Fr. John Gallagher CSB - Human Sexuality and Christian Marriage - An Ethical Study

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Human Sexuality And Christian Marriage AN ETHICAL STUDY

John C. Gallagher C.S.B.


Nihil Obstat: Sandra C. Magie, S.T.D. Imprimatur: Daniel Cardinal DiNardo Archbishop of Houston September 1, 2009 Copyright: 2009 Basilian Fathers of Houston Copyright is waved to allow persons to use and reproduce this text for educational purposes on condition that such use and reproduction include attribution to the author.


TABLE OF CONTENTS page Introduction ……..……………………………………………………………………. 3 PART ONE: POSING THE QUESTION……………………………………………... 7 Chapter One: The Crisis in Catholic Teaching on Sexual Ethics ……………………. 8 Chapter Two: Culture and Ethical Beliefs …………………………………………… 14 Chapter Three: Culture and the Ethics of Sex and Marriage ………………………… 24 PART TWO: A BASIS FOR THE ETHICS OF SEX AND MARRIAGE ………….. 37 Chapter Four: Physical Sex and Integration of the Person …………………………… 38 Chapter Five: Embodiment …………………………………………………………… 47 Chapter Six: Sex and Interpersonal Relationships ……………………………………. 57 Chapter Seven: What We Mean by Marriage and Family ……………………………. 67 Chapter Eight: The Spousal Relationship …………………………………………….. 79 Chapter Nine: Marriage as Procreative ……………………………………………….. 97 PART THREE: PRACTICAL QUESTIONS ……………………………………….. 132 Chapter Ten: Permanence of Marriage: New Testament Teaching …………………. 133 Chapter Eleven: Permanence of Marriage: Theological and Ethical Arguments ……. 148 Chapter Twelve: Marital Fidelity …………………………………………………….. 184 Chapter Thirteen: Chastity and the Single Life ………………………………………. 194 Chapter Fourteen: Artificial Contraception …………………………………………... 210 Chapter Fifteen: Obstacles to a Better Marriage …………………………………….... 233 Chapter Sixteen: Conclusion ………………………………………………………….. 249 Appendix: Evidence from Empirical Science ………………………………………… 259



Many people today, including many Christians, reject the traditional Christian moral teaching on sex and marriage. Of the relatively few who have examined the explanation in traditional Catholic manuals of moral theology in support of the traditional norms, a goodly proportion find it unconvincing. That is hardly surprising. For centuries certain norms for sexual ethics were accepted by most of the Western world. These norms appeared to be self-evident or nearly so, and no elaborate justification seemed needed. Only when the culture changes and the standards no longer appear self-evident do people feel the need to examine the basis for the rules more closely. After re-examination one may decide that a new set of rules is needed; or one may conclude that the traditional rules are sound and what is needed is a better articulation of the theoretical basis for them.1 This book argues for this latter conclusion in the area of sexual and marriage ethics. Adequate ethical guidelines for the use of money are not obvious from looking at a ten dollar bill. We need to consider a larger context that includes, among other things, financial institutions, motivations and methods in the accumulation of wealth and the effects of its various uses. So too, the ethics governing sex and marriage needs to be grounded in an understanding of a wide human context. Young people are sometimes admonished today to refrain from sexual intercourse “until they are ready�. In practice this seems to mean they should consult their vaguely intuited state of maturity with little suggestion that wider considerations may be relevant. A number of contemporary ethicists have enriched their understanding of sexuality by borrowing from psychology without, apparently, realizing the extent to which some of that psychology involves individualistic presuppositions and gives less weight to social and cultural dimensions. Ethicists writing in the last several decades on sexual matters


For the most part this was the approach of the great philosophical development from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle regarding those areas where traditional Greek ethical principles were challenged by the Sophists.


have made less use of sociology and anthropology than of psychology, and this fact I believe, contributes to a narrow understanding of sex and even of marriage. This book is an attempt to counteract that tendency. I offer here a defence of my choice of the title “Human Sexuality and Christian Marriage” without wishing to making too much of the point. In examining the reality of sex in this work I have depended mainly on human reason, without introducing data from revelation.

I do not deny that Sacred Scripture can contribute important insights

concerning human sexuality. I have simply made a methodological choice which I will not try to justify here. Once into the topic of marriage however I have begun with the teaching of Paul. Having reflected on the nature of marriage from this Pauline vantage point, the Christian can then return to the subject of sexuality within a larger context that contributes to its meaning. Behind what may appear to be my idiosyncratic methodology is my conviction that one cannot find the properly Christian meaning of sex apart from the notion of marriage so there is no use in trying. It is useful, however, first to reflect on the nature of sex with the tools of human reason in order to reach a comprehensive understanding of this human reality to which Sacred Scripture gives a fuller meaning. It may be helpful to indicate some things that this book does not do. It does not concentrate on casuistry – i.e., on deciding what is morally right in a particular case and whether and in what circumstances a moral norm might admit of exceptions. Casuistry and the issue of exceptions constitute a vitally important part of ethics, but I fear that if this book were to concentrate on that aspect of the topic then its primary focus – considering sex and marriage within a wide human context - might be overlooked. Readers and reviewers might be tempted to flip through the pages until they found out whether the book takes a so-called “liberal” or “conservative” position on exceptions to this or that moral rule and concentrate only on that facet of the discussion.2


The reader interested in my general way of dealing with exceptions to general moral rules can find it explained in some detail in Part Three of The Basis for Christian Ethics, New York, Paulist Press, c1985.


Part Three of this present book, which evaluates particular types of behaviour, omits topics that would have a legitimate place in any comprehensive treatise on the ethics of sex and marriage.

It deals only with five areas: marriage permanence, fidelity in

marriage, chastity outside of marriage, marriage as procreative, and some obstacles to a better marriage. Even regarding foundational questions discussed in Part Two, this essay makes no attempt to be comprehensive. It makes no attempt to investigate all the likely sources of insight into the subject,3 and leaves many theoretical issues unresolved. I have tried to contribute to the contemporary discussion but not to be the only source for anyone’s study of the ethics of sex and marriage. There is wide disagreement today not only about the rules for sexual ethics but also about what would constitute an adequate theoretical foundation for such rules. In such a situation, modesty seems to require that an author present any treatment of the subject as a contribution to the discussion of problems, not as a solution to them. I am of course under no illusion that my arguments will settle all controversies and meet universal acceptance; but neither do I wish to leave the impression that people should suspend all moral judgments concerning sex until the moralists reach full agreement.


agreement, if it ever comes, is a long way off. Meanwhile there is plenty of evidence right now, I believe, that the direction our culture is taking regarding sex and marriage – changes taking place largely without reference to any consistent theoretical foundation – is disastrous for individuals and for society. My reasons for this belief will become clear, I hope, in the following chapters. One hears the complaint occasionally that the Catholic Church is too concerned about sex and should pay more attention to matters of social justice. This complaint is puzzling. If the focus is official teaching in papal encyclicals, I can think of three in the last 130 years that have dealt primarily with sex, principally in the context of marriage. During that time there has been a profusion of papal encyclicals on matters of social justice. If the 3

An example of the kind of source that it would be interesting to consider in a more comprehensive work on sexual ethics is Michel Foucault’s three volume Histoire de la sexualité, Paris, Gallimard, 1976-1984, and challenges to some of Foucault’s positions by authors such as Victor J. Seidler, “Reason, desire and male sexuality” in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, edited by Pat Caplan, New York, Tavistock Publications, 1987, pp. 82-110.


focus is ordinary parish life, I have heard from many Catholics who cannot remember the last homily they heard in which sex was mentioned in more than a passing way. Given the state of sexual ethics and practice, and given the position of this book (that sex is a major source of devotion and energy in support of marriage, that marriage is extremely important for the good of the human race, and that if sex doesn’t build up marriage it tears it down) then it seems that Church authorities and priests in the parishes have talked not too much about sex but too little.4 If others criticize this book, as I am sure they will, I hope to learn from their comments. This happens more easily if criticism focuses on particular points and arguments. For example, it is hard to know what to do about a comment that one has taken insufficient account of the findings of contemporary psychology unless the critic points out how, on a particular point, the author could have profited by considering a particular insight of one or other psychologist. My thinking on sex and marriage is deeply influenced by the fact that I am a Roman Catholic. However, I hope that most, if not all, of the reflections in the following pages will appeal also to those who draw primarily from other Christian traditions. I hope also that much of what I say will make sense to non-Christians.


Parish priests have a valid excuse for not teaching extensively about sex in homilies, which are directed towards the faithful generally, whereas instruction on sex is best directed towards a specific audience. Nevertheless, it is important to find effective occasions for such instruction.


PART ONE POSING THE QUESTION The task before us becomes more apparent if we look first at some contemporary beliefs and attitudes about sex and marriage and how these relate to contemporary culture. Part One attempts to do this.


CHAPTER ONE THE CRISIS IN CATHOLIC TEACHING ON SEXUAL ETHICS A 1992 article by Andrew Greeley presented evidence of how American Catholics have strayed from the traditional and still official teaching of their Church on sexual ethics.5 Such dissent is hardly newsworthy, of course. What catches one's attention in the Greeley report, however, is how quickly attitudes have shifted in recent decades. For example, in response to the proposition "Pre-marital sex is always wrong," 74% of American Catholics polled in 1962 answered "yes", as did 64% of other Americans. In answer to the same question in 1992, only 18% of American Catholics and 27% of other Americans responded affirmatively.6 In other words, while the opinions of Americans in general on this question changed greatly over those three decades, the change among Catholics was especially dramatic. By 1992 there was more support among other Americans than among Catholics for official Catholic teaching on pre-marital sex. The presence of conservative Protestants among the "other Americans" partly explains this; but Greeley cites data to show that single Catholics were significantly less likely to have refrained from sexual intercourse during the past year than were single Protestants, whether moderate, fundamentalist or liberal.7 The dissent of Catholics from official Church teaching may not have begun with the debate over artificial contraception, but certainly it became much more public on that issue. In the early 1960's a few Catholic theologians speculated that the Church should allow artificial 5

Greeley, Andrew, "Sex and the single Catholic: the decline of an ethic" America 167(Nov. 7, 1992) 342347, 358-359. 6 The rapid change in attitude regarding sexual ethics is not unique to United States. J. Rinzema, The Sexual Revolution: Challenge and Response, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, c1974, p. 40, cites a study in 1970 that indicated that in Germany in 1966, 7% of men and 2% of women had had sexual relations before marriage, whereas in 1970 the figures had risen to 35% for men and 30% for women. 7 Why have Catholics in recent years deviated more markedly than Protestants from traditional teachings that have been strongly reaffirmed by the Catholic magisterium? A view unflattering to Catholics, but plausible, is that they tend to be conformists, as opposed to the inner-directedness of some Protestants. When they begin to reject Church authority, presumably Catholics do not immediately become inner-directed and accustomed to standing on their own, and thus they may tend to conform easily to the prevailing mores of their society.


contraception in very difficult cases. Three decades later, Greeley reports, nine out of ten American Catholics did not believe that artificial contraception is wrong.8 Public dissent concerning contraception was only the beginning. In America the divorce rate among Catholics approaches the national average, and voices among Catholic laity, clergy and theologians urge the Church to allow divorce. Many Catholics cohabit prior to marriage and apparently do not regard it as sinful. The campaign for public acceptance of homosexual activity has organized support within the Church.9 Characteristically, rejection of one or other traditional sexual norm arises first in secular circles and then gains a foothold in Christian Churches.10 In spite of pressure from some of its own members, including some ethicists, the Catholic magisterium holds firm to the traditional norms. For some, this makes it a beacon of light in the modern darkness. For others, the Church is hopelessly isolated from the real world, out of date and wedded unduly and perhaps fatally to a bygone age. Much of the literature arguing for a change in sexual ethics came out of the 1960's and 1970's.11 Of course there were earlier proponents of change. In the 1930's, for example, the Austrian psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich argued that ideally there should be no moral or legal restrictions on sexual activity, though he granted that in fact some limits must be imposed because of the harmful effects of past restrictions.12 After the 1970's, the spread of AIDS, societal ills attributed to family breakdown and the fact that the "sexual revolution" had already occurred may have dampened the fervour for still more sexual liberation, but a few


Op. cit. p.343. See, for example, McNeill, John J., The Church and the Homosexual, Kansas City, Sheed, Andrews and McMeel, 1976. 10 Support for quite radical changes in sexual norms can be found even within the hierarchies of Christian Churches. See for example, the book by the then Episcopal Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, Living in Sin?, New York, Harper and Row, 1988. 11 Most of the following arguments for greater sexual permissiveness can be found in The Changing Family: Making Way for Tomorrow, edited by Jerald Savells and Lawrence Cross, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1978, a collection of articles mainly from the 1960's and 1970's that was considered sufficiently "mainstream" to be used as a college text on sex and marriage. 12 The English translation of one of Reich's works is entitled The Sexual Revolution: Toward a SelfRegulating Character Structure, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1974. 9


authors have taken up the cause.13 One suspects that many people have begun to ignore traditional Christian sexual ethics without much attention to theoretical justification for the change. Those who have endeavoured to give some justification have resorted to a variety of arguments. 1.

Some complain that traditional Christian norms needlessly deny people physical

pleasure.14 Obviously, traditional norms rule out the pleasure of genital sexual activity rather thoroughly for the unmarried; and people today are marrying later in life than was usual in the past. Even for married people, traditional norms limit sexual intercourse to one partner and decree that the only legitimate way to avoid pregnancy is to abstain from sexual activity during the wife's fertile periods. 2. Some claim that the traditional norms not only deny sexual pleasure but also are psychologically harmful.15

They make people feel guilty about sex and this leads to

repression of sexual urges. While some repression may be necessary, as Sigmund Freud himself agreed, it is argued that Christian norms cause more repression than is needed. Excess repression can cause neurosis. Even apart from neurosis, the sexual material relegated to the unconscious remains in the (possibly infantile) state that it was in at the time of repression rather than being integrated into the conscious personality. Strong inhibitions produced by traditional norms may prevent people from enjoying sex even in situations when it is allowed by traditional norms. 3. Another argument is that the traditional Christian sexual ethic was formulated at a time when it made sense, but that it no longer fits a different situation today. For example, the Church's ban on artificial contraception arose when a high birth rate was important; many children died young; large, habitable parts of the earth were under-populated; children were the main source of security for their parents; large families assured economic and military power for kinship groups and nations.

Now infant mortality is low; fewer old people


See, for example, Baker, Robin, Sex in the Future, London, Macmillan, 1999. For example, Casler, Lawrence, "Permissive matrimony: proposals for the future", Savells and Cross, pp. 416-427. The argument is given at much greater length by Paul R. Abramson and Steven D. Pinkerton, With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995. 15 See Casler, op. cit. 14


depend on their children for support in old age; over-population has become a major concern; fewer people today look to a high birth rate to strengthen either the family or the nation. These reasons for the old ban on contraception no longer exist. Similar arguments can be made regarding sex outside of marriage. In the years before effective contraception and medicine, sex outside of marriage led to illegitimate children and the spread of sexually transmitted disease. Now these effects can be avoided by technical means, it is argued, so the reasons to ban sex outside of marriage no longer exist. 4. A few writers have argued that the Church's insistence on monogamy and its exclusion of all sexual partners but the spouse is the result of, and fosters, harmful jealousy and possessiveness.16 If people recognize that such jealousy and possessiveness are not healthy and profitable dispositions, they claim, then the reasons for rejecting adultery disappear. 5. Some hold that the traditional limitation of sex to one partner, the spouse, restricts selffulfilment in several ways. Sex with a variety of partners prevents the monotony that comes naturally after long association with one partner. Some go so far as to claim that sex with a variety of partners can rejuvenate a marriage. Different sex partners fulfil different needs, corresponding to different facets of one's personality. Sex with a variety of partners allows one to experience in-depth relationships with a variety of people in a way denied by the traditional norms. Finally, by imposing one rule for all, traditional ethics fails to take account of differences between individuals. A standard that fits someone with a low sex drive, for example, may not fit those with a greater sex drive.17 6. It has been argued that traditional norms foster inept parenting.18 People normally and naturally seek sexual intercourse. Traditional norms restrict intercourse to marriage and also dictate that an essential goal of marriage is the procreation of children. Those who seek 16

See Casler, op. cit., p. 418. George C. and Nena O'Neill in Open Marriage: A New Life Style for Couples, New York, M. Evans, 1972, proposed the practice of "open marriage" in which the spouse would be one's primary sex partner but it would be accepted that both spouses would have other sex partners. 17 See Otto, Herbert, "Man-woman relationships in the society of the future" in Savells and Cross, pp. 112113. 18 See Binstock, Jeanne, "Motherhood: an occupation facing decline" Savells and Cross, pp. 299-305.


sexual union are pushed, willy-nilly, into marrying and having children. Many of those entering marriage are unfit parents by reason of temperament, psychological instability, emotional immaturity, lack of generosity, economic conditions, career orientation, etc. To keep incompetent parents from having children, must we not sever the connection between sexual union and procreation-oriented marriage? 7.

Some hold that traditional Christian norms reflect an unduly negative attitude in

Christian Churches towards sex. Proponents of this view don’t always agree about the cause of this deficiency. 19


Some blame the influence of ancient Greek dualism on early

Even if this dualism of body and spirit stopped short of claiming that matter

is evil, they argue, yet it identifies the spirit as the true person and looks upon human perfection as a purely spiritual reality; the body and its strivings are seen as rivals and dangers to the spirit rather than as legitimate natural tendencies, and sex is correspondingly denigrated. Others are sure that it was the Greeks who had the healthy, unspoiled, positive view of sex.20 Whatever its origins, these authors believe that the traditional, relatively strict attitude of the Church needs to be relaxed in view of a more positive modern attitude towards sex and towards the body generally. I have cited primarily secular sources of views opposing the traditional ethics of sex and marriage.

Religious writers, including Christian theologians, have expressed similarly

critical views. Some of the arguments against the Church’s position are more nuanced than the arguments cited here. My purpose here is not to analyse the arguments closely along with their presuppositions and then counter them in detail. My refutation of these arguments is implicit in the extended discussion throughout this whole work. My purpose here is simply to indicate some of the considerations that must be dealt with if one is to elaborate an ethics of sex and marriage that will convince at least serious, critical thinkers today.


See. for example, Rinzema, J., The Sexual Revolution: Challenge and Response, Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans, c1974, pp. 51-54. 20 See, for example, Abramson, Paul R. & Steven D. Pinkerton, With Pleasure: Thoughts on the Nature of Human Sexuality, New York, Oxford University Press, 1995. After citing instances of ancient Greek permissiveness with approval, they state, p. 15: "The sexual moralizing and sexual restrictions adopted by the Christian world during the Middle Ages stands in stark contrast to the Greek sexual ethic."


As might be expected, arguments for a new sexual ethics have provoked a number of writers to defend the tradition, and numerous others have at least expressed misgivings about the direction society has taken.21


One among numerous examples is "The epidemic of a white underclass", Houston Chronicle, Sunday, Dec. 26, 1993, pages 1E and 5E, by Charles Murray. The article notes that in a famous report in 1962 Daniel Patrick Moynihan took the fact that 26% of births in the African American community were to unmarried mothers as evidence of a breakdown of the African American family, with likely evil social effects in such areas as delinquency, crime and employment. By 1991, however, 30% of ALL American births were to unmarried mothers.


CHAPTER TWO CULTURE AND ETHICAL BELIEFS When many people change their ethical beliefs at the same time and in the same direction it is not by chance. Some common cultural influences must be at work. A critical approach to the ethics of sex and marriage requires attention to the influence of culture on ethical beliefs. A thorough study of this topic would be a daunting enterprise, raising the spectre of a threevolume Some Notes towards a Preface to the Study of the Relation of Ethics to Culture. This chapter and the next will deal with only a few points that seem especially relevant to the matter at hand. I. THE MEANING OF CULTURE "Culture" here is used in a wide sense to include everything that is learned socially. Some things we learn from immediate experience - that hot things are painful to touch, for example, and that some objects are heavier than others. Most of what we know, however, we have learned from other people. Culture in this sense includes a vast fund of factual information concerning current events, history, geography and science. It takes in all language and our concepts insofar as these are shaped by language. It embraces theories and world views, social expectations and roles, attitudes to persons, physical skills and habits, modifications of our emotional responses, developments of our aesthetic tastes. By social learning we become participants in, and to a considerable extent the products of, a pre-existing human environment. Anthropologists point out how ethical beliefs differ from culture to culture.


relativists take this as proof that moral norms are nothing but the products of a culture, validated only by acceptance by people within a particular culture. The literature arguing for or against cultural, ethical relativism is abundant and the question need not be re-


examined here.22 Suffice it here to say that, while ethics is rooted in aspects of human existence that transcend particular cultures, yet people’s actual ethical beliefs are profoundly and pervasively influenced by those cultures. II. TWO LEVELS OF ETHICAL EXPERIENCE For present purposes it is useful to distinguish two levels of ethical experience. By "formal ethics" here we mean what courses in ethics profess to teach. It includes rules - for example, that killing human beings is immoral except perhaps in certain strictly limited situations. It embraces arguments in support of those rules, e.g., arguments to show that this rule about killing is valid. Formal ethics involves the elaboration of ethical systems. The rule concerning killing can be understood within a logically constructed system that sets forth basic principles and shows how this particular rule makes sense within a wider whole. A second level, which we will call "para-ethical", consists of appetitive as well as cognitive elements which, while not part of formal ethics, relate closely to it. These elements may be passing reactions or enduring dispositions, and they constitute personal reactions for or against ethical rules. The appetitive23 part of the para-ethical level is made up of dispositions of will and of the sense appetites or emotions. For example, accompanying my knowledge of the rule about killing human persons are my desire to preserve my own life and the lives of others, my horror at the thought of deliberate killing and the guilt I would feel if I were responsible for the death of another. As Thomas Aquinas and other moralists have observed, some of these appetitive dispositions provide a co-natural knowledge of the moral good. Because of her love for her child, for example, a mother spontaneously perceives that it is good to take care


My own contribution to the proliferation of this literature is available in The Basis for Christian Ethics, New York, Paulist Press, 1985, Part One. 23

By "appetitive" here I mean those dispositions that move us towards or away from certain realities. It is expressed in terms such as emotion, desire, love, hatred, aversion, fear, etc. Appetitive responses by themselves are not cognitive (acts of knowing) though they are intimately related to cognition.


of the child. Other appetitive factors do not directly determine what we judge to be good but still play an important motivating role in moral life.24 The appetitive predispositions discussed above are accompanied by cognitive25 elements, some of which constitute formal ethics as described above, and others which fit under the title "para-ethical". For example, besides formulating a rule about killing human beings (formal ethics) I may have memories of the deaths of others. I may have heard any number of stories about murder and the word conjures up numerous images. These constitute paraethical elements. On the issue of killing human beings, most of us experience a relatively close correspondence between our formal ethics and the para-ethical elements related to it. Our para-ethical response of valuing human life and our abhorrence of killing move us to conform to the rule against killing. On other ethical issues, however, the two levels may not agree, and the amount of agreement can vary from one person to another. For that matter, at one and the same time I experience some para-ethical dispositions in support of an ethical rule and others that oppose it. For example, on the level of formal ethics I accept that fostering or acting upon racial prejudice is wrong. Along with certain para-ethical responses that support this norm (e.g., my empathy with human persons regardless of their race) I may experience others that push me in the opposite direction (e.g., a tendency to stereotypical reactions when I observe someone of a certain race doing something that I dislike). III. CHANGE IN ETHICAL BELIEFS According to a view dear to intellectuals, social change begins with ideas and theories propagated by an intellectual elite. These ideas and theories trickle down to the rest of the


The deliberate acts of will by which we choose moral good or moral evil are appetitive acts, but they are the very stuff of moral life and it would be confusing to include them under the heading "para-ethical". The latter term is meant to apply to appetitive predispositions to moral life, not to moral actions themselves. 25

By "cognitive" here I mean the whole area of knowing, whether it be the sight of a tree, the sensation of a headache, grasping a theorem of geometry or understanding a philosophical system.


population and eventually modify social forms and practices. This view suggests that change in ethical beliefs begins on the level of formal ethics, with new norms and arguments being propounded first by intellectual leaders, and their arguments gradually change the beliefs and attitudes of the rest of the population. There is some truth in this view; no doubt new ethical formulations by intellectuals can change the beliefs and even the behaviour of others in society. However, frequently the change takes place first on the para-ethical level, and then a new formal ethics is formulated to fit the new para-ethical dispositions.26 We speak of the power of "an idea whose time has come". If the powerful idea is an ethical formulation, as is frequently the case, does the power comes from the idea itself (the level of formal ethics)? Or does it take on power because it corresponds to a new set of para-ethical attitudes and responses? Why, for example, did duelling, which seemed to an earlier age to be a proper way of vindicating one's honour, come to be seen as sinful and criminal? The major moral arguments available to the earlier age were also available later, and vice versa. Why were arguments that were accepted later not convincing to people of an earlier age, and why did arguments that convinced earlier people cease to be persuasive later? It seems that the changes in moral beliefs were the results principally of previous changes on the level of para-ethical attitudes and responses. Can arguments on the level of formal ethics prevail in a culture that forms para-ethical dispositions in the contrary direction? The question is important for Church teaching. The emphasis by Pope Paul VI on culture in his 1975 Apostolic Exhortation on evangelization, Evangelii Nuntiandi, suggests that he was much concerned with the issue. Supposing a case where para-ethical elements change first, a society may move through several stages in changing ethical beliefs. The first we may call the stage of equilibrium.


The sociology of knowledge of Karl Marx bears on this point. For Marx, the intellectual life of a society (except in a true communist society, no example of which has yet come into existence,) is largely ideology. That is, it is an intellectual construction that explains and justifies the status quo and therefore is a force not for change but of inertia. For Marx change in society begins with changes in the conditions of life, and the new conditions of life give rise to new theories and beliefs.


Here there is a strong agreement between the two levels. People accept ethical rules that are supported by their para-ethical reactions and dispositions. Even at this stage, there is tension between ethical ideals and subjective attitudes. For example, even if one has strong para-ethical responses in support of the prohibition of killing, one may also harbour opposing dispositions such as anger or a long- standing hatred. The anger or hatred may move us, if not towards homicide, at least in the direction of bodily harm. If they were not opposed by contrary dispositions they would indeed lead us to homicide. In the stage of equilibrium we experience a tension between better and worse tendencies within the self. In New Testament terms, it is a battle between flesh (the unredeemed self) and the work of the Holy Spirit within the self. One who lives by the Spirit is not a slave but a child of God, attuned to what is truly good and moved towards that good by love. A second stage is characterised by dissonance between the two levels of formal ethics and para-ethical attitudes. The ethical responses and dispositions of people change, with the result that many para-ethical elements no longer support the old norms. For a while at least, people continue to retain, and genuinely to accept, the old norms. Custom and habit, human respect, induced guilt, and even enforcement by law continue to give force to certain moral rules well after most para-ethical elements have ceased to support them. For example, in mediaeval Europe a high value was placed by the ruling classes on loyalty, bravery and prowess in battle. These were the qualities that made for success in this society. These qualities entered into a certain notion of nobility of character, influenced people's judgments about right and wrong and guided the training of the children of the ruling class. With the rise of capitalism, however, success came to be associated more with trade, production of goods and the accumulation of wealth than with victory in battle and loyalty to one's lord or vassal. This involved changes on the level of para-ethical attitudes, but it did not immediately produce changes in formulated norms. Before the change of ethical norms to fit the new bourgeois society, one can speculate, there was a state of dissonance between the old norms and new para-ethical attitudes.


At the stage of dissonance, moral rules are experienced primarily as a burden imposed from outside. If I am morally good at this stage I do a lot of things that I don’t much like to do and refrain from doing a lot of things I wish I could do with a clear conscience. Moral virtue means doing one's duty, the more difficult the duty the more virtuous the act. At this stage "ought" and "duty" become central ethical concepts.27

Transgression results in

feelings of shame and guilt. After other para-ethical elements in favour of the old norms have almost disappeared, shame and guilt may become the predominant motives for being morally good, i.e. - for following the old norms. If ethics is placed in a religious context at this stage, God as law-giver is seen primarily as judge and tester of one's mettle rather than as a teacher of wisdom or bestower of grace. Because moral rectitude at this stage is characterised by conformity to an external law, for practical purposes obedience replaces love at the centre of moral life. This stage of dissonance, though it may last for a considerable time, leads naturally to a third stage, one of doubt. At first one looks for loopholes in the law. If the law is a burden then it seems like a good idea to apply it as narrowly as possible. Then come the exceptions and the insistence that general laws not be applied to the detriment of the good of individuals. Eventually the exceptions may become so common that little is left of the rule. If they have not done so earlier, people at this stage begin to question the validity of norms that no longer correspond to any strong para-ethical attitudes and reactions. If moral norms no longer correspond to strong inner attitudes it is no longer self-evident why one should be morally good.28 One may begin to suspect, like Thrasymachos in Book 27

Doing ethics in the modern world has been so exclusively tied to the notion of "ought" that it may appear strange to imply that any other notion could be more central to morality. However, while "ought" remains an important notion in Aristotelian or Thomistic ethics, it takes second place to the orientation of nature to certain goods - natural appetites for knowledge, friendship, etc. For either of these thinkers, one "ought" to obey this or that norm because there is a more basic appetite for some good served by that norm. 28

This lies behind Friedrich Nietzsche's questioning, in Beyond Good and Evil, of the whole notion of being morally good.


One of Plato's Republic, that moral norms are tricks that the weak use to protect themselves against the strong. When its ceases to be self-evident why we should do good, ethicists may try to remedy that condition by constructing what they call "metaethics", to show us why we should do what is morally right. When the main motives for following the stated norms are shame and guilt, one may question the propriety of instilling those feelings, and it may seem better to get rid of them rather than to be directed by them. When this third stage is expressed in theological terms, St. Paul's texts favouring freedom from the law may be interpreted in terms unfavourable to any emphasis on general ethical norms. To live without moral guidance however, is not only a bad thing; it is impossible, unless one takes the nihilist position that life has no meaning. (Whether it is possible to be a consistent nihilist is a matter of conjecture we need not pursue here.) In rejecting a particular set of guidelines, anyone who is not a nihilist must favour certain other values as ultimate guides to life. One remains, implicitly at least, an advocate of some values and rules. Those rules and values that are ultimate guides let us call our ethics. A way out of the stage of doubt is to formulate new guidelines that correspond to the new para-ethical responses and dispositions, and so attain a new state of equilibrium between formal ethics and the paraethical level. Change in ethical beliefs need not take place in all areas of ethics at once. For example, a society may be in the process of changing its beliefs in the area of sexual ethics but be in a state of equilibrium regarding the ethics of truth telling. Furthermore, all people within a society don't change their ethical views at the same time or at the same rate. Some for example may hold fast to the prevailing beliefs while others have begun to doubt them. However, because people living in the same society are subjected to certain common influences, large numbers are likely to move from one stage to another at more or less the same time. IV. THE RESPONSE OF ETHICISTS


If we add nothing further, the process just described seems to be more or less inevitable; cultural forces form new para-ethical reactions and dispositions in people; this causes them to go through certain stages on the way to a reformulation of new ethical norms. For the cultural ethical relativist, this is all there is to ethics. In this view ethicists, if they are to serve any useful purpose, must be content with formulating new norms and justifications and ethical systems to fit the changing para-ethical elements produced by the culture. There is a kind of ethicist, whom we might call an "uncritical reformer"29, who, while not adopting cultural ethical relativism in theory, seems to accept it in practice, perhaps unconsciously. These reformers speak of updating ethics, getting rid of norms that are no longer relevant, seeking an ethics that is convincing to contemporary people. Others too may use these terms, but what sets uncritical reformers apart is that they lose touch with any criteria that transcend the current attitudes. The effect of this in ethics is to challenge, and eventually to discard, whatever does not feel right to people who have developed new paraethical reactions and dispositions. These uncritical reformers tend to regard themselves as being on the cutting edge of change, as venturing into new frontiers. In fact, however, they are conformists. They formulate new norms in accord with new para-ethical attitudes and responses without asking the critical question of whether the new attitudes and responses are in fact good. Does following the new dispositions always lead to what is best for the person? Has our culture been kind to us in forming us in this way? Such questions are meaningless of course to the cultural ethical relativist, but to those who believe that there are ethical standards that transcend any particular culture, they are crucial; not to ask them is to conform uncritically and slavishly to the prevailing culture.30 By a


There is a temptation to call such ethicists "liberals", but I wish to avoid any suggestion that all ethicists who are thought of as liberal are of the uncritical type here described. 30

Herbert Marcuse in One-Dimensional Man speaks of the passivity of modern people to the prevailing culture. Society influences the individual but the individual lacks the inner resources to respond creatively to these cultural influences.


critical use of intelligence one can become aware of cultural influences, aware of oneself as subject to them, and aware of other possibilities that have not been revealed by these cultural influences. In their anxiety to construct an ethics that is convincing to the contemporary world the uncritical reformers remove any ethical barriers to domination by the new cultural forces. Given the shortcomings of this approach, it is not surprising that others emphasize authority and tradition. Christians, they remind us, are not called to conform to the world. They must be critical and judge which characteristics of the modern world have a legitimate place in Christian life and which do not. The Church, more in touch with the wisdom of the ages, saves us from the narrowness and bias of our own culture. An extreme form of this appeal to tradition and authority might be called uncritical reaction31. By holding unconditionally to what is perceived as tradition, it makes absolutes of human and fallible ethical formulations of one moment in time, usually of the relatively recent, remembered past. This has several drawbacks. First, a particular formulation of a moral rule may reflect a particular situation. For example, in one society perhaps capital punishment is the only way to prevent a complete breakdown of public order that threatens the lives of the innocent. Capital punishment in such a society is certainly more defensible than in societies where that situation does not prevail. An appeal to a tradition that makes an absolute of a previous permission of capital punishment cannot recognize the possibility that in a new situation it may not be justified. Furthermore, an ethical formulation by the Church at one moment in time may reflect only a partial realization of the implications of the Gospel. The Gospel is a leaven that only gradually transforms society; only gradually do Christians begin to realize the practical implications of some of the truths they believe. It took some centuries, for example, for Christians generally to realize that slavery in any form is incompatible with the dignity and 31

Here the term "conservative" is avoided for reasons similar to those given above for avoiding the term "liberal".


rights of persons.

An uncritically reactionary position, refusing to question past

formulations, leaves little room for growth in appreciation of the Gospel. Even when the intransigents are correct about a particular norm and its formulation, an approach that centres only on the rules sanctioned by tradition and authority may lose sight of the persons and values that the rule is supposed to serve. There is a further danger here. How can people be moved to obey a rule when they no longer appreciate the good that justifies it? One can appeal to law and force, or to social pressure, shame and guilt; and at times it may be necessary to do this. Sinners that we are, we retain in some measure what Paul calls the spirit of slaves. We need force and fear, social pressure, shame and guilt to make us do what we are unwilling to do for better motives; but we should aspire to something better, to what Paul calls the spirit of children of God who are moved by love to do the good. This implies that we must go beyond mere conformity to the rule to the development of those inner dispositions that will move us to do the good because it is good. Appeal to the norms and standards of the past should be accompanied by the effort to recover the best interior dispositions that gave life to those norms and standards, as well as discovering those new things that will help us live the message most fruitfully in our day. To sum up, uncritical reform conforms slavishly to new para-ethical reactions and dispositions produced by new cultural forces. Uncritical reaction conforms to the past, but not to the past as a source of life. To avoid either extreme we must discover and build on an ethical basis that transcends culture, in view of which we formulate a guide for action that points to the fullest possible human good. Of course we do not easily and at one stroke reach a point beyond culture on which we can build a timeless ethic, but is in that direction that we should direct our efforts.


CHAPTER THREE CULTURE AND THE ETHICS OF SEX AND MARRIAGE This chapter will discuss four of the many cultural factors that influence our thinking and attitudes concerning sex and marriage. I. INDIVIDUALISM A number of authors have discussed the individualistic character of American society.32 Two qualities associated with individualism seem particularly important for our topic. One such quality of individualistic people is that pursue their private interests with relatively limited attention to communal welfare. They are likely, for example, to regard taxation as a rude invasion of private property by the government. It's my money, they say; I worked for it, and now parliament or congress is taking it from me. Even very individualistic taxpayers recognize of course that some taxes are necessary, but it still irks them to think of the government spending their money. Those with a stronger communal sense are more aware that their productivity depends not only on their own effort but also on a network of government services; and though they feel the pinch at tax time, they also feel considerable satisfaction when the commonwealth flourishes and different parts of society work together in harmony. The Church's moral doctrine, including its doctrine on sex and marriage, presumes devotion to the common good. This is true particularly of the Church’s insistence that an essential purpose of sex and marriage is procreation, which includes not only begetting children but also raising them to become good and competent members of Church and society. The individualist thinks of sex and marriage mainly in terms of the satisfaction of the partners.


Especially helpful for our purposes is Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life, Bellah, Robert, & others, Berkeley, University of California Press, c1985.


The more communal view doesn't imply that people seeking the common good lack personal satisfaction and fulfilment. Rather, much of their satisfaction and fulfilment comes precisely in their pursuit of the common good. Regarding family life, the Second Vatican Council teaches that marriage, while by its nature ordained towards the begetting and educating of children, also serves the welfare of husband and wife, and children contribute greatly to the welfare of their parents.33 The individualist, on the other hand, conceives of satisfaction and fulfilment in more self-centred terms. A characteristic of the traditional Christian view, still preserved in Catholic teaching, is concern with the well-being of institutions that serve the common good. On the issue of marriage breakdown, for example, a more individualistic approach focuses on persons caught in difficult situations. Their lives, it seems, would be easier and more rewarding if they could divorce and be free to marry more suitable partners. Should they be expected to pay over a lifetime for a single mistake, one for which they may not have been responsible? A more communal approach is concerned that allowing divorce weakens the bond of all marriages, encourages people to begin marriage without proper care and preparation, undermines the determination of spouses to work through difficulties to a better union, and attacks the security that children need in their family situation. The more communal view apparently asks individuals caught in a difficult marriage to suffer for the sake of the good of the institution - and by implication for the good of those persons served by the institution. In our culture such arguments sound weak and unfair to individuals caught in a painful marital situation. A second quality of individualism is independence in moral judgment. In tradition-centred cultures the common acceptance of a moral rule gives it authority, an authority that may be bolstered by the Church, by civil law and by an educational system. Citizens in a more individualistic society claim more responsibility for their moral judgments. That is, they seek to be less dependent on authority and tradition. Catholics in America seem to be less


See Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Part Two, Chapter I, esp. paragraph #50.


willing today than a couple of generations ago to accept rules regarding sexual behaviour just because the rules are traditional, or just because the Church insists on them.34 It is difficult to disagree with the principle that people should exercise responsibility in making moral judgments. However, exercising responsibility in making moral judgments has come to mean for many that they will accept moral rules only to the extent that they personally appreciate the values involved and find the arguments supporting the rules to be convincing. At the same time, people are seriously limited in their ability to appreciate values and to recognize the validity of ethical arguments. At least two limitations are especially relevant here. First, when we begin to depend on our own appreciation for moral values, at best we must depend on what some authors call "co-natural knowledge" of the good.

This is the

knowledge that comes from our possession of certain personal qualities. For example, I spontaneously recognize the value of people I love, and I have co-natural knowledge that to seek their welfare is a good thing. I will lack this co-natural knowledge if I hate them. Were all our appetites directed properly toward the true good (in theological terms - if we lived completely under the movement of the Holy Spirit) we would have co-natural knowledge of the whole panoply of moral goods, thus reducing the need for moral instruction. However, we are sinful people whose appetites often lead us astray. Much of moral guidance consists of norms for which we do not appreciate the reasons because we have not yet developed the requisite virtues. Why would I accept such norms? I would do so because I judge that, although I don't yet appreciate the particular good involved, there is such a good to be found and this norm will guide me towards it; and I need guidance from someone who knows more than I do on the topic.


To what extent does the recent rejection by Catholics of official Church teaching actually represent greater independence of judgment? It may be that individuals who used to depend on Church authority for moral teaching have simply become dependent upon secular public opinion. This would constitute another cultural factor among the many that we will not examine here. For at least some, however, questioning Church teaching probably does indicate a growing independence of judgment.


We live richer lives today because when we were young we were steered towards goods which at the time we didn't appreciate: great literature and music, loyalty to friends, intellectual pursuits of many kinds. Adults too, however, retain the need for this kind of guidance. The traditional Christian sexual ethics assumes that sexual appetites develop in people well before they have developed the virtues that would provide co-natural knowledge to guide them in this area. Another limitation we bring to assessing moral principles is bias. There is individual bias; e.g. I am suspicious of this man because of some disagreeable fact I associate with him. National bias can convince most people on both sides of every war that their side is right. There are biases related to race, to social class and to economic interest. Some may last a lifetime while others seem to evaporate when our anger or fear dies down. If I accept moral norms concerning sex and marriage only to the extent that I personally appreciate the values involved and the arguments given, my ethics will reflect both my limited ability to appreciate goods and my biases. II. MASS MEDIA OF COMMUNICATION Advertising and entertainment in the mass media of communication - principally radio, television, the print media, cinema and popular music - bombard the public with sexual material. It is reasonable to suppose that this material has some effect on people. At least two aspects of that effect merit attention. One aspect concerns a milieu for rearing children. We think of the family as the principal agent in forming the characters of the young, with significant help from school and Church. Parents teach their offspring values, habits and skills. They create a milieu which, ideally, is designed to serve the children's best interests. Relatively intense interaction with parents is usually decisive in forming the character of the young.35 35

Information and references regarding the influence of parents on children are given in the Appendix at the end of this book.


The development of mass media of communication has invaded the protected "bosom of the family". Parents now must struggle to control what images, stories and heroes feed their children's imaginations, to control the explicit or implicit values presented for their guidance. Adolescents commonly have more communication with their peer group than with their parents, and the peer group in turn is heavily influenced by the media. The sexual material in the media is designed to serve not the personal and moral development of persons but financial gain for advertisers and popularity for entertainers. Possible effects on the sexual sensitivities of the young are commonly ignored. A second aspect of the media presentation of sex is its impersonality, both in the communication and in the response of the viewer.36 The case is clearest when the only significant role of the attractive persons (usually female) is to display their bodily attributes scantily clad women in thirty-second commercials, for example, or James Bond's disposable sex partners. The normal response is the one the ad designers seek, a response to the physical attributes by themselves, apart from any personal context. Of course people can also be powerfully aware of the physical attractions of people they meet in real life; but in real life there is a larger context. Beautiful people reveal something personal about themselves by reacting to real-life situations, including perhaps their reactions to ourselves. In real life beautiful people may demand to be treated as persons. As one gets to know them better, one discovers that in addition to their beauty some of them are interesting and some of them are dull. In other words, in real life we are more likely to react to the physical attributes in the context of an interpersonal relationship. The physical attributes are ways in which a variety of real personal attributes are made present. Of course the media can communicate works of art that depict sex within a truly personal relationship, and sexually attractive people in the media can communicate something personal. Obviously such content is superior to images of people whose only role is to


Sexual content in the media is mostly, though far from exclusively, in the visual media.


display their physical attributes. Even when something personal is communicated in the mass media, however, there is still none of the interpersonal exchange which in real life helps one to integrate sexual attraction into a fuller relationship. It is especially worrisome that the young are exposed to sexual content in the mass media before they have developed the ability to integrate sexual attractiveness into interpersonal relationships, and indeed before they have moved towards any mature level of interpersonal exchange. Granted that our response to sexual stimuli in the media is impersonal, can we conclude that this actually makes people more apt to reject traditional Christian sexual ethics? While awaiting conclusive empirically-based conclusions on the subject, a very plausible argument can be made for the affirmative. We form habits by repeating certain types of action. When people repeatedly respond to impersonal sexual stimuli in the media, they become accustomed to responding to physical attractiveness apart from any personal context. It seems likely that this predisposition to respond impersonally to sexual stimuli will carry over from reactions to the media to our reactions in real life. An adolescent boy subjected to a regular diet of "Baywatch" or its more contemporary equivalents may well learn to look upon girls in real life primarily as providers of the attractions that are the focus of the television program. If we look beyond a hypothetical adolescent viewing a television program to society generally, we find the "objectification" of women showing up in many places: in the spectacular growth of the pornography industry; in the general reduction of love to physical sex in much of popular music, cinema and television; in the growth in recent decades of the number of complaints that women are being treated as sex objects rather than as persons. That these developments have come during the same period that the mass media have increasingly bombarded the public with impersonal sexual content does not seem to be entirely a coincidence.


To sum up, by teaching that sex finds its proper context in a committed spousal relationship, traditional Christian morality insists on maintaining sex's personal quality; and anything that impersonalizes sex will form our responses and dispositions in the opposite direction. Two generations ago most people in our society, even when they did not follow the traditional Christian rules regarding sexual conduct, apparently accepted them as valid.37 Now they do not. We should suspect that the increasing influence of the media had some role in this change. III. THE TECHNOLOGICAL MENTALITY Technology - the use of effective and efficient means to achieve desired goals - has revolutionized modern life in agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, communications, weaponry, building construction, medicine, genetics, propaganda, computers, and on and on. The benefits of technology are obvious. Our concern here, however, is with the narrower issue of the development of a technological mentality. The term "technological mentality" points to a double development. One side is the shift of emphasis from ends to means. Our culture is marked by disagreement and scepticism about ends. There is no widespread agreement about the over-all meaning and purpose of life. Many people don't think much about the issue or are baffled by it. Emphasis has turned rather to means, where technology serves us remarkably well. If we can travel faster, produce more, consume more and modify the environment in ways unthinkable in earlier times, life must be better. Means have become ends. The two great signs of success in our society, money and power, would seem by definition to be pure means, but today they function very much as ends. Insofar as other ends continue to operate, it is the satisfaction of felt needs in the relatively short term that drives technological effort. We enjoy the


The Greeley articles cited earlier point to recent changes in views of American Catholics and others. There is literary evidence of the extent of change of opinion over a longer period of time. Jean Jacques Rousseau in the Eighteenth Century, not noted for his strictness in matters sexual, and severely critical of other aspects of Christianity, might be expected to advocate sexual license. Yet it is clear in his educational novel Emile that he thought human beings and society function best when the sex appetite is channeled within the institution of marriage. By contemporary standards, Rousseau was a sexual conservative in beliefs, if not in behavior.


immediate fruits of technology and this is what creates a market demand for more of it. Traditional Christian ethics, on the other hand, teaches that sex serves procreative and unitive purposes beyond immediate gratification, a lesson that is difficult for people formed in a technological mentality. A second aspect of the technological mentality is the search for technological rather than personal solutions to a widening circle of problems. A technological solution takes a particular goal as given and seeks to achieve it by the most effective and least costly means. "Cost" here refers not only to money but also to human effort and discomfort. The ideal solution to a problem of dirty laundry or a dirty atmosphere is to clean it up effectively with the least outlay of funds, with minimum effort and without disagreeable side effects. A personal solution to a problem involves taking stock of the situation, changing one's behaviour, perhaps changing one's goals or developing new personal qualities and habits. If I am lonely, a personal solution may require me to consider what kind of friendship and companionship I want and how much I can realistically expect. I may decide to adjust my expectations or I may change my behaviour in order to achieve the goal, or even develop different personal qualities in order to attract and enjoy the companionship of others. Some problems, like hunger or appendicitis, demand technological solutions. We need to know whether a particular problem requires a personal or a technological solution. Technology has given us pills to wake up and pills to go to sleep, pills to kill pain, techniques to win friends and influence people, gadgets to save work, jury-selection techniques to help us win lawsuits. It is tempting to hope that for every problem there is a technological solution that gets us what we want with minimal personal effort and sacrifice.38


Recent efforts to prevent AIDS and teen-age pregnancy show how difficult it is for many contemporaries to accept personal solutions such as abstinence. People are depending on technological solutions even when such solutions are demonstrably unreliable. The personal solution of confining sex to monogamous marriage is deemed unrealistic, although it was the accepted standard of behavior for our culture and numerous other cultures for many centuries.


If on occasion we cannot avoid the necessity for some inner development of the person, we easily forget that our own culture used to have resources in this area; we reach outside our culture to Eastern gurus who are presumed to be experts on these mysterious matters; and when the wisdom of the guru is imported into our society, it will be more marketable if it is presented as a technique. Where the technological mentality looks for a "solution" with the least effort, traditional Christian ethics demands self-control, restriction of sexual activity, the development of the virtue of chastity by discipline extended over many years, perseverance and fidelity through the difficulties of married life. Many moderns will prefer a less demanding ethics, with technological solutions when the new ethics produces ugly side effects. IV. TO WHAT EXTENT ARE HUMAN APPETITES MODIFIABLE? If at the age of forty a man is moody, quick-tempered and generally unsociable, what are the chances of him changing? How hard would it be for him to change? To what extent are these traits a matter of natural disposition and to what extent are they acquired by repeated behaviour? More generally, to what extent can human appetites, desires, dislikes, fears, etc., be modified? Different answers to that question can influence one's attitude towards sex and marriage. Some of our natural appetites exist also in animals, appetites for food, drink, sex, comfortable temperatures, etc. For the most part these appetites are not easily eliminated and can be modified only within rather narrow limits. The differences of opinion usually arise not concerning these, but concerning those appetites proper to human beings. At one extreme, represented by the mature thought of Karl Marx,39 are those who believe that there are few, if any, specifically human appetites that inhere in people necessarily and 39

Some scholars insist that in his earlier writings Marx made room for certain properly human appetites that are natural and necessary for human beings. See, for example, Fromm, Erich, Marx's Concept of Man, New York, Ungar (1966), pp. 1-83.


by nature. Marx believed that specifically human motivations are the products of social learning, and different societies produce citizens with radically different wants. This view lies at the root of Marx's expectation of the withering away of the state. Once a society is so structured as to produce only generous and benevolent citizens, the state, which is basically an instrument of coercion, will become unnecessary. Towards the opposite end of the spectrum are the views set forth in The Leviathan of Thomas Hobbes. For Hobbes, in the state of nature without the imposition of laws life would be "nasty, brutish and short". People are by nature selfish and will try to appropriate all goods and power for themselves. They will attribute these same motives to their neighbours and this leads to a war of all against all. The state, invented to prevent this natural warfare, establishes the rules necessary for survival and enforces these rules with severe penalties. There is no question here of modifying human motivation. The state appeals to existing motives, mainly fear, to create a system for distributing goods and keeping the peace. The views of Sigmund Freud are of some interest in this context. Freud allows for a considerable modification of human appetites by such processes as sublimation, reaction formation and displacement. The modification, however, is superficial. The roots of all motivation remain in the "id", and at that root level they are not modified.40 The root appetite of the id is for self-centred pleasure. This drive for pleasure may assume a socially acceptable form before it is allowed to surface in consciousness. Where Hobbes believed that the channelling of selfish motivation into a socially acceptable form is done by the state, for Freud it is done by a process within the psyche of the individual. This process does not change the most basic nature of the appetite. Christianity sees human beings as capable of very different motivations, from great holiness and charity to selfishness and terrible hatred.

To this extent, it teaches that human

motivations can be modified. However, Christians also believe that in its present condition human nature is prone to sin; and because the hold of sin is strong, change for the better 40

Here I am focussing on a stage in Freud’s thought that most clearly illustrates the relevant point.


does not come easily. There are different emphases by different Christian thinkers within these common suppositions. Martin Luther stressed that people remain sinful even after being justified by faith. God casts a cloak over the sin, and the person is declared just because of the merits of Christ, but the sin remains. Catholics stress that God not only declares the person to be just but makes the person just, that sanctifying grace radically transforms persons and their basic motivations. In balance, Catholics tend to think of human motivations as more malleable than Luther did. One should not exaggerate these differences. Lutheran and Calvinist teachings on the sanctification that follows justification take account of change in human motivation. Catholics on the other hand admit that justification does not remove all tendency to sin, and some Catholics stress the continuing sinfulness of people more than other Catholics do.41 Recent dialogue has indicated a convergence of views on justification, and these may further narrow the differences between Lutherans and Catholics on the issue.42 I suggest that in Western society today most people tend to think that human motives, at least the basic human appetites, are not very malleable. Sigmund Freud may be both a witness to and an influence in favour of this position.43 Another cause of the attitude is the technological mentality that expects satisfaction and solutions to problems without the need for developing new habits and attitudes. When you don't believe you have to change you are not likely to discover the extent to which you can change. When the question of 41

The Catholic view never, like Marx, denies that there are natural and innate desires. How Catholics fit together the radical change caused by sanctifying grace and the presence of natural and innate appetites will vary from thinker to thinker. A good case can be made that Eastern Christianity, especially insofar as it stresses the "divinization" of the Christian, goes even farther than Catholicism in stressing the extent to which human motivations can be radically modified. 42

See the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, signed on October 31, 1999 by representatives of the Lutheran World Foundation and the Catholic Church, published in Origins, Vol. 28, pp. 120 & f; and explanatory documents, Origins, Vol. 28, pp. 130 & f. and Vol. 29, pp. 85 & f. 43

One might expect that Karl Marx, arguably the most powerful intellectual influence in the modern world, would have moved opinion in the opposite direction, but this does not seem to have happened. Many may have agreed with the theory that in a properly reorganized state, appetites of a drastically different type will be produced. This has not led to a visible upsurge in efforts by individuals to modify their motivation. This, no doubt, is because Marx was quite deterministic about the process by which appetites are modified. For him the change was the product not so much of individual effort and training as of social influences.


modifying human motivation does arise, contemporary efforts are likely to be in terms of therapy. This can mean that, although change in motivation is contemplated, it is conceived in mainly passive terms rather than as the result of personal choice, discipline and the development of virtue. Views on the extent to which human motivations can be modified will influence one’s understanding of sex and marriage. In the Catholic tradition, regulation of the sexual appetite is not merely a matter of deferring gratification, of sacrificing now for the sake of long-term benefits. It is a question of modifying the self. By the development of the virtue of chastity one becomes capable of appreciating a good which otherwise one could not appreciate, and of doing the right thing with pleasure and relative ease. When partners develop spousal love and its attendant virtues, they become capable not only of enduring the difficult periods of marriage but of changing the quality of the relationship. If I do not believe, in a practical way, that human motivations can change significantly, the Catholic teaching on sex is not palatable. If I believe that significant changes in my motivations are impossible I will not undertake the difficult task of changing them. If no effort is made, there is no experience to support the notion that a change is possible. A program of limiting sexual pleasure will appear to be an exercise in long-term frustration, with no perceivable gain to justify it. The Church's teaching on sex and marriage will seem at best to be impossibly idealistic, and at worst to be needlessly destructive of pleasure.44 If we elaborate an ethics to conform to the four modern cultural developments discussed in this chapter, it will be the permissive ethics which prevails in much of our society; and we will find the traditional Christian precepts regarding sex and marriage uncomfortably restrictive. Do we simply follow the more permissive direction, or is there some basis for ethics that transcends the particular culture, some standard by which we can judge whether


At work here also is a lack of conviction that life has any over-all meaning. When a person sees no such meaning in life, then the only thing that seems to matter is gratification of immediate desires. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.


or not these cultural forces have moved us in a good or a bad direction? That is the topic of Part Two of this book.


PART TWO A BASIS FOR THE ETHICS OF SEX AND MARRIAGE According to the Second Vatican Council, the moral evaluation of any procedure for limiting the number of children in a family must be governed by objective standards, and these standards are to be based upon the nature of human persons and their acts.45 Not only for this issue but for any ethical question regarding sex and marriage, the basis for an answer must be a proper understanding of human persons and their acts. Part Two is an attempt to elaborate such a basis. Human nature has been defined in many ways. This book will not try to sort through all of the competing theories or settle philosophical and theological questions that have been disputed for centuries. Its humbler aim is to give a relatively simple consideration of several more-or-less obvious aspects of human existence that are especially relevant to the ethics of sex and marriage. For the sake of brevity, some presuppositions about the nature of the human person will be left implicit. These presuppositions are for the most part, I believe, consistent with the views of Thomas Aquinas. For the purposes of analysis, it is helpful to distinguish individual from social aspects of human existence. Of course the two aspects are closely intertwined in actual life, and one cannot be understood in isolation from the other. In a discussion that must divide the topic, because not everything can be said at once, I have begun with considerations that are more individual than social (chapters Four and Five) and have moved towards considerations in which the social aspect of human existence is more prominent.


See Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), Paragraph 51.


CHAPTER FOUR PHYSICAL SEX AND INTEGRATION OF THE PERSON I. A DEFINITION People usually feel no need to define sex before talking about it. The meaning of the term seems to be sufficiently clear for the purposes of ordinary conversation. When for the sake of precision we try to define the term, however, the task proves more complex than one might expect. All will agree that certain things are sexual in nature but other things are not so easy to categorize. Sigmund Freud considered the sexual drive to be a pervasive motivation and saw sexual meaning in phenomena where others did not. Some recent authors, probably influenced by Freud, insist that sex permeates our behaviour, from the way we walk to the way we reason or react to other persons. One moralist defines sex so widely as to include all sensuality;46 and what are we to make of the fact that each cell of the human body has a male or female character, the cells in the female body possessing the X-X pairing of chromosomes and the cells in the male body possessing the X-Y pairing of chromosomes?47 If we choose a very wide definition of sex, we need to invent a narrower term to refer to the specific realities that all people recognize as sexual, and this would be artificial and confusing. More important, an overly wide definition may disguise certain presuppositions. For example, to define sex so widely as to include all interpersonal relations may be a way of expressing one's conviction that all interpersonal relationships are sexual at least in some


See Guindon, AndrĂŠ, The Sexual Language: An Essay in Moral Theology, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 1975. 47

Even a definition of sex in anatomical terms runs into ambiguities. Some infants are born with ambiguous genitalia. In other rare cases a person with the chromosomal structure of one sex has genital organs characteristic of the other sex.


hidden way; but it is surely more appropriate to express that opinion as a separate proposition and debate it as such rather than to ensconce it in a definition. For the purposes of this essay, sex on the physical level involves those bodily structures and functions whose specific roles are essentially related to procreation, what may be called “primary sex characteristics”. Anatomically this includes male and female genital organs, and glands and parts of the nervous system specifically involved in sexual intercourse, and those female organs, glands and parts of the nervous system specifically involved in gestation. Physiologically this definition of sex includes the functioning of the above bodily parts along with those pleasurable sensations that are proper to them.48 Secondary physical sex characteristics include those physical differences between males and females that are not directly involved in reproduction – such differences as mammary glands of women and facial hair in males. The definition of sex needs to extend beyond the physical to include personal aspects, "personal" meaning that they involve specifically human cognition and appetite. It is on this level that people most disagree about what is to be included under the definition. For our purposes, sex on the personal level includes all those personal actions or attributes (other than speculative knowledge) that can be properly understood only with reference to physical sex.49 What this includes may be a matter for dispute, and at any rate will require further examination. II. SEX AND RESPONSIBILITY 1. the notion of responsibility


For some purposes it is helpful to include all physical differences between the sexes within the definition of physical sex – including so-called secondary sexual characteristics (e.g., female breasts, male facial hair), but that doesn’t seem to be necessary for our purposes here. 49 To classify the speculative study of sex as sexual activity would produce an unhelpful definition. When medical researchers study the anatomy or physiology of human sexuality, their work is distinguished from other research by its relation to physical sex but it is not sexual activity according to "common sense" thoughts about the subject.


