Author Archives: davidsmith4002

Suffer the Little Children: Aquinas on Divorce

In Mark 10, Jesus is asked by the Pharisees (“to test him”) whether divorce was lawful.  As he responded, the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 24 and elsewhere) permitted divorce under some conditions.  But Jesus argues more broadly, basing his words on the second chapter of Genesis, “the two will become one flesh.” Therefore, Jesus says, “what God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”

The Mosaic Law on divorce is complex (to say the least; for one thing, it permitted polygamy), but the overriding sense is that it is at best a necessary evil caused by unnecessary (and worse) evils.  Adultery and abuse were the commonly accepted justifications.  Remarriage of divorced persons was permitted in some cases and prohibited in others.

Throughout the Pentateuch (indeed, the entire Bible), many aspects of divorce are addressed, but one omission is glaring: there is not a word about child custody.  The impact on the children receives no more consideration than it does in a modern American courtroom.

In biblical times, the concept of family meant a father, a mother, and their children.  The idea of an intentionally childless married couple did not exist; at least I have not seen any indication of one. Effective contraception did not exist.  Children were valued as workers in support of the family.   Children were valued as caretakers in parental old age. Many other reasons probably factored into what was in all likelihood not a conscious decision (to procreate) at all.

St. Thomas Aquinas comes at the divorce issue from an interesting tack:  the natural law.  The natural law is our fundamental understanding of right and wrong (sometimes called the First Grace, followed by the Mosaic Law and finally Jesus’ Law of Love.) It is the law that Paul ascribes to all, even the gentiles, as innate in our humanity. Here is Thomas:

“By the intention of nature, marriage is directed to the rearing of offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life…  Therefore since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter [husband and wife] to live together forever inseparably; and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.” (“I answer that”,Q67. Art. 1 Suppl)(emphasis added)

In response to the (very modern-sounding) objection that some couples are infertile, and therefore marriage cannot be directed primarily to offspring, Thomas patiently explains:

“Marriage is chiefly directed to the common good in respect of its principal end, which is the good of the offspring; although in respect of its secondary end it is directed to the good of the parties…Hence marriage laws consider what is expedient for all rather than what may be suitable for one.” (Reply to Obj. 4)

It is worth noting that this is from his Summa Theologiae, which is based on both revelation and reason. He could have based the indissolubility of marriage first and foremost on biblical grounds: Genesis and Matthew/Mark. But instead, he bases his answer on natural law.

One would expect this non-theological approach in his Summa Contra Gentiles, in which he argues from reason and nature, without divine revelation, to attain truth; and one is not disappointed:

“Hence, as law is instituted for the common good, the function of procreation ought to be regulated by laws divine and human. Now the laws laid down ought to proceed on the basis of the dictate of nature…Since then there is in the human species a natural exigency for the union of male and female to be one and indivisible, such unity and indissolubility must needs be ordained by human law. To that ordinance the divine law adds a supernatural reason, derived from the significancy of marriage as a type of the inseparable union of Christ with His Church…” (Chapter CXXIII)

His reasoning is consistent: marriage is a matter of natural law directed at the welfare of children, creating the future and thereby benefiting society. Jesus adds a secondary reason based on scripture (Genesis).

The Catechism (para 1614) makes it clear that the Catholic Church bases its position on scripture alone.  It does not mention children as the principal purpose of marriage (at least I cannot find such mention.) It does so tangentially in its discussion of contraception and openness to fertility, but not in its discussion of divorce.

In other words, the Catechism, like the reality of our present courts and culture, treats divorce as a matter involving two adults and the covenant or contract into which they have entered and from which they now seek to exit.

And the children? Collateral damage. Property to be divided.

Perhaps Thomas, were he writing today, might find that contraception has divided marriages into two kinds (or “species”, to use one of his favorite words): families with children and those (contentedly or intentionally) without. Procreative families and non-procreative ones. His reasoning cited above about infertile couples might have to take into account the very large number of intentionally childless marriages.

The divorce of two childless adults can be many things, from tragic to trivial.  But divorce involving children is another thing: the innocent children are victims: always hurt, traumatized, brutalized. What they experience is the destruction of their family and their world; a destruction inflicted upon them by those same adults who brought them into existence and have the duty to protect them.

