Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

On Blogs and the Meaning of Marriage


Thanks to Patrick for his insightful remarks about the issues surrounding blogging. I think all of us who contribute to web logs and those who offer comments to authors’ postings can take stock of what you said. Of course, this is a prevalent means of communicating ideas today. This does not mean that it is a good or desirable method, but it is one that exists and its impact cannot be underestimated.

I am also grateful to Eduardo for his posting entitled “Dolan on Gay Marriage.” There are many things that can be said about the Archbishop’s post and Eduardo’s commentary on it. Today I’ll restrict my commentary to Eduardo’s thesis that Archbishop Dolan about the definition of marriage. But before I do, I think it important to take stock of this reality about blogging to which Patrick has referred: is the medium of the web log the place where any of us really expect a detailed analysis of every nuance, no matter how important, in a few hundred words? I for one think that it would be impossible to achieve this, and, therefore I do not expect in-depth discussion in blogging. Web logs are better as providing catalysts for discussion and debate, but they are not the substance of the detail that must inevitably accompany discussion and debate. Justice to the positions that emerge in blog posts and the justifications that should undergird the positions presented require more than a few paragraphs that are the limit of blogging. I also think that Archbishop Dolan realizes that detailed argument is necessary on this vital subject and on many other issues, and that is why he can and does write pastoral letters where sufficient detail can be mustered in explaining the views which he is proposing. I don’t think that Eduardo believes that the Archbishop is incapable of “reasoned argument”; moreover, I am sure he shares with me the perspective that Archbishop Dolan has demonstrated that he, like us, would be dissatisfied with “conclusory zingers”.

So, on to one of Eduardo’s contentions that “Dolan himself can hardly make up his mind on the subject of marriage’s meaning.”

Now I must get to his principal critique. Eduardo makes the point that the Archbishop is inconsistent in the three definitions that he, the Archbishop, has provided in the postings to which he, Eduardo, refers. The definitions of marriage provided by Archbishop Dolan to which Eduardo refers are these:


  • marriage is “one man, one woman, united in lifelong love and fidelity, hoping for children”
  • marriage is “a loving, permanent, life-giving union to pro-create children”
  • marriage is “loving, faithful union between one man and one woman leading to a family”


At this point, it might be helpful to take stock of how the Church teaches what marriage is and is not:

Marriage is explained in some detail in Part Two, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article Seven, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is evident that what the Archbishop asserted in his several postings does not deviate from the Catechism.

Moreover, the Archbishop’s formulations are consistent with the lengthy discussion of marriage in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.

In the 1983 Charter of the Rights of the Family, the Church more succinctly defines marriage as: “that intimate union of life in complementarity between a man and a woman which is constituted in the freely contracted and publicly expressed indissoluble bond of matrimony and is open to the transmission of life... [and it] is the natural institution to which the mission of transmitting life is exclusively entrusted”. Once again, the Archbishop, using various formulations, captures this.

The Code of Canon Law specifies that marriage is the “matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.” Again, I think that the Archbishop is faithful to this formulation.

In spite of what Eduardo contends, I think that the Archbishop has capture accurately the essence of what the Church teaches not only for Catholics but for the good of civil society and, therefore, the common good. And he does this using an economy of words that is vital to the medium that he used in his blog.

I share Eduardo’s point that the Archbishop did not address the perils of divorce. But that is not the subject which the New York lawmakers are presently considering, and, therefore, this grave issue is not treated in the Archbishop’s postings. Neither is abortion. Ditto with euthanasia and assisted suicide. All of these issues have some bearing on marriage and family, but they are not what are at the heart of the present legislative debate. The legislators are, however, contemplating a radical redefinition of marriage, and that is the issue to which Archbishop Dolan is responding.

I disagree with Eduardo that the Archbishop has authored “unconvincing screeds aimed at producing nice sound-bites for the press.” By contrast to Eduardo, I think the Archbishop has distilled for a particular medium (i.e., blogging that does not favor detailed discussion) the essence of important moral teachings that have a bearing on not only where Catholics should go with the legislative proposals but where the entire state of New York ought to proceed. Eduardo confuses the issue addressed by the Archbishop and the legislature by introducing another matter dealing with what is the family. While they are related, they are not the same; moreover, the legislature is not defining the family—yet. But it is considering redefining what constitutes a marriage. I am confident that the Archbishop is capable of addressing the family definition issue elsewhere, but that is not what the New York legislature is now in the processing of attempting to redefine.

If Eduardo is dissatisfied with the Archbishop’s efforts in explaining marriage, I think many would point out that the Marriage Equality movement which favors the redefintion of marriage for “equality’s” sake has failed to demonstrate what is equality, first of all, and why the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman is the same as, or is equal to a union of a man and a woman who, by themselves, have a far greater chance of procreating children than any same-sex union, by themselves, of doing the same.

As this is a blog entry, I guess this enough for one posting...


RJA sj  



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