Are people even marrying anymore?

A fascinating discussion on the sacrament of marriage is being hosted over at Zippy Catholic (see here, here, here, and here). The question at hand is whether modern ideas about marriage (i.e., its indissolubility, exclusivity, unity, and openness to children) are sufficient to render most modern marriages sacramentally invalid. Zippy comes down on the positive side, arguing that, whatever arrangement they’re consenting to, a couple who believe they can divorce and remarry in case of adultery certainly aren’t consenting to marriage.

28 thoughts on “Are people even marrying anymore?

  1. Well I’m not even a very learned layman but Zippy’s position sounds correct to me. Doesn’t there have to be some sort of intent on the part of both people for the marriage to be sacramentally valid?
    The Church recognizes natural marriages as well. Maybe many of these marriages are natural marriages.

    • Doesn’t there have to be some sort of intent on the part of both people for the marriage to be sacramentally valid?

      Correct. Zippy likens it to sacramental confession: if you confess your sins without even the minimum of sincere contrition, or without intention to amend your life, the resulting absolution is invalid. Your sins aren’t erased, you don’t get the grace of the sacrament, etc.

      The Church recognizes natural marriages as well. Maybe many of these marriages are natural marriages.

      I’m not positive, but I think natural marriages are impossible for baptized couples.

      • Proph:
        I’m not positive, but I think natural marriages are impossible for baptized couples.

        That is my understanding also, to wit:

        “A true marriage can exist between Christians by virtue of a purely civil contract; and it is false to assert that the contract of marriage between Christians is always a sacrament or that there is no contract if the sacrament is excluded.” – Syllabus of Pius IX: A Collection of Errors Proscribed in Diverse Documents of Pius IX, December 8.1864 (quoted in Denzinger).


        [C]ertain it is that in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament, and that, for this reason, the contract cannot be true and legitimate without being a sacrament as well. – Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum divinae sapentiae

    • No doubt the intent is there, at the beginning, when they do the premarital counseling and then step up to the altar. They actually do think they’re marrying “for life” and will not divorce and remarry.

      But then, when things go south, somehow they manage to justify doing what they want to do.

  2. Tarl:
    They actually do think they’re marrying “for life” and will not divorce and remarry.

    Many baptized Protestants report that in their understanding of “marriage” , divorce and remarriage is permitted in cases of adultery. And you may be overestimating both the content and the effect of premarital counseling in the average felt banner Catholic parish.

    • The content of premarital counseling is very clear. Even the most dimwitted parishioner couldn’t have any doubt about it. They also make it clear in RCIA and convalidation that divorce and remarriage are impermissible.

      I think most people who get married understand what they are being asked to do — i.e., their consent is valid. But then when something happens down the line, they are able to rationalize their decision to break their vows, and seek the Church’s imprimatur for doing so.

      • My experiences with catechesis have generally been very negative, and it is not my impression that it adequately equips people with even the bare minimum of information necessary to function as faithful Catholics. The RCIA class I attended was scandalously bad. Granted, my experience is pretty limited, as I recently became Catholic and thus have been exposed only to the way things work in this one (small) diocese.

        I do think it’s reasonable, though, that many people come to the altar with the proper understanding of marriage, or enough of it to result in a valid sacrament, and that they invent rationalizations after the fact. Zippy thinks so, too, or at least advances an argument to that effect, suggesting it’s a good reason why tribunals should err on the side of not issuing decrees of nullity; see the third and fourth links in the post above.

      • I’m guessing you belong to a very traditional parish and don’t get out much.

        As soon as the puppet Mass was done, and after the gay-lesbian-transsexual outreach hootenanny finished up, I am sure Sister McStretchpants who runs the pre-cana program was sure to explicitly disabuse Moonbeam and Shaggy of their misconceptions about indissolubility: that no, divorce, annulment, and remarriage will not be an option even if Moonbeam cheats.

      • I’m guessing you belong to a very traditional parish and don’t get out much.

        As to that, I couldn’t say. Doesn’t every church use the same catechism? It is very clear.

      • To Proph,

        I keep wanting to ask you this. Why did you convert through a parish that would make you take RCIA classes from liberal clergy? Are there not any traditional parishes in your area? I’m assuming that you aren’t a masochist and you simply didn’t have any choice.

        I’m converting through Anglicorum Coetibus so I don’t have to do much in the way of classes. I feel like it’s cheating but I’m grateful that I don’t have to attend RCIA at a N.O. parish.

