In the first chapter of Walter Kasper’s Theology of Christian Marriage, a few things struck me. In looking at “the human values of marriage,” he looks at the Augustine’s emphasis on the three “goods” of marriage (descendants, mutual love and faithfulness, and the sacramental sign) as integrated into a more developed work of Thomas Aquinas.
In effect, sexuality as a means of procreation ensured that women (and perhaps men) would not be seen as mere sexual objects. Human love and faithfulness was a sign of God’s relationship with people. Cardinal Kasper’s regard for the genius of scholasticism in uniting these three values is evident. So what’s the problem?
Over the past few centuries, there has been a change in how people understand marriage. This presents us with a crisis, certainly, but also an opportunity. The shift from a rural agrarian society to an urban and industrial one has serious consequences. Marriage today is no longer located as a producing sub-community within the context of an extended family responsible for a certain economic positioning in an agrarian society. The technological paradigm we’ve been discussing in Laudato Si’ also has consequences for how the larger society and culture treats people and marriages. Workers are more cogs in larger machines. As for women who work outside the home: this is clearly evident. But no longer are extended families working a farm or a craft the basis for Western economies. And I suspect that the Third World situation also finds the older economic understandings unravelling.
The author touches on scientific knowledge unknown to Thomas Aquinas, mainly that a man and a woman contribute equally to procreation. That a woman is a receptacle for the sexual act does not mean that biologically, she is a passive element. And of course, it is now technologically possible to nearly eliminate the factor of pregnancy from a fertile marriage. So what does that mean?
It is clear that marriage and family life are the necessary anthropological corrective to a growing rationalization and even brutalization of public life. Individuals find that they have become increasingly lonely in an increasingly anonymous world, and for them, marriage is a refuge in their search for security.
Marriage once provided Western civilization with the basis and grounding for culture and economy within extended families, villages, and perhaps guilds. Those opportunities are mostly gone. The nuclear family is left. How will that unit fit in with the reality of our post-modern, industrialized culture that attempts a brutal efficiency in reaping profit and power for the wealthy? I doubt it’s as simple as reviving a “golden age” working of woman and man. The culture at large may be too powerful. Perhaps marriage was once the foundation of society. But society no longer functions in that way, nor does it seem at all receptive to a reworking of the world economy. Unless we were all prepared to disband corporations and let people produce and consume through the world wide web. People would then have their protected and personal enclave of like-minded partners.
The Church has moved with and past scholasticism as well. The Council of Trent suggested the primary purpose of marriage was to provide a man and a woman mutual help to be able to bear the difficulties of life. Pius XI developed this in his 1930 encyclical Casti Conubii. Vatican II and Humanae Vitae further endorsed the emerging personalist view of marriage. Yet the Church;s approach to matters of procreation remains based on an older biological view, one not always supported by what we actually know about human biology.
Whew! That’s a lot of ground to cover in ten pages of a book. But the final thought was hopeful:
(W)e should not simply be conscious of the breaking down of old forms. We should recognize the opportunity provided for a deeper personal understanding of the reality of marriage.
This seems a sensible approach for both sides: no laments about change, and no rush to accelerate changes without first looking at the opportunities for renewal, both cultural and sacramental.
To be continued …