Marriage as the Natural Institution at the Family's Foundation
marriage or civil unions are even more execrable, as they make a mockery out of true marriage. Adultery is obviously a practice that is offensive to the characteristic of fidelity, and it represents a great act of injustice against the other spouse. Similarly, the use of artificial contraception violates the fundamental characteristic of marriage of fruitfulness.
Social studies increasingly show that society's failure to recognize these four "marks" in law has been one of the main contributors to the decline of the family. Illegitimacy, divorce, single-family households contribute to poverty, to psychological and social instability, to crime, to spousal and child abuse, and even suicide. The liberal recipe of ignoring the four "marks," and defining marriage as society sees fit has been a social debacle of the largest proportion.
Though of divine institution, marriage is something that is intimately human. Indeed, at its heart, marriage requires two reciprocal human acts. The spouses are the dispensers of their own marriage. Marriage arises "from the human act by which the partners mutually surrender themselves to each other," not for a time, but for all their lives.
This mutual giving of self-to-other self which is at the heart of conjugal love is what gives marriage its unchangeable nature. This mutual giving of self-to-other-self is a "total and exclusive gift of a person to a person," a "definitive commitment expressed by mutual, irrevocable, and public consent." (Compendium, No. 215)
It is not a commitment for a time, for a utilitarian purpose, for convenience. In this mutual giving self-to-other-self, nothing is held back. Nothing is reserved. Because of this, marriage by its very nature has permanency. It is an association voluntarily entered into, but once entered into it is no longer a voluntary association.
Marriage--that is marriage with its four "marks" for no other marriage is marriage--is a natural right, a human right. For this reason, "[n]o power can abolish the natural right to marriage or modify its traits or purpose." (Compendium, No. 216) This means the marriage law of all of the fifty states of our union violate the natural law of marriage and violate human rights. Is it any wonder we have social problems?
Of course, the family, and the marital covenant which is at its heart, extends beyond procreation of children. It also includes the important function of the education of children. It is within the family, the "cradle of life and love" formed by a "communion of life and love," that children are "humanized." As children grow within the family, they are taught lessons of virtue, of wisdom, of truth and goodness, and of love as they "develop their potentialities, become aware of their dignity, and prepare to face their unique and individual destiny." (Compendium, No. 212)
The family is "the first natural society," one of divine institution. As the "first natural society" of divine institution, the family has "underived rights that are proper to it" given to it by God. (Compendium, No. 211) "The family possesses inviolable rights and finds its legitimization in human nature and not in being recognized by the State. The family, then, does not exist for society or the State, but society and the State exist for the family." (Compendium, No. 214)
In a country such as ours, where we nourish an unhealthy individualism, the family and hence society tend to suffer. There is a certain danger in this overemphasis on individualism. It is important to nourish healthy families because they constitute a bulwark against the danger of collectivism, of an overweening State. "A society built on a family scale is the best guarantee against drifting off course into individualism or collectivism, because within the family the person is always at the center of attention as an end and never a means." (Compendium, No. 213)
The conjugal bond and family life ought therefore to be protected and promoted by society and the State. "In their relationship to the family, society and the State are seriously obligated to observe the principle of subsidiarity." (Compendium, No. 214) Of course, this means that the society and the State must not impede, frustrate, or needlessly interfere with the conjugal bond or family life. Therefore, ways of life, customs, laws, and institutions that do not support the permanency of the conjugal bond or the health of family life are to be condemned and manly striven against as prudence allows.
Andrew M. Greenwell is an attorney licensed to practice law in Texas, practicing in Corpus Christi, Texas. He is married with three children. He maintains a blog entirely devoted to the natural law called Lex Christianorum. You can contact Andrew at email@example.com.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Marriage, family, pro-marriage, pro-family, domestic church, Andrew M. Greenwell, Esq
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