Category Archives: Marriage

Semper ecclesia reformanda: chastity & celibacy

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“Purity is the fruit of prayer.”
— Saint Teresa of Calcutta, quoted from the book Purity 365

Chastity as a Virtue

“The Catholic Church wants YOU to have AWESOME SEX!!!!”

Chastity is not a teeth-gritting ability to avoid violating the sexual rules. Rather, chastity is a habit of reverence for oneself and others that enables us to use our sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.

“Those who are chaste are fully at peace with their bodies and their sexuality. Chastity is not best seen as the ability to keep oneself from violating the sexual “rules”; rather, it is “a dynamic principle enabling one to use one’s sexual powers intelligently in the pursuit of human flourishing and happiness.”

If chastity is a virtue, it is an aspect of character that a person can aspire to, achieve, stray from, regain. Notice that when the virtue at the top of this spectrum is chastity, there are three different ways of being unchaste—continence, incontinence and the vice of lustfulness.”
-Caroline J. Simon

“The virtue of chastity calls us, as sexual beings, to revere ourselves as creatures made in the image of God and made to honor God through our actions—through how we do have sex and do not have sex,” Matt Fradd writes. “And it calls us to revere other persons for the sake of the other person’s good and ultimate happiness. When we think about it, this loving reverence for ourselves and others is what we deeply desire.”

  • However, these truths about the virtue of chastity are easily forgotten today. There are some reasons for our amnesia.
    We are unfamiliar with the language of “virtue.” Caroline Simon notes above that chastity (like other virtues that temper human desire for pleasure) is actually an ideal trait, a settled and comfortable “peace” with our well-ordered desires and pleasures—in this case, our desires for and pleasures regarding sex. Chastity is neither mere continence (a difficult, but successful struggle against disordered desires) nor incontinence (a losing struggle); chastity is not a struggle at all. Of course, many of us continue to struggle with wayward sexual desires. But this suggests that we are not yet chaste and not yet at peace with proper sexual desire, as we want to be.
  • We experience some resentment toward morality generally and toward specific ideals like chastity. The emotion-stance of resentment “involves disparaging and rejecting what is good and strong because we feel unable to attain it,” Fradd explains. We long to be at peace with sexual desire in relationships that “accord with our human dignity and…weave into the happiness that God intends for us in this life.” But this ideal seems unattainable. “All around us we see marriages that are impermanent, personal loyalties that are problematically divided, and spouses and friends who are unfaithful. Sexuality is misused, within marriages and in singleness, in ways that are selfish, in ways that are abusive, and in ways that do not honor God,” he notes. “So, we end up despising the ideal. We call chastity ‘oppressive’; we call it ‘naïve.’Lacking the strength in ourselves and having little community support to obtain the ideal we desire, we end up resenting it.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around not having sex. Yes, during singleness and at times in marriage it is appropriate to not have sex. But abstinence is not the heart of this virtue. “Simply put, chastity is a sort of reverence: a chaste person reveres and respects the other person by making sure that before they have sex, both are united in a common aim—namely, a marriage commitment whose mutual goal is the gift of self to the other,” Fradd writes. “When people will the good for one another in this way, they do not act solely on passing desires and feelings, but rather on their commitment to help the other person attain the good and honor God.”
  • We mistakenly think chastity revolves around repressing sexual desire and not thinking about sex. This is “almost exactly backwards,” Fradd notes. Chastity has no interest
    in eliminating true sexual desire, which says, “This is my body given for you,” but it would like to rid our lives of the lust that says, “This is your body taken for me.” Furthermore, chastity has no interest in stopping our thinking about sex, but it would like for us to think carefully and well about sex. Fradd says, “The place to start is with the telos for which God created us, and why God made the other creatures and us sexual beings: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Genesis 1:22, 28). This tells us that sex, sexual desire, and orgasms are good. Chastity wants us to think about what good it is that they were created for. How do they fit within God’s plan for us to love one another and honor God?”

