On the Necessity of Marriage

When Pope Paul VI wrote his (now in hindsight) prophetic work Humanae Vitae, he made clear that marriage is not simply a societal institution or norm.  Marriage is a part of God’s plan for humanity.

This is an important point for us today.  More and more people are eschewing marriage entirely because they fail to see its purpose.  Or some are trying to redefine marriage so as to include lifestyles that are contrary to the Gospel.  Marriage and its modes and practices is looked at as the old order, whereas the more modern and enlightened can carry on just fine without it.  In other words, marriage appears unnecessary.

But Paul VI was absolutely correct.  Marriage is necessary for the human species.

Marriage has two essential dimension: procreation and love.

First, as I wrote in my essay on Creation and Society, human beings naturally gravitate towards community.  We need other people.  This is not just a Hallmark card sentiment, it is a reality.

Human beings cannot exist as solitary creatures.  Particularly, we need others if we want to reproduce.  All of our other body systems are complete in and of themselves; we have everything in us we need to digest food, oxygenate the blood, feel touch, etc.  But we cannot reproduce on our own.  We need another.  In fact we need another who is opposite of us, who possesses a different set of baby-making equipment.

But can’t you have babies without being married?   If I want to watch a movie, I can’t say that a television is necessary.  I could watch it at a theater, on my computer, or even on my phone.  If I can procreate without marriage, that seems to imply marriage is unnecessary.  In fact, beasts procreate all the time without requiring they go down to the local PETA office for a marriage licensee

This would be true except that we know that human beings are not beasts.    A human baby when it is born is not like a zebra that can immediately run off with its mother and gather its own food and run off from predators.

Human babies need care and protection.  In nature, the mother provides both, along with sustenance  But as we said before, humans need each other.  The best chance for this new life to thrive is if the mother has assistance.  Aristotle said that parents love their children naturally because the child is a part of themselves  So it would make sense that the other person who assists in the protection and care for this child is the one from whom he or she came: the father.  No two other people are as naturally invested in the survival of this child.

But that is not enough.  Human beings are not just bodies, but minds (rather than using the more theological word “soul,” so as to make this argument applicable to secular society).  We are the rational animal.  And in order for reason to become perfect, we must be educated.

A child who is given all of the physical necessities of life, but never learns to speak is someone we would not say is living as they should.  We are meant to talk and think and question and express ourselves.  But babies are not born with a full and rich vocabulary like Stewie from Family Guy.  Children need to constantly be educated so that their minds can absorb knowledge and reason.  This is a monumental task that is once again naturally disposed to those who brought this life into the world: the parents.

This is not limited to reading, writing, and arithmetic  If you watch most parents with their children, the most important lesson they are teaching them is ethics.  “Don’t hit your sister!”  “Don’t put the frog in the blender!”  “Don’t eat ice cream until you puke!”  “Give grandma a hug!”

Parents are the first teachers of children on how to live as a human being.  This does not end at the “Don’t Lie About Stealing The Cookie” Stage.  We model our ethical behavior on good examples.  This is one of the reasons the Church canonizes so many varied saints.

But the primary way we learn how to be a man or woman is through our parents.  And this comes primarily through the every day observation of living life.  As theology teacher, I spend a relatively small amount of time with my students and mostly I talk about living the faith.  But when they are at home, they will watch their parents live it out.  And that makes a deeper impression on their minds.

But can’t you love your child without having marriage? Yes, but what is best for the child is coming to that perfection of humanity we call love.  And marriage is necessary because it illustrates the ultimate love as a covenant.  We love our pets, but they will never love us back.  We love our friends, but over time most friendships we had as children fade away and disappear  We love our brothers and sisters because we feel we have to.

But the love we find between a husband and wife is much more of a free choice.  Some people say that they don’t need a piece of paper to say that they love someone.

Marriage is not a piece of paper.  Fulton Sheen said that love is only concerned with two words: “You” and “forever.”  And those are the central parts of the marriage vow.  It is a commitment of perpetual fidelity.  It is also a great act of faith.  No one can know with certainty if their spouse will cheat on them, lie to them, lose affection for them, etc.  Marriage asks you to take that leap of faith.  Marriage tethers your life permanently to another and pledges that your love will not end.

And children need to see that.  They need to see the every day, warts and all, ins and outs, ups and downs, of a real human relationship bonded in the choice of love.  Notice what happens when that is absent.  Children without two-parent families are much more likely to engage in crime, drinking, drugs (here are the names of top rehab center for addiction that provides the best treatment and yields good results too), and other anti-social behaviors.  Why?  Because they are missing the most fundamental unit of society: the family.

And marriage cements the family on the solid ground of love.  Raise a child in an environment of committed love and they will learn what love is.  Then they can grow to the perfection of love.

Of course this is the ideal.  There are things that happen to us beyond our control like death, divorce, youthful mistakes, and the like that can set us off this course.  I am not saying that it is impossible to raise a good child except in a two parent home.  I know many wonderful and holy people who are raising their children as single parents.  As I’ve said before, my parents divorced while I was in grade school.  When I think of all they have done for me, I think of the words of the late songwriter Rich Mullins: “They worked to give faith hands and feat, and somehow gave it wings.”

And while I believe that they did the best job they could given the circumstances, I am keenly aware of what I have lost.  God can still bring great good out of any situation, but that does not mean that we should stop striving for His ideal plan for us.

Copyright © 2013, W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

W.L. Grayson

I am a devoutly Catholic theology teacher who loves a popular culture that often, quite frankly, hates me. I grew up absorbing every movie, TV show, comic book, science fiction novel, etc. I could find. As of today I’ve watched over 2100 movies and tv shows. They take up a huge part of my life. I don’t know that this is a good thing, but it has given me a common vocabulary to draw from in order to illustrate whatever theological point I make in class. I’ve used American Pie the song to explain the Book of Revelation (I’ll post on this some time later) and American Pie the movie to help explain Eucharist (don’t ask). The point is that the popular culture is popular for a reason. It is woven into the fabric of our lives and imaginations, for good or ill. In this blog I will attempt to bring together the things of heaven with the things of earth. Of course this goal may be too lofty for someone like me.

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