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flagOne of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to believe that holy matrimony has anything whatsoever to do with a secular understanding of “marriage.” Apart from the fact that the increasingly meaningless “marriage” label is affixed to both things, they could not be more different.

Holy matrimony is a heavenly sacrament, defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, [which] is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”

Secular “marriage,” on the other hand, is a legally binding contract between two people, regardless of gender, establishing a partnership for as long or short a period as the contracting parties choose, which can be broken at the whim of either party for whatever reason given, and is by its nature ordered to the perceived mutual convenience of the partners with no connection whatever to the procreation and education of offspring. It is not a covenant between baptized persons (baptism having nothing whatever to do with the legal contract) and has emphatically not been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.

The difference between these two things is so abysmal, in the sense of the abyss which separates the one from the other, that it is utter and arrant nonsense to affix the same label to each of them. Holy matrimony and secular “marriage” have about as much in common as the love of Christ has in common with the love of cocaine. Apart from the fact that the meaningless “love” label is appended to both the self-sacrificial love of Christ for His Church and the addict’s self-indulgent “love” of his drug of choice, there is utterly nothing in common between the two “loves.” As with “love,” so with “marriage.”

The foregoing should be so obvious that anyone capable of simple logic and the use of reason should see through the nonsensical suggestion that one thing called “marriage” has anything in common with the other thing called “marriage.” Indeed, those with a healthy and holy sense of humour should fall about in a revelry of rambunctious laughter at the very suggestion that the one can be seen as synonymous with the other.

The problem is that the Catholic Church and the other Christian churches continue to give credence to the diabolical power of the secular form of “marriage” through their legal collusion with the power of the state. For as long as Christian churches allow holy matrimony to be “sanctioned” by the devil, i.e. accepted by the state as a legitimate “marriage” in the state’s understanding of the word, they will be responsible for dragging holy matrimony into the gutter and simultaneously raising secular “marriage” out of it. Worse, they will be giving the devil the loophole he needs to enforce secular “marriage” upon the churches. If the churches accept Caesar’s right to bestow legitimacy upon marriage, according to Caesar’s laws, it is only a matter of time before Caesar demands that churches conduct secular “marriages.” Needless to say, such “marriages” will not be holy matrimony, even if they are conducted in a church, but the collusion of the churches in such devilry will cause chaos and confusion among the faithful.

Need we remind ourselves that Christian bakers in Portland, Oregon, were fined $135,000 for refusing to participate in a homosexual “marriage”? Do we need reminding that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a $7,000 fine imposed on Jonathan and Elaine Huguenin for refusing, in conscience, to provide photography services for a same-sex “marriage”? Does it really take a prophet to see that the same sort of legal coercion and enforcement will be exerted on Christian churches if they refuse to accept the “legitimacy” of secular “marriage”?

The obvious solution to this ugly scenario is for the churches to divorce themselves as soon as possible from the coercive power of the state. Insisting on the separation of church and state, Christian churches should make it clear that those receiving the sacrament of holy matrimony are married for life in the eyes of God but that this holy matrimony is not legally binding in the secular courts. Those Christians wishing whatever economic benefits the state offers to those who sign along its dotted line on the secular “marriage” contract can do this separately from their marriage in church. Two separate ceremonies would become necessary. Holy matrimony would be valid in the eyes of God but have no legal standing in the eyes of the state. Secular “marriage” would be invalid in the eyes of God but have full legal status in the eyes of the state. Holy matrimony would be solemnized in church; secular “marriage” would be contracted wherever the contracting partners wished: a sports bar, a beach, a room in a Las Vegas hotel with an Elvis lookalike presiding, or anywhere else befitting the dignity of the occasion.

