Everyone knows that millions of Catholic married couples are using contraceptives irrespective of the Church’s condemnation of the practice. What is interesting about this reality is that the common methods being used place the responsibility on either the man or the woman, but not both. This means that only one of the two is actively facilitating contraception. So, for example, what if a Catholic man has a change of heart on moral grounds and would rather his wife switch from the pill to natural family planning and she refuses? According to Pope Pius XI, he would not be culpable for the sin of contraception:
“Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order [contraception]. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin” (Casti Connubii, 1930, #59).
When I studied Akkadian, the language of Mesopotamia, we would occasionally spend class time reading ancient legal texts. It often provoked discussion because laws reveal much about a society’s concerns. While laws regarding homosexuality in the Near Eastern codes are relatively rare, Tablet A, 19-20 of the Middle Assyrian Law Code (ca. 1400 BC) describes the punishment for falsely accusing someone of engaging in a homosexual act as well as the penalty for the act itself:
“If a man has secretly started a rumor about his neighbor saying, ‘He has allowed men to have sex with him,’ or in a quarrel has told him in the presence of others, ‘Men have sex with you,’ and then, ‘I will bring charges against you myself,’ but is then unable to substantiate the charge, and cannot prove it, that man is to be caned (fifty blows), be sentenced to a month’s hard labor for the king, be cut off [hair], and pay one talent of lead.”
The very next law establishes the penalty if the accusation is proven in court:
“If a man lay with his neighbor, when they have prosecuted him [and] convicted him, they shall lie with him [and] turn him into a eunuch.”
Catharism was a dualist heresy that swept through Latin Christendom during the High Middle Ages; its growing popularity alarmed Church authorities. It was called by many names (the Catholic Encyclopedia lists twenty-two) but historians prefer to refer to them collectively as Cathars (“pure ones”, or “puritans”). They believed the physical world was the creation of the evil God of the Old Testament and the spiritual world was formed by the God of the New Testament. It was just the latest version of the recurrent dualist heresies like Gnosticism and Manichaeism, but also resembles elements in contemporary secular society in disturbing ways.
This heresy’s primary requirement was the repudiation of marriage and family. Since the evil physical body was only meant to entrap spirits, marriage and procreation were forbidden. Their spirit-liberating ritual known as consolamentum, similar to the Catholic Last Rites, would be denied to children and pregnant women. Their distain for the human body was so extreme that Cathars celebrated suicide with a ritual of its own known as endura, a form of assisted suicide. Their goal was the destruction of the human race thus enabling the liberation of the spiritual world. Continue reading “Today’s Version of the Cathar Heresy”→
“Held hostage by feudal customs and threatened by the Cathar heresy, the institution of marriage at the outset of the twelfth-century in Latin Christendom was in urgent need of reform. Liberating Christian Marriage in an Age of Heresy reveals for the first time the role Hildegard played in the Church’s efforts to establish its jurisdiction over the institution and restore marriage to its Christian ideal. With little consensus on matters such as indissolubility and divorce, marital consent, contraception, clerical marriage, etc., the battle for marriage would not be easily won. Called out of her cloistered life and invested by the Church with the authority of an Old Testament prophet, abbess Hildegard, guided by mystical visions, reinforces the efforts of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and the reforming popes to restore marriage to the institution God originally intended it to be.”
As I studied Hildegard’s vision of the creation and fall of man (Scivias, Book 1, Vision 2) I was surprised by the fact that she interpreted the story of Adam and Eve almost entirely in terms of sex and marriage. Scholars have suggested that this was the result of her concern about the growing heresy known as Catharism. Cathars did not believe that marriage was a valid institution and forbade procreation. Hildegard was using her vision to uphold the Church’s teaching on marriage and family. She begins with a brief description of the vision itself which is followed by 33 short chapters explaining the meaning of the symbolism with some additional commentary.
Her instruction often comes in the first person voice of God using very blunt language. Here, assuming God’s voice, she bitterly condemns the Cathars and their depraved practices:
“They are wicked murderers, killing those who join them in simplicity before they can turn back from their error; and they are wicked fornicators upon themselves, destroying their semen in an act of murder and offering it to the Devil. …By devilish illusion, they pretend to have sanctity. …By his arts he shows them things he pretends are good and holy, and thus deludes them. …And after you pour out your lust in the poisonous seed of fornication, you pretend to pray and falsely assume an air of sanctity” (Bk 2, Vis. 7, Chap. 22).
