In early 2015, our Archdiocese like many others was offered a 47-question open-ended survey in order to gather information about what people throughout the world understand about the Church’s teaching, her pastoral practice, current conditions, and the reality of marriage and family life. The survey was probably a poor translation, and the questions were ill-structured, so I ended up writing about 15,500 words in the one week window for completing it. I have chosen to share a few of these, here, as well, for your comments. I will quote the question, and what follows is my answer. I have edited the answers slightly for brevity, politeness, and clarity.
10. What human pedagogy needs to be taken into account — in keeping with divine pedagogy — so as better to understand what is required in the Church’s pastoral activity in light of the maturation of a couple’s life together which would lead to marriage in the future? (cf. n. 13)
The question and the text of the Relatio paragraph are once again obscure. Nonetheless, we will muddle on.
The Relatio at 13: “By reason of the divine pedagogy, according to which the order of creation develops through successive stages to the order of redemption, we need to understand the newness of the Christian Sacrament of Marriage in continuity with natural marriage of the origins, that is, the manner of God’s saving action in both creation and the Christian life.” I parse this as a reference to the dual ordering of causation we often observe in theology, that is, to the difference between the order of generation and the order of causation.
Because God is perfect act, when we observe an unmistakably divine action in process, we know that the end is already realized in the order of final causation, that is, with regard to what will be accomplished inclusive of all contingencies encompassed by the divine decree. Because God’s action does encompass and maintain in force such contingencies, including the moral liberty of rational creatures, divine acts which encompass such contingencies appear in seed form and flower in history, assuming they are such as must flower and not wilt. (Of course, we know that an “indelible mark on the soul” may remain indelible, though one may still choose separation from God, though Heaven forfend such a result!) Therefore, we must understand that natural marriage, intrinsic and fundamental to the Order of Creation, and therefore prior to the Church in the order of generation, is ineradicable and unalterable even by the Church.
Christ, the “Lord of the Sabbath,” has already revealed the direction of the unfolding flower of natural marriage, the Sacrament of Matrimony. The Church has always recognized that she is bound by the dominical sayings that determine clearly within history the orientation of the divine action in marriage; this action is always present in seed in natural marriage, and flowers in the Sacrament of Matrimony, though its full fruit remains bound up in the mystery of the Body of Christ, reserved to the Last Day.
A man and a woman inclined to marriage—or a man seeking a woman, or a woman seeking a man, desiring marriage—have begun to receive the seed of marriage, in their desire for permanence and their inclination to exclusivity, especially as those two are linked to their sexual behavior. However, the planting of this seed remains uncertain until all of the elements that determine marriage—the elements the Church has recognized in the dominical sayings, as well as the rest of revelation—are manifested in the marriage.
Thus the divine pedagogy, and the Church’s Magisterium as its submissive agent and authoritative recognition, require of all responsible people an earnest teaching that marriage must be an indissoluble, exclusive union of a man and a woman ordered to the engendering and education of their children. That is, the divine pedagogy through both nature and dominical teaching establishes this meaning, and this responsibility for teachers, with regard to natural marriage. (We must at all times avoid confusing “natural marriage” with “civil [recognition of] marriage,” which is related to but not constitutive of “marriage” per se.)
In the Sacrament of Matrimony, Christ and His Church bless, witness, and enlarge the spiritual and practical benefits of marriage. In the order of generation, the family—the society formed by natural marriage—stands prior to the Church, and is not constituted by her. However, the action of Christ in determining within history what might have been obscured by human sinfulness also teaches us to recognize a special grace, and a special obligation, that a man and a woman may minister to the Church who witnesses their marriage. The Church has clearly recognized that the man and the woman together are the ministers of matrimony, and as ministers of grace for the whole Church, the man and the woman have both a privilege and an obligation which honors their calling and holds them responsible, not alone to themselves, but to a whole community.
The Church’s “pastoral activity,” therefore, must continually work to annex to the desires of man of woman, and woman for man, the ideas of fruitfulness and permanence; to annex to the desires of man and woman for permanent, fruitful union the ideas of responsible and blessed service, in rearing children and in sharing the blessings of holy matrimony with the whole Church; and to clarify that there is not, and cannot be, any other “marriage” but that which by nature has been clearly set forth, but revelation underscored, and by dominical saying determined beyond all contingency.
To that end, the Church must clearly state the distinctions between marriage and “civil [recognition of] marriage,” which is valid when there is a natural marriage actually recognized by a civil document, and a dead letter (or perverse folly!) when there is no such natural marriage. Two men, or two women, or whatever else is not one man and one woman mutually consenting to indissoluble, exclusive union ordered to fecundity, cannot be the subjects of marriage, and no regime can cause them to be so. Nor, indeed, can the Church; the Church can no more make a “marriage” of a same-sex union than she can make Aphrodite a member of the Holy Trinity.
It is therefore urgent that the Church clearly define her own deference to the authentic definition of “natural marriage,” so as to distinguish both the “ecclesial [recognition of] marriage” that is part of the discipline of the Sacrament of Matrimony and the “civil [recognition of] marriage” that is part of a just civil order’s response to the realities of marriage and family life, without appearing to muddle categories or to speak in Gnostic fashion of a secret “sacramental marriage” invisibly exalted above mundane “civil marriage.” These incoherent terms must be abandoned at all costs, lest we add confusion to a disordered world, rather than speaking as the “experts on humanity” we once claimed we could be.
Finally, then, we ought to proceed in “human pedadogy” on two fronts, at the same time: First, we must fully engage faithful families, precisely as families, in the life of the Church, building neighborhood and ending our seduction by the “youth culture” that defeats intergenerational tradition-building and robust spiritual formation. The “divine pedadogy” of marriage is a double witness, to the children of the faithfulness of the parents through their participation in the life of the Body of Christ, and to the assembly of the faithful of the family through their fidelity and growth as a family, including their honest struggles and the resources those will demand from the Church. Only by rigorously forming those who are to be married, and warmly engaging them in the life of the Church, can this fruit of the sacrament be enjoyed—too often, today, it is partly or wholly wasted, withering on the vine unused (or falling off, rotten). Second, we must fully engage singles, strangers, friendly unbelievers, and whoever else comes into the neighborhood of the Church with the lives of families, not with mere programs—especially not programs with segregate them with “their own kind” and pander to them without providing them the examples and blessings of interacting with those who express the various vocations of familial, clerical, and religious life. Breaking down these segregating, atomizing, individualistic programs in favor of a richly interdependent neighborhood families, we can and should shape a neighborhood where single people and those with damaging or disordered experiences of “family” can be quite literally touched by those living this vocation, and can share in the mutual assistance of all walks of life, assistance sanctified and supported by the Sacraments of Matrimony and Order.
We cannot integrate those who reject “natural marriage” into the life of the Church as married, for they are not; we can integrate anyone into the life of the Church as friends of her families, her clergy, and her vowed religious brothers and sisters. When we make faithful families, by their example and their generous and hospitable sharing in the life of the Church, the ministers of grace that Christ made them, we can expect those who are not attached to families, or who misunderstand families, to begin to benefit from their example—and more profoundly, from the grace they minister to the whole “household of faith.”