Monday, May 6, 2013

Leo XIII and the "Ends" of Marriage

Whenever the issue of the ends of marriage is discussed, the issue will normally be defined in the following way, no matter who you talk to. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Church allegedly focused almost solely on the procreative ends of marriage. After the Second Vatican Council, the Church in a legitimate development of doctrine, decided to focus on the unitive ends of marriage alongside the procreative. The one thing remarkable about this interpretation is how consistent it is across the ideological spectrum. Individuals like Dr. Jay Boyd (professed traditionalist and believer that natural family planning is destroying marriage) bemoan this turn of events, while those like Christopher West and Dr. Janet Smith (who snidely refers to this set of circumstances as "yesterdays church") celebrate it.  I'm not just of the opinion that both sides are wrong.  I'm of the opinion that this debate is for the most part pointless.

Leo XIII states the following in Arcanum, the first encyclical on marriage:
Not only, in strict truth, was marriage instituted for the propagation of the human race, but also that the lives of husbands and wives might be made better and happier. This comes about in many ways: by their lightening each other's burdens through mutual help; by constant and faithful love; by having all their possessions in common; and by the heavenly grace which flows from the sacrament...
While marriage was indeed instituted towards the end of procreation, Leo XIII taught that it also existed to help improve the lives of the spouses and of the family they create.  He does not create an artificial distinction that one is "better" than the other.  What creates that artificial distinction?  We do with our sin.

When marriage is presented, we should be presenting the following:

1.)  Marriage was instituted by God for procreation
2.)  Yet Marriage was also instituted by God to improve the life of spouses.
3.)  The procreative aspect of the marital embrace strengthens marriage
4.)  The unitive aspect of the marital embrace strengthens marriage
5.)  Take away the unitive aspect, and you will damage the procreative aspect
6.)  Take away the procreative aspect, and you will damage the unitive.  The sky high divorce rates in the wake of the pill speak for themselves.
7.)  Both aspects were instituted for our salvation


  1. I think this shows a large part of the need for the council.

    The pre-Vatican II era was not some "golden age". Bad catechesis was as rampant then as it is now: It was just different bad catechesis.

    The "hermeneutic of rupture" is people noticing the "change" in bad catechesis. Before the council, the bad catechesis was overly rigorous and legalistic; after the council, the bad catechesis was overly lax and "fuzzy".

    But the true teachings of the Church are continuous.

  2. I can't really speak about things on the individual parish level, but then again, neither can you. :)

    What I do find fascinating and interesting is that when you read the theology books, the papal encyclicals, the popular catechisms, this whole "overly rigorous and legalistic" charge almost never appears. Fr. Daniel Lord was a popular catechist before the council, and his teachings on this stuff were pretty much like Leo XIII (as Dawn Eden demonstrates in her masters thesis).

    The only thing that is rigorous and legalistic was the moral theology manuals. But then again..... they need to be. Moral theology has to be incredibly precise as to what is and isn't sin, because it involves the confessional.

    The Church in America suffered from some pecularities around the 1920's, but that's because of the deep influences Jansenism had on Irish Catholicism, and Irish Catholicism was dominant in America, as opposed to Italian or Polish Catholicism (the catholicism JPII would've experienced), where Jansenism was for the most part non-existent.

    The entire point of what I'm doing is to demonstrate that a lot of the misconceptions people have about the Church before Vatican II are precisely that.... misconceptions.

    1. Yes. This.

      American Catholicism did have its peculiarities. The old Baltimore Catechism, which educated millions of American Catholics, was very problematic. (Compare the BC to it's Italian counterpart, the Catechism of St. Pius X.)

      Many of these American misunderstandings crept into American Catholic marriage teachings through Couple-to-Couple League. (I think the Kippleys meant well, but some of their material was very poorly presented. Letting laymen teach moral theology in an intimate pastoral context is a recipe for trouble.) More recently, it's been cross-pollination with the evangelical world.

      It is difficult for Americans to distinguish "American Catholicism" from "Catholicism", which is why it is good that you are posting things like this.

    2. Agree on the need to draw those distinctions. It's also why I've tried to spend a lot more time referencing things like Leo XIII and the Church Fathers. to remind my traditionalist friends that not only is it okay to talk about this stuff (something most would agree with me on), but that there is actually something valuable a good emphasis on tradition can bring to this subject. (For the most part, discussion on this is non-existent.)

      And to my friends who aren't traditionalists, it counters the horrible narrative set by a lot of TOB evangelists that all this started with Vatican II, the Church before Vatican II hated sex and didn't spend much time talking about marriage outside of babymaking, etc. Not only is this absurd, but it actually really limits our knowledge of things. When John Paul II was doing his wednesday audiences, he was returning to the same sources I'm advocating. This isn't some secret gnosis.

  3. As far as the Council was "necessary" for stuff like this, it was compiling and pronuncing to a wider audience the papal teachings of Leo XIII, Pius XI and Pius XII on this matter. John Paul II would've been intimately familiar with these documents when he was writing works like Love and Repsonsibility, or being involved in the debates on Humanae Vitae, and when one reads his works in that light, it shows.

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