Immaculate Heart of Mary, Ora pro nobis.

This blog is dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary and in reparation for all the sins committed against Her Most Pure Heart. May Her Immaculate Heart draw us closer to Her Divine Son, Our Most Precious Lord.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Marriage Debt---It's Not About Finance.

 I have tried to write this article three times.  Initially, I wanted to write about Natural Family Planning, and I found myself overly critical and harsh.  I gave up on the effort because I knew I would sound condescending and uncharitable.  Then I got in a conversation with some traditional Catholics while, at the same time, my husband was engaged in a dialogue with some Novus Ordo Catholics.  As it were, both conversations eventually got around to the number of children Catholic couples have and how they are spaced.  Again, I wanted to address my observations regarding families in both the post-Conciliar Church and among traditional Catholics.  Still, I couldn't quite sort out what I wanted or needed to say and figured I should do a little investigation of my own.  Then when I thought I had collected my ideas, I sat down yet a third time to write.  Nothing seemed right.  So I prayed about it.  I asked the Lord to help me sort through this.  If I could, I would write but if I found more criticism,  then I would avoid it all together.  So, here I sit a 4th time, finally having found the root of the problem:  the definition and understanding of marriage.
     Modernism is, by nature, a nasty thing.  I will leave you to investigate Modernism on your own, with a good place to start being Pascendi Dominici Gregis, promulgated by Pope Pius X in 1907.  Ideas, from faith to family to science, that were contrary to Catholic doctrine were beginning to infiltrate the Church.  The seminaries were filled with instructors, bishops, and priests who were teaching these modernist ideas and cloaking them in ambiguity so they could be passed off as tradition.  It was so bad, that in 1910 Pope Pius X required all priests, bishops, and prelates to take the Oath Against Modernism.  And though Modernism seemed to be kept at bay for awhile, it eventually infected the whole Church.  No Catholic doctrine, truth, or tradition was spared.  By the time Vatican II was convened in 1962, the stage was set to revolutionize and  modernize the Catholic Church.
     The hallmark of Modernism is the self-conscious break with tradition.  Tradition is considered sentimental.  There is only value in what one can experience or perceive, theoretically known as Phenomenology.  These two concepts, Modernism and Phenomenology, are intertwined.  Many, if not most, of the Cardinals and theologians that participated and directed Vatican II held to these philosophies. ( I don't want to go into a long discussion about Phenomenology at this time.  It is not easy to understand and I have had to consult my husband who holds a degree in Philosophy to help me recognize it's impact.  If you would like to understand more, you can begin reading here about Edmund Husserl and Phenomenology.)  Karol Wojtyla and Joseph Ratzinger were two of the most influential priests during the Vatican II Council and they were both heavily influenced by the Phenomenology of Husserl and another philosopher named Max Scheler.  As such, every document that came out of Vatican II, every discussion, and every decree or Encyclical that flowed from Vatican II were all infected with Modernism in some form. All of it was in direct opposition to the Thomist Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas that had been the foundation of Church doctrine for 1,962 years.  (You will find a brief analysis here.)  
    As I said previously, Vatican II infected the whole Church with Modernism under many different philosophical ideas.  The nature of marriage was not immune to this infection.  Prior to Vatican II, the doctrines and dogma of the Catholic Church were rooted in Thomist Philosophy.  Essentially, St. Thomas taught and the Catholic Church formulated doctrine on the understanding that all human acts have natural purposes which are ordained by God and they must be respected as such by God's creation.  In regards to marriage, St. Thomas spent quite some time discussing marriage in his Summa Theologica.  His thoughts on the matter made up the foundation of what every priest taught and what every Catholic understood about marriage.  The heart of the doctrine regarding marriage was based upon Sacred Scripture, formulated philosophically by St. Thomas, instructed in the Catechism of Trent,  promulgated clearly in two Encyclicals; Arcanum by Pope Leo XIII in 1880 and Casti Connubii by Pope Pius XI in 1930, and re-confirmed by Pope Pius XII in his Address to Midwives in 1951 which he gave in response to the new philosophy on marriage that was beginning to take root.
     Another student of the growing Phenomenological movement was Dietrich von Hildebrand.  While he was personally and profoundly Catholic and openly critical of the changes in the Liturgy after Vatican II, his personalistic approach to married love was rooted in phenomenology and in direct opposition to Church teaching.  Since Pope Pius XII help a deep and profound respect for von Hildebrand, it was precisely his new philosophy regarding marriage that he warned the Italian Midwives about in his address.  (You can read more about von Hildebrand's philosophy of love here.)  In the 1920s, von Hildebrand gave a series of lectures on the nature of marriage.  He formulated the idea that there was not only a purpose or end of marriage, as had always been taught, but that there was also a distinct meaning of marriage.  This meaning of marriage, von Hildebrand concluded, was the love the spouses feel in the marriage embrace.  Ultimately, these lectures laid the ground work for this new philosophy and new understanding of marriage that developed out of Vatican II.  That philosophy, the new way of looking a marriage, was finally decreed and promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968 in his Encyclical Humane Vitae.  While Pope Paul VI re-affirmed the Church's constant teaching against birth control, he instituted a new concept of marriage.
     To see clearly the new orientation the Church has taken regarding marriage, I though it might be easier just to present the fundamental concepts from the traditional Church and from the post-conciliar Church.  (For the sake of simplicity I will use the True teaching vs. the New teaching.)