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
— Mt 22:36-39

-by Steve Weidenkopf

“By the eleventh century, the Church found itself in great need of reform, especially the clergy, and the Holy Spirit provided a series of reform-minded popes. These popes began their ecclesial careers as monks, and many of them had spent time at the famous reformed Benedictine monastery at Cluny in France. When Bruno of Alsace was elected pope in 1049, taking the name Leo IX, he initiated one of the most comprehensive reforms in Church history.

Leo (r. 1049-1054) recognized that simply issuing reform decrees from Rome would not change clerical behavior and restore the Church, so he decided to go on one of the most important road trips in papal history. During his five-year pontificate, he spent only six months in Rome, taking his reform road show to France, Italy, and Germany. Wherever he went, Leo deposed immoral bishops and punished clerics who were guilty of simony. Although those actions were necessary, the pope recognized that the major problem with clerical behavior was infidelity to the promise of celibacy.

In the first three centuries of Church history, there was no law prohibiting the ordination of married men, and many priests were married; however, marriage was never permitted after ordination. Moreover, all priests—married, single, or widowed—practiced sexual abstinence after ordination. The first recorded Church legislation concerning clerical celibacy in the West was decreed at the Synod of Elvira in Spain around the year 300, and in 385, Pope Siricius (r. 384-399) mandated celibacy for all clergy in the West.

But despite the longstanding practice of the Church, clergy in the early medieval Church often did not live celibacy faithfully. Many priests were not properly trained or formed, and they flouted their vow of celibacy, taking mistresses and concubines who bore them children, causing great scandal. Other priests engaged in homosexual acts. All the while, bishops and abbots seemed hesitant to act and restore virtue to the priesthood and monasteries.

But one monk was not afraid, and he wrote a book in which he called for Leo IX to remove this stain of clerical immorality. His name was Peter Damian, and today (Feb 21) is his feast day.

Peter was born in Ravenna seven years into the eleventh century. His early life was marked by suffering; both his parents died when he was an infant. An older, abusive brother and his concubine took Peter into their home, where he was beaten, starved, and sent to work as a swineherd. In the midst of this tribulation, Peter took solace in Christ and developed deep piety. When he found a gold coin in the mud while tending the pigs, for example, instead of spending it on himself, Peter ran to the parish priest and paid a stipend for a Mass to be celebrated for the repose of his father’s soul.

Eventually, Peter was rescued from his horrible conditions by another brother who recognized Peter’s intellectual gifts and ensured he received an education in the liberal arts. This brother’s love and generosity influenced Peter to add his brother’s name, Damian, to his own and he henceforth was known as Peter Damian.

Peter’s devoted his life to growing closer to God, and he performed many acts of mortification to drive away temptations of the flesh. His spirituality was focused on the Cross, and he wrote, “Those who do not love the Cross of Christ do not love Christ” (Sermo XVIII, 11). He incorporated this focus into his life to such a degree that he came to describe himself as “Peter, servant of the servants of the Cross of Christ.”

In his late twenties, Peter joined a monastery, where he committed himself to personal reform and to pursuing reform within his community. He knew that reform in the larger Church and even in secular society was impossible without first focusing on the individual. Peter was appalled by the immoral behavior of the diocesan clergy and monks and endeavored to return his brother priests to virtuous living. During the time of Leo’s reign, he composed a book critical of clerical sexual immorality.

Addressed to the pope, the book (given the title The Book of Gomorrah centuries later) was not just a diatribe against sin but was also an exhortation to personal penance and a return to virtue and was written in a firm yet compassionate tone. He exhorted fellow priests who were tempted by the devil toward carnal pleasures to orient “your mind to the grave.” Even as he offered a chapter on “a weeping lamentation over souls surrendered to the dregs of impurity,” he provided also “an exhortation to the man who has fallen into sin, that he might rise again.”

He also noted that the “cancer of sodomitic impurity” was raging through the clergy “like a cruel beast,” decrying that “degenerate men do not fear to perpetuate an act that even brute animals abhor.”

Pope Leo IX favorably responded to Peter’s book and adopted many of his recommendations. Over time this work became an important part of the eleventh-century reform movement.

A few years after completing his manuscript, Peter was ordained a bishop and later created a cardinal. Peter wrote extensive letters, sometimes signing them as “Peter the Sinner” or “Peter the Sinner-Monk,” which provide a window into the soul of this important saint in the life of the Church. The life of St. Peter Damian is a model of virtue to Catholic clergy, and his words provide an exhortation and a warning for all Catholics not to let sexual vice taint the life and mission of the Church.”