The idea of responsibility appears so commonplace that we may not notice what a breathtaking notion it is. The first three chapters of the Book of Genesis express something of the significance of responsibility within the Judaeo-Christian tradition. Other peoples of the ancient Near East had creation stories well before the Israelites formulated theirs.50 These stories might recount the struggle of a good god or a hero against an evil being, resulting in the formation of the world;51 or they might depict a god struggling to bring order out of primeval chaos. Such stories, because they failed to express the sovereign power and transcendence of Yahweh, were not acceptable to the Hebrews, who expressed their own view of creation in Genesis 1-3. These chapters actually contain two creation stories, apparently taken from two different sources. The text from the beginning of Chapter One to Chapter Two, verse 4A is commonly considered to belong to the Priestly Tradition. From Chapter Two, verse 4B to the end of Chapter Three comes from the more ancient Yahwist Tradition. Each of the two stories has its own characteristics and viewpoint, but the two combine to reinforce the notion of responsibility. In the Priestly account, God fashions each part of creation by his word. There is no intractable chaos, no enemy demon that can resist that word. Creation, as the work only of God, must be good; and the whole of it together is very good. The Yahwist account of creation is shorter and less dramatic in its portrayal of the divine power, but in it too there is no suggestion of any primal chaos or demon that could thwart the purpose of the Creator. In the pagan creation stories the struggle of the hero or god with an evil principle or original chaos constituted an easy explanation for the existence of evil.

By stressing the


See, for example, Heidel, Alexander, The Babylonian Genesis, 2nd Edition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1963. 51

This was the case in the West Iranian myth of Ormizd and Ahriman. See the article by George Wiengren in Evil, Carl Kerniyi and others, eds., 2nd Edition, Evanston, Illinois, Northwestern University Press, 1967, pp. 38-55.


transcendence of a good God and denying the existence of any other primordial principle, the Genesis account eliminates this easy explanation. The Yahwist account retains traces of the pagan answer. Confronted with his sin, Adam says: "The woman whom you put here with me - she gave me fruit from the tree, and so I ate it."52 In one sentence he tries to implicate not only the woman but also God who put her there. The woman blames the serpent, and by implication the carelessness of God in leaving this beast loose in the garden; but the excuse fails. Our first parents must accept the blame themselves; and in this text the consciousness of humankind is confronted with the frightening notion of personal responsibility.53 The Priestly story does not deal with responsibility for sin, but it expresses human responsibility in its own, more positive, way. Immediately after it is explained that the human beings are created in His image, God hands over to them the responsibility of continuing the human race by having offspring, and they are put in charge of the rest of creation. Responsibility, according to a number of theologians, is what makes us to be images of God.54 The New Testament continues the radical notion of responsibility. Jesus insists that the arrival of the Kingdom of God is a time when people must choose. Membership in that Kingdom will depend not on class or privilege or parentage but on choice. With responsibility, human life and history cease to be mere natural processes, the inevitable unfolding of the potentialities of things. They become dramas whose end is yet to be determined by our decisions.

God intends a meaning and goal for all creation, but


Genesis 3, 12, translation from The New American Bible, Encino, California, Benziger, 1970.


I won't go into the question of whether the Genesis story is meant to explain the presence of evil generally. The point is rather that in dealing with the presence of moral evil it places responsibility with the human agents. This lesson of Genesis is followed consistently throughout Sacred Scripture in the way it shows God dealing with the human race. 54

See, for example, Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Prologue to the First Part of the Second Part. Though Aquinas there doesn't use the term "responsibility", his meaning is very close to what we mean by that term.


individuals and even large groups can annihilate that meaning and goal as far as their own lives are concerned. Responsible life is life lived at the edge of the abyss of absurdity that lies outside of the meaning that God intends, the abyss of damnation. Responsibility introduces in a particular form the heroic dimension in life, the triumph or tragedy that results not from fate but from free choice.55 In Christian tradition the notion of responsibility is elaborated in two notions that together are fundamental in understanding human action: conscience and free choice. 2. conscience and sexuality "Conscience" here denotes the ability to judge whether one or other course of action in a particular situation is morally good or evil. A judgment of conscience is a judgment that a particular course of action is morally good or morally evil.56 In any particular situation there may be a variety of things that are good or evil from one or other point of view: goods such as food to eat, instruction to help one learn; evils such as physical pain or the loss of a friend. The moral good is good not merely from one or other point of view but in view of the total good within the choice of a person. The morally good person is not simply a good barber or a good athlete but a good human being. Moral evil is evil that is reckoned within a similarly wide context. Clearly, conscience is a prerequisite for human responsibility. To direct one's life towards its proper goal one must judge what is morally good or evil in a particular situation in view of the total good of the person. In some cases conscience decides that the pursuit of a physical sexual good would contribute to the over-all good in a situation. In such a case, the sexual appetite agrees with conscience. In other cases conscience discovers that in a particular situation the object of 55

Of course the free choice is also the product of God's free gift, but a discussion of the relation of grace to free choice would take us far afield. 56

As a type of judgment, "conscience" as used here is not a feeling of guilt or any kind of feeling, although it may well be accompanied by feelings.


physical sexual desire precludes more important goods, and detracts from the over-all good of the person. In this case the sexual appetite conflicts with conscience. This quality of the physical sexual drive, that it can easily conflict with conscience, is called "concupiscence".57 To say that the sexual appetite is subject to concupiscence is not to say that it is evil but merely that it operates independently of conscience and can be in conflict with conscience. The physical sexual drive presents, therefore, the task of integrating a particular appetite into a total human life.58 Non-rational animals, whose sexual behaviour is determined by instinct, have no such problem. A human being is by nature open to the whole world of good, even to good without limits. To be dictated to by an appetite for one particular good, to let the appetite for a particular good dominate one's life, this is to lose, insofar as that is possible, one's openness to the total good. 3. free choice and sexuality People have free choice when, given their nature and attributes, and given the total reality of the situation within which action takes place, they are not determined to only one course of action. Although this definition is given here in negative form, freedom is a positive attribute. One is not determined because one possesses the positive power of free choice. Even people who do not think of human beings as possessing free choice can speak of a kind of responsibility and a kind of praise or blame.59 However, we who consider human


Not only the sexual appetite but any appetite for a particular good can conflict with conscience and therefore exhibit concupiscence, although the term has traditionally been used especially with regard to the sexual appetites. 58

A misunderstanding of the notion of concupiscence has led some people to suppose that all Christian writers who use the word are saying that sex is evil. Some Christian thinkers no doubt have adopted an unjustifiably negative view of sex, but the notion of concupiscence does not include this presumption. 59

Aristotle, for example, early in Book Three of the Nichomachean Ethics discusses the voluntary as well as choice, but in neither case (nor elsewhere in that treatise) does he introduce the notion of free choice.


beings as possessing free choice consider this attribute to be at the core of responsibility. Persons who are not free in performing an action are not responsible for that action. Who is the most free: the beachcomber who has few if any commitments, or the physician who has numerous obligations to his patients as well to his wife and family? At first glance the advantage seems to lie with the beachcomber. Commitment, ruling out certain options, seems to reduce freedom.

A closer look, however, reveals that freedom without

commitment is trivialized. If I refuse to be committed to anything, then I may indeed choose among a number of options today, but most of the worthwhile goals in life will lie beyond my choice. These worthwhile goals - becoming skilled in some field, for example, or developing a personal relationship with another - require effort and a constant direction over a long period of time. Such goals are accessible only if one commits to such an effort and direction; and these goals, once attained, normally open up a new world of options. People exercise responsibility in a special way when they commit to being or becoming persons of a particular type. Until this point their self-identities are passively accepted; at this point their self-identities are freely chosen. When you have chosen to be a caring person, you do more than produce good effects by your kind actions; you also express your identity. Persons who are either unwilling or unable to undertake commitments may chose among a number of different options each day, but they don't choose the general direction of their lives or the kind of people they will become. On these crucial issues, they drift rather than exercise responsibility. They are responsible in one sense - insofar as it is within their power to set a direction and they are blamed when they do not; but in another sense they are irresponsible, insofar as they fail to make use of that power. The physical sex appetite seeks immediate gratification, and to that extent works against commitment. Therefore it presents a task to be accomplished, the integration of the sexual drive within a responsible choice of what kind of person one chooses to be. III. HUMAN APPETITES AS OPEN-ENDED


Thus far this chapter has considered the sexual appetite insofar as it is experienced on the physical level. One can distinguish physical from personal appetites in human beings. Physical appetites are closely associated with some particular bodily part and function. They include desire for food, drink, sleep, a comfortable temperature, and rest when physically tired, all of which appetites are also found in animals.

Physical appetites

normally arise spontaneously with maturation of the human body, and learning plays a relatively minor role in their growth. There seems to be a definite natural limit for each of these appetites, and no learning process can greatly change the degree or intensity of the corresponding pleasure. It is true that one can cultivate a taste or distaste for certain forms of food or drink, but this type of development has fairly clear limits. The taste for wine may have more scope for development than have most other physical appetites, but even here there are definite limits to the development of the strictly physical enjoyment.60 Personal appetites include love of knowing and learning, love of other people and of beauty in nature or in artistic creations.

For the most part personal appetites develop not

automatically but as the result of learning. Maturation by itself will not make one a lover of Shakespeare's poetry, Mozart's music or the paintings of Matisse. There is no easily defined limit for the growth of most personal appetites. For example, I will never develop my appreciation for friendship so fully that I will exhaust that aspect of life. Personal appetites can usually be fulfilled in many ways. The appetite for beauty, for example, may involve enjoying nature, music of various kinds, paintings and sculptures, poetry, drama, and so on. One person cannot become adept in appreciating every sort of beauty. Equally varied are the ways in which one might develop and satisfy an appetite for knowing. 60

Physical addictions may seem to provide an exception. With an addiction one seems to develop a craving (an appetite) far beyond what is produced by maturation. But is this true? The indulgence in something (e.g., alcohol) prior to addiction normally involves the enjoyment of something positive. When addiction sets in, however, and one speaks of craving and need, what is sought seems to be escape from a state of discomfort rather than a positive good. If someone twists my arm and I feel excruciating pain, I strongly desire to end the pain. The desire to avoid pain did not have to be learned. The ability to feel the pain and want to avoid it was present already, and simply needed the physical conditions for being felt. In the same way, the desire to avoid the unpleasant physical states involved in addictions need not be learned. (Here I set aside the question of whether in certain addictions there is something personal rather than purely physical at work.)


Insofar as it is a physical appetite, sexual desire develops spontaneously with the maturation of the body. It is experienced intensely, but if one remains exclusively at the physical level there is a more or less definite limit beyond which the appetite won't grow any further. In ways that will be explained in later chapters, physical sex can take on a personal meaning. Insofar as it does so, it becomes subject to that process of indefinite learning and growth that characterizes personal appetites. For this reason, the physical sexual drive presents a task for human persons. Given the intensity of physical sexual desire and the fact that it arises without the need for learning, it is easy to remain on that physical level rather than to undertake the sometimes difficult task of proceeding to a personal level.

On the physical level the standard for measuring

behaviour is maximization of physical pleasure. Hugh Hefner's "Playboy Philosophy" attempts to give a respectable title to what is in fact a fixation at that level. Ironically, even its promise of pleasure is illusory; physical sex, lacking the potentiality for indefinite growth, becomes repetitive and ultimately boring, in spite of the efforts of some to give it variety or to make of it an art while undermining any personal quality it might embody. Sex as a personal appetite, however, is open to indefinite growth and enrichment.


CHAPTER FIVE EMBODIMENT How can a physical reality also be personal? The physical-personal distinction here does not correspond exactly with the internal-external distinction sometimes used to describe human actions. "Physical" here includes not only externally observable realities but also sense knowledge and appetites that humans have in common with higher animals.

"Personal" here points to acts involving the types of

cognition and appetite that set human beings apart from the animal kingdom. I. HUMAN BEINGS AS INCARNATE SPIRITS A dualistic approach thinks of human persons as spirits trapped within bodies. In this view the true human person is the spirit, the body being merely a locale for the spirit and a medium through which it becomes known and active in the world.61 Many thinkers of the last several centuries would reject such a view of the nature of the human person but their view of human action can with justification be called dualist. They think of physical nature as basically passive raw material to be shaped by human reason and will and minimize the extent to which the human meaning of actions is determined by physical nature. The position adopted in this book, which may be called an "incarnate spirit" view, is that the human person is one being that is at the same time both physical and personal.62 One part of the incarnate spirit view is that, by nature, human reason knows only what is first present to 61

This view is commonly ascribed to Plato. Whether or not it adequately describes the thinking of the great Athenian philosopher, at least many of his followers thought of the human person as essentially a spirit trapped in a body. 62

I believe that the view of the human person explained in this chapter is consistent with the positions of Aristotle and Aquinas; but, to avoid possibly controversial issues of interpretation, the view expounded here is not called Aristotelian or Thomistic. Nor does this chapter attempt the more thorough exposition that would be proper in a work on the philosophy or theology of human nature.


the mind through the senses.

A second part, more directly pertinent to the present

discussion, involves a way of understanding certain human actions that are both physical and personal63. Giving a gift is an example of such an action. Anna's mother gave her a necklace many years ago. Anna, now herself quite old, gives the necklace to her daughter, explaining that she has always treasured this memento of her mother and now she wants her daughter to have it. Giving the necklace involves several actions, insofar as Anna exercises different powers (reason, will, memory, speech, physical motion). However, these different actions get their meaning only from their relation to each other. When Anna thinks about giving the necklace, the object of her reasoning (to use scholastic terminology) is the physical act of giving. This object specifies her act of reasoning - i.e., makes it to be a particular kind of act of reasoning. Similarly, the physical act specifies Anna's act of choosing. The physical action, in turn, gets its meaning from the acts of reason and choice; if the necklace were handed over without any thinking or willing on the part of Anna it would not be a gift. From one point of view one can distinguish several actions performed by Anna, but because they have meaning in relation to each other they constitute a whole; and from that point of view the gift is one action that is both physical and personal. A dualist view will overlook the extent to which Anna's actions of reason and will are specified by the physical realities involved in the act of giving. The personal quality of the giving of the necklace will be attributed simply to Anna's interior actions of thinking and choosing, as though these had a quality apart from any relationship to physical reality. There can be acts of reason and will associated with giving even if there is no physical action. If prevented from giving, one might still wish to give or one might think about giving. But these are not acts of giving. They are merely a desire to give and a thought about giving. Even as such they are specified by a physical reality, the giving that is intended but not realized. 63

In this book the terms "spiritual" and "personal" are used interchangeably to denote what is specifically human and distinguishes human beings from other animals.


To complete the picture, we must note that when Anna gives the necklace she intends not something purely physical but something personal. She wants her daughter not only to receive the necklace physically but also to recognize the personal quality provided by Anna's inner intention and her treasuring of the object given. The physical act in this case is not an expression of the acts of reason and will. Thinking of the physical act as an expression of the acts of reason and will suggests that the latter have their meaning in themselves prior to any reference to the former. In this context the notion of "expression" is still legitimate, but it is not a matter of a physical act expressing a personal act, but rather of the physical/personal act expressing a disposition or habit. A particular kind act, for example, may express a habit of kindness. Moving from particular acts to general qualities, one can ask: "Where does kindness exist?" Kindness as a habit or disposition exists within the kind person. Kindness as the quality of a particular action exists neither in the acts of reason and will by themselves nor in the physical act alone but in the whole which is constituted by several components. It is not important for the present task to do so, but a case can be made that other important human qualities besides kindness have their proper existence in actions which are at the same time physical and personal: such qualities as generosity or greed, friendship or enmity, wit, charm, anger and fear. Because the physical reality enters into the constitution of these personal actions, it follows that our bodies, as well as the physical environment in which we live, provide certain ways in which we can act personally, and also set certain limits to how we can act personally. We can act personally only in the ways our bodies and other physical realities make possible.64


This is related to a point stressed by Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, that the human body is not mere raw material to be manipulated in any and every way to achieve the purposes of the mind. The body is constitutive of the human person.


As giving a gift is personal, so sexual intercourse and other acts with overt sexual significance can be personal. They can be forms of personal action that are not available in any other form. Of course the personal meaning of sexual activity is not completely unique. It has much in common with other forms of personal activity. However, it does include a particular quality of personal existence that is absent in other activities. For present purposes, eros and "erotic" refer to the whole range of personal activity related in some essential way to physical sexuality, personal activity which is embodied in physical sex. Of course some sexual actions have little or no personal meaning, but such actions do not merit the name eros. Some notion of the variety, complexity and richness of eros can be gathered by a review of literature, and the arts generally, throughout many ages and cultures, as well as by studying the more academic expositions of psychology, philosophy and history.65 When the erotic develops into a particular kind of more-or-less enduring relationship with a particular person we speak of "being in love". Being in love need not involve sexual activity, of course, but it is nurtured by the physical sexuality of the partner and of its nature it tends to seek sexual union. In a very particular way, being in love elicits a fascination and preoccupation with other persons, curiosity about them and desire to know them, pleasure in their company, a wish to please and to attract them, an aesthetic pleasure from their physical beauty, a strengthening of one's own sense of value when the beloved responds. One tends to overrate the beloved, finding even her or his foibles endearing. There is a craving for intimacy, a yearning to possess the beloved in a way that is both physical and personal. Many of the expressions used in this paragraph to describe the erotic could be applied to other forms of love, but for those who are "in love" they have a special meaning because of the connection with physical sexuality.


A valuable contribution in this area is Bloom, Allan, Love and Friendship, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993. Bloom examines the thoughts of poets, novelists and philosophers in an effort to recover for our time some of the lost or neglected dimensions of eros and other kinds of love.


The erotic can take forms well short of being in love. If one meets a sexually attractive member of the opposite sex66 casually and with no intention of developing a prolonged relationship, there can still be an attraction of the same general type as that involved in falling in love. Even beyond what is normally thought of as erotic, our responses to and behaviour towards people generally is influenced by their being masculine or feminine. Eros may take forms quite different from being in love. It may involve domination or conquest, for example, or self-aggrandizement, dependence, a search for affirmation, or even masochism.

Although physical sexual activity can have any of these personal

meanings (or, in some cases, little or no personal meaning at all), yet it is not indefinitely plastic. It will not take on any and every personal meaning; and when sexual activity does take on one kind of meaning rather than another, that meaning is not determined purely by what the participants intend. The physical nature and conditions of the action are essential in determining the personal meaning. In some cases, the physical action and circumstances considered in isolation go a long way in determining the personal meaning of an action. Unless some contrary elements enter into the situation, feeding a hungry person will spontaneously take on the meaning of kindness and causing pain to another will spontaneously take on the meaning of cruelty. In other cases the personal meaning is given not merely by the physical act and conditions in isolation, but also by the context. To see how this is so we need to look at life as temporal. II. TEMPORAL EXISTENCE When personal meanings are embodied in physical actions they are embodied not only in space but also in time. 1. unifying time


For the sake of simplicity, the discussion of sex throughout this book presumes heterosexuality.


Our existence is spread out over time. A song, for example, does not exist all at once. It is a sequence of sounds. A baseball game, an education, a friendship or a career - none of these exist at one moment; all are sequences of events. A random sequence of sounds does not constitute a tune, and a random sequence of athletic incidents on a baseball field does not constitute a baseball game. A series of unrelated happenings has no meaning as such, though the isolated parts may have individual meanings. Faced with sequences with no meaning, I may begin to wonder whether the world has gone mad. Or is it I that have gone mad? In any case, madness is the correlative of lack of meaning. The writer Franz Kafka was a master at conveying the feeling brought on by a sequence of apparently random, unrelated - and to that extent meaningless - events. We find meaning in a sequence of events when we relate them to each other in some way and thereby unify them. When I listen to a melody I am aware of several notes at once although I physically hear them only one at a time. Unless I put them together in some way, hear them in relation to each other, I will hear only unrelated notes rather than a melody. There are two general ways in which a sequence of events can be unified. The first is to see the events as steps toward a final end or goal. Various parts of a trip from New York to Chicago make sense as steps towards the destination. Many hours studying a textbook make sense as steps towards passing a final examination qualifying one to practice a profession. The second kind of unity in a sequence of events is to find some pattern in them. We do this when we listen to a piece of music. We don't listen to each individual note of a musical performance simply as a way to reach the final note. The same is true of the events in a novel. True, the events of the novel lead onward towards the finale, but the point of the novel is not merely to get to the last page. The events recounted in the novel form a discernible pattern based on such things as character, suspense and the working out of human problems.


Many sequences of events have both kinds of unity. A baseball game, for example, takes its meaning from the final score insofar as it is a contest to win; but the plays within the game have other meanings. Two baseball games with identical scores can be very different. This spread-out quality of temporal existence can be frustrating. We would like to have certain things all at once. The abuse of drugs often seems to be an attempt, by intensity of experience, to overcome the spread-out quality of life. Some people seem to have the illusion that sex can give them instant intimacy, the whole of a relationship in one ecstatic moment. But intensity of experience cannot overcome the spread out quality of existence. A moment of sexual experience cannot constitute the reality of human intimacy any more than one can hear a melody all at once or collapse all of the richness of a novel into one moment.67 2. Context gives meaning. The meaning of a particular event in a sequence depends on the context provided by the whole sequence. A particular note in a melody has a meaning as a part of that sequence of notes. A handshake, according to the context, can be welcoming a friend, sealing a deal, meeting a person for the first time, or bidding farewell; but there must be some context to give it meaning. If you approach a stranger on the street with a hearty handshake he will think that you are rather weird or perhaps badly mistaken about his identity. Sexual actions too take their meaning from the context of the whole relationship. In the context of love and commitment, sexual actions easily embody love and commitment. Where the relationship is exploitative, sexual actions are likely to be acts of exploitation. Where the context is domination/dependence sexual actions probably will be acts of domination and dependence.


The other great frustration stemming from time, of course, is that it separates us from good things. The young cannot wait to experience the good things that lie in the future; and there are few experiences so poignant as the memory of good things now gone forever.


3. symbols As noted above, a sequence of events must in some way be grasped as a unity in order for it to make sense. Often the unity of the sequence cannot easily be defined or described. Even in a masterpiece, it is not easy to state briefly and exactly what is the unity holding together the many parts of a novel or play or Monet landscape. The unity can be discerned, however, even though it is difficult to describe and impossible to capture adequately in a definition. A symbol is an object or an action that has a special ability to make present some larger reality. Winston Churchill during the Second World War became a symbol of pugnacious British defiance of Nazi military might. The fact that for years he had warned Great Britain against exactly this threat made him an apt symbol. Standing unbowed in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral after a devastating Luftwaffe raid, he embodied a bulldog determination to stay the course in spite of calamitous setbacks. In June, 1940, after the fall of France, in an address to the House of Commons Churchill called upon his countrymen so to bear themselves in the days ahead that, should the British Empire last a thousand years, people would look back at that embattled island and say - this was its finest hour. The power of his words was enhanced by recalling the great historical context that gave special meaning to the cataclysmic events that were transpiring. Had there been no context - no national history, no shared spirit, no Churchillian personality and career - there could have been no symbol. We use a multitude of symbols to express and make present various realities; medals for valour, retirement banquets, family meals to which friends are invited, flags, national anthems and funerals, to name but a few. For the most part, symbols are much more powerful than words in stirring people to action.68 Words are mere signs of the realities. 68

Some years ago I used to ask my students at the University of Alberta what Canadian public figure had most influenced them recently. Almost unanimously they would answer "Terry Fox". He was a young man who, having lost a leg because of cancer, set out to walk across the country on an artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. He eventually had to give up the much publicized trek because of a recurrence of the disease that eventually caused his death. Few of my students would have been able to repeat any words that Terry Fox had ever spoken. His effect was almost entirely that of a symbol. A part of the reality symbolized, surely, was the courage to take whatever one has been dealt in life and make something good come out of it.


The symbol in some way makes the reality to be present. In special circumstances, words also act as symbols. Normally we don't first have a clear idea of the greater whole and then form a symbol to express it. Usually the greater whole does not even impress itself on our consciousness until it is first made present in the symbol. A nation, for example, is an impossibly complex reality whose existence and unity is impressed upon us mainly by symbols. The symbol does not operate apart from the intelligence of people that enables them to grasp the greater whole that is being symbolized; but normally intelligence operates with the symbol rather than prior to it in making the greater whole to be present. Symbols, by making a greater whole to be present, make people more conscious of it and in the process form people in a certain way in accordance with that whole. Churchill made people more aware of the reality of the British people as an historical entity, and in the process he made them to be more fully a people, more fully embodying certain qualities at a time when that was needed. As is said of sacraments, so can it be said of symbols generally, they have the ability to cause what they signify. The "signify" here means not merely pointing to a distant reality but rather making a reality to be present in the only way in which realities spread out in time can be made present all at once. We can manipulate symbols and to some extent create them and change their meaning. In doing so, however, we must take account of strict limits, laws that operate quite apart from our intentions. Symbols take their meaning from the larger reality that they symbolize, and they cannot be given just any meaning arbitrarily. The swastika was a deliberately chosen symbol of the Nazi Party. What it came to symbolize, however, was determined less by the intention of the inventors than by the qualities of the reality that was symbolized. Meant to be a symbol of something admirable, it became a symbol of a sordid and horrifying chapter of history.


The use of symbols may change or destroy their meaning. By the time the dictator Idi Amin had given himself a chestful of medals, the symbolic power of bestowing a medal had been greatly attenuated in Uganda. Sexual intercourse can symbolize love and commitment, or it can symbolize exploitation, domination and submission, dependence or self-aggrandizement. What it symbolizes and its power as a symbol are determined by the reality that is present, not primarily by the intention of the persons involved. This can lead to anger because of perceived dishonesty when what purports to be a symbol of love in fact, because of the context, is experienced as the presence of something else.69 When sexual intercourse habitually takes place outside of the context of love, it doesn't merely fail to symbolize love. Much worse, it loses its ability to symbolize love, just as the repeated giving of medals for valour outside of the context of true accomplishment destroys the symbolic power of the bestowal of the medal.


This seems to be the dynamic discussed in an article by Herbert Hendin, "The revolt against love: sexual warfare on campus" in Harper's, August, 1975, reproduced in The Changing Family, edited by J. Savells and L. Cross, New York, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1975.


CHAPTER SIX SEX AND INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS In discussing the erotic and being in love, the previous chapter has already touched on the relation of sex to interpersonal relationships. This chapter will consider the subject more closely. What makes a relationship to be interpersonal? Obviously, it must be a relationship between persons; but there are many examples of impersonal relationships between persons. I. INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP ON THE VERBAL LEVEL Interpersonal relationships require communication. When we think of communication we naturally think of words; so one place to begin is to consider interpersonal relationships insofar as they involve words. 1. communication Interpersonal relationship involves communication between persons, but it must be the communication of something personal. If a stranger asks me what time it is and I reply, I reveal very little about myself - only that I am capable of telling time and am willing to share this information - a rather meagre start for an interpersonal relationship. The personal quality of communication admits of degrees. Someone telling me the time with a pleasant smile communicates something more than I get from consulting a clock, but it is less personal than when a friend unburdens himself about his worry and distress at his work. The worry and distress are important to him and expressing them reveals more about him. Communication is also more personal insofar as it involves something peculiar to the person. Generalities about someone can be learned from a textbook.


This "something peculiar to the person" involves more than a specific kind of attribute. It includes also one's particular identity. Two persons the same in every describable or definable way would still be two persons rather than one; each would have a particular identity.

This identity cannot be captured in a concept, and a sense of it is not

communicated in the way that concepts are communicated. Besides personal identity, there are many personal attributes and experiences that are not adequately represented by concepts. After a particularly moving event two friends may rehash it several times as they try to put into words what they really experienced, and no one description gets it quite right. A special genius enables some poets and artists to express experiences that are not captured in concepts and not easily communicated in the normal use of words. A description of a landscape by Thomas Hardy, for example, can evoke a variety of human reactions not amenable to expression in concepts. Personal content may accompany the communication of something that is in itself quite impersonal. Someone telling me the time may be brusque or may smile pleasantly. A professor answering a question may show either interest in the student or annoyance with the interruption. A personal quality can be present in the midst of abstruse considerations. At one time or another in my formal education I had read a number of the dialogues of Plato, but some years later as a summer project I undertook to read all of his extant works in their likely chronological order. Unlike my earlier reading of the author, this concentration over several months yielded a strongly personal quality. I became aware of a great mind striving mightily to uncover the meaning of things and to root out the scepticism that was eroding the Greek ethos. I began not only to appreciate the Socratic irony but to join in its well-merited contempt for the sophistry of his intellectual opponents. By communicating over a period of time we deepen our knowledge of individuals. Getting to know someone is not a matter merely of collecting a lot of observations. Just as we see a face not as a random collection of parts but as a whole, in an analogous way we get to know a person not as a collection of observed data but as a unified being. The better we get to


know someone, the more we are aware of a whole personality that is more than a sum of its parts. Communication is more personal insofar as it communicates not an isolated factor but something that bears the mark of the total personality. If I know about a stranger only that he is angry I know little that is particular to him. If I observe that a close friend is angry I may see a good deal of his personality revealed in his angry response. What is most me is the agent of my free choices. These free choices are mine; they don't happen to me. The communication of one's free choice constitutes something personal. Of course the options we make regarding trivial matters are mere preferences that are not profound acts of self-definition. It is the communication of more substantive exercises of freedom that carries a deeper personal quality. 2. response Part of the meaning of an interpersonal communication is that, at least implicitly, it seeks a response to oneself. When an enthusiastic five-year-old exclaims "Look at this toad that I found in the garden" he is not merely informing his mother of the existence of the amphibian. He wants her reaction to a proof of his exploratory prowess. He seeks her reaction not merely to some information but to himself. If a young man tells a young woman that he loves her, he will not be overjoyed if she treats this proclamation as an interesting bit of information to be filed for future use. On the other hand, my warning to a bystander to get out of the road of an approaching truck is less personal insofar as I seek his response not to myself but to the truck. The dispositions that led me to warn him may be personal, but that is not what I seek to communicate when I tell him to watch out. Looking again at a previous example, what is the hoped-for response to the young man's "I love you"? Presumably "I love you too", or more eloquent words to the same effect, would be appropriate. The man is not seeking just any response. He wants a particular kind of response, and one that reveals something very personal about his friend. If her response, in


turn, seeks a similar reaction from him, then the process continues; or she can apply the brakes and discourage further development of the relationship by reacting in a way that doesn't invite a response. A communication is more interpersonal when it seeks a response from someone in his or her uniqueness rather than as fulfilling a general function. When I shout at someone to get his car out of my driveway so I can get to work on time, I may be earnest in my entreaty and I want a response, but I am not appealing to him insofar as he is this unique person. I would be just as happy if someone else, perhaps the driver of a tow truck, were to clear my driveway. When one thinks of interpersonal responses, reactions of love, care and concern come to mind, but we also seek other kinds of response. I tease someone to "get a rise" out of them, or tell a joke, or boast about an accomplishment, or outdo the previous speaker by telling a still more astounding tale, or bore an acquaintance with an account of my current ailments. In each case I am looking for a different kind of interpersonal response. At times, it seems, almost any kind of response will do, even shock or exasperation, so long as one's existence is acknowledged. We may communicate something personal and negative which naturally provokes a personal and negative response. I may, for example, blame a colleague for leaving me too large a share of work. Such an exchange is interpersonal - it seeks a personal response. We sense however, that this message, while perhaps not lacking in warmth, yet exhibits a less than fully interpersonal quality. The reason why may become more evident in the next section, on shared experience, something that the negative exchange makes difficult. The response of others gives us a different sense of self - a central point in the social psychology of George Herbert Mead. It is difficult to know with assurance how I would think of myself were I unaware of the reactions of others, but certainly my sense of being deserving or undeserving is greatly affected by how others react to me. Beyond this, my


abilities to "step outside myself" and see myself in an objective way, and to understand myself in various contexts, are closely related to the response of others to me. To be truly interpersonal, a response must be in some way free and authentic. A relationship is shallow when the response of others is bought, coerced, or the result of manipulation. Because interpersonal relations are free, they are fragile. 3. shared experience When I use the words "sorry" or "green" or "cold", and expect to be understood, I presume that other people's experience of sorrow or green or cold is similar to mine. From this point of view, shared experience is utterly commonplace. Interpersonal communication and response allow for the development of a rather different kind of shared experience. Two persons who interact well with each other go beyond merely communicating and responding; they settle into a common awareness of things and of each other. In such cases one's awareness of a reality is coloured by awareness of how that reality is perceived by another. Some illustrations may help. In the weeks following her husband's heart attack, a wife is aware of possible sources of stress less for their effect on her than for their effect on him. Listening to a speech in a foreign country, I react to the anti-American sentiments of the speaker not for myself, a Canadian, but as they must strike an American acquaintance seated next to me. Having heard a good joke I can't wait to tell it to a friend with a lively sense of humour so that I can enjoy it all over again in a new way. In each case, it is not simply that I am aware of some reality, and then as an added element I am aware of that someone else also perceives it. Rather, my own awareness of something includes, is colored by, someone else's awareness of that reality. A shared experience may be based not on current communication but on bonds created in the past. After many years on land where they lived and raised eight children through good times and bad, in 1960 my parents retired and left the farm. On the day of the auction sale


of the machinery and livestock, while wide awake fifteen hundred miles away I had a vivid image of my father looking out across the farmyard where I grew up; and the yard was now empty. Gone was the machinery, gone the bustle and the voices of children long grown to adulthood, gone the cherished Clydesdales kept mainly as pets long after they had been replaced by tractors. Gone was everything that my father had tended and repaired and used to wrest a living from the land. What moved me was not my own perceptions of the empty farmyard but my father’s. This level of shared experience produces a further development of the self. As my own experience expands to embrace a world of shared experiences, and I learn to react to experience not only for myself (as an isolated centre of consciousness) but as somehow incorporating others into myself, I am able to participate in community in the proper sense. II. INTERPERSONAL RELATIONSHIP ON THE LEVEL OF ACTION A dualist explanation of interpersonal communication will look at the two persons as spirits in some sense hidden from each other by physical bodies, and able to communicate only though material signs that are, in themselves, foreign to the spiritual essence except that they are in some way able to carry a message from one spirit to another. A proponent of the incarnate spirit view of human nature can accept the above as a fair explanation of interpersonal relationship strictly on the level of words.70 Words, after all, act as signs, and a sign stands for something other than itself. When we perceive words as signs we must pass through them to get to the meaning in the mind of the speaker. In physical actions, however, we come into contact with other persons more directly - by perception of personal realities that are present in physical form. We observe anger, generosity, good humour and fear present in facial expressions, tone of voice, hurried or unhurried movements, etc. Giving a gift is not merely a sign of generosity. It is (or can be) 70

The exponent of the incarnate spirit view will insist that, after one goes through the sign to get to the inner meaning, one has reached a thought or disposition that has meaning only with direct or indirect reference to a physical reality.


an act of generosity. The physical-personal act may be in some sense a sign of a habit of generosity but is itself an act of generosity. Words too may function not only as signs but as the actual presence of some personal reality. The tone in which words are spoken, for example, can embody personal qualities. Just as interpersonal relationship on the level of speech can be explained in three phases communication, response and shared experience - so interpersonal relationship on the level of physical actions can be explained in three analogous phases, which might be labelled action, reaction and common action. The three phases can be illustrated by the performance of a jazz combo. In the first phase, one musician plays a musical passage, often staying close to the original composition. This playing is more than a purely physical event. It is a human creation, embodies a human meaning. It may embody beauty, or exuberance and joy, or any number of other human realities. It is not merely a sign of these personal qualities in the musician's head. It is the existence of these qualities in physical form. The music played by the first jazz performer also invites a response from other musicians. When these in their turn play, their music is, like that of the first performer, a human creation, the embodiment of qualities; but their music also has the quality of being a response to the first performance, and their creations show that they are derived from the original. The total performance of the combo, when it is successful, becomes a whole that embodies human meanings from several sources; it is a mutual creation. We exist personally in our actions, and for several artists to exist personally in a common action is a special interpersonal experience. There are many other examples in which action becomes an interpersonal experience. Certain forms of dance, for example, illustrate the action, reaction and common action phases as clearly as does a jazz performance. Other common projects, like putting on a play


or the coordinated effort of an athletic team, exhibit the three phases less neatly, but can still result in a strong sense of the unity of the group. III. INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS AND SEX There is no need here to demonstrate that sex is a powerful human drive. Thanks to Sigmund Freud and others, our contemporaries are perhaps as likely to overestimate as to underestimate its power and importance. The above discussion may help to explain why and how physical sex can be a powerful factor in personal life. Sex has been explained, helpfully, as a form of language.71 I believe that it is more accurate, however, to think of sex in its personal dimension as interpersonal relationship on the level of action. The three phases, action, reaction and common action, are vividly present in sexual intercourse. These phases are present also in other sexual activities - gestures, words - but for the sake of brevity I will refer here to their presence only in sexual intercourse itself. A type of physical action such as an embrace is able to elicit a sexual response. If someone is interested only in physical sex, then such actions have minimal personal meaning. However, these actions can also embody personal qualities such as tenderness or the desire to give comfort, and they may invite responses of a corresponding type. The partner's reaction can embody personal qualities whose meaning includes the fact that they are responses to another person. Sexual intercourse then becomes a common personal action. We exist in our actions. Partners in sexual intercourse that has an interpersonal meaning exist together in one action. What each one does has meaning as part of a greater unity. Sex as a shared action can not only embody an interpersonal relationship; it can symbolize the total personal relationship of the partners.


See, for example, Guindon, AndrĂŠ, The Sexual Language: An Essay in Moral Theology, Ottawa, University of Ottawa Press, 1976.


Sexual intercourse can be an act of love, tenderness and caring; but it can involve other personal qualities as well and when certain of these come to the fore the character of the act changes dramatically.

Thus it is that sexual intercourse may be primarily an act of

domination and submission, or of exploitation, or of conquest, or a more-or-less desperate search for acceptance and affirmation. At times these less desirable qualities are overt. At other times there is a pretence of love and caring although the reality is less attractive and perhaps contains no personal quality at all. The partner may be desired not as this unique individual but as fulfilling a function that might as easily be served by many others. Nevertheless, there are several aspects of sexual intercourse that give it a special ability to embody love, tenderness and caring. It can constitute the gift of pleasure and a common experience of intense pleasure. It can embody preoccupation with and longing for another. It can be a self-revealing presence to each other. It can break down barriers between partners and be a way in which physical intimacy is also personal intimacy. It can make partners so aware of the other as subjects that the two experience themselves as in some sense constituting one whole; the partner is experienced as affirming the self and complementing an otherwise incomplete self. Involved in this relationship, and making it especially apt as an embodiment of love, is an aesthetic appreciation - a perception of beauty. One element is simply that the same form that makes the body beautiful also makes it sexually attractive. It goes beyond this, however, to a perception of the beauty of personal traits existing in physical form, traits such as kindness, grace or playfulness. Sexual intercourse can be the gift of self to another, and embody in a particular way a belonging to the other. This notion of belonging merits consideration. On the one hand, if belonging in sexual intercourse is interpreted as involving ownership and is separated from mutual respect, it becomes destructive.

Yet a strong sense of self-giving and a

corresponding sense of belonging apparently are natural aspects of sex, and this should make one cautious about concluding that jealousy has no proper role in it.


The love and caring embodied in sexual intercourse are not, of course, completely different from other forms of love and caring. However, those qualities when they are present in sexual intercourse take on a special quality as they are embodied in a particularly powerful way. The personal qualities are not merely signified but are actually present, experienced directly and vividly. We can be fascinated with people outside of sexual intercourse, for example, but in sexual intercourse this fascination is aroused by and responds to a particular kind of promise from the physical presence of the other. Similarly our pleasure in the company of the other, our desire for intimacy with the other, and all those characteristics discussed above, take on a special character when they exist in a sexual form. The earlier discussion of context and symbol reminds us that the interpersonal meaning of sex comes from the context. The interpersonal quality of sexual intercourse is dictated by the interpersonal reality that is present in the relationship in many other forms conversations, thoughtful gestures, willingness to share bad times as well as good, etc. Sex becomes a powerful symbol of the kind of interpersonal relationship that is already there and will reinforce it and give it a particular form. For sex to be a positive form of interpersonal relations will require the same time, devotion, discipline and sacrifice that are necessary for any positive interpersonal relationship. Sex is not a technique for bypassing the effort required for human development.


CHAPTER SEVEN WHAT WE MEAN BY MARRIAGE AND FAMILY Having considered personal relationships generally, we turn now to the particular kind of personal relationships involved in marriage and family. Chapters Eight and Nine will elaborate an understanding of those relationships. However, recent controversies have cast into doubt the meaning of the terms “marriage” and “family”, so it will not be out of place first to explain in a preliminary way what the terms mean in this book. The Catholic Church has over the centuries elaborated a particular understanding of marriage and family. It did not of course invent those institutions but rather brought certain theological insights to bear on realities that already existed. Before reflecting upon a Christian understanding of marriage and family it will be useful briefly to consider these institutions as they exist apart from any Christian reflection upon them. I.


Two controversial issues today raise the question of how one should define marriage and family. The first issue is whether marriage and family have been present in all human societies. A brief examination of that subject reveals that the answer may depend on exactly how you define those two terms. The second and more recent issue is the campaign in a number of countries to legalize “same-sex marriage”. This campaign is sometimes presented as an effort to admit homosexual persons into an institution from which they have been legally excluded. That is not exactly correct. Homosexual persons have not been legally excluded from traditional marriage (i.e., marriage as defined as union between male and female). Rather, for the most part they do not wish to enter into that particular union. Some of them want to enter a different sort of union – one between persons of the same sex - and they wish this other type of union also to be called “marriage”. It is in the first instance a matter of definitions and words. Though there are other, important issues at stake, what is directly being requested is that the meaning of the


term “marriage” be changed to include something that hitherto it did not include. Thus the very concept of marriage seems to be in dispute. The same-sex marriage issue raises the question of whether “marriage” has any essential relation to procreation, and therefore whether it has any essential relationship to family. One cannot resolve every controversy before explaining terms, however, so here I will begin with the notions of marriage and family that are traditional in our society and commonly used by anthropologists and sociologists. Normally children are born, cared for and raised within a kinship group. “Marriage” refers to the union of male and female partners between whom sexual intercourse is legitimate and proper;72 as is the bearing of children.

“Family” refers to the kinship group that includes the marriage partners and

their children. The notion of family, accordingly, includes the notion of marriage. If “family” is taken to mean a kinship group that takes care of offspring, then there is not much controversy about whether it exists in all cultures. What is more debated is whether marriage – a more or less permanent union of husbands and wives living together and raising their offspring - exists in all cultures. A number of authors leave aside the consideration of other features and focus on a central point – that the institution creates a lasting bond between men and women that is concerned with the procreation, care and protection of children. They claim that marriage and family, defined in some such minimal way, exist in all cultures. Nock73 states: “Though it might be possible for human societies to establish institutions devoted solely to the care and nurture of children until they are old enough to support themselves, no known society has done this. Instead, strong rules of legitimacy were established to link a child with a particular family.” He argues that in all cultures the father’s role goes beyond merely physical generation and extends to being guardian and protector; and in each culture these fathers normally are united to the mothers in a lasting union. Sometimes a significant part of nurturing may be done by persons in the extended family other than the mother and father, but in these


This definition does not of preclude the possibility that in some societies sexual intercourse outside of the marital union may be considered legitimate and proper. 73 Nock, Steven, Sociology of the Family, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1987, pp. 47-8.


cases the parents still play an important role in caring for the child and the extended family is held together by the union of men and women that we recognize as marriage. Many authors would agree with this view.74 Robert Briffault was one author who claimed the opposite.75 Those who claim that marriage does not exist in every society76 often cite the example of the Nayar people in Malabar. Casler quotes A Short History of Marriage by Edouard Westermarck to the effect that Nayar girls go through something like a wedding ceremony, but they don’t necessarily then live with their “husbands” and may continue to have several lovers. Casler feels it necessary to state77 that some disagree with Westermarck’s interpretation of the Nayar situation. A more recent work explains how the matrilineal Nayar system, under the influence of modern education and the introduction of legislation in favour of women, has disintegrated.78 The fact that the Nayar example is cited so often in this context suggests that examples of societies that seem to lack marriages are not easy to find; but the Na people of China come close to qualifying.79 Marriage in a usual understanding of the term does exist in the Na society but only as a special arrangement that is relatively rare. For the most part women do not marry but they have children who live with them; but neither the women nor the children live with the fathers. Even the “married” women continue to have sexual intercourse with others besides their husbands.80


See, for example, Murdock, George P., Social Structure, New York, Free Press, 1949, pp.7-8. The article “Marriage, definition of” by Ihinger-Tallman M., & D. Levinson, revised by J. White, in The International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, New York, Thompson Gale, revised edition, 2003, vol. 3, p. 1094, states simply, “The institution of marriage is found in all societies.” 75 His defence of that position can be found in Briffault, Robert & Bronislaw Malinowski, Marriage Past and Present: a Debate between Robert Briffault and Bronislaw Malinowski, Boston, Porter Sargeant, 1956. See also Briffault’s The Mothers, Vol. I, New York, Macmillan, 1927. 76 E.g., Casler, Lawrence, “Perceptual deprivation in institutional settings” in Early Experience and Behavior, G. Newton and S. Levine, eds., Springfield, Illinois, Charles C. Thomas, 1968, p. 18. 77 Footnote 10 in the article. 78 Renjini, D., Nayar Women Today, New Delhi, Classical Publishing Company, 2001. The author states that it is a myth that women enjoyed a high status in the matrilineal system. 79 See Cai Hua, A Society without Fathers or Husbands: the Na of China, New York, Zone Books, 2002. 80 Steven Harrell in his review of Hua’s book (American Anthropologist 104(2002) 982-3) notes other examples of small tribes who seem not to have marriage and family as commonly understood.


Whatever about the rare exceptions that may be found to Nock’s position, it is doubtful that any authority would disagree with Murstein’s suggestion that if marriage is not universal, at least 99% of the world’s population exists in cultures in which marriage, as defined in general terms, exists.81 He notes also82 the failure of many attempts to change marriage radically.

This position of Murstein holds if one defines marriage in general

terms. If one recognizes as marriage only a form that applies to the institution in the modern Western world, then it is not difficult to identify societies in which marriage does not exist.83 While granting that in our day marriage exists in all or nearly all cultures, some authors have speculated about a time when it did not exist. These speculations usually suggest the existence of times when children were raised by mothers without significant contributions by their fathers. Kreamer84 suggests that fatherhood is an invention of the agricultural revolution about 6,000 years ago.

Few authors would accept this, and

Kreamer himself hedges the suggestion, calling it “a likely tale”, and admits: “Anthropologists are nowadays wary of such speculations, but therapists, ancient and modern, cannot do without stories.” Eccles85, following Lovejoy86, goes so far as to maintain that the family, consisting of father and mother caring for children, goes back about three million years, a very long time before our human race appeared on the planet. For Eccles, it is hard to understand how human beings could prosper without the survival advantage provided by care not only by the mother but also by the father. He suggests that there is even physiological evidence of a brain centre associated with male-female bonding.


Murstein, Bernard, Love, Sex and Marriage through the Ages, New York, Springer, c1974, p. 9. Op. cit., Chapter Fifteen. 83 Such seems to be the basis for statements such as that by Anne Marie Plane (Colonial Intimacies: Indian Marriage in New England, Ithaca and London, Cornell University Press, c2000, p. 6). “Much scholarship has suggested that “marriage” is not a universally applicable analytic concept. It is more helpful (and less Eurocentric) to think instead about a continuum of male-female relationships in this or any society, some of which approximate the particularly Western concept of marriage.” 84 Kraemer, Sebastien, “The origins of fatherhood: an ancient family process” Family Process 30(1991) 377-392. 85 Eccles, John C., Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self, London, Routledge, c1989, p. 113. 86 Lovejoy, C. Owen, “The origin of man” Science 211(1981) 381. 82


We can speak, then, of a consensus that marriage - a lasting bond between men and women with the function of procreation, protection and care of children - is universal or very nearly universal among known societies. Berger87 provides a general description of the family that applies, if not to all cultures, at least to the vast majority of them. She lists six characteristics that have until recently been presumed to be “bedrock features� of the family and which accurately represent the historical reality. (i)

The family entails some formula or rules to determine what sexual activity is appropriate and what is not.


The procreation and protection of children are seen as the province of the family.


The family involves certain rights and duties of spouses to each other and to their children. What these duties are will vary from culture to culture.


The family involves some form of residential arrangement for spouses.


The family involves certain economic obligations of spouses to each other and to their children, these arrangements differing in detail from culture to culture.


The family provides a system for reckoning descent.

Of course marriage and family as described in such general terms above take many different forms. A major variation is the practice of having multiple marriage partners at the same time. Polygyny, one man having several wives at the same time, is practiced in many societies. Murstein88 notes that it was practiced in 88% of 154 African societies that were studied, and speculates that perhaps one third of African males are polygynous. Quale89 quotes 87

Berger, Brigitte, The Family in the Modern Age: More than a Lifestyle Choice, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, c2002, pp. 3-4. 88 Op. cit., p. 502. 89 Quale, G. Robina, A History of Marriage Systems, New York, Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 88-89.


sources to the effect that 35% of African males are polygynous but notes that the rate is decreasing, perhaps for economic reasons. George Murdoch, who remains a favoured reference for contemporary authors, estimated that polygyny is practised in over three quarters of the cultures about which we have reliable information.90 Obviously polygyny cannot be practiced by the majority of males in a society unless there are many more women than men. A number of writers note that in some at least of the societies that practice polygyny the situation of women is much inferior to that of men. One work91 points to women in polygynous societies being treated much like property, even to the extent of being inherited with the estate of a deceased male. Agadjanian and Ezeh92 generalize that, in societies in which polygyny is common, women in both polygynous and monogamous marriages are marginalized with respect to social, economic and reproductive decision making. Madhaven93, citing the common opinion that polygyny is harmful to women, adds that this tends to be true when the wives relate to each other as rivals, but that when the relationship is one of collaboration rather than competition the women fare better. Jankowiak and others94 report from their studies that, while co-wives prefer pragmatic co-operation among themselves while maintaining a respectful distance, happy cooperation in not the rule and problems are pervasive in the multi-wife situation. Polyandry, the practice of one woman having several husbands, is much less common than is polygyny.

Murstein95 notes four African peoples who practice polyandry.

Trevithick96 notes that the practice is very rare and is never the only form of marriage in a


Murdock, George, “World ethnographic sample” American Anthropologist 59(1957) 664-87; and Atlas of World Cultures, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981. 91 Queen, Stuart, Robert Habenstein & Jill Quadagno, The Family in Various Cultures, New York, Harper and Row, Fifth Edition, c1985, p. 57. 92 Agadjanian, Victor, & Alex Chika Ezeh, “Polygyny, gender relations, and reproduction in Ghana” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 31(2000) 427-41. 93 Madhaven, Sangeetha, “Best of friends and worst of enemies: competition and collaboration in polygamy” Ethnology 41(2002) 69-84. 94 Jankowiak, William, & others, “Co-wife conflict and co-operation” Ethnology 44(2005) 81-98. 95 Op. cit., p. 505. 96 Trevithick, Alan, “On a panhuman preference for monandry: Is polyandry an exception?” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 28(1997) 154-81.


society. Tribes may resort to this practice when there are many more men than women, perhaps because of female infanticide. Authors commonly picture the situation of women in polyandry as even worse than in polygynous unions. Murstein97 views polyandry as something practiced for the benefit of males. Queen, Habenstein and Quadagno98 report that wives in polyandrous unions among the Toda people of South India serve mainly as sexual outlets for husbands and that characteristically there seems to be little personal commitment and relationship between partners. An alternative that interests writers is group marriage, in which all the men in a certain group are married to all of the women in that group. The Oneida commune in New York State practiced it for several decades in the middle of the 19th century. There is no known instance, however, of the practice enduring for many decades. The “utopian” societies, where the experiments in group marriage usually took place, were notoriously shortlived.99 Murstein notes100 that the so-called group marriage practiced by the Toda was in reality a transition from polyandry (practiced along with female infanticide) to monogamy, which prevailed after the British outlawed infanticide. Within monogamous marriage, writers distinguish between the nuclear family and the extended family. The former consists of wife and husband living with their dependent children, with the possibility of others – e.g., aged grandparents, indigent relatives, hired help – entering into the family circle at least to the extent of sharing meals and living space, often for a limited time. The extended family consists of several siblings and their spouses and children living with, and under the authority of, the parents of the siblings.101 97

Op. cit., pp. 15-17. Op. cit., Chapter 2. 99 See Spiro, Melford, “Utopia and its discontents: the kibbutz and its historical vicissitudes” American Anthropologist 106(2004) 556-68. Spiro cites the calculation by Yaacov Oved that the average duration of the identifiable utopian communes established in United States between 1663 and 1940 was less than three years. 100 Op. cit., pp. 14-15. 101 When the term “extended family” is used it may refer to the living arrangement just described or it can mean the system of relatives who do not live together but communicate with and in certain situations come to the aid of their relatives. Here “extended family” has the first meaning. 98


Some decades ago it was common to suppose that in many “traditional” societies (our society some centuries ago and other societies today) the extended family was the norm and that the nuclear family has become dominant only in recent centuries, perhaps with the Industrial Revolution. Hareven102 warns against the easy acceptance of this view. The family as made up of the father as income earner and the mother as homemaker begins to prevail relatively recently, when the majority of families came to afford to have only one wage earner, but of course this is not the only pattern for nuclear families. Frances and Joseph Gies103 explain that in much of the Middle Ages in Western Europe something like the extended family was sought as the ideal, but in fact for the large majority of people the nuclear family prevailed.

Queen, Habenstein and Quadagno104

quote authors to the effect that the nuclear family predominated in the 17th and 18th century in England, and that in colonial Massachusetts few people lived in extended family households. Nock105 quotes an opinion that the nuclear family is everywhere a distinct, functional unity, even when it exists within a larger, extended family. This point is significant for the discussion in this and the next chapter, which focus to a considerable extent on the husband-wife relationship.

Even when people live in an extended family unit, the

husband and wife have special responsibilities in raising their own children, even though others in the household play a part in it. While noting that his opinion about the prevalence of the nuclear family is debated, Nock insists that it is the case in all modern, industrial societies. Nor is the nuclear family a particularly western phenomenon.106 In our culture we think of people marrying because they are in love with each other, the emotion in question being what is commonly called “romantic love”. Is this a constant in 102

Hareven, Tamara, Families, History and Social Change, Boulder, Colorado, Westview Press, 2000, Chapter 1, esp. p 4.. 103 Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages, New York, Harper & Row, c1989. 104 Op. cit., p. 7. 105 Sociology of the Family, p. 31. 106 Among many available sources that testify to the nuclear family being common in non-western societies, see Dasgupta, Satadal & Rajat Subhra Mukhopadhyay, “Nuclear and joint family households in West Bengal villages” Ethnology 32(1993) 339-58.


marriage generally, or is it a characteristic of marriage only in some cultures? Some have claimed that it is only in modern times that marriage has been closely associated with romantic love. One set of authors107 speculate that in Europe in the late Middle Ages and in the first part of the 16th century the spousal relationship was not characterised by a strong emotional component. In the 17th century, they believe, the husband-wife bond becomes more important, and from the mid 17th through the 18th century romantic love becomes the basis for mate selection. Historical claims of this type are frequently challenged; but it must be granted that what is constant in marriage in different cultures and in different ages is the orientation towards procreation and the care of children. The relationship between spouses often does not hold an equally important place.108 On the other hand, romantic love is hardly a modern invention. The Song of Songs (alternatively called The Song of Solomon) in the Old Testament expresses this kind of love. In a number of passages in the Old Testament the relationship of God to His people is compared to that of a husband to his wife. At least some of those texts use the language of romantic love.

