Thursday, May 08, 2008

Protestantism and Divorce: Is it any wonder?

As I was perusing the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on the Sacrament of Marriage, found here, I was struck by some quotes from the Protestant "Reformers". Jean Calvin states,

"Lastly, there is matrimony, which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard it? God's ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments" (from Institutes, IV, xix, 34; quoted from New Advent).
Luther, who also said that Holy Matrimony is much like any other natural institution and hence governed by worldly authority, said the following:

"Marriage may therefore be a figure of Christ and the Church; it is, however, no Divinely instituted sacrament, but the invention of men in the Church, arising from ignorance of the subject" (from the original edition of "De captivitate Babylonica"; quoted from New Advent).
Ought we really to wonder why divorce is accepted and so widespread in most of Protestantism? Marriage, the original "Reformers" (used lightly), is nothing different than any other natural institution, such as, in the words of Calvin, shoemaking. It is t merely natural and thus governed by natural authorities. If marriage is contracted before a natural authority, then why can't it be broken by the same natural authority? Also, if it is only natural then why is ending a marriage that big of a deal?

Holy Matrimony is, however, a true sign of the relationship between Christ and His Church. The Holy Catholic Church thinks very highly of marriage, following her Divine Head, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He taught that in marriage the two become one flesh therefore they cannot be joined to some other person without committing adultery. Divorce, He teaches, is not acceptable and was only allowed as a concession for hardheartedness in the Old Covenant. Is this really just shoemaking?

By the very fact that the Apostle says that marriage is a great mystery, that it relates to the mystery of Christ and the Church, reveals that marriage signifies something much more than just a natural institution. True, it is natural and the primary end is procreation. However the Church teaches us that the goal is not just to populate this earth but to populate heaven with Saints.

Holy Mother Church teaches us that Christ so valued Holy Matrimony as to make it a Sacrament. He endowed it with grace so that what was only a natural institution could be elevated to the supernatural, the love of spouses could be raised to supernatural charity and the procreation of children could result in the salvation of little souls for Heaven. Shoemaking could never have such glorious ends. Truly in Holy Matrimony the spouses seek the glory of God, perfection of divine charity in the family, and ultimately the salvation of all the souls involved. The family then is called to truly be a natural sign of the love of the Most Holy Trinity - a life of sacrifice, of self-giving and of singular commitment.

When Holy Matrimony is compared to shoemaking, and when it is denied that it is a Sacrament (as if God would never pour out His divine Grace upon something so natural), is it any wonder what happens to the union? It definitely will not be exalted and extolled to the extent that God desires. It risks being denigrated into something that can be changed or altered, being that it is only something natural. The dignity of the sacrifice and committed union of spouses in a lifelong vow becomes something far less divine, far less important.

I'm not claiming that every Protestant will follow this slippery slope, that every Protestant marriage will easily fall into divorce, or something like that. I am saying that the dignity of Holy Matrimony cannot help but be lessened when the Sacrament is lost. When people do not believe that it is raised and strengthened and dignified by God's grace, then something most be lost. Obviously the divine assistance of the Sacrament is lost when the Sacrament is forsaken but beyond that it becomes then just something of nature - and what in nature exhorts me that it cannot be ended for a variety of reasons?

Praised be Our Lord Jesus Christ for raising this sacrificial union of spouses, which is mysteriously related to Christ's love for His Church, to the dignity of a Sacrament. Truly such a wonderful union cannot be broken in this life - just as Christ's union with His Church cannot end.

Pax Christi tecum.

1 comment:

Tim A. Troutman said...

Good points. Yea, when we regard matrimony on the same level of shoe-making we're on a downward spiral.