Catholic marriage & Mt 19:9

-by Karlo Broussard

“The Church teaches that marriage is indissoluble. Thus, the Catechism teaches that while spouses are living, a new marital union “cannot be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was” (1650). Those who attempt civil remarriage after divorce, therefore, “find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God’s law.” The Church bases this teaching on Jesus’ words in Mark 10:11-12: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

Many Protestants critique this teaching for not taking into consideration what Jesus says in Matthew 19:9: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” Since Jesus inserts the clause “except for unchastity,” it’s argued, a man who divorced his wife and married another wouldn’t be committing adultery if his wife were guilty of infidelity.

Is the Catholic Church contradicting Jesus? It seems the Church is telling divorced people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can. [There are several points to support the Church’s teaching in light of this Gospel passage.]

One is to point out that porneia/πορνεία—the Greek word for unchastity in this verse—isn’t part of the group of words Matthew uses for adultery in his Gospel.

Porneia/πορνεία, translated as “unchastity” or sometimes “fornication” or “sexual immorality,” is different from the Greek word for adultery (moichaō/μοιχάω). In its broadest sense, porneia/πορνεία means unlawful sexual intercourse, so it can include adultery, but Matthew never uses the word that way in his Gospel. Instead, he uses moichaō and related words. For example, in the same verse of the porneia/πορνεία clause, Matthew uses moichaō/μοιχάω twice to refer specifically to adultery: “Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω]; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery [Gk. moichatai/μοιχάω].” In 5:27, Matthew uses moicheuō/μοιχάω to refer to the literal act of adultery, in 5:28 to broaden the concept of adultery to include lust, and in 5:32 in reference to the husband making his wife an “adulteress” by divorcing her.

If Matthew thought Jesus was talking about adultery providing an exception to his teaching on divorce, why didn’t he use the word he always used for adultery? As Bible scholar John P. Meier argues, “If Matthew wishes to name adultery as a reason for divorce, he would be almost forced to employ some form of moicheia/μοιχάω [noun] to express the concept.”

Since Matthew doesn’t use any form of the Greek word that he commonly uses for adultery, it’s reasonable to conclude that Matthew doesn’t think Jesus was referring to spousal infidelity when he spoke of “unchastity.”

A second strategy focuses on the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching: “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry” (Matt. 19:10).

At the time of Jesus, there were two rabbinic schools of thought as to what constituted legitimate grounds for divorce. The Hillel school, which followed the Jewish leader Hillel, believed that practically anything could be grounds for divorce. It could be something as simple as burnt food or a prettier woman. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, believed that only sexual immorality was cause for divorce.

Given this background, the disciples’ reaction that it would be better not to marry would be unintelligible if Jesus were allowing for divorce and remarriage in cases of adultery or sexual immorality. The disciples already were accustomed to divorce and remarriage, as the Hillel and Shammai schools attest. Their strong reaction suggests that they understood Jesus to be giving a new and different teaching.

For our third strategy, we can point to how Jesus’ teaching stands alone amid the thought of the age. His teaching about divorce and remarriage in verse 9 is part of his response to a question posed by the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” (v. 3). Notice the phrase “for any cause.” It seems the Pharisees were testing Jesus to see which school of thought he would side with: Hillel or Shammai.

But Jesus’ response indicates that he sides with neither. He appeals to God’s original design for marriage and says, “What therefore God had joined together, let not man put asunder” (vv. 4-6; see also Gen. 2:24). In other words, it’s not that Moses allowed divorce for any cause, but “from the beginning” (v.8) it was only adultery-justified divorce. Rather, from the beginning there was no divorce: “it [divorce] was not so” (v.8). This proves that he sides with neither the Hillel nor the Shammai view on divorce and remarriage.

