Welcome to the second volume of a monthly feature here at AoftheA: Focus On The Faithless, where we take a brief look at a prominent Catholyc, roll our eyes and say “there but for the grace of God go I.” Then we go and warn others to stay the heck away from this person lest they risk losing their salvation.
Yes, this feature debuted in February, and yes, I skipped March and April. Whomever was supposed to remind me – you’re fired!
For May, we examine…
…Garry Wills, Pulitzer Prize winning author, historian, journalist and prominent Catholyc who’s basically anti-hierarchical and doesn’t care much for the Church’s teaching on matters sexual. As a young man, he attended a Jesuit seminary, but dropped out. Apparently, he seems to have retained some of that Jesuitical training, because he doesn’t think much differently than some other Jesuits I’ve read.
Wills is 77 – he turns 78 later this month, in fact – and has written extensively on the history of the Church, and while he’s not a theologian, has penned several books, among them being What Jesus Meant, What Paul Meant and What The Gospels Meant and What God Meant, So Don’t Argue With Me About It, You Got It??
OK, just kidding about the last one, but you just know there are Catholycs who think that way…
Now, there’s nothing wrong with writing books like these and not being a theologian – apologists such as Akin and Shea aren’t theologians either. The big difference is that they are faithful to the Magesterium, while Wills is not. Wills coined the phrase Mater si, magistra no, in response to the 1961 papal encyclical Mater et Magister, and that phrase signified his distaste for ecclesiastical authority.
Interestingly, Wills had been hired by William F Buckley, Jr to write for National Review, back in the 1960′s, while at the same time, voicing criticism over the doctrine of papal infallibility, and the Church’s stances on contraception, abortion and homosexuality. This dichotomy of belief systems proves the maxim that if a person is not actively and intellectually conservative in all things, they will eventually become liberal in all things. Sure enough, in the early 1970′s, Wills’s political beliefs became as liberal as his religious ones, culminating in his vocal support of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that he recently opined in the New York Review of Books, stating that the sacredness of marriage – its sacramental nature, originating with Christ – is all myth.
Why do some people who would recognize gay civil unions oppose gay marriage? Certain religious groups want to deny gays the sacredeness of what they take to be a sacrament. But marriage is no sacrament.
Some of my fellow Catholics even think that “true marriage” was instituted by Christ. It wasn’t. Marriage is prescribed in Eden by YHWH (Yahweh) at Genesis 2.24: man and wife shall “become one flesh.” When Jesus is asked about marriage, he simply quotes that passage from Genesis (Mark 10.8). He nowhere claims to be laying a new foundation for a “Christian marriage” to replace the Yahwist institution.
Some try to make the wedding at Cana (John 1.1-11) somehow sacramental because Jesus worked his first miracle there. But that was clearly a Jewish wedding, like any other Jesus might have attended, and the miracle, by its superabundance of wine, is meant to show the disciples that the Messianic time has come. The great Johannine scholar Father Raymond Brown emphasizes this, and concludes of the passage: “Neither the external nor the internal evidence for a symbolic reference to matrimony is strong. The wedding is only the backdrop and occasion for the story, and the joining of the man and woman does not have any direct role in the narrative.”
The early church had no specific rite for marriage. This was left up to the secular authorities of the Roman Empire, since marriage is a legal concern for the legitimacy of heirs. When the Empire became Christian under Constantine, Christian emperors continued the imperial control of marriage, as the Code of Justinian makes clear. When the Empire faltered in the West, church courts took up the role of legal adjudicator of valid marriages. But there was still no special religious meaning to the institution. As the best scholar of sacramental history, Joseph Martos, puts it: “Before the eleventh century there was no such thing as a Christian wedding ceremony in the Latin church, and throughout the Middle Ages there was no single church ritual for solemnizing marriage between Christians.”
Only in the twelfth century was a claim made for some supernatural favor (grace) bestowed on marriage as a sacrament. By the next century marriage had been added to the biblically sacred number of seven sacraments. Since Thomas Aquinas argued that the spouses’ consent is the efficient cause of marriage and the seal of intercourse was the final cause, it is hard to see what a priest’s blessing could add to the reality of the bond. And bad effects followed. This sacralizing of the natural reality led to a demoting of Yahwist marriage, the only kind Jesus recognized, as inferior to “true marriage” in a church.
Great – another Catholyc arguing for gay marriage, tearing down sacramental marriage in order to make his case.