We trivialize the suffering of these children by using the same term for both species of divorce. Separation of childless adults is properly called divorce; but divorce with children should be described as it is: family destruction and child abandonment. It is today the one form of child abuse that is not only tolerable but even respectable.

The importance of this issue cannot be exaggerated. The social pathologies that plague western society today may be traced to many causes, but one of the most obvious is the weakening of families.  Poverty in America is traceable almost exclusively to single-parent households. Violent crime is traceable almost exclusively to boys raised in fatherless households.  The enactment of “No-Fault Divorce” laws has been one of the causes of societal breakdown.  It has given men (and increasingly women) a free pass to abandon those most dependent on them, without stigma.

We come now to the current turmoil involving divorced/remarried Catholics. With the present papal incumbent moving to downgrade the seriousness, even the sinfulness, of divorce/remarriage, divorce appears to be viewed everywhere as less of a problem.

In Amoris Laetitia, he devotes much ink to the problem of what to do with remarried divorcees, but very little that I could find on the victimized children.  If the Church moves forward with “normalization” of divorce, it will only be making matters worse.

It goes without saying that there are legitimate reasons for divorce, abuse being the most obvious. The Church to its credit has used the annulment process to deal with marriages so fatally flawed. The Gospel of Matthew also defends divorce for adultery.  Both Mark and Matthew have Jesus basing his words on Genesis.

What seems to be lacking is the natural law, which a return to St. Thomas Aquinas could correct.  The Church might want to consider instead, in light of natural law, the difference between simple divorces and divorces with children.  The Church could lead the way in this, given the extent to which our secular society has decided to act as if the children of divorce are invisible.

The Church should try to address the problem with St. Thomas Aquinas, rather than exacerbate it with Amoris Laetitia.

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The Church Stands Alone

In the Pedophile Priest Crisis, the Church (specifically its internal corrupters, the pedophile priests and their superiors in the hierarchy who refused to take responsibility) was in the wrong.  The world helped correct it.  That is, the news media, law enforcement, and especially the lawyers of the plaintiff’s bar.  They publicized and sued and brought the scandal to public attention, forcing the Church to deal with it.

In the present Homosexual Crisis, the world stands enthusiastically on the side of the Church’s internal corrupters.  The media love the current pope and his “See No Evil” approach (along with his breezy off-the-cuff airborne theology).  The media and other elites all shared in the near-universal horror at pedophile child abuse; but they all equally support the Homosexual Agenda, from normalization to gay marriage to transgenderism.

The only voices being raised against this grooming-and-groping-and-worse behavior of some bishops come from the much-despised “Traditional Catholics”, smeared by their own pope as “Pharisees”.

G.K. Chesterton wrote somewhere (I think in Orthodoxy, but I don’t have a copy handy so I am quoting from memory) that when the world becomes too worldly, it is the church’s role to turn it around. But when the church becomes too worldly, the world cannot save it.  Only the church (through the Holy Spirit) can save itself.

There will be no outside help, no cheering from the sidelines.  The press coverage will be terrible.  We already see the calumny against the traditional church as a homophobic institution, a bunch of haters in Knights of Columbus uniforms.

It will be a lonely battle.  There will be no one on our side…except the Holy Spirit.

The Needle Galaxy

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The Needle Galaxy, courtesy of NASA (apod.gov.nasa, archives).  Always remember: According to the scientists, there are at least a hundred billion galaxies, each made up of a hundred billion stars; and when it all began 14.5 billion years ago, it (the entire universe) was smaller than a mustard seed.  Fitting neatly in the palm of God’s hand.

Reprise: “I Am That Man”

[By request, a rerun of a previous post. Plus a few Digressions.]

A few years ago, in RCIA at the age of 69 after a spiritually wasted life, I was finally getting serious about many things, including the Bible readings.

 But I was taken aback by one of the vineyard parables (Mat 20):  the one where the owner pays the same daily wage to late-arriving workers who only put in an hour’s work as he pays to the laborers who worked the full day.