This context excludes the interpretation that porneia/πορνεία refers to adultery; in fact, it excludes reference to sexual immorality of any manner within marriage. For if Jesus intended the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to any of these alternative interpretations, he would have been siding with either the Hillel or Shammai school. Instead, he gave a more radical teaching: that marriage is indissoluble. Therefore, we must conclude that Jesus didn’t intend the porneia/πορνεία clause to refer to sexual immorality within the context of the marriage bond, whether adultery or some other kind of immoral conduct.

Jesus underscores his radical view by saying no man can marry a divorced woman without committing adultery: “He who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery” (v.9; see also Matt. 5:32). This implies that no deed for which the woman is divorced, including adultery, renders her free to marry another man.

One last strategy: There are good reasons to think porneia/πορνεία instead refers to forms of sexual immorality that took place before or at the time of the attempted union, rendering it unlawful (invalid).

The Jews understood that certain sexual relationships rendered a union unlawful, meaning null and void—such as relationships of close consanguinity and affinity (Lev. 18:1-20). Only the Jewish community would know about the Levitical law concerning unlawful unions, and thus only the Jewish community would raise the question about whether these unions are an exception to Jesus’ teaching against divorce and remarriage. And Matthew, who is writing to a Jewish audience, is the only Gospel that records this exception clause.

As for porneia/πορνεία, the word is used twenty-five times in the New Testament. For only two of these do scholars even suggest it’s used for adultery: the passages that include the debated porneia/πορνεία clause concerning divorce and remarriage (Matt. 5:32, 19:9). Every other time, porneia/πορνεία refers to some sort of sexual immorality outside the lawful bounds of marriage: fornication (Matt. 15:19; Mark 7:21; John 8:41; Gal. 5:19; Eph. 5:3; Col. 3:5; Rev. 17:2, 17:4, 19:2), incest (Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; 1 Cor. 5:1;), general sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6:13,18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; 1 Thess. 4:3; Rev. 2:21, 9:21), and metaphorical impure passions (Rev. 14:8, 18:3).

Since we know from above that porneia/πορνεία can’t refer to adultery in Matthew 19:9, and every time porneia/πορνεία is used in the New Testament, it refers to sexual immorality outside the boundaries of the marital bond, it’s likely that the “porneia/πορνεία exception” in Matthew refers to sexual immorality that took place before and at the time of the attempted union, invalidating it.

We can support this interpretation by considering two things. First, it adequately explains why in these cases a man who “puts away his wife” and marries another doesn’t commit adultery. If he was never in a lawful union to begin with, he would be free to marry. This is the basis for Catholic teaching on annulments: allowing marriage for civilly divorced persons whose first “marriage” was judged not to have been valid.

Matthew’s intention in including the porneia/πορνεία exception is to clarify for his Jewish audience that Jesus was concerned with lawful marriages. His prohibition of divorce didn’t apply to those unions contracted before Christian baptism because they weren’t lawful to begin with. You can’t divorce if you were never married!

The great irony here is that rather than the Catholic Church telling people they can’t remarry when Jesus says they can, the view that the challenge implies tells people they can remarry when Jesus says they can’t. It’s not the Catholic Church that’s contradicting Jesus’ teaching. It’s the view that spousal infidelity dissolves a valid marital bond and gives grounds to divorce and remarry.

Unlike the many Christian groups that have caved to the pressures of modern society, the Catholic Church’s doctrines remain faithful to Jesus’ teaching on marriage, echoing Christ’s words: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

The seven sacraments: baptism, confession, eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, extreme unction, and…martyrdom. 🙂 I’m in trouble now! Actually, I’m always in trouble, no matter what, cuz I’m a man.


Marriage – heroic virtue

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I could not have imagined the effect that Catholic faith would have on my marriage. I could not have imagined how I would come to regard my wife with so much more dignity.”

…Catholicism might look good on paper, [my wife, a Catholic revert] thought, but it never worked out in real life. And there is real truth in this criticism. There are many Catholics who do not cooperate with grace, who do not have faith, and who make little attempt to follow Church teaching. I have had fellow Catholics who advised me to avoid confession, to disbelieve Church teaching about marriage and sex, and even to divorce my wife.

There were many times in my marriage when what sustained me most of all was the example of my parents. Though my parents were not Catholic, they lived the most important Catholic truth about marriage better than many Catholics do: They were dead set against divorce, no matter what. Burn your parachute; hang on like mad; and do whatever it takes to stick in there. Without that example, I do not know if I would have made it.