True Teaching
  • Marriage Debt:  St. Paul outlines in 1 Corinthian's that married spouses are bound by their marriage debt, or the conjugal act.  The marriage debt is designed for 3 ends or purposes in order: procreation, calming concupiscence, and fostering love and affection.  In other words, conjugal relations are designed for first, the couple to have children, then to keep the spouses from falling into sin, and what grows from that is a mutual fondness and enduring love, often developed through sacrifice, submissiveness, and selflessness.  The husband and wife are both obliged to pay their "debt" whenever the other spouses requests, provided that the request is not unreasonable.  In this way, the marriage debt protects the spouses from incontinence: the inability to control one's sexual appetite.
  • Begetting Children:  The principal object of marriage is to have children, to bring them up in the true faith, and to teach them service to God.  In other words, couples need to have always in their minds the birth of a child.  They wait for children to arrive when God sends them, no matter how small or large a number.  They have the duty and responsibility to bring up these children for Christ.
  • Mutual Help:  With the husband as head of the family and the wife as willingly submissive to her husband, the couple are able to work towards the common good of their family and the education of their children in matters of faith and morals.
  • Sacrament of Matrimony:  Matrimony is a word that comes from the Latin word, mater, or mother.  Why?  Because marriage is designed to make a woman a mother.  Christ elevated the state of marriage to a Sacrament thereby giving graces to the couple.  These graces enhance their natural love, increases the strength of marriage bond, and sanctifies the spouses, so that they grown in holiness and help to bring each other, and their children, into Heaven.
New Teaching
  • Marital Embrace:  This is a concept defined by Dietrich von Hildebrand.  According to von Hildebrand, the marital embrace, or the conjugal act, is designed for the couple to grow in mutual love for one another.  While procreation is naturally a purpose of the marital embrace, it is not the sole purpose or even primary purpose.  He taught that the marital embrace has two designs, one unitive and one procreative.  In other words, through the marital embrace couples grow to understand, respect, and love each other and then, as a secondary but equal consequence, they procreate.  Couples can not engage in the conjugal act without first considering the "personal" and "reasonable" wishes of the spouses. Couples are encouraged to practice self-discipline in matters of conjugal relations through periodic continence.  Only through self-control can spouses truly express their love for one another.
  • Responsible Parenthood:  The concept of responsible parenthood first appears in Catholic thought in Pope Paul VI's Encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Responsible parents are always aware of their social and physical conditions and "prudently" decide whether or not to have children, even for an indefinite period of time.  
  • Separate Interests:  There is emphasis on personal respect and dignity of the spouses.  Each spouse in encouraged to grow in understanding the other spouse and respecting his or her interests.  Often times spouses are counseled to develop personal hobbies separate from their spouses.  The education of the children, especially in matters of faith, is secondary.  Often times there is a focus on the development of the children's personal interests as well.  
  • Sacrament of the Marital Embrace:  In the marital embrace, the spouses are united spiritually.  Through the conjugal act, the spouses "gift" themselves to each other.  It is taught that the marital embrace, the conjugal act itself, is grace giving and sanctifying.  The unity of the spouses is perfected and strengthened through sexual relations.  And children are a "fruit" of this oneness. Sexual relations are to be enjoyed for the sake of their pleasure and through this pleasure, the spouses grow in love for each other.  (Here a writer discusses what she has learned from her parish and Theology of the Body.)  Proceed with caution!!!