As a former union representative, I rose to point out the unfairness of this.  It would violate wage and hour laws, not to mention any union contract.  The result would be a grievance, a federal charge, or a walkout.  The late worker would be singled out for derision (or worse) as the owner’s stooge.  My objections cut no ice. Salvation economics, I was told, were different from labor economics.  I dropped the subject, filing it under “Catholic Stuff I Don’t Get…Yet” Note: (There are still a lot of these. See the Digressions below.)

But later, at my first communion, the daily reading was that very same parable.  And after re-hashing the same issues in my mind, it suddenly dawned on me – I was that man! I was that laborer who showed up near the end of the day and happily, if a little guiltily, collected my full wages.  And, most amazingly, the other workers seemed happy about it. No grievances were filed.  No cradle catholic shunned me as an upstart.   They actually welcomed me!

Now whenever I see someone full of self-esteem and entitlement, the kind of guy who is convinced that he deserves all the good things life has given him, I have to remind myself that “I am that man.”  And when I am with one of the many good people who have been working in the Christian vineyards their entire lives, I feel my own unworthiness all the more.  But I know that this is the way God’s grace works.  My job is to accept the grace, and to pass it on.  And to keep at it until my workdays come to an end.

_______________________________

 DIGRESSION #1: One of the things I don’t get, or at least don’t like, is the New Testament’s low opinion of tax collectors.  I understand the history of the inherent corruption in that ancient imperial system, but surely there must be a better word for those corrupt officials. The Greek “telones” and the Latin “publicani” described contemptibly corrupt characters.  The modern-day American tax collectors I have known (and represented as union members) are upright, honest public servants. I don’t recall ever having to represent one accused of theft or embezzlement.  How must they feel when they read the gospel references to “tax collectors and other sinners”?  So Bible translators, get creative and come up with a better term.  “Corrupt officials”? “Crooked bureaucrats”? 

DIGRESSION #2: Speaking of Bible translators, why does the Catholic Church use such lame ones?  Consider Matthew 16:18. KJV: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it” [the Church]. New American Bible: “The gates of the netherworld…” Netherworld? The image conjured up suggests Holland, not Hell.

Or consider Psalm 23:6. KJV: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  NAB: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.”  How many years? Two? Three? How long have I got until my lease expires and God throws me out?

DIGRESSION #3: Speaking of crooked public officials, one of my favorite lines from Casablanca is spoken by the dastardly police captain Renault, played by Claude Raines. Rick (Humphrey Bogart) proposes a twenty-thousand-franc bet that Victor Laszlo will escape to America. Renault responds “Make it ten thousand. I’m only a poor corrupt official.”

 

 

 

Who Would Have Known…It Would Get This Bad?

Anthony Esolen, writing in the always valuable Crisis Magazine, has put his brilliant pen to list the stark litany of horrors which would have been unthinkable until quite recently.  “Who would have known, as recently as thirty years ago,” just how destructive the sexual revolution would be to all we hold dear: society, marriage, family, childhood innocence, truth?

The immediate trigger of this litany is the Drag-Queen story time for kids at the public library (even in once-conservative Nashua, NH).

Read the whole thing.  Esolen’s is the voice of Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Painful to read, necessary to heed.

PF and the Mirage of Fraternity

The most insightful thing I have read online lately comes from the always-insightful Maureen Mullarkey at studiomatters.com. Entitled “Francis and Mirages of Fraternity Part I”, it is an analysis of this pope’s Christmas message, filled as it is with the French Revoliution’s favorite cliche.

MM shares the trenchant analysis of Daniel J. Mahoney’s The Idol of Our Age, subtitled How the Religion of Humanity Subverts Christianity.

You don’t need to be as brilliant as MM to notice that PF generally sounds like an episcopalian, modernizing, progressivist, liberation-theologist cum-feel-good political therapist.  Even while  abandoning the legacy of his predecessors’ rich theology, he exceeds their worst failings in the oversight of his clergy’s sins.  Where John Paul and Benedict too often failed to drive the worst abusers from the temple, PF welcomes them back.  Where they were too ready to forgive, he seems too eager to seat them at his right hand.

Anyway, I strongly recommend that you take a look here.

Another Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

Hope Without Faith?