Jankowiak and Fisher109 claim that in their review of

literature 88.5% of the sampled cultures gave evidence of romantic love – a passionate and erotic attachment characterized by idealization of the beloved and the desire for the love to continue indefinitely. Another source110 grants that in the Middle Ages financial considerations and the extension of family power and influence were often important factors in selection of a marriage partner, and especially among aristocratic families marriages were often arranged by elders; yet there is plenty of evidence of strong emotional bonds between husbands and wives in those centuries. Romantic love reaches a certain literary ascendancy in the late Middle Ages, when it is usually seen to


Queen, Habenstein & Quadagno, op. cit., pp. 173-4. For example, Shepherd notes that in Mombasa society many other relationships are emotionally closer than the husband-wife relationship, except among the younger, more modern and better educated Mombasans. See Shepherd, Gill, “Rank, gender and homosexuality: Mombasa as a key to understanding sexual options” in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, Patricia Caplan, ed., New York, Tavistock, 1987, p. 249. Of course particular couples in our society may not be emotionally close, but what sets our society apart from Mombasa society on the point is that among us the general preference is for the spousal relationship to be especially close. 109 Jankowiak, William, & Edward Fisher, “A cross-cultural perspective on romantic love” Ethnology 31(1992) 149-55. 110 Gies, Francis & Joseph, Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages, New York, Harper& row, 1987, 108


characterize not the relationship between wife and husband but that between a knight and a “lady fair” between whom marriage was out of the question. It is obvious that even in our world romantic love does not characterize all marriage and is not always the motivation for entering a marriage. In fact, love of any kind need not be a factor in every marriage or in every concept of marriage. In some cultures the parentchild relationship is more important than the husband-wife relationship, and wives are valued more as mothers than as lovers. Yunxiang Yan111 states that in the traditional Chinese family the parent-son relationship is more important than the relationship between husband and wife. Murstein112 remarks that: “Love has never been the focal point of traditional African marriage.” Nock113 notes however that even when love is not decisive in the selection of a mate it may develop later and indeed may be expected to develop later. In summary, romantic love is not a recent phenomenon but has been present in many cultures and in many ages. In some cultures of the past, as in ours today, it has been an important factor in the choice of a mate. In some cultures, however, even love more broadly defined may not play as large a role in entrance into marriage as do economic factors and the desire to have children. Certainly love cannot be considered to be part of the definition of marriage. II. DEFINING MARRIAGE LEGALLY IN THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH

Something like a legal Roman Catholic definition of marriage can be found in the Code of Canon Law published in 1918.114 The first part of the definition comes in Canon 1081, which states that matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which each party gives and 111

Yunxiang Yan, “The triumph of conjugality: structural transformation of family relations in a Chinese village” Ethnology 36(1997) 191-212. 112 Op. cit., p. 503. 113 Nock, Steven, Sociology of the Family, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1987, pp. 40-41. 114 This legal definition gives only what are seen to be the essential characteristics that must be present for a valid marriage to exist. It does not attempt to state the full meaning of marriage or what characteristics are present in marriage at its best.


accepts a perpetual and exclusive right over the body of the other for acts that are of themselves apt for generation. In other words, what you agree to when you enter into the married state is that you have a right to sexual intercourse with this person and with this person exclusively and perpetually. Canon 1013 of the 1918 Code speaks of the purpose of marriage. The primary purpose is the procreation and education of children. The secondary ends or purposes are the mutual help which spouses give to each other115 and the allaying of concupiscence. This latter point means in substance that the sexual drive, which outside of marriage can urge people towards improper conduct, within marriage can achieve its proper purpose. Canon 1013 notes also that unity (one man married to one woman) and indissolubility are essential properties of all marriages, but these properties have a special firmness in Christian marriage because the latter is a sacrament. If these statements from the 1918 Code of Canon Law are taken as equivalent to a definition, the Catholic Church’s definition of marriage in at least two ways is narrower than the secular notion discussed in the previous section. By making unity an essential element of marriage, the Catholic Church says that polygamous or polyandrous marriages are not marriages as the Catholic Church understands that term, although they fulfill the anthropological or sociological meaning of the term. By implication, if indissolubility is an essential property of marriage then a union that is open to dissolution before death does not qualify as a valid marriage in the Catholic view. The explanation of marriage in the 1918 Code of Canon Law was a legal statement, meant to clarify legal obligations. Helpful as it may have been from that point of view, it still presented a jarring note in stating the object of the consent in such narrow, sexual terms. Accordingly, the revised Code of Canon Law published in 1983, canon 1057, describes matrimonial consent as an act of the will by which a man and a woman by an irrevocable covenant mutually give and accept one another for the purpose of establishing a marriage. The nature of the marriage that they establish is explained in canon 1055 as a partnership of their whole life which of its very nature is ordered to the well-being of the


A later chapter will discuss the controversy about the propriety of making the mutual help of spouses merely a secondary end of marriage.


spouses and the procreation and education of children. Canon 1056 repeats the teaching in the 1918 Code that the essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility. The following chapter will attempt to describe the “partnership of their whole life� of which Canon 1057 speaks.


CHAPTER EIGHT THE SPOUSAL RELATIONSHIP I. ST. PAUL An appropriate starting point to examine the Catholic understanding of marriage is a text from St. Paul. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord because the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is head of his body the church, as well as its savior. As the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church. He gave himself up for her to make her holy, purifying her in the bath of water by the power of the word, to present to himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort. Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. Observe that no one ever hates his own flesh; no, he nourishes it and takes care of it as Christ cares for the church - for we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and the two shall be made into one. This is a great foreshadowing. I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church. In any case, each should love his wife as he loves himself, the wife for her part showing respect for her husband.116 Today the question of male domination threatens to overshadow any other message in this text. Two alternative interpretations may be offered. This text can be understood as definitively granting the husband an authority over his wife that the wife does not have over 116

Ephesians 5,21-33. Biblical quotations are from The New American Bible, Encino, California, Benziger, 1970. Disputes about the Pauline authorship of the Letter to the Ephesians do not affect the authority of the document and are disregarded here.


her husband. On this basis, some adopt this "conservative" Christian position and others may feel obliged to reject the Church as a guide to understanding marriage. The second interpretation is that Paul here presumes as fact the cultural situation that husbands exercise authority over their wives (as he elsewhere presumes the practice of slavery), but this does not make that fact normative for all time. What is normative in the apostle's teaching is how authority is to be exercised and how it is to be respected. In cultures where authority is shared equally between spouses, what Paul says about the exercise of and obedience to authority remains valid and applies equally to either spouse. I favour the second position, but present purposes do not require resolution of this issue. Five points about the text will, I hope, meet with more universal acceptance. (i) Although the text speaks more about the wife being subject to the husband, verse 21 makes it clear that subjection to another is a normal part of Christian life. It is a matter of serving others. Presumably the husband can also to be subject to his wife. (ii) The relation of Jesus to the Church is a model for all who exercise authority, whether in marriage or outside of it. The words of Jesus concerning what it means to be master support this view.117 Those who exercise authority must serve and seek the good of their subjects. In the case of husbands, the call to serve wives is particularly demanding, extending even to the sacrifice of life if it is to imitate the love of Jesus for the Church. (iii) Those subject to legitimate authority, whether within marriage or outside of it, should respect authority just as the Church and its members should respect the authority of Jesus. Paul states: "Let everyone obey the authorities that are over him, for there is no authority except from God, and all authority that exists is established by God. As a consequence, the man who opposes authority rebels against the ordinance of God."118 As Chapter Four of


See, for example, Matthew 20, 20-28.


Romans, 13, 1-2.


The Acts of the Apostles makes clear, the early Christians knew that their duty of obedience did not extend to commands that conflicted with their duties to God. (iv) Although the above passage focuses on the exercise of authority, the call to love his wife as Christ loved the Church applies not only to the husband's exercise of authority but more generally to all his behaviour towards his wife. (v) Although it is not the point in Ephesians 5, the wife too is called to love her spouse as Jesus loves the Church. This passage applies to the spousal relationship a more general lesson; all relations to others are to imitate the love of Jesus for the Church, a love that is called agape. II. AGAPE Agape119 is a Greek term used in the New Testament to indicate the kind of love to which Christians are called. This love imitates God's love, especially as it is revealed in Jesus who by his life, death and resurrection manifests the Father's love for all people Agape is gratuitous, not merited. God created us out of love before we could merit it; Jesus Christ, sent by the Father, died for those who were still sinners. In the same way, the follower of Christ should love even those who have not earned love. Agape is self-sacrificing, in imitation of Jesus who emptied himself by becoming flesh and emptied himself further by his lowly manner and state in life, and especially by his acceptance of suffering and death for the salvation of others. The oldest books of the Hebrew Scriptures don't speak of God loving Israel. Possibly the human authors thought that the notion of love implied need, and the Almighty does not need anything outside of Himself. The prophet Hosea opens up Hebrew thought on this point. 119

Some notion of the abundance of material on this topic up to 1958 can be gained from the footnotes in Spicq, Ceslaus, Agape in the New Testament, Volumes I-III, St. Louis, Herder, c1963.


He compares the relationship between God and Israel to what he presents as his own relationship to his wife, Gomer. She is unfaithful to Hosea and chases after lovers. Hosea continues to love Gomer, however, and constantly tries to win her back by placing obstacles in her way, hoping that she will realize the vanity of her behaviour and return to him. This, Hosea states, is how God is treating Israel. Because Hosea is aware of a type of human love that is unselfish and unmerited, he is able to think of God as loving His people. Once attention is brought to bear on the possibility of such a love on the part of human beings, as it is with special force in the New Testament, we can see how radically it changes the person. At stake here are two very different ways of being human. In one way, we first determine our goals in terms of our spontaneous desires, and only then do we go out to encounter other people. We perceive these others more or less as objects. Those who help us to get what we want are classified and loved as friends, and on this basis we give them a merited kind of love. Those who hinder our pursuit of what we want are enemies. This way of defining self is close to what psychologists call narcissism. In the second way of being a person, before we settle on our goals we become aware of other persons as subjects, as conscious beings like ourselves. We know people "from the inside" as it were; to some extent we put ourselves in their places. Such knowledge can give rise to appetitive responses. We feel sadness when evil befalls others and we share their happiness at their good fortune. We love and value people for their own sake, not because they have done something to merit it. We can love them as we love ourselves, because we have ceased to be isolated selves defined over against others and have incorporated others into our selves.120 Growth in agape normally is gradual. At the beginning we may experience it once in a while, not very powerfully, and in relation to only a few people. With time it can become our characteristic approach to life. At this point we can appreciate what had earlier seemed 120

I will not attempt here to deal with the natural or supernatural character of agape.


to be a paradox - that one must give up one's life in order to find it. When we give up the old, selfish way of being a person we discover a new kind of self and rejoice at the good that comes to others as if it were our own. The fact that agape is unmerited does not mean that it's a love of something worthless. Both divine and human agape are loves of something good, though they relate to it in different ways. When God loves us He loves something good - images of Himself. Prior to that love we have nothing, no being at all. The good, the image of God, is brought into existence by God's love. When we love others by agape we love beings who already exist and have dignity as images of God. However, they have not earned that existence and dignity, nor, perhaps, have they acted in such a way as to attract love. When we love them with agape in spite of their lack of merit we are, nevertheless, attracted by a really existing goodness, the being that even unworthy persons continue to have and which is a reflection of God's goodness. III. COVENANTED LOVE A consideration of the notion of covenant helps us to understand the particular form agape takes within marriage. There were several ways in which early Christians attempted to identify the action that brought a marriage into existence. Was it sexual consummation? the payment of the bridal price or dowry? the mutual consent of the partners? Eventually the Church, at least in the West, agreed with the classical Romans that it was the mutual consent of the partners that brought a valid marriage into being.121 Consent was seen to constitute a contract between the partners, and for centuries Catholic canon law and Catholic writers looked upon entry into marriage as entering into a contract. 121

For information of the process by which the Church arrived at a theology of marriage, see Schillebeeckx, Edward, O.P., Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, Volume II, Marriage in the History of the Church, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1965.


In recent decades however a number of writers have argued that "contract" is an overly narrow and legalistic term, and they suggest that "covenant" more adequately expresses what marriage is.122 The term "covenant" was used in the discussion of marriage by the Second Vatican Council123 and in canon #1055, which introduces the section on marriage in the 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law. When recent Church documents use the term to describe marriage, it is to the biblical notion of covenant that they refer.124 It is one of the principal concepts used to explain the relation of God to Israel. Furthermore, this relationship between God and Israel frequently is described in terms of marriage.125 St. Paul does not introduce an entirely new line of thought, accordingly, when he compares the relation of husband and wife to the relation of Christ to the Church. In the Old Testament prophets, human marriage is used to explain the relationship of God to Israel; and the prophet Malachy (2:14) refers to the husband-wife relationship as a covenant. Paul holds up the divine love as a model for the human reality. The application of the biblical notion of covenant to marriage finds its New Testament justification especially in Paul's comparison of marriage with the covenantal relationship of Christ to the Church. Clearly, there are aspects of the covenant between God and Israel, and also of the New Covenant, which are absent from the spousal union. In particular, God is infinitely above 122

See, for example, Palmer, P.J., "Christian marriage, contract or covenant?" Theological Studies 33(1972) 617-665. Palmer states that marriage was commonly called a covenant during the first Christian millennium, and that it is only during the last six centuries or so that marriage has been called a contract. 123

Paragraph 48 of Gaudium et Spes (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) states: "It (the intimate partnership of married life and love) is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent." (Quoted from The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., ed., London-Dublin, Geoffrey Chapman, 1966.) The text preserves the traditional teaching that marriage comes into existence through the consent of the partners, although what is brought about by this consent is called a covenant rather than a contract. 124

See Palmer, op. cit. Palmer gives a readable and, I think, valid argument for applying the biblical notion of covenant to marriage, although I don’t agree with every conclusion in his article. The biblical notion of covenant has been studied by so many scholars that citing references regarding to the general notion seems superfluous. Walter Eichrodt’s two-volume Theology of the Old Testament, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1967, shows how the idea of covenant is a key to understanding much of the Hebrew Scriptures. 125 See Palmer, op.cit., and Synan, Edward, "The covenant of husband and wife" The Bridge: Judaeo Christian Studies 4(1958) 149-170, esp. pp. 150-152.


Israel and above the human race more generally towards which the New Covenant is directed.

What then do we say about marriage when we call it a covenant?


specifically, what does the notion of marriage as covenant say that is missing in the notion of marriage as contract? A contract, at least when drawn up by competent jurists, expresses legal obligations as precisely as the situation allows, and the meaning of the contract is the acceptance of those obligations. A covenant too implies obligations, but these obligations flow from something more fundamental - from the new relationship that the covenant creates between the parties. Living out this relationship may involve fulfilling more or less precisely defined obligations, but it will entail other responses that cannot be foreseen and put down in precise legal form. Furthermore, the covenant, being a more personal relationship than the contract need be, implies loyalty. Finally, the covenant is always a sacred agreement, sanctioned by the gods in the pagan context, or by God in the Judaeo-Christian tradition126 When we call marriage a covenant we are saying that wife and husband are solidifying their relationship by making it dependent not only on the intention of the partners to keep the agreement (which is a fallible and changeable human reality) but also on God who is witness of the commitment made in the covenant. A peace treaty to end a war has some of the marks of a covenant rather than a mere contract. When they sign the treaty, two nations that formerly were enemies cease to be such, and enter a new relationship that may open the way even to friendship and alliance. Some welldefined legal obligations arise from the treaty; certainly the obligation to desist from armed attack is one. But the treaty has consequences beyond those set down in precise legal form: a friendlier atmosphere, respect for the sensitivities and interests of the other, opening the way to mutual co-operation, etc. Insofar as a peace treaty need not be considered sacred, it does not fulfil all of the conditions of the biblical notion of covenant.


See Palmer, op. cit., p. 628.


God's covenant with Israel involved certain obligations set forth in the decalogue and other covenant laws; but more fundamental than the laws was the new relationship that came into being. Yahweh became Israel's God and Israel became God's people. Obedience to the laws constitutes not merely fulfilling the terms of a contract but accepting the new relationship with God and acting in a way demanded by that relationship. By the covenant of Christian marriage, the partners enter a new relationship, that of wife and husband, and this new reality is a sign of the union of Christ with the Church. By this covenant the partners undertake what the 1983 Revised Code of Canon Law refers to as "the partnership of conjugal life".127 Central to this partnership, of course, is the love spoken of in the letter to the Ephesians, and with it the fidelity128 which is a constant quality of God's love. Some of the obligations in a partnership of conjugal life can be put in precise legal form. Many of them however cannot be so easily formulated or even foreseen. They can be expressed only in general ways and will take more precise form only as the marriage develops and confronts particular situations. Fulfilling these obligations not only satisfies the terms of a contract but is the living out, making real, of the underlying relationship. IV. CHARACTERISTICS OF SPOUSAL AGAPE 1. mutual responsibility In Christian marriage one's spouse enters into one's most basic exercise of responsibility. In a first moment of this process each spouse says to the other, implicitly at least: "I will not only seek your good; I will seek to become the kind of person I should be for your sake. The kind of person I choose to be has you in mind." In a second moment each says: "I will


See canons 1098 and 1135.


The notion of fidelity will be especially important in Chapter Eleven, on marriage permanence, and Chapter Twelve, on spousal fidelity.


not decide by myself what kind of person I will be. The two of us together will decide what kind of people we will be." It is the subject of free choice who is most the self. Other things about me happen to me, so I can in some way distance myself from them; but I am the source of my free choices. Furthermore, I exercise my responsibility in a special way when I freely choose what kind of person I will be. In Christian marriage, spouses exercise in a mutual way this very act of self-definition, this central exercise of responsibility. It is difficult to imagine a more profound union of persons.129 In surrendering some degree of independence, spouses do not give up the exercise of responsibility. They are responsible for each other - a truth embodied in the Church teaching that one purpose of marriage is the mutual help that partners render to each other. This fulfils Paul's admonition to husbands to seek their spouse's good and applies it also to wives with regard to their husbands. The sacrificial aspect of spousal agape is most likely to be experienced in this exercise of mutual responsibility. For the good of the partner you may, for example, be called upon to sacrifice your time and your plans, to modify your ambitions and your tastes, and to cultivate personal qualities that do not come easily. Occasionally spouses or former spouses talk about how they drifted apart. The alienation seems to have happened by chance. Christian marriage, however, is not an arrangement to drift under one roof, hopefully to drift together but perhaps to drift apart. It is a covenant, a choice deliberately made and lived out, about what kind of people the partners will be for each other.


All Christians are called to define themselves in relation to God in a way analogous to this aspect of the spousal relationship. All Christians must define the kind of people they choose to be in relation to God. Of course God is the ultimate end being sought by the Christian, and spouses, though they may in a wonderful way reflect and mediate the goodness of God to their partners, are not the ultimate end of their partners.


Most married couples don't theorize about mutual responsibility, but they live it out in a multitude of minor or major actions and decisions that flow from a common awareness. They sense naturally that the spouse's success is our success, that the spouse's health problem is our problem. They know in a concrete way that the good of one is the good of both and the misfortune of one is the misfortune of both. Normally in such matters people don't first grasp the theory and then put it into practice. Rather, the theory is an attempt to understand the human dynamics that already work well or work badly. Perhaps especially when they are working badly it becomes important to have a valid theory. 2. mutual respect God's agape respects our freedom. God awaits our choices. The Kingdom of God is made up of those who choose to do the divine will.130 When Pilate asked: "So, then, you are a king?" Jesus replied, "It is you who say I am a king. The reason I was born, the reason why I came into the world, is to testify to the truth. Anyone committed to the truth hears my voice."131 Jesus rules not by force but by revealing the truth and letting people respond to it if they will. The mutual responsibility described in the previous section may sound to some like a smothering invasion of privacy.

On the one hand, the individualism and strong

(exaggerated?) sense of privacy of many in our culture may make the exercise of mutual responsibility a problem and may render some people unprepared for Christian marriage. On the other hand, unless accompanied by a strong respect for the other, and especially for the freedom of the other, the exercise of mutual responsibility could indeed be suffocating for both partners. In respecting another's freedom I avoid getting my own way by coercion, which often is overt, or by manipulation, which takes many forms and often remains hidden even from the 130

Mt. 7, 21.


Jn. 18, 37.


manipulator. Respect for one's partner means attending closely not only to words but to other revelations of the self. It requires honesty, not taking others for granted and not treating them as though they merely fulfil a function. It means, when troubles arise, that they are faced on the level of freedom, with the kind of deliberation that freedom requires, not as a contest of wills, whims and feelings. Respect for the partner also means respect for a certain amount of privacy. Different marriages will provide it differently, but all will require space for personal taste and activity that does not directly involve the spouse but is not inimical to the commitment to mutual responsibility. In all agape there is a death to self, but it is a death that leads to greater life - the life that now includes others. Failure to respect one's spouse's freedom is to expect the sacrifice of another but then contradict rather than foster the new life that is supposed to result. Marriage without respect can foster a kind of symbiotic relationship in which one partner loses his or her identity in the other, a subservience and a loss of a proper sense of self. 3. redemptive love The prophet Hosea stresses, as does the Gospel according to John and other Johannine writings, that God's love is redemptive. It wins us back to God when we stray. It is not only that God forgives us out of love. My awareness of God's love for me has the power to elicit my loving response. Those Christians who lack a vivid realization that God loves them or have not allowed that realization to have its effect on them are going through the motions of Christianity without having been seized by its core. The notion that love elicits love holds true on many levels. Unconditional love of parents teaches children to love. Those who grow up deprived of unconditional love are likely to have miserable self-images and to find it difficult, if not impossible, to love others generously.


Inevitably in a marriage there will be bad times. There may be carelessness, leading to irritation, followed by hurtful language, continuing a vicious cycle in which partners cease to be aware of each other as subjects. Then especially will they need the gratuitous love that makes a gesture or apology that breaks the cycle, an unconditional love that doesn't wait to be earned and that doesn't keep a list of grievances or a ledger to determine who owes whom. As persons newly in love can be surprised at being the object of love of which they seem unworthy, so veterans in marriage need on occasion to be surprised by the grace of a love that they, by this unworthy behaviour or that, have so manifestly not deserved. Loving spouses do not engage in self-sacrifice to prove their moral superiority, nor do they take on the role of martyr to keep their partners in their debt. Mutual agape requires both partners not only to give but also gratefully to receive unmerited love. 4. intimacy Agape between spouses develops over time.

This means growing in intimacy.


intimacy in question is not merely physical but personal, a profound personal knowledge of the other. It involves not only information about the other, but the knowledge "from the inside" that accompanies love. Early in courtship, intimacy grows spontaneously. Those in love want to learn more and more about each other. Part of the thrill of being in love is sharing experience. This spontaneous growth in intimacy does not continue indefinitely. Couples who undertake the Marriage Encounter program, which is intended for marriages that are already working well, invariably are surprised to discover how meagre and shallow their communication has become. There are several reasons why growth in intimacy and communication slows down or stops. Routine is inevitable. The familiar becomes uninteresting and not worthy of attention. One begins to take the other for granted. Partners become tired, their best energies drained by their work. Sensitive areas arise and are avoided in order to avoid trouble. A spouse may


vent frustration about X when the real problem is Y, so the possibilities for misunderstanding are multiplied.

Problems remain unresolved and fester and cause

resentment, which may break out in particularly harsh form when one of the partners doesn't even notice that something is wrong. Some couples cut their losses by lowering their expectations, allowing an ever-expanding sensitive area in which communication is avoided. They settle for a peaceful but shallow co-existence. For intimacy to develop beyond certain levels, partners must deliberately try to break through barriers. They need to learn how to convey their negative reactions in a nonblaming way. They must learn to listen encouragingly and to perceive what the spouse is revealing about herself or himself. Someone who cannot accept and respond reasonably to emotionally charged communications of a partner is not ready for marriage. Even if there are no especially sensitive areas, growth in intimacy requires sacrifice by each partner in order to leave the familiar and enter new territory. Central to growth in intimacy is gratitude. Without it, good things receive no response, and the result is death. With gratitude, good things call forth more goodness, leading to further life.

It is not enough to

try to maintain intimacy at a particular level. If there is no growth, no new depth of personal revelation, there is only repetition of the familiar, and the familiar in time becomes boring. 5. Are these qualities essential to Christian marriage? The characteristics of mutual responsibility, respect, intimacy and a redemptive quality are not presented here as necessary for validity of a Christian marriage. To be validly married the partners do not have to possess a given degree of these qualities, nor are they required on entering marriage to include these qualities explicitly as properties of the union that they undertake. However, the relation of these four qualities to marriage is not merely accidental. They are, I believe, implicit in spousal agape. Partners who have not developed these qualities have missed out on much of what makes marriage rewarding and wonderful.


V. THE INCARNATION OF SPOUSAL LOVE The Catholic Church's position that marriage is ordered to the procreation of children implies the right to sexual relations between spouses.132 In this the Church simply reflects a general belief that marriage involves sex between the partners or at least the right to it. The prevailing belief in the modern western world, as in other cultures, is that this sex should involve a loving personal relationship between the partners, a love that falls within the category we have called eros.133 When the Epistle to the Ephesians states that the relationship between husband and wife should be characterised by agape, it raises the question of the relation of the two types of love, not only in theory but in the actual living out of a marriage. Some consider eros and agape to be contrary types of love.134 Others have argued, correctly I think, that a careful study of the notion of eros in Greek thought reveals characteristics similar to those ascribed to agape.135 Without resolving questions about the classical meaning of the terms, the account of eros offered in an earlier chapter suggests the possibility of a close connection in practice between the two types of love. Although erotic love always exhibits certain characteristics because it is connected with physical sexuality, it will vary considerably according as the context varies and as partners bring different personal qualities and attitudes to the situation. If the partners bring to eros a mutual agape then the physical actions that embody eros can also embody agape. 132

This notion is explicit in canon #1096 of the current Code of Canon Law, as it was in canon #1081 of the 1918 predecessor of that Code. 133

There may be unions in which sex remains on the merely physical level, or in which negative rather than positive personal forms dominate. Such unions may be of interest to the anthropologist, but they are of only secondary interest to moralists who reflect on the good that is to be sought. 134

This tendency is present in the important and influential work by Anders Nygren, Agape and Eros, London, S.P.C.K., 1953. 135

See Rist, John, Eros and Psyche: Studies in Plato, Plotinus and Origen, Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1964. Pages 79-83 give a general idea of Rist's response to Nygren's position.


Spousal agape takes many physical forms: shared meals, common recreation, chores done together, timely gifts, the physical environment of the home, patient listening, a gesture of affection. It is incarnated in a particularly apt way in sexual intercourse. Of course sexual intercourse does not automatically symbolize and embody spousal agape. Context dictates meaning. If the relationship of partners is impersonal, or exploitative, or domineering, that is what their sexual intercourse will be. Conversely, the quality of sexual intercourse may create a change in the larger relationship. Sexual pleasure, for example, may be given as a reward for fulfilling some condition.

If this contradiction of the

gratuitous nature of agape does not reflect a previously existing flaw in the relationship, it will begin to create such a flaw, will begin to make the relationship a matter of quid pro quo. The form of eros we call "being in love" is not identical to agape but it shares some of agape’s qualities; and in the early stages of marriage eros can move the partners in the direction of agape. In these early stages, being in love carries with it the excitement of newness, discovery and exploration, and so fosters that intimacy that is an aspect of spousal agape. Being in love involves a concern for the other, a desire to please, to sacrifice for and be true to the other. There may be a good deal of selfishness mixed with this, and an emotional content not well suited to weathering the storms of life; but there is much here that, like agape, reaches beyond self to live for the other. The gratuity of agape may appear to be quite absent from the experience of being in love. One thinks of the beloved as eminently worthy of love. When one is fascinated with, feels enriched by association with the beloved, the latter certainly does not appear to be undeserving. Even in the fresh, new experience of being in love, however, one can find elements of the gratuity associated with agape. Unless one is exceptionally vain and selfcentred, one will experience some surprise, a kind of unworthiness, at being the object of love.


More importantly, we should not suppose that agape dwells on the unworthiness of the beloved, or that the deserving qualities of the beloved leave it unmoved. Agape cannot be defined so negatively. What distinguishes it is that it does not stop at externals but reaches to the self of the beloved. Erotic love, for its part, gives a concern for the other as subject, even a privileged access to the subjectivity of the other. Once one becomes aware of persons in this way, although one may value them for many reasons, some of which may be selfish, there is also a concern for them for their own sake and apart from what they have done to earn our esteem. In this, being in love shares much with agape. Inevitably however, the freshness of eros fades. If at this point the partners do not deepen their relationship, nothing replaces what has been lost. Then one may try to recapture the newness of eros with other partners, and a vain cycle begins. The alternative at this point is for agape to come to the rescue of eros. The partners can begin to break down barriers, go more deeply into the mystery of the other person, make the sacrifices that will bring new life because there has been a dying to self in order to live for another. At this point the agape brings something new to eros, deepens it and makes it more stable. Even at this stage, however, eros continues to give agape a special form and power because it makes it to exist in a vivid, physical way. It has been said, somewhat cynically, that eros is a trick that nature plays on people. It sweeps them up in an irrational wave of feeling, moves them to join together and produce children and in the process undergo difficulties and privations to which they would have objected had they “been in their right minds�. If one subtracts all elements of agape from the process the complaint rings true.

Self-sacrifice is unavoidable in the process of

providing for the next generation, and a form of self-sacrifice is brought about in the animal kingdom largely by instinct. In human beings eros carries with it a good deal of quasiinstinctual sacrifice of the individual for the good of the species. Without agape it is not clear how such sacrifice profits the individual. With agape the self-sacrifice becomes a passage through a certain kind of death to a new and greater life. Here eros, by its direction towards the good of the species, in an important way opens partners to agape.


V. CONCLUSION This chapter has tried not merely to describe the characteristics of the spousal relationship generally or in a particular culture, but to show what the spousal relationship should be. On what basis can it be claimed that the spousal relationship described in this chapter is the way the spousal relationship should be?136 Used in this context, "should" does not refer principally to moral obligations of particular people. It points out that the spousal relationship is significantly better, more humanly satisfying, if it has these characteristics than if it lacks them. Mutual responsibility and intimacy, for example, are good things, and a marriage that lacks them is less desirable than a marriage that has them. It would be more satisfactory, perhaps, if one could prove the goodness of something by an argument as logically clear as a demonstration in geometry. This is not how ethical starting points are known. According to the moral theory presupposed in this book, I grasp that something is good when I have a desire, an appetite for it. If I lack the appetite for a good I don't appreciate it (i.e., I lack co-natural knowledge that it is good), although I might still believe that it is good because of the witness of others who appreciate it. For example, if I have never developed an appreciation for friendship, I cannot experience for myself that it is good to make friends. Certain appetites arise more or less by maturation, such as our appetite for food. Other appetites must be learned.

Having presented certain characteristics of the spousal

relationship in this chapter, I must leave it to individuals, with their particular abilities to appreciate what is good, to decide on the value of these characteristics. One who loves as Christ loves will recognize and appreciate the value of other persons for their own sakes. If I have given a correct account of it, agape I believe will allow a person 136

This chapter does not claim to have given a complete account of the desired qualities of the spousal relationship, but only that it should contain certain qualities.


to recognize the value of mutual responsibility, intimacy, and the other characteristics of the spousal relationship described above.




The preceding chapter reflected on the nature and quality of the relationship between spouses, for the most part abstracting from the procreative aspect of that relationship. This chapter will focus on that procreative aspect. The purposes of marriage were the subject of discussion in the Catholic Church throughout much of the Twentieth Century. Is the procreation137 of children THE primary end of marriage? Is the mutual help that spouses give to each other only a secondary end, or is it too a primary end? Historically the procreative end has been foremost. In some societies wives have been valued mainly as mothers of children, and perhaps for economic advantages they bring to their husbands, with less attention to the personal quality of the spousal relationship. It is difficult to identify any society, with the possible exception of our own, in which marriage is identified with the personal side of the spousal relation to the neglect of procreation. Social scientists studying the subject identify as marriage that union of man and woman that is concerned with the birth of and care for children. Among some Christian peoples too, the spousal union has been understood mainly in terms of procreation, with scant attention to the personal quality of the relationship. In the Church’s theological tradition, however, the personal side could not be ignored, thanks in large part to St. Paul’s insistence on the qualities that must characterize the relationship and his comparison of the wife-husband union to the union of Christ with the Church. St. Augustine, not always a favourite with those who celebrate the 137

"Procreation" here denotes not merely bearing children but also raising and caring for them.


positive meaning of the spousal union, nevertheless listed among the goods of marriage not only offspring but also the fidelity of spouses to each other and the fact that marriage is a sign of the union of Christ with the Church.138 The 1918 Code of Canon Law displeased some writers because, following a centuriesold tradition, it presented the mutual help of husband and wife as a secondary rather than primary end; but making it an essential secondary end was to place at least as much emphasis on the personal relationship as have many anthropologists, sociologists and historians who have studied marriage. Contemporary Catholic canon law gives both mutual help of spouses and procreation as ends of marriage, without giving one priority over the other. In some secular circles today procreation has been played down, if not ignored, as in recent movements to have homosexual unions declared to be legal marriages. Having at one time insisted that marriage is not merely for procreation, the Church now finds itself having to remind people that procreation is an integral part of its meaning.139 Instinct causes animals to reproduce and to care for offspring in those species in which the young need care. Instinct may play a role in the begetting and rearing of human children, but it certainly does not provide adequately for their welfare. What instinct does for animals often requires intelligent deliberation by human beings. To state the case more adequately, what animals do for their young by instinct requires in human beings both intelligent deliberation and the structuring of behaviour by institutions, especially by the institution of marriage and family.


The recent publication of an English translation of a work by Juan Luis Vives (1492-1540), a Spanish humanist and philosopher, shows that even in the 16th century a Catholic writer could stress the intellectual companionship of marriage partners even over procreation. See Vives, Juan Luis, Education of a Christian Woman: a Sixteenth Century Manual, edited and translated by Charles Fantazzi, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2000. 139

In declaring procreation to be essential to the general notion of marriage the Catholic Church does not imply that to be valid a particular marriage must include children.




A number of authors have argued that we would be better off without either marriage or family.140 The objection usually stems from some perceived disadvantage of marriage and family such as sexual repression or male domination. Whatever the motive, if the objector wishes the human race to continue he or she needs to come up with some alternative to marriage and family for the raising of children.141 A proper response to this challenge requires an understanding of the nature and function of the family (which includes marriage) as an institution.142 III. THE NOTION OF INSTITUTION At the core of any institution, as understood in this chapter, are behavioural expectations. I expect a bank to accept my money and pay it back later either directly or by honouring cheques that I write. The bank in turn expects certain things of me - for example, that I won’t issue cheques beyond the amount in my account. I don’t expect the bank to sell me fresh vegetables. For those I approach another establishment with different behavioural expectations. What makes the bank and the grocery store to be institutions is precisely that we count on people in them to behave in certain ways in order to achieve certain purposes. Two institutions exist in practically all cultures - the family (including marriage) and the state. The family is in some ways more basic, having immediate responsibility for the 140

See for example: Casler, Lawrence, Is Marriage Necessary?, New York, Human Sciences Press, c1974; Cooper, David, The Death of the Family, New York, Pantheon, 1971; Reich, Wilhelm, The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality, New York, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1971. 141 Casler, op. cit, Chapter Four proposes that children can be better raised in institutions than in families. 142 Because the challenge is to the desirability not only of the family but also of marriage, a response to the challenge could have been launched in the previous chapter. In fact the exposition of the nature of marriage in the previous chapter constitutes a partial answer to a tendency to devalue that institution.


existence and welfare of the next generation; but the state, not the family, exercises supreme authority. (In some instances the supreme power which we have said constitutes the state is exercised by a relatively small unity based on kinship and therefore not unlike an extended family.) IV.


Voltaire, Diderot and other 18th Century rationalists were severe critics of l’Ancien Regime, - the prevailing system by which hereditary monarchs and nobility ruled, usually protecting their own interests against the majority. These rationalists didn’t always favour democracy, suspecting as they did that the common herd was incapable of rational rule, but they generally agreed that government should be for the benefit of the people. The old regime, based on privilege apparently unrelated to merit, struck the rationalists as contrary to reason. When the French Revolution toppled l’Ancien Regime critics got their chance to rebuild society along rational lines. In the process, however, a goodly number of citizens were beheaded. For a while the executions could be passed off as punishing former tyrants and protecting against counter-revolution. As the guillotine claimed more and more victims, however, it became clear that execution had begun to play a more central role in the new regime than its perpetrators were willing to admit. Something analogous occurred in the twentieth century experiment with communism. Karl Marx heralded a society in which all would share in a better life.

In the

implementation of the grand plan, a considerable part of the citizenry of Russia perished. Apologists in Paris, safe from the carnage, could speak of the need to break eggs in order to make an omelette, a figure of speech probably not appreciated by those millions of Ukrainians, for example, who were deliberately left to starve. The defenders of rationalist reform argued that the Terror arose not from the rational principles inspiring the French Revolution but because the wrong people came to power.


Similarly, apologists for Communism argued that the atrocities of Stalin had nothing to do with Karl Marx but were the result of a monster seizing control and perverting the original theory and high purpose of the founder. Among the opponents of the French Revolution, however, a “Romantic” school of thought argued that the Terror, far from being an accident, was a result of a flaw in the rationalist view of society. Opponents of Marxism have adopted a similar critique. A comparison of statecraft with medicine suggests the flaw in the rationalist view. Medical doctors don’t begin with an abstract notion of how the human body should operate; and when I visit my physician he doesn’t ask me to climb up on the operating table while he rearranges my bodily parts along more rational lines. Human bodies were alive and running more or less successfully long before there were physicians and surgeons; and doctors acquire knowledge of medicine not from an abstract notion but by observing a sort of wisdom built into the body’s parts and systems. The parallel between society and the human body is not exact but it is close enough to be instructive. Society and the state existed before the advent of social or political theorists. It behoves the theorist to begin not with an abstract idea of what society should be like, but by observing what actually is. If the naive theorist should somehow gain power and begin to rebuild along more “rational” lines, the process will be much like a surgeon trying to remake the human body. In the process of being rebuilt, much of the society dies. Numerous mechanisms serving all sorts of purposes are swept away because the reformer doesn’t understand how they function or why they are useful. Energies and bonds that move people and hold them together are destroyed; and the citizens, like so many body parts left lying around after some Frankensteinian experiment, don’t automatically come together and operate as an organized whole. Having destroyed the processes and motivations that made the old regime work, how will the reformer get the scattered parts to function according to the new model? Punishment is usually cheaper than reward. Those in power may find it hard to convince me that I will be rewarded if I obey them, but they can usually arrange for something very bad to


happen to me if I don’t. So, the argument goes, the Terror was not an accidental result of the rationalist inspiration of the French Revolution but a necessary means if one is to impose an abstract model on an existing people. The romantic reaction against rationalism, valid as it was in its criticisms, sometimes pushed the organic model of society so far as to more or less reject reason, with destructive results. Sanity demands a modified organic view that accepts reason as the guide to human action but insists that reason accept its own limitations. There are at least three ways in which rationalists failed to take account of reason’s limitations. First, they thought of people too exclusively as rational, allowing little place for instinct, feeling, emotion and intuition. Supposing this, they wrongly presumed that merely explaining the rationale of the new regime would be enough to motivate most citizens, and when the citizens stubbornly resisted, rationalist leaders supposed that these irrational dissenters had to be brought into line by force. Second, many rationalists too quickly concluded that they had adequately grasped reality when in fact their knowledge was superficial and mixed with a good deal of error. This explains their tendency to operate from an abstract model. Their models were not purely a priori, based as they were on a certain amount of observation, but when they tried to run society according to these models there were some important parts missing. Third, many rationalists failed to recognize fully that reason, when it intervenes in human affairs, must deal with the reality that is there, must appeal to nature. It cannot create new natures to act in the way that the intervener might like. As the medical doctor in the healing process not only learns from the human body but is also the servant of the body’s processes, so the social reformer must not only learn from what actually exists but must work with actual and natural realities rather than pretend that human reason can create completely new natures, forces and motivations. As noted already, the parallel between medicine and social philosophy is not exact. The human body sets relatively rigid limits for the physician, whereas human nature sets wider limits for the political agent. The goal of medical intervention is the return of the


body to a relatively specific state that we recognize as health. Societies, on the other hand, may take any of many forms and still be healthy. Perhaps even quite new social forms could be viable and desirable. Granted then that the political activist has more room for creativity than the physician, yet the wise reformer won’t tear down the existing social structure in order to create something radically new based upon an abstract notion. The flaws of the rationalist approach to the state are apparent also in some “radical” proposals to change the institution of marriage. V.


Whatever else it is, marriage is a set of behavioural expectations. What is it that causes married partners to act in such a way as to favour the welfare of children? Social scientists might approach the issue in terms of roles. A role, such as that of teacher, parent or traffic policeman, involves an organized pattern of conduct to which people in particular situations are expected to conform.143 The roles, of course, differ from one culture to another and are a major way in which a culture influences its members. Using this terminology, the question is: what causes married people to adopt roles that foster the welfare of children? Several factors relevant to this question interact closely with each other, but for the sake of conceptual clarity they can be distinguished and treated one by one. 1. natural desires, potentialities and predispositions One set of factors includes natural desires, potentialities and predispositions, the “raw material” that people bring to marriage.


A brief treatment of the notion of role in relation to marriage is given by Mangus, A.R., "Role theory and marriage counseling", Social Forces, 35(March 1957) 200-209, reprinted in Perspectives in Marriage and Family: Texts and Readings edited by J. Ross Eschleman, Boston, Allyn and Bacon, c1969, pp. 57-74.


There are many behaviours that stem from natural desires and that act powerfully for the good of children. The natural desire for sexual union has over the millennia assured the perpetuation of the human race. Other reactions of a more-or-less natural quality and which serve the good of children are present in people rather generally. Most of us have a natural sympathy for youngsters in need and we want to alleviate their distress. Many people, if not most, spontaneously like to play with babies, lavish attention upon them, provoke their responses. Otherwise dignified people can be observed making strange noises and faces when confronted by an infant. All of this, child experts assure us, provides helpful stimulation for the child. These spontaneous responses to children normally are intensified by the bond between parents and their offspring.

Parents tend to see their children as continuations of

themselves, their “flesh and blood�.144 The loss of their baby causes parents acute grief. Commonly, the law gives the maternal bond precedence over other considerations except, in clear cases, the welfare of the child. Fathers too usually bond strongly with infants who are their flesh and blood. Fathers too will fight fiercely to keep and to take care of their offspring.145 The complex, positive responses of parents to their children continue to evolve as the child grows to adulthood. Why do parents want to have children in the first place? The sex drive is not the only natural disposition that is at work here. Parents share in the wonder at a new creation and 144

Martin Daly and Mary Wilson in The Truth about Cinderella: a Darwinian View of Parental Love, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1999, discuss the influence of blood relationship on the parent-child bond and cite a study that concludes that a child is one hundred times more likely to be abused or killed by a stepparent than by a genetic parent. 145

Some authors have argued that in the Middle Ages affection of parents played little part in children's lives. See Aries, Philippe, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, New York, Knopf, 1962, pp. 38-40, 128; Shorter, Edward, The Making of the Modern Family, New York, Basic Books, 1975, pp. 168-204. If true this would suggest that there may not be a significant natural predisposition for parents to have strong bonds with their offspring. Frances and Joseph Gies in Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages, New York, Harper and Row, c1989, cite many texts to counter the notion that medieval parents were not emotionally tied to their children, and conclude, p. 297, "In light of recent scholarship, controversy on this point no longer really exists."


feel their own lives fulfilled by the introduction of this new person into their family, in spite of the work, discomfort and even hardships that are involved. Spouses who have established a deep and abiding union with each other regard their child not only as “flesh of my flesh” but as “flesh of our flesh”, the fruit of a shared life and love, the continuer of the family line. A child born into a family normally incorporates some of the family identity into its own sense of self. The success of the child in turn makes the parents proud and redounds to the reputation of the family. 2. learning The “raw material” that helps motivate parents to seek the good of children is strongly reinforced by various types of learning. Of primary importance is the learning of virtues such as kindness, patience, perseverance, loyalty, etc. The list of relevant virtues is long, because most virtues that make one a good person also make one a good parent. In turn, when the institution of family is operating well, two of the great forces forming individuals in human virtue are the family of origin and the family formed by the individual’s marriage.

The success of a family’s child-raising in one generation

contributes, fallibly of course, to a similar success in the next. Unfortunately, most of us are only moderately virtuous at best. Fortunately, the devotion of individuals to the good of children does not depend only on personal virtue, as helpful as that is. Even people of mediocre virtue can be so shaped within an institution as to seek the good of children. Intellectual learning, of course, plays a major part. People learn that bearing and caring for children is what they ought to do. Such learning may be based on ethical arguments, or it may be sustained by convictions that are not formulated in an explicitly ethical form. If I understand marriage as an image of the relationship of Christ to his body, the Church, and I understand family as the building up of that body, this context gives new meaning to the fruitfulness of marriage. Furthermore, appreciation of the worth of each person produces awe at the power to beget. Suppose a society where the ability to procreate is


confined to a small elite and where there is no temptation to view the child as an unfortunate by-product of an act of self-indulgence. In such a society there might be something close to an adequate appreciation of the astounding ability to bring new human beings into existence. People who have little explicit awareness of theoretical considerations regarding procreation may yet have a powerful sense of the rightness and value of bearing and rearing children. They readily step into the role of parent, with the behavioural expectations and obligations implied in the role. One reason they do so is the opinion of others. To contradict societal expectations in so minor a matter as style of clothing is both difficult and relatively rare. (Young people who rebel against their parents’ taste in clothing are usually conforming with a peer group.) To some extent this is a result of our need for social approval or at least to avoid criticism and scorn. Even apart from the need for approval, hearing a particular opinion from all or most of our colleagues can easily move us to suppose that it is right. When people who marry are expected to bear and raise children, and raise them in a particular way, they are likely to conform to those expectations. Another reason why people adopt roles is the example of others, especially the example of persons they admire and with whom they identify. Young people who admire their parents or other role models will tend to identify with them and imitate them. Institutions build habits. I get into the habit of going to the grocery store when food supplies run low. I have been conditioned to do so. Often the habit that develops is not only a physical routine but also an intellectual conviction along with moral strength. There is a sort of collective habit by which, if no other forces intervene, a society will tend to repeat the ways in which activity has been organized in the past, ways that have become familiar and comfortable. Until they are convinced otherwise, people will stay with the practice that has worked rather than entrust their own and their society’s welfare to untested innovations. The supposition of young people that in entering marriage they will bear and raise children is to some extent the result of a collective habit.


Established practices are reinforced because they yield desirable results, either for individuals or for society as a whole. It is obvious enough to most people that bearing and raising children is essential to the continued well-being of the human race. The bearing and rearing of children within marriage makes eminent practical sense. Until they are convinced otherwise, people will continue to expect this task to be done within marriage rather than entrust it to untested innovations. In most cultures if they think of an alternative way it is only as a last resort to deal with exceptional cases. Besides the general agreement that it is good to provide for the life of the next generation, marriage partners experience personal rewards and enrichment from their parental roles, in spite of difficulties; and this reinforces the behavioural expectations of the institution. Certain rituals help pass on the behavioural expectations of a culture. The marriage ceremony, for example, is a rite that impresses on young members that they are entering a new phase of life with definite expectations about how they should act. In shaping behaviour and fostering habits, institutions also shape attitudes and motivations. Even a grocery store does this to some extent. When I get used to going to a particular store I expect it to be there and to provide goods within a certain price range. If it fails in some respect I feel that things are not right and I may be mildly irritated. More fundamental institutions shape our attitudes and motivations more powerfully. A state, for example, can inspire people to kill or to die in its defence. The state provides a context that gives a certain meaning to actions, and even enters into the individual’s selfidentity. Like the state, the institution of marriage develops strong attitudes and motivations, and these attitudes and motivations constitute a major way in which a society provides for the welfare of the next generation. Within marriage, spousal bonds can develop and flourish. The initial bonding between parent and child can develop into mature love, responsible loyalty, trust, solidarity and a whole gamut of positive interpersonal responses.


An institution may enforce its norms by passing laws backed by penalties. The laws may be made and enforced by the state, or they may be made by lower-level institutions and enforced by praise and blame and by those penalties (e.g., denial of privileges, exclusion from membership) that are available to that particular institution. Laws that require parents to take care of their children not only modify the behaviour of potentially delinquent parents, but also reinforce the general belief that parents are responsible for the welfare of their children. The influences mentioned above have both motivational and instructional effect; they not only encourage spouses to bear and rear children but also teach them how to do so by instruction, example, and by honouring those special skills and practices that the wisdom of the culture identifies as appropriate and effective. 3. agape Christian marriage is characterized by spousal agape, which strengthens some of the above-mentioned qualities that orient a marriage towards the good of children and adds others. Having overcome individual egotism, spousal agape doesn’t then create a sort of egotism of the couple. Spousal agape does not close the partners in on themselves. Having learned to love one’s spouse generously one becomes better able to love others. There can be any number of objects of that love of others, but children, who at first are in no position to merit love, are its special beneficiaries. Parents reflect the divine agape in a special way insofar as they not only love existing human beings but also beget new persons. Then they give themselves to their children by sharing life with them in the intimacy of the home.146 The marital bond, characterized by unconditional and permanent147 love between 146

Of course people can share themselves in this latter way also with adopted children, resulting in a sense of belonging between adoptive parents and children much like, and in some cases greater than, that between biological parents and children. 147

This will be discussed further in a later chapter.


husband and wife and between parents and children, provides the stability and security children need, not only to assure them of care but also to recognize their own worth. The trauma to children whose parents divorce, or to children who suspect that the relationship of their parents is in jeopardy, witnesses to the strength of this need of the child. Agape reinforces the natural predisposition of parents to give their child care and affection and provides a spiritual source for perseverance, growth and deepening of the relationship between parents and child. In spite of the trials and difficulties of family life, most children bring fulfilment and joy to parents, especially in a marriage characterized by agape. The sense of loss at the death of a child bears witness to this. Children will be a genuine source of joy only when, and to the extent that, the parents seek not their own satisfaction but the good of the child. Parents who seek the child only for what the child can do for them will become discouraged. When parents care for an infant and in turn are delighted by its smiles and frowns and expressions of wonder, they are not caring for it only for the sake of the delight they get from it. They take delight in it because the infant is already precious to them. 4. sex as shaping behaviour in favour of children

Before artificial contraception became commonplace there was no need to argue that sex orients marriage towards the procreation and rearing of children. People got married, engaged in sexual intercourse, bore children and cared for them. Because marriage was about sexual intercourse of spouses it was about bearing children. It was also about caring for the children because of a more-or-less universal supposition that those who begot children should care for them. If marriage did not involve sexual intercourse it would not be about bearing and raising children. That sex orients marriage towards procreation is not only a physical but also a personal reality. It was indicated earlier that sexual intercourse will tend to take on the personal


meaning that already exists in the relationship. The relation of sex to procreation allows the personal relationship of spouses to be procreative. In turn, when the relationship between spouses is oriented towards the bearing and rearing of children (i.e., the relationship means this to the partners), their sex intercourse will embody that procreative meaning, make it present and strengthen it. The fact that sexual intercourse is the natural means of procreation makes it a natural symbol of the marriage relationship as procreative. Symbols are powerful. The immense power of national identity and of patriotism, for example, depends mainly upon symbols. Where sex symbolizes a strong personal and procreative relationship, the deep sources of energy attached to the erotic are turned outward, first to form and strengthen the union of husband and wife, and outward again to the welfare of the children who are the products of that spousal union.148 5.

creation of a milieu

Even apart from the conscious intentions of partners, the characteristics of a good spousal relationship also create a good atmosphere for children: generous self-sacrifice, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, stable commitment, forgiveness, devotion, tenderness, intimacy. The child born into a good marriage enters an already existing community in which the unconditional love and fidelity of spouses provides security. Spouses support each other in providing the care and attention that is the bedrock for the child’s human development. They serve for the child as models of human behaviour and attitudes, persons with whom the child can easily identify. Through the crucial formative years the youngster develops a character and an identity by relating closely to parents of each sex. VI. WHY SHOULD MARRIAGE BE PROCREATIVE? 1.


importance of procreation and raising of children

A subsequent chapter will discuss the effect of contraception on the meaning of marriage.


Among social goals, procreation and proper rearing of the next generation have a certain priority. In seeking the existence and the good life of members of the next generation one seeks the continuation of history - the good of all who will follow us. Failure in this regard is disastrous. If no children are born, human life ends. If children are born but do not receive proper physical care, their lives are miserable and probably short. If children are not taught moral virtue, all in society suffer the dire consequences: general violence, dishonesty, undisciplined anger, greed and every form of vice. Unloved children easily become sociopaths, personally isolated and a menace to others. Without the passing on of a culture, children are denied a full interpersonal, aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual life.

Children not practiced in social living suffer loneliness, distrust, emotional

instability and maladjustment. Not every ill should be attributed to failures in childraising, but lack of proper care and rearing of children leads to disastrous failure in almost every area of life. 2. the effort needed To provide for the good of even one child requires a notable expenditure of human effort and resources. The monetary cost of raising a child to adulthood may be calculated in different ways, depending upon what is listed as an expense. To the obvious items food, housing, health care and clothing - one could add the cost of education and the loss of earnings while the mother interrupts her career and the father foregoes advancement on the job in order to spend more time with his family. Those who like to calculate such things place the monetary costs of one child in North America in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. To measure monetary costs is only to begin to calculate the human expenditure necessary if children are to prosper. Parents get up in the middle of the night, change diapers, change vacation plans, put up with noise and disorder, endure disappointment when their son turns out to be neither an Albert Einstein nor a Michael Jordan and their daughter shows little promise of becoming the first woman Secretary General of the UN. The


exercise of authority in the process of socializing the child constitutes a major investment of energy, and perhaps also a source of tension or discouragement. Beneath all of the patience, energy, generosity, wisdom and other necessary qualities of a parent, there are the most basic requirements, unconditional love, commitment and loyalty that provides the security without which no child can flourish, that perseveres through every difficulty not merely while enthusiasm lasts but for as long as it takes. Raising a child also requires wisdom. The parent must make wise choices each day about what limits to place on the child, when to praise, when to reassure, when to chastise, what kind of model to be for the child, etc. The list is endless. 3.

the success of marriage

How widespread are the qualities needed for rearing children? Consider just one of the necessities - generosity. Children are not only a financial burden; from an exclusively hard-headed, pragmatic point of view, they are nuisances.

Who, except for a few

unusually generous people, would choose to be bothered with them? Ordinary people are not heroically generous. We expect our better neighbours to be as generous as they can be without serious inconvenience to themselves, but we don’t expect much more than that. When we are in need and ask a stranger for help, if he or she exceeds a minimum of kindness our overflow of gratitude stems at least partly from surprise. Even if the generosity is there, what of the other qualities needed by parents - energy, committed love, practical wisdom, patience and strong nerves, perseverance, and all the rest? Casual observation suggests that a high degree of any of these qualities is no more common than is great generosity. So, adequate rearing of children is crucially important, and the task requires an unusual combination of human qualities. Were one creating a society from the start, one might be tempted to assign child rearing to a few gifted souls. However, raising children has been shared rather indiscriminately among the ordinary people who make up our human race.


Historically, if the institution of the family is operating in anything like a healthy way (a significant “if�), when the child comes into the world there are two adults - usually not saints, just normal people - who accept the child as their own, are committed to taking care of it and in the process involving themselves in major burdens and difficulties. Doing it will not always be a joy, but most parents will resist desperately any attempt to relieve them of the burden; and these ordinary people will not only undertake this daunting task but will generally exhibit unusual energy, patience, devotion, and indeed practical wisdom, along with other qualities needed for child rearing.

Where the

surrounding culture gives them half a chance, they will not only undertake the task; they will usually succeed at it. Historically, in other words, it is not that child-raising has been reserved to those elite people who possess the required qualities to a high degree, but that the institution of marriage has given ordinary people a high degree of the required qualities. When the family is operating as it should, the child benefits from a complex, quasiorganic institutional structure. Deep sources of energy and devotion - emotional, erotic, spiritual, physical - are tapped and directed to create a firm, profound and personally enriching union of husband and wife; and from this foundation those conditions arise that favour the welfare of children, and deep sources of energy are directed outward again towards the good of the next generation. VII.


As was noted earlier, some authors think we would be better off without marriage and family. I have argued that you need the institution of marriage and family to raise children properly, and that therefore the authors who want to abolish marriage and family are wrong. What is the nature of the evidence? I have appealed to observation of what seems to be true of human beings in general, with reflections and interpretations of the observations that seem to be valid. There is another approach to evaluating the proposal to abolish marriage and family, and that is by appeal to studies in the empirical


sciences.149 1. the search for a workable alternative to the family Is there, in spite of what I have argued above, scientific empirical evidence that there is or can be a viable alternative to marriage and family as a way to raise children? There are several ways to approach this question. One could evaluate the raising of children in societies in which, purportedly at least, marriage and family do not exist. The first steps of such and evaluation might be relatively easy. One might, for example, find that most Nayar children are happy, or quarrelsome, or wonderfully spontaneous, or insecure; and one might devise a satisfactory way to compare their well-being to that of children in several societies where children grow up in families. However, it would still remain to show that the good or bad qualities discovered stem from the presence or absence of family structure rather than from the innumerable other ways in which Nayar society differs from each of the other societies to which they can be compared. In any case, it is difficult to find any such studies. A second sort of study could stay closer to home. In our own world there are children raised in orphanages. These institutions are less numerous than they used to be, but there are still enough orphanages world-wide to supply plenty of individuals who have grown up outside of a family context.

Again, social scientists seem not to have busied

themselves recently with studies of the results of orphanage child-raising. A third place to look for alternatives to the family for raising children is in certain experiments in a number of countries. Admittedly such experiments have been shortlived. The 19th century Oneida Commune in New York State and the Fourier-inspired experiments in communal living in France did not last long.

