrective mechanism. The result is punctuated equilibrium rather than slow and steady development.

I'm not sure the analogy holds up entirely, but the image that pops into my head is that of Ulysses chained to the mast, while his crew has its ears stuffed with wax. He hears the siren song but is unable to move, the crew does not hear it, but nor does it hear his commands to obey him, to set him free.

musculars said...

Actually a splendid analogy, however the Maigritte image was exceptional and stays with me.