Marriage and the Church


From Marriage and Parenthood, The Catholic Ideal, by Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard, 1911

A man thinks he is very clever if he can make an airplane. Thousands of other men think he is a genius if he can fly over the Alps, even though at the end of the journey he breaks his neck.

But these are paltry trifles compared with the work of training a soul for the kingdom of God. Such a task needs the genius of the Catholic Church.

Amongst her many helps for this purpose not the least important is the Sacrament of Marriage.

The ideal which she holds before the world and the power which she gives for the realizing of such ideal stand out as the chief hope for the salvation of modern society.

On every side we see influences at work which tend to break up the family and consequently to break up society. The increase of divorce, the falling off in the birthrate, these are a few of the more obvious symptoms which follow upon a low ideal of the marriage bond.

That there is something wrong is admitted on all hands, as is proved by the attempts to mend matters. The Divorce Commission at present sitting in London is an evidence of such unrest. The formation of the Eugenics Education Society is another. In these movements, however, the Catholic student detects a lack of the knowledge of foundation principles. Most of the remedies proposed are a tinkering with the symptom rather than a treatment of the root cause.

Here and there, however, the value of the Catholic ideal asserts itself. Thus, for instance, in the evidence before the Divorce Commission, Sir John Bigham, then President of the Divorce Court, said: “My experience shows me that members of the Roman Catholic Church seldom come to our court, and I attribute that fact to the great influence of their priesthood, and to the respect which is inculcated amongst Roman Catholics for the marriage vow.”

Another witness, Dr. Glynn Whittle, of Liverpool, bore magnificent testimony to the fidelity of the Catholic poor. Speaking as he did in favor of divorce, there was a double weight in his words. He said he had questioned countless poor women, victims of unhappy marriages, as to whether they would avail themselves of divorce if they could get it. The answers had been most impressive. Protestants said “Yes”; Roman Catholics said “No.”

What is the cause of this grand steadfastness amongst Catholics? A member of the Council of the Eugenics Society shall make answer. Writing in a London journal he says: “Marriage, like other natural and necessary relations, is sacred. Only in Catholicism is it a Sacrament; in scientific sociology the term is meaningless. . . .  The Reformation, in this as in other points a revolt from Catholicism, expressly declared that marriage is not a Sacrament, that it is essentially a secular matter.”

For the present disastrous state of affairs, then, we have to thank the system which for three hundred years has proclaimed the denial that marriage is a Sacrament.

But, as we have seen, the leaven of truth is still working. The preaching and the practice of the sacramental ideal with all its implications is to be the leaven of the whole mass.

It is also hoped that a restatement of the Catholic ideal, in the face of modern ideals to the contrary, will tend to increase the happiness of Catholic family life.

We cannot shut our eyes to the many failures. In all cases they are due either to ignorance of the ideal or to a refusal of its graces. They may be traced largely to the fact that false views of marriage and parenthood do make their way into Catholic homes.

These views concern the most intimate, the most delicate, and the most sacred marriage relationships. The protective modesty, so natural to a good conscience, has been carried too far, and false doctrine has been able to make headway simply because the true was not present to resist it.

Now reticence in these matters is a very strong protection against temptation. But there is some knowledge which we must have. Some people require more, others can do with less.

If knowledge in these matters is needful then that knowledge must be acquired and we must trust to grace to keep us from abusing it. No less an authority than St. Clement of Alexandria has said: “Be not ashamed to know what God was not ashamed to make.”

Let it be admitted at once that isolated points of this doctrine may seem harsh and unkind to the individual. At the same time let it be remembered that the Church is an expert in human nature and that by her divine guidance she can see further than the individual.

When under her direction the larger vision has been gained, when through painful experience the lesson has been learnt, then will Mother Church be discovered to be right after all.

What a man loses as an individual, through keeping the Church’s laws, he gains as a member of a world-wide society; what he loses in a portion of life he gains in the whole of life, yea a thousandfold in the life eternal.

The Church guards a divine ideal, — that is why she is always right. A nation’s decadence consists not so much in the actual lowering of its moral life, as in the lowering of its ideal. If it preserves its ideal there is hope of its resurrection. But if it calls good bad and bad good, then its doom is sealed.

Few things are more important in a home than its conversation, and yet there are few things to which less thought is given. The power to communicate good which lies in the tongue—is simply incalculable. It can impart knowledge; utter words which will shine like lamps in darkened hearts; speak kindly sentences which will comfort sorrow or cheer despondency; breathe out thoughts which will arouse and quicken heedless souls; even whisper the secret of life giving energy to spirits that are dead. -J.R. Miller

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