The early Soviet

experiments in children raising by the state were ended in 1936, ostensibly because they


See the Appendix below regarding how empirical science bears on moral conclusions.


had failed.150 Sometimes cited as an example of raising children communally are the Kibbutzim of modern Israel. Residents of these communities, at one point at least, represented perhaps 3% of the population of Israel. As early as 1977151 Ben-Rafael pointed out the extent to which Kibbutzim had already evolved away from some of their early aspirations. Spiro notes that the experiment with children being raised communally was raising discontent as early as the 1960’s, and more recently the experiment has been modified to the extent that children have begun to sleep in the homes of their parents.152 Spiro argues that having children live apart from their mothers was naturally bad for both mothers and children.153 In any case, the kibbutzim have lasted longer than have other experiments in raising children outside of the family. The question is whether the Kibbutzim truly represent a system of raising children outside of the family. They are perhaps closer to an experiment with extensive day-care combined with a degree of loss of authority of the parents concerning such things as the education of their children. (The authority of North American parents too is quite circumscribed in this respect.) Much of the time Kibbutzim children are in the care of nurses and teachers. In many cases grandparents step in to supply some of the personal dimension of child care. The parents however normally provide a significant portion of the intimacy and affection the child needs. In many Kibbutzim the parents, even if they do not live in a separate dwelling with their children, spend a good deal of time with them.154 They may in fact spend more time with their children than do many busy 150

See Murstein, Bernard, Love, Sex and Marriage through the Ages, New York, Springer, 1974, Chapter Nineteen. 151 Ben-Rafael, Eliezer, Crisis and Transformation: The Kibbutz at Century’s End, Albany, State University of New York Press, 1977. 152 See Spiro, Melford, “Utopia and its discontents: the kibbutz and its historical vicissitudes” American Anthropologist 106(2004) 556-68. 153 A similar argument is made by Ora Aviezer and others in “Balancing the family in raising children: why communal sleeping in kibbutzim was bound to end” Family Process 41(2002) 43554. 154 See Reiss, Ira, “The universality of the family: a conceptual analysis” Journal of Marriage and Family 27(1965) 443-53, reprinted in Perspectives in Marriage and Family: Texts and Readings, J. Ross Eshleman, ed., Boston, Allyn & Bacon, c1970, pp. 36-56.


American parents. My limited search of recent literature has not uncovered systematic evaluations of experiments in raising children communally. This does not prove that such evaluations do not exist, but it does suggest that at this point they are not sufficiently numerous to provide for a reliable consensus. There is another line of argument that, if it does not identify a valid alternative to the family in raising children, at least challenges its dominant role in this regard. This argument is based on the extent to which agents other than the parents have played and do play important roles in raising children. Authors have noted instances of this in cultures other than our own. It has been pointed out that Apache grandmothers used to play a very important role in raising grandchildren.155

Queen, Habenstein and

Quadagno156 cite the example of the Hopi Indians among whom an uncle is the principal disciplinarian of the child. (They note157 that there can be difficulties with this system, especially jealousy and insecurity in early childhood, but they believe the problems may correct themselves as the child approaches ten years of age.) They also report a custom among the African Badanga people of young parents giving up their first and second children to be raised by the father’s older brother, and other cases in which a grandparent may take the child. Quale notes the practice among the Nayar of India of the wife’s brother playing a major role in raising his sister’s children.158 She notes that the father is nevertheless expected to take an affectionate interest in the child, and that in the 19th century the role of the father increased and the role of the uncle decreased.


speculates that the role of the uncle in raising children grew out of a warlike culture in which the husband would often be away in battle. She also notes the Trobriand Island custom of a man taking care of his sister’s children rather than his own. 155

Bahr, Kathleen, “The strengths of Apache grandmothers: observations on commitment, culture and caretaking” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 25(1994) 234-48. 156 Queen, Stuart, Robert Habenstein & Jill S. Quadagno, The Family in Various Cultures, 5th Ed., New York, Harper & Row, c1985, Chapter 3. 157 p. 102. 158 Quale, G. Robina, A History of Marriage Systems, New York, Greenwood Press, 1988, pp. 23. See also Reiss, Ira, “The universality of the family: a conceptual analysis” Journal of Marriage and Family 27(1965) 443-53.


We can cite many examples closer to home of persons other than the parents playing a significant role in raising children. Foster parents care for and raise children whose biological parents are prevented from doing so. The nannies of British upper-class families don’t have ultimate authority over children in their care but they do much of the day-to-day raising of them. There are many stories of an older sister stepping in after the death of a mother and playing a major role in raising her younger siblings. According to need one or other relative often takes over the care of children. Day care of young children is becoming common in our society as more and more mothers take on employment outside of the home. Authors have even noted advantages for children who spend time in day care.159 What does all of this say about the family and raising children? There are two issues here. The first concerns the contribution of these non-parental agencies in our society. By and large they must surely be evaluated positively. If you can find them, surely it is normally an advantage to have well-motivated and qualified persons to help bear the burdens of raising children. (There is some evidence that there must be some hierarchy among the care-givers, at least to the extent of having one or two persons to whom the child relates in a special way.160) Yongmin Sung finds that children in a family without either biological parent do somewhat less well than do children with both biological parents, but he believes this disadvantage is accounted for by difference in family structure, i.e., on whether it is an intact or single-parent or reconstituted family.161

When the nurturers

treat the children properly, good results follow whether or not there is a blood relationship. The advantage of intact families is not primarily the fact that they involve blood relationship but because they are the best assurance that as many children as possible will have motivated and committed people to care for them and with whom they can identify


See for example Clarke-Stewart, K. Allison, “A home is not a school: the effects of child care in children’s development” Journal of Social Issues 47(1991) 105-23. 160 See the section on good parenting in the Appendix at the end of this book. 161 Yongmin Sung, “The well-being of adolescents in households with no biological parents” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 894-909.


This brings us to the second issue. Does the effectiveness of agents other than parents in intact families prove that one could build a society which dispenses with the family in the raising of children? Finding a way to raise a particular child caught in a difficult situation is not the same as designing a system for a whole society. In the absence of a systematic empirical assessment of a proposal that has not yet been implemented we are thrown back to the kind of argumentation that the earlier part of this chapter has provided. A high degree of certain qualities – generosity, self-sacrifice, commitment and devotion, patience, loyalty, trust, etc. – are needed for raising children well but are not present to a high degree in the world at large. These qualities are generally brought to bear on the task of raising children when the institution of marriage is functioning as it needs to function. If the family ceases to be the principle agent for the procreation, care and education of children, those functions could be left to chance. This experiment would be the rough equivalent of disbanding the profession of medicine or the police force in the belief that no institutional structure is needed to assure the performance of their functions. The alternative is to assign the care and education of children to other institutions, either those that already exist or newly invented ones. These institutions would not be asked to fill in only when the family fails, but to shoulder the responsibility of raising children for the whole society.

They would take up that daunting task without the resources proper to

marriage, such as blood relationship, bonds that arise from pregnancy, the direction of erotic energy to the creation of a union and milieu, etc.

One’s assessment of the

possibility of such a radical experiment succeeding will depend to a considerable extent on one’s world view. If one takes seriously the earlier discussion of rationalist versus organic notions of society, any intention to risk the future of the human race on this kind of experiment is cause for alarm. 2.

family structure and raising children

While recent studies on raising children outside of the family are relatively scarce, there


is an abundance of recent empirical research on how children are affected by variations within family structures, and much of that research bears on our concerns here. The term “family structure” in contemporary social science refers to a variety of ways in which a family may be formed.

The intact family involves a husband and wife with their

dependent children. The single-parent family may come about because of divorce, death of a parent or birth to an unwed mother. The reconstituted family is one to which at least one of the partners has brought children from a previous union, and it may include children born of the new union. Cohabitation involves partners who are not married to each other, one or both of whom have brought dependent children from a previous union, and may include children born of the new union. Our present society has provided abundant fodder for researchers to examine the relative success of each of these structures in raising children.

The following discussion will focus mainly on

comparisons of children raised by single parents to children raised in intact families.162 Much research has shown that normally children raised by both of their biological parents fare considerably better than do those raised by single parents.163 This is often taken as an established fact that can serve as a starting point for more specific research.164 An obvious disadvantage for children of single parents is economic. There is no doubt that children growing up in single parent families are on average poorer than are those growing up with both biological parents.165 It has been suggested that a major cause of the increase in child poverty in United States in the 1980’s was the increase in the


When an article deals also with the reconstituted family or the cohabitation family I will note that fact in this section rather than having to refer to it again elsewhere. For the sake of (relative) brevity, notice of studies specific to raising children in reconstituted families will be deferred to the section of this book on divorce. 163 One of many examples is Hauser, Richard, & Inga Fisher, The Relative Economic Status of One-Parent Families in Six Major Industrial Countries, Frankfurt, University of Frankfurt Press, Working Paper #187, 1985. 164 See for example Thomson, Elizabeth & others, “Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental behaviours” Social Forces 73(1994) 221-42, who note that the disadvantage to the child does not disappear if the single parent later marries. 165 See Hauser & Fisher, op. cit.; South, Scott, “The geographic context of divorce: Do neighborhoods matter?” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 755-66.


number of single parent or step-parent families.166 Studies show that, as one might expect, the financial problems of single mothers are significantly mitigated if they have a post-secondary education.167 Donna Franklin & others note that according to a study of African-American mothers in Chicago, economic hardship among mothers who had never married was greater than for those who had married and then became single.168 Elliott and Krivo add that female-headed families are more likely than intact families to be homeless, although marital status is not the most important factor in determining homelessness.169

It has been noted that, not surprisingly, single mothers suffer

financially more than single fathers do.170 There are obvious reasons why single parent families often are poor. Parents normally must make a living for themselves and family while spending considerable time caring for children. Two persons have more capacity than one to accomplish this. Furthermore, often a single girl’s pregnancy brings an end to her formal schooling, blocking her access to well-paying jobs. Poverty brings in its wake further disadvantages for children. So much is this the case that some authors attribute nearly all the negative results of single parenting to the economic factor. It seems more accurate to say that many, but far from all, of the ill effects of single parenting can be traced to poverty.171 (Even if poverty accounted for all 166

See Eggebeen, David, & Daniel Lichter, “Race, family structure, and changing poverty among American children: American Sociological Review 56(1991) 801-17. 167 See Zahn, Min, & Shanta Pandey, “Post-secondary education and economic well-being of single mothers and single fathers” Journal of Marriage and Family 66(2004) 661-73. 168 “Correlates of marital status among African American mothers in Chicago neighbourhoods of concentrated poverty” Journal of Marriage and the Family 57(1995) 141-52. 169 Elliot, Marta, & Lauren Krivo, “Structural determinants of homelessness in the United States” Social Problems 38(1991) 113-31. 170 Smock, Pamela, & others, “The effects of marriage on women’s economic well-being” American Sociological Review 64(1999) 794-812. 171 It is worth noting that the bad effects of poverty on children come not only because of the scarce resources of the family but also because living in a poor neighbourhood brings with it added disadvantages. First there is the likelihood that a poor neighbourhood will have inferior schools. Klebanov, Pamela, & others, “Does neighbourhood and family poverty affect mothers’ parenting, mental health and social support” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 441-55, note that the poor neighbourhood has adverse effects on how women raise children, quite apart from family poverty. David Harding, (“Counterfactual models of neighbourhood effects: the


the ill effects that would not point to an easy solution. The link between single parenting and poverty is not easily broken.) Among the undesirable results associated with child poverty is lower academic achievement.172

One reason is that the poor often live in areas served by inferior

schools.173 Also, children in poor families are on average less likely to be encouraged to do well in school or even to see academic success as a realistic goal. Some poor parents have a work schedule that discourages them from spending time helping their children learn. It seems that, while poverty correlates also with behavioural problems,174 its effect on academic performance is more powerful.175

Entwisle and Alexander report that

economic resources correlate substantially with higher reading and math skills of children.176 In an earlier article they attribute the superior performance of children to the economic factor.177 A recent study shows how an increase in income can create a more stimulating environment and help children aged 3 to 8 years to learn.178

effect of neighbourhood poverty on dropping out and teen-age pregnancy” American Journal of Sociology 109(2003) 676-719) having controlled for extrinsic factors, concludes that living in a poor neighbourhood in itself increases likelihood of dropping out of school and of becoming pregnant during one’s teens. 172 See Carlson, Marcia, & Mary Corcoran, “Family structures and children’s behavioral and cognitive outcomes” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 779-92; Morris, Pamela, & Lisa Gennetian, “Identifying the effects of income on children’s development using experimental data” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 716-29. 173 See Suet-Ling Pong, & others, “Family policies and children’s school achievement in singleversus two-parent families” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 681-99. These authors note, regarding the inferior achievement in mathematics and science of children in single-parent families, that the gap decreases when public policy works to equalize the educational resources available to poor and more wealthy families. This confirms that at least some of the inferior performance of the poorer children is attributable to the quality of schooling rather than to the family poverty as such. 174 This is confirmed by Gerard, Jean, & Cheryl Buehler, “Multiple risk factors in the family environment and youth problem behaviors” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 343-61. 175 See Thomson, Elizabeth, & others, “Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental behaviours” Social Forces 73(1994) 221-42. 176 See Entwisle, Doris, & Karl Alexander, “Family type and children’s growth in reading and math over the primary grades” Journal of Marriage and Family 58(1996) 341-55. 177 “A parent’s economic shadow: structure versus family resources as influences on early school achievement” Journal of Marriage and Family 57(1995) 399-409. 178 Votruba-Drzal, Elizabeth, “Income changes and cognitive stimulation in young children’s home learning environments” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 341-55.


Growing up in poverty seems to increase the likelihood of being poor later in life. In noting this, Beutel adds very plausibly that inferior education causes the lower income.179 Growing up in a single parent family correlates, in some cases at least, with higher rates of unemployment later in life even among those with equal educational attainments.180 Amato and Keith found that both male and female white persons growing up in oneparent families were worse off socio-economically later in life than were those who grew up with both biological parents. The same was true for black and Hispanic females but not for black and Hispanic males.181 Work by Biblarz and others182 suggests, contrary to some other studies, that men raised in female-headed single parent families do as well socio-economically as do men raised by two biological parents. According to this study the negative socioeconomic status held especially for women raised by a father only or in a step-family. Sobolewski and Amato suggest that poverty in the family of origin causes stress in parents and leads to poor parenting, and this in turn leads to disadvantages for the child later in life.183 Many authors have reported the disadvantages for children in single parent families without attempting to calculate the impact of economics in causing those disadvantages.184 The negative effect on academic performance is well documented.185 179

Beutel, Ann, “The relationship between adolescent nonmarital childbearing and educational expectations: a cohort and period comparison” Sociological Review 41(2000) 297-314. 180 See Caspi, Avshalom, & others, “Early failure in the labor market: childhood and adolescent predictors of unemployment in the transition to adulthood” American Sociological Review 63(1998) 424-51. 181 Amato, Paul, & Bruce Keith, “Separation from a parent during childhood and adult socioeconomic attainment” Social Forces 70(1991) 187-206. 182 Biblarz, Timothy, & others, “Family structures and social mobility” Social Forces 75(1997) 1319-39. 183 Sobolewski, Juliana, & Paul Amato, “Economic hardship in the family of origin and children’s psychological well-being in adulthood” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2005) 141-56. 184 We can presume that when a study shows a negative result of single parenting but does not control for the economic factor, the economic factor probably explains at least part of the negative result. 185 See Suet-Ling Pong, “Family structure, school context, and eighth grade math and reading achievement” Journal of Marriage and Family 59(1997) 733-46; Bankston, Carl, & Stephen Caldas, “Family structure, schoolmates, and racial inequalities in school achievement” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 715-23; Dawson, Deborah, “Family structure and children’s health and well-being: data from the 1988 National Health Interview survey on child health” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 573-84; Schlesinger, Benjamin, “Children in one-


Reading ability, mathematical proficiency and cognitive performance generally are on average lower for children in single parent families than for children in intact families. Cooksey’s studies show that the negative cognitive results for children born outside of marriage arise from a deficiency not only of economic but also of social and human resources.186 Astone and McLanahan believe that the children of single parents and stepparents do less well academically because they receive less parental encouragement and help in educational efforts and the parents are less engaged in school activities.187 They found that children of single parents fared worse than those with step-parents, but attribute this difference to economic factors. Dawson found negative academic results not only for children in single-parent families but also for those in reconstituted families.188 Parsons’ report on Canadian data states that children of intact families have the highest level both of educational and occupational achievement; among single parent families, children of male-headed families have the lowest level of educational achievement; females from male-headed families and males from female headed families show the lowest level of occupational achievement.189 Some studies have focussed on specific areas of academic performance. A report on a longitudinal study of over 11,000 children from birth to seven years of age in the United Kingdom190 notes an association between poor reading and “atypical” (i.e., not raised by both natural parents) family situations. They explain (p. 41) that this finding held for upper social classes but not for families of semi-skilled or non-skilled workers. Another parent families: a review” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 25(1995) 105-14; Schiller, Kathryn, & others, “Economic development and the effects of family characteristics on mathematical achievement” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 730-42; Teachman, Jay, & others, “Sibling resemblance in behavioural and cognitive outcomes: the role of father presence” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 835-48. 186 Cooksey, Elizabeth, “Consequences of young mothers’ marital histories for children’s cognitive development” Journal of Marriage and Family 59(1997) 245-61. 187 Astone, Nan Marie, & Sara McLanahan, “Family structure, parental practices and high school completion” American Sociological Review 56(1991) 309-20. 188 Dawson, Deborah, op. cit. 189 Parsons, Marianne, “Lone parent Canadian families and the socioeconomic achievements of children as adults” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 21(1990) 353-67. 190 Davie, Ronald, Neville Butler & Harvey Goldstein, From Birth to Seven. The Second Report of the National Child Development Study, Great Britain, Longman, c1972, p.25.


study191 found that living with one parent correlated with lower math scores for children in wealthier countries but not for children in poorer countries. Already noted among factors related to economic status is the fact that children in single parent families are more likely than others to exhibit delinquent behaviour, whether more serious (e.g., violent crimes) or less serious (e.g., frequent quarrelling and fighting).192 One source finds that growing up in a stepfamily or single-parent family more than doubles the risk of delinquency beginning by age 14 but does not increase the risk for delinquency beginning between the ages of 14 and 17.193 Thomson and others194 believe that, while the gap in academic performance can be attributed largely to economic differences between single parent and two-parent families, the gap in behavioural problems cannot. Sampson and Laub195, while noting the connection between family disruption and delinquency and the fact that poverty is a factor, theorize that the main influence of family disruption and poverty on behavioural problems is indirect. It involves how parents go about parenting. Parents in poorer and disrupted families tend to supervise their children less closely, resort to less effective methods of discipline and communicate their expectations less clearly to their children. Schiff and McKay in a study of AfricanAmerican children aged 9 to 11 in poor neighbourhoods find that exposure to violence correlated significantly with behavioural problems of girls and even more of boys, and that this bad effect was mitigated by maternal monitoring of children.196 Amato and


See Schiller, Kathryn & others, op. cit. See Dawson, op. cit.; Teachman, Jay, & others, op. cit.; Trasler, Gordon, The Explanation of Criminality, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul, c1962. 193 Coughlin, Chris, & Samuel Vuchinich, “Family experience in preadolescence and the development of male delinquency” Journal of Marriage and Family 58(1996) 491-501. 194 Thomson, Elizabeth, & others, “Family structure and child well-being: economic resources vs. parental behaviours” Social Forces 73(1994) 221-42. 195 Sampson, Robert & John Laub, Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points through Life, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harvard University Press, 1993, Chapter Four. 196 Schiff, Miriam, & Mary McKernan McKay, “Urban youth disruptive behavioural difficulties: exploring association with parenting and gender” Family Process 42(2003) 517-29. 192


Rivera197 note that positive paternal and maternal involvement with their children cuts down on behavioural problems. There is evidence that children in intact families are less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.198 Hoffmann and Johnson199 find the lowest level of drug abuse among children living with father and mother and the highest level among children living with only their father. They believe that this result is not adequately accounted for by solely economic factors or residential mobility. More recently Hoffmann reports on a longitudinal study that shows adolescents who reside in single parent or stepparent families to be at heightened risk of drug abuse and this is not adequately explained by where they live.200 Family structure can affect mental health. Amato201 notes that the extended absence of a parent during childhood mildly increases depression for the child in later years. This holds true whether the absence is caused by death, divorce or out-of-wedlock birth. It holds for Whites and African-Americans but not for Hispanics. Dawson202 finds that children in single parent or reconstituted families are more likely than others to have been treated for emotional problems in the year preceding the interview. Clark and Barber report that, contrary to earlier findings, their investigation shows that children’s self-esteem is not lower in reconstituted families than in intact families.203 What is crucial to the adolescent child’s self-esteem is the father’s or stepfather’s interest 197

Amato, Paul, & Fernando Rivera, “Parental involvement and children’s behavioural problems” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 375-84. 198 Flewelling, Robert, & Karl Bauman, “Family structure as a predictor of initial substance abuse and sexual intercourse in early adolescence” Journal of Marriage and Family 52(1990) 171-81; Bjarnason, Thoroddur, & others, “Familial and religious influences on adolescent alcohol use: a multi-level study of students in school” Social Forces 84(2005) 375-90 (Icelandic). 199 Hoffmann, John, & Robert Johnson, “A national portrait of family structure and adolescent drug use” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 633-45. 200 Hoffmann, John, “The community context of family structure and adolescent drug use” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 314-30. 201 Amato, Paul, “Parental absence during childhood and depression in later life” Sociological Quarterly 32(1991) 543-56. 202 Op. cit. 203 Clark, Jennifer, & Bonnie Barber, “Adolescents in postdivorce and always-married families: self-esteem and perception of father’s interest” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 608-14.


in the child. Regarding sexual behaviour of children, Miller and others204 conclude that among the African-American and Hispanic families studied, family structure is not a significant factor but that monitoring, communication and the parent-child relationship are significant. Others argue that family structure does influence the sexual behaviour of the child.205 One study of African-American girls in high-poverty neighbourhoods, shows that living in an intact or a reconstituted family reduces the incidence of early sexual activity and pregnancy. The researchers consider the strength of the parent-child bond to be the most significant factor in delaying the child’s sex activity.206 Schlesinger notes a higher rate of unmarried motherhood among children of non-intact families.207 Davis and Friel, on the other hand, find that, except for daughters in single-parent families, family structure does not significantly influence the age at which girls become sexually active.208 Teachman observes that women who have lived in a situation other than the intact family have a higher likelihood of cohabiting.209 Because it is usually a mother who heads a single-parent family, a discussion of possible failings of the one parent family implies something about the importance of the father’s role in raising children. A number of writers have dealt with that issue directly. Some authors have minimized the parental role of fathers. Hawkins and Eggebeen for example, although they stop short of a definite conclusion, state that their study lends some support 204

Miller, Kim, & others, “Adolescent sexual behaviour in two ethnic minority samples: the role of family variables” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 85-98. Similar findings are reported by Hovel, Mel, & others, “Family influence on Latino and Anglo adolescents’ sexual behaviour” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 973-86. 205 See for example, Upchurch, Dawn, & others, “Sociocultural context of time to first sex among Hispanic adolescents” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 1158-69. 206 Moore, Mignon, & P. Lindsay Chase-Lansdale, “Sexual intercourse and pregnancy among African American girls in high-poverty neighbourhoods: the role of family and perceived community environment” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 1146-57. 207 Schlesinger, Benjamin, “Children in one-parent families: a review” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 25(1995) 105-14. 208 See Davis, Erin, & Lisa Friel, “Adolescent sexuality: disentangling the effects of family structure and family context” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 669-81. 209 Teachman, Jay, “Childhood living arrangements and the formation of co-residential unions” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 507-24.


to the position that fathers, both biological and social, are peripheral to young children’s intellectual and psychosocial functioning.210 This is not the majority opinion in recent writings. In their review of the literature Marsiglio and others211 note strong support for the notion that fathers have a significant effect on their children’s welfare not only by their economic contributions but by their supportive behaviour in other ways. However, they point out that the value of some of the studies is suspect because they have not screened for the influence of mothers. Angel and Angel212 report, among many unfortunate results of fatherless families, that the children tend to lag behind others in acquiring social skills. Paul Amato213 from his review of the literature argues that closeness to the father makes a unique contribution to the happiness of both sons and daughters and their satisfaction with their lives and helps them avoid psychological distress. In an examination of situations in which the father is absent for any of a variety of reasons, Gabel214 found that the absence increases the likelihood of behavioural problems for boys and to a lesser extent for girls. He theorizes that the father’s absence is probably less significant than are certain concomitant factors. Kosterman and others believe that fathers have a special influence in controlling antisocial behaviour of daughters.215

The findings of Wenk and others imply that the

presence of the father is not so important to the child’s welfare as is the father’s active involvement with the child.216 Among the factors that correlate with behavioural


Hawkins, Richard, & David Eggebeen, “Are fathers fungible? Patterns of corespondent adult men in martially disrupted families and young children’s well-being” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 958-72. 211 Marsiglio, William, & others, “Scholarship on fatherhood in the 1990’s and beyond” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000) 1173-91. 212 Angel, Ronald, & Jacqueline Angel, Painful Inheritance: Health and the New Generation of Fatherless Families, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1993. 213 “Father-child relations, mother-child relations, and offspring psychological well-being in early adulthood” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 1031-42. 214 Gabel, Stewart, “Behavioural problems in sons of incarcerated or otherwise absent fathers: the issue of separation” Family Process 31(1992) 303-14. 215 Kosterman, Rick, & others, “Unique influence of mothers and fathers on their children’s antisocial behavior” Journal of Marriage and Family 66(2004) 762-78. 216 Wenk, DeeAnn, & others, “The influence of parental involvement on the well-being of sons and daughters” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 229-34.


problems of children Dadds217 lists the fact of the father being only minimally engaged in the life of the family. Regarding non-residential fathers, another study finds that their involvement is probably important for the behaviour of both daughters and sons, but finds little correlation between the non-resident father’s involvement and other problems of their children.218 A study by Hofferth and Anderson concludes that it is important for the welfare of the child that the residential father be married to the woman in the household.219 Married fathers, whether biological fathers or step-fathers, are more effective parents than are cohabiting fathers. A Norwegian study of fathers who take parental leave suggests that fathers and mothers exercise parental roles differently.220 Fathers tend more than mothers to play games or do other activities with the child. Mothers more often have the tasks of disciplining the child and taking care of its feeding, clothing and hygiene. The fathers’ type of interaction, the authors, speculate, may help to foster independence in the child. Stolz and others find that mothers are more important than fathers in minimizing sons’ subsequent antisocial behaviour; fathers’ support is more important than the mothers’ in the development of social initiative by their children; and regarding depression of their children, mothers seem especially to influence their sons and fathers especially their daughters.221 Considerable work has been done on the influence on children of non-resident fathers. 217

Dadds, Mark, “Families and the origins of child behavioural problems” Family Process 26(1987) 341-57. 218 Simons, Ronald, & others, “The impact of mothers’ parenting, involvement by non-residential fathers, and parental conflict on the adjustment of adolescent children” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 356-74. 219 Hofferth, Sandra, & Kermyt Anderson, “Are all dads equal? Biology vs. marriage as a basis for paternal investment” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 213-232. 220 Brandth, Berit, & Elin Kvanda, “Masculinity and child care: the reconstruction of fathering” Sociological Review 46(1998) 293-313. 221 Stolz, Heidi, & others, “Toward disentangling fathering and mothering: an assessment of relative importance” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2005) 1076-92.


Amato and Gilbreth222 in their review of sixty three studies report, predictably, that payment of child support by the father correlates positively with the child’s well-being. They note also that feelings of closeness to non-resident fathers correlate positively with the child’s academic success. However, feelings of closeness to the non-resident father correlate with an increase in children’s misbehaviour and depression. Plausibly, this is because separation from a father to whom one feels close is more traumatic and destabilizing than is separation from a father from whom one is alienated. The authors speculate that the activities a child shares with a non-resident father tend to be “fun” activities and do not involve much exercise of authority. This kind of contact can encourage the child to do well in school but does not constitute the discipline, supervision and accountability that help to curb misbehaviour.223 Amid the studies that show that being raised by one’s biological parents is generally a considerable advantage to the child one finds an occasional cautionary note. Jarrett and Burton,224 without denying that the intact family does a better job, note that a concentration on this fact has obscured other significant factors contributing to the welfare of children.

Others admit the disadvantages of single-parent families but

minimize them.225 Nock226 summarizes the disadvantages of single parenting thus: “For most single parents the biggest problem is that there is too much to do. As the only parent in the house, there is usually no other adult to talk to for support and assistance. The children’s needs must be met, the demands of the household must be satisfied, income must be provided, the parent’s own personal needs must be met – and all this by one person.”


Amato, Paul, & Joan Gilbreth, “Non-resident fathers and children’s well-being: a metaanalysis” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 557-73. 223 Further references to the role of fathers in raising children are available in the Appendix at the end of this book. 224 Jarrett, Robin, & Linda Burton, “Dynamic dimensions of family structure in low-income African American families: emergent themes in qualitative research” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 30(1999) 177-87. 225 For example, Heiss, Jerold, “Effects of African family structure on school attitudes and performance” Social Problems 43(1996) 246-67. 226 Nock, Steven, Sociology of the Family, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice-Hall, 1987, p. 170.


The literature reviewed above occasionally compares children raised in intact families with children raised in reconstituted families.227 Some of the studies have suggested that children in intact families have the advantage. No studies show an advantage for children in reconstituted families. A later chapter on divorce will deal with a larger selection of literature in this area. Most of the references in this chapter have been to periodical literature. A number of books argue for the advantages of the intact family over both the single parent family and the reconstitute family for raising children. The Appendix at the end of this book will refer to some of these works. Summing up the review of literature thus far: Many studies show that the intact family is superior in several ways to the single parent family in raising children. A few articles either challenge this conclusion or urge caution. No articles show an advantage for the single parent family in this comparison. This result supports the discussion in the earlier part of this chapter concerning the ability of marriage and family to provide for the welfare of children. Those arguments supposed that “family� meant what we have called the intact family. I argued that it is when children are raised by their biological parents who are united in permanent marriage that it is most likely that the parents, ordinary, fallible and often weak people, will be formed, motivated and guided in such a way as to provide for the welfare of their children. Other situations, even if they contain some of the elements of the intact family, will also be missing some of the elements of the intact family that work for the welfare of children. It is clear of course that marriage and family are not the only important agents in the care and education of children; and different cultures assign different functions to family and to other agencies. In our culture, for example, schools have taken over much of the


See also Brown, Susan, “Family structure and child well-being: the significance of parental cohabitation� Journal of Marriage and Family 66(2004) 351-67, who argues that children are best served in families with their married, biological parents. None of the alternatives are as helpful to children, whether it be cohabiting biological parents, single parents or a reconstituted family that includes one biological parent.


academic educational role. Such developments may be good – giving parents the sort of help that benefits children. One should still ask whether at a certain point these agencies, designed to help, become harmful because they so weaken the parental role as to make it more difficult. VIII.


It has already been noted that parents imitate God’s love in a special way. In most cases our agape is directed towards persons who already exist. Our love for them moves us to desire good for them and to do good to them. The love of God for us, on the other hand, precedes our existence.228 In the same way, parents not only do good things for their children after they come into existence but are also able, before their children’s conception, to desire their existence and to bring it about. Christian faith reveals that the existence which parent’s give to their children is not limited to a good life on earth but reaches its fulfilment in an eternal communion in the inner life of the Trinity, a life far beyond anything conceivable by human imagination alone. Parents, next to the children themselves and under God, are the ones who by their care, love and rearing of the children are most immediately responsible for their welfare. This means preparing children for the fullest possible life on earth, along with nurturing and guiding them towards that fullness that lies beyond the limits of this life. Parents imitate in a special way not only the creativity of God’s love but also the divine providence and care. The role of parents is the opposite of individualistic. To raise children to live a full life is to help them become virtuous and thereby to prepare them to build a just and humane society. To raise children as Christians is to open them to the sacramental grace that will form them into the Body of Christ. 228

This is not a matter of preceding in time, because we do not think of God as existing in time, with a before and after. What is meant here is that God's creation of us out of love is best conceived as love for beings logically prior to their existence.


PART THREE PRACTICAL QUESTIONS Part Three will attempt to draw out the implications of Part Two for several practical issues.


CHAPTER TEN PERMANENCE OF MARRIAGE: NEW TESTAMENT TEACHING I. TEXTS Of the passages in the New Testament that bear directly on the question of divorce, four occur in the synoptic gospels. One comes in Matthew's account of the Sermon on the Mount. "It was also said, `Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." (Mt. 5, 31-32)229 In a later chapter, Jesus responds to a question. Some of the pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning `made them male and female,' and said, `For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has put together, let no one separate." They said to him, "Why then did Moses command us to give a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her?" He said to them, "It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery." (Mt. 19, 3-9) Mark treats the topic in a similar context.


Quotations are from New Revised Standard Version: Catholic Edition, Toronto, Canadian Bible Society, 1993.


Some pharisees came, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" He answered them, "What did Moses command you?" They said, "Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her." But Jesus said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, `God made them male and female'. `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." (Mk. 10, 2-12) Luke gives a shorter version of Jesus' teaching on divorce. "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Lk. 16, 18) The other New Testament texts bearing directly on divorce are in the seventh chapter of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians. To the married I give this command - not I but the Lord - that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say - I and not the Lord - that if any believer has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is


made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. It is to peace that God has called you. Wife, for all you know, you might save your husband. Husband, for all you know, you might save your wife. (ICor. 7, 10-16) A wife is bound as long as her husband lives. But if the husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, only in the Lord. But in my judgment she is more blessed if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (ICor. 7, 39-40) II. OBSERVATIONS ON THE TEXTS Few if any passages from the New Testament have received more scrutiny than have these on divorce. 1. Old Testament background In Chapter Five of Matthew Jesus contrasts his own teaching with what his listeners have heard from their teachers. In Chapter Nineteen of Matthew and in Mark, Jesus clearly distinguishes his teaching from the suppositions of his Jewish questioners. He not only opposes certain views of the scribes and pharisees of his time, but quite astonishingly is ready to appeal beyond a provision of the Mosaic Law itself, explaining that Moses had made a concession because of the hardness of their hearts, but "from the beginning it was not so." The relevant Old Testament text is Deuteronomy 24, 1-4, which does not grant the right to divorce but rather presupposes it. It states that if a man has duly divorced his wife by giving her a writ of dismissal, and she remarries and her second marriage ends, the first husband


may not take her back. (In fact, the Old Testament not only allows but prescribes divorce in the case of adultery by the wife.)230 Regarding the grounds for divorce, at the time of Jesus there were two main Hebrew schools of thought. The stricter view, that of Rabbi Shammai, allowed a man to divorce his wife only for a very grave reason such as adultery. The more common view was that of Rabbi Hillel, who allowed divorce for much less serious reasons - apparently for almost anything that would make the wife displeasing to the husband. There was no corresponding right of the wife to divorce her husband. Those questioning Jesus may well have had this dispute between Shammai and Hillel in mind, hoping to test Jesus' ingenuity, and perhaps to force him to alienate the followers of one or other teacher.231 2. St. Paul, tradition and innovation The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians seems to have been written about 56 A.D., very likely before the completion of any of the gospels. Paul is clear that there is a teaching of Jesus that requires permanence in marriage and also requires someone separated from his or her spouse to return to the estranged partner, and failing that, at least to refrain from remarriage. On the question of what to do if an unbelieving partner leaves his or her spouse who has become a Christian, Paul has no directive handed down from Jesus; but Paul believes he has the authority to rule that in such a case the brother or sister (i.e., the Christian partner) "is not bound." Most commentators presume that "is not bound" means that the Christian partner not only need not stay with the unbelieving spouse but may remarry because the previous marriage no longer binds. (This is supported by the evident meaning of “is bound� and the 230

See Allison, D.C., "Divorce, celibacy and Joseph (Matthew 1,8-25 and 19,1-12)" Journal for the Study of the New Testament 47(1993) 3-10. In principle adultery was punishable by death according to Leviticus 20,10, but it is not easy to know the extent to which this was actually enforced. 231 On the other hand, Joseph Fitzmyer points out in "The Matthean divorce texts and some new Palestinian evidence", Theological Studies, 37(1976) pp. 197-226 that Essene texts found at Qumran oppose any divorce. If this Essene view was known in the communities in which Jesus preached, then it is certainly possible that his questioners asked Jesus not simply to choose between Hillel and Shammai but to pass judgment on the view that no divorce should be allowed.


cessation of that obligation according to vv. 39-40 later in this chapter.) So even at this early stage the Church knows at least one exception to the general rule handed down from the Lord. 3. terms "Unchastity" in the texts of Matthew translates the Greek porneia, which can refer to sexual offences generally or to particular sexual sins such as prostitution. Sometimes it denotes fornication or even adultery. In the above texts the specific Greek term for adultery (moicheia) is used to name the offence that may follow upon divorce. That Matthew uses moicheia for adultery in this passage suggests that porneia here does not refer specifically to adultery. 4. Are the "exception clauses" original? The so-called "exception clauses" in Matthew, translated above as "except for unchastity" and "except on the ground of unchastity", have occupied much scholarly attention. Most contemporary commentators, however they interpret the clauses, conclude that they probably were added by the author of the first gospel and were not part of the original tradition coming from Jesus. Were they part of the original tradition, it would be difficult to explain why Mark and Luke have omitted what seems to be an important qualification of the master's teaching. In Matthew, the exception has the appearance of a foreign element in an otherwise unqualified rejection of divorce. The evangelist may have added a qualifier to forestall a misunderstanding of Jesus' words that could arise in the particular milieu of the first readers of this gospel. III. THE BASIS FOR MARRIAGE PERMANENCE When Jesus makes his surprising appeal beyond the Mosaic provision for divorce he is not so much innovating as calling the people back to God's original purpose. The Genesis story of the creation of Adam and Eve is recalled and even in part quoted.


Two points in the short lesson of Jesus stand out. One is the intention of God in creation. Not only is marriage instituted by God; apparently the very creation of male and female has in mind this union of marriage. Far from being an institution added on incidentally to human life, the marriage union is the very point of human beings being male or female. In trying to put asunder the marriage union created by God one works against the meaning of creation. Jesus does not elaborate on the nature of the marriage union, but states briefly that the two become "one flesh". The term "flesh" in the context of the marital union can easily suggest physical sexual intercourse, but more is intended than that. Flesh (sarx in Greek, basar in Hebrew) in the Scriptures can refer to any of several realities: the fleshy parts of the body, or any living thing, or blood relationship of people. "Flesh" applied to human beings can refer not merely to bodily life but to the whole person. The marital union of two persons in one flesh is made real in a union of bodies, but it is a union by which in some strong sense two persons become one living entity. IV. THE ISSUE OF EXCEPTIONS Much of the controversy around these texts centres on the exception clauses in Matthew. Even if these clauses didn’t occur, however, we would still need to ask whether Jesus' teaching against divorce applies in every single case. The exception clauses are only one of several factors to be considered. Authors have taken various positions about whether the gospel texts allow for exceptions. The various positions are nuanced, and it is difficult to gather them into a few groups while doing justice to the particular arguments of each. In order to keep this discussion within practical limits I will concentrate on a few positions that have won significant support from scholars and that raise issues that should be discussed. 1. the "simple exception" interpretation


Perhaps the simplest reading of the texts is that the apparent exceptions do indeed refer to adultery, and that they allow divorce if one partner commits adultery. Supporters of this reading may hold either that the exceptions were intended by Jesus or that they were added by Matthew as justifiable interpretations of the master's meaning as applied to a particular situation. They may hold either that the exceptions apply only in the case of adultery, or that adultery is only one example of the kinds of exception that might be permitted. In favour of this interpretation is its simplicity. True, it adopts a meaning of porneia that is unlikely in the context, as has been pointed out, but otherwise the text reads simply and naturally. However, serious objections arise from the context in Matthew's gospel. For Jesus or any Jew at this time to appeal beyond Moses to a more fundamental teaching would have been shocking. If he were allowing divorce in the case of adultery, Jesus would more or less agree with Shammai, and there would be no reason to appeal beyond Moses. Especially if he intended to provide for other exceptions as well, Jesus need only have interpreted the Mosaic law. The disciples themselves were astonished by Jesus' answer, so much so that they wonder whether, in the circumstances, one might not be well advised to refrain from marriage232 - a radical proposal in the Jewish culture of the time. Such a response makes little sense if Jesus was merely choosing between current interpretations of Moses. It may not involve a strict criterion for interpreting New Testament texts, but the notion that Jesus allowed divorce in the case of adultery (and perhaps intended to allow exceptions in other cases) does pose an interesting problem in relation to the earliest Christian teaching. Texts on divorce from early Christian times are relatively scarce, and scholars do not always agree on their interpretation; but most of the available texts from the first three centuries that deal with remarriage after divorce simply reject it for Christians. Relatively few patristic texts allow divorce and remarriage, and few if any cite the exception clauses in Matthew as 232

Mt. 19,10


authority for such a practice. Most often the patristic texts that seem to allow divorce and remarriage do so grudgingly, more as a disinclination to condemn those who divorce rather than approving the practice.233 The Hebrews allowed divorce, as did the Hellenic and Roman worlds. If the early Christians thought that the Gospel according to Matthew allowed divorce with remarriage, why did they, contrary to the practice of their time, reject it?234 Some authors who interpret Jesus as allowing exceptions to the rule against divorce seem to suppose that it would be legalistic to lay down an exceptionless rule, and Jesus would not be legalistic.235 It is true, of course, that Jesus was willing to make exceptions to some rules - e.g., regarding the Sabbath rest - and this alarmed many listeners. On the other hand, there is no indication that Jesus was a situation ethicist in the manner of Joseph Fletcher, i.e., that he taught that all 233

As an example of the variation in interpretation of patristic texts on the subject, Gerald Coleman (Divorce and Remarriage in the Catholic Church, New York, Paulist Press, 1988, p. 79) states that Origen upheld the right of an "innocent" wife to remarry who has been maliciously deserted by her husband; but Theodore Mackin (Divorce and Remarriage, New York, Paulist Press, 1984, Chapter 5) makes it clear that the most that can be taken from Origen is that some bishops had permitted the remarriage of a woman when her first husband was still alive. Although he remarks that this practice is not altogether unreasonable, Origen considers that it is contrary to the scriptures. This accommodation, according to Origen, is allowed in lieu of even worse alternatives. From this it cannot be concluded that Origen approved of the practice. More to our point, Origen is a witness here to the interpretation of the gospel as not allowing divorce. Schillebeeckx, Edward, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, London, Sheed and Ward, 1976, p. 146, concludes (on the basis of, among other things, the text of the Pastor of Hermas) that apostolic and subapostolic practice gives clear evidence that the two texts of Matthew were not understood as constituting an exception to the indissolubility of marriage. For various treatments of the subject, see Crouzel, Henri, L'Église primitive face au divorce, Paris, Beauschene, 1971; Dombois, Hans, Unscheidbarcheit und Ehe in den Traditionen der Kirche, München, Kaiser Verlag, 1976; Flood, Peter, The Dissolution of Marriage, London, Burns and Oates, 1962; Iung, Nicolas, Évolution de l'indissolubilité: remarriage religieux des divorcés, Paris, P. Lethielleux, 1975; Joyce, George H., Christian Marriage: an Historical and Doctrinal Study, 2nd Edition, London, Sheed and Ward, 1948, Chapter VIII. 234 Because of such difficulties, this interpretation is not as popular as it once may have been, but it can still be found in some contemporary Protestant authors. See Carson, Donald, Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary, Vol. II, Grand Rapids, Zondervan, c. 1994, commentaries on Mt. 5,32 and 19,9; Boring, M. Eugene, The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. VIII, Nashville, Abingdon, c1994, pp. 191-193, 386; Albright, William F., & C.S. Mann, op. cit., p. 227; Hagner, Donald A., Word Biblical Commentary, Dallas, Word Books, c1993 and 1995, Vol. 33A, p. 123 & ff., and Vol. 33B, p. 549. Hagner says the Gospel text sets forth permanence as the ideal that is to be sought, but hardness of heart from which people suffer requires that the rule not be enforced in a cruel and heartless manner. 235 This seems to be the presumption, for example, of David Atkinson in To Have and to Hold: the Marriage Covenant and the Discipline of Divorce, London, Collins & Co., 1979, p. 119, and of Alan Hugh McNeile in The Gospel according to St. Matthew, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1965, p. 66.


or practically all moral rules admit of exceptions. So we should not bring to the Matthean texts the supposition that Jesus must have intended to allow exceptions. Whether exceptions are allowed must be settled on other grounds. 2. separation but not divorce A common Roman Catholic interpretation of the exception clauses is that they allow the innocent partner to separate from an adulterous spouse, but remarriage is not allowed because the first marriage still exists. Such an interpretation could suppose either that the exception clauses were part of the original words of Jesus or that they were added by the evangelist.236 It has been suggested that the notion of a separation of spouses without allowing remarriage would not have occurred to the listeners of Jesus nor to the readers of Matthew’s gospel. However, Paul in First Corinthians seems to have precisely this situation in mind when he tells those who have separated from their spouses to return and in any case not to remarry. This interpretation has been used to support the long-standing and current Roman Catholic refusal of divorce for any marriage that is both sacramental (implying that both spouses are Christian) and sexually consummated. This reading explains why Jesus appeals beyond Moses to a more original intention of God, and it explains the disciples' reaction to the words of Jesus. It can be read without too much difficulty into the text of Mt. 5, 31-32, which treats of the divorce and the remarriage separately. If we suppose that “divorce” refers to separation without dissolution of the marriage - not an impossible supposition - the


See Dupont, Jacques, Mariage et divorce dans l'évangile: Matthieu 19,3-12 et parallèles, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer,1958; Wansbrough, Henry O.S.B., commentary on Matthew in A New Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture, Reginald C. Fuller, general editor, Revised Edition, London, Nelson, 1975; Steinmueller, John E., & Kathryn Sullivan, Catholic Biblical Encyclopedia, New York, Wagner, 1950, pp.186-189. The note on Mt. 19,9 in The Jerusalem Bible, Garden City, New York, c1966, holds that in the text of Matthew Jesus indicates that the case of adultery needs special handling, and that the Church later works this out in terms of separation without remarriage. Fleming, T.V., "Christ and divorce" Theological Studies 24(1963) pp. 115-166, explains why the interpretation of the texts as allowing separation but not remarriage is forced.


text becomes clear.237 This interpretation does not however provide an easy reading of Mt. 19, 9. To sustain this interpretation one must suppose that Mt. 19,9 is a conflation, a somewhat confusing one, of Mt. 5, 31-32. 3. Is Jesus speaking on the level of law? Perhaps the most common interpretation among contemporary Protestant scholars is that Jesus' teaching on divorce is not on the level of law, and therefore he should not be seen as laying down a rule to be followed slavishly. The exception clause in Matthew is included (probably an addition by the evangelist) to provide guidance to some readers who otherwise might wrongly presume that Jesus imposes a law.238 The expression "not on the level of law" is ambiguous, and what authors mean by it is not always clear. For some, it means simply that Jesus was not speaking of exceptionless rules. This position has already been considered in section 2 above. The following are some other possible meanings of "not on the level of law". (i) Laying down laws - rules of behaviour - is not primary in the New Testament. The more important message is that Jesus has saved us from sin; we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit who has given us an inner life on the basis of which we do good not simply because it is commanded by law but because we are moved by the Holy Spirit. Moral 237

The expression usually translated into English as “divorce” includes a Greek verb with the rather general meaning of “release” or “loose from” or “set free” (apoluien) which is then specified by the object - wife. The expression accordingly is to release or set loose one’s wife. In the usage of the time, one who released his wife was ending the marriage. However, Jesus brings a new idea to the subject – that a husband who sets his wife loose does not end the marriage. Thus the expression is not properly translated by “divorce” if by that word we refer to the act of terminating the marriage. It is not stretching the language to suppose that in Mt. 5,31-32 Jesus refers to a release or sending away of the wife that would be justified by her adultery, but which would not end the marriage. 238 See Deen, Edith, Family Living in the Bible, Old Tappan, New Jersey, Spire Books, c1963, Chapter 16; Ewald, George, Jesus and Divorce: a Biblical Guide for Ministry to Divorced Persons, Waterloo, Ontario, Herald Press, c1991, pp. 61-63. Beare, F.W., The Gospel according to Matthew: a Commentary, Oxford, B. Blackwell, c1981, p. 155, states that Jesus' saying is not to be taken as legislation. It expresses the unconditional will of God. Matthew's text reflects the tendency to translate such a declaration into a regulation for conduct in an imperfect society. Dominic Crossan ("Divorce and remarriage in the New Testament" in The Bond of Marriage, William Bassett, ed., Notre Dame, Indiana, University of Notre Dame Press, 1968, pp. 1-33) while interpreting the texts in Matthew in the way we will consider in the next section, holds that the teaching of Jesus on divorce is a catechetical ideal but is not to be imposed as a casuistic absolute.


teaching of the New Testament has more to do with God's gift than with law. We have a spirit not of slaves but of children of God. On the particular topic of marriage, more basic than any rules are the teachings of Jesus on the nature of marriage. Those who claim that Jesus in the texts on divorce is not speaking on the level of law seem sometimes to mean that he is speaking about these things that are more basic than law.239 However, the questions asked of Jesus are concerned with law - that is, with a practical rule of action. May one ever divorce one's spouse? Jesus' answer has all the appearances of a rule of action. Do not divorce your spouse. What else could this be but law? (I mean that it is a moral law, not a law meant to be enforced by civil or ecclesiastical authority.) On what basis would one go against the obvious sense of the words and conclude that they do not concern law? Some of the supporters of this position, often by tone and implication rather than by explicit statement, seem to mean that Jesus would never speak on the level of law, and therefore must not be doing so here. But this supposition cannot be substantiated. In many texts Jesus is presented as laying down rules of action, and the fact that in the gospel there is a level more fundamental than law does not prove that Jesus would never speak on the level of rules of action. Of course in giving rules of action, Jesus does not impose laws in some arbitrary fashion. Rather, he points to the kind of behaviour that befits a follower of Christ and that leads to eternal life. To do this is surely a good and necessary service. (ii) Karl Barth240 states that Jesus is not speaking on the level of law; but he then goes on to support the permanence of marriage in strong terms, making it clear that a marriage in the Lord cannot be broken. It seems to follow that any breaking apart of the marriage would constitute an offence; one would expect that an exceptionless law must arise from that teaching. However, Barth then goes on to state that marriages constituted by God are indeed 239

Barclay, William, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2, Philadelphia, Westminster Press, c1958, pp. 220-221 holds that what Jesus says is not a law but a principle. 240 Church Dogmatics, Volume III, The Doctrine of Creation, Part Four, Edinburgh, T. & T. Clark, 1961, pp. 205-213.


unbreakable, but a couple may, in unusual circumstances, decide that their marriage was not constituted by God. As such it is not a valid marriage and so it can be ended. By this strategy Barth preserves the absolute indissolubility of marriage on the level of what God has done or not done - a level to which people have only limited access.241 On the phenomenological level, regarding the unions which are experienced and called marriages, there are exceptions. These unions may be ended on those rare occasions when it is determined that they were not indeed constituted by God. Barth's interpretation does not escape a difficulty already mentioned. Those confronting Jesus asked a question about a rule of action and his answer has the appearance of a rule of action. If it dealt only with a reality beyond the phenomenological world, there should have been some warning (either by Jesus, if we are speaking of the original teaching, or by the evangelist, if we are speaking about the gospel text). (iii) Some authors argue that Jesus lays down an ideal of marriage permanence, but in a sinful world the ideal cannot always be attained.242 This opinion runs into the same difficulty as previous ones. The questioners gave no indication that they were interested only in ideals. If Jesus answered their question, he did not speak only of ideals. If he meant to speak only of ideals and not of rules of action he should have warned his listeners and/or the evangelists should have warned their readers that he was not answering the question but was speaking on another level.


By "limited access" here I mean that people do not observe God constituting the marriage, and if they conclude that God did not constitute a particular marriage they must do so on the basis of evidence which may be subject to misinterpretation. 242 Hare, Douglas, Matthew, Louisville, John Knox Press, c1993, p. 54, warns that we should not translate into a legal statute what is presented as an evangelical counsel. Marshall, L.H., The Challenge of New Testament Ethics, New York, Macmillan, 1947, pp. 146-147 argues that Jesus gives an ideal - what people ought to do, but not a law - what people must do. Jesus is prophetic, not legalistic. (Does Marshall mean that a statement of what people ought to do is not a moral law? Ethicists generally use the term "ought" to express moral laws.)


4. Is dissolution of marriage immoral or is it impossible? Some have argued that the divorce texts in the synoptic Gospels show not that marriage is indissoluble but that it is wrong to dissolve it. That is, one or other partner, or perhaps both, can by their actions bring an end to the marriage, but they sin by doing this. However, once the marriage has been ended, the partners are free to remarry.243

According to this

interpretation, the exception clauses in Matthew refer to a marriage that has been ended. That is, separating from one's spouse and remarrying constitutes adultery except when the marriage has been ended by the offence of porneia. If porneia here is understood as referring to adultery of one of the partners which puts an end to the marriage, then this interpretation is quite close to the first category considered above, and would have the same strengths and weaknesses. To be a really different interpretation porneia must refer to the sin of breaking up the marriage. That is, whoever departs from or sends away his or her partner by that fact sins, but even though the departure is sinful, it does indeed dissolve the marriage. If the practice of allowing remarriage after such a sinful break-up were present in the community that received Matthew's gospel, it would make sense for him to include this clause to indicate that the practice was not against the mind of Jesus. This view gives a somewhat plausible reason why Jesus would appeal beyond the Mosaic law to the original intention of God. Under the Mosaic Law it was not clear that to bring about a divorce is sinful. This interpretation might even account for the surprise of the apostles when they hear the words of Jesus. But why did Jesus focus on the adultery of the separated partners? After all, the sin, according to this interpretation, is in the ending of the marriage, but if the marriage were truly ended then remarriage would be possible and not


See Byron, Brian, "ICor. 7,10-15: a basis for future Catholic discipline on marriage and divorce?" Theological Studies 34(1973) 429-455. Byron gives an earlier, more tentative statement of his position in "The brother or sister is not bound ..." New Blackfriars 52(1971) 514-521. The notion that adultery ends the marriage has been expressed by others. See Argyle, A.W., The Gospel according to Matthew, Cambridge at the University Press, 1963, p. 57; France, R.T., The Gospel according to Matthew: an Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, c1985, pp. 123-124; Luz, Ulrich, Matthew 1-7: a Commentary, Minneapolis, Augsburg Fortress Press, c1989, p. 306.


adulterous. Nor is it easy to see how this interpretation squares with Paul’s exhortation to partners who have departed to return to their spouses. If one partner had sent away the other, this would have constituted the sinful ending of the marriage. If the marriage were ended, there would be no necessity to return to the spouse. In fact, to return to a former spouse with whom one is no longer married would require once again marrying him or her. Furthermore, it is likely that Jesus’ words, if this interpretation were correct, would open the way to rather widespread divorce, surely not what He intended. The partner who sends away a spouse indeed sins, but once that sin has been committed there is no further barrier to remarriage. This would be a sinful way out of the marriage bond, but sad experience shows that the sinfulness of an action often fails to deter people from getting what they want. 5. the exception as illegitimate union An interpretation that has attracted considerable support especially among recent Catholic writers sees porneia in the exception clauses as referring to an illegitimate union of man and woman. The meaning of the saying of Jesus is that, while truly married persons must not separate, those united in one of these illegitimate unions of course would not come under this rule.244 There were in fact unions between a man and a woman in the ancient world which Christians, like the Jews, would have regarded as illegitimate - incestuous unions for example.245 It would not be unusual for such unions to be referred to as “porneia”.246

244For p

erhaps the most influential exposition of this position see by Bonsirven, Jean, Le divorce dans le Nouveau Testament, Paris, Societé de S. Jean L'Évangelist, 1948. The position has been accepted by many authors since Bonsirven. Hagner, Donald, in Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 33A, Matthew, Dallas, Word Books, c1993, p. 124, lists twelve Roman Catholic writers who follow a position similar to that of Bonsirven (though Hagner does not mention the latter). Benoit, Pierre, L'Evangile selon Saint Matthieu, Paris, Éditions de Cerf, 1950, translates Mt. 5,32 "... hormis le cas de concubinage" and Mt. 19,9, "Je ne parle pas du concubinage." The New Jerusalem Bible, Garden City, New York, Doubleday, c1985 also incorporates this interpretation into their translation of Mt. 5,32. "But I say to you, everyone who divorces his wife, except for the case of illicit marriage, makes her an adulteress." 245 The Old Testament rejection of incest is expressed, for example, in Leviticus 18, 6-18. 246 Fitzmyer, Joseph, "The Matthew divorce texts and some new Palestinian evidence" Theological Studies 37(1976) 197-226, refers to a Qumran text that speaks of incestuous marriage as zenut, the Hebrew term for porneia. Something like the use of the term porneia for an incestuous union can accordingly be found relatively close in time and place to the preaching of Jesus.


Pagans in such unions may well have converted to Christianity, at which point they would be obliged to give up these false marriages. If the practice of new converts dissolving such unions were present in the community for which Matthew's gospel was written, then it is understandable that the author would interject a phrase to remove any suggestion that Jesus would have wanted such unions to persist. This interpretation avoids the serious objections raised against the other interpretations, and I find it the most convincing way to read the Matthean texts on divorce. V. CONCLUSION The above discussion of the New Testament texts on divorce is far from complete. A reading of the literature will easily bring to the surface many considerations that have not been treated above. My purpose has not been to prove a particular interpretation but to provide some background for a less definite conclusion. I believe that the interpretation of porneia as referring to a disgraceful union that is not a marriage is the most likely interpretation of the exception clauses in Matthew. However, it is difficult to exclude all other possible interpretations.247

Even if one accepts the

interpretation of porneia as referring to a disgraceful union that is not a marriage, one has not proved that Jesus excluded absolutely all possibility of divorce. One has shown only that the exception clauses in fact do not refer to divorce. What is clear from the texts is that Jesus excluded divorce in a sufficiently radical way that he deemed it necessary to appeal beyond the permissive practice allowed by Moses to a more demanding original meaning intended by God at creation. The disciples apparently perceived that Jesus was saying something new and very demanding. Clearly, Jesus saw


Davis, W.D., & Dale Allison put the matter nicely in A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, Vol. I, Edinburgh, T. & E. Clark, 1988, p. 529: "In our judgment, the issue cannot, unfortunately, be resolved on exegetical grounds; Matthew's words are simply too cryptic to admit of definitive interpretation."


marriage as permanent and any break up goes against the very meaning of marriage, against God's intention for it. Does this mean that Jesus intended to exclude every possible exception to the rule against divorce? The text does not let us into the mind of Christ to tell us whether he was thinking of possible situations when he excluded divorce. Paul believed that there could be an exception in the case of a pagan who was unwilling to live with a Christian spouse. The Catholic Church has decided that there can be an exception in the case of marriages that are not sexually consummated after the exchange of vows. The Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage is not based only on an appeal to scripture, as though the texts were always clear in themselves and covered all situations in every age. The Church reflects on the revealed word of God and also on its own experience in many situations, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Several of the above arguments for one or other interpretation of the New Testament texts are derived not from the text itself but from more general theological and ethical perspectives. The next chapter will examine theological and ethical arguments for and against the permanence of marriage.