All that is needed for this happy divorce between God and Caesar is for the bishops of the Catholic Church and the leaders of the other churches to make a declaration of independence from the power of the state. One small act of courageous leadership is all that’s needed. If, however, those vested with authority fail to act, they will be condemning themselves, their clergy and their people to a nest of vipers intent on poisoning the sanctuary of the Church with the “pride” of their secular “marriage.” Whether they like it or not, church leaders are in the position of St. George. Only they can save the maiden purity of holy matrimony from the enemy of innocence. There is no honourable retreat. There is no room for compromise. Whether they like it or not, they find themselves in a position in which holiness demands heroism. It is time for the girding of the loins and the taking of courage. It is time to face the dragon.

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20 replies to this post
  1. Definitely agree. As far as I’m concerned marriage as defined by state powers is only useful for tax purposes. If there wasn’t that incentive (and the fact the Church currently requires a legal marriage license) I doubt my wife and I would have bothered with getting legally married.

  2. Interesting. According to Fay Botham in “God Created the Races,” in Perez v. Lippold, 1948, this same “sacramental” argument was used to win the legal right for an interracial couple to marry in California. It was argued that since marriage was a sacrament, the state had no right to interfere with two baptized Catholic’s expression of religion.

    • I did not know about this case. Thanks for the reference.

      This is perhaps an example where the state having to bow to the Church’s authority is a good thing. The independence proposed by Professor Pearce could be a problem if anti-miscegenation laws ever came back (or some other form of unjust discrimination that I can’t imagine at the moment). The court could say, in theory, “Do whatever you want in church, but we aren’t signing off in court.”

      That wasn’t good enough for the gay lobby (personal freedom but no state sanction); why should it be good enough for Catholics?

  3. There are actually THREE overlapping but distinct categories: sacramental marriages, real marriages, and state-approved marriages. In order for a marriage to be sacramental, it must also be real, and at present it must also abide by the laws of the land. However, an unbaptized man marrying an unbaptized woman can also have a real marriage, though it will not be sacramental. As for what the state approves — well, in some jurisdictions prostitution is legal, and THAT is anyway the proper name for a mere contract that involves sex.

    You are wrong, by the way, if you think that churches could avoid harassment from the state if they only disconnected church marriage from state marriage. On the contrary, the attacks would intensify, because our enemies would see this as a sign of weakness.

  4. Howard – I think the attacks will intensify regardless of our action or inaction. I’m with Joseph on this one. Refuse to play and you force them into a box that further unmasks their true intent. This battle has already begun. It’s time to engage.

  5. I normally do not agree with the author, but I do here. Christians should not pretend to live in a Christian nation when the majority of the country rejects that premise. Good article.

  6. I disagree. A Declaration of Independence as you describe would legitimize the state’s power to define marriage in whatever way it sees fit – or so it seems to me. On the contrary, facing the dragon would entail a conviction that an unjust law is no law at all. The state has in fact no power to define marriage but has an obligation to attend to the reality of marriage. If the state were to attempt enforce unjust laws stemming from an illegitimate and absurd “definition” of marriage, the Church’s responce should be to ignore any such illegitimate use of coercive power. We must put the lie to the claim of political legitimacy in these cases.

  7. Friends,

    The Catholic Church canon law allows for Sacramental Marriage without civil marriage.

    I have a full canonical binding sacramental marriage in the Roman Catholic Church and NO civil “marriage”.

    It is not the Church but the people who are the problem. Just like citizens in democracies don’t know their constitutions and laws so Catholics often don’t know canon law and canonical practice.

    To be married in the Roman Catholic Church without a civil marriage the Man should discuss the matter with his Parish priest and present the case in the form of a written request to the Bishop. The Bishop makes the final determination.

    This article is great, but the Catholic Church already doss what the article wants done. It is now up to the people who call themselves Catholic to stop partaking in legal arrangements designed for homosexuals.

    As to the question “who will adjudicate the failed matrimonies when the state is no longer involved?” – there is no such thing as a “failed matrimony”. That is like asking “what happens to failed baptisms?” or “when someone is absolved of sin what happens if they sin again?”

    Our popular culture has totally blinded us to what the definition of marriage is if we are asking questions like that.