Inspired by my parents, I had to look deeper and deeper to find the grace necessary to live that demand. Ultimately, that search led me and my wife to the Catholic Church. It is no credit to me; I really credit my wife with having the courage and conviction to take up the Faith with both hands, to plunge into the depth of the sacraments, to embrace the Cross, and to strive for a life of contemplative prayer. She cooperated with grace, and the result was the transformation of everything.

There has been a lot of conversation recently about the Catholic doctrine on marriage, including about how strictly pastors should insist on the Church’s “hard teachings.” But let me tell you this: The hard teachings saved me. I did not know about nuance or mitigating circumstances. I did know that I had a moral obligation to save my marriage or die trying. Had I really believed there was any other permissible option, my marriage would not have survived — and I am so glad that my marriage survived.

Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for His Church (Eph. 5). It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world.

Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.41

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 162-163). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.


41 Familiaris Consortio, no. 13.

Grace & marriage

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“In 1930, the Anglican Church’s Lambeth Conference resulted in a statement that made a seismic shift in Christian thinking and practice by opening the door to allowing contraception and allowing remarriage after divorce. Pope Pius XII knew this required a response to let the world know that the Catholic Church had not and would not follow suit. The result was Casti Connubii, a wise and beautiful encyclical letter about Christian marriage.

The pope reaffirmed the Church’s opposition to divorce and to birth control, but he also acknowledged that these standards are difficult. The Holy Father did not offer an easy solution; on the contrary, he freely admitted that many Catholics find them impossible. The fault, however, does not lie with God but with us. Pius cited the Council of Trent, which teaches that God never demands the impossible of us: He always supplies the necessary grace.

If God supplies the grace, then why do some Catholics find the moral demands of marriage to be impossible? The pope’s answer is astonishing for its realism and honesty. They find it impossible, he says, because they do not cooperate with grace. They do not live the faith generously. They are unwilling to sacrifice. If they do not do everything in their power — if they select only those parts of the Faith they like, or if they do not give themselves to prayer and the sacraments — then the grace of matrimony will be an unused talent hidden in the field (see Matt. 25:14–30). The pope explains:

Nevertheless, since it is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace they have received. If, however, doing all that lies with their power, they cooperate diligently, they will be able with ease to bear the burdens of their state and to fulfill their duties. By such a sacrament they will be strengthened, sanctified and in a manner consecrated.39

Catholics who reject Church teaching and do not vigorously practice their Faith simply should not expect grace from the sacrament. It may sound harsh, but they should not be surprised if their marriages fail. On the other hand, Catholics who believe the Church and practice their Faith can be confident that God will supply the necessary grace.

What is necessary in order to cooperate with the grace offered in the sacrament of matrimony? This is something that Pope John Paul II wrote about extensively. In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio, he explains that couples must accept and follow Church teaching on human sexuality, prayer, and the sacraments. He writes:

There is no doubt that these conditions [for receiving the grace] must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life, including therefore their sexuality: the gift of the Spirit, accepted and responded to by husband and wife, helps them to live their human sexuality in accordance with God’s plan and as a sign of the unitive and fruitful love of Christ for His Church. (33)

…Married love does not exist for the purpose of romantic gratification. Married love exists “to lead the spouses to God” and to strengthen them in the “sublime office of being a mother or a father.”40

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 160-161). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.


33 Augustine, On Christian Doctrine, trans. D. W. Robertson (New York: Macmillan, 1958), 65.
39 Casti Connubii, no. 41.
40 Gaudium et Spes, no. 48.

Suffering in Marriage

Catholic humor: “What are the seven Sacraments? Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the sick, Holy orders and….(wait for it) martyrdom (Marriage) 🙂 LOL.”