CHAPTER ELEVEN PERMANENCE OF MARRIAGE: THEOLOGICAL AND ETHICAL CONSIDERATIONS I. THE TRADITIONAL TEACHING248 New Testament teaching gave a strong impetus to early Christians to treat marriage as indissoluble. Nevertheless, as noted earlier, the prohibition of divorce249 was not upheld everywhere in the patristic Church. While writers and Church leaders generally supported it, some of them were unwilling to exclude remarried Christians from the sacramental life of the Church. Partly because of the powerful influence of Saint Augustine, and urged by the popes, Western Catholicism for the most part held the line against divorce in post-patristic times. In the Eastern Roman Empire, however, divorce came more and more to be tolerated. The influence of Augustine, who wrote in Latin, was not nearly so powerful or pervasive in the Greek-speaking East as in the West. The Eastern Church was less subject than the Church in the West to papal control and much influenced by the emperors in Constantinople. Justinian, emperor from 527 to 565 A.D. and a major figure in the history of jurisprudence, was himself a Christian but many of his subjects were not. The famous Code of Justinian tried to take account of all citizens, and it allowed for divorce. In time a number of Christians began to avail themselves of this legal permission and yet remained members in more or less good standing in the Church. By the time of the Great Schism in the eleventh century, when the Orthodox Church definitively broke with Rome, divorce was generally 248

Besides the works on the history of the development of Church teaching on divorce referred to in the preceding chapter, see the four articles by Souarn, R., A. Vacant & J. Parisot under the general title of "L'Adultère et le lien du mariage" in Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, Tome I, Paris, Letouzey et Anè, Éditeurs, 1903, col. 475-508; Bevilacqua, A., "The history of the indissolubility of marriage", Proceedings of the Twenty-Second Annual Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, 1967, pp. 253-307; Bressan, L, Il divorzio nelle chiese orientali: Ricerca storica sull'atteciamento cattolico, Bologna, Edizzione Dehoniane, 1977; Rousseau, O., "Divorce and remarriage: East and West" in The Sacraments: an Ecumenical Dilemma, Concilium no. 24, New York, Paulist Press, 1967, pp. 111-138. 249 "Divorce" here refers to the dissolution of a marriage allowing for remarriage of the former spouses to new partners, as distinct from a separation that would not allow remarriage.


tolerated in the East. By that time, the popes had almost succeeded in eradicating the practice in the West. Saint Paul had allowed divorce for Christians whose pagan spouses were unwilling to live with them in peace. Following this teaching, the absolute Catholic prohibition of divorce was limited to marriages between two Christians. Between the 11th and the 13th century it was settled that such a marriage is a sacrament.250 Another question concerned how a marriage came into existence.251 In some Germanic tribes the payment of money or goods held an important place in the ceremony. A bridal price might be paid by the groom to the family of the bride, or the bride might bring a dowry with her. Some held that the couple was married by the handing over of the bride to the groom after the transfer of property. Others considered the marriage to be brought into existence by the sexual intercourse of the partners. The position eventually adopted by the Catholic Church, however, was one followed in pagan Rome. This was the notion that marriage is brought about by the mutual consent of spouses to be married, a point of doctrine that was definitively settled in Roman Catholic teaching only in the 13th century. In Catholic theology the spouses are regarded as the ministers of matrimony; they minister the sacrament to each other by their mutual consent.252 However, sexual consummation of the union retained a place in Catholic teaching to the extent that a marriage which is not consummated by sexual intercourse subsequent to the exchange of consent may in certain cases be dissolved. In summary, the Catholic Church teaches that the absolute prohibition of divorce applies to a marriage which is referred to in Latin as both ratum (both partners are Christian and have exchanged consent) and consummatum (the partners have had sexual intercourse after their mutual consent to be married). 250

See Schillebeeckx, Edward, Marriage: Secular Reality and Saving Mystery, Vol. II, Marriage in the History of the Church, London, Sheed and Ward, c1965, pp. 94-133. 251 See Mackin, Theodore, What Is Mariage?, New York, Paulist Press, c1982, Chapter Six. 252 The Orthodox Churches, on the other hand, consider the priest who officiates at the marriage to be the minister of the sacrament.


Divorce emerged again as an issue in the West with the Protestant Reformation. At first Martin Luther allowed it only in cases of adultery of one of the spouses or desertion for at least ten years. He later widened the grounds, as did other Lutheran writers. John Calvin, on the other hand, consistently restricted the grounds for divorce to adultery and desertion. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) was convoked to formulate a Catholic response to the challenges of the Protestant Reformation, including the challenge to Catholic teaching on marriage permanence.253 A first draft presented to the fathers of the Council would have simply defined as an article of faith that marriages that are both ratum and consummatum are indissoluble, any contrary opinion being declared heretical. The bishops of Venice and surrounding dioceses, territorially close to predominantly Orthodox countries, were sensitive to the fact that, in the long and sometimes rancorous history of relations between the two, the Catholic Church had never declared an Orthodox Church to be in heresy. Such a declaration would be a formidable obstacle to eventual reunion. If the proposed formulation were passed by the council, the Catholic Church would apparently imply that the Orthodox Churches are in heresy in allowing divorce. An altered wording was presented and accepted by the 24th session of the Council of Trent, November, 1563, becoming the official and de fide teaching of the Catholic Church. The statement in question is complicated by the fact that it is phrased negatively. It describes a particular position and then, by the concluding phrase, "let him be anathema", indicates that anyone holding that position is in heresy. A further complication arises from the attempt to avoid a direct condemnation of Orthodox belief. If anyone declares the Church to be in error when it taught and teaches, according to the evangelical and apostolic doctrine, that the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved 253

See Bruns, B., Ehescheidung und Wiederheirat im Fall von Ehebruch, Munchen-Paderborn-Wien, Schoningh, 1976; Fransen, Piet, "Divorce on the ground of adultery - the Council of Trent" in The Future of Marriage, Concilium no. 55, ed. by Franz Bockle, New York, Seabury, 1970, pp. 89-100; Huizing, P., "La dissolution du mariage depuis le concile de Trente" Revue de Droit Canonique 21(1971) 127-146; Pelland, G., "De contextu canonis Tridentini et argumente traditionis de divortio" Periodica de re morali canonica liturgica 63(1974) 509-534.


because of the adultery of the other spouse, and that neither party - not even the innocent, who has given no cause by adultery - can contract another marriage while the other lives, and that he commits adultery who puts away an adulterous wife and marries another, and she commits adultery who puts away an adulterous husband and marries another; let him be anathema.254 The context indicates that the statement applies to ratum et consummatum marriages. The statement of Catholic doctrine is clear enough. The bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved, even by the adultery of one's spouse. If you dismiss a spouse who has committed adultery and you marry another, you commit adultery. A more direct formulation would simply state that if anyone denies this, let him or her be anathema. That is, anyone who denies this doctrine has fallen into heresy. What this revised formulation says, however, is that someone is heretical if they claim that the Catholic Church is wrong in teaching this doctrine. The two formulations may seem to amount to the same thing. However, the wording was chosen deliberately to avoid implying that the Orthodox position is necessarily heretical, and this intention is relevant in interpreting the text. The explanation of how one might allow divorce and yet not be logically required to say that the Catholic Church is in error is, perhaps, something the council fathers preferred to leave to others. Even had the Council of Trent directly defined that a ratum et consummatum marriage is indissoluble, it would still be possible for Orthodox Christians (or anyone) to tolerate remarriage after divorce and yet not deny Catholic teaching. Among those eastern bishops who began to accept divorced and remarried people into communion with the Church and the reception of the sacraments, some may have believed that marriage could be dissolved. Others may have believed that marriage could not be dissolved; although believing that the new unions were not true marriages, they still may have admitted remarried Christians to the sacraments because they were afraid that refusal would cause a greater evil. This second 254

The translation is my own, from the Latin text of canon 7 of the 24th session of the Council of Trent, available in Enchiridion Symbolorum: definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, edited by Henry Denzinger and Adolf Schonmetzer, 33rd edition, Rome, Herder, 1963, pp. 416-417.


group would not contradict even a direct definition of the indissolubility of marriage.255 Whether the fathers of the Council of Trent considered this possibility is, of course, a different question. II. PRAGMATIC ARGUMENTS REGARDING DIVORCE The commonest arguments for or against allowing divorce are pragmatic. Does forbidding divorce cause more benefits and less harm than allowing it? 1. the difficulty of proof from pragmatic considerations What constitutes a benefit and what constitutes harm? How do you measure and compare beneficial and harmful effects? Such an exercise may be influenced by the observer's mood or bias or preference for immediate over remote benefits. There may even be difficulty establishing facts. How often does divorce cause result X? How often does Y result if you don't allow divorce? Our answers are liable to depend on anecdotal evidence and vague impressions. Researchers try to overcome the subjective and random quality of such thinking by subjecting the matter to scientific study, but this doesn't necessarily solve the problem. Researchers have their own points of view that influence the kinds of question they ask and the kind of evidence they deem relevant. Two researchers may give different interpretations of the same data. When a study compares two populations, proper reasoning requires that they be truly comparable. Even if we can show, for example, that many children suffer greatly from divorce, we have no direct way of measuring whether they would have suffered less or more if there had been no divorce. You can try to get indirect evidence by comparing the state of children of divorced parents with the state of children whose parents stay together, but you cannot be sure that the situation in the marriages in which the parents have stayed together is 255

The position of Karl Barth on divorce described in the previous chapter would also fall within both the teaching of Trent and a more direct definition of the indissolubility of marriage. Barth holds that marriage constituted by God cannot be dissolved. It is unlikely that the fathers of the council had in mind a position such as Barth's when they formulated their teaching.


the same as the hypothetical situation that would have prevailed if other couples who divorced had instead stayed together. Nevertheless, pragmatic considerations colour our perceptions of divorce and merit consideration. 2. divorce and the welfare of spouses Does divorce work for or against the welfare of spouses? Nearly every divorce seeks to gain some benefit for or avoid some evil to a spouse. In addition to cases with less noble motives there are situations in which separation seems to be the only way to escape serious evils such as physical or emotional abuse by a spouse. If remarriage is denied, escaping those evils carries with it a lifetime of either enforced celibacy or irregular sexual unions. The same alternatives would face a deserted spouse.256 It can be argued that allowing divorce may improve the quality even of marriages that do not break up. If divorce is ruled out, some people may mistreat their spouses, or cease to put an honest effort into the marriage, presuming they will not suffer the consequence of losing their partners. Might not the fragility of the marriage cause spouses to treat it with more care? Opponents of divorce will answer that their goal is not perseverance in unhappy marriages but that partners work from the outset to make the marriage a happy one. This is an extremely important truth, but it doesn’t resolve all cases. If your spouse has deserted you, or refuses to try to improve the marriage, or is unwilling to stop abusing you, your determination to improve the relationship does not solve the problem.


My limited search of the literature has not turned up many works that argue from an empirical basis that unhappily married people become either more or less happy if they divorce. Daniel Hawkins and Alan Booth in “Unhappily ever after: effects of long-term, low quality marriage on well-being� Social Forces 84(2005) 451-71, argue that people who stay in low-quality, unhappy marriages may be less happy than those who divorce and remain unmarried thereafter.


Some authors have pointed to the hardships suffered by people who undergo divorce.257 However, the more weighty argument against divorce is that in allowing it in order to relieve the plight of those in a bad situation you weaken the bond of marriage generally. Hard cases make for bad law. Allowing divorce, it is argued, means that many will not prepare properly for marriage. Knowing that they can get out of it if things go wrong, they are more likely to rush into an ill-advised union; they are less likely to try during courtship to get to know their partner in depth, and to discover, confront and work through possible problems; they will be less likely to listen to advice and to study and reflect seriously about matrimony. Allowing divorce affects the quality of the assent and commitment at the time of the wedding. At that moment partners want to think that they are giving themselves to each other whole-heartedly, without reservation; but if they know at the same time that they can get out of it if things don't work out, then even if they intend for the union to be permanent it is difficult to see how they can give anything but a conditional commitment to their partners. If divorce is allowed, many will not put forth the effort needed during marriage to make it successful. Spousal relationships pass through difficult times. Husbands and wives must adjust their behaviour and even modify personal qualities in order to serve each other. Romantic love fades, and unless there is serious effort and sacrifice it will not be supplemented by a deep spousal agape. As time goes on, hidden personal weaknesses emerge. Any growth in personal relationship and intimacy will involve a kind of dying to self. A good marriage is one that has confronted and overcome hazards such as financial insecurity, ill health, the stress of raising children, moodiness, competition between home and career. A good marriage has not only survived difficulties but has used them to grow in intimacy and generosity. Divorce is a way in which many people avoid the challenge, effort and sacrifice needed for marital success. To minimize these hurtful results, divorce might be restricted to very unusual situations. If divorce is rare, then perhaps people won't neglect proper preparation for marriage and the 257

Nock, Steven L., Sociology of the Family, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, c1987, p. 162 reports a study that concluded that for those undergoing divorce "... apart from minor variations ... nearly disabling grief was the rule."


later effort needed to make it flourish. If divorce is rare, its possibility might be more or less ignored when vows are exchanged and so it may not greatly influence the quality of the partners' consent. It is not an accident, however, that divorce began in the Western World as a rare phenomenon but has grown steadily in frequency. People are moved more by sympathy for individuals caught in difficult marital situations than by institutional concerns. There will naturally be pressure to allow divorce in more and more situations, with little pressure from the opposite direction. The slope will be especially slippery in an individualistic society such as our own, in which we value our private welfare above the common good. Most people today will not look kindly on a demand that they suffer personal hardship in order to preserve the institution of marriage.258 3. divorce and the welfare of children Does allowing divorce more often work for or against the welfare of children? Divorce can have certain obvious negative effects on children. It is nearly always traumatic to the child at the time of the separation and of the divorce. Further harm usually arises from the family situation that results. For reasons such as those discussed in Chapter Eight, single parents usually have a harder time raising children than do two parents. Single mothers often suffer financial stress. They may have less time for their children because they need to hold a job. They lack the support of a partner in the trials of raising children. The possibility of divorce can harm children even when a break up does not result. Its mere possibility detracts from the security and sense of being loved unconditionally that the young require.


Of course citizens are often called upon to sacrifice for the common good. Taxpayers help support the disabled. Policemen and firemen perform dangerous tasks. Sacrifice for the sake of the stability of marriage is less commonly accepted, perhaps because the good achieved is less immediate and obvious than in the case of the civic duties just noted.


Not many writers are eager to argue that divorce helps children, but some solid points can be made. Yes, it is better for a child to be raised by two happily-married parents than by a single parent; but is it always worse for a child to be raised by a single parent than by two quarrelling parents? or by two parents of whom one is physically or emotionally abusive? Also, by allowing a deserted spouse to remarry divorce may lower the incidence of singleparent families and allow the children to have two persons playing a steady parenting role. The opponents of divorce may point out that they are not telling parents to stay in a bad marriage for the sake of the children. Rather, the parents have a moral obligation to try to make it a good marriage. However, this important advice works only when adopted by both partners. Even if we can show that divorce helps or hurts children caught in a particular familial situation, we still need to consider how the availability of divorce effects marriage generally. Insofar as the possibility of divorce deters partners from behaviour that would threaten the union, it helps marriages and thereby helps children. On the other hand, as the previous section suggested, the availability of divorce can work against the quality of marriages generally. Chapter Eight discussed how a healthy spousal union focuses the energies and devotion of parents on the welfare of children. If making divorce available harms the spousal union, it will to that extent harm children. 4.

empirical evidence

Regarding the effects of divorce on children we don’t have to depend only on impressions and theoretical extensions of general observations about human behaviour. There is an abundance of empirical study on the subject.259


There is some overlap between the studies to be examined here and those that were examined earlier concerning the effects on children of single parenting, because one common effect of divorce is the single parent household. I have somewhat arbitrarily included in this section those studies that were conducted within the context of divorce, including in the earlier section those that studied single parenting generally, without explicit reference to divorce.


Beginning in 1971 Judith Wallerstein began a longitudinal study of the long-term effects of divorce in one hundred children in a Northern California community. The children were interviewed in depth at the beginning of the study and at intervals thereafter, and the results were compared with those from children from families in which the parents remained together. The results after twenty five years were published in 2000.260 There were also reports at earlier stages of the on-going study.261 Wallerstein was surprised by the extent to which adverse effects of divorce on children persisted into later years. Adult children of divorced parents found it more difficult to form intimate and lasting relationships than did children in the control group. Of the children of divorced parents, 60% were married after 25 years, compared to 80% of those in the control group. Of adult children of divorce, 38% had children, 17% of whom were born out of wedlock, compared to 60% and 0% respectively of the control group. Children of divorced parents were five times more likely to marry before age 25 and had much higher rates of divorce. They were more likely to expect their relationships to fail, to struggle with fear of loss, conflict, betrayal and loneliness. Wallerstein found that even children of parents who stayed together in spite of serious difficulties fared better than did children whose parents divorced. Though the thoroughness of her investigation gives weight to Wallerstein’s conclusions, others have minimized the long-term effects of divorce on children. Dunlop and Burns in an Australian study do not find any “sleeper” or delayed effect of divorce on children.262 Amato and Booth state that the adult children of divorce scored lower than other children on measures of psychological, social and material well being but the differences were generally small, especially in case of “low stress divorce”.263 They also report that children whose


Wallerstein, Judith, Julia Lewis & Sandy Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: a 25 Year Landmark Study, New York, Hyperion, c2000. 261 Wallerstein Judith, & Joan Berlin Kelly, Surviving the Breakup: How Children and Parents Cope with Divorce, New York, Basic Books, c1980; Wallerstein, Judith, & Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Man, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce, New York, Ticknor & Fields, c1990. 262 Dunlop, Rosemary, & Ailsa Burns, “The sleeper effect – myth or reality?” Journal of Marriage and Family 57(1995) 375-86. 263 Amato, Paul, & Alan Booth, “Consequences of parental divorce and marital unhappiness for adult wellbeing” Social Forces 69(1991) 895-914.


parents divorce while the children are still young do not seem to suffer in socioeconomic status as adults. However, a number of other studies provide evidence that the effects of divorce on children last well into adulthood. Amato and Keith report that adults who have experienced parental divorce exhibit lower levels of well-being than do adults whose parents were continuously married, and this applies to psychological adjustment, behavioural problems and educational attainment.264 According to Ross and Mirowski parental divorce has long-term negative consequences for children in the areas of socioeconomic status, interpersonal relationships, educational level, depression and divorce rate.265 They suppose that the depression is a direct result not of the divorce but of the lower socioeconomic status and problems in interpersonal relationships. Amato finds that children of divorced parents have lower educational levels throughout life, are more often jobless and are more likely to become single parents.266 Cherlin and others state that the children of divorced parents suffer from mental health problems that can last into their 20’a and 30’s.267 Kitson and Holmes indicate that the mental and emotional problems brought on by parental divorce decline in severity as children grow into adulthood, but in some children at least the effects are substantial even many years later.268 Aquilino reports that adult children’s relationship with the custodial parent is much the same as the relationship of children with parents in an intact family, but that their relationship with the non-custodial father is likely to be significantly worse.269 White on the other hand finds that the negative effect of divorce on parent-adult child


Amato, Paul, & Bruce Keith, “Parental divorce and adult well-being: a meta-analysis” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 43-58. 265 Ross, Catherine, & John Mirowski, “Parental divorce, life-course disruption, and adult depression” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 1034-45. 266 Amato, Paul, “The post-divorce society: how divorce is shaping the family and other forms of social organization” in The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting and Society, Ross Thompson and Paul Amato, eds., Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage, 1999, pp. 161-190. 267 Cherlin, Andrew, & others, “Effects of parental divorce on mental health throughout the life course” American Sociological Review 63(1998) 239-49. See also Amato, Paul, & Juliana Sobolewski, “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being” American Sociological Review 66(2001) 900-21, with additional bibliography. 268 Kitson, Gay C., & William M. Holmes, Portrait of Divorce: Adjustment to Marital Breakdown, New York, Guilford Press, c1992, Chapter Six. 269 See Aquilino, William, “Impact of childhood family disruption in young adults’ relationship with parents” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 295-313.


relationships is found in the case of both custodial and non-custodial parents.270 The author suggests that the negative results may stem not from the divorce but from conditions within the family prior to the divorce. It has even been argued that the bad effects of divorce reach as far as the grandchildren, including lower academic achievement, greater marital discord and greater tension in early parent-child relationships.271 These bad effects on grandchildren presumably come about because the children of divorced parents themselves become less qualified parents. There is some disagreement on details, then, with the predominant opinion that divorce correlates with long-lasting, undesirable results for children. That divorce correlates with serious short-term problems for children is not disputed. Insofar as divorce leads to singleparent families it occasions the kind of disadvantage for children that Chapter Nine detailed. Most obviously perhaps, divorce usually makes the mother and children poorer.272 Although the financial disadvantages stemming from divorce fall especially on women and on children whose custodial parent is the mother, there is evidence that men too suffer financial loss as a result of divorce and separation.273 Poverty in turn brings with it several other bad effects. Parental divorce is associated with lower academic performance by children. According to one study those who at 14 years of age did not live with both of their natural parents were less likely to graduate from high school.274 This held whether the children lived with a single parent, a parent and step-parent, or with neither parent. The authors believe that 270

White, Lynn, “Growing up with single parents and stepparents: long-term effects on family solidarity” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 935-48. 271 See Amato, Paul, & Jacob Cheadle, “The long reach of divorce: divorce and child well-being across three generations” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2005) 191-206. 272 See Richards, Leslie, “The precarious survival and hard-won satisfaction of white, single-parent families” Family Relations 38(1989) 396-403; Foster, E. Michael, & others, “The economic impact of nonmarital childbearing: how are older, single parents faring?” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 163-74; Smock, Pamela, & others, “The effects of marriage on women’s economic well-being” American Sociological Review 64(1999) 794-812; Ross, Catherine, & John Mirowski, “Parental divorce, life-course disruption, and adult depression” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 1034-45; 273 See McManus, Patricia, & Thomas DiPrete, “The financial consequences of separation and divorce for men” American Sociological Review 66(2001) 246-68. 274 Sandefur, Gary, & others, “The effects of parental marital status during adolescence on high school graduation” Social Forces 71(1992) 103-121.


lower income accounts for only a relatively small part of this negative effect.275 Morrison and Cherlin, though they take as established fact that divorce has a negative effect on children in the areas of behaviour, emotional well-being and academic accomplishment, find that the negative effect holds mostly for boys. They attribute some of the negative effect to the downturn in the socioeconomic condition of children after divorce. Another study looked at objective test scores of some American children for several years prior to and after a parental divorce and found that the test scores continued to be low even three years after the divorce.276 The large majority of recent authors find negative effects of divorce on children’s academic performance, but there are exceptions.277 Parental divorce is frequently associated with delinquency in their children. Wadsworth reports that parental divorce increased both the incidence and the seriousness of their children’s delinquency.278 He finds that for children from 4 to 15 years of age, subsequent remarriage of the custodial parent correlates with an increase in delinquency. Apparently the positive effect of having a second adult in the household is outweighed by such negative effects as resentment of the partner who has taken the place of a parent. Wadsworth states that the death of a parent, especially in the first four years of the child’s life, does not correlate significantly with an increase in delinquency of children. Another study notes that after divorce certain behavioural problems of both sons and daughters can be traced to a low level of monitoring and inept disciplining by the custodial mother.279 275

See also Amato, Paul, “Children’s adjustment to divorce: theories, hypotheses and empirical support” Journal of Marriage and Family 55(1993) 23-38. This article is followed by a critique and the author’s response. 276 Yongmin Sun & Yuanzang Li, “Children’s well-being during parents’ marital disruption process: a pooled time-series analysis” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 472-488. For other reports on the bad effects of divorce on children, see Bosman, Rie, & Louwes Wiepkie, “School careers of children from one-parent and two-parent families” Netherlands Journal of Sociology 24(1988) 117-31; Amato, Paul, “The post-divorce society: how divorce is shaping the family and other forms of social organization”, in The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting and Society, edited by Ross Thompson and Paul Amato, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage, 1999, pp. 161-190; Schlesinger, Benjamin, “Children in one-parent families: a review” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 265(1995) 105-14. 277 See, for example, Smith, Thomas, “Parental separation and the academic self-concepts of adolescents: an effort to solve the puzzle of separation effects” Journal of Marriage and Family 52(1990) 107-18, who found no drop in academic performance by children after parental divorce. 278 Wadsworth, Michael E., Roots of Delinquency: Infancy, Adolescence and Crime, Oxford, M. Robertson, 1979, p. 53 & ff. 279 Simons, Ronald, & others, “The impact of mothers’ parenting, involvement by non-residential fathers, and parental conflict on the adjustment of adolescent children” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 356-74.


A review of literature by Land and others reveals that parental divorce and children not living with both birth-parents correlates with higher rates of homicide by children.280 Only one of the studies that was examined showed no correlation. A Cambridge University study that followed 411 males from ages 8 to 46 shows that of boys in single parent families because of the death of the father, 17% had criminal convictions as adults.281 Of boys in single parent families because of desertion by the father, 32% had criminal convictions as adults. Children from broken homes and children from high-conflict homes had almost identical rates of juvenile convictions. Family disruption when children were 0-5 years of age or 10-14 years of age at the time of the disruption exhibited more delinquency than did children who were 5-9 years of age at the time of the disruption. Amato apparently regards the correlation between divorce and the behavioural problems of children to be so well established that it can serve as a presumption for further studies.282 One study indicates that abuse of drugs is higher among sons whose parents are divorced, but the same is not true for daughters.283 A number of studies show a correlation between parental divorce and children’s problems of mental and emotional health.284 A study about why divorce leads to psychological problems for adult children compared the influence of three factors: low educational attainment by the children of divorce, poorer interpersonal skill, quality of the relationship between parents


Land, Kenneth, & others, “Structural covariates of homicide rates” Are there any invariances across time and social space?” American Journal of Sociology 95(1990) 922-63. 281 See Juby, Heather, & David Farrington, “Disentangling the link between disrupted families and delinquency” British Journal of Criminology 41(2001) 22-40. 282 Amato, op. cit., 1999. 283 See Needle, Richard, & others, “Divorce, remarriage, and adolescent substance use: a prospective longitudinal study” Journal of Marriage and Family 52(1990) 157-69. 284 See Angel, Ronald & Jacqueline, Painful Inheritance: Health and the New Generation of Fatherless Families, Madison, University of Wisconsin Press, 1993; Kitson, Gay C., & William Holmes, Portrait of Divorce: Adjustment to Marital Breakdown, New York, Guilford Press, c1992, Chapter 6; Simons, Ronald, & others, “Explaining the higher incidence of adjustment problems among children of divorce compared with those of two-parent families” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 1020-33; Amato, Paul, “Children’s adjustment to divorce: theories, hypotheses and empirical support” Journal of Marriage and Family 55(1993) 23-38; Amato, Paul, “Father-child relations, mother-child relations, and offspring psychological well-being in early adulthood” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 1031-42; Amato, Paul, op. cit., 1999; Wadsworth, William, op. cit., p. 118; Smith, Thomas, op. cit.


and children.285 Whereas previous literature suggested to the authors that the first two factors are the most important, they find that the last factor is more important. They find also that marital discord brings the same negative effects for children as does divorce. A study of families in Croatia indicates that marital instability correlates with lower psychological welfare of children.286 It finds that results for children in distressed families and for children of divorced parents are approximately the same. In younger children the common emotional problem is mood swings, while in older children it is more likely to be depression. Divorce of parents is also associated with the inability of children to trust others.287 Wu and Martinson find that parental divorce, whether or not there is remarriage, correlates significantly with a higher likelihood of the children having children before they marry.288 Angel and Angel report that children in fatherless families are more likely to have children out of wedlock.289 Wu and Thomason refer to studies that show that adolescents who experience a parental divorce or whose fathers are absent tend to become sexually active at an earlier age.290 Their own study indicates that among the white population it seems to be family upheaval and turbulence that correlates with earlier sexual activity. Russell finds that the likelihood of unmarried pregnancy of a daughter correlates both with a family history of divorce and with parent-child discord.291 African American adolescents are at risk of earlier initiation into sexual activity if they are living with mother only or father only or if they live in a reconstituted family. Amato reports that children whose parents have divorced tend to


Amato, Paul, & Juliana Sobolewski, “The effects of divorce and marital discord on adult children’s psychological well-being” American Sociological Review 66(2001) 900-21. 286 Cudina, Mira, & Josip Obradovic, “Child’s emotional well-being: parental marriage stability in Croatia” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 32(2001) 247-61. 287 See King, Valarie, ”Parental divorce and interpersonal trust in adult offspring” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 642-56; Jacques, Susan, & Catherine Surra, “Parental divorce and premarital couples: commitment and other relationship characteristics” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 627-38. 288 Wu, Lawrence, & Brian Martinson, “Family structure and the risk of premarital birth” American Sociological Review 58(1993) 210-32. See also Schlesinger, Benjamin, “Children in one-parent families: a review” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 265(1995) 105-14. 289 Op. cit. 290 See Wu, Lawrence, & Elizabeth Thomson, “Race differences in family experience and early sexual initiation” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 682-96. 291 Russell, Stephen, “Life course antecedents of premarital conception in Great Britain” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 480-92.


become sexually active at an earlier age and suggests that this is because of lack of supervision or because of deficient modelling by parents.292 There is evidence that children of divorced parents are themselves more likely to divorce.293 Murstein294 cites favourably the opinion that a distinguishing characteristic of African American boys whose fathers have been absent from the family because of desertion, divorce or economic reasons is a marked inability to maintain marital relationships when they reach adulthood. It has been noted that in post-WW2 Germany there was a high correlation between parental divorce and children’s divorce.295

Amato and De Boer

attribute the higher divorce rate among children of divorced parents not to the children’s lack of interpersonal skills but to their lower commitment to lifelong marriage.296 Amato earlier suggested that the higher divorce rate among children of divorced parents stems from imitation of parental behaviour that led to the divorce.297 Teachman notes that while it is true that children of divorced parents are more likely to divorce, the same is true of children born outside of marriage.298 The experience of divorce and the examples of parents seem therefore not to be the only elements at work here. Teachman adds that children of divorced parents have a higher divorce rate even when they grow up in reconstituted families, or if they grow up with neither parent.299 Webster and others find that both children of divorced parents and children who have never lived with their father have significantly higher rates of divorce than do children from two-parent homes, even when the two parents do not have a very happy marriage.300 292

Op. cit, 1999, p. 165. See for example, Thornton, Arland, “Influence of the marital history of parents on the marital and cohabitation experiences of children” American Journal of Sociology 96(1991) 868-94; Schlesinger, op. cit. 294 Murstein, Bernard, Love, Sex and Marriage through the Ages, New York, Springer, c1974, p. 397. 295 Diekmann, Andreas, & Henriette Englehardt, “The social inheritance of divorce: effects of parents’ family type in postwar Germany” American Sociological Review 64(1999) 783-93. 296 Amato, Paul, & Danelle De Boer, “The transmission of marital instability across generations: relationship skills or commitment to marriage?” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 1038-51. 297 Amato, Paul, “Explaining the intergenerational transmission of divorce” Journal of Marriage and Family 58(1996) 628-40. 298 Teachman, Jay, “Childhood living arrangements and the intergenerational transmission of divorce” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 717-29. 299 A number of studies report findings on other effects of divorce on children, but they are not cited here because the low number of studies in each area does not allow for confirmation from multiple sources. 300 Webster, Pamela, & others, “Effects of childhood family background on adult marital quality and perceived stability” American Journal of Sociology 101(1995) 404-32. 293


Some authors have suggested that the effects of divorce are not so dire as suggested by the majority of recent studies. One argument is that children of divorce may be subject to negative reporting. For example, teachers, knowing that a child’s parents are divorced, may be quick to notice negative characteristics; or they may be biased and treat a child badly, provoking negative reactions.301 Bosman and Weipke admit that children living with their mothers but not their fathers show lower academic achievement than do children living with both parents, but they suggest this may be the result of labelling by teachers.302 Negative reporting and negative treatment of children of divorce by teachers and others in authority no doubt occur, but are they so pervasive as to cast in doubt the results of most studies on the effects of divorce? Most of the studies cited above either do not depend on reporting by third parties or use such reporting only along with other criteria. As to negative reactions by teachers and others to children of divorce, were this behaviour common among teachers they would be reacting negatively to a large percentage of their students. When a significant percentage of students in most classrooms are from “broken homes”, it seems unlikely that many teachers would single out such students for negative treatment. On the contrary, awareness that a student is from a broken home is likely to move a teacher to treat the student with extra kindness or at least forbearance. Johnson gives a somewhat positive view of children coping with divorce.303 Amato’s review of the literature of the 1990’s notes that, along with the abundant literature spelling out the adverse effects of divorce on children, there are many extraneous factors that make matters better or worse.304 Wells and Rankin admit that there is a correlation between parental divorce and delinquency of children, but claim that much of the argumentation in


Amato, Paul, “The ‘child of divorce’ as person prototype: bias in the recall of information about children in divorced families” Journal of Marriage and Family 523(1991) 59-69; Wadsworth, Michael, Roots of Delinquency: Infancy, Adolescence and Crime, pp. 120 & ff. 302 Bosman, Rie, and Louwes Wiepke, “School careers of children from one-parent and two-parent families” Netherlands Journal of Sociology 24(1988) 117-31. 303 Johnson, Coleen Leahy, Ex Familia: Grandparents, Parents and Children Adjust to Divorce, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Rutgers University Press, 1988. 304 Amato, Paul, “The consequences of divorce for adults and children” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000) 1269-87.


favour of that conclusion (at that time, 1991) can be challenged.305 Abelson and Saayman note that many families may be able to cope with divorce to the extent that it is not disastrous for them.306 These authors represent cautions and suggestions that the effects of divorce may not be as bad as some say, but they do not challenge the basic thesis that divorce has significant bad effects for children in a number of areas. Proof that divorce of parents correlates with problems for their children does not by itself resolve the question of cause. There are three possibilities. The harm may be caused by the fact of the divorce and the process involved; it may be caused by the conditions in the home prior to the divorce; or it could arise from conditions subsequent to the divorce, notably single parenting and a greater likelihood of economic deprivation. Some light is thrown on the question by studies that compare the plight of children in single parent families resulting from divorce with the plight of children in single parent families resulting from some other cause. As noted earlier, Juby and Farrington state that of boys in single parent families because of the death of the father, 17% had criminal convictions as adults, whereas of boys who were in that situation because of desertion by the father 32% had criminal convictions as adults. Wadsworth307 found that divorce correlated with both frequency and seriousness of delinquent behaviour of children, but found no strong correlation between death of a parent and children’s delinquency. The study by Diekmann and Engelhardt of post war Germany cited earlier shows a high correlation between parental divorce and the likelihood of children divorcing, but if the family is disrupted for reasons other than divorce the divorce rate for children rises only slightly. Acock and Kiecolt find that children in later life report more problems and less happiness if they grew up in single parent families, whether the disruption was because of death or because of divorce.308 However, they believe that in the case of the death of a parent the ill effects are almost completely due to the change of socioeconomic status, whereas the bad effects for children 305

Wells, L. Edward, & Joseph Rankin, “Families and delinquency: a meta-analysis of the impact of broken homes” Social Problems 38(1991) 71-93. 306 Abelson, David, & Graham Saayman, “Adolescent adjustment to parental divorce: an investigation from the perspective of basic dimensions of structural theory” Family Process 30(1991) 177-91. 307 Op. cit., p. 54. 308 See Acock, Alan, & K. Jill Kiecolt, “Is it family structure or socioeconomic status? family structure during adolescence and adult adjustment” Social Forces 68(1989) 553-71.


following divorce should be attributed to a considerable extent to the divorce. Another study shows that children of a parent who is single because of divorce had significantly lower levels of education, occupational status and reported happiness than did children of widows.309 The researchers were unable to find any differences in child-rearing practices, gender role, family values or religiosity between the two types of family. In summary, there is significant evidence that the harm done to children of divorced parents does not come only from the family condition resulting from the divorce. The conditions before the divorce and/or the divorce itself have to take some of the blame. Which of these remaining factors – the conditions prior to the divorce, and the fact of the divorce along with the process – is the more harmful to children whose parents divorce? The question has practical consequences. If the principal cause of harm is the divorce itself then the children are best served if the parents stay together in spite of difficulties. If the principle cause of harm is the conditions in the home, then the children are best served if the parents separate. (Of course a third alternative is devoutly to be wished – that both partners will strive to improve the situation in the home and stay together.) To the question whether it is better for the children if the parents divorce or if they stay together there is no direct, empirical answer.

One can know for a fact only the

consequences of the chosen course of action, not of the hypothetical alternative. Certainly the conditions in a home prior to divorce, if they include constant quarrels, dislike, hostility, blame, even violence, harm children. The common-sense impression that this is so is supported by empirical studies. Kline and others argue that marital conflict contributes to problematic emotional and behavioural responses by children.310 They attribute this mainly to the poorer mother-child relationship that results from conflict between spouses. Yongmin Sun, while granting that divorce correlates with social, psychological and academic problems for children, cautions that some of these problems stem from problems in the 309

See Biblarz, Timothy, & Greg Gottainer, “Family structure and children’s success: a comparison of widowed and divorced single-parent families” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000) 533-48. 310 Kline, Marsha, & others, “The long shadow of marital conflict: a model of children’s postdivorce adjustment” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 297-309.


spousal relationship prior to the divorce.311 Another study indicates a correlation between destructive forms of marital conflict and negative parenting behaviours of fathers.312 Buehler and others report that when parents exhibit a high level of conflict, children are more likely to lie and cheat and to report feeling sad.313 They note that the frequency of parental conflict is less significant in this respect than the degree of hostility that is displayed. Gohm and others find that parental conflict correlates with lower subjective wellbeing of children, whether the conflict occurs in the original marriage or in a second marriage.314 Their study shows this to be true for families in 39 countries on 6 continents.315 White believes that the quality of the parents’ marriage and their warmth towards each other contributes to a good parent-child relationship.316 A study by Amato and Booth shows that those adult children who recall their parents as unhappily married have lower levels of wellbeing than do those who describe their parents as happily married.317 A recent study of children in intact families divided the children into two groups. Children in Group One belonged to families in which the parents later divorced. The parents of the children in Group Two stayed together in spite of difficulties.318 As measured before the divorce, children in Group One scored higher than the children in Group Two in levels of anxiety/depression and in anti-social behaviour. After the divorce, children in Group One showed an increase in anxiety/depression, but not in anti-social behaviour.



Yongmin Sun, “Family environment and adolescents’ well-being before and after parents’ marital disruption: a longitudinal study” Journal of Marriage and Family 63(2001) 697-713. 312 See Lindahl, Kristin, & Neena Malik, “Observations of marital conflict and power: relations with parenting in the triad” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 320-30. 313 Buehler, Cheryl, & others, “Interparental conflict styles and youth problem behaviors: a two-sample replication study” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 119-32. 314 Gohm, Carol, & others, “Culture, parental conflict, parental marital status, and the subjective well-being of young adults” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 319-34. 315 Other authors report similar findings. See Gerard, Jean, & Cheryl Buehler, “Multiple risk factors in the family environment and youth behaviors” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 343-61; Jenkins, Jennifer, “Marital conflict and children’s emotions: the development of an anger organization” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000) 723-36; Amato, Paul, & Alan Booth, “Consequences of parental divorce and marital unhappiness for adult well-being” Social Forces 69(1991) 895-914; Caspi, Avshalom, & others, “Early failure in the labor market: childhood and adolescent predictors of unemployment in the transition to adulthood” American Sociological Review 63(1998) 424-51. 316 White, Lynn, “Contagion in family affection: mothers, fathers and young adult children” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 284-94. 317 Amato, Paul, & Alan Booth, “Consequences of parental divorce and marital unhappiness for adult wellbeing” Social Forces 69(1991) 895-914. 318 Strohschien, Lisa, “Parental divorce and child mental health trajectories” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2005) 1286-1300.


socioeconomic and psychosocial resources of parents seem to account for the problems before the divorce but not for the problems after the divorce. In the case of highly dysfunctional families, divorce leads to a decrease in children’s anti-social behaviour. In view of the harm done to children by difficult home situations, is it better for the children if parents separate? Common sense suggests that the answer will depend on the situation. Without a scientifically demonstrated conclusion, the opinion of Amato and Booth makes sense - that in lower conflict marriages it is better for the children if the parents stay together, but in high conflict situations it is better for the children if the parents separate.319 While granting that divorce, whether in high or low conflict situations, correlates with an increase in behavioural problems of children, Morrison and Coiro state that when parents continue in a marriage with a high level of conflict the children exhibit even higher rates of behavioural problems than do children whose parents have divorced.320 Some authors lean towards wanting parents to stay together even if there is a moderately high level of conflict. Wallerstein’s finding was noted earlier - that even children whose parents stayed together in spite of serious problems in the marriage fared better than did children whose parents had divorced. Minty sees the withdrawal of children from the conflictual atmosphere of the home as a last resort.321 To what extent can the ill effects of divorce for children be avoided or at least minimized if the custodial parent remarries? The question is a practical one in view of the number of children who will grow up live with a stepparent.322 One would expect the remarriage of the custodial parent to alleviate some of the bad effects of divorce on children. Women who 319

Amato, Paul, and Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1997. Of the conflict situations that lead to divorce, the authors would rate the majority as low conflict and only a minority as high conflict. Amato and others give similar advice in “Parental divorce, marital conflict, and off-spring well-being during early adulthood” Social Forces (73) 1995) 895-915. 320 Morrison, Donna, & Mary Jo Coiro, “Parental conflict and marital disruption: Do children benefit when high-conflict marriages are dissolved?” Journal of Marriage and Family 61(1999) 626-37. Jekielek, Susan, “Parental conflict, marital disruption and children’s emotional well-being” Social Forces 76(1998) 905-35, argues that children in high-conflict marriages are probably better off if their parents divorce. 321 Minty, Brian, with Colin Ashcroft, Child Care and Adult Crime Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1987. 322 See Mason, Mary Ann, & Jane Mauldon, “The new stepfamily requires a new public policy” Journal of Social Issues 52 (#3, 1996) 11-27. These authors note that of American children born in the 1980’s about one quarter could be expected to live with a stepparent before they reached legal adulthood.


remarry usually improve the financial situation in which their children will be raised. Their partners will be able to share parental duties and they can support each other in many ways. Relevant to this issue, it was noted earlier that several of the studies that found negative effects of divorce found them also in children in families reconstituted by the remarriage of a parent. In addition to those authors, Downy reports that children in reconstituted families do not perform as well in school as do children growing up with both biological parents.323 Wu and Martensen find that parental divorce correlates with children having children before marriage whether or not their divorced parents remarried.324 A review of research in the 1980’s suggests that children in reconstituted families showed an increase in behavioural problems over children in intact families, but in the area of self-esteem there was no differential between the two groups.325 A review of literature from the 1990’s indicates several areas in which children in reconstituted families fare worse than children growing up with both biological parents: academic performance, rates of depression and emotional problems, delinquency.326 According to this review, stepchildren scored on average about the same as children in single parent families.

A more recent study confirms that

adolescents growing up in an intact family generally fare better than those in single-parent, reconstituted or cohabiting families.327

This study indicates that growing up with a

stepfather provided more benefits than growing up with either single or co-habiting parents, the latter two alternatives being about equal in results. Comparing single-parent and reconstituted families, White finds that the presence of a stepfather correlates with deterioration in the mother-child relationship, and a lowering in


Downey, Douglas, “Understanding academic achievement among children in stephouseholds: the role of parental resources, sex of stepparent, and sex of the child” Social Forces 73(1995) 875-94. Downey attributes the lower achievement of stepchildren to a lower level of interpersonal, economic and cultural resources of parents. 324 Wu, Lawrence, & Brian Martinson, “Family structure and the risk of premarital birth” American Sociological Review 58(1993) 210-32. 325 See Coleman, Marilyn, & Lawrence Ganong, “Remarriage and stepfamily research in the 1980’s: increased interest in an old family form” Journal of Marriage and Family 52(1990) 925-40. 326 See Coleman, Marilyn, & others, “Reinvestigating remarriage: another decade of progress” Journal of Marriage and Family 62(2000) 1288-1307. 327 Manning, Wendy, & Kathleen Lamb, “Adolescent well-being in co-habiting, married and single-parent families” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 876-93.


the child’s perception of support by parents, but involvement of the stepfather with the children has a positive effect.328 Remarriages break up at about the same rate as do first marriages. MacDonald and DeMaris found that stepchildren do not witness a higher level of parental conflict than do children in intact marriages.329 A child in the a reconstituted family has an economic advantage over the child of a single-parent family. Amato holds that having a stepfather helps the child financially (as compared to living with a single mother) but is not a benefit to the child psychologically, nor does it improve their behaviour.330 According to Amato, stepfathers do not usually replace the absent biological father in the lives of children, and stepmothers are also at a disadvantage in parenting their stepchildren. In summary, the literature leaves the impression that children growing up in reconstituted families usually have advantages over children growing up in single parent families, but are usually at a disadvantage compared to children growing up with both biological parents. A few articles give significant information about children whose custodial parent begins to cohabit with a new partner. Morrison and Rituale find that when a divorced mother begins to cohabit her economic situation usually improves, but the economic advantage is shortlived.331 They find that the child who lives with a mother who remarries is likely to be in a much better economic situation than is a child who lives with a mother who cohabits. Another study shows that the male partner in cohabitation does not contribute nearly so much to the economic welfare of the child as do the married parents.332 On a related issue is a study of the effects of having a “social father”, a non-resident male who plays a role in the child’s life. It finds that if the social father is a relative, his involvement correlates with the


White, Lynn, “Growing up with single parents and stepparents: long-term effects on family solidarity” Journal of Marriage and Family 56(1994) 935-48. 329 MacDonald, William, & Alfred DeMaris, “Remarriage, stepchildren, and marital conflict: challenges to the incomplete institutionalization hypothesis” Journal of Marriage and Family 57(1995) 387-98. 330 Amato, Paul, op. cit. 1999. 331 Morrison, Donna, & Amy Rituale, “Routes to children’s economic recovery after divorce: Are cohabitation and remarriage equivalent? American Sociological Review 65(2000) 560-80. 332 See Manning, Wendy, & Daniel Lichter, “Parental cohabitation and children’s economic well-being” Journal of Marriage and Family 58(1996) 998-1010.


child’s greater readiness for school, but having a social father who is the mother’s romantic partner correlates with the child’s lower level of emotional maturity.333 My limited search did not focus on the effect of divorce on spouses. One study, taking as previously established that divorced men tend to show a higher level of distress than do married men, indicates that this seems to be mainly because the role of divorced man is inherently more stressful, and transitional adjustment from married to single life plays only a minor role, as does selectivity.334 III. ARGUMENT FROM THE NATURE OF THE MARRIAGE COVENANT 1. functional vs. personal relationships Each person has a unique identity. I am myself and am not any other person. Even were there another person who resembled me in every possible way, I would not be that other person. In a way it is hard to think about this unique identity. Usually when we describe or define something we use words that signify general concepts. Because they can apply to more than one individual they don't express the unique individuality of a particular being. A proper name points to, but need not tell us much about, the unique individual. An action or function one performs is distinct from the individual identity of the one who performs it. My action of walking to the store at three o'clock this afternoon is not the same as my unique person. I am myself whether or not I take that stroll. A functional relationship is directed to a function that the person performs rather than to the person as such. If your basement is filling with water and you send for a plumber, you relate to that craftsman in a functional way; you make use of his technical skill. (Of course you might at the same time relate to this individual in a non-functional way.) A functional 333

See Jayakody, Rukmalie, & Ariel Kalil, “Social fathering in low-income, African American families with preschool children” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 504-16. 334 Johnson, David, & Jian Wu, “An empirical test of crisis, social selection, and role explanation of the relationship between marital disruption and psychological distress: a pooled time-series analysis of fourwave panel data” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 211-21.


relationship is also a conditional relationship, in that it is based on a condition extraneous to the unique individuality of the individual. In a fully personal relationship one relates to a person insofar as he is she is this unique individual. In a functional relationship the other person can be replaced. If this barber is busy I go on to the next one. If the relationship is fully personal the other is irreplaceable. If a child dies you don't console the mother by noting that she has three other children and could easily bear a fourth. She loved her child in his or her unique identity. Eventually the mother may be consoled by other sons or daughters, but her initial grief is not caused by her falling one short of the number of children that she wants. Normally one's awareness of persons in their unique individuality is tied to their exercise of some function or other. Some functions bring about this awareness more effectively than do others. A clerk can sell me stamps without me being much aware of his unique identity. On the other hand, a patient easily becomes aware of the unique identity of a nurse who provides care with kindness and devotion under trying circumstances. The appreciation of the nurse's actions easily brings with it an awareness of her as this person. On this basis for example one might be affected by news of good or bad things that happen to her. A fully personal relationship is usually embodied in functions. A husband loves his wife as this unique person, and he embodies this love by working industriously for her welfare, remembering her birthday or sharing in the housework. Is the erotic relationship - "being in love" - more functional or uniquely individual? People in love feel that the attraction is to the unique individual, but eros is closely tied to certain functions. Physical attractiveness, for example, performs the function of pleasing the eye. It does not immediately make the object of one's admiration irreplaceable. The same is true of qualities such as good humour, wit, compassion, interesting conversation and other factors that can lead one to fall in love. But reaction to these functions does not in itself constitute


being in love. To be in love, as understood here, one must also be very aware of the other as unique. There are forms of infatuation in which this awareness is weak even though there may be a strong attraction. Such infatuation does not constitute eros (being in love) as eros is understood in this book. If I love someone because he or she is a good person - possesses moral virtue - is this a uniquely individual or a functional relationship? That depends. If I love someone only because his virtue brings me some advantage, the relationship is functional. I love the benefit I receive, not the person. If I love persons for their virtue, quite apart from whether their virtue benefits me, the matter is more complex. Your virtue is not the same thing as your unique identity. You would be the same person even if you ceased to be virtuous; and, at least if I love with agape, I should love people even in their unvirtuous state. On the other hand, experiencing someone's moral goodness easily makes us aware of them as unique persons and opens us to loving them as such. Under the influence of fear and anger we easily regress to the merely functional level. I become angry at someone because he has criticised me, for example, and I respond harshly. I respond to something he has done, and this obscures my awareness of him as this unique person. A recovery of that awareness allows my anger to recede. Agape, that form of love to which the Christian is called and which is exemplified in Jesus Christ, is fully personal rather than functional. It involves concern for others in themselves, not merely because they perform some function or other. We all wish to be loved as unique individuals. We also like to be loved (or perhaps "admired" is more accurate) for functional reasons. It is pleasant when others regard us highly because of what we do or qualities we possess. This kind of love or admiration can carry us along for quite some time, especially if it is regularly and eloquently expressed. But something extremely important is missing if I am valued only for qualities that others possess, if I am replaceable, valued only until someone else comes along who can perform those functions better than I can.


2. the spousal covenant and marriage permanence According to Catholic teaching, husband and wife enter into a union that is properly called a covenant. They freely commit themselves to a communion of life, some elements of which have been discussed in Chapter Eight. They are expected to love each other with the form of love called agape. This love moves them to give themselves to each other and to share their lives together. Before God they commit themselves to this relationship, to abide in this gift of self to the other and the sharing of life together. Is this spousal covenant conditional or unconditional? Suppose that Susan marries Fred with the proviso that if he should suffer financial bankruptcy the marriage is dissolved. There may be uniquely individual elements that motivate Fred and Susan to enter into marriage. Each may be willing to work for the welfare of the other apart from any benefit to self. But as far as the marriage covenant itself is concerned, a condition - financial solvency - takes precedence over the unique individual. Susan defines herself as the wife of Fred-assolvent, not of Fred as Fred. The same would be true if the condition were less crass. Frank marries Jennifer, two of whose near relatives have suffered from schizophrenia. Frank makes it a condition of the marriage that it will be dissolved if Jennifer is ever diagnosed as clinically schizophrenic. Again, there may be uniquely individual elements that motivate the partners to enter into marriage, but as far as the marriage agreement itself is concerned, a condition - Jennifer's sanity - takes precedence over her unique individuality. The fact that agape is paramount in Christian marriage means that this covenant is radically unconditional and fully personal. The traditional formula expresses this by ruling out two likely conditions. Each partner takes the other as spouse "... for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health ...".


An unconditional marriage must be permanent and indissoluble. If Frank enters into a covenant with Jennifer insofar as she is this unique person, not insofar as she fulfils a condition, then that covenant survives all vicissitudes, anything that can happen. The unconditional and fully personal quality of the spousal union takes precedence in Catholic thought even over the procreative aspect of the relationship. While insisting that marriage as such is concerned with bearing and raising children, the Church has also insisted that the inability to bear children or the fact of not bearing children does not invalidate a particular marriage. Those early Christians who objected to remarriage even after the death of a spouse had a point. After all, if marriage is strictly unconditional, should it not survive the death of one partner? This position was in fact rejected by the Church, but the valid ground for rejecting it is that with death a partner passes beyond that state in which there is "marrying and giving in marriage" (Mt. 22,30) and so should not be considered married. (One need not conclude from this that, in the state of the blessed, there is no special relationship between those who have been spouses in this life.) As suggested earlier, an unconditional marriage will be accompanied by conditional factors. People enter into marriage moved by physical appearance, intelligence, wit, sympathy and moral virtue, none of which are part of the partner's personal identity. Jennifer will be Jennifer even is she ceases to be attractive and witty and sensitive to Frank's moods. These can be motives for marriage. But if they are also inserted into the covenant as conditions then the marriage covenant becomes conditional, and to that extent, less than fully personal. At the moment of exchanging vows, partners normally don't like to think of themselves as putting conditions on their assent. Nor would one at such a moment like to be treated as a partner in a business arrangement, no matter how sensitively the matter is handled. Yet if you place a condition on the marriage agreement, then you may hide from the fact, but the fact remains that the primary object of your commitment is a condition, not the person as such.


In a society such as ours in which divorce has become common, it is easy to be inconsistent. At the moment of entering into marriage people want to believe they are giving themselves to their partners completely and unconditionally. If things don't work out later, however, they prefer the union to be conditional. Those people are more consistent who say from the start that marriage is conditional. Unconditional unions may be nice ideas to think about, they say, but in the real world they are too risky. Too often they exact an unacceptable price. In a changing world does not prudence dictate that marriages should have escape clauses? At this point Christian practice appears as not merely a gloss added to a secular way of life but as a quite different way of living. What the secular world rejects as an attractive but impractical idea, Christianity recognizes as the object of a profound human yearning that can be satisfied by the grace of God in spite of sin and the fickleness of the human heart. The difference between a vow and an intention comes into play here. Our intentions easily change. If upon entering marriage the most you could do is state an intention to remain faithful, that would not be a gift of your whole self but only an expression of your present state of mind. To overcome this limitation we seek by vow to make a gift of our future, of our whole selves. We can, unfortunately, break the vow, but the vow is as far as we can go to reach beyond the limitations of our mutable existence to make a gift of ourselves and to partake in some way in the stability and fidelity of God.335 This is implied in St. Paul's teaching that the union of husband and wife reflects the love of Jesus for his Church. The fully personal and therefore permanent nature of marriage is something to which all wellintentioned spouses aspire, but it finds its adequate foundation in the grace of Christian matrimony. What of those situations in which partners pay a severe price, functionally speaking, for having entered into an unconditional covenant? If a spouse is deserted, or one partner ceases to make the effort needed to make the marriage flourish, then in spite of good will 335

Chapter Twelve will discuss the notion of fidelity, which is central to marriage. The fidelity of God is the bedrock of Christian faith. If per impossibile God were not faithful to his promises there would be no hope and no meaning to life.


and effort, at least one partner suffers very painful consequences. Unfortunately, in this life some things can be achieved only by taking risks, and as a result sometimes people suffer tragic consequences. People who approach marriage intelligently will find in this an extremely powerful motive to prepare well for marriage and work for the whole life of the marriage to make it as good as possible. Even in unfortunate situations, the uniquely individual dimension can remain and make sense of what has lost most of its purely functional meaning. Many years ago while working for several weeks in a hospital I would stop each afternoon at the bedside of an elderly man who was almost totally paralysed. Every day his wife would be sitting with him, and he could communicate mainly by blinking his eyes in response to her questions. From a purely functional point of view, this marriage had ceased to have much benefit for her. But her presence at the bedside suggested that more important than any function was what she had chosen to be for this man, because that is what she had promised. Suppose that the husband were completely unconscious. Then his wife's presence would not even have the function of reassuring him. With the functional aspect almost if not completely absent, does her marriage continue to have meaning? While her husband was conscious, was her presence meaningful only because it reassured him? Or did it reassure him because her devotion was in itself a noble thing? Surely the second alternative is the true one. Although the argument in this section is based not on pragmatic considerations but on the nature of the marriage union, the notion of marriage that results provides important pragmatic advantages. It gives a firm basis for fidelity, for example, and promotes a security that helps both spouses and children.