  8. Unlike Charles, I have agreed with everything that Joseph Pearce has written. Until this article. I think canonical lawyer Edward Peters has a better understanding of marriage than JP or Mr. Rieth:

    “Precisely because states, not religious institutions, grant civil recognition to religious wedding ceremonies, it is for states, not religious institutions, to decide whether civil recognition should be granted them in the future. It is not clear, therefore, exactly how religious institutions could unilaterally withhold civil recognition of their wedding rites any more than they could compel civil recognition of their rites by states unwilling to grant it.

    …Speaking as a Catholic, I cannot see how the Church could responsibly “get out of the civil marriage business” without failing in her duty to proclaim the truth about marriage in the secular order and matrimony in the religious.

    According to well-settled—indeed, I would argue infallible—Church teaching, without marriage there is no matrimony. Christ did not invent a new way for people to live together and then bestow upon it the term “matrimony”; rather, he restored marriage to its original plan and raised it, for the baptized, to the level of a sacrament. Thus, while natural marriage can exist without it being sacramental matrimony—and for most of the world, this is how marriage is experienced—there is no such thing as sacramental matrimony that is not also natural marriage.”
    –Edward Peters is a canon lawyer and holds
    the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred
    Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

  9. It would be helpful if the Vatican City State issued covenant marriage licences, and the Holy See directed the various organs of the Church to only accept Vatican issued marriage licences as proof of marriage. It would still be up to the State to decide if it would recognize these marriage licences (or allow businesses to), but the Vatican could negotiate that with other countries.

    This is still a separate institution from Holy Matrimony, but it would hopeful provide some cover for the faithful

  10. Ed Peters gets it wrong here. There is no civil marriage anymore, it is a sham. When no fault divorce came in, civil marriage was still recognizably natural marriage, as even the Church allows for dissolution of marriage and/or separation under some terms. But a civil agreement where the sex of the two persons is irrelevant is not marriage.

    In other words, bishops need to recognize that canon 1071 applies to all marriages in the US, ie the US civil law no longer recognizes marriages (as marriage). Rather, it simply recognizes a contract relating to sex, just as it recognizes prostitution. In fact, it would make sense if one law covered prostitution and the civil pseudo-marriage we now have.

    Then the bishops might realize civil law no longer recognizes marriage.

    • To be very precise: the Church does not allow for dissolution of marriage under any terms. This is a common misperception or shorthand reffered to as “annulment.” The Church does not annul marriages. The Church can, under certain conditions, recognize that a marriage sacrament never took place and that what was thought to be a marriage never was. The Church does not under any circumstances recognize the dissolution of marriage.

  11. Brett,

    With all due respect Canon lawyer Edward Peters is absolutely wrong. The Bishop who upheld my view of Canon law is one of the Cardinals and Cardinals elect the Pope.

    In point of fact the Cardinal who agreed to our sacramental marriage without a civil marriage was at the time on the way to Rome to vote for the Pope (2013).

    I will take a Cardinal’s view over a lawyer’s insofar as Church teaching on marriage is concerned.

    Canon 1071 is clearly written for people who wish to have a marriage sacrament without violating their religious conscience by engaging in a civil institution which runs contrary to Catholic teaching (civil marriage did not start running contrary to Catholic teaching with homosexual marriage but at least with divorce if not earlier). People are free to partake in it but it has nothing to do with the sacrament of marriage and can be detrimental to marriage.

    Contrary to Canon Lawyer Edward Peters, Canon 1071 § 2* specifically serves to allow the Church to facilitate the marriage sacrament without civil matrimony.

    I am not surprised that a lawyer is wrong about the law. It happens often. I had a similar experience with a civil lawyer telling me I was wrong about a civil matter and insisting I pay him 10 thousand USD to handle it his way. I decided to handle the matter without any lawyer and won and it cost me 180 dollars. I guess the lesson is the same whether civil or canon: don’t listen to lawyers.

    Canon Lawyer Edward Peters is not only wrong about Canon law and its application but also about the relation between civil and religious marriage.