There can be no greater blessing than faith in a loving God.  This much I have learned.  But this blessing is not easily achieved; at least it has not been for me.

“Now abideth these three, Faith, Hope, and Love,” writes St. Paul.  Hope seems to me the future tense of faith and love.  Hope  for the future, without faith in something that can save us from ourselves, seems impossible; without faith we live hopeless lives. But how do we do that?

Surprisingly well, for the most part. The  hopeless life can apparently be lived in a condition of general self-satisfaction.  The Swerve, a recent book about Lucretius and his Epicurian writings, sings the praises of just such a life.  It has become the default setting of modern life: “happiness” as a goal in itself, looking away from ugly things, ignoring the things others must do for me so that I may achieve my happiness.

The other alternative to hopelessness is faith in something – anything – that we can persuade ourselves is greater than ourselves.  If one cannot believe in a loving God, one has other choices.  One can believe in saving the world through political action; countless lives have been sacrificed to the belief that a political party holds the key to the salvation of the world.  Hegel first gave scientific pretensions to the faith in historical progress, freeing envy and the will to power to masquerade as world salvation, thereby making a better world by putting me and people just like me in total authority.

Faith in a warrior god, such as some strains of Islam, is an ancient alternative that is reasserting itself.  But faith in a god of bloody conquest tends to be a close kin of the Marxism that gives supernatural authority to our natural desire to destroy our enemies and elevate ourselves.

Or, at a less intense level, one may believe that People Are Basically Good (the PABGoo assumption) and that therefore things will somehow work out.  This variety of the unexamined life, which goes by the name of optimism, is generally coupled with The Swerve’s Epicurianism in the modern default mode.  The only sacrifice most PABGoos are called upon to make for their faith is their contact with reality; most seem only too glad to make it.

I have gone through these alternatives throughout my long life.  They no longer work on me.  I am no longer willing to deny reality, and I am no longer comfortable dressing my will to power in Marxist or Hegelian costume.

And so I have come to the Church, the reality of God’s existence and purpose on earth.  Nothing will be saved without God. God is in fact the only hope which remains when false faiths have fallen away.

 

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She** then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

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Four Faces of the Church Scandal

The more I hear and the more I think about the present sex scandal in the Church, the more I am convinced that this crisis has four distinct but interwoven threads.

First, the problem of pedophile priests.  This atrocity is the most widely recognized piece of the puzzle; but it is also the only one that has been addressed and, to a significant extent, dealt with.  If any priest is today molesting a catechism student or an altar boy or girl, he will be quickly exposed and driven out.  That is why the Pennsylvania Attorney General report deals almost entirely with past, and not current priests.

Second, the problem of homosexual abuse/recruitment/”grooming” of seminarians and young priests, typified by the scandal of ex-Cardinal “Uncle Ted” McCarrick.  The pope’s refusal to even admit the existence of this problem indicates the difficulty of dealing with it. 

Third, there is the new gay advocacy, the growing presence and prominence of openly pro-gay priests and bishops, advocating for full acceptance of homosexuality in the Church and world. Father James Martin is only one of the most flamboyant examples.  The pope’s readiness to take McCarrick’s advice in appointing bishops like Cupich is yet another.

And fourth, tying them all together, is the ongoing tolerance of misbehavior that the Church has always regarded as mortal sin.  The cover-ups and protection of pedophile priests, the veil of silence regarding molesters like McCarrick, and the open encouragement of gay advocates like Martin, are all part of a single disease.       The pope’s refusal to address Abp. Vigano’s accusations, along with his track record in South American scandals, suggests that he is, to say the least, unwilling to be part of the solution.

There you have it; four ugly, tangled threads.  Much discussion these days is about how to untangle them. But it seems like a better idea to simply grab them all and rip them out of the Church!  Or, as Alexander the Great demonstrated with the Gordian Knot, just take a sword to them.  Throw the rascals out!

Despite the rhetoric, I don’t know exactly how to do it.  Certainly we must pray for Jesus to once again save His Church from the hands of those who are profaning his temple.  And we must speak out in some way to let the hierarchy, and the world, know where we stand.

May God help us, as laymen, to find a way to help fix this mess.