IV. MARRIAGE PERMANENCE: RULE OR IDEAL? Chapter Nine noted that some writers refer to marriage permanence as an ideal rather than a law. Even if this idea does not give a satisfactory interpretation of the scriptural texts, might it not have some place in an understanding of marriage? When the exegesis of scriptural texts leaves a question unresolved, other considerations may be determinative. Different people mean different things when they speak of something as an ideal. Sometimes they refer to an accomplishment beyond the reach of people in this present life. I should love the Lord with my whole heart, my whole mind, me whole self. Although I hope to grow towards such a state and am obliged to pursue it, I do not expect in this life to attain it perfectly. Clearly, marriage permanence is not an ideal in this sense. Even in our divorce-prone society, many people achieve good, permanent marriages. Such permanence is not an ideal even in the modified sense of something attained only by an elite few. Marriage permanence as an ideal might mean that, although it may be achieved by many people, there are certain situations in which it is not practically attainable in this sinful world. To try to enforce it as a law may do a great deal of harm. This proposition is supported by many Protestant thinkers. Traditionally Roman Catholic thinkers have tended to analyze the matter further in terms of the responsibility of the individual. If a particular ideal is simply impossible to attain, then the individual who fails to attain it is not responsible for the failure. No one is bound to the impossible. It may be difficult to think of real cases in which marriage permanence (continuing to consider oneself as married and therefore not attempting to remarry) is impossible, but if such a case were to arise, it would fall outside the area of moral responsibility and personal sin. On the other hand, living out the permanence of marriage may be very difficult. How is such a case to be assessed in terms of moral responsibility? Difficulty as such does not absolve from moral responsibility. We may be called in other situations to act in a morally upright way even when faced with death. However, the severity of the difficulty may


mitigate blame. Even if hardship doesn't destroy freedom it may make a failure less blameworthy. Such would be the case for example if I were to divulge a secret under threat of terrible torture. Someone who fails to live up to a very difficult standard may still be a person of considerable virtue, whereas one who fails to live up to an easy standard has exhibited a more blameworthy character. In some cases, however, the difficulty becomes a factor in determining not only subjective guilt but also what is objectively the best thing to do. It is in this context that we need to consider the claim that there are situations in which imposing marriage permanence as a law may cause more harm than good. Marriage permanence even in such a case is an "ideal", in the sense that any divorce goes against the nature of marriage; but in a sinful world, might it not cause more harm than good to insist that anyone who divorces and remarries must be excluded from the sacraments and considered to be no longer in good standing in the Church? Mildred and Michael, both Catholics, marry when they are twenty years of age. For several years the marriage goes along fairly well, and they have two daughters. Conflicts become frequent after five or six years. Mildred realizes that to some extent she is at fault, and she tries to get Michael to work with her to improve the marriage. He shows little interest, having concluded that he simply married the wrong woman. After several unhappy years, Michael leaves, drops out of Mildred's life. Her friends suggest to Mildred that she try to get an annulment. She looks into the possibility, but after studying the explanations provided by an official in the marriage tribunal, she decides that her marriage was valid according to the criteria given by the Church. For Mildred, an emotionally dependent person, the break-up is devastating. She feels she has failed; she suffers from loneliness and the difficulty of the demands of single parenthood. She falls into several brief sexual affairs, partly in a vain attempt to overcome her feeling of isolation. Each time she repents for what she perceives as immoral behaviour. Then she meets Jeff, a widower, and they fall in love. Mildred gets a civil divorce and marries Jeff in a civil ceremony. They are happy together. Jeff supports Mildred in raising


the children. She looks back to her preceding years of single parenthood with something like loathing. To revive her marriage with Michael is impossible. Of the real possibilities open to Mildred, which is the best? For her to break up her union with Jeff and return to the single life would not only be difficult. Might it not be argued that to do so would put Mildred in what classic Roman Catholic moral theology refers to as an "occasion of sin" - the likelihood of falling back into temporary affairs which surely are worse than her present situation with Jeff? Returning to single parenting will bring other evils such as a less supportive environment for her daughters. Might it not be argued that in this situation to insist on marriage permanence by breaking up Mildred's union with Jeff would cause more harm than good? It seems to have been situations of this type that moved some writers in patristic times to stop short of excluding divorced-and-remarried people from the sacraments. Here, as elsewhere, this book will not discuss exceptions to particular laws, but several other observations are relevant to this particular issue. If adultery is intrinsically evil and is never licit there seems to be an obvious answer to this question. Because Mildred remains married to Michael, her relation with Jeff is adulterous. Adultery is never licit. Even on pragmatic grounds, still it is not self-evident that Mildred should remain in her second union. One caution is suggested by the parallel with St. Augustine's adoption of the just war theory. Augustine admitted that war contradicts the gospel ideal. However, he argued, if you may never wage war against unjust aggressors, then you must leave the innocent without defence against their enemies, with horrible results. To adopt the gospel ideal of pacifism in an absolute way in a sinful world will cause more harm than good, will even make civilized life almost impossible. Augustine's argument carried the day; but within several centuries, Christians were eagerly riding to war not only against the enemies


of Christianity but against each other, usually with each side assured that their cause was just. The peaceful "ideal" of the gospel was almost lost from view. There is reason to fear a similar result if the Church were to make a similar disposition regarding remarriage after separation from a spouse. What begins as an exceptional, anomalous expedient in a rare instance can in time become commonplace, and erodes the permanence of marriage. This has already happened in churches that allow divorce. To build into "accepted" practice something that directly contradicts a gospel value is, on purely pragmatic grounds, dangerous. To evaluate Mildred's situation further it is necessary to distinguish between her subjective state of conscience and the formulation and application of laws by the Church. It would be presumptuous and wrong for an outsider to judge Mildred’s subjective state of mind. True, some people may see very clearly that what she does is objectively wrong, but she may not. An outsider is privy neither to all of the many elements that go into her moral judgment nor to the profound movements of her will in relation to God. Even she herself will not be fully aware of her spiritual state. Judging Mildred's state of soul is one matter. Quite another matter is the question of how the Church is to deal with such situations. In morals, the Church is primarily a teacher and nurturer, and is a legislator only secondarily - insofar as certain behaviours are recognized as barring someone from the sacraments. It will be difficult for the Church as moral teacher to lay down general, public guidelines that take adequate account of Mildred's subjective state. Some matters will simply remain mysteries between God and the individual person, to be revealed at the Last Judgment, which no doubt will contain some surprises. There would also be serious difficulties about the Church as legislator making a general, public category of persons in situations similar to that of Mildred and admitting them to the sacraments. While not allowing divorce, the Catholic Church in recent decades has granted a considerable number of annulments to couples whose marriages have run into seemingly insuperable difficulties. In these cases a judgment is made that no valid marriage ever


existed. Insofar as they reflect an accurate perception of the requirements for a valid marriage covenant, especially of the mature consent that is involved, decrees of nullity serve an important pastoral purpose. Were they merely to reflect a desire to escape onerous obligations, decrees of nullity would erode the permanence of marriage in the same way that divorce has done.


CHAPTER TWELVE MARITAL FIDELITY If we hear that a husband has been unfaithful to his wife, we will probably take that to mean that he has committed adultery. Fidelity in sexual behaviour, however, is only a part of the fidelity that should characterize the whole spousal relationship. I.


the notion of fidelity

To be faithful is to follow through on some undertaking. Our faithfulness to a person is embodied in our following through on some undertaking with regard to that person. Fidelity often is directed towards a specific person or persons. I am faithful to a friend, for example, when I come to his aid when needed. In other instances fidelity is directed towards a less determinate group. A truck driver, for example, makes it a practice to deliver supplies to whatever grocery stores are on his list, regardless of inconvenience. He is faithful to an undertaking that serves an indeterminate group of store owners and customers. Some undertakings are more-or-less formal.

In such cases usually the expected

behaviour is quite precisely determined. I promise to pay interest on a loan at 7% per year. Sometimes the undertaking is informal. Co-workers, for example, may tacitly undertake a number of obligations to each other, but such obligations may be only vaguely defined. I may be expected to help out a co-worker when he has extra duties, but how far that obligation goes may not be clear. Some of my obligations to others (e.g., not lying to them) seem to just “be there�, independently of any act by which I assume the obligation. Sacred Scripture, however, casts the matter in rather different terms. God is revealed as choosing his people in a


covenant with Israel. Jesus enacts a new covenant – one that embraces the whole human race. Moral obligations flow from these covenants. By accepting and entering into the covenant we undertake to follow God’s law, which is to do what is morally good, whether in relation to God or to neighbour or to self. When I undertake to fulfill these ways of acting my whole moral life becomes an exercise of fidelity to that undertaking and to God. The centrality of fidelity to human life becomes apparent if we consider it in relation to two concepts that have played a prominent part in previous chapters. The first concept is responsibility. It has been pointed out that the full exercise of responsibility involves not simply a choice about what is immediately possible but rather the commitment to pursue some goal over a period of time.

The exercise of responsibility reaches a certain

completeness when the object that we pursue over time is to become and remain persons of a particular kind. At that point I become a self in a fuller way, a self that doesn’t happen to me but which I choose and fashion over time. At this stage I stand for something. Clearly, to exercise responsibility in this way we must be faithful to the undertaking to which we have committed ourselves. It is in this sense that the often-abused expression “Be true to yourself” has a legitimate meeting. I should be true to that self that I have chosen to be. Relating fidelity to responsibility reveals its subjective importance. The objective importance of fidelity is illustrated especially if we relate it to the notion of institution. An institution as it has been defined earlier in this book consists essentially in a set of behavioural expectations. The institution of medicine exists because some persons undertake to behave in a certain way – gaining a particular kind of knowledge and using it to foster the health of patients. Without institutions to take care of various needs, not only health but education, food production and distribution, care of children, protection against criminality, etc., life would be chaotic and our most basic needs not met.


An institution requires that persons be faithful to their undertakings as members of an institution. If nurses, doctors, pharmacists and many other professionals are not faithful to their commitment to gaining knowledge and using it to help patients, the institution of medicine will not exist. Fidelity, accordingly, is not a peripheral or optional quality of human persons but lies at the center of the human project.

2, agape and fidelity For the Christian, at the core of all moral obligation is the call to love God and neighbor. Other commandments or rules may spell out more precise obligations, but our obedience to all these obligations should be so many ways of embodying our love of God and neighbor. We are called to love all people: but is that really possible, in view of the fact that I cannot possibly be aware of all people individually? Although I cannot be aware of each person who exists, I can be aware of what it means to be a person. I can know that they are not merely objects; they are subjects who experience the range of things that I experience. I can wish happiness for every person and wish that no person would suffer. I can desire good and the avoidance of evil for all people in somewhat the same way as I desire good and avoidance of evil for myself. For each new person whom I meet as an individual I can bring this desire for her or his welfare because I have already desired this for all people. To love another is to treat them with respect, to recognize their dignity and worth as images of God, loved by God. They are my brothers and sisters in Christ, and I am to treat them as such. In doing so I am faithful to God’s covenant with us in Jesus Christ, a covenant by which I am myself blessed with God’s love and favor. I respond to that love


and favor and extend it to others. They have a right to expect that of me in virtue of my inclusion in God’s covenant. 3.

fidelity in friendship

Besides the moral obligations that arise necessarily from God’s covenant, I undertake other obligations. I agree to pay a debt within a certain time, or to abide by the rules of the organizations I join. Friendship is an especially important relationship, giving rise to certain undertakings, usually of the informal type. Friendship has various forms, and different writers describe it differently.

For our

purposes here, a very general notion of friendship will suffice. It is an interpersonal relationship which two people find mutually rewarding for its own sake, apart from other advantages it may confer, and they undertake, implicitly at least, to continue in that relationship and cultivate it. The expectations and undertakings that arise vary according to the circumstances and the particular nature of the friendship. Commonly, friends expect to spend time with each other, to engage in common activities and explore mutual interests, to communicate information about themselves that they would not share with others and to respect such information and maintain confidentiality when appropriate, to tolerate each other’s moods and eccentricities and to help each other in times of need. To live up to the undertakings of a particular friendship is to be a faithful friend, to be loyal and trustworthy. In this context the three terms are synonymous. II.


Chapters Seven to Ten have discussed several characteristics that a Christian marriage should have, such as unconditional agape, mutual responsibility, mutual respect, permanence and growing intimacy. Marriage should also have an orientation towards the procreation and rearing of children, although in certain cases the bearing of children is impossible or not opportune.

These and other desirable characteristics of marriage


involve expectations and undertakings by the spouses. Marital fidelity means living up to those expectations and undertakings. Such marital fidelity makes sense only if the other partner does the same. Given the weakness of human nature, this introduces significant risk into each marriage. Chapter Ten pointed to the risk involved in marriage, permanence. A comparable risk attends commitment to the other essential qualities of marriage. Consider the commitment to mutual responsibility as an example. As has been pointed out, each partner undertakes not only to seek the good of the other but also to become the kind of person he or she should be for the sake of the other. The most basic choice persons make is what kind of persons they will be. In marriage, two partners make this a mutual choice. Who they are to become is a mutual project. The exercise of mutual responsibility constitutes a deep personal relationship that is otherwise impossible. Suppose, however, that one spouse ceases to seek the good of the other, ceases to try to become the person he or she should be for the sake of the other. The wronged partner has made her or his identity the subject of a mutual project, and the guilty party has destroyed that project. Furthermore, in order to make the relationship fully personal, partners have made the commitment unconditional and permanent. When the marriage is destroyed, any similar effort in the future is foreclosed. It is difficult to conceive of any human failing that could be more destructive of another person than is marital infidelity; and this infidelity is destructive whether or not adultery has taken place. Even in our society, in which approximately one half of marriages do not last, divorce is usually traumatic. Divorced people speak of a profound sense of their own failure and of betrayal by their partner. They may feel that they have lost the grounding for their lives and experience a form of personal disintegration. The same things can be experienced in marital failure even when divorce does not occur. Were marriage so shallow a thing as much popular culture suggests, marriage break-up should not be so traumatic. It seems, however, that in real marriage, even though the partners do not conceptualize it in terms


used in this book, they nevertheless are implicated in something so close to the core of their person that its failure is often experienced as comparable to the end of life. III.

SEXUAL FIDELITY IN MARRIAGE 1. scriptural teaching

Like most of the Decalogue, the commandment concerning spousal sexual fidelity is negative in form. “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20, 14) The protestations of Abimelich because Abraham had put him at risk of even unintentional adultery, (Genesis 20) shows how grievous an offence it was thought to be. Ezekiel 22, 11 refers to it as an abomination. Spousal fidelity is praised.336 The prophet Hosea compares the relationship of God to Israel with the prophet’s relationship to his unfaithful wife, Gomer. Hosea remains faithful to Gomer in spite of her adulteries, and punishes her in an effort to separate her from her lovers in the hope that she will return to him. Similarly, God remains faithful to his choice of Israel in spite of her idolatries, but he allows Israel to fall into miserable circumstances in order that she might recognize her folly and return to him. Here an example of marital fidelity is used to explain God’s faithfulness. The comparison, however, also throws light on the reality of marital fidelity. To be faithful even to a faithless spouse must be a great thing if it can illustrate God’s attitude. Spousal infidelity must be a grievous offence if it can be used to explain Israel’s idolatrous turning away from her loving God. Furthermore, Hosea’s comparison emphasizes the personal aspect of sexual fidelity or infidelity. Originally, the condemnation of adultery may have had much to do with the legitimacy of offspring. Adultery of a wife could make a husband responsible for a child who was not his own, his property might pass on to a child not his own, and the important matter of a family line continuing from one generation to the next is obscured. This sort of consideration of course has no place in the relation of God to Israel, and the 336

See also Proverbs 5, 18-20; Ezekiel 18, 6.


husband/wife fidelity can illustrate the God/Israel relationship only by drawing attention to the personal love between husband and wife. Frequently Jesus draws attention to the inner disposition that underlies both offences and good actions. He does so in his condemnation of adultery. You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mt.5, 27-28) Jesus’ kindness towards the woman caught in adultery (John 8, 1-11) does not mean that the offence was an insignificant one. He warns her not to sin again.337 2. the meaning of spousal sexual fidelity Sexual intercourse has a special capacity to embody spousal love. It can be a symbol of the total spousal relationship, making the latter to be experienced as present and in turn strengthening it. Sexual intercourse does not automatically embody spousal love and become a symbol of it. Partners who create a good spousal relationship can learn to embody it and symbolize it in sexual intercourse. The positive side of sexual spousal fidelity is the ability to give sexual intercourse between partners this spousal meaning. If spouses have a poor personal relationship, their sexual intercourse will symbolize this poor relationship, making it vividly present and intensifying it. There must be a generally good (not necessarily perfect) spousal relationship for spousal sexual fidelity to have its positive meaning. Spousal sexual fidelity involves habit. (“Habit” here refers not to a deadening routine but to an ingrained quality in one’s character.) Sexual intercourse with a positive meaning over a period of time gives spouses the habit, the ability, to give sex this meaning. It


The prohibition of adultery is repeated in other New Testament texts such as 1 Cor. 6, 9 and 7, 1-17; Hebrews 13, 4; James 2, 8-13


becomes “second nature” for them to give sex this meaning. This will happen, however, only if their wider personal relationship stays alive and grows. Adultery goes against the habits of faithful spouses. They spontaneously experience it as a violation of their marriage. 3. adultery Obviously, adultery lacks the positive meaning of spousal sexual fidelity. Even worse, it contradicts and erodes the very possibility of spousal sexual fidelity. The erosion takes place on two levels. (i)

personal level

A symbol gets its meaning from its context. A medal for bravery has meaning because real bravery was exercised. Such medals given when there is no real exercise of courage are fraudulent and erode the power of the medal to symbolize the honour due to bravery. A tyrant with a chest full of medals awarded by himself debases the meaning of the medals. Adultery erodes the ability of sexual intercourse to embody and symbolize spousal love. One fraudulent award of a medal erodes the meaning the award. Multiple fraudulent awards will destroy the ability of the medal to symbolize bravery. One act of adultery erodes the power of sexual intercourse to symbolize spousal love. Multiple acts of adultery destroy the ability of sexual intercourse to symbolize spousal love. The power of habit is at work here.

Continued adultery producers a habit in one’s character,

predisposing one to commit adultery again, and making one the kind of person for whom sexual intercourse has no spousal meaning. Occasionally, in movies and novels at least, a husband whose adultery has been discovered protests to his wife that the other woman means nothing to him, that he loves only his wife. This protestation is meant to reassure his wife. After all, if he doesn’t love


the other woman she is less of a threat to his wife. But what does this protestation say about the husband?

Perhaps the husband has never learned to give sex a spousal

meaning. In that case, even his sexual intercourse with his wife is sadly lacking in meaning. His wife’s sexual role could as easily be fulfilled by someone else. All the times they have engaged in sexual intercourse, she has been only a convenient, and perhaps attractive, object of his passion, but not the unique object of his special love and commitment. Or perhaps the husband has developed the ability to give sex a spousal meaning. His adultery came about because lust, perhaps combined with other motives, overcame his ingrained need to give sex a spousal meaning. His is an offence of weakness, but a weakness freely indulged. In that action his wife has meant less to him than his lust or his erotic attraction to another or his need for novelty or a boost to his ego. He has broken a solemn commitment. What does this mean for the future? Are his present desires the main determinants of the kind of person he is? Of course, if people have low expectations of marriage, adultery need not be so traumatic. If a marriage aspires to nothing so precious as spousal sexual fidelity, then nothing so valuable can be lost. (ii)

cultural level

If adultery is permitted in a society, it will become commonplace. This will change the meaning of sex in that society. To a great extent, the meaning of actions is given by the prevailing culture.

In some cultures, for example, a handshake has no particular

meaning. The meaning of symbols is especially influenced by the prevailing culture. An Olympic medal or a nation’s flag has symbolic power because large numbers of people attribute meaning to it. Although sexual intercourse has a natural potential to embody and symbolize the spousal relationship, it does not realize that potential automatically. Where adultery is accepted and commonplace, sexual intercourse cannot have a specifically spousal meaning.

This in turn will change the meaning of marriage.

However marriage will be defined in this society, it will not be defined as the appropriate place for sexual intercourse and erotic love.


IV CONCLUSION Spousal sexual fidelity causes the profound source of energy and attachment that is the erotic in human nature to be placed at the service of marriage, embodies and symbolizes the relationship, enriches it and builds it up. Adultery turns the power of eros against marriage.

In doing so it erodes and eventually destroys the rewarding and deeply

personal spousal relationship and at the same time erodes and eventually destroys the institution that is necessary for the procreation and education children.


CHAPTER THIRTEEN CHASTITY AND THE SINGLE LIFE I. THE BIBLICAL PROHIBITION OF FORNICATION In catechetical practice a number of sexual offences are often treated in conjunction with the commandment:

“Thou shalt not commit adultery.�

Strictly speaking the

commandment deals only with adultery and is not, explicitly at least, a condemnation of fornication. The Greek word normally used to signify fornication is porneia. As explained earlier, that term may be used more generally to denote sexual misbehaviour, or it may refer to a specific sexual sin such as fornication or prostitution. The context usually indicates the intended meaning. The context of one text in Paul makes it clear that he refers to fornication. Now concerning the matters about which you wrote, it is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to porneia each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (ICor. 7, 1-2) Later in the same chapter the apostle continues: To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. (ICor. 7, 9) Could porneia here refer to some offence other than fornication, such as prostitution? It is difficult to see why Paul would recommend marriage as way of avoiding temptation to some other sexual offence (e.g., prostitution) if in fact fornication is a permissible alternative. If fornication is permitted, how would being unmarried leave one aflame


with passion in a way that marriage does not? (For that matter, the general use of the term porneia, whose generic meaning indicates a sexual offence, to refer to fornication implies that fornication is an offence.) II.


Different authors give somewhat varying explanations of why fornication is immoral. The following argument is based on the approach that has been taken in the preceding chapters, in particular the crucial role of marriage and family in fostering the welfare of the next generation, and the argument in the preceding chapter that sexual fidelity is integral to the flourishing of marriage. A primary consideration is the role of habit. One who fornicates will normally form a strong habit of seeking pleasure in this way. This habit will work against the habit of sexual fidelity that is important in marriage. A comparison may help to show the force of this consideration. Suppose that your business requires a financial officer who handles large quantities of money and who could easily be tempted to appropriate some of that money illegally. Because of the nature of the operation it is difficult to put adequate safeguards in place to uncover malfeasance, so you must depend on the honesty of the officer. You will not hire someone who has by his or her past behavior displayed a habit of embezzling funds. Let us expand the example. Suppose you have a whole society in which embezzlement is not regarded as wrong and normally has no obvious repercussions.

People can be

expected to resort to this easy way of replenishing their cash supplies, and to be in the habit of doing so. You operate a company in which you need not one financial officer but all of your employees to resist the temptation to acquire wealth by embezzling. In this society you would not find the kind of employees you need. If a society accepts fornication as morally permissible, you would have a similar problem of finding anyone qualified to enter into marriage. There seems to be no reason to think that habits of


embezzling are on average more powerful than habits relating to sexual behaviour. The influence of the habit of seeking satisfaction by unfettered sexual activity is only one of the problems presented by the acceptance of fornication.

Perhaps even more

devastating for the institution of marriage is that the practice of fornication changes the personal meaning of sex.

It would cease to have any more specifically marital

significance than would, for example, the practice of eating together, or any other practice that has a normal place both within and outside of marriage. Whatever marriage means in such a society, it would have a strangely negative relationship to sex. Marriage would be the institution which, at least according to some people, would restrict you to one sexual partner. What would be necessary for marriage to survive in this situation? Theoretically, people might be convinced by arguments made in this book regarding two points: first, that faithful marriage makes possible a uniquely personal and profound personal relationship with a particular person; and second, that marriage is the only effective way that a society can effectively provide for the welfare of the next generation. Convinced by these arguments, large numbers of people would have to give up the immediate attractions of unencumbered sexual activity to which they have become habituated, assume the personal and demanding task of adjustment and growth in an exclusive personal relationship and take on the onerous demands of being a good parent. The chances of this happening seem to range somewhere between wildly improbable and impossible. An author likes to think that ideas expressed in books are helpful, at least if the books happen to be widely and thoughtfully read; but by themselves books running contrary to cultural currents and personal habits do not dictate practice. What will happen in this hypothetical society is what has already begun to happen in contemporary society, which seems to be at a sort of mid-point in the erosion of marriage. Significant numbers of people still accept the traditional meaning of marriage and also follow the kind of sexual ethic that makes this sort of marriage possible. The practices of an earlier culture still have some presence in law and the expectations of


“respectable” people. The majority, however, appears to accept fornication as morally permissible, if morality enters into the issue at all. Already the meaning of marriage has been eroded to the point that in many jurisdictions the courts decide what constitutes a legal marriage without reference to any central concept of what constitutes the essence of the institution, and certainly without reference to the procreative function that has characterized it in the past. Those elements in society most notable for acceptance of fornication tend in one of three main directions. Some continue to enter into marriage but do not take the requirements of sexual fidelity seriously. Others enter and leave marriage with sufficient ease that the requirements of sexual fidelity are narrowed down to the period of time when the couple are experiencing the first excitement of being in love. Members of a third group, perhaps the most perceptive, have ceased to see the point of confining themselves in an institution that has so little meaning. This presents what appears to be an exceedingly pessimistic view. Certainly it suggests that if the Church is to communicate successfully its particular teaching on sex and marriage it must deal more effectively than it has recently with the cultural dimension. We should recall also one of the messages in the Book of Jonah, that our expectations of success in proclaiming God’s message should not be based on our own abilities alone. A number of authors agree that sex outside of marriage is wrong, but they maintain that it is legitimate if the partners are in “a premarital state of mind” (i.e., intending marriage). They argue that such sexual intercourse is not really fornication because it relates to the intended marriage and the commitment that this implies. Another situation is presented by the cohabitation of couples, who may or may not intend to marry later. Many people in this situation feel that they are really getting ready for marriage by finding out what it is like, so they can make the necessary adjustments when they marry later. But in either of these situations, the arguments against fornication still apply. Engaging in sex outside of committed marriage gives to sexual intercourse a meaning different from a spousal meaning, and for the reasons given this will inhibit the possibility of sex serving to express, embody and build up the spousal relationship


It should be recalled at this point that the spousal meaning to be embodied and symbolized by sexual intercourse includes not only the aspect of spouses being related to each other but also the aspect of procreation. Sex outside of marriage is in direct contradiction of any proper procreative meaning.

If contraception is used, the act

deliberately excludes conception. If contraceptives are not used the action is open to conception in an inappropriate context. III.


My review of literature suggested that there are very few empirical studies of the effects of fornication generally or of fornication in “a premarital state of mind” on marriage.338 However, a number of researchers have looked into the effects of cohabitation on subsequent marriage, and the results are relevant to the other two issues. The studies show, with remarkable regularity, that the marriages of those who cohabit prior to marriage are on average less stable than are the marriages of those who did not. Nock and Brinig find that couples who cohabited before marriage divorced six times more frequently than did other couples.339 Hall and Zhao cite studies in several western countries that show that couples who cohabit prior to their marriage have significantly higher risk of divorce than do other couples.340 Juby and others, working with Canadian census data, conclude that those who live with each other before marriage are almost


It is perhaps useful to note the few studies that I found on the general effects on marriage of the practice of sex before marriage. Kahn, Joan, & Kathryn London, “Premarital sex and the risk of divorce” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 845-55, indicate that women who engage in sexual intercourse before marriage have a much higher risk of divorce than do women who refrain from premarital sex. They note, quite plausibly, that the premarital sex is not the only factor that might cause the marital instability. Teachman, Jay, “Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 444-55, confirms that women who engage in sexual intercourse before marriage are more likely to have a less stable marriage, at least if they have had more than one partner. Nock, Steven, “The consequences of premarital fatherhood” American Sociological Review 63(1998) 250-63, associates premarital fatherhood with such negative effects as lower socio-economic status, less education and a lower employment. Too few empirical studies have been located to allow for firm conclusions. 339 Nock, Steven, & Margaret Brinig, “Weak men and disorderly women: divorce and the division of labor”, paper available on the internet at Social Sciences Research Network. 340 Hall, David, & John Zhao, “Cohabitation and divorce in Canada: testing the selectivity hypothesis” Journal of Marriage and Family 57(1995) 421-27.


twice as likely to divorce as are other couples.341 Popenoe and Whitehead report that in a group of 3,300 persons those who lived together before marriage had a divorce rate 46% higher than did other couples.342 Zheng Wu refers to research that confirms the relation between cohabitation and the instability of subsequent marriage.343 DeMaris and Rao show that living together before marriage correlates with greater likelihood of divorce even when time spent in cohabitation is counted towards the duration of the union.344 One study suggests that the negative effect of cohabitation on subsequent marriage stability applies to White but not to African American and Mexican women.345 The study by Teachman noted earlier merits further consideration.346 He begins with a useful review of previous literature establishing the relation for women between cohabitation and later divorce, and of less extensive literature showing a correlation between sexual intercourse prior to marriage and later divorce. The author provides support for the notion that not only living together but also having sexual intercourse before marriage correlate with higher divorce rates later. He then adds that for the population studied, if the woman cohabited or had premarital sexual intercourse only with the man whom she later married then there was no rise in the rates of later divorce. One should be cautious about the weight to be given to one study, but if Teachman’s research on this point is taken seriously it confirms the argument of this book - that both premarital sex and cohabitation generally have a deleterious effect on the stability of subsequent marriage; but it makes an exception - if the woman has had sexual intercourse 341

Juby, Heather, & others, “A step further in family life: the emergence of the blended family” in Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2001, pp. 169-203. 342 Popenoe, David, & Barbara Whitehead, Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage: A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research, New Brunswick, NJ, National Marriage Project, 1999. 343 Zheng Wu, “Premarital cohabitation and the timing of first marriage” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 36(1999) 109-27. See also Amato, Paul, “The post-divorce society: how divorce is shaping family and other forms of social organization” in The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting and Society, edited by Ross Thompson and Paul Amato, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage, 1999, pp. 161-90. 344 DeMaris, Alfred, & K. Vaninadha Rao, “Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability in the United States: a reassessment” Journal of Marriage and Family 54(1992) 178-90. 345 Phillips, Julie, & Megan Sweeney, “Premarital cohabitation and marital disruption among White, Black and Mexican women” Journal of Marriage and Family 67(2005) 296-314. 346 Teachman, Jay, “Premarital sex, premarital cohabitation, and the risk of subsequent marital dissolution among women” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 444-55.


or cohabited with only her future husband. It should be noted that the instability of subsequent marriage is only one of several likely effects of sex outside of marriage. If it can be shown that sexual intercourse between partners who later marry does not threaten the stability of their subsequent marriage, there still may be other bad effects. Especially important is one likely and crucially important effect that is not easy to measure – the erosion within a society of the spousal meaning of sex if non-spouses engage in sexual intercourse. Even if it could be shown that sexual intercourse between partners who later marry has no bad effects, such a finding would not translate into permission to engage in sexual relations or cohabit with a partner one intends to marry. The intention to marry does not always end in marriage, so sexual intercourse or cohabitation with an intended spouse may turn out to be sexual intercourse or cohabitation with someone who does not become one’s spouse. There is no question that, in general, cohabitation before marriage correlates with significantly higher divorce rates in subsequent marriages. Is the cohabitation the cause of the subsequent marital instability? Or are there other factors that underlie both the cohabitation and the marital instability?

For example, is their subsequent marriage

unstable because those who cohabit are less religious (or less conventional), and religiosity (or conventionality) helps to make marriages more stable?347 DeMaris and MacDonald tested the hypothesis that marital instability is caused not by cohabitation but by the fact that those who cohabit are more likely to have unconventional views.348 They find the hypothesis largely unsupported by the evidence. Hall and Zhao349 controlled for four possible factors (other than the cohabitation itself) 347

If the major cause of greater marital stability is not the absence of cohabitation, but rather some other factor such as greater religiosity or attachment to tradition, it may set some minds at rest, but it should not. It would in fact make it even more difficult to foster greater marital stability. The avoidance of cohabitation before marriage, while not an easy thing for many who are conditioned in a certain way in our culture, still seems less difficult than would be the recovery of greater religiosity or attachment to tradition. 348 DeMaris, Alfred, & William MacDonald, “Premarital cohabitation and marital instability: a test of the unconventionality hypothesis” Journal of Marriage and Family 55(1993) 399-407. 349 Op. cit.


that might explain the instability of marriages that follow cohabitation and conclude that these factors do not sufficiently explain the instability of the marriages. Kahn and London on the other hand, writing earlier than the previous two authors, admit the strong correlation between cohabitation and subsequent divorce but claim that factors other than cohabitation cause the divorces.350 Another study accepts as established from previous research that previous cohabitation correlates with greater instability in subsequent marriage, but finds another factor at work; spouses who cohabited before marriage were poorer at problem solving and support behaviours.351 A cautious conclusion seems to be warranted. There is no doubt that the marriages of those who live with each other before marriage are significantly more likely to lead to divorce than are other marriages.

The preponderance of evidence is that, while other

factors explain some of the instability of these marriages, the cohabitation itself is a significant factor.352 This conclusion surprised some researchers when the trend first became evident, but it should not have. Some like to think of cohabitation as trial marriage or as a preparation for marriage, but in important ways it is the opposite. The cohabiting partners are not practicing living together in a committed relationship. They are practicing living together without commitment.353 This makes a difference. Cohabiting partners are free to end the relationship rather simply. This freedom to leave easily becomes a weapon in any struggle to get one’s own way, especially in the hands of the partner who has less to lose if the relationship ends. Cohabiting partners cannot experience sex as the embodiment 350

Kahn, Joan, & Kathryn London, “Premarital sex and the risk of divorce” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 845-55. Their position is disputed by Tim Heaton, “Feedback: comment on ‘Premarital sex and the risk of divorce’” Journal of Marriage and Family 55(1993) 240-41. 351 Cohan, Catherine, & Stacey Kleinbaum, “Towards greater understanding of the cohabitation effect: premarital cohabitation and marital communication” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 180-92. 352 Those who argue that marriages are unstable not because of cohabitation but because of the traditional views of the partners are actually taking a more “conservative” view than are those who think that it is the cohabitation that causes the instability of subsequent marriage. The latter are supporting only one traditional view – that cohabitation is harmful. If the former group is right then more stable marriages will require a general recovery of traditional morals. 353 There are exceptions. For example, among certain people the poor are likely to live together first and put off the wedding ceremony until they have accumulated enough money to celebrate in a style that will bring credit to the family. Mistaken as this is, most such couples it seems are not excluding commitment in their relationship.


of a commitment that does not yet exist, nor can their sexual intercourse symbolize it. Having become habituated to non-committed togetherness, they are likely to find that the wedding ceremony does not change their habits.

The notion that cohabitation is a

preparation for marriage represents a failure to appreciate the important difference between commitment and intention.354 Cohabitation or fornication “in a marital state of main” are open to another “slippery slope”. They are often defended because sexual intercourse of the partners is in the context of an intended marriage. “Intended” is not an exact term. Under the influence of passion one can expect it to be stretched rather far. “If sex between engaged couples is all right, well this couple is in much the same situation, even though he hasn’t actually given her a ring. And if this second couple can engage in sexual intercourse, what about this third couple who love each other very much but finances do not make marriage feasible at this time? Why do legalists keep drawing these artificial lines?” Cohabitation correlates with other phenomena besides marital instability. Dush and others report that previous cohabitation was followed in the subsequent marriage by not only greater instability but also a poorer perceived quality of the marriage, and the bad effects are less a matter of selectivity than of the experience itself of cohabitation.355 The authors found little difference between the two groups they studied, the 1964-1980 cohort and the 1981-1997 cohort. The negative effects are especially apparent when the cohabitation is long-term and there are children. Horwitz and White note that they find no correlation between cohabitation and depression of partners, but cohabiting partners have more problems associated with alcohol.356


The commitment involved here is spousal commitment, which is solemn, public and most serious in nature. According to Catholic teaching, in a sacramental marriage that is completed by sexual consummation that commitment is irrevocable. Previous chapters have tried to describe what the commitment entails. In ordinary English of course the term “commitment” may be applied to much less serious undertakings. 355 Dush, Claire, & others, “The relationship between cohabitation and marital quality and stability: change across cohorts?” Journal of Marriage and Family 65(2003) 539-49. 356 Horwitz, Allan, & Helene Raskin White, “The Relationship of cohabitation and mental health: a study of a young adult cohort” Journal of Marriage and Family 60(1998) 505-14.


It is not surprising that children growing up with cohabiting parents are at a disadvantage in relation to those in intact families.357 A British study concluded that children living with cohabiting partners are much more likely to suffer fatal abuse than are other children.358 Juby and others note that according to Canadian census data common-law unions tend to have more episodes of domestic violence to women and physical and sexual abuse of children.359 Stets maintains that research consistently shows that physical aggression is more common among cohabiting couples than among married couples.360 Thomson and Colella draw from data from the National Survey of Families and Households (U.S.) that show that cohabiting couples report lower quality of relationship and lower commitment to the institution of marriage.361 A study in Israel indicates that people who are more religious are less likely to cohabit.362 Thornton and others in their study of the subject conclude not only that religious commitment seems to deter many from cohabiting, but also that cohabitation seems to result in less religious commitment and participation.363 Given the paucity of studies on each topic noted in the previous three paragraphs, conclusions should be tentative. Perhaps the most significant fact is the absence of studies showing advantages to couples who cohabit before marriage. In some of the areas it is certainly plausible that some of the bad effect arises from the likely dispositions of those who enter the state of cohabitation rather than from the experience 357

See Brown, Susan, “Family structure and child well-being: the significance of parental cohabitation” Journal of Marriage and Family 66(2004) 351-67. 358 Study reported by Moore, Charles, “The disaster of ‘shacking up’” Western Catholic Reporter July 9, 2001, p. 11. 359 Juby, Heather, & others, “A step further in family life: the emergence of the blended family” in Report on the Demographic Situation in Canada, Ottawa, Statistics Canada, 2001, pp. 169-203. On the question of the association of cohabitation with violence, see also Brownridge, Douglas, & Shiva Halli, “Marital status as a differential factor in Canadian women’s coping with partner violence” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 32(2001) 117-25. 360 Stets, Jan, “Co-habiting and marital aggression: the role of social isolation” Journal of Marriage and Family 53(1991) 669-80. 361 Thomson, Elizabeth, & Ugo Colella, “Co-habitation and marital stability: quality of commitment” Journal of Marriage and Family 54(1992) 259-67. 362 Katz, Ruth, “Effects of migration, ethnicity and religiosity on cohabitation” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 32(2001) 587-99. 363 Thornton, Arland, & others, “Reciprocal effects of religiosity, cohabitation, and marriage” American Journal of Sociology 98(1992) 628-51.


of cohabitation itself.

One exception is the matter of risk to children, particularly if a

woman brings children to a cohabiting situation. It is quite likely that in this situation her partner may not be particularly committed to the welfare of those children. They simply come with the deal. The partner may see his spouse’s children as unwanted burdens and rivals for the attention of their natural parent. In some situations the children view the cohabiting partner as a usurper of their absent parent’s position, perhaps a destroyer of the home and security they cherished, and in any case as a rival for the attention of their resident parent. It is not surprising if serious antipathy arises between the children and the parent’s cohabiting partner. IV.


Observance of the negative rule on adultery leads to a positive result. Sexual fidelity in marriage helps to produce and is an integral part of a positive spousal relationship. Does the abstaining from fornication have a similarly positive side? Granted, it helps prepare one for a good spousal relationship some time in the future, and helps within the culture to preserve a spousal meaning for sex. These positive outcomes however can seem remote. Is there some more immediate positive result of refraining from fornication? The answer requires a consideration of the virtue of chastity. A. The concept of virtue The concept of virtue is central to the ethical tradition coming from Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. A virtue is a good habit. In casual usage one is said to have a habit who constantly repeats a particular type of behaviour. One person has the habit of smoking. Another habitually takes a walk every evening. A third has a habit of exaggerating to impress his listeners. Philosophers have refined this notion. What is technically called an “operative habit” is a disposition of a power. We have many different powers: power to walk, to speak, to think, to choose, to play musical instruments, etc. In very many cases, if we use the


power in a certain way we predispose the power to act in that way. If we use our minds to work out mathematical problems we eventually predispose our minds to work on these problems more and more effectively. If I frequently remind myself to stand straight and not slouch I will get in the habit of standing that way. Virtue, as a good habit, disposes a power to act well. Aquinas and others distinguish the virtues by the powers which they perfect.


intellectual virtues enable us to think more effectively in one or other of the numerous areas of intellectual pursuit. Moral virtues make us better able to do the morally right thing in various situations.

There are “virtues” that involve physical abilities or a

combination of physical and mental abilities – the ability to play certain sports, for example, or to play a musical instrument. Fortitude and temperance are two moral virtues (perhaps more accurately they are clusters of moral virtues) that modify our appetites in such a way as to help us act in a morally good way. Fortitude is the virtue that makes it easier for us to act properly when confronted by evil. Either of two responses may be productive in the face of the threat of an evil: flight or tackling the evil in order to overcome it. Fear is the emotion that motivates flight. Anger helps us to attack an evil and try to overcome it. An excess of either emotion can hamper our efforts and the lack of either emotion can hold us back from taking the necessary steps. Those who have developed the virtue of fortitude have learned to modify their emotional responses so that they experience fear or anger to the extent helpful towards effective and right action but not so powerfully as to hamper that action. According to Aquinas, the virtue of fortitude resides in our emotions of fear and anger, not in our wills. Through repeatedly responding in an appropriate way to evils that may inspire fear or anger we develop the habit of experiencing an appropriate level of those emotions. The consideration of fortitude was by way of illustration. Our primary focus is on the virtue of temperance, which governs our reactions to good things. Through repeatedly reacting well in the presence of what attracts us we begin to modify our reactions. We


begin to enjoy good things but not to be so attached to them as to pursue them to the exclusion of even better things.

Thus being temperate regarding food lets us to

appreciate good food, which makes life more enjoyable, but without an attachment that would move us to eat more than is good for us. The virtue of temperance resides not in the will but in the sense appetite. An element of this virtue is clearly physical. Eating the right amount over a period of time modifies our appetite for food and may even affect the size and operation of our digestive organs. The body as well as the mind is trainable. The virtue of chastity is the part of temperance that deals with the sexual appetite. By repeatedly acting in the right manner in the presence of sexual attraction we modify our sexual appetites. “Modify” here includes the notion of control, but it includes more than that. This is clear for example in the exercise of chastity within marriage. Spousal chastity modifies one’s sexual appetites to enable sexual intercourse to have a personal, spousal meaning. It so modifies one’s sexual appetite that sex with someone other than one’s spouse is experienced as wrong, as not fitting the meaning one has learned to give to sex. It will not normally remove all sexual attraction to persons other than one’s spouse; but to the extent one has learned to give sexual intercourse a positive spousal meaning one will find it much easier to react in the right way to any sexual attraction to someone else. B. Chastity and the single life We return then to the question: other than preparing the person for marriage, is the exercise of chastity by single persons simply negative (“Thou shalt not …”) or does it provide some positive advantages? The virtue of chastity begins by moderating one’s responses. If you repeatedly do not give in to sexual impulses and deliberately control your imagination and exposure to sexual stimuli, gradually you become less dominated by sexual impulses. This is a habit – a virtue. Thus far the description has a negative quality. However, in the process the individual finds it easier to relate to sexually attractive persons without the sexual


attraction dominating the relationship. With the habit of chastity one is better able to look beyond superficial sexual attractiveness to the person. In summary, chastity helps us to relate to sexually attractive people as persons, not as sex objects. To put the matter crassly, if your fiancé lacks the virtue of chastity don’t introduce him to any of your attractive friends. Chastity fosters a certain kind of trust and ease in human relations. But it does more than that. If one lacks the virtue of chastity, then physical sexual responses dominate many relationships, getting in the road of more personal involvement and in general impoverishing one’s life. Someone lacking the virtue of chastity is at a disadvantage even in the area of erotic relationships. Such a person is fixated at the level of impersonal sexual response and will find it difficult really to fall in love. Without chastity one may not even realize that there is such a thing as falling in love, a level of erotic relationship that involves much more than only physical attraction. The virtue of chastity goes further.

Certain actions are closely related to sexual

intercourse, i.e., actions involving forms of physical intimacy.

Almost anyone will

perceive these actions as highly sexual in nature. There are many other actions or attributes of the person which can have a sexual reference but need not be experienced as having a close relationship with sexual intercourse. There is for example appreciation for personal appearance – whether the person would be judged beautiful by Hollywood standards or there is simply something about their appearance that one finds pleasing. There is the whole range of behaviour that comes under the heading of flirting: teasing, explicit or implicit compliments, etc. You may go just a bit out of your way to be in the company of another. You may show in various ways that you like someone but keep it sufficiently light that a rebuff won’t be hurtful and might even be part of the game. These and other behaviours are ways in which young people begin gradually to relate to persons of the opposite sex in a way that is interesting, rather exciting, gradual and under control, tentative until one is ready for a more serious encounter. It is the type of behaviour that is admirably suited to initiate friendships that might or might not blossom into erotic love. This experience is valuable not merely because it helps to develop relationships gradually.

It is valuable in itself, enriched by the fact that gender


characteristics are vehicles for the relationship.

An ability to integrate gender

characteristics into a relationship without it taking the direction towards sexual intercourse is something that enriches people throughout life. For the person who lacks chastity, flirting is replaced by “coming on� to other people. The behaviour that for some people is a gradual entrance into personal relationships for unchaste persons becomes an invitation to sexual intimacy.

They lack ease and

competence in a world of normal behaviour by which young people get to know, like and interact with members of the opposite sex. There are other attributes of people that in themselves have no specific relation to sexuality but make people attractive simply as people. These attributes include a happy disposition, concern for others, wit and a sense of humour, the capacity to converse in an interesting way, generosity, fairness, ability to sympathise, thoughtfulness, integrity, etc. When there is sexual attraction, these attributes can easily contribute to falling in love. Those who lack chastity may reduce their reactions even to these attributes to a sexual level, thereby further cutting themselves off from deeper personal relationships. In summary, the virtue of chastity allows one to relate to sexually attractive persons, not oblivious to all those qualities that make the person attractive, but able to integrate responses to them into a deepening personal relationship that owes something of its distinctive quality to those very qualities. The effect of chastity can be expressed in terms of integration of the person. Moral choices are choices made in view not of one or other particular good but in view of the total good of the person. Furthermore, the moral person chooses not only to do good in particular situations but to be a particular kind of person, a morally good person. That is the most far-reaching exercise of one’s ability to choose. When you decide to be a morally good person you still have to deal with a variety of appetites pulling you in various directions. Sometimes they pull you towards being morally good. Often they pull you in the opposite direction. When the appetites are modified by virtues it is easier


for you to make all of your choices in view of your central choice about what kind of person you choose to be. When the appetites are not modified it is likely that you will make many choices that are contrary to that central choice. You will end up not being the kind of person you chose to be but the kind of person you become as a result of following various passions. Chastity helps assure that the powerful drive for sexual pleasure will not dominate the person but will serve his or her total good. If because of lack of virtue you do not choose what kind of person you will be, but let that be determined by your passions, then you are severely handicapped in the area of friendship. You cannot say to another person, “I will be this kind of person for you.” You can honestly say only: “I feel this way about you, and hope I may feel the same way tomorrow.” In such a situation the question is not only whether you can make a good marriage but whether you can make a valid marriage at all.




Because the future existence and welfare of the human race depends on procreation,364 one would expect this aspect of marriage to give rise to moral obligations. Is there a moral obligation to bear children? Some would claim the opposite. Where overpopulation is a problem, may it not be a virtue to refrain from reproducing? There are other reasons too, economic, health, genetic, etc., for not having children. Even when there is no special reason to avoid children, is there an obligation for married couples to reproduce, or for others to marry in order to reproduce legitimately? In view of the Catholic Church's insistence in recent decades on the procreative nature of marriage, it is interesting that some patristic authors were more concerned to limit the duty to reproduce. Early Christian writers sought to make sense of the biblical accounts of patriarchs such as Abraham and Jacob who begot children of several wives or concubines. Tertullian understood this to be justified by the command in Genesis to "increase and multiply" but judged that this command has been superseded for Christians, following St. Paul's admonition that in view of the end times it behooves those who are married to act as though they were not married.365 For St. Augustine, it was legitimate for the patriarchs to beget children of several wives or concubines in order to build up the People of God, from whom the saviour was to come,366 but for Augustine too this obligation did not apply to Christians; the more perfect alternative was to remain unmarried. Of course Tertullian and Augustine, like modern writers who want to limit procreation, presumed that some people


The term "procreation" indicates the bearing of children and also their care and education. See Tertullian, An Exhortation to Chastity (De exhortatione castitatis), Chapter 6. 366 See Augustine, The Good of Marriage (De bono conjugali), Chapters 9, 15, 19, and Holy Virginity (De sancta virginitate), Chapter 9. 365


will bear children. Had they been confronted with the likelihood of serious depopulation their priorities might have been different. Among Catholic teachings on procreation, two prohibitions are specific: those against artificial contraception within marriage and the conception of children outside of marriage. Regarding positive obligations, the Church is less specific, urging couples generously to give life to children unless some factor makes this inadvisable, but remaining vague about how many children a couple should have and precisely what circumstances might justify a decision not to reproduce. One could elaborate a number of moral rules governing the raising of children, but moralists have not spent much time on this topic, supposing perhaps that such questions are best left to a sort of common sense and an application of general rules about how we should treat others. Of the official moral teachings of the Catholic Church, the rejection of contraception is one of the most controversial today. Many people simply don't see why contraception is wrong. This chapter, building on the notion of the human person elaborated in Chapters Four to Nine, argues in support of the Church's position on this subject. Other chapters of this book argue that sexual intercourse between partners who are not married to each other is wrong. This chapter will not consider the morality of contraception used in such a context, but will focus on its use within marriage. II.


Until the late 19th century, nearly all Christian churches agreed that, whatever other purposes sex and marriage may have, a principal purpose of both is procreation. (From time to time Christian sects, usually of short duration, have opposed all procreation, but these were rare exceptions.)

In the past most Christian Churches have agreed, too, that

contraception is wrong.


The view that having children is a principal purpose of marriage is close to the common opinion in most ages and societies.

Anthropologists studying a culture identify as

"marriage" those unions that are concerned with the bearing and rearing of offspring. They might not use the term "the principal end of marriage", but they recognise that marriage does serve a procreative purpose. As suggested in Chapter Eight, in many civilisations any other purpose of marriage, such as the personal relationship of the spouses, is considered to be secondary. Before the 20th century, methods of contraception were primitive and their use relatively uncommon. As methods of contraceptive became more convenient and reliable their use spread. No doubt for many it provided a chance to engage in sexual intercourse of questionable legitimacy while shirking responsibility for consequences. Others however saw contraception serving more positive purposes. It might, for example, relieve the burden of too many children in families that could not afford to care for them or when the mother's health was at risk. Gradually most Protestant churches either stopped speaking out on contraception, leaving their members to make up their own minds, or they formally dropped their opposition to it. Contraception might at first be allowed only for hard cases such as serious health risk to the mother, but guidelines often were so vague as to provide no effective barrier to its general use. A significant step was the decision of the Anglican Communion at the Lambeth Conference of 1930 to reverse its stand and allow contraception in some situations. The Catholic Church ended up more or less isolated in its opposition to contraception. While it has maintained that opposition up to the present, there have been significant developments in teaching on related issues, not only by individual Catholic theologians but also by the official Catholic Church.367


A description of some of these developments is available in my article "Magisterial teaching from 1918 to the present" in Human Sexuality and Personhood, St. Louis, Pope John XXIII Centre, 1981, pp. 191-210; reprinted in Dialogue about Catholic Sexual Teaching: Readings in Moral Theology No. 8, edited by Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick, New York, Paulist Press, c1993, pp. 71-92.


In 1930 Pope Pius XI in the encyclical letter On Christian Marriage (Casti Connubii)368 strongly confirmed the official Catholic teachings that the principal end of marriage is procreation and education of children369 and that artificial contraception is wrong.370 However, he also stated that the mutual perfecting of spouses can be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony "... provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and mutual interchange and sharing thereof."371 How does this square with his statement elsewhere in the encyclical that the mutual help of spouses constitutes only a secondary end of marriage? Apparently Pius was not ready to change the traditional formulation of the ends of marriage, which had found its way into the 1918 Code of Canon Law, but realised that to say that the help spouses render to each other is merely secondary does not capture the whole reality. He seemed to assume (surely a reassuring assumption) that it is better to include all relevant considerations rather than omit those that do not fit easily into a prevailing theoretical framework. Fitting it all together is a task for the theologians. In 1935 Herbert Doms, a Catholic priest in Germany, argued that it is a mistake to make procreation and education of children the one primary end of marriage.372 The mutual completion and perfection of the spouses on every level is neither secondary nor subservient to procreation; and Doms urged that the terms "primary" and "secondary" be dropped in speaking of the purposes of marriage. When the Roman Rota373 took up the question in a statement in 1944, it insisted that the procreation and education of children is the primary end of marriage, and no other purposes


This encyclical letter is available in The Papal Encyclicals 1903-1939, Claudia Carlin, ed., McGrath, c1981, pp. 391-414. For convenient reference this edition retains the paragraph numbering of the original Latin text. 369 Paragraph 17. 370 Paragraphs 53 to 59. 371 Paragraph 24. 372 Vom Sinn und Zweck der Ehe, Breslau, Osterdeutsche Verlag, 1935, published in English as The Meaning of Marriage, New York, Sheed and Ward, 1939. 373 The Rota is the highest judicial body of the Catholic Church in dealing with marriage cases.


are to be considered as equally principal.374 The officials in the Rota apparently were concerned that to give two primary ends to marriage, neither being subordinate to the other, seemed to leave the way open to separating the two ends and defining two kinds of marriage. If the mutual help of spouses is not subject to any other end, then it seems that a certain kind of marriage could be defined as being for the sake of the relationship itself and the help that spouses give to each other, without reference to procreation. This the Rota officials apparently were not willing to concede. Pius XII, who became pope in 1939, upheld the traditional teachings that the procreation and education of children is the primary end of marriage and that contraception is wrong. He also clarified an important practical point. By his time it had become possible to determine with some degree of accuracy the periods when a woman could conceive. Might a married couple avoid pregnancy by confining sexual intercourse to infertile periods? Pius agreed that this is licit if there are sufficiently serious reasons. Having noted that married couples have a general duty to preserve the human race by having children, he added, "... serious reasons, often put forward on medical, eugenic, economic and social grounds, can exempt from that obligatory service, even for a considerable period of time, even for the whole duration of the marriage."375 By the early 1960's some Catholic writers had begun to advocate that the Catholic Church withdraw its prohibition of contraception, and in 1963 Pope John XXIII appointed a commission to study the issue. In 1964 Pope Paul VI expanded the commission to include a wider variety of experts. By this time the Second Vatican Council was in progress, and Pope Paul asked the Council, pending the report of the commission, not to try to settle the issue of birth control. On the subject of marriage, the Council repeated the traditional teaching that it is by its nature ordered to the procreation of children, and emphasises the mutual help and service spouses render to each other. The Council avoids the language of


An English translation of the relevant parts of this statement is available in Love and Sexuality, Odile M. Liebard, ed., Wilmington, North Carolina, McGrath, 1978, pp. 71-83. 375 See Love and Sexuality, p. 113.


primary and secondary ends,376 and relates both mutual help and procreation to the notion of spousal love. In 1966 the birth control commission reported to the pope. The members had been unable to agree. A majority wanted the Church to allow contraception in certain cases; a minority argued against such a change in official teaching. The majority report of the commission, supposedly confidential, appeared in an English Catholic periodical.377 Among the points it made were the following. 1. The traditional teaching that marriage is oriented to procreation should be maintained. Both the unitive and procreative aspects are essential to marriage. Although not every marriage can be procreative in the sense of having children, the institution of marriage by its nature has a procreative meaning. 2. What is important is that the totality of a marriage be oriented towards procreation, but this need not rule out contraception in particular cases. 3. This implies that contraception is not intrinsically evil. It can be either morally good or morally evil depending on the situation. 4. The Church can change its teaching on contraception while remaining faithful to tradition. Two levels of teaching are involved.

On the level of basic values no change is

contemplated; the nature of marriage and its orientation towards procreation are reaffirmed. On the level of particular rules of behaviour, change may be required because of new insights and changed conditions. 5. A contraceptive mentality, an attitude that erodes the orientation of marriage towards procreation, is wrong.


The Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) sections 46-52. Tablet 221(1967) 449-454.



6. If contraception is allowed in particular cases, couples will have to exercise a good deal of wisdom in deciding when it is or is not justified. In order to exercise good judgment they need thorough instruction on the ethics of marriage. After an agonising wait, Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae (On Human Life) in 1968. This encyclical letter bitterly disappointed the millions who hoped for a change in official teaching. Pope Paul rejected contraception within marriage;378 his argument was based especially on the notion of spousal love. This love, he insisted, has both a procreative and a unitive aspect, and both aspects should be expressed in the sexual intercourse that expresses that love. Artificial contraception, he argued, contradicts the full spousal meaning that sexual intercourse should have. Both Paul VI and the majority report held that procreation is an essential aspect of marriage. The majority report argued that it is enough if the procreative aspect is present in the totality of marriage. Paul VI maintained that it should be present in each act of sexual intercourse of the couple, not in the sense that each act of intercourse will lead to pregnancy and birth but in the sense that the act should not contradict the procreative aspect of marital love which it is supposed to express. III.


The reasons given for allowing contraception are about as numerous as the reasons for not having children. For poor couples, additional children could bring great economic hardship and even cause the spousal relationship to deteriorate under the strain. Limiting the number of children by contraception may in fact help the procreative side of the marriage by allowing parents to raise their children more effectively.