    Contrary to Canon Lawyer Edward Peters claim, Christ DID invent a “new way for people to live together.” (Christ is a completely new way, a renewing way even) The marriage sacrament in the Catholic Church is a reflection of the unique view of marriage as a sacred and enduring bond between a man and a woman which Christ taught in place of existing religious and civil law in his times which allowed a man to divorce his wife if she had bad breathe (which is the sorry state of affairs we are back to now).

    I can only guess that Canon Lawyer Edward Peters is conflating common experience with principle. The common experience within the Catholic Church is that the majority of the faithful want a civil marriage and in most cases treat it as something more “real” than the sacrament. The Church accomodates this majority to the point where Clergy forget (if they ever even knew) that an alternative is possible. This becomes routine to the point that since practically no one gets a sacramental wedding without a civil wedding no one (Clergy included) even remembers that procedures and precedents exist for it. The end result is a Canon Lawyer like Edward Peters stating a convention as if it were a principle which it is not.

    Theology aside – as a purely political matter: if the entire civil-law-married Catholic population of every country in the West where homosexual civil marriage has been passed into law universaly went out en mass and filed for divorce I think that would send a powerful message to people and governments. Millions of Catholics getting a civil divorce to protest the absurdity of present understandings of civil and family laws would be highly effective if coordinated.

    Bob: As to your idea about Church issued marriage licenses: The marriage sacrament is the only sacrament in the Catholic Church which is NOT bestowed by a consecrated Priest but by the Catholic bride and groom upon one another. The entire point of all of the earlier sacraments we have (from baptism to confirmation) which are mediated by consecrated priests is to prepare men and women to be ready to themselves mediate during the marriage sacrament. The Priest during a Catholic wedding does not marry the bride and groom- he merely witnesses it. The event is recorded in Church documents and if necessary the Parish where the wedding took place can easily produce a document confirming the marriage. Why would the Vatican need to produce any other documentation?

    The proof of our marriage sacrament is the word of our spouse.

    • Peter,

      I refute your appeal to the authority of a cardinal thusly: Cardinal Reinhard Marx.

      Regarding 1071 (2), I see a distinction between “Catholic marriages must, like night follows day, be recognized in official documentation by the civil authorities, unless you get a waiver.” and “The Church won’t marry you if the state won’t, unless you get a waiver.” I think 1071 (2) means the latter. A hypothetical would be if a state prohibited interracial marriage and you wanted one. But I’m not a canon lawyer, so I admit the likelihood of me being 100% correct on this is nil.

      JP stated that there is absolutely nothing in common between holy matrimony and the secular understanding of marriage, and that they could not be more different! According to this logic, the Church has been doing it wrong for 2000 years. And so I have to ask, why limit the protest you mention to only countries “where homosexual civil marriage has been passed into law?” After all, if civil marriage and holy matrimony have nothing in common, then no fault divorce and homosexual “marriage” and any other innovations the state enacts have no bearing on what Catholics do.

      My view is that since California passed the no fault divorce laws, American Catholics have retreated from the fight. It seems that what JP wants, now that the state has further weakened marriage is to retreat altogether. He may think it’s a bold move but I see it as a plain old retreat. Rather than be salt of the earth, it seems he is counseling us to bathe in the pure light of our faith under the protective cover of a bushel basket. Our mission is to fight, not to pine for the good old days.

  12. This separation already happens in France. For the state to recognize a marriage, the wedding has to happen in the Mayor’s Office. The way I understand it, that has to happen first. If there is to be a religious ceremony afterward, everyone then goes to the applicable church for the second ceremony. Doesn’t even have to happen on the same day…

  13. Brett,

    Regarding Cardinal Marx: you have named a German Cardinal – but what is the argument?

    I can guess that he, being German, would argue the opposite of my point because the Catholic Church in Germany has a very big problem in this regard.

    In Germany, you have to register your religious affiliation with the government and the government then subtracts a portion of your gross salary as a religious tax which goes to the religious institution of your choice.