There are plenty things to argue about in this excerpt from Wills’ piece, including his logic. In the first paragraph, he states that “marriage is no sacrament”; and yet in the last paragraph, he states that “…marriage had been added to the biblically sacred number of seven sacraments”. I’m no genius, but he sorta disproves his first statement, doesn’t he? (psst, Garry – biblically is an adverb, right? So isn’t ‘biblical’ the correct word? You’re a journalist, right? whatevs)
As to his statement that “only in the twelfth century was a claim made for some supernatural favor (grace) bestowed on marriage as a sacrament.” I’m no historian – I don’t even play one at this blog – but Wills is playing fast and loose with the facts. From the Catholic Encyclopedia, in the section on the Sacrament of Marriage:
The reason why marriage was not expressly and formally included among the sacraments earlier and the denial of it branded as heresy, is to be found in the historical development of the doctrine regarding the sacraments; but the fact itself may be traced to Apostolic times. With regard to the several religious rites designated as “Sacraments of the New Law”, there was always in the Church a profound conviction that they conferred interior Divine grace. But the grouping of them into one and the same category was left for a later period, when the dogmas of faith in general began to be scientifically examined and systematically arranged.
In other words, the Church didn’t define the sacramentality of marriage until it had been challenged – as the Church has always done, when any dogma or doctrine had been challenged throughout the Her history. A lack of definition doesn’t mean absence of belief. It merely signified that when a person or group came around challenging commonly held beliefs, the Church had to respond to those challenges and formally define what the Church believed.
Not only that, most of the doctrines of the Church weren’t formulated and understood overnight, right there during the Acts of the Apostles. And for the first three centuries or so, the Christian community was persecuted to no end. So, the doctrine of Transubstantiaion? That took more centuries. The doctrine of the bodily Assumption of Mary? Again, it took a long long time to hash that out. So why should the meaning and understanding of the sacraments be any different?
Further down, the C.E. gives references made by Sts. Augustine and Ambrose – who, incidentally, lived much earlier than the 12th century. Here’s one thing St. Augustine had to say regarding marriage:
“Undoubtedly it belongs to the essence of this sacrament that, when man and wife are once united by marriage, this bond remains indissoluble throughout their lives. As long as both live, there remains a something attached to the marriage, which neither mutual separation nor union with a third can remove; in such cases, indeed, it remains for the aggravation of the guilt of their crime, not for the strengthening of the union. Just as the soul of an apostate, which was once similarly wedded unto Christ and now separates itself from Him, does not, in spite of its loss of faith, lose the Sacrament of Faith, which it has received in the waters of regeneration.”
As the C.E. explains, St Augustine considers marriage a sacrament in the strict sense of the word.
And if that’s not enough, the C.E. also quotes Tertullian – who while still a Catholic, said: “If therefore such a marriage is pleasing to God, wherefore should it not turn out happily, so that it will not be troubled by afflictions and needs and obstacles and contaminations, since it enjoys the protection of the Divine grace?” Divine grace sounds kinda sacramental to me…
I find it interesting…well, maybe convenient is a better word – that Wills, who wrote a book called What Paul Meant, mentioned nothing in his column regarding Ephesians chapter 5. Where St Paul describes a Christian marriage in terms of the relationship between Christ and His Church. I haven’t read Wills’ book – maybe he makes the case that’s not what St Paul meant by that passage…
Wills is comfortable with redefining marriage, that much is obvious. But to misrepresent Church teaching and history in order to make his point – well, that’s what Catholycs do, so it comes as no surprise. Such spurious tactics are necessary to support the agenda of undermining Church authority. He also relies on the Catholyc maxim of “If Jesus didn’t say anything about it, it can’t be wrong/sinful.” You know the drill – Jesus never spoke out about homosexuality, so it must be okay, for instance. You’ve heard such arguments. Wills relies on that stupidity as well – “He nowhere claims to be laying a new foundation for a “Christian marriage” to replace the Yahwist institution.”
Let’s presume that’s true. Well, Jesus did say to the Apostles, in John 15:12-13 – “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” And let’s not forget Mt 16:19 – “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” In other words, Christ admitted that He didn’t tell the Apostles everything they needed to know – that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide them and teach them; and He told Peter specifically that what he pronounces for the Church will be assured by heaven. So just because Jesus didn’t explicitly say anything on a particular topic – that happily coincides with the sin du jour – doesn’t mean the Church (and I mean ecclesiastical authority when I say ‘Church’) doesn’t have the right, responsibility and assurance to teach on such matters of faith and morals.
Learn what the Church teaches on marriage – the Catholic Encyclopedia is a great resource, as is the Catechism, Catholic.com and the EWTN library. I’m no apologist – I just point things out, make a few (hopefully!) cogent comments, and throw in a little snark for flavor. Go to the sources for the meat. Guys like Wills – as brilliant as he may be, and I’m sure Wills is a smart guy – who actively promote positions and theories contrary to Church teaching don’t deserve your money or your time. They seek to tear down what is true, and attempt to erect half-truths and falsehoods in its place, signposts along the wide road leading to sin and condemnation.