Pope Paul discusses contraception in the context of marriage - hence the reference to spousal love. He does not deal with the use of contraception in non-marital sexual intercourse, which the Church considers morally wrong whether it is contraceptive or not.


Pregnancy can threaten the lives of women with certain medical conditions. Other health problems can be aggravated by multiple pregnancies and by the daily grind of caring for children. Should the wife die or suffer from poor health she cannot care for and educate her children properly, something that is required if the marriage is to be properly procreative. By contraception one might avoid these consequences. Not all people have an equal capacity to care for children. A particular parent may be able to cope more or less adequately with one or two children, but because of a nervous condition or some other trait, the burden of caring for more offspring is excessive. Contraception can allow a couple to have the number of children they can properly care for. Contraception can satisfy the reasonable wish of parents not to pass on serious genetic defects. If it is true that the world is now overpopulated, or is likely to be overpopulated in the near future, bringing many children into the world seems to be irresponsible. Although it is far from obvious that a country like Canada or United States has too many people, there are nations that seem to have more people than can be sustained adequately by the available resources. Contraception is an obvious means of population control. One might argue about the weight to be given to one or other of the reasons listed above. The severity of the problem of overpopulation, for example, is disputed. Nevertheless, these reasons have caused many Catholics to question and even to reject the Church's teaching on contraception. All of the above reasons for not having children can be honoured without artificial contraception if couples are willing to abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods. However, many think that such abstention is too difficult, or too uncertain, or undesirable for some other reason; they conclude that in some cases at least only contraception provides an adequate method when there are legitimate reasons to limit the number of children.


Why then does the Catholic Church insist that contraception is wrong? IV.


We have seen the argument set forth by Pope Paul VI - that spousal love is both unitive and procreative, that sexual intercourse of spouses should express both of those qualities, and that contraception contradicts the procreative nature of spousal love. Of special importance in this regard is the work of Pope John Paul II, not only because of his position but also because of the consistent, comprehensive and persuasive view of sex and marriage that he presents.379 I will not try to include all of the arguments of Paul VI and John Paul II here; but what follows builds on and, I believe, is faithful to that papal teaching while couched in such a way as to fit the approach that this book has taken. Marriage, as Jesus makes clear in his words on divorce, is not a human but a divine creation. Pope John Paul II has explained that the creation of human beings as male and female is directed towards marriage. That is why people are created male and female. This orientation towards procreative marriage is evident in the physical make-up of women and men that makes them able to beget children. At the same time, the physical sex of which they are capable has a special capacity to embody and symbolize the personal spousal relationship that has been described in earlier chapters. This personal spousal relationship, characterised by spousal love, is directed towards procreation in at least two ways. First, the agape by which wife and husband are united does not form them into a closed, exclusive unit, but as agape must, it reaches beyond the couple to others. As spousal love, the most direct beneficiaries of this love are the children begotten in the marriage. Spousal love accordingly motivates the bringing of new human beings into existence.


See, for example, Pope John Paul II, Reflections on Humanae Vitae: Conjugal Morality and Spirituality, Boston, St. Paul Editions, c1984, a compilation of materials from talks given at general audiences during 1984.


At the same time this spousal relationship, when it conforms to what it should be, creates the kind of milieu in which children are likely to flourish. As a covenanted and unconditional love it provides the sort of security that children need, and without which they are likely not only to suffer but to be held back in their human development, especially in learning to trust. The love of husband and wife exhibits generosity, gratuity, patience, a sense of belonging, respect, mutual responsibility, intimacy; and these qualities create a milieu. Parents are motivated to embody these important qualities in the way they treat the child and at the same time by embodying these qualities they provide their children with models to be imitated. We can see now the procreative significance of Pope John Paul’s insistence that people are created as male and female with a view to marriage. God in creating men and women gave them reproductive organs which are ordered to reproduction; and God created in men and women the capacity for spousal love that by its nature creates a personal union where children are likely to flourish. Procreation is not artificially attached to spousal love but built into its essence. If the love of husband and wife for each other does not have this procreative orientation it may be a very fine thing but it is not spousal love; it is not that special kind of love that moves people towards a procreative marital union. (Of course a love that is in itself procreative may because of circumstances not result in children, but it remains nonetheless the kind of love that we have described.) Sexual intercourse of spouses is able to embody and symbolize the personal relationship of the spouses, with all that means as explained above in Chapter Five. Sexual intercourse as the physical act apt for physical procreation has a special capacity to embody and symbolize procreative love. Contraceptive intercourse cannot embody and symbolize a procreative relationship. This is not a moral statement. It is a statement of fact. A military parade may be a very fine thing, but it cannot embody and symbolize peace. If I divulge a secret that has been confided to me, that act cannot embody and symbolize trust. In contraception, the child becomes not the natural consequence but the evil to be avoided. Let us not shy away from that harsh word “evil�. When you take steps to avoid something, to that extent you are treating it as an evil.


Consequently, contraceptive intercourse contradicts and therefore cannot embody and symbolize procreative love. V. THE CULTURAL EFFECTS OF CONTRACEPTION In a society in which Christian marriage is lived faithfully by most people and which is not much influenced by contraception, many couples will experience a procreative love for each other. They will, as a result, sense with a co-natural knowledge that there is something contradictory about contraceptive sex. It does not express the kind of love that motivates them. In a society much influenced by contraception, on the other hand, couples will not usually have this co-natural response to contraceptive sex. For them, having recognized that contraceptive sex does not embody or symbolize procreative love, a question will remain: Why must sex always express and symbolize the procreative side of the relationship? Is it not enough that the marriage as a whole is procreative, even though, for good reasons, contraception is used? To answer that question it is helpful if we look at the issue from the point of view of the cultural effects of contraception. A situation a little bit like this occurred in Athens at the time of Plato. Many of the sophists of that time represented a general scepticism about some of the traditional rules for just behaviour, resulting in a degree of lawless relativism. To counteract this Plato wrote The Republic which focuses not on isolated individual behaviour but on what happens in society as a whole when individuals do or do not perform their allotted duties in pursuit of the common good. Why not allow contraception, so long as the marriage as a whole remains procreative? The first step in addressing that question is to establish this fact: if spousal sex loses its procreative meaning then marriage will lose its procreative meaning. Why is this so? Before contraception became common, what was it that made traditional Christian marriage to be procreative? Marriage was the proper place for sexual intercourse. Sexual intercourse is the way in which children come to be. Therefore marriage was about


having children.

Before the advent of contraception most people simply thought of

marriage as procreative without much analysis.

Now that contraception has changed

perceptions, we need to analyse more precisely exactly what was involved in this perception that marriage was procreative. It all begins with the physical fact that sexual intercourse is the way that children are produced. By confining sexual intercourse to married couples, people then begin to see the whole relationship, not only the sexual intercourse but the human relationship more generally, as procreative. In marrying you were entering into a relationship that would normally engage you in raising children. The culture develops certain accretions around this relationship, some of which have been discussed in Chapter Nine above.


behavioural expectations are built up and habits encouraged. Laws are passed to guarantee at least minimal conformity to standards. Sources of human energy and devotion are tapped and directed to the task. These accretions in varying degrees serve to help the institution accomplish its goal of supplying life, care, education and good human development for the next generation. These accretions are not attached just to any relationship that might be found in the society but to that relationship that is already procreative in nature, the relationship of spouses which is perceived to be the proper place for sexual intercourse and for the begetting and raising of children. Sexual intercourse, accordingly, is what gives marriage its original procreative meaning. Contraceptive sexual intercourse of spouses not only doesn’t embody or symbolize procreation. It contradicts it. Contraceptive sexual intercourse cannot give marriage its basic procreative orientation. We return now to the objection which reflects one of the principles of the Majority Report of the papal Birth Control Commission. Granted, if a marriage had only contraceptive sex it would not have a procreative meaning. But can the marriage not retain a procreative meaning as a whole if some of the acts of sexual intercourse are contraceptive and some are not? The spouses may sometimes practice contraception but at other times have sexual intercourse without contraception. This latter may indeed be procreative by producing a


number of children. Is not possible that a marriage that is procreative in this way can continue to be procreative even if artificial contraception is used on some occasions? An assessment of this suggestion must take account of how symbols operate. They cannot be turned on and off as willed. At track meets, medals are given to winners. Not wishing to hurt anyone’s feelings, I give a medal to everyone who competes. The medal becomes a recognition not of winning but of competing. The medal will not retain its symbolic honouring of the winner by the fact that it is sometimes given to winners. If I want a symbol to recognize winning I will have to invent a different medal and somehow manage to get the public to regard it in a quite different light from the way it regards the medals given to everyone who competes. When Idi Amin awarded himself a chestful of medals, he eroded, if not destroyed, the meaning of the award in Uganda during his regime, even if as it happened he occasionally gave a medal to someone for true bravery. So in a context in which sexual intercourse is sometimes contraceptive and sometimes not, it will lose its ability to symbolize a procreative relationship. There is evidence that this has happened already in our culture. When a couple have had more children than their neighbors think quite prudent, the latter will usually not blame them for having too much sex, but they may well blame them for not using contraceptives. It is not sex as such that is associated with procreation, but rather the decision (or the carelessness) that results in the non-use of contraceptives. Sexual intercourse is not only one of many apt ways to embody and symbolize procreative spousal love. It is the basic way of embodying and symbolizing it, without which the other ways will not have a procreative relationship to embody and symbolize. When sexual intercourse loses its procreative meaning and in fact is hostile to it, there is nothing else to make the relationship basically procreative. The argument might be summed up thus: any contraceptive sexual intercourse of spouses will erode the ability of sexual intercourse to embody and symbolize procreative spousal love; frequent contraceptive sexual intercourse will destroy the ability of sexual intercourse


to embody and symbolize procreative spousal love; when spousal sexual intercourse loses its ability to embody and symbolize procreative love, nothing else in the relationship can replace it to give it a procreative meaning. When the relationship between husband and wife lacks a procreative meaning the marriage lacks a procreative meaning. The controversy over so-called “same sex marriage� provides a remarkable example of how the procreative meaning of marriage has been eroded in our culture. From time immemorial marriage has been considered to be the institution that is the proper place for the procreation and education of children. Anthropologists studying a culture identify marriage in that way. What they will report in their studies of marriage practices will be the practices relating to the union of husband and wife (or husband and wives, or rarely, husbands and wife) in which characteristically children are begotten and cared for. Until recent decades the question of whether a union of male with male or female with female might constitute marriage would be settled quickly. Such a union, whatever one thinks of it morally, does not qualify as marriage because it is not in itself the kind of union that is directed towards begetting and raising children. A homosexual couple may adopt children, as may single persons or two spinster sisters who live together. In none of these cases is the procreative aspect, represented by adoption, a result of an institutional orientation. But now large segments of our population, joined in many cases by the courts, have decided that homosexual unions may qualify as marriages. At this point I don’t want to discuss the import of this development, but rather cite it as evidence of a change in the meaning of marriage, a change that is a natural outgrowth of the common practice of contraception. There are further signs that in our culture the procreative meaning of marriage has been eroded. Parenting when idealised as spending "quality time" with healthy, happy children still presents an attractive picture; but the hard work of maintaining a home and family, washing dishes and doing laundry, changing diapers and taking care of sick children, that whole scene is viewed as drudgery. One reads articles that suggest, and not only in jest, that a woman who wants to avoid intolerable burdens should satisfy her nurturing mood with a pet rather than with children.


The birth rate in many industrialized countries has fallen well below replacement level, while people complain that the house next door is now occupied by a Muslim family. Governments worry about how fewer young people will support an aging population. In many circles parents, especially fathers, spend on average only a few minutes a day conversing with their children. Forms of juvenile delinquency and alienation that used to be associated with marginalised people who supposedly neglected their children are showing up with alarming frequency in "good families". In some of those families the parents may be neglectful. In others the general cultural atmosphere is at fault. While writing this chapter I have seen several newspaper reports of objections to maternity leave unless non-parents get equivalent benefits. Maternity leave was introduced originally because the special contribution of mothers to society needed to be supported and encouraged, but it seems that now in some circles that contribution is ignored. A development within the American Catholic Church in less than two decades illustrates the change in attitude. The 1960's saw the beginning of visible opposition by Roman Catholics to the Church's ban on contraception. At that point people talked mainly of allowing it in hard cases. By 1977 a book commissioned by the Catholic Theological Society of America devoted a section to "child-free" marriage,380 by which it meant marriages in which the partners from the beginning decide not to have children. They noted that a majority of Catholics polled did not disapprove of such a choice. More revealing was the choice of term to describe the phenomenon. In expressions in which a hyphen is followed by "free", the first word normally indicates something bad: germ-free operating rooms, pollution-free environments, smoke-free eating areas, crime-free neighbourhoods ... and child-free marriages. This surely represents a considerable journey down the road that began modestly with the suggestion that contraception in urgent cases might be allowed so long as the marriage as a while remained procreative.


See Kosnik, Anthony, Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, New York, Paulist Press, c.1977, pp. 140 & ff.


The separation of marriage from procreation is much more obvious in some individuals than in others; the traditional view that marriage is oriented towards children remains strong for some. Nevertheless, there is no problem finding evidence that many people no longer think that procreation enters substantially into the notion of marriage. The problem today is to get people to recognize that there is something remarkable about this development. The argument thus far is that when spousal sex loses its procreative meaning, marriage will lose its procreative meaning. To complete the ethical argument one must add that it is a bad thing when marriage loses its procreative orientation. This is the burden of Chapter Nine above. There are many important tasks that we accomplish by creating institutions which focus human effort on desired ends: health care, education, public safety, currency regulation, food distribution and marketing, etc. Apart from the institutions, people have many talents that would qualify them to accomplish these tasks, but what is needed is a concerted and organized focus on those tasks rather than rely on random chance. Thus, certain individuals can and in fact do happen to acquaint themselves with health issues, but what we need is an institution that organizes human effort to make sure that enough trained personnel are available to meet society’s needs and that they are given the tools necessary to accomplish the appointed task. In the same way, many people have personal qualities that could motivate them to have children and care for them, but we do not leave the task of procreation and raising of children to the chance that enough people will be qualified and willing to do the job. We have the institution of marriage that motivates, forms and organizes people in that direction. If marriage does not have that orientation, we have no institution charged with this task. If people generally are not alarmed at the current situation it is because most of them, if they think about it, presume that marriage and family will continue the important tasks of procreation and raising of children. For example, one must presume that most people who want homosexual unions to qualify as marriage presume that marriage and family will continue to take care of the procreation and education of children. In fact what they are doing is presuming the continued effective functioning of an institution that they are willing


to undermine in principle. The fact that marriage and family remain intact in varying degrees of effectiveness in some parts of society provides the appearance that the institution will continue to perform what is needed even as it is being eroded. VI.


There are legitimate reasons to avoid pregnancy. Whether one should use contraception to avoid pregnancy is another question. Should one, even for a good purpose, perform an action that undermines a value as important as is the orientation of marriage to the good of the next generation? Without getting into the matter of casuistry – the possibility of exceptions, - the general rule must be that when there are legitimate reasons for avoiding pregnancy, some means other than contraception should be used. Section VII below will examine one such means. There are two types of situation in which contraception may be allowed, not by way of exception but because contraception in those situations falls outside of the Church’s prohibition of contraception as properly understood. Suppose that a woman realises that she is unavoidably in serious danger of being raped, and in order to prevent a pregnancy she takes birth control pills. If the rule is framed as an absolute prohibition against contraception in any situation, then taking birth control pills in this situation would be prohibited. However, I believe there is no reason, either in official Catholic teaching or in a rational analysis of the situation, to frame the prohibition in such absolute terms. The appropriate rule is that contraception within marriage is wrong because it separates the procreative and the unitive aspects of marriage. Even if the rapist were the woman's husband, refraining from contraception will not cause the sex to include the procreative and the unitive aspects of spousal love. In any situation, rape is not an act of love; and if there is a procreative result it takes place in a terribly wrong context.


added to the fact that she does not voluntarily engage in the sexual act, means that the woman does nothing wrong in taking the contraceptive pills. Her case is not an exception to the rule but falls outside of it.


If, as is normally the fact, the rapist is not her husband, the case falls outside of the consideration of this chapter, which is concerned with contraception within marriage. It is obvious, though, that in such a case there is no question of preserving either a unitive or a properly procreative quality to the action, and therefore the reasons for avoiding contraception do not apply. A second case is considered by Pope Pius XI in On Christian Marriage. If a husband insists on using a contraceptive, must his wife refuse to engage in sexual intercourse with him? Pius XI believes that she should make clear her unwillingness to engage in contraceptive intercourse, and she should not take the initiative if she knows that her husband is going to use a contraceptive.

But if, while observing these conditions, she engages in sexual

intercourse with her husband she has not done wrong. Again, this is not properly an exception to the rule, but her action is really not covered by the rule. The rule applies to one who actively seeks the contraceptive act. The partner who neither seeks the act nor agrees with its contraceptive nature is not responsible for the separation of the unitive and procreative aspects that the act exhibits. I offer a third type of case for consideration by moralists and Church authorities to see if it stands up under scrutiny. (I do not suggest that this practice should be followed on my authority. Such a notion would involve a misunderstanding of who has authority in the Church.) Suppose that a woman has such a severe renal condition that she probably will die if she becomes pregnant and tries to carry the child to term. If this condition is permanent, then a case can be made that this woman is already sterile in the sense that is relevant to moral judgment. To become pregnant and die, with the child also dying, does not seem to fulfil the procreative meaning of marriage. If the woman's condition is permanent and she has her fallopian tubes tied in order to prevent further pregnancies, I suggest that perhaps this does not constitute contraceptive sterilisation because she has already lost the ability to reproduce. VII.



1. the technique It was only in the early decades of the 20th century, with the studies of Ogino381 in Japan and Knaus in Austria, that knowledge of the ovulation cycle allowed people to determine when a woman is or is not fertile. The first use of this knowledge to avoid pregnancy depended upon predicting when a woman would be fertile and avoiding sexual intercourse during that period. This so-called "rhythm method" worked with some success for women who had regular cycles but was not effective for women with irregular cycles. Later research has made it possible to determine more accurately when a woman is about to ovulate and become fertile. Dr. John Billings in Australia developed a system based primarily on observation of mucus produced during a woman's fertile period.382 His wife Evelyn contributed considerably to the development of effective teaching of the method.383 Others, such as Gilles and Rita Breault in Canada384 and John and Sheila Kippley in United States,385 developed methods that took account of changes in temperature and certain other phenomena to determine the time of fertility. Natural Family Planning (NFP) refers to methods that use symptoms to discover when a woman is fertile and use this information to avoid pregnancy by avoiding sexual intercourse during infertile periods.

It makes it possible to avoid pregnancy with success rates

comparable and in some cases superior to that of common forms of contraception.


See Zimmerman, Anthony, "How Ogino discovered rhythm" Linacre Quarterly 62(1995) 29-32. See Billings, John, The Ovulation Method: Natural Family Planning, Collegeville, Minnesota, Liturgical Press, Fourth American Edition, 1978. 383 See Billings, Evelyn, The Billings Method: Controlling Fertility without Drugs or Devices, New York, Random House, 1980. 384 The Breaults founded an organization called "Serena", which has taught and published about Natural Family Planning for a number of years. See for example, Doyle, Raymond and Suzanne Parenteau-Carreau, Planning your Family the S-T Way, Serena Canada, Ottawa, 1980, 2nd. Edition. 385 See Kippley, John & Sheila, The Art of Natural Family Planning, Cincinnati, Couple to Couple League, 1975. 382


A considerable number of books have explained the physical facts of NFP as well as its personal difficulties and rewards.386 Those wishing to practice it would do well not only to consult written sources but also to approach a trained counsellor in the area, many of whom work at agencies established by Roman Catholic dioceses in several countries. These counsellors can inform couples of the ongoing research that continues to refine the methods,387 as well as use their own knowledge to help couples achieve a fuller marital life. 2. the morality of natural family planning Why does the Catholic Church prohibit contraception but allow natural family planning? In both case one takes special steps to avoid conception, so why is one allowed and the other prohibited? Is NFP planning really more natural than, for example, the use of a condom? Both seem to be artificial; and even if one is natural and the other artificial, why must the artificial one always be wrong? After all, we use artificial means in all sorts of areas of life with no negative moral connotation. The use of the terms "natural" and "artificial" seems sometimes to have diverted attention from the relevant point. Determining the morality of a practice must include a consideration both of the end being sought and of the means used to achieve the end. In the matter of ends, there is no necessary difference between contraception and NFP. The end of either might be laudable (e.g., avoiding a pregnancy in order to preserve the life of a wife suffering from a renal disease) or wrong (e.g., avoiding a pregnancy because of selfishness).


Many books were published around 1980. See, for example, Aguilar, Nona, No-Pill No-Risk Birth Control, New York, Rawson Wade, 1980 (revised and issued by the same publisher as The New No-Pill, No-Risk Birth Control, 1986); Fallace, Carman, The Joy in Sexuality and Fertility Control, Smithtown, NY, Family Life Promotion of New York, 1981; Hilgers, Thomas W., Reproductive Anatomy and Physiology for the Natural Family Planning Practitioner, Omaha, Creighton University and Natural Family Planning Education and Research Center, c1981; Shivanandan, Mary, Natural Sex, New York, Rawson Wade, c1979. More recent publications include: Weschler, Toni, Taking Charge of Your Fertility: the Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement and Reproductive Health, New York, Harper Collins, Rev. Edition, 2002; Kass-Annese, Barbara, & Hal Danze, Natural Birth Control Made Simple, Alameda, CA, Hunter House, 2003. 387 Such research continues, for example, at the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction located in Omaha, Nebraska directed by Thomas Hilgers, M.D., who published The Medical and Surgical Practice of NaProTECHNOLOGY, Omaha, Pope Paul VI Institute Press, c2004.


The moral difference between contraception and natural family planning lies in the means used to achieve the end. The point may be shown by an example taken from the area of speech. Suppose that you have been told something in confidence and have a moral duty to keep this information a secret because to divulge it would hurt another's reputation for no adequate reason. If one is asked about the matter, one might preserve the secret by lying; or one might avoid answering by a remark such as: "I am surprised that you would even want to talk about such a private matter." This is not the place to go into the question of whether a lie in such a situation would ever be allowed. The example is useful even if we don't settle that question. The two means used to protect the secret have quite different relations to the general value we associate with telling the truth. Telling the lie directly contradicts telling the truth. Refraining from speaking on the topic does not contradict telling the truth. There is a general value in spousal sexual intercourse expressing a procreative meaning.

Supposing that both contraception and

natural family planning have the same good end, they still differ in their quality as means. Contraception contradicts the procreative quality of sexual intercourse. NFP does not. If NFP is used over a long period of time for no legitimate reason, it might well erode the procreative meaning of spousal sex, and ultimately of the marriage. The pursuit of an illegitimate end gives an anti-procreative quality to the relationship and to the spousal sex that expresses that relationship. This non-procreative quality comes, however, not from the quality of NFP but because of an illegitimate end. 3. Natural Family Planning as a way of living marriage It may be best first to consider the objection that the practice of Natural Family Planning is difficult. Along with the difficulties intrinsic to the delayed gratification implied by NFP, there are cultural factors that add to the perceived hardship. The commonly accepted notion that sex is mainly about physical pleasure makes any delay seem especially bothersome. People are conditioned to expect technology to provide ways of satisfying their desires, so the technology of contraception fits into general expectations. One can develop virtue by


exercising restraint, and with virtue difficult things become easier as well as more rewarding; but this notion is not currently popular To the objection that Natural Family Planning is difficult one might ask: “Compared to what?” No doubt for many couples the practice of NFP will sometimes seem more difficult than their routine household chores or the challenges they face at work. It will probably not be as difficult as some of the other sacrifices that they will be called upon to make in marriage, such as attending to the needs of sick children, exercising patience through difficult times, caring for aged parents, etc. The decision that something is “too difficult” depends not only on the difficulty intrinsic to the task but also on the importance of the good to be achieved. Most of the writings on NFP do not give a systematic treatment of the ethics of artificial contraception, but they do contribute valuable insights about the values that are protected or achieved by it. They usually, and laudably, situate NFP within the larger context of an approach to sexuality in marriage, and in so doing they make a convincing claim that the practice enhances not only the marriage generally but also the sexual component of the marriage. NFP begins with the obvious assumption that love between husband and wife can be expressed in many different ways: conversation, gifts, helping each other, remembering birthdays, being sensitive to the other's moods, etc.

Too often, these many ways of

expressing affection are neglected, and sexual intercourse must bear too much of the burden in this regard. When sexual intercourse is deliberately avoided for some period of time and the couple express their love in these other ways, their sexual life is actually enriched. It ceases to be routine, and it takes on the significance of the richer relationship that results from the many other ways of expressing love. The sex drive, which begins as an insistent biological urge, becomes integrated into the fuller context of a personal relationship with all its diverse needs and sensitivities.


There are further claims made by the advocates of natural family planning. Unlike most forms of artificial contraception, NFP requires both husband and wife to take responsibility for limiting the number of births. This becomes the occasion for discussion in areas in which too many couples communicate very little. NFP requires that both wife and husband increase their understanding of the wife's reproductive cycle and in fact develop a greater awareness of her body. One common result of this awareness is an appreciation of, even awe at, the power to bring new human life into existence. Various books have described how NFP has enriched and revitalised the sex life of spouses, so there is no need to elaborate on the topic here. Complaints have been made against NFP that it amounts to sex-on-schedule, and as such contradicts its claim to be natural. To consult symptoms before proceeding to sexual intercourse, they say, robs sex of the spontaneity that it should have. What is meant by "spontaneity" here? If it means simply the insistence of a physical drive, then why should we preserve spontaneity at the expense of other values? Other impulses anger, fear, gluttony or insobriety - can produce equally insistent urges, and we are well advised to think before acting on them. Surely it is an effect of moral virtue to modify these drives and channel them in the service of the total person. Suppose, however, that the insistence stems not from pure physical impulse, but it is the personal attraction between husband and wife that demands physical expression. We value impulsive gestures between friends and, presumably, between spouses. However, any friendship, and any spousal relationship, is made up not only of impulsive gestures but of many actions and series of actions that require planning and deliberation, and we do not value them less because they are not spontaneous. When spouses do feel a strong impulse to express their love physically, the virtue of chastity will mean that, when it is appropriate to express it sexually, they will do so, and when that is not appropriate, they will have at their disposal a variety of other ways to express their love.


CHAPTER FIFTEEN OBSTACLES TO A BETTER MARRIAGE Calling marriage an institution might suggest that it is a static, completed sort of reality; but a particular marriage involves ideals toward which a couple need to work throughout a lifetime. A reflection on several obstacles to a good marriage may add a practical addition to this book. It has been necessary in what follows to distinguish and treat separately a number of factors that interact closely with each other. I.


To be a good spouse and parent you must be a morally good person, patient, courageous, temperate, generous, compassionate, fair, sensitive, prudent, responsible, good humoured, loyal, forgiving. An excellent preparation for a successful marriage is to cultivate the moral virtues and find a partner who has done the same. For Christians the virtue of agape is the special basis of the marriage relationship, and there is evidence that taking one’s religious faith seriously contributes to marital stability. Long term preparation for success in marriage is not very different from long term preparation for life generally; and of more value to couples than a marriage manual are those works that compile and distil the moral wisdom of the human race. Along with the qualities of personality and character that would find a place in a standard list of moral vices, and besides the mental disorders and pathologies whose detrimental effects on married life are obvious, there are some other traits that make it especially difficult for people to develop a solid marriage. 1.


Any form of selfishness obviously contradicts the sharing and self-giving love that should characterise Christian matrimony. Of particular interest in this regard are observations in recent decades by therapists and counsellors about a form of selfishness called


“narcissism”.388 Some people use the term to denote almost any form of selfishness, but the meaning here is more specific. Psychologists and psychiatrists influenced by Freud speak of the primary narcissism of the new-born infant. Babies, they note, are governed initially only by their own impulses and are not equipped to take account of reality. When infants’ wishes are not satisfied they react with anger and frustration. Over time children learn how and to what extent reality can be manipulated to satisfy their wishes. At the same time they discover what behaviour is socially acceptable and govern themselves accordingly. At an elementary level, this means not acting on every impulse. In time the child’s desires and drives are modified. Ultimately the person must learn to deal with others as having needs and aspirations of their own, and a mature adult finds satisfaction in the welfare of others and in the pursuit of the common or public good. When proper development does not take place, an adult may exhibit what has been called secondary narcissism, by which an adult clings to some of the elements of infantile narcissism. This can include excessive and unproductive anger at not getting one’s own way, unrealistic demands upon others, inability to assess things objectively and the tendency to interpret events almost exclusively in terms of how they affect the self. Narcissistic persons often alternate between grandiose and unrealistic views of self and their place in the scheme of things, and feelings of fragility, being overwhelmed or insulted or besieged by hostile forces. Unlike some other forms of selfishness, narcissism involves a real cognitive disability – difficulty in seeing things from someone else’s point of view. This character trait is not easily changed. A narcissistic spouse cannot assess a situation realistically, is unusually absorbed with self, unable to appreciate the point of view or the needs of his or her partner. Narcissistic spouses resist efforts by others to change their attitudes or to talk them into a different point of view. They don’t see the problem in themselves; for them, it’s others who are at fault.


Very helpful on this topic is Lasch, Christopher, The Culture of Narcissism, New York, W.W. Norton, 1978.



results of emotional deprivation

A child may be emotionally deprived for any of several reasons, e.g., cold and distant parents who don’t express affection, or being shifted from one foster home to another with little opportunity to develop stable, intimate attachments. Most authorities believe that short-term emotional deprivation usually does not have serious, long term effects on the child’s emotional life. If the deprivation lasts all or nearly all of childhood, however, its effects can be unfortunate. Emotionally deprived children are likely as adults to shy away from genuine intimacy, although they may get along well with others, may be friendly and even appear gregarious. They will tend to be suspicious of, or feel oppressed by, the emotional demands of a partner, and to feel that it is unfair for someone to demand something that they cannot give. They may be generous in many ways but they find it difficult to give of themselves. Someone of this type may find no special difficulty with the early stages of a relationship, especially if the partner is not emotionally demanding and is satisfied with a surface interaction. To remain at that level, however, means stagnation, repetition and boredom. In the normal course of a relationship it will become necessary to move to a deeper level of intimacy. The person who has suffered emotional deprivation during childhood may find it difficult to launch into those depths. In marriage such persons will likely feel threatened or burdened by the emotional demands of their mates. Spouses will notice their emotionally deprived partners becoming increasingly unresponsive and distant.

If neither partner understands the

underlying cause of their dissatisfaction they will blame each other, complain and become defensive.

They may feel betrayed because this previously rewarding

relationship has turned sour, and it looks like the other person’s fault. A spiral of accusations and angry responses begins.



low self-esteem

People who are treated for much their lives without respect or care may come to think of themselves as unlovable and of little worth.

They are likely to crave affection,

reassurance, praise and support, anything that makes them feel good about themselves. Normal people need affection, reassurance, etc., but their demand for these is not constant and insatiable. For people with low self-esteem the affection and support has little lasting effect because it doesn’t remove their sense of being unworthy and unlovable. Their demands are burdensome and, in the long term, perhaps impossible to satisfy. If you have low self-esteem you are likely to be strongly attracted to someone who provides an abundance of positive emotional response and support. When the other person is a potential marriage partner, you may feel that you have found the perfect mate, someone who makes you feel wonderful. A wife whose husband has low self-esteem will at first find it gratifying that he responds so well to her encouragement; but in time he becomes oppressively demanding. The husband, whose wife used to make him feel wonderful, now finds that she is exasperated with him. Especially if the partners have little understanding of the cause of the problem, they begin to blame each other, and this creates a cycle of complaint, accusation, anger and a sense of being treated unfairly. Even if one partner is very generous and continues to give the affection and reassurance that is demanded, the marriage becomes centred on the emotional needs of the other, and there is little mutual support. 4.

dependence and domination

In marriage, partners do many things for each other. Problems arise however if you expect someone to take responsibility for all major parts of your life, to make things right when you fail, to protect you and keep you safe. All of these elements can be present in a normal relationship, but for the dependent person they are present to an exaggerated degree, a degree that would be proper only in a child. The overly-dependent person’s sense of worth and identity are too closely tied to another person.


The dependent person will often find a dominant partner, someone who is happy to run someone else’s life, who wants a submissive and agreeable mate. In the early stages of a relationship, even into the early years of marriage, the dominant and the submissive partners may feel that they were made for each other. In time, however, the relationship becomes strained. Dependent people are often ambiguous about their dependence. They find comfort when someone takes care of their needs but resent the fact that often they end up subservient to the arbitrary whims of another. In time, too, dependent people can mature and seek to take control of their own lives, and this upsets the balance of the relationship. There is more at stake here than simply getting one’s way on this or that issue. Our sense of self is closely tied to the exercise of responsibility. If someone else is making all of my major decisions, then I may feel that I am hardly living my own life, and that I am not important. Struggles for power, within marriage or elsewhere, normally have a great deal to do with the protagonists’ sense of self-worth. If partners come to understand what is happening in their relationship they may be able to cope with it. Things do not usually come out in the form of rational discourse, however. The assertion of greater independence can take covert forms - sniping, putdowns, passive aggression. The formerly submissive partner feels oppressed. The dominant partner feels betrayed because the rules have changed; the strength that used to be admired and appreciated is now denigrated. 5.


The form of immaturity to be considered here is the inability to follow through on commitments. This makes conjugal life difficult and in some cases impossible. If you are baby sitting a youngster and order him to bed at the assigned time and he informs you that he hates you, it doesn’t mean much. He is expressing the feeling of the moment. A mature person saying such a thing would realise that these words will affect the whole relationship. The youngster will probably not think about it the next time he sees you. He doesn’t live life in such large segments. To take another example, a


twelve-year-old who signs a contract ceding her future inheritance to someone else for an immediate reward will not be held legally bound by the agreement. It is presumed that she did not fully grasp the significance of what she was doing. Mature responsibility presumes the ability to recognise the implications of one’s actions and perceive their significance realistically and in a wide context. Along with this cognitive element, mature responsibility involves the willingness to commit oneself and the ability to follow through by acting in a certain way over an extended period. People can be chronologically adults but incapable of adult responsibility. Chapter Nine discussed marriage as a mutual responsibility by which you seek the welfare of your spouse and also commit yourself to be the kind of person you need to be for the spouse’s benefit; the two spouses undertake together the project of becoming the kind of people they wish to be. Difficulty in following through on such commitments makes marriage difficult. Inability to follow through on commitments makes marriage impossible. The most common basis for the decree of nullity (decree that no valid marriage ever took place) in Catholic marriage tribunals in North America is the inability to make mature commitments. 6.


Alcoholism is an obvious enemy of marital happiness, but addictions to drugs, gambling and sex are similarly destructive. To be addicted is to lose control of part of one’s life. Even when their actions begin to destroy their marriage, addicts find it extremely difficult to change. Their promises to reform count for little. Unable to control their behaviour, they cannot commit themselves, for commitment means not only to intend but also to follow through in action. Marriages of addicts sometimes endure because spouse and children work around the problem. The weakness of the addicted member dominates and determines the life of the household.

Instead of working for the mutual perfecting of husband and wife, the

energies of partners are directed to survival and coping with a situation that renders


impossible the mutual responsibility of spouses for each other. II.


Chapter Two discussed several cultural factors that are relevant here. Individualism prepares people badly for the task of serving anyone other than themselves. It may also make them loathe to undertake the onerous process of developing virtues whose purpose they don’t appreciate early in life. Until the 20th century it was generally supposed that, while individualism and self-interest might control the market place, sacrifice and service of others should characterise home and family. During the last century that supposition has been weakened. The media usually associates sex with immediate gratification, not with the long-term welfare of a marriage. A technological mentality prepares people to expect technical solutions and steers them away from the discipline and development of virtues required for marriage. The belief that human motivations are static and relatively fixed blinds people to the possibility of developing those new attitudes that would foster a stable and flourishing marital union. The sexual revolution, especially pronounced in the 1960’s in North America, has turned the energies of eros almost exclusively towards short term personal satisfaction and away from building up the spousal relationship. A complete catalogue of cultural influences on marriage would include many more items. Of the changes in social structures that influence the stability and health of marriage, two are especially worthy of note. 1.

shift of functions away from the home

Social scientists have pointed out that several important functions that used to belong to the family have been taken over by other agencies. An important example is economic life. Before the Industrial Revolution most people farmed or worked in trades that could be practiced in or near the home. The whole family helped produce the necessities of life. Then in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution working class men, women and children began to toil in factories and mines. Later the pattern was for the husband to labour at a paying job outside of the home, the wife and children depending on his 239

earning power. In recent decades a large percentage of wives also work outside of the home. For most families making a living is not a family activity. Schools have taken over education.

Parents today have relatively little to do with

teaching their children how to earn a living, and even their role in teaching their children how to live has increasingly been ceded to the educational system. In earlier times, small schools remained to a considerable extent under the control of parents. Today parents exercise power only remotely by voting for trustees of large school districts. The trustees themselves share control with government departments of education and with a growing number of professional teachers/bureaucrats/experts/administrators.

Schools used to

teach a relatively narrow range of subjects, but they have steadily expanded their role as governments or educational hierarchies have identified more and more areas in which parents are perceived to be negligent or incompetent. To an increasing degree social workers, the justice system and police now intervene to take responsibility for the welfare of children. The family has become relatively less responsible for social welfare and support in times of unemployment and economic stress, as pension plans and agencies of the state have taken on a greater role. A case can be made that in many homes the mass media have as much or more influence on the atmosphere of the home as have the parents.389 Some authorities, including the eminent American sociologist Talcott Parsons,390 have viewed the flight of functions away from the home with equanimity. They theorise that when the home and family are less encumbered with other functions they can concentrate on their own speciality, which is domesticity, providing such things as emotional support, intimacy and the building of personal bonds among family members.


A notable exception to the flight of functions from the home is health care. In spite of the continuing development of sophisticated medical treatments for a widening variety of illnesses, most health care, especially of the young and the aged, still takes place in the home, usually by mothers, wives and daughters. 390 See Parsons, Talcott, “The social structure of the family” in The Social Structure of the Family, Ruth Nanda Anshen, ed., New York, Harper, 1944, pp. 173-201; The System of Modern Societies, Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, c1971, pp. 100-101; Parsons, Talcott, & Robert Bales, Family, Socialization and Interaction Process, Glencoe, Ill., Free Press, 1955, pp 9, 16-17. See also Ogburn, W.F., “The changing family” Family 19(1938) 139-43.


This optimistic view is open to question, however. Domesticity is not an exercise in itself apart from other functions. Except in crisis situations, family members usually do not sit around just giving emotional support. Most exercises in domesticity take place in the context of other functions, such as sharing meals, working or playing together or showing each other how to do things.

As the home loses other functions it loses

occasions for domesticity. As well, today the functions left to parents, other than providing income, are increasingly those of menial service - cook, housekeeper, chauffeur. As children approach their teens, parents lose much of the natural authority that comes from having valuable knowledge and skills to pass on. Parents are held responsible for keeping their children within social and moral bounds, but insisting on compliance to rules outside of the context of natural authority can appear oppressive and arbitrary. The child, meanwhile, has become more and more exclusively a consumer of goods and services provided by parents, and less an active and responsible contributor to family life. Furthermore, some of the functions that the family has lost are in themselves nurturing functions. If family conversation and shared activities are replaced by solitary viewing of television or searching the internet, this can hardly help the family to increase its concentration on domestic matters. Among authors who suggest that with the diminution of its roles the family has become less able to perform its essential functions in raising children was Christopher Lasch.391 According to him, it is essential that the child overcome narcissism, learn that the world does not revolve around the self, and that the needs of others must be taken into account. For children to accomplish this they need firm and insistent discipline from the same people (usually parents) who give them unconditional love. Lasch believed that as parents are more and more pushed towards the periphery of children’s lives they become less able to perform these vital functions. Much activity of a nurturing type still takes place in the home, of course. However, there is little evidence that the loss of functions within the family is balanced by an increase in domesticity. 391

If anything, the opposite is suggested by some contemporary writing,

Lasch, Christo6pher, Haven in a Heartless World, New York, Basic Books, c1977.


especially that which looks upon domestic chores and raising children as drudgery and pictures both raising children and taking care of a spouse’s domestic needs as a form of servitude. The loss of functions by the family especially affects the rearing of children, but it also influences the spousal relationship. When the home was the locus for many functions it was evident that spouses must give priority to familial responsibilities. This is not nearly so evident today. Free to spend most of their time and their best energy in work and “career”, spouses can easily find there the main source of satisfaction and fulfilment, and the home may place a poor second in the competition for time and energy. If things are not going well with the marriage, escape into other activities is easy, and failure associated with such flight is largely hidden. If parenting comes to be perceived as drudgery, there is even more reason to escape into activities outside of the home. Lower expectations about the effort needed for marriage and about the satisfactions to be expected from marriage are by no means universal in our world; and the loss to other agencies of functions that used to take place within the family need not be an insurmountable barrier to successful marriage. It is possible to recover some of those functions. For example, there is no reason why parents should depend on producers of television programs to provide creativity and discernment in entertainment. Intelligent conversation in which family members actually learn from each other is still possible. 2.

loss of support systems

Although the talk-shows’ exploitation of embarrassing domestic situations would not suggest it, marriage has in a way become overly privatised. Where the extended family is strong it is normal for parents to provide wise advice to their sons and daughters embarking on marriage and to admonish the delinquent. The extended family provided refuge and stability when things were not going well between husband and wife. In our society, the mother-in-law has become a figure of fun, and intrusion of parents into the marriages of their children is seen as meddling. With increased mobility, couples are less likely in the early years of marriage to form the stable bonds that allow friends and neighbours to act as a support system in times of need or tension. More and more, 242

problems within the marriage are seen as the business only of the couple itself, and thirdparty intervention, except for paid counsellors, is systematically excluded. The spousal relationship has become the one bond that holds the family together, and that bond is too often cut off from the nurture it needs from a supportive milieu. It is possible to build support systems for marriage: building a network of supportive friends, using Church-based or other organisations designed to help married couples, finding trusted confidants, getting rid of the excessive privatisation that refuses outside help on family issues. III. 1.


A common reason cited for divorce is incompatibility. The fact is, partners are rarely if ever really compatible when they marry. They may be very much in love, and for a time this will hide the extent to which they differ in background, habits, tastes, outlook, beliefs, mannerisms, ambitions and other characteristics. Partners need to change until they become compatible. Adjustment on many different levels is the norm for all marriages. Nor do spouses reach a finished, static state of compatibility. They will continue to change.

One hears occasionally of a divorce caused by partners drifting apart.

Matrimony should not be a process of drifting. It is a commitment by which two people take charge of their lives and make their future development a mutual project. 2.

communication and intimacy

If adjustment and the deepening of intimacy are central to marriage, then communication between partners is crucial.

There is no need to repeat here the discussion on

communication and intimacy in Chapter Nine. 3.

differences in expectations

Spouses must deal with the expectations they bring to marriage. Will it be all right for


the husband to go out with his pals once a week? How much recreational time will they spend with each other and how much time does each need to be alone? How many children would they like to have? What are their ideas about raising children? How close a relationship will they have with their in-laws? What role will religion play in the marriage? Will the home be a private refuge or a drop-in centre? How important for each is work and career? How much emotional support have they a right to expect? Who will decide on household expenditures? What does each think about going into debt? Especially in our society, where the culture defines marital roles only loosely, numerous issues have to be decided. Even if differences of expectations are acknowledged, they will still require careful and generous adjustment. It is much more difficult to adjust when you don’t recognise that the problem arises from a difference of expectations; then you are likely to think your partner is being unfair. Blame sets a destructive cycle in motion. 4.


Most of us will adjust only as much as we have to. We don’t like to modify our plans and our hopes, to get rid of habits that have become second nature, to spend time on what goes against our tastes.

In marriage, resistance to change leads to competition for

advantage as each spouse strives to change only as much as they have to and pushes the other to do at least their fair share of adjusting. There may be a struggle to control the relationship. As was noted in the discussion on dominance and submissiveness, the attempt to control matters often is not simply a matter of getting one’s way in this or that issue, but of one’s sense of self and of one’s worth. Sometimes an effort to control the marital relationship can be compensation for lacking control in the workplace or some other area. Competitions for advantage often take covert forms - sniping, fault-finding, etc. - without either partner being fully aware of what is going on. Anger from slights or perceived losses in one “battle” becomes displaced into other areas and the whole relationship is poisoned.




There is evidence that married couples who pray together regularly rarely divorce. Of course people who pray together are likely to take religion seriously, and taking religion seriously correlates strongly with marriage stability.

By prayer the grace of the

sacrament of matrimony is invited into the union. In prayer partners share what is of profound importance to them. They create a milieu that encourages each to act according to the best that is in them. IV.


Many of the above considerations have implications for how one should prepare for marriage. If communication is crucial, for example, it behooves engaged couples to begin talking and listening on a variety of sensitive issues. Such implications don’t need to be explained here. This section will take note of several other ways in which people can prepare for a good marriage. 1.

remote preparation

As suggested earlier, the main way to prepare for marriage is to become a good person, to develop those moral and theological virtues that constitute human and Christian goodness. Two areas merit special consideration. One who has no general capacity for friendship is not well prepared to undertake marriage. The meaning of friendship and the ways in which is fostered are rich topics meriting treatment far beyond what is possible within the limits of this chapter. At the centre is the capacity to commit oneself and loyally live up to the commitment, and the ability to grow in intimacy - to communicate what one considers important and to listen and be sensitive to the thoughts, moods and needs of another. The dynamics of growth in marriage will require of partners the capacity to know themselves. This involves the ability to look at myself objectively, to see myself to some extent as others see me. Self knowledge requires honesty, humility, the avoidance of the more gross forms of rationalisation and distortion, willingness to accept responsibility for


both the good and the bad things one has done, accepting criticism with equanimity, being conscious of one’s own motivations, learning which impulses in the self arise from the Spirit and are to be trusted and which impulses arise from the unredeemed self, the flesh, and are not to be trusted. 2.

proximate preparation

We usually look with disfavour on the custom in other cultures of arranged marriages, and fail to see how unsuitable our own customs may be in preparing for matrimony. In the process of dating, people characteristically adopt an attractive and perhaps charming front, are on their best behaviour as they try to impress desirable partners. The practice has been called the “marriage market”. As a grocer might place the best apples on the top of the basket, so in the marriage market one’s less desirable traits are hidden under what we consider to be our selling points. However unlikely it might be in practice, reason suggests for those preparing for marriage something of the rigour of military basic training, the critical assessment that takes place in baseball’s spring training, or the systematic evaluation that occurs before students graduate into a profession. The time of courtship and engagement needs to be a time of getting to know prospective partners well and objectively. What are their expectations of marriage? What are their strengths and what are their weaknesses? Which of the mannerisms that appear charming during courtship will in time become irritating? How do they react under stress? How do they react to criticism? How do they treat people with whom they are angry? (If partners are pleasant with each other but disagreeable with others, they are simply enjoying a temporary truce with each other.) How adroit are they at avoiding issues? On what points will they not compromise? (Surely to possess character is to have principles on which one will not compromise.) Are they capable of mature commitment? Do they use sex or sexual attractiveness to get their way? What do fair-minded people think of them? The time of courtship and engagement needs to be a time of growth in the relationship. Is there genuine growth in knowledge of each other and in the ability to listen and to communicate what is most important? Are the partners able to make adjustments for the sake of each other? Are sensitive issues faced openly and honestly? Are there hidden 246

battles to control the relationship instead of growing in mutual responsibility? When disagreements occur, how are they resolved? The best courtship may not be the most enjoyable one or the one that goes smoothly. It is the one during which important lessons are learned and difficult adjustments begin. Prospective spouses should study the institution of marriage. Correct theory will help actual practice. It is surprising and unfortunate that so few people prepare for marriage by studying some of the abundant and excellent literature on the subject. People approaching marriage may worry about whether they are marrying the right person. This is usually the wrong question. If reasonable care, reflection, prayer and preparation have taken place, the person you have chosen almost certainly can be a good marriage partner.

Your prospective spouse has not at this moment made all the

adaptations that a good marriage will require, but she or he can make them. The real question is whether two people approaching marriage are ready and willing to make those adaptations over the years that lie ahead. Are they simply looking for a Church wedding, or are they embarking on a lifetime commitment? Are they willing to take the steps and get the help needed to make that commitment effective? Marriage is not a lottery in which one takes one’s chances and awaits the result. V.


Compiling a list of obstacles to success in marriage, like compiling a list of diseases to which the human body is subject, can give the impression that things will rarely, if ever, go right. A study of the immune systems of the body can help dispel the negative impression about physical health. There are roughly comparable things that protect marriages. The ability to learn from mistakes, the passing on by the culture of the wisdom gained throughout the ages, potentialities for good in the human heart and the training in virtue that is involved in child-rearing, all these things and more will help spouses to succeed. They will not avoid mistakes, of course. To venture is to risk making mistakes. To succeed in human ventures is to overcome one’s mistakes. The closer any activity comes to the human heart, the more it becomes involved in the


deadly serious mystery of the struggle between human good and evil. Marriage of its nature involves people in what is most profoundly human - a relationship involving love, commitment, responsibility, intimacy. As such, marriage is, more than almost any other activity, involved in the mystery of human good and evil. We human beings seem usually to think we are competent and in charge in this matter of doing good or evil. We are free, after all, and therefore to do good or to do evil is within our power. What we have done badly, we seem to think, we can remedy. It is just a matter of learning enough and then choosing wisely. Not only the general run of human beings but also many philosophers and political theorists who ponder the question of human action seem to make these assumptions. Were the problem of human evil so simple we would not have needed a Saviour, and human theorists and practitioners would have succeeded long ago in eradicating at least the most obvious and destructive forms of evil in human affairs. This lesson applies to marriage. There are numerous means one can use to foster matrimonial success, and it would be folly to neglect them; but human means are not by themselves adequate remedies for human evil. That the Catholic Church came to recognise matrimony as a sacrament means that it has recognised that all those activities that make up a marriage are not only rich human realities; they point beyond themselves to something greater. They are symbols that make present in the world the love of Jesus for the Church. As such they are the product not of human power only but of Christ’s grace. Here is the theological basis for the fact that the marriages of those spouses who pray together regularly reflect a stability, fidelity and rich communion that others may not even recognize as possibilities.


CHAPTER SIXTEEN CONCLUSION392 This book began with the reflection that the contemporary western world rejects the traditional Christian ethics of sex and marriage. It is not only secularized, non-religious people who dissent. A large number of American Catholics reject some of the basic moral rules regarding sex and marriage that the Catholic Church has taught and still holds as official teaching. A number of people, bothered by the dissonance between their own position and that of the magisterium, have left the Catholic Church, some drifting away from active participation in any Church life, some joining Protestant Churches whose teaching, they believe, corresponds more closely to their own positions. Others remain Catholics but no longer look to the Church as a reliable moral guide in matters of sex and marriage. Presumably if they can set aside Church teaching in this area they are likely in time to set it aside in other areas, if they have no already done so. Christian ethical teaching is properly based on Christian beliefs regarding the human person, the meaning of life and of society; one’s views on ethics have implications for one’s views on dogmatic matters. It is unlikely that dissent, once accepted as a normal part of belonging to a Church, will continue indefinitely to limit itself to matters of ethics. Dissent has far-reaching implications for the Church’s task of evangelization. It almost certainly keeps many in the world from listening to what the Catholic Church has to say. Even among those who do not dissent from official Church teaching, there are some who are uncomfortable with the Church’s insistence on ethical rules regarding sex and marriage. They can see why the Church should speak out on issues of war and peace, civil rights and Third World poverty. Is it really important, however, whether the young engage in pre-marital sex, or if married people use contraceptives? Who really gets hurt? 392

This chapter is not a conclusion in the sense that the rest of the book serves only to demonstrate the assertions here. There are many conclusions drawn throughout the book that are not taken up again here. This final chapter considers several themes that were introduced at the beginning and looks at them in view of the approach taken in subsequent chapters and draws out some practical implications.


This book argues that to reach a valid basis for the ethics of sex and marriage (or any other area in ethics) one must find a starting point that transcends mere opinion that is formed by the culture. That starting point is constituted by certain basic truths about human nature and human existence. From this basis I have argued that the official Catholic teaching regarding the ethics of sex and marriage fosters human happiness and fulfillment. Specifically, confining sexual activity to permanent marriage, while developing the virtue of chastity, makes possible a profound and rewarding marital relationship of which sexual intercourse is a powerful embodiment and symbol. The marital relationship thus produced becomes in turn the best and only known adequate way for society to pass on a full life to the next generation, providing not only physical life and care but also the basis for moral, emotional/psychological, intellectual and spiritual development of each person. Properly understood, the Catholic ethics of sex and marriage is not the product of outdated hang-ups. It provides the rules for human flourishing. Properly understood, the traditional Roman Catholic teaching on the ethics of sex and marriage, far from being an obstacle to the Church’s evangelizing mission, is a powerful witness to its wisdom. This book, more than most others on the ethics of sex and marriage, has tried to take cultural factors seriously. Part One considers these factors primarily in that they influence ethical beliefs. To do ethics critically one must consider how one’s attitudes are influenced by culture and assess that influence. Is our culture doing us a favour when it fosters this or that view of sexuality? In light of subsequent considerations we can reflect a little more deeply on cultural influences regarding sex. A key to understanding the human meaning of sex is to recognize how physical actions take on personal meanings. The personal meaning of a physical action is heavily influenced by the context of the action. Physical actions take on a special meaning and power when they act as symbols of some human meaning that exists as spread out in time and impossible to comprehend adequately in a concept.


In important ways, the personal meaning of physical actions is influenced by cultural factors. For example, the personal meaning of a handshake is given by the culture. In a culture where it is not customary to use a handshake to greet people or to take leave of them, to seal a business deal or to congratulate someone, in that culture a handshake will have none of those meanings. An Olympic medal or a medal for bravery or a playing of a national anthem has only the meaning that a particular culture gives it. Human sexual intercourse can take on personal meanings, and in fact has the potential to become a powerful symbol of a personal relationship. A key term here is “potential”. Sexual actions do not automatically take on such personal meaning. That meaning must be learned within a cultural context. Where a culture does not characteristically attach a procreative or spousal meaning to sex, people are unlikely to learn such meanings. In contemporary western culture we are well on our way to losing either procreative or spousal meanings of sex. Such meanings are not absent but they are much eroded. One easily gets the impression that such meanings are absent from most of the “public culture” of the mass media but survive to some extent in the “domestic culture” of faceto-face encounter in families and small communities. Inevitably, however, people are influenced by the public culture. I know of no reliable measure to tell us how long attitudes that are conveyed in a domestic culture can last when they are contradicted by the public culture. What is clear is that for many in our world the spousal and procreative meanings of sex are weak or absent all together. Ethics is a discipline directed towards action. This means first of all that the standards elaborated in ethical discourse are meant to guide behaviour. If the ethicist has laid out the reasons for the standards well, the work in ethics is also useful to motivate people to act in the way indicated by the standards. The good by its nature attracts. Our present culture is likely to obscure the reasons for acting in the way indicated in the argument of this book. One may wring one’s hands and conclude that people today simply cannot see the point of the traditional ethics. Contrary to the complaint of some


that “the Church is always talking about sex”, the fact is that in many Catholic parishes and schools in North America the professed teachers of the faithful have fallen silent on the subject of the ethics of sex and marriage. They sense that the people no longer find the Church’s teaching convincing. I hope that this book has shown that, with effort and reflection, it is possible to see the reasons behind the traditional ethic, to see that it does indeed open us up to a fuller life and that neglect of it causes great harm. Outside of the Church there are few agencies that are likely to provide people with a Christian or a humanly integral view of sex and marriage. There remains however the problem of the culture. Even if one, by hard work and reflection, can come to appreciate the proper and full meaning of sex and marriage, how do we get the rank and file of people to appreciate it when the surrounding culture doesn’t even give them the tools to do that? In 1975, after the Synod of Bishops had considered the difficult question of evangelization, Pope Paul VI published the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Nuntiandi (On Evangelization in the Modern World). He insisted that the Church must not ignore culture. It cannot hope to evangelize effectively if the culture in which people live forms them in a way contrary to the gospel. Christians must strive to embody their values in the culture.393 Subsequent papal documents, such as Evangelium Vitae by Pope John Paul II, have continued the emphasis on the need to evangelize the culture. It seems safe to say however, that outside of papal teaching, the question of evangelizing the culture has not received from theologians or preachers of the gospel the kind of attention and creativity for which Pope Paul hoped. Scholars and pastoral leaders seem to be stymied by the problem of creating a gospelinspired culture in the face of such powerful cultural forces as the mass media, economic and commercial interests, political self-interest under the banner of “realism”, advertising and entertainment industries that exploit human weakness rather than build up human


One can think of this as an effort to change the prevailing culture or, in a critical situation, to create an alternative culture.


virtue. These powerful influences, not necessarily bad in themselves, all too often play to the tendency of human nature to be selfish, to favour the immediate and the tangible over the long-term and sometimes elusive higher aspirations of the human spirit. To influence culture in a Christian way may seem like a vague dream to us who are urged so often to accept the world “as it is�. The perceived difficulty of the task no doubt accounts for the at best tepid response to Pope Paul’s exhortation. Yet from a long-term, historical perspective there is irony here. Probably the Catholic Church has been the most powerful agent the world has known in producing and influencing culture, even if the culture it produced often contained much unleavened dough along with the parts that had been transformed by the gospel. Christians in apostolic times, won over to the new reality that had been introduced into history by Jesus Christ, knew that membership in the ecclesia, the gathering of believers around the Eucharist, meant casting aside much of what they had formerly regarded as normal, and the adoption of a radically new way of life. With varying degrees of success, later Christians, sometimes gathered in monasteries and convents, produced new ways of life that attracted new members and provided ideals and guidelines for many of the faithful who would otherwise have fallen into mediocre lives scarcely distinguishable from that of the pagans among whom they lived. The creation of a Christian culture is not so much the result of a master-plan as of individuals and small groups hearing the word of God anew and letting it affect their lives. There is no need to wait for someone to come up with the right formula. Creativity and even genius will be necessary; they will come, but only when the gospel is heard again in its original and radical freshness. What is needed? In the very brief notes that follow, I presume that creating a Christian culture is very close to the same thing as forming people in the moral virtues. A first requirement for developing a Christian culture and for fostering moral virtue is a vision of what can be. Here texts such as this have their proper place. The kind of


abstract analysis given in this book cannot take the place of concrete portrayals of Christian virtue, but the theoretical analysis is necessary. How does one move from one’s present state towards the ideal? What intelligent moralists have told us, at least as far back as Aristotle, is that we become virtuous by acting virtuously. I develop the habit of telling the truth by repeatedly telling the truth and refusing to lie. It behoves parents, educators and leaders in Christian communities to identify those occasions in which young people are most likely to develop the virtue of chastity, not only as a curb on their physical passions but as integrating the sexual drive into a fully personal life and facilitating interpersonal relationships. Some creativity is required here, not the creativity of rare geniuses but of attentive parents and teachers who share their lives with young people whom they love, who observe opportunities that are usually neglected, who are open to the action of the Holy Spirit who shows us the possibilities of even mundane and commonplace experiences and situations from which we have come to expect little or nothing. The classical moralists focussed almost exclusively on this one means of developing virtue, but there are many others. It will help if we begin with the notion that we might call the “self-concept”. Our behaviour is strongly influenced by how we think of ourselves. One way we form a self-concept is by identification. Sons can identify with their fathers and in the process gain a sense of themselves as males; daughters can go through a parallel process with their mothers. We identify with heroes, with various people whom we admire. The Catholic Church has known this from the beginning. We identify first of all with Jesus Christ. In St. Paul’s terms, we “put on Christ”. Catholic hagiography has throughout the centuries presented the faithful with heroes - the saints. Saint Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola both tell us that in their conversion they read the lives of saints and at a certain point reflected: “If they could do it, why can’t I?”


