In the past I shared with you how three Catechisms used by the Catholic Church over time define a marriage.
Today I thought I would share with you another method to define a marriage: as a contract. This one I took from a well-known Catholic author. The reason I chose to share this is because I think it gives a unique perspective on the nature of marriage.
DEFINE A MARRIAGE AS A CONTRACT?
Both the traditional marriage camp and the ‘progressive’ view of marriage can actually agree on one thing: marriage is a contract. You may be surprised to read that. But let me flesh it out, with the help of the quotes below from Frank Sheed, Catholic evangelist extraordinaire. I recently came across his book, Nullity of Marriage. I also found this book available for free online at EWTN.com. It is from there I will draw quotes (and all emphasis is my own).
It is not too hard to see how the liberals can view marriage as a contract. After all, in today’s society, most people have watered down the definition of marriage to be centered on the feelings of love. Thus, if the feelings of love and passion fade, then the marriage seemingly has dissolved. The traditional view to define a marriage to include consent to a lifelong union gets waved away as antiquated. Divorce rates remain high, prenuptial agreements are not uncommon, and the idea of commitment and permanency remain punchlines at cocktail parties.
Still, you might find it odd to say that a supporter of traditional marriage can agree that marriage is a contract. How can this be? Let Sheed explain.
It doesn’t take long into his work for Frank Sheed to define a marriage. He defines a marriage as a contract:
“VERY few single phrases can have wrought so much mischief as the phrase ‘Marriage is a contract’. The man in the street repeats it, without full understanding, knowing nothing of all that goes with it in the mind of the expert; he has never heard of a contract (nor, indeed, is there one) that cannot be brought to an end by the consent of both parties; he therefore argues that marriage, too, since it is a contract, must be terminable in the same way…
“The Catholic Church gives an answer differing only in one word: marriage is a contract resulting not in a status only but in a relationship. A man and a woman are free either to make or not to make the agreement to marry. But if they make it, then God attaches certain consequences to their act. To this particular free choice of a man and a woman God has attached the consequence that a real relationship comes into being.
Sheed goes on to point out that marriage is a creature that is created by God Himself. Therefore, we humans have no power to alter its nature.
“They have stated their will to be husband and wife: God makes them so… The man and the woman make the agreement to marry: God makes the marriage. They are husband and wife by their own consent but by His act.”
Skipping ahead, Sheed states, “Marriage, then, is a contract resulting in a relationship; better still, it is a relationship resulting from a contract.
“For when the relationship comes into being the contract has done its work; it has produced the relationship of marriage, and the parties are now governed in their common life, not by the contract (which they made), but by the relationship (which God made in ratification of their contract).”
WHAT ELSE MUST WE ADD TO DEFINE A MARRIAGE?
The great author continues, stating how a married couple are more closely related than a parent to a child or siblings to one another. For, a marriage is “a relationship directly made by God.” He then quotes Matthew 19:6 where Jesus Christ states, “‘They are no longer two, but one flesh’… ‘What God therefore has joined together’… ‘let not man put asunder.’”
Sheed goes on to point out that marriage is a creature that is created by God Himself. Therefore, we humans have no power to alter its nature. “God alone can bring a marriage into being; God alone lays down the conditions… Once a relationship is in being, the parties cannot alter these conditions; nor can the State; nor can the Church.
“By God’s ordinance, marriage is the lifelong union of a man and a woman for the propagation of the species. Thus, marriage is not terminable, as a contract would be terminable, by the consent of the parties; it is not terminable, as a mere status would be terminable, by the will of the State.
What about the Prevalence of Divorce?
Skipping ahead, the Australian-born lawyer makes some important disclaimers on the multitude of marriages ending in divorce. He says a civil decree by the state that a marriage has ended remains powerless spiritually as “a mere form of words.” He rightly point out that a state can claim to have ended a marriage, but they have not in fact, done anything of the sort.
Sheed has this wonderful line: “During the lifetime of the parties they remain husband and wife; because that is of the nature of marriage as ordained by God.” A short while later he states this similar whopper: “As a practical matter resulting from its being Godmade, marriage is not indissoluble just because the parties at their wedding made vows of lifelong fidelity. It is indissoluble because it is marriage.”
What Can Be Said about Pre-Nuptial Agreements?
The author of Theology and Sanity also adds that couples who try to personally define a marriage to include an opt-out clause does not contract a marriage at all. In other words, any couple who has a pre-nuptial agreement in place before the wedding day does not actually get married in God’s eyes.
The state may recognize their union as a marriage for civil concerns. Nonetheless, to attempt marriage “without vows or promises of lifelong fidelity… contradicts the very nature of marriage,” the Sydney University graduate explains. In fact, such couples who go on to live together fornicating are committing an additional grave sin there, Sheed points out.
What do you think of Frank Sheed’s attempt to define a marriage?
Please leave your thoughts below!