    Ultimately this new orientation of marriage has had a huge impact on the Church. In a prior time, large Catholic families were not only a fairly normal occurrence, but they pointed to a healthy and vibrant faith.  In his Allocution to Large Families in 1951, Pope Pius XII said this:

Whenever you find large families in great numbers, they point to the physical and moral health of a Christian people, a living faith in God and trust in His Providence, the fruitful and joyful holiness of Catholic marriage.
In the modern civil world a large family is usually, with good reason, looked upon as evidence of the fact that the Christian faith is being lived up to... 
Catholics, when they married, expected to become parents of many children and they entered into the Sacrament of Matrimony with full faith in God that His Divine Providence would help them provide for every how many children He sent them.  These families were not judged on their wealth or lack there of nor their financial ability to support their children.  Catholic families who were blessed with financial wealth welcomed the opportunity to help these families meet their needs.  In fact, Pope Pius XI remarked in Casti Connubii  the following:
When these means which We have pointed out [diminishing material obstacles] do not fulfill the needs, particularly of a larger or poorer family, Christian charity towards our neighbor absolutely demands that those things which are lacking to the needy should be provided, hence it is incumbent on the rich to help the poor, so that having an abundance of this world's good, they may not expend them fruitlessly or completely squander them, but employ them for the support and well-being of those who lack the necessities of life.
Today, it's not unusual for modern Catholics to view large poor families with criticism and skepticism.  Due Pope Paul VI's new ideas regarding marriage and family, most modern Catholics consider "responsible parenthood" a Sacrament.  They are unafraid to tout Natural Family Planning as approved Church Teaching, and it just may be a teaching of the New Church.  In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI suggests:
With regard to physical, economic, psychological, and social conditions, responsible parenthood is exercised by those who prudently and generously decide to have more children, and by those who, for serious reasons and with due respect to moral precepts, decide not to have additional children for either a certain or indefinite period of time. 
Does this sound anything like the trust in God's Providence that Pope Pius XII mentioned?  Actually it sounds more like the secular idea that couple's should seriously consider all factors before they decide to have children.  Lost in this declaration is the thought that God sends the children He chooses to whom He chooses.  As a natural consequence of this new orientation, many Catholics have lost the charitable generosity of past generations.  Rather than offer to help the large and/or poor families in the parishes, those families are often criticized for making the poor decision to have more children when they are unable to financially care for them.  This has left a coldness in the post-Conciliar Church that has not gone unnoticed.
     Something has gone terribly wrong in the Catholic Church.  She lost her way in the 1960s after She was infected with Modernism.  The whole Church and all the Catholics in it are diseased.   Their whole way of thinking has been re-oriented.  What was once considered evil--intentionally avoiding pregnancy without very, very grave circumstances--is now considered good.  Large families, which were once considered the "flowerbeds of the faith" and a symbol of a living faith are now viewed with contempt.
     There is so much to discuss on the topic of marriage and families that I plan to have another installment, not quite so long, regarding the marriage debt, a closer look at NFP, duties of parents, and natural child spacing (not NFP).  There is so much of our Catholic faith that has been lost to us.  It's time to reclaim it, one step at a time.


In recent weeks, Dr. Jay Boyd referenced this article on her blog Philotheo on Phire.   Dr. Boyd has written a book on the subject of Natural Family Planning.  I am very grateful and humbled that Dr. Boyd would consider my opinions and thoughts on this subject worthy of a reference.  Thank you, Dr. Boyd, for your kindness.  Since then, I have discovered just how controversial this topic is.  Many Catholics, both traditional and modern, become very defensive regarding this subject.  Without being overly critical, I suspect that Modernism is probably to blame.  Sadly, it is becoming impossible to tell Catholic families from Protestant ones.  I pray that, through the work of Dr. Boyd and more people like her, Catholics can begin to challenge that Modernism and rekindle their Faith.

St. Matilda, ora pro nobis.

St. Catherine of Siena, ora pro nobis.


  1. Dr. Boyd, considering all your work on NFP, I accept graciously your favorable comment. In glorious gratefulness to the Blessed Virgin Mary, my eyes were opened to how the nature of marriage is being completely turned topsy-turvy. I pray that other Catholics' eyes are opened as well to the dangers present in the new theology of Vatican II.

  2. What an absolutely WONDERFUL posting! So many great insights brought together in one place! God bless you for responding so generously to His graces!

    Terry Carroll

    1. Mr. Carroll, thank you for your kind and generous words. I am honored to have you read this blog post. Before I knew what traditional Catholicism was, your work, along with Mr. Voris, gave me hope. I pray that Our Lord and Our Mother give us all the graces we need to battle these forces of darkness. Thanks again and God bless you.