    So of course Cardinal Marx may well support Catholics getting civil marriage as necessary just as he will support Catholics registering as Catholics in the tax office – because the ONLY way for the German Catholic Church to get ANY money is from the German government on the basis of the number of registered Catholics and registered Catholic marriages. The German Catholic Church is dead in the water and the epicenter of the malaise in Europe because it is totally beholden to the state. This is not a good model. To be blunt: Germany has seldom been a good model for anything and has a rather poor history in terms of anti-Catholicism.

    This is not good practice. It hurts the German Church because people register as atheist so as not to pay the Church taxes and the Church is beholden more and more to the government which it is dependent on for financing.

    Whatever points Cardinal Marx may have are likely rooted in this abysmal German practice which is terrible for the Catholic Church in Germany.

    Canon 1071 is not limited to interracial marriage. It is wide open and it exists so Catholics can regulate their married lives according to Church teaching and not be subject to civil laws that run counter to it.

    You can cite a million German state funded Cardinals if you wish but I went through the process and in the end my experience simply testifies to my point: you can have a sacramental wedding in the Catholic Church without a civil marriage. The Church cannot and does not favor civil law over canon law in cases of conscience.

    Even the quotes you provide have the words “unless you get a waiver”. The essential question is: under what conditions can you get a waiver (from your Bishop)? The answer is under the conditions dictated by your conscience and accepted as relevant by the Bishop in his conscience. It is a matter of pastoral care.

    You are absolutely right that the mass divorce protest suggestion should not be limited to only countries which enacted homosexual marriage. Civil marriage law is completely opposed to the Catholic teaching of marriage because it allows for divorce (amongst other things) – so this problem is an old one, worsening in time. Civil marriage subjects Catholic family life to regulations and courts which do not recognize Catholic teaching. Nor do I expect laws and courts to recognize Catholic teaching- I just don’t understand why Catholics would want to subject their private lives to such things?

    To be clear, I am not blaming the government nor the voters at large, but Catholics and particularly clergy who often have too cozy an arrangement with the state in some countries to actually act in accordance to their calling. Catholics voluntarily enter into civil marriage and then are surprised that the law runs contrary to Catholic marriage ideals. But who is responsible for preparing them for marriage? Who fails in this responsibility? Some of the clergy do. Who lets them? We do.

    I support the ideas of JPs article except I think it is not the Church as an institution which needs to do anything but Catholic faithful.

  14. First, I love your sense of humor! “…about as much in common as the love of Christ has in common with the love of cocaine”; “anywhere else befitting the dignity of the occasion”

    I literally laughed out loud.

    Also, I find your argument compelling. For a long time, I have believed that the Church should stand her ground in this matter, and declare to the state that a true marriage has been contracted. That a family has begun, and that the family is the source of all that the state claims for its own. Rather than seeing the Church as an agent of the state, it is the state recognizing that something REAL has happened under the authority of the Church. If the state also chooses to call other types of unions marriage, that’s not our fault. And I’ve held we should stand this ground until the state revokes our authority.

    On the other hand… for us to withdraw voluntarily, for the sake of clarity and definition, would be a powerful witness to the whole country. “Call it what you want, but it ain’t what it ain’t.” And it might actually be a great benefit to young couples discerning holy matrimony. If they have to do two things, one merely civil and the other sacramental, and it’s the sacrament for which they throw the big party… that’s pretty cool!

    Anyway, it may be a moot point before long under the Clinton admin.

  15. Another thought. Since the welfare system and tax codes are so convoluted as to reward “single” motherhood with greater benefits… Would the Church be okay with couples entering sacramental unions and NOT registering civil marriages, for great tax or food stamp advantages?…

  16. This approach ignores the plight of the children being procured for the sham homosex civil marriages. The Church should care enough about these children to insist that *all* children have the mother and father who begot them, or if orphaned, a male-female who could stand in for that mother and father. For the Church to create its own ghetto of matrimony is like the northern states who eschewed slavery for themselves but tolerated the southern states practice of it. This was never going to work.

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