Notice that here Hildegard refers to their practice of contraception as an “act of murder”. Her instruction is unequivocally orthodox and covers all aspects of marriage: divorce and indissolubility, consent, consanguinity (incest), etc. There was clearly enough material for a short study of her teaching on marriage presented in the historical context in which her first major work, Scivias (an abbreviation of Scito vias Domini, “Know the Ways of God”) appeared.
My book clearly demonstrates that the hand of God was with the Gregorian reformers in the 12th century, particularly with respect to the institution of Christian marriage. Abbess Hildegard was called out of her cloistered life at nearly fifty years old to assist that movement in a prophetic role. This was officially acknowledged by multiple popes who not only recognized the inspired nature of Scivias, but authorized her to conduct preaching tours on the Church’s behalf. The instruction of this new Doctor of the Universal Church on sex and marriage is now on record, a time when, for the Roman Catholic Church, the subjects have taken center stage.
In a speech presented at the World Youth Day in Poland, Bishop Nunzio Galantino, General-Secretary to the Italian Bishop’s Conference, recounted the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in a way that irritated Father Z. The bishop had concluded the story at the end of Genesis 18, the dialogue with Abraham, saying, “…The city [Sodom] is saved because some righteous ones are there, even though a few of them.” I would have guessed that the bishop may have accidently misstated himself, but he repeats again in the next line “the city was saved”. Genesis 19, which concludes the story with the destruction of Sodom, was omitted.
This should not come as a complete surprise. It was and is still commonly taught in the universities that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was a legend, along with the Tower of Babble, creation story, Noah’s Ark, etc. Since elements of many of these stories can be found in the mythological literature of other Ancient Near Eastern religions, it was assumed by many Biblical scholars that by the time they were written down, the Hebrews had simply adapted these fables to their unique monotheistic conception of God. Particularly for older theologians, like Bp. Galantino, interpreting these Biblical accounts literally would be naïve, thus leaving them open to creative interpretations or to be disregarded as anachronistic and irrelevant to today’s world.
With respect to Sodom, however, proof of its existence appeared in the 1980s. An archaeological site in present day Syria had uncovered a Middle Bronze Age city-state named Ebla. In it they found a library containing tablets that included geographical guides, and a list of cities that included Sodom.
In fact, archaeologists might have actually found Sodom in the Southern Jordan Valley, a Middle Bronze Age site known as Tall El-Hammam. One of the archaeologists working on the project, Steven Collins, concluded it was Sodom based on information from the book of Genesis:
“Theorizing, on the basis of the Sodom texts, that Sodom was the largest of the Kikkar [the Jordan ‘Disk’, or ‘well-watered plain’ in the Biblical text] cities east of the Jordan, I concluded that if one wanted to find Sodom, then one should look for the largest city on the eastern Kikkar that existed during the Middle Bronze Age, the time of Abraham and Lot. When we explored the area, the choice of Tall el-Hammam as the site of Sodom was virtually a no-brainer since it was at least five to ten times larger than all the other Bronze Age sites in the entire region, even beyond the Kikkar of the Jordan.”
He sees evidence of a sudden abandonment of the city and no subsequent re-population of the area for 700 years. He notes also that the site,
“…included a large monumental complex in the lower city/tall, remains of a mudbrick palatial structure in the upper city/tall (called the ‘red palace’ because of the color of the mudbricks due to a fiery conflagration).”
While evidence of destruction by fire is common to Near East archaeological sites, broken pottery shards have been found that were melted down by a heat level that would have to have been much higher than that of a normal fire, even a kiln.
Less likely the site of Sodom is an area on the west side of the Dead Sea traditionally called the Mountains of Sodom and the Cave of Sodom. It’s a desolate area primarily comprised of salt. How this area came to be identified with Sodom is not clear; there are no remains of a city in the area. However, since it is on the coast of the Dead Sea, there are many pillars of salt, many of which eerily take on a human-like form. One in particular is even commonly referred to as Lot’s wife.
Bishop Galantino naturally prefers to talk to the kids about God’s mercy (Genesis 18), but is it helpful to ignore His judgment (Genesis 19)? Doesn’t the former necessarily imply the latter? The sin of Sodom was that as a sovereign city-state it had legitimized sexual behaviors that were contrary to divine natural law. But isn’t that exactly what sovereign Western states are doing today by means of their courts and governmental authorities? At some point following this Year of Mercy could the West experience a Year of Judgment?
Sociologically speaking, little comparison can be made between the form of concubinage that was popular in the Middle Ages and today’s marital alternative known as cohabitation. The medieval pastime endured for centuries and was deeply rooted in feudal society’s pagan history. It generally took the form of a nobleman, unmarried or married, keeping a woman of lower rank or from the peasantry in his home to provide sexual favors. Unsurprisingly, medieval concubines produced many illegitimate children, with many of the bastard daughters growing up to become concubines themselves.