Various cultures have their heroes, whether George Washington, El Cid, Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi. A good measure of the health of a culture is the quality of its heroes. Any serious attempt to create a Christian culture and to develop moral virtue must address this question. Who are our heroes? Cultures give identity to their members by stories, historical and mythical. Our memory of who we were to a considerable extent shapes our perception of who we are. If we dwell on what our ancestors strove and suffered for, we cannot but feel more responsible for what happens now. Story has been at the centre of the Judaeo-Christian tradition. The Jews keep the memory of the past alive by recounting the history of how they came to be what they are. At each celebration of the Eucharist Catholics recall the central events of salvation history, the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord; and over the three-year cycle they recall much more of the history of salvation. To form a culture and to foster virtue we have to make the most of the liturgical recitation of the stories of our shared past, and also identify other stories, of families, pioneers, missionaries, stories that form us at a deeper level than we recognize. Something as mundane as simple conversation is a powerful cultural influence. Plato pictured the uninitiated individual as trapped in a private world made up of subjective impressions and biases that are mistaken for reality. The way towards the real world, a world shared with others, was through a conversation that he called dialectic. Not only philosophical discourse but any serious conversation takes us out of a private world to a world we share with others. From early childhood we test our own perceptions against the perceptions of those with whom we converse. It is by this means that we gradually emerge into the less illusory, more real world that we share with others. It should be a cause for concern when the lines of communication between generations break down. The normal way in which a culture, with what we hope is its wisdom, is passed on to the next generation is by communication between parents and children. When teen-agers talk only to their own kind, to those who share their prejudices and


limited experience, when the handing on of wisdom is left to those who are more concerned to attract viewers and sell products than to produce virtue, then something drastic has happened. Serious conversation, accordingly, is a normal way in which a culture affects people. The quality of its effect depends on what people have to communicate and the relationship that makes serious communication possible. If people possess a Christian vision and insights and relate in a personal way to those with whom they converse, then their conversation contributes to the existence of a Christian culture. Here the problem is not to find new means for influencing the culture. The problem is to find in ourselves the resources to make good use of a means that is immediately at hand. There are many other ways in which we can influence culture and foster moral virtue. If we treat others respectfully it helps them to recognize their own worth, and to act accordingly. Furthermore, symbols motivate more powerfully than words. It is mainly by symbols that nations become self aware and can motivate citizens to loyalty and devotion, even to fight and to die. The Catholic Church uses symbols constantly. Culture is communicated and virtue fostered or hindered also by literature, poetry, economic practices, attitudes towards work and leisure, patterns of buying and consuming, treatment of the aged, the weak and vulnerable, the family meal, how we manage time, forms of worship, public celebrations, honouring of those who are deemed worthy of honour, etc., etc., etc. Of prime importance is the fact that to build one kind of culture we must reject its opposite. We must learn to say no to much of what clamors for our attention. There are, no doubt, more esoteric ways in which people might influence or create a Christian culture. The point here is that we already have, close at hand, a number of largely neglected ways of doing this. It makes no sense to wait for someone to give us the key to creating a Christian culture while neglecting the means that are available. However, to move effectively from words to action will require at least two qualities, and


without them we are likely to remain on the level of impotent speculation. We need to act deliberately and we need to act communally. There is a strange dichotomy in our culture. On the one hand, perhaps the most powerful aspect of our culture for several centuries has been the development of technologies. By various means we have learned to control nature. Progress and success have been measured by our increasing ability to subject nature to human use. In relation to things outside of ourselves, we are hyper active. In relation to what happens to ourselves, however, we are strangely passive. As Christians we indeed are called to be makers, but the primary object of that making is our own selves. The whole point of life is to cooperate with God to become saints. But we shy away from the discipline that would be required to build character and develop virtues. We introduce powerful cultural influences in our midst, such as television, with little reflection on what they do to us. We conduct economic life on the profit motive with little regard for what various economic practices are doing to us. To expect economic life to be structured deliberately in order to form good character would be, in the eyes of “the world� supremely unrealistic. In a sane world we would be at least as deliberate about what happens within us as we are about what happens outside of us. If we cannot overcome our culturally induced passivity concerning our own characters we will not even try to change our culture. Secondly, our action to change culture and thereby foster moral virtue must be communal. It is good and necessary that individuals begin immediately to use those means that are close at hand to change their immediate milieu. However, for there to be an appreciable impact on the wider culture it cannot be left to scattered individuals. There needs to be action in common. Perhaps God will send us someone like Bernard of Clairvaux or Francis of Assisi or Mother Teresa who can move great numbers of people to undertake great things; but we need not wait for someone to come from on high. Usually we can invite someone to join us in the effort, and build on that.


A formidable obstacle to common action is supposed lack of time. How often parish leaders have called meetings to achieve some common purpose and few have answered the call. We were told some decades ago that our productive capacity can supply us with all the goods we need and still leave us time for unprecedented leisure. Instead, having solved the problem of production, the economic agents in our society have turned their ingenuity to the creation of unlimited demands. Happiness means consuming, and we have to work hard to be able to consume more, and we have no time to spare. We are too busy to get together. If we cannot find the time to work together we will not change our culture. This discussion has moved from the ethics of sex and marriage to the more general subject of forming people in virtue, and at the same time influencing or even creating a Christian culture. The introduction of the wider topic is not a distraction. Ethics moves towards action. The ethics of sex and marriage should move towards the creation of the virtue of chastity. Forming the virtue of chastity involves some considerations that are peculiar to chastity, but in our day it is necessary first to consider the whole question of how virtue of any kind can be fostered in a culture that in many ways militates against it. This subject requires more attention than it can be given in this work, but to ignore it would be to leave the false impression that we, and the Church, are at an impasse and can do nothing about the fact that people do not accept the official Catholic teaching on the ethics of sex and marriage. On the contrary, the means are at hand to show more and more people that the Catholic Church points the way to a full and rewarding understanding of sex and marriage. That understanding has been obscured by a world that, not for the first time, has lost its way.




It is generally supposed that those seeking ethical truth should pay attention to empirical science.394 Perhaps even more than other ethicists, those who write about sex and marriage are liable to be told that they are out of touch with psychology or some other discipline. These sciences supposedly reveal realities that might otherwise be ignored. How, exactly, do empirical studies bear on ethics? For a certain kind of ethical relativist all moral rules are products of a particular culture and there are no transcendent norms by reference to which one can criticize the ethical beliefs of a particular culture. In this view ethics is completely subservient to “the facts” about what norms prevail in a particular culture. In this situation an empirical study would reveal the ethical standards currently accepted by a population. This book is not based on such relativism. How then does the approach of this book take account of empirical facts? Correct moral judgments, though requiring more than knowledge of facts, do indeed require knowledge of the facts.

Often these facts are apparent from unsystematic

observation, but in other cases they can be known more precisely and accurately with the help of empirical sciences.395 Empirical sciences may do something as basic as clarifying the meaning of terms. For example, those beginning the study of the institution may suppose that marriage is the monogamous union that is normal in the western world. Anthropologists, who have 394

The term “empirical” here refers to disciplines such as physics and chemistry that reach conclusions from accurate recording and measurement of observable phenomena. 395 On possible pitfalls in drawing conclusions in the study of families, see Knapp, Stan, “Authorizing family science: an analysis of the objectifying practices of family science discourse” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(2002) 1038-48.


observed more widely, point out other forms that marriage may take.


disciplines can also help clarify the various functions of an institution.

History or

anthropology or sociology may, for example, show how marriage meets a variety of needs not obvious to the casual observer. The role of causal relationships is especially important in ethical thinking, and taking account of this causal relationship requires observation. For example, granting a permit for a gambling casino involves a moral judgment. Whether it is morally right to grant a permit in a particular situation will depend, at least partially, on the effects that it will have. If it is found that a considerable number of people who are likely to use the facility are problem gamblers who, given the opportunity, routinely lose money that they should be using to support their families, that fact is certainly relevant to the question of whether granting a permit is morally right or wrong. One may act on one’s impressions, or one may do a systematic study of the actual effects of casinos on the spending practices of its clients. We don’t always need scientific studies to establish a causal connection between A and B. Without scientific measurement I recognize that if I tell lies frequently my associates will cease to believe me. In some cases scientific study provides precision and greater certainty on issues in which casual observation provides likely impressions. One may have the impression that divorce will generally create problems for children. The extent of those problems as a general rule, however, can be known with greater certainty and accuracy from systematic studies. Establishing a correlation between two phenomena need not establish a direct causal connection. The unhappiness of children correlates with parental divorce. Does the divorce cause children to be unhappy? Or does the unhappiness of the children cause the divorce? More plausibly, the unhappiness of the children and the divorce of the parents may both be caused by some third element such as strife between the parents. To discover which of these hypotheses is true requires specially designed studies.


As Aristotle points out at the beginning of The Nichomachean Ethics, it is the part of wisdom to seek in any discipline only the degree of certainty that is possible in that discipline.

In this book I do not pretend to establish a series of clear and certain

propositions on the basis of empirical studies. Even if I tried to expend the time to complete such a project, it remains a matter of conjecture how many such propositions could be established, given the controversial and often incomplete nature of the available evidence. My more modest goal is to indicate in a general way what empirical studies suggest on a number of pertinent issues. To review all of the available literature would be impossible. I have examined all of the articles from the years 1990 to 2005 in a number of periodicals, mainly American, that might be expected to carry articles on subjects relevant to this book.

I have also

conducted a more-or-less random examination of books and other articles until I felt that I had a fair idea of the prevailing and best-founded opinions in the relevant areas. I have not examined thoroughly the methods used in the various studies I have reviewed. Occasionally I have pointed out obvious weaknesses or limitations in methodology or in the inferences from the evidence. In a few cases I have noted criticisms other authors have made of the methodology used. I have tried to be fair and unbiased, including in this book all the evidence I examined that challenges my conclusions. Because I have chosen the periodicals without knowing ahead of time what bias they might show and have consulted all of their relevant articles between 1990 and 2005, I have some confidence that the selection of articles has been unbiased. Because the choice of books to consult has been less random there is more chance for bias to enter into it; but here too I have tried to include publications that disagree with my own conclusions. Social science not only records facts but also interprets them. It is impossible to avoid all interpretation in assessing the significance of empirical evidence. I have tried to avoid interpretations that seem biased or hard to justify.


I approached this study expecting mostly mixed and inconclusive results that would allow for only very limited and tentative conclusions. I have been surprised, however, that on a number of key points the empirical evidence has allowed for more-or-less definite conclusions, and (less surprisingly) that these conclusions support the point of view taken by this book or at least do not cast doubt upon them. In other words, an examination of the empirical evidence seems to support traditional teachings on the ethics of sex and marriage and rarely if ever does it seriously challenge them. It should be added that on many issues where this book makes certain suppositions of fact I found few if any relevant studies that either support or contradict my conclusions. Perhaps the studies exist and I didn’t find them, though my coverage should have turned up most major areas of research. Many of the issues seem not to have interested researchers or have thus far defied their efforts to design appropriate research instruments. Much empirical material has been incorporated into the chapters to which it is relevant. The rest has been gathered together in this Appendix. Scientific empirical studies, valuable as they are, have limited application in ethical thinking. Most major ethical principles do not depend on systematic empirical research. I do not have to study the effects of murder to conclude that it is evil. Even when a cause-effect connection is important in ethical thinking, frequently the connection is obvious without systematic study. The fact that telling lies will undermine trust between people is a fact relevant to the ethics of lying, but the causal connection is sufficiently clear that I need not wait for a scientific study before using that connection in my ethical thinking. In this appendix, rather than using footnotes for each reference I have referred to authors by name in the text, adding the date or title when the author has several entries in the bibliography. (The bibliography constitutes the last section of this appendix.) In many cases I have not given page numbers, particularly because, especially in the case of relatively short works, the main benefit in checking the reference is to discover the more complete message of the author.




Studies noted earlier in this book have shown something of the extent to which child poverty correlates with negative results in other areas such as academic performance. So strong is this correlation that there is a common impression that the negative qualities that accompany other factors are really caused by poverty. For example, the fact that children in single parent families tend to do less well academically is plausibly attributed to the fact that such families are often very poor. A recent study reported in a volume edited by Douglas Willms disagrees. It concludes that good parenting is much more important than economic status or social class in determining good and bad outcomes for children. If the parenting is good, children of all economic and social classes are likely to prosper. If parenting is bad, children in all economic conditions and social classes will tend not to do well. Good parenting according to the Willms volume consists especially in being attentive and responsive to the child and using rational, authoritative discipline rather than either authoritarian or permissive attitudes.

The bad results of poor parenting

include many of the things one would expect such as low academic performance, behavioural and emotional problems, etc. After the Second World War the World Health Organization commissioned British scholar John Bowlby to do a study on mental health. After examining a great deal of literature he published Maternal Care and Mental Health, in 1951. A general notion of his conclusions and the basis for them can be gleaned from pp. 11, 15, 46-51 & 67-68 of that volume. Bowlby concludes that the creation of a mother-child bond in the early years is crucial. In his view it is essential that the infant and young child experience a warm, intimate and continuous relationship with the mother or permanent mother-substitute in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment. He admits to some uncertainty about the importance of


For the sake of simplicity, here “parenting� refers to raising children whether it is done by biological parents or by others.


this relationship during the first six months of the child’s life, but holds that certainly during the second half-year of life it is extremely important, and continues to be so for the following years, becoming gradually less important after the age of about three but remaining very significant throughout childhood. According to Bowlby, a child who never establishes such a relationship will in all likelihood never be able to relate properly to others. From the ranks of these children come those psychopathic persons who resist any known therapy. If the mother-child relationship is established but then broken by the departure of the mother or mothersubstitute either permanently or for many months, the child suffers what Bowlby calls “maternal deprivation�. This can lead to mental health problems including depression, apathy, lack of feeling, neurosis and psychosis. Maternal deprivation also is a factor in lower intellectual development, anti-social behaviour and the inability to relate to others. These effects can be permanent or at least very resistant to therapy. Even physical health is affected. Bowlby based his conclusions on direct observation of children in institutions, investigation of early histories of adolescents or adults who have developed psychological illnesses, and follow-up studies of children who had suffered maternal deprivation in early years. Because many types of psychological problem are resistant to therapy, Bowlby argues that efforts to improve mental health should focus especially on prevention. Because the family plays a crucially important role in mental health and mental illness, it follows that effective prevention involves helping families to raise children properly. Bowlby argues (p. 126) that the mother herself needs emotional support, without which she will be less effective in relating to her child.

So important is the family, he claims, that even

relatively incompetent parents normally contribute a great deal towards the psychological welfare of their children.


Two later works by the author add details and incorporate some later studies but do not change his main thesis. In A Secure Base (1988) he notes (pp. 77 & ff., 178-180) that a poorly reared child is likely to become a less competent parent. This book refers to an important article published in 1985 by M. Rutter. A reprinting of Maternal Care and Mental Health contains an article by Mary Ainsworth (which originally appeared in 1962) that supports and adds details to the Bowlby thesis on the basis of more recent research. Ainsworth holds that it doesn’t seem to hurt the child if care is distributed among a number of caregivers so long as the child relates in a special way to one major maternal figure. Problems arise, however, if there is no principal maternal figure. Bowlby expected that his work would be criticized in certain quarters, and his expectations were met. Among those who dispute his opinions is Jere Brophy, who argues (p.111) that the attachment cycle is not universal and is not necessarily beneficial. He sees no grounds for rejecting institutional care of the infant and young child on the grounds that it lacks that bond. Brophy does not provide convincing empirical evidence in support of his position. Diane Eyer provides a later criticism of the notion of bonding. Her work, I think, provides a needed caution against mother-child bonding theories that rely to a significant extent on animal studies. That her arguments carry weight against Bowlby’s thesis is less clear. Casler (c1974, Chapter 4) in downplaying the need of the child for affection argues that for the first six months the mother-child relationship is not highly personal from the side of the child.397 Bowlby himself was cautious about the nature and importance of the mother-child bond during the child’s first six months of life. Ambert claims that the intense mother child bond is a Western bias, not valid in all cultures. Curiously, she does not include Bowlby among her copious references. One gets the impression that, whatever about details, a large majority of authors believe that the early mother-child bond is important.

Parcel & Dufur, for example, list it

prominently among the factors that produce good or bad outcomes for the child. Queen, Hebenstein & Quadagno (p. 10) state that in all cultures there is a strong tie between mother and child, at least during the child’s early years. Robert Kronemeyer is convinced 397

See also Casler (1961) and (1968).


from clinical evidence that serious difficulties in the young child’s relation to the mother can cause grave psychological problems later in life. See the article by Edwards and other articles in the same issue of Family Process for the use some people have made of Bowlby’s ideas. A number of studies speak more generally of how important it is for children to have a good relationship with parents.

Ungar notes the importance of relationships of

adolescents to parents and to caregivers to foster mental health of the adolescent. This is true even for youth who are peer-oriented and for whom therefore parents might seem less important. Dekovic & others state that the main predictor regarding antisocial behaviour by the child is the quality of the parent-child relationship. Sabatelli & BartleHaring confirm that family-of-origin experiences have a significant bearing on the ability of wives to adjust in marriage. A number of studies report the good effects of “parental involvement”, meaning an involvement that is positive and helpful but usually without analyzing the specific meaning of the term. McNeal notes that parental involvement with the child has some effect on the child’s academic performance but is more effective in helping the child to avoid behavioural problems. These results hold mainly for white, upper and middle class families.

Bogenschneider finds that parental involvement contributed to children’s

academic success irrespective of the gender, educational level or ethnic identity of the parents.

Amato & Rivera report that maternal and paternal involvement are

independently and significantly effective in lessening the incidence of behavioural problems among children. Dadds lists early interaction of the child with caregivers as a significant factor in helping the child avoid behavioural problems. Barnett & others report that a positive relationship with a parent is associated with daughters’ reports of well being and low levels of distress. A study by Wenk & others notes that it is the perception by the child of parental emotional and behavioural involvement that especially contributes to the well-being of children.


According to Bjarnason and others a study in Iceland indicates that parental support is one of the most important factors in reducing alcohol abuse by the child. Tatum finds that, for African-American youth, encouragement by significant adults is very important for academic success.

Khaleque & Rohner confirm the findings of earlier studies that

the children’s perception of parental acceptance strongly helps psychological adjustment, and that this holds true across cultures. Cornwell reports that “social support”, a sense of being important in the eyes of others, being cared for and esteemed and valued as a person, having someone who will listen, understand and help when needed, is crucial in avoiding depression. Common sense suggests that if this is not provided by parents it may well be lacking in the child’s life. Brophy (p. 13) remarks that the relation of parent and child is more important than techniques in successfully raising children. A number of authors attempt to spell out what that relationship should be like. Zeng-Yin Chen & Howard Kaplan cite a number of authors to the effect that warm, supportive parenting leads children to higher educational achievement, better psychological development and a lower rate of deviant behaviour. Bowlby (1988, pp. 166 & ff.) cites studies that show positive results for the child if parents respond lovingly, are available, sensitive and a source of security. Veneziano & Rohner find that the psychological adjustment of youth correlates with the individual’s perception of being accepted by the father, and that this feeling of acceptance is more significant than simple involvement of the father with the young person. Both Grinker and Offer argue that it is important for the child that the relationship between parents be stable, with a resulting stability in the whole family. Hays on the other hand argues that there are more kinds of mothering than the “intensive mothering” favoured in America today. This intensive mothering she sees to be the product of a divorce between home and work. Hays’ position appears to disagree with the authors noted above. I think her reminder that there are several successful ways of mothering is valuable, as is the suggestion that a currently popular form of mothering may be to some extent a reaction to cultural conditions.


To laud one quality of parenting implies criticism of its opposite. Several authors focus on qualities to be avoided. Paley & others note the bad effects of parents who seem distant from or exhibit hostility to the child. Swinford & others suggest that harsh physical punishment of children leads to greater likelihood of the child later perpetrating violence against his or her spouse. Ronald Simons & others (1994, pp. 591-607) find that non-abusive corporal punishment of the child does not seem to produce ill effects, does not produce aggressiveness or delinquency or lessen psychological well-being. They conclude that the bad effects of punishment to a considerable extent come from the disregard, inconsistency and non-involvement with the child that are often also present with punishment. Smith & others find a weak-to-moderate correlation between growing up in an abusive family and becoming involved in a violent marital relationship. According to Heyman & Smith, when children are abused or experience violence in their family-of-origin they are more likely to perpetuate violence in the next generation. Cherlin & others (2004) report that women who have been physically or sexually abused are substantially less likely to be married or to be in stable, long-term relationships. Buehler & Gerard take as an established starting point for their investigation the position that parental conflict correlates with maladjustment of younger children and adolescents. They find that for children aged 2 to 11 the ineffective parenting that accompanies the parental conflict plays a major role in the children’s maladjustment, but this is not a significant factor for adolescents.

That is, for adolescents the parental conflict has

serious bad effects on the child whatever the quality of the parenting. Amato & Booth (1997) have made an extensive study of the ill effects of parental conflict on children, suggesting that often it has a worse effect on children than does divorce. A notable development in recent several decades has been the large increase in the number of families in which both parents work outside of the home. Given the impact this could have on family life, one might expect the subject to vie with divorce as the most studied aspect of marriage and family, and there are a number of books devoted to


this subject.398 My search was directed primarily to periodical literature and has turned up only a few articles. Parcel & Menaghan argue against several earlier articles that saw serious drawbacks for the child if both parents are working outside the home during its early years. When they come to sum up their own conclusion, however, the most Parcel & Menaghan can say (p. 1003) is: “Thus, social trends towards increased maternal employment and increased use of nonmaternal care cannot be shown to be uniformly deleterious to child outcomes.” Wen-Jui Han & others conclude that for those whom they studied, early maternal employment has negative cognitive and behavioural outcomes on children three and four years of age. Some of these outcomes persist to the age of seven or eight. On the other hand, Mott reports on a study that shows that healthy girls have a cognitive advantage if they have another caregiver besides the mother; boys with health problems however gain “socioemotionally” by spending more time with their mothers. In general, Mott does not find a significant difference if the child is cared for by parents or other caregivers. (Children in his study who had caregivers other than their parents also lived with their parents.) Gurjeet Gill theorizes that when both parents work outside the home this gives children a more active role in the family. Among those observed by Benin & Edwards, however, whereas daughters in families in which both parents work full time outside of the home spent 25% more time working in the home, sons in that situation spent only one third as much time doing chores as do sons in traditional families. A volume edited by Phyllis Moen gives a definitely negative view of the effects of parental employment on the contemporary family. Authors represented in this collection believe that currently parents are under too much stress and have too many responsibilities outside the home to allow them comfortably to fulfill their parental obligations. To continue further in this direction would be disastrous. The options are either to revert to the mother being at home with the children, with the father as the only


For example, Meal, Margaret, & others, Balancing Work and Caregiving for Children, Adults and Elders, Newbury Park, CA, Sage, 1993.


breadwinner, or (preferably) to change work policies to allow more flexibility, avoid punishing parents for giving priority to children, etc. A careful and thoughtful article by Sayer & others introduces a different consideration. The authors find that both mothers and fathers (especially fathers) report spending more time in child care activities in the 1990’s than did parents in the 1960’s. Citing sources that contradict this position, they argue that these sources used inadequate research methods. I give the last two titles only as examples of differences of opinion. My reading has not been sufficiently extensive to provide a basis for judging where the preponderance of evidence lies on the important, controversial and politicized issue of the effect on children when both parents work outside the home. Crouter & others believe that, at least for boys, monitoring by adults is a major factor in avoiding problems. Sampson & Laub believe that structural factors such as death of a parent, divorce and poor socioeconomic conditions give rise to delinquency among children not so much directly as by influencing the way people treat their children (e.g., by causing parents to exercise less supervision). Miller & others find that monitoring behaviour had a significant influence in avoidance of early sexual activity by children. Bjarnason & others conclude that parental monitoring helps Icelandic children avoid alcohol abuse.

Hoffmann (2003) lists parental supervision as important in children

avoiding delinquency. Monitoring and supervision can present a challenge for single parents and when both parents work outside of the home. One would expect that the ability of parents to state their behavioural expectations clearly to their children would be a positive factor in raising children. For Miller & others this is a factor in delaying children’s becoming sexually active. Hovell & others find that youth tend to be more sexually restrained when given definite rules for dating and when parents insist on the rules. According to Ennett & others, communication between parents and


children about rules of behaviour does not seem to prevent children from beginning to use alcohol and tobacco but it does help them avoid escalation of their use. Amato & Booth ((1997) report on a longitudinal study of parents, family situations and the effects on children as they pass through adolescence into adulthood. They state: “The link between parental marital quality and children’s general well-being in adulthood is the most consistent finding to emerge from our study.” (p. 230) For them “marital quality” includes factors such as the happiness of the partners with the marriage, level of conflict and the ability to handle conflict without causing damage, and the stability of the relationship.

Rogers & White find that parents with a higher quality of spousal

relationship get more satisfaction from parenting. There is some evidence that belonging to one religion or another is usually not significant in the welfare of parents or children. Booth & others, for example, found the link between religion and marital quality to be both reciprocal and weak. What seems to be more important is the degree to which individuals take their religion seriously. See Pearce & Axinn. According to Bahr & others, students who are religious tend not to use drugs or have close friends who use drugs. Butler & others report positive effects of prayer in family life. Stack & Wasserman find that institutional ties to religion lowered pro-suicide ideology among African Americans. King (2003) notes that religious fathers tend to be more involved with their children than are non-religious fathers, and report a higher quality of relationships with their children; the differences, while significant, are modest. Leslie Gordon Simons & others report that religiosity generally contributes to good parenting, and religion can discourage problematic behaviour of children, but they warn that in some cases religiosity encourages parental practices that provoke anti-social behaviour in children. Dodder finds no strong evidence of parental influence concerning what moral norms the children accept; but if the adults’ relativistic attitude is expressed in corresponding behaviour, their children are more likely to betray relativistic attitudes in their own behaviour, though probably concerning other moral issues.


Kuntay reports that teenage female sex workers in Istanbul overwhelmingly have in their background either divorced parents, a problematic family situation or obviously bad parenting practices. A number of other characteristics of parents and the effects on their children have been studied: depression and general mental health of parents (Carlson & Corcoran) and their modeling of behaviour (Woodward & others; Tatum; Herd; Zeng-Yin Chen & Kaplan). Patterson & Redding state that research suggests that lesbian and gay couples are as likely as heterosexual parents to provide home environments that support positive outcomes for children. Vollebergh & others cite authors who found a strong correlation between the worldviews of parents and those of children, both in adolescence and beyond. Downey & others find little difference for the child whether the single parent is male or female. Powell & Downey state that they found virtually no evidence that it is an advantage for a child in a single parent family to live with a parent of the same sex as the child. (This challenges a relatively common opinion.) Regarding all of the points mentioned in this paragraph, the studies in my survey are too few to indicate a consensus on the issues. Of interest is the thesis of Richard Gill that many modern families fail their children by communicating too much emphasis on the present and not enough orientation towards the future. III.


Several recently published books give an alarming picture of what is happening to marriage and family in our society. They are based on some of the studies that have been cited above and on much other research.


Before the more recent spate of books on the subject, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, sociologist and later Democratic Senator from New York, sounded a warning about developments in family life in America. His book The Negro Family: the Case for National Action, published in 1965, deplored what he regarded as the deterioration of family life of African Americans.399 He pointed to high levels of single parenting as a result of girls bearing children before marriage and women being deserted by their marriage or common-law partners. Moynihan cited numerous sources to show that a large number of African American children exhibit some undesirable characteristics that are commonly attributed to single parenting: inferior academic performance, lower economic and occupational status, higher rates of crime and delinquency, higher rates of drug addiction, etc. Moynihan himself attributed these undesirable characteristics to the high percentage of children who grow up with single parents. He noted that AfricanAmerican society has become to a considerable extent matriarchal; women too often are left with the whole role of parenting and support of children, and in spite of their best efforts they cannot avoid many of the ill effects of single parenting. It is African American males, according to Moynihan, who suffer the most serious consequences of the present situation, but it is also the males who are instrumental, by their own behaviour, in repeating the destructive pattern in the next generation. A political consequence, for the author, is that the effort to improve the situation of African Americans must concentrate on restoring family structures. Moynihan noted that many of the negative aspects of family life among African Americans were originally caused by the inferior position in which they were placed in a society dominated by whites.

They suffered from racial discrimination including

discriminatory hiring practices, inferior schools, lack of respect for their own traditions.400 He argues, however, that once a negative pattern in family life becomes entrenched it becomes self-perpetuating. Once a large percentage of African American 399

See also his article in 1971. William E. Cross Jr., using mostly tentative language, suggests that it is not plausible to attribute certain problems in African American families to their original condition of slavery in America, but the more likely causes are more recent conditions such as discrimination, poorer job opportunities and lower quality of education. 400


children grow up in single-parent families, with all the attendant ill effects this visits on children, then the next generation will tend to repeat that pattern even if the dominant culture ceases to exercise unjust discrimination and other negative attitudes towards African Americans. The picture that Moynihan paints of the African American family is not flattering. Though his scholarly output and subsequent political performance gave no grounds for a suspicion of racism, some critics did describe his report as racist. A major line of attack is the claim that the continuing bad conditions among African Americans should not be attributed to a self-sustaining pathology but to continued discrimination and negative attitudes by the dominant community. See, for example, Ryan; Carper; Murstein, pp. 397-398. A later volume reporting on a conference on the family, edited by Moynihan & Timothy Smeeding, for the most part supports Moynihan’s position. In a preface Moynihan does not back down from his earlier views, though he pays attention to those who have disagreed with him. The general tenor of the collection is that the decline of the family has hurt children, and that we really don’t know how to make up for it fully by public policy although we should try. Whatever one concludes about this or that detail of the Moynihan position, there is strong, if not overwhelming, evidence that a pattern of family breakdown once entrenched in a population will tend to perpetuate itself. Garrett & others note that though disadvantaged families don’t always pass on disadvantages to the next generation, they tend to do so; and similarly, advantaged families tend to pass on their advantages to the next generation. It would be surprising if this were not the case among African Americans. One gets the impression that in recent years some African-American leaders have shifted attention to some extent from what African Americans have suffered from others to what they must do themselves to be masters of their own future.


The rates of single parenting among Americans generally now are about equal to the rates that Moynihan deplored in the African American community in the 1960’s. There has been a substantial rise in the ill effects that one might expect from single parenting. A number of thinkers have sounded the alarm about what this means for the welfare of American society generally. Prominent among them is the American sociologist David Popenoe. Among his works listed below, note especially his 1996 book Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children and Society.401 Of central concern to Popenoe is the role of fathers in American families. Between 1960 and 1990 the percentage of children living apart from their biological fathers rose from 17% to 36%, with the likelihood of rising still further. A major factor is the rise in rates of divorce in United States, so that at the time of the publication of the book (1996) somewhere between 50% and 60% of first marriages would end in divorce. A second major factor is the rise of births to unmarried women, currently at about 30% in United States. The fact is that many children are growing up apart from their biological fathers. A smaller but still significant number are growing up apart from their biological mothers. Popenoe notes that some thinkers have begun to question whether fathers are really very significant in raising children. Granted, it is helpful to the mother if she has a partner to help earn money and look after children, but need this partner be the father? Popenoe cites studies that show some of the difficulties that children have in single parent families – poorer academic performance; higher rates of delinquency and crime, sexual promiscuity, lower psychological well-being, drug and alcohol abuse, welfare dependency – echoing material that has been reviewed earlier in this book. Popenoe’s more particular interest is in the specific role that fathers play that either cannot be fulfilled by mothers or that can be fulfilled by them only with great difficulty. He cites studies that show that the special role played by fathers in their children’s lives


See also Popenoe (1993). He anticipated his theme as well in Disturbing the Nest: Family, Change and Decline in Modern Societies.


contributes in a unique way in several areas, including cultivating competence and academic achievement, growing in empathy, developing independence.


believes that good fathers supply role models that help sons to become well-adjusted men, and the modeling of appropriate male behaviour is also important if daughters are to become well adjusted as adult women. The author cites studies to show that step-fathers are usually less helpful than biological fathers in helping children develop properly. He concludes that the declining role of fathers threatens the well-being of American society because it has such a deleterious effect on the welfare of children. He traces what he sees to be the historical development that has brought American society to this point, and lays out the necessary steps if fathers are to exercise their appropriate roles. That Popenoe is hardly an apologist for traditional morality is evident from his views on sexual morality. He believes that though it might be desirable for young people to refrain from sexual activity until their middle-to-late twenties (which he takes to be the best time for them to marry) it is unrealistic to expect them to do so. He wants to elaborate a “middle ground� position on sexual ethics that would rule out sex among younger youth and make it safer for older youth. (Popenoe is not as careful to support this position with empirical evidence as he is with regard to his main thesis.) A year before Popenoe’s Life Without Father, David Blankenhorn published Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Issue. The author agrees with Popenoe that the role of fathers in America has declined in that more and more children are growing up apart from their biological fathers and this has led to a number of social problems for children and bodes ill for the future welfare of American society. Like Popenoe, Blankenhorn cites a number of sociological and statistical studies. More than Popenoe, he reflects on the culture in which the role of fathers has declined, with observations from a number of different disciplines, illustrations from personal histories, excerpts from newspapers and other vehicles of popular culture expressing opinions that


illustrate his thesis about American attitudes towards fathers. Blankenhorn too concludes with suggestions for overcoming the present crisis. For those looking for shorter works, Rebecca O’Neill provides a quite comprehensive review of the situation of families and child rearing in Experiments in Living: the Fatherless Family. This 38 page study uses mainly British but some American sources. Her conclusions are so close to those of Popenoe and Blankenhorn that it would be repetitive to outline them here. As far as I can ascertain, the work has not been published on paper by itself or as part of a book, but it may be accessed on the Internet at Bengston, Biblarz & Roberts note that in general children of recent decades score well, even better than children of earlier decades in several categories such as self-esteem and the educational level of women. However, the gains show up mainly in intact families. It could argued, accordingly, that Popenoe and other authors cited are right when they point out that certain factors have been harmful to families and their ability to raise children, but there may also be other factors that to some extent at least offset the negative effects and provide for a more positive view of the possibility of families playing their proper role in raising children in the future. Among other works that express concern about the state of the family in similar terms are those by Popenoe, Elshtain & Blankenhorn; Vitz & Krason, eds.; Wilson. A study by Houseknecht & Sastray gives evidence from four countries that children are better off when they live in a society in which traditional family patterns are strong. They note that certain measures may be taken to mitigate the evil effects of disrupted family structures. The negative views of authors like Popenoe and Blankenhorn concerning the state of the modern family are not shared by all authors. Amato & Booth (1997, pp. 2-21) while citing some writers who stress the importance of fathers also mention a number of studies that minimize it. See also Hobson’s review and Popenoe’s reply immediately following. In 2003, Amato & others reviewed and assessed the works of authors who see marriage


to be in jeopardy and took note of others who held the opposite position.

Looking at

works between 1980 and 2000, this article does not provide much reason to doubt the conclusion that there are many contemporary tendencies that harmful the family, but it notes that there are also more positive developments. In the literature I have examined, there are few if any convincing challenges to the negative impact that single parenting and several other characteristics of contemporary family life have on children. Some critics note that this negative impact can be to a considerable extent offset if certain remedial measures are taken. The question left by this sort of argument is: if it is difficult to motivate people to avoid having children outside of marriage and to avoid divorce if they have children, will it be any easier to motivate them to take the remedial measures? A different sort of critical approach is taken by several authors, of whom Brigitte Berger is an example. Berger’s book (2002) agrees with Popenoe and company that in practice the traditional family is the only effective way for a whole society to raise its children well. Thus she accepts those many studies that show that fathers are important and that children in single parent families suffer serious disadvantages. She believes that there has been an unhealthy war against the traditional family in American culture. If I interpret her position correctly, she explicitly or implicitly departs from Popenoe’s view mainly on two points. First, she appears to believe that in spite of many problems with single parenting, the modern family is, generally speaking, still able to perform relatively well its essential duties of raising children. Second, she seems to be less convinced than are some others that unhealthy patterns in family structure will become more and more common. Perhaps the basis for her relative optimism is that she is less convinced than others of the extent to which unhealthy patterns perpetuate themselves. If there is one “fact” to which she returns over and over, it is that most people still look upon marriage in traditional terms in spite of the ideological attack against it. My own impression is that the traditional idea of the family needs more protection from actual social forces (individualism, etc.) than from ideological attacks, and that seen in this context the situation appears more dangerous than Berger believes it to be. Perhaps we have become


so accustomed to think of doomsday as something in the future that we fail to recognize it when it arrives. IV.


The benefits of marriage to spouses was a principal interest of only a very few articles I reviewed, although a number of books have dealt with the subject. Those that focus on the negative usually see marriage as detrimental women. For example, Jessie Bernard argues that while marriage benefits men, it is less beneficial to women. See also Janet M. Steil. Gove claims that marriage is psychologically advantageous for men but not for women. Simon on the other hand argues that the emotional benefits of marriage apply equally to men and women. Most of the studies I encountered took the position that marriage significantly benefits both men and women. Linda Waite & Maggie Gallagher argue vigorously for that position. (See also Sprey’s critical review of the book.) Sastry points out that in a series of studies marriage is consistently the strongest predictor of well-being in the U.S., although in India it is a less important predictor than are education and income. Mastekaasa’s investigations (1994) confirm the commonly received opinion in the literature that a higher level of well-being exists among currently married persons than among the non-married (divorced, separated, widowed and never married). Frequently, according to Mastekaasa, the divorced and separated are found to be the lowest in perceived quality of life. Although the studies reviewed by Mastekaasa deal mainly with the Western world, he finds some support for the thesis in practically all countries. The purported benefits cited for marriage are manifold. Waite & Gallagher claim that it benefits men and women physically, mentally and spiritually, is accompanied by less abuse of alcohol and drugs, and married people are more likely than the unmarried to declare themselves to be happy. In the matter of depression vs. perceiving oneself to be happy, Kurdek found the married to be in the best position, while those who cohabited fared better than single persons. Amato (1999) reports that married men and women,


compared to single persons, exhibit fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, are less likely to engage in risky behaviour, are in better physical health, live longer, report more physical and emotional satisfaction in their sex lives and enjoy economic benefits. Lamb & others studied the reason for the correlation between marriage and a lower level of depression. Is it because depressed people are less likely to marry, or does marriage itself decrease depression? They conclude that the latter is the case. According to Laub & others, among people who according to other factors were at serious risk of criminal conduct, those who entered stable marriages have significantly lower levels of criminal activity. The people studied by Waite & Joyner found more emotional satisfaction in sex, and to a lesser extent more physical pleasure in sex, when they perceived their relationship to their partner to be long-term and sexually exclusive; and a higher proportion of married than of cohabiting men and women reported being extremely satisfied with their sex lives. According to Nock among the benefits of marriage to men is the achievement of a masculine identity, an increase in social participation and growth in generosity. Several articles reported interesting nuances in the area of benefits claimed for marriage. Amato & Booth (1995) report that when there was a switch to less traditional roles, women reported a decline in the perceived quality of their marriage whereas men reported an increase.

This finding is counterintuitive in that the adoption of less

traditional gender roles is usually presented as favouring greater freedom for women. Lillard notes that men and women who have been married for a longer time report more favourably on their marriage than do those who have been married for a shorter time. Rogers & Amato (1997) report similar findings, but regard them in the context of a possible general decline of the state of marriage in our society due to such factors as economic pressures, conflict between demands of work and of family, gender-role attitudes and cohabitation prior to marriage. In other words, according to Rogers & Amato the younger people surveyed may have given a less positive view of marriage not because they have been married for a shorter time but because they reflect the way society is moving. Mastekaasa (1992) suggests, very plausibly, that one reason why


married people report greater well-being than do single people is that those who are capable of greater well-being are more likely than others to marry. There are a number of negative personal characteristics (ill health, disagreeable disposition) that make for a less happy life and also may account for a person never marrying or for the breakup of marriage. The literature about the benefits or drawbacks of parenting is scarce and on average less positive than that dealing with the benefits and drawbacks of marriage.


Blankenhorn argues that fatherhood contributes in an important way to the welfare of men, two recent articles suggest that children, at least while young, can in some ways detract from the well-being of their parents. Nomaguch & Milkie compared couples when they were childless to the same couples several years later when they had children. They report that for fathers there was relatively little change. Mothers however reported that they had to do more work and they experienced more marital conflict, but they also suffered less from depression. Twenge & others discovered that couples with children reported less satisfaction with their marriages than did couples without children. For wives this was especially marked when the children were young, and the more children they had the lower was their satisfaction with marriage. However, the differences in satisfaction between childless couples and those with children were moderate. REFERENCES The following abbreviations are used: AJS - American Journal of Sociology ASR - American Sociological Review JCFS - Journal of Comparative Family Studies JMF - Journal of Marriage and the Family (beginning in 2001, Journal of Marriage and Family) Ainsworth, Mary D., “The effects of maternal deprivation: a review of findings and controversy in the context of research strategy� in Deprivation of Maternal Care: a


Reassessment of its Effects, Public Health Papers, #14, Geneva, World Health Organization, 1962. Amato, Paul, “The post-divorce society: how divorce is shaping the family and other forms of social organization” in The Postdivorce Family: Children, Parenting and Society, Ross Thompson and Paul Amato, eds., Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage, 1999, pp. 161-190. Amato, Paul, & Alan Booth, “Changes in gender role attitudes and perceived marital quality” ASR 60(1995) 58-66. Amato, Paul, & Alan Booth, A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1997. Amato, Paul, & Fernando Rivera, “Parental involvement and children’s behavioral problems” JMF 61(1999) 375-384. Amato, Paul, & others, “Continuity and change in marital quality between 1980 and 2000” JMF 65(2003) 1-22. Ambert, Anne-Marie, “An international perspective on parenting: social change and social constructs” JMF 56(1994) 529-43. Bahr, Stephen, & others, “Family, religiosity and the risk of adolescent drug use” JMF 60(1998) 979-92. Barnett, Rosalind, & others, “Adult daughter-parent relationships and their association with daughter’s subjective well-being and psychological distress” JMF 53(1991) 29-42.


Bengston, Vern, Timothy Biblarz & Robert Roberts, How Families Still Matter: A Longitudinal Study of Youth in Two Generations, Cambridge UK, Cambridge University Press, 2002. Benin, Mary Holland, & Debra Edwards, “Adolescents’ chores: the difference between dual- and single-earner families” JMF 52(1990) 361-73. Berger, Brigitte, The Family in the Modern Age: More than a Lifestyle Choice, New Brunswick, New Jersey, Transaction Publishers, c2002. Bernard, Jessie, The Future of the Family, 2nd Edition, New Haven, Yale Univ. Press, c1982. Bjarnason, Thoroddur, & others, “Familial and religious influences on adolescent alcohol use: a multi-level study of students in school” Social Forces 84(2005) 375-90. Blankenhorn, David, Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem, New York, Basic Books, 1995. Bogenschneider, Karen, “Parental involvement in adolescent schooling: a proximal process with transcontextual validity” JMF 59(1997) 718-733. Booth, Alan, & others, “Belief and religion: does religion matter in today’s marriage?” JMF 57(1995) 661-671. Bowlby, John, Maternal Care and Mental Health, Geneva, World Health Organization, 1951 Bowlby, John, The Making and Breaking of Affectional Bonds, London, Tavistock, 1979.


Bowlby, John, A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development, New York, Basic Books, 1988 Brophy, Jere, Child Development and Socialization, Palo Alto, CA, Science Research Associates, 1977. Buehler, Cheryl, & Jean Gerard, “Marital conflict, ineffective parenting, and children’s and adolescents’ maladjustment” JMF 64(2002) 78-92. Butler, Mark, & others, “Not just a time-out: change dynamics of prayer for religious couples in conflict situations” Family Process 37(1988) 451-75. Carlson, Marcia, & Mary Corcoran, “Family structures and children’s behavioral and cognitive outcomes” JMF 63(2001) 779-92. Carper, Laura, “The Negro family and the Moynihan Report” in The Black Family: Essays and Studies, Robert Staples, ed., Belmont, CA, Wadsworth, c1971, pp. 65-71. Casler, Lawrence, “Maternal deprivation: a critical review of the literature” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 26(#2, 1961) 1-64. Casler, Lawrence, “Perceptual deprivation in institutional settings” in Early Experience and Behavior, G. Newton and S. Levine, eds., Springfield, Illinois, Charles C. Thomas, 1968. Casler, Lawrence, Is Marriage Necessary?, New York, Human Science Press, c1974. Cherlin, Andrew, & others, “The influence of physical and sexual abuse on marriage and cohabitation” ASR 69(2004) 768-89.


Cornwell, Benjamin, “The dynamics of social support: decay, growth, and staticity, and their effects on adolescent depression” Social Forces 81(2003) 953-78. Cross, William E. Jr., “Tracing the historical origins of youth delinquency and violence: myths and realities about Black culture” Journal of Social Issues 59(2003) 67-82. Crouter, Ann, & others, “Gender as an organizing feature in parent-child relationships” Journal of Social Issues 49(1993) 161-174. Dadds, Mark, “Families and the origins of child behavior problems” Family Process 26(1987) 341-57. Dekovic, Maja, & others, “Family predictors of antisocial behavior in adolescence” Family Process 42(2003) 223-35. Dodder, Richard, “An examination of parental influence on juvenile delinquency using neutralization theory” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 29(#2, 1999) 8196. Downey, Douglas, & others, “Sex of parent and children’s well-being in single-parent households” JMF 60(1998) 878-893. Edwards, Martha, “Attachment, mastery, and interdependence: a model of parenting processes” Family Process 41(2002) 389-404. Ennett, Susan, & others, “Parent-child communication about adolescent tobacco and alcohol use: What do parents say and does it affect youth behavior?” JMF 63(2001) 4862. Eyer, Diane E., Mother-Infant Bonding: A Scientific Fiction, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1992.


Garrett, Patricia, & others, “A structural model for the developmental status of young children” JMF 56(1994) 147-63.

Gill, Gurjeet, “Is Parson’s notion of the family redundant? Renegotiation of roles in twojob families” International Journal of Sociology of the Family 29(#2, 1999) 51-66. Gill, Richard, Posterity Lost: Progress, Ideology and the Decline of the American Family, Lanham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1997. Gove, Walter, “The relationship between sex roles, marital status and mental illness” Social Forces 51(1972) 34-44. Grinker, R.R., “Mentally healthy young males” Archives of General Psychiatry 6(1962) 405-453. Hays, Sharon, The Cultural Contradiction of Motherhood, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1996. Herd, Denise, “The influence of parental drinking attitudes and behavior on the drinking patterns of black and white adults” JCFS 25(1994) 353-70. Heyman, Richard, & Amy South, “Do child abuse and interpersonal violence lead to adulthood family violence?” JMF 64(2002) 864-70. Hobson, Barbara, Review of Popenoe (1988) in AJS 96(1990) 774-776, response by Popenoe, AJS 97(1991) 844-846. Hoffmann, John, “A contextual analysis of differential association, social control, and strain theories of delinquency” Social Forces 81(2003) 753-85.


Houseknecht, Sharon, & Jaya Sastry, “Family ‘decline’ and child well-being: a comparative assessment” JMF 58(1996) 726-39. Hovell, Mel, & others, “Family influences on Latino and Anglo adolescents’ sexual behavior” JMF 56(1994) 973-86. Khaleque, Abdul, & Ronald Rohner, “Perceived parental acceptance-rejection and psychological adjustment: a meta-analysis of cross-cultural and intracultural studies” JMF 64(2002) 54-64. King, Valarie, “The influence of religion on fathers’ relationship with their children” JMF 65(2003) 382-95. Kronemeyer, Robert, Overcoming Homosexuality, New York, Macmillan, 1980. Kuntay, Esin, “Family background of teenage female sex workers in Istanbul metropolitan area” JCFS 33(2002) 345-58. Kurdek, Lawrence, “The relations between reported well-being and divorce history, availability of a proximate adult, and gender” JMF 53(1991) 71-78. Lamb, Kathleen, & others, “Union formation and depression: selection of relationship effects” JMF 65(2003) 953-62. Lasch, Christopher, Haven in a Heartless World, New York, Basic Books, c1977. Laub, John, & others, “Trajectories of change in criminal offending: good marriages and the desistance process” ASR 63(1998) 225-238.


Lillard, Lee, “’Til death do us part: marital disruption and mortality” AJS 100(1995) 1131-1156. Mastekaasa, Arne, “Marital status, distress, and well-being: an international comparison” JCFS 25(1994) 183-205. Mastekaasa, Arne, “Marriage and psychological well-being: some evidence on selection into marriage” JMF 54(1992) 901-11. McNeal, Ralph Jr., “Parental involvement as social capital: differential effectiveness on science achievement, truancy, and dropping out” Social Forces 78(1999) 117-144. Miller, Kim S., & others, “Adolescent sexual behavior in two ethnic minority samples: the role of family variables” JMF 61(1999) 85-98. Moen, Phyllis (ed.), It’s About Time: Couples and Careers, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2003. Mott, Frank, “Developmental effects of infant care: the mediating role of gender and health” Journal of Social Issues 47(1991) 139-158 Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, The Negro Family: the Case for National Action, Office of Policy Planning and Research, United States Department of Labor, 1965. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, “The tangle of pathology” in The Black Family: Essays and Studies, Robert Staples, comp., Belmont, CA, Wadsworth, c1971, pp. 37-58. Moynihan, Daniel P., & Timothy Smeeding, eds., The Future of the Family, New York, Russell Sage Foundation, 2004.


Murstein, Bernard, Love, Sex and Marriage through the Ages, New York, Springer, 1974. Nock, Steven, Marriage in Men’s Lives, Oxford, Oxford Univ. Press, 1998. Nomaguchi, Kei, & Melissa Milkie, “Costs and rewards of children: the effects of becoming parents on adults’ lives” JMF 65(2003) 356-74. Offer, Daniel,

The Psychological World of the Teen-Ager: a Study of Normal

Adolescent Boys, New York, Basic Books, 1969. O’Neill, Rebecca, Experiments in Living: The Fatherless Family, Civitas, 2002, available at Paley, Blair, & others, “Parents’ affect, adolescent cognitive representations and adolescent development” JMF 62(2000) 761-76. Parcel, Toby, & Mikaela Dufur, “Capital at home and at school: effects on child social adjustment” JMF 63(2001) 32-42. Parcel, Toby, & Elizabeth Menaghan, “Early parental work, family social capital, and early childhood outcomes” AJS 99(1994) 972-1009. Patterson, Charlotte, & Richard Redding, “Lesbian and gay families with children: implications of social science research for policy” Journal of Social Issues 52, (#3, 1996) 29-50. Pearce, Lisa, & William Axinn, “The impact of family religious life on the quality of mother-child relations” ASR 63(1998) 810-828.


Popenoe, David, “American family decline, 1960-1990: a review and appraisal” JMF 55(1993) 527-541. Popenoe, David, Life without Father: Compelling New Evidence that Fatherhood and Marriage Are Indispensable for the Good of Children, New York, Martin Kessler Books, 1996. Popenoe, David, Jean Bethke Elshtain, & David Blankenhorn, Promises to Keep: Decline and Renewal of Marriage in America, Langham, MD, Rowman & Littlefield, 1996. Powell, Brian, & Douglas Downey, “Living in single-parent households: an investigation of the same-sex hypothesis” ASR 62(1997) 521-539. Queen, Stuart, Robert W. Habenstein & Jill Sobel Quadagno, The Family in Various Cultures, New York, Harper and Row, Fifth Edition, c1985. Rogers, Stacy, & Paul Amato, “Is marital quality declining? The evidence from two generations” Social Forces 75(1997) 1089-1100. Rogers, Stacy, & Lynn White, “Satisfaction with parenting: the role of marital happiness, family structure, and parents’ gender” JMF 60(1998) 293-308. Rutter, Michael, “Resilience in the face of adversity: protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder” British Journal of Psychiatry 147(1985) 598-611 Ryan, William, “Savage discovery – the Moynihan Report” in The Black Family: Essays and Studies, Robert Staples, comp., Belmont, CA, Wadsworth, c1971, pp. 58-65. Sabatelli, Ronald, & Suzanne Bartle-Haring, “Family-of-origin experiences and adjustment in married couples” JMF 65(2003) 159-69.


Sampson, , Robert J., & John H. Laub, Crime in the Making: Pathways and Turning Points through Life, Cambridge, MS, Harvard University Press, 1993, Ch. 4: “The family context of juvenile delinquency”. Sastry, Jaya, “Household structure, satisfaction and distress in India and the United States: a comparative cultural examination” JCFS 30(1999) 135-152. Sayer, Liana, & others, “Are parents investing less time with children? Trends in mothers’ and fathers’ time with children” AJS 110(2004) 1-43. Simon, Robin, “Revisiting the relationships among gender, marital status, and mental health” AJS 107(2002) 1065-1096. Simons, Leslie Gordon, & others, “Identifying the mechanisms whereby family religiosity influences the probability of adolescent anti-social behavior” JCFS 35(2004) 547-63. Simons, Ronald, & others, “Harsh corporal punishment versus quality of parental involvement as an explanation of adolescent maladjustment” JMF 56(1994) 591-607. Smith, Sandra, & others, “The intergenerational transmission of spouse abuse: a metaanalysis” JMF 62(2000) 640-654. Sprey, Jetse, review of Waite & Gallagher (2000) in JMF 63(2001) 1199-1200. Stack, Steven, & Ira Wasserman, “The effects of marriage, family and religious ties on African-American suicide ideology” JMF 57(1995) 215-222. Steil, Janice M., Marital Equality: Its Relationship to the Well-Being of Husbands and Wives, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage, 1997.


Swinford, Steven, & others, “Harsh physical discipline in childhood and violence in later romantic involvements: the mediating role of problem behaviors” JMF 62(2000) 508-19. Tatum, Beverly, “Family life and school experience: factors in the racial identity development of Black youth in White communities” Journal of Social Issues 60(2004) 117-35. Twenge, Jean, & others, “Parental and marital satisfaction: a meta-analytical review” JMF 65(2003) 574-83. Ungar, Michael, “The importance of parents and other caregivers to the resilience of high-risk adolescents” Family Process 43(2004) 23-41. Veneziano, Robert, & Ronald Rohner, “Perceived paternal acceptance, paternal involvement, and youth’s psychological adjustment in a rural, biracial southern community” JMF 60(1998) 335-43. Vitz, Paul C., & Stephen M. Krason, eds., Defending the Family: a Sourcebook, Rockford, Illinois, Catholic Social Science Press, 1998. Vollebergh, W.A.M., & others, “Intergenerational transmission and the formation of cultural orientations in adolescence and young adulthood” JMF 63(2001) 1185-98. Waite, Linda, & Maggie Gallagher, The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier and Better Off Financially, New York, Doubleday, 2000. Waite, Linda, & Kara Joyner, “Emotional satisfaction and physical pleasure in sexual unions: time horizon, sexual behavior and sexual exclusivity” JMF 63(2001) 247-264. Wen-Jui Han, & others, “The effects of early maternal employment on later cognitive and behavioral outcomes” JMF 63(2001) 336-54


Wenk, DeeAnn, & others, “The influence of parental involvement on the well-being of sons and daughters” JMF 56(1994) 229-34. Willms, Douglas, ed., Vulnerable Children: Findings from Canada’s National Survey of Children and Youth, Edmonton, Univ. of Alberta Press, 2002. Wilson, James Q., The Marriage Problem: How Our Culture Has Weakened Families, New York, Harper Collins, 2002. Woodward, Lianne, & others, “Risk factors and life processes associated with teen-age pregnancy: results of a prospective study from birth to 20 years” JMF 63(2001) 1170-84. Zeng-Yin Chen, & Howard Kaplan, “Interpersonal transmission of constructive parenting” JMF 63(2001) 17-31.


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