Catholic Social Order: The Foundational Order of the Family
February 14, 2020
I have now written about how the Mass, and the Lord’s Day centered upon the Mass, gives order to the life of a monastery and how it is capable of ordering all of human life, even outside of a monastery, and has even done so during the course of history.
Before continuing now specifically to address the order of the family, the first form of human social life, it will be good to refer once again to the original order of Eden, which was constituted by the hierarchy of man below God, the interior order of the human person, the social order of the marriage between Adam and Eve, and the order of human dominion over the rest of creation.
The Mass works to return man to his right order beneath God and allows God’s grace entrance to the human soul, purifying and rectifying the interior order of the soul. That interior order of the soul is necessary for right order of human social relations, especially in marriage and family life, but I will not address that interior order of virtue directly, since my purpose is to write specifically about social justice, the right order of human society.
All human society begins with the relation between man and woman in marriage. Jesus called our attention to the original creation as providing the ‘law’ for marriage, written in the nature of man from the beginning. When asked about divorce, he replied, Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘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 once flesh. Therefore, what God has joined, man must not separate. (Mt 19: 4-6)
Jesus refers to two distinct passages from ‘the beginning’. The first comes from Genesis 1. The full passage is: God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said: ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:27-28) This passage reveals human marriage very objectively as serving God in the transmission, we could say, of the divine image from one generation to the next.
The second passage comes from Genesis 2. The passage follows from the account of the woman’s creation by being formed from the rib, taken from Adam’s side, as a solution to the original ‘solitude of Adam’. It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him. (Gen 2:18) The passage is completed by the statement of the transparency and mutual trust of their relationship: the man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame. This account, we could say, reveals the union of the two in the intimacy of love that should be found in marriage.
The teachings contained in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are both essential for understanding the right order of marriage.
Classic theology taught that marriage has a primary end, the procreation and education of children, and a secondary end, “mutual help”. That was how it was expressed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. The 1983 Code of Canon Law, however, merely speaks of marriage being ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children, in that order, but dropping the language of ‘primary’ and ‘secondary’ end.
The language of the ‘ends’ and ‘goals’ of marriage might be clarified a bit if we made reference to the classic distinction of the ‘goal of the work’ and the ‘goal of the one doing the work’.
Typically, a young man and young woman are drawn to marriage first of all because the love each other and want to share their lives. Yes, they want children together, but that is probably not what is first of all on their minds. They are motivated to enter the ‘good work’ of marriage pursuing their own legitimate goal, stated now as ‘the good of the spouses’. That is the subjective ‘goal of the ones doing the work’.
Nevertheless, God, in the first place, established the ‘good work’ of marriage for the sake of the procreation and education of children. That is the objective ‘goal of the work’.
The objective must take priority over the subjective, so the goal of the work, the procreation and education of children, must be the primary goal of marriage. We could put it this way, when a man and woman marry, they need to recognize and accept that they are not just engaging in their personal enterprise of life and love, but they are also placing themselves at the service of God, to collaborate with him in bringing into the world and raising up new human beings created in his image and meant to receive his grace so as to become heirs of eternal life. In this way, what is first on their minds is rightly subordinated to the goal intended by God.
Yet, it is not as if the mutual love of the spouses is irrelevant to the primary goal. Far from it: God wants children to come into the world no just as the fruit of the spouses’ bodies, but as the fruit of their mutual love. Further, he wants the mutual love of husband and wife to provide children with the nurturing home they need to grow and develop as human beings.
Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.
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