The concern for maintaining a family’s social status meant that concubinage would rarely lead to marriage. In most cases of modern cohabitation, however, there is an intention on the part of the couple to eventually get married, giving the relationship some sense of permanence. Recent statistics demonstrate, however, that a majority of cohabitating couples eventually break up, including couples that eventually do get married. One well known fact about remarried people is that their second marriage is more likely to end in divorce, the third even more, etc. The same goes for cohabitating couples. Advocating cohabitation is giving dangerous and costly advice. Continue reading “Cohabitation, Concubinage, and the Council of Trent”→
Marriage as we know it today originated in the twelfth-century. It was the result of the efforts of the Gregorian reform movement to wrestle full jurisdiction over marriage from the pagan-influenced customs of the feudal nobility. The latter treated marriage as means of forming strategic alliances with other families, or as a way of keeping wealth within an extended family. Arranged marriages precluded consent which often meant that it precluded love. They were often arranged before the child (usually the daughter) had even reached adolescence.
Church authorities used a variety of strategies to accomplish its goals, one of which was that fact that within Latin Christendom it was the Church that determined whether a particular marriage was valid or not. People wanted their marriage to be valid; it determined the legitimacy of their children and their ability to inherit. The Church knew this. But its problem was that it did not possess a uniform definition of what constituted a valid marriage. Continue reading “The Validity of a Marriage is Determined by Proper Consent”→
St. Hildegard wrote that in a period of time that precedes the Antichrist the Catholic Church will be punished for many sins, noting three in particular: fornication, rapine (theft or plunder), and murder (Scivias Book III, Vision 11, Chapter 13). The case for the first two as being present today isn’t difficult to make: the clerical sex abuse of children is probably the worst sexual scandal in Church history, and the well-documented troubles of the Institute for the Works of Religion (the Vatican Bank) should be a cause of embarrassment and anger for all Catholics (see Gerald Posner’s recent book, God’s Bankers). But what about homicide?
The murder accusation could be made for a number of reasons, like supporting an unjust war or the uncovering of murderous intrigues within the higher levels of the hierarchy. The latter likely only occurs in mystery novels and the former isn’t very conceivable; on the question of war the Church seems to be moving in the direction of pacifism.
“This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.”
There was a time when St. Hildegard would have probably agreed with these paradoxical but generally true shortcomings of the Holy Roman Empire. As an adult Hildegard had come to know a succession of Emperors, since they were in reality no more than Kings of Germany and she was as famous a German as they were. She especially detested Emperor Frederick Barbarossa for his determination to usurp the authority of the pope in ecclesiastical appointments. Hildegard received a gracious letter from the Emperor, in which he referred to her as “holy lady”, and “beloved lady”, requesting her prayers as a means of obtaining grace. Not uncharacteristically, she responds by fearlessly assuming her role as a prophet, of the Old Testament type, delivering threats in the first-person voice of God (very unusual for a woman in medieval times):
“He who Is says: By My own power I do away with the obstinacy and rebellion of those who scorn me. Woe, O woe to the evil of those wicked ones who spurn me. Hear this O king, if you wish to live. Otherwise my sword will pierce you” (Baird, Joseph L. The Personal Correspondence of Hildegard of Bingen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006. Letter #44, p.78).
She follows up with another letter in which explicitly insults the King (a guy who could make her life very difficult):
“…[I]n a mystic vision I see you like a little boy or some madman living before Living Eyes. Yet you still have time for ruling over worldly matters. Beware, therefore, that the almighty King does not lay you low because of the blindness of your eyes, which fail to see correctly how to hold the rod of proper governance in your hand. See to it that you do not act in such a way that you lose the grace of God” (Letter #45, p.78).
In light of the upcoming final session of the Synod of the Family, with the “shadow synod” lurking in the background: closed-door meetings and behind-the-scenes strategy sessions to ensure success in their determination to overturn Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried. What came to my mind was a particular vision of St. Hildegard’s as recalled by Pope Benedict XVI, which in turn brought to mind a scene from Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
PAPAL ADDRESS TO THE ROMAN CURIA, 2010
The focal point of Benedict’s Christmas speech were the revelations of a new series of sex abuse accusations against priests which had surfaced throughout Europe during the year. Recall that 2010 was the “Year of the Priest”; Benedict laments the unexpected irony:
“…[W]hen in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred, profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.”