Friday, April 26, 2013

Dawson: Predicting the future of marriage

Question: How did they know? How can Catholic historians predict future trends with such accuracy? Alexis de Tocqueville predicted that America would be subjected to a kind of “soft-despotism” about 140 years before it ever became a reality. Hilaire Belloc predicted the re-emergence of Islam in 1938 when Islam was politically at its all time low. In 1933 Christopher Dawson predicted the lowering of marriage rates when the institution of marriage appeared to be invulnerable:

As in the decline of the ancient world, the family is steadily losing its form and its social significance, and the State absorbs more and more of the life of its members. The home is no longer a center of social activity; it has become merely a sleeping place for a number of independent wage-earners.

The functions which were formerly fulfilled by the head of the family are now being taken over by the State, which educates the children and takes the responsibility for their maintenance and health. Consequently, the father no longer holds a vital position in the family...

The use of contraceptives has made sexual intercourse independent of parenthood, and the marriage of the future will be confined to those who seek parenthood for its own sake rather than as the natural fulfillment of sexual love. But under these circumstances, who will trouble to marry?

Marriage will lose all attractions for the young and the pleasure-loving and the poor and the ambitious. The energy of youth will be devoted to contraceptive love and only when men and women have become prosperous and middle-aged will they think seriously of settling down to rear a strictly limited family.”

In the ancient world, the family suffered decline for much of the same reasons as it does today. It begs the question, therefore, how did the Catholic Church restore marriage and the family? Answer: Preaching sexual purity and pastorally enforcing that sexual sin is wholly incompatible with the life of Christ. This had a great effect on the family. It bound the father to his wife and children; this, through fidelity and sacrificial love. Hence, with strong families there were fewer social ills; and fewer social ills meant that the intervention of the State in private affairs was less necessary.

If society was to benefit from the healing ointment of sexual purity, Catholics would have to be the first to live it. And that, they did! But in order for this ointment to have its full effect, repenting from sexual sin could not be an option in the early Church. And indeed, it wasn't. Furthermore, if we are to enjoy similar results as the early Church, we must put into effect similar practices. I would go so far as to say that without insisting on repentance from sexual sin as a condition of being a Catholic in good standing, it will be impossible to restore the institutions of marriage and the family.

Again, we return to the question: How did these reputable Catholic historians predict future trends? Answer: With sound theological principles to guide them, they paid close attention to the lessons of history. From this, they better understood human nature and how it would react under certain conditions.

Therefore- and here is the point -if we want to restore marriage, the family, society and even the Church, we should pay close attention to what these historians said. In particular, we should heed Dawson's warning about contraceptive love and what it does to the incentive of getting married among the younger generations.

One thing for sure: If Catholics in the pew hear nothing from their spiritual fathers about sexual purity and the joys of being open to life, then that healing ointment that was once used to restore marriage and the family in the ancient world can never take full effect in our day.