“Marriage is an adventure. Like going to war.” -GK Chesterton

Dr. David Anders, PhD

Francis de Sales is another saint and Doctor of the Church who warned against the danger of Catholic superstition. His great book Introduction to the Devout Life begins by dismissing superstitious forms of religious life. True devotion, he teaches, is not found specifically in the multiplication of prayers, fasting, self-denial, or gifts to the poor. True devotion, rather, is founded in love toward God and neighbor:

All true and living devotion presupposes the love of God; — and indeed it is neither more nor less than a very real love of God, though not always of the same kind; for that Love, one while shining on the soul, we call grace, which makes us acceptable to His Divine Majesty; — when it strengthens us to do well, it is called Charity; — but when it attains its fullest perfection, in which it not only leads us to do well, but to act carefully, diligently, and promptly, then it is called Devotion.34

…The Catholic Church saved my marriage by teaching us how to think about marriage, parenthood, and the moral life. The Church saved us by offering us grace in the sacraments. She saved us by proposing the saints as models of holiness. She saved us by sending wonderful priests to accompany us in our struggles, religious who served our family, and friends in the Faith who loved us. But none of that would have worked if the Church had not also taught us how to pray.

…The point of life is ennobling spiritual friendship with God and neighbor. We cannot possibly achieve that goal without a willingness to embrace suffering — even the suffering of an unhappy marriage.

…the Catholic Faith asks something of us that is far more mysterious and more difficult: The Church asks us willingly to endure some suffering even when there is no promise of tangible benefit. But what She does promise is that this suffering can be redeemed beyond time and space and in ways we cannot presently understand.

…I mentioned that some parts of Catholic tradition are applicable to anyone, but other parts cannot be accepted without embracing the whole Catholic worldview. The Catholic teaching on suffering is one of those parts that does not make sense without belief in God, the Church, the sacraments, and the Catholic plan of salvation. It lies right at the mysterious heart of Catholic spirituality. But it is also the Catholic teaching that is most sublime and elevating, and that has the greatest capacity to transform our lives.

How can willingly endured suffering radically transform our lives? Answering this question takes us into the core of the Catholic Faith — into the Eucharist, the communion of saints, penance, purgatory, indulgences, and all those beliefs and practices that non-Catholics find so difficult. It also carries us straight to Christ and to salvation.

Jesus said, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:27). To appreciate fully the Catholic teaching on suffering, we must understand why Jesus died on the Cross and how the benefits of His death and Resurrection are communicated to us. We must understand how our suffering, willingly and faithfully endured, connects us to Christ. In so doing, we will also better understand our connection to Our Lady of Sorrows, the Blessed Virgin Mary, who also willingly endured suffering. She is the model Christian, who prayed, “Be it done to me according to Thy word” (see Luke 1:38).

Why did Christ die? We need to understand the depth of Catholic doctrine on this subject to appreciate the Church’s teaching on suffering. One of the most common questions I have gotten in my work in Catholic radio is this: “Since Jesus paid the penalty for my sins on the Cross, why should I have to do anything to be saved? Why should I have to suffer?”

Protestants and Catholics have very different ideas about the death of Christ, and the problem is that many, and perhaps most, people know only the Protestant doctrine. Growing up Protestant, I learned that my sin moved God to anger and that His wrath had to be appeased by blood sacrifice. My church taught that the Crucifixion was a vicarious punishment: God agreed to punish an innocent victim, treating Him as if He were guilty of my offense. In exchange, if I had faith, I would get off scot-free. All my sins are “paid for,” and there is nothing left for me to do.

Protestants use the theological term “imputation” to describe this exchange: God “imputes” my sin to Christ, treating Him as if He were guilty, and He in turn “imputes” Christ’s righteousness to the believer, treating him as if he were innocent. This is the core theological difference between Protestants and Catholics, and it is what grounds the Protestant doctrine of salvation by faith alone. It is also what makes it very difficult for Protestants to appreciate the Catholic understanding of suffering.

If this is what Christ’s death means, then the Catholic teaching on suffering really does seem absurd. Even if I suffer for righteousness’ sake, the Protestant thinks, I can’t add anything to the death of Christ. Faith alone connects me to Jesus, and Jesus has already “paid it all.” Why should I bother? It is true that many Protestants have suffered heroically for their beliefs, but the theological dilemma remains. What can suffering do for me if I am connected to Christ by faith alone?

