How the bishops can live with SSM

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Last week, the Archdiocese of St. Paul ran a news story on its website that began, “A young girl in high school dreamed of the day she would get married. Little did she know that when that day came, her groom would be none other than Christ himself.”

Last week as well, Pope Francis told his apostolic nuncios that in choosing bishops, “Be careful that they are not ambitious, that they do not seek the episcopate – volentes nolumus – and that they are married to a Church without being in constant search of another.”

Does the Catholic Church consider such relationships — a nun to Christ and a bishop to his diocese –not “real” marriages? I wouldn’t say so. They are examples of that distinctive Catholic thing theologian David Tracy calls the analogical imagination — the theological use of language to discern a harmony of meaning “in relation to the whole of reality and in particular in relation to the realities of God, the self, other selves, and the world.”

Or as the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus once put it:

The analogical imagination seeks out resemblances, similarities, correspondences, and overlapping truths between apparently disparate realities. It aims at synthesis on the far side of apparent antithesis, it aims at likeness on the far side of unlikeness. Thus human sexuality in marriage is like the union between Christ and his bride the Church.

In other words, there are, in Catholicism, marriages and marriages. And the relationships they refer to have profound metaphysical similarities one to another, even though they are far from identical.

In the USCCB’s letter condemning the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decisions, Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Cordileone write, “Marriage is the only institution that brings together a man and a woman for life, providing any child who comes from their union with the secure foundation of a mother and a father.”

Sure, guys, but in your book marriage is not only that. So what if same-sex civil marriage is not oriented toward biological procreation and achieved sacramentally in a Catholic church? Use your analogical imaginations.

  • Allen Rose

    This aspect of Cathoicism is what helps me make sense of myself and the world I live in while continuing to be a practicing Catholic. Frequently I see this trait referred to as “both…and….” The bisops not only need to use their analogical imagination, but the need to let the theologians use their intellect and analogical imaginations without fear of being censured.

  • Michael Legge

    I’m 73 and a practicing Catholic. Years ago I graduated from a Catholic university. As a Liberal Arts major, I extensively studied theology and philosophy. On a discussion of marriage an instructor pointed out that in the pioneer days when a priest happened to visit a remote family it was a custom to both marry and baptize the children of the couple if their marriage hadn’t been blessed before. Basically, the priest blessed the marriage, “sacramentalized” it in the eyes of the Church. “They were already married” in the eyes of the Church, they needed its blessing as did their newly baptized children. Civil unions or marriage is just that. To sacramentalize a marriage by the Church blesses it by dedicating the union to God.

  • Old Dude

    There was a time (long ago and of another time) when vows were taken seriously because we had personal honor. Now (obviously) the sages want to make light of vows and to take pot shots (cheap shots) and anything resembling honor. We raised our right hand and swore in to military service (and you were most assuredly pledging your life to your country). It was serious because grandfathers and uncles and cousins had given lives for our country (and years and limbs and accepted the burden of their OATH). At one time we put our hand on a Bible when we took an oath and pledged to God Almighty as well as our sacred honor. At one time we respected women (all women) and were “chivalrous” (which the feminists construed as antagonistic). Today (especially in academia) oaths do not mean a thing. They are not made on Bibles because they do not believe in God. They are not worth the hot air with which they are made and broken before the hot air cools. Marriages between men and women may not last a few hours. Perjury is common place. No surprise then that a professor of religion at Trinity College thinks vows are funny. He probably thinks the Trinity is funny and God is funny .. and life is just one big laugh .. and he expects somebody else will give their life to protect his rights (because you be sure he won’t). I wouldn’t want to have received my degree from his college or to waste my time hearing his lectures on religion or the Trinity.

  • ctd

    Yes, there are two types of marriages from a Catholic perspective, but they are the sacramental marriage and the institution of marriage in the natural law. The bishops’ concern is and always has been whether the civil institution of marriage conforms with the natural law and the common good. Same-sex unions do not and cannot.

  • JohnM

    BTW, natural law has nothing to do with nature….honestly.

  • Richard M

    I’m not quite clear what Prof. Silk is advocating here – that the Church should simply find a way to tolerate “same-sex” marriages, or to actually sacramentalize them? That last paragraph could stand developing.

    It’s more likely that the Church’s response is going to be a somewhat more hostile extension of how it treats civil, heterosexual marriages that it does not recognize now. A Catholic who marries outside the Church is welcome in church but cannot receive Communion until he has it convalidated (if it can be convalidated; it won’t be if the couple makes plain they refuse to have any children). A man who marries four women under Islamic law will never be able to have all those marriages recognized. Homosexual unions are a fundamental violation of the natural law in the way that those former marriages are not, so there is going to be a more critical attitude toward them even as the Church is forced to live with their existence in society at large.

    But the Church’s analogical imagination is never going to be able to extend to recognizing same-sex unions as marriage in any sense of the term. It has limits that it cannot exceed, and this is one of them.

  • robd

    Your final paragraph states a future contingent. According to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, such judgments are neither true nor false.

  • tony

    Well said CTD. Isn’t funny how the prof basically thinks that the bishops have no business telling catholics how to be catholics and yet he has every authority to tell the bishops how to be bishops. What an entitled age we live in.

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  • Richard M

    I’m not sure how you think this is applicable here. But on future contingents, Aristotle is ambiguous – but Aquinas is not. See Summa Theologiae II-II, q.171 a.6.

