How then are we to understand the statement in Familiaris Consortio above? Not in an absolute, but in a relative sense, in relation to the natural law: to the finalities of marriage. Marital love (including sexuality) must be total in relation to the ends of marriage, that is to say procreation and the good of the spouses (or ‘mutual aid’ or ‘fidelity and union’ as it is variously expressed). Certain sins against marriage can be considered as sins against the totality of love in this sense e.g. contraception (as the Holy Father states – see the next chapter) and divorce.
Just as we have seen in the discussion of Magisterial Personalism that the terms Freedom, Value, Love, and Truth when undefined are taken in the sense in which they are most readily understood, a sense moreover that is misleading, so it is here with the term ‘total self-giving’, which may most readily be understood in the sense just criticized.
We may add that like the term ‘love’ itself, it may at the same time most readily be understood in an emotional sense, that is to say as equivalent to sensible love; and yet any attempt to found marital ethics on the phenomenology of love is destined to failure because, like the phenomenology and personalism to which it belongs, it is (as seen in chapter three) essentially a subjectivist way of thinking, and as such incapable of providing a foundation for an objective philosophy, ethics, let alone moral theology. The phenomenology of love in fact belongs less to philosophy than to empirical psychology (as providing material for psychological analysis)82.
In more detail this failure of the phenomenology of love may be seen on three counts:
- 1) The object of this phenomenology differs from the object of ethics and moral theology: the object of the phenomenology of love is that love which may be said to have an ‘appearance’ – namely sensible love simpliciter and sensible love as informed by rational love. Rational love otherwise (e.g. performing a good work out of a sense of duty) and Charity do not have an ‘appearance’ and hence do not fall within the scope of phenomenology. The love which is the object of ethics is by contrast rational love (and not sensible love); the love which is the object of moral theology is the love of Charity.
- 2) The object of sensible love is indeterminate: – it is uncertain in any particular case whether or to what extent the apparent beloved (often described indeterminately as ‘a thou’) is the object of this love rather than the lover himself ‘projecting’ some form of goodness onto the beloved.
- 3) The content of sensible love is indeterminate as is seen in Scheler’s indeterminate designation of this content as ‘value’, or e.g. in the phenomenon of being ‘in love’. (Given its indeterminacy as well as its power, sensible love is in fact better expressed in poetry or music than in philosophy.)
We have argued on the basis of the natural law that sexuality belongs within marriage alone. Let us conclude by suggesting philosophical grounds for holding that marriage is sacred and therefore must be consecrated to God. (Our analysis of marriage will be completed in chapter ten in the light of Revelation.)
By reason alone, more specifically by the classical ‘Arguments for the Existence of God’, it is possible to establish the existence of God as inter alia the Supreme Good, and as the beginning and end of all things. Now since God is the beginning, the Creator, of all things, the procreation of children by a man and a woman is in its ultimate sense a collaboration with God the Creator, and since God is the end of all things, the procreation and education of children is a task performed for God. It follows that the life-long relationship ordered to this procreation, the procreation of man in the image and likeness of God possesses a sacred character.
Furthermore, according to faith, man is called into this world in order to perfect himself in love in preparation for union with God who is perfect love. Now although it is impossible to attain to this tenet of faith by reason alone, it commends itself rationally not only by virtue of its profundity, but also by virtue of its acceptance by countless multitudes of believers. In short then, the life-long commitment of man and woman to procreate and bring up children to this end, and thereby to attain it themselves, may be seen to possess a sacred character inasmuch as it furthers to an eminent degree the sacred purpose for which they have been created.
Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Casti Connubii derives the sacredness of marriage from the fact that it has ‘God for its author and has been even from the beginning a foreshadowing of the Incarnation of the Word of God’ (quoting from Arcanum of Leo XIII), and (in the same vein as what has been written above) ‘from its purpose which is the begetting and educating of children for God, and the binding of man and wife to God through Christian love and mutual support; and finally, it arises from the very nature of wedlock … [which is] the means of transmitting life, thus making the parents the ministers, as it were, of divine Omnipotence.’ (80)
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.