      • My RCIA class wasn’t actually liberal. When I say it was “scandalously bad” I mean that it wasn’t coherent or substantive enough to be definitely wrong (or right) about anything. Our moral theology class, for instance, consisted of an elderly lady complaining about Brittney Spears, telling us that God’s feelings are hurt when we sin, and hectoring us to “do the right thing,” without ever telling us what that means or how to do it. The class on the sacraments was conducted by breaking the students into seven groups and assigning each of them a sacrament to research and present on, so their main exposure to the sacraments came in the form of seven five-minute presentations made up mainly of quotes pulled directly from the CCC delivered by ignorant non-Catholics in quiet, trembling voices. Our class on the Ten Commandments was embarrassing: the elderly instructor got the order of the commandments mixed up and spent the rest of the class quietly shuffling through his notes; the deacon finally stepped in (after twenty minutes!) to rescue him.

        I actually asked the deacon who ran the course (not a liberal, I think; he strikes me as a smiling neocon type) why more substantive instruction wasn’t given. His response (no joke) was that not everyone is as smart as me. I’ve since come to suspect, given some really stupid things he’s said and done in class, that he’s just not smart enough to teach it.

        Welcome home, by the way! I’m happy to hear you’re swimming the Tiber, and jealous you get to experience a more rigorous liturgy. I often walk away from Mass these days with that same feeling you get when your socks get wet after stepping in a puddle.

      • Oh, and I suppose I had my choice of classes, but I had no reason to believe any others were better. RCIA was sort of a check-the-box exercise for me, so I didn’t much care.

      • My RCIA teachers (and the folks in the class) were not actually liberal. However, they had clearly accepted without question a great many liberal assumptions — indeed, almost all the assumptions about non-sexual matters. Part of this, I think, is because the RCIA textbook and the catechism reflect the Leftist ideas that have crept into “orthodoxy” over the past century. When I questioned these assumptions in class, I caused a good deal of discomfort.

  3. Most present marriages are modern, hence running amok with Enlightened values, hence liberal (whether classical liberal or modern liberal, one leads to the other and both are part of the same team), hence destructive and anti-traditional.

    Muslims have things like Sharia Law. What do Jews have? What about us Christians?

    • What about us Christians?

      We have a legacy of having influenced the state. That and four bucks will get you a cup of coffee!

    • The Jews have the Torah, ie. the entirety of written and oral tradition, e.g. the Mishna, Gemara, Talmud (Mishna + Gemara = Talmud). Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians have codes of canon law based on scripture and sacred tradition. As for Protestant Christians, you’ll have to ask them.

  4. Re “Ecclesiastical marriage is the new way forward. Separation of church and state! Kick the State out of your union.”

    I am interested in what “getting the state out of marriage” might look like if people are free to change their religion and if the state collects taxes (inheritance, income, etc.) based on family status.

    If someone had a Catholic marriage and then separated from the Catholic church, would the state enforce the indissolubility of the marriage if one partner wanted to leave it? And would the state then prohibit remarriage by the non-Catholic partner?

    The state could recognize religious courts (Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, etc.) but if one partner changed his or her religion, which court would have jurisdiction? If the answer is the court of the original religion, that would seriously impact conversion from, say, Islam to Christianity.

    • Kicking the state out does not preclude them (or anyone else you kick out of your life) kicking the door down and barging back in. That’s on them, though. Perhaps it would lead to the end of many types of taxes and privileges- a net positive for the American ideal in my opinion. If we’re going to do this classical liberal thing, let’s do it right. Once it collapses- if it does- we can try something else more authoritative and specifically theocratic/theonomic.

      In short, my belief (which goes against the views of or bloggers here) is that more liberty (less state leftism/feminism) is the answer to our problems (while we’re still majority white) but soon we will cross the demographic point of no return on the road to authoritarianism. And then I’ll hope for benevolent Christian authority by any means.

      • Earl, we already tried classical liberalism. That’s Burkean British/English conservatism and the America of 1775. It failed. And it will collapse again. Towards modern liberalism.

        Classical liberalism —> Modern liberalism

        Give it a few decades or centuries and it will move towards secular liberal modernity once again.

      • History has shown that traditionalist societies cannot survive without the express backing of the state. The mixture of traditionalist Christianity with modernist libertarian nonsense is vile.

        You can have one but not the other.

  5. I see some real advantages in classical liberalism over monarchy, and Anglo-American democracy has had a pretty good run. You might get a majority or near-majority willing to support or encourage traditional marriage. You are exceedingly unlikely to get a majority advocating a return to monarchy.

    We might see an emerging libertarian majority, but I am honestly still trying to picture what marriage and family law might look like in a truly libertarian society. I can imagine that there would be a number of standard marriage contracts (Catholic, Jewish, Islamic, etc.) as well as free form contracts. But would the contracts be enforceable, and who would do the enforcing?

  6. But would the contracts be enforceable, and who would do the enforcing?

    Classical liberalism is (like liberalism generally) a parasite: it presupposes the just enforcement of contracts while simultaneously consuming the basis for just enforcement of contracts, defecating what remains of the host it has consumed.

  7. Pingback: Imperfect contrition and marriage, or, why positivists don’t have to go to Hell | Zippy Catholic

  8. Pingback: What mercy looks like | Zippy Catholic


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