  • Yes indeed, ctd. I was just suggesting that their tradition offers them an intellectual alternative. Do I think they will avail themselves of it? Of course not. It’s worth noting in this context that natural law argumentation is the antithesis of analogical thinking — it’s dialectical, either/or. Tracy does not reject dialectical theology; to the contrary, he believes it provides an important check on the analogical imagination. It is, however, more the province of Protestant than Catholic theologians — and, perhaps, the laity as well. I suspect that familiarity with the wide range of Catholic marriage formulations helps explain why the Catholic laity is, notwithstanding the magisterial pronouncements of the bishops, so accepting of same sex (civil) marriage. – See more at:

  • tony

    The prof can’t see the difference between physical, spiritual and metaphysical marriages. Christ is metaphysically married to the church producing the sacraments and making redemption possible. ( even though in the profs view the church seems to always be wrong and hatefilled.) The priest is spiritually married to his parish, producing spiritual children. And men and women are physically married to each other, producing actual childern. They are all analogous. They occur on different planes of existence. They all reflect, more or less depending on their level of exisitence, the inner nature of the Trinity. And all of them involve the complementary nature of the two participants and producing fruit.

  • And a nun is married to Christ how, producing what?

  • tony

    Grace! Haven’t you heard of it. A Nun is spiritually united to Christ producing Grace! Interceding for others. Performing works of mercy through herself. All initiated by Christ and made fertile through the nun’s will and faith. Unlike libs, we aren’t the ones we have been waiting for. we are not the source of entitlement and salvation. Catholics are waiting on Christ.

  • tony

    Try this. God isn’t bound by biology. He didn’t have to create men and women. He could have created one sex or no sex. Human beings could have created new life asexually just by dividing each person in half. And what a great statement that would have been about the equality of all human beings. how obvious it would have been that we should all care for each other. that we all have the same dignity and the same rights and are interconnected. what a powerful example that would have been……but….there is only one problem. HE DIDN”T. AS Jesus preached husband and wife become one flesh. this is the relationship that reflects the inner nature of the Trinity. we may all have equal diginity that doesn’t mean we are all the same. don’t ask a foot to do an arms job.

  • Rockvillian

    You forgot “When I was your age…” and “You kids get off my lawn”. Seriously, this nostalgia leads to neuralgia. You make an awful lot of slanderous assumptions about Professor Silk, “and he expects somebody else will give their life to protect his rights (because you be sure he won’t).” Where’s your proof? Slander is a sin, remember?

    I think the issue here is that the bishops have bitten off more than they can chew, what with trying to set American policy regarding abortion, birth control, marriage, etc.. I think that the reason the public has changed its collective mind so quickly on gay marriage is that when the issue came into the public square, the arguments against it were weak because the bishops have little credibility left after the pedophile scandals and their meddling in elections, and the actual arguments are weak, basically they say “because I and Aristotle said so” and “everybody know this, based on so-called natural law”. Cardinal Wuerl made the same argument in the Sunday Washington Post, claiming that reason makes his arguments for him. Then why is that the smart kids don’t agree with him? Probably because these are the same people who till recently claimed that Galileo got it wrong.

  • geriatricnurse

    You forgot the science thing. The bishops keep using a priori arguments that society will end if same sex marriage comes about. The null hypothesis is that society will be just fine. We have all those countries and all those states with same sex marriage. The science experiment has gone on for years now and no society has collapsed. I don’t even think normal marriage rate has changed or the divorce rate. There is no evidence at all to back up the bishops assertions. In the end that is why they lost.

  • JohnM

    Why all the fuss thinking that same-sex marriage will mean the end of the line for the world? Are we not in a situation now of overpopulation? When was the last time the Roman Catholic Church addressed the issue of overpopulation in which millions are starving?

  • Richard M

    “Are we not in a situation now of overpopulation?”

    Not in the developed world, we aren’t.

    In countries like Japan and Italy, the fertility rate is not much above HALF of replacement level.

  • JohnM

    RichardM….not sure you are correct.

  • Richard M

    Hello John,

    Not correct about…the TFR of these countries?

    Replacement level – just producing enough children to replace the exiting population – requires a TFR of 2.1. According to the CIA World Factbook, the TFR of some relevant European and East Asian countries is as follows:

    Singapore 0.79(!)
    South Korea 1.24
    Ukraine 1.29
    Poland 1.32
    Japan 1.39
    Italy 1.41

    And the overall TFR for the entire European Union? Only 1.58. For every four adults, they’re only replacing with three children.

    And it’s not just the developed regions. Even Islamic countries like Iran, Qatar, Tunisia, Libya, and Lebanon have sub-replacement level TFR’s. only in parts of sub-Saharan Africa and a few spots in the Islamic world have high (but declining) TFR’s any longer, which is why we’re looking at absolute global population decline beginning within our lifetimes.

    Paul Ehrlich has been proven wrong. The problem for the developed world is not too many babies being born, but too few.

  • geriatricnurse

    Yes, in some parts of the world the birthrate is low. However in other parts of the world the birthrate is far higher and the low birth rate countries can do what the U.S. has done and accept immigration. However the birthrate of a nation really doesn’t have much to do with same sex civil marriage. The rate of lifelong homosexuality is about 3% of the total population. That at least is true in the U.S. It is out of this group that a small subset will want to have a civil marriage and will actually obtain a civil marriage. From what has been noted an even smaller fraction either will adopt or use artificial means to have children or raise ones they already have. It is really the small incidence of life long same sex attraction that the bishops forgot in their arguments. A far greater problem for society is the number of out of wedlock births and fatherless children. Any society can absorb the less than 3% who want same sex marriage. Far harder is to absorb the huge number of out of wedlock births and fatherless children. That problem is a heterosexual problem and is separate from the same sex marriage issue. The heterosexual marriage rate is never been affected by the issue of same sex marriage in the countries or states which have same sex civil marriage. That is the science piece that the bishops forgot as well as the piece about the ability of a same sex couple to raise children. A same sex couple does about as well as a heterosexual couple and that too is something that the bishops forgot.