The Catholic Church understands the death of Christ differently. The Bible simply does not describe this ultimate moment as a vicarious punishment imposed by God. Scripture refers to the death of Christ instead as a sacrifice and a ransom, modeled after and in fulfillment of the sacrifices of the Old Testament.

…The heart of sacrifice is not vicarious punishment, but willingly giving up something of value. It was costly for the Jews to give up goats and bulls. It is even more costly to give up my pride, my lusts, or even my own self-determination. Mary gave up the right to direct her own life when she gave her fiat to the angel of the Lord. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I have come . . . not to do My will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 6:38). [Ed. so are we!]

…The death of Christ was not a vicarious punishment that satisfied the wrath of an angry God, but the ultimate act of self-giving, of martyrdom, and of testimony to the truth for love of God and neighbor. And therefore, it was infinitely meritorious.

How does the death of Christ benefit us? If it was not a vicarious punishment imposed by God, then what does it do for me? Let’s focus on three things that Scripture teaches on this subject: First, Christ’s death is an example to us; second, Christ’s death merits for us the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Spirit; and third, we die with Christ in baptism and are born again with Him to new life.

…The Catholic Church sees the death of Christ as a mystical sacrifice that pleases God and transforms us. When we are joined to Christ through faith and baptism, we die and rise with Him; our hearts are changed; we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit; our sins are forgiven; and we receive power to live a holy life in imitation of His. We receive salvation because we can now say, along with Jesus and His Mother, “Be it done to Me/me according to Thy word. I have come not to do My/my will, but the will of Him who sent Me/me(Ed. capitalization for the Lord).”

God redeems suffering that is willingly endured for righteousness’ sake. That is the message of the gospel and that is what the death of Christ means. The power of salvation that flows into us in the sacraments is the power to embrace noble suffering for the love of God.

How do we embrace that power and make it our own? Now we are coming to the real heart of Catholic prayer and the sacramental life — and the profound difference between Catholicism and other forms of Christianity. The message of the gospel is that we “become Christ” (Ed. metaphor, not literally Jesus, but in imitation of Jesus). His life is not merely imputed to us; rather, it becomes ours, inwardly transforming us. And this can happen only through prayer. (Ed. cf Rm 8:26)”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 148-154). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.


34 Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life, ed. W. H. Hutchings (London: Rivingtons, 1882), 2–3.

Marriage & Theology 4

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“…Christian marriage is an ecclesial state, like being a monk, a nun, or a priest (CCC 1631). It exists not only for the good of the spouses, but for the good of the whole Christian community.

Christian marriage is also different because it is a sacrament — a symbol of a supernatural reality, a symbol through which God promises to bestow His grace on us. What is being symbolized in the Christian sacrament of marriage is not romantic love or even the perfect love of the Blessed Trinity, but the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ’s suffering and death for the sake of His bride, the Church. Christ gave His life to bring His spouse to God.

Furthermore, the effect of the grace that is given through the sacrament of marriage is not to enable or to facilitate romantic love. God gives grace in the sacrament of marriage to enable the spouses to love sacrificially, to bear wrongs, to forgive offenses, to be chaste, to welcome and educate children, and perhaps even to die in the service of one’s family…

What does it even mean to say that a marriage is not “valid”? What on earth is “validity”? In a broad sense, something is valid if it works, if it brings about its intended effect. Philosophers speak of an argument being valid if its conclusion follows logically from its premises. In law, a valid contract is one that is legally binding. The celebration of a sacrament can also be understood as valid or invalid. In Catholic theology, a valid sacrament brings about its intended effect. An invalid sacrament (which is really no sacrament at all) does not.

Marriages, therefore, can be valid or invalid. In a valid marriage, the parties really do incur the duties and obligations of marriage and accrue its benefits, privileges, and rights. An invalid marriage is not really a marriage at all. The moral rights, duties, and benefits of marriage do not flow from it, and civil law, if it is to be just, ought not say otherwise.

The idea of validity is implicit in contemporary debates about so-called gay marriage. One side imagines that marriage is simply a right extended by the state that can be applied to any two (three? four?) people who want social privileges attached to their romantic relationships. By contrast, the defenders of tradition hold that marriage is something intrinsically and necessarily connected to our nature created as male and female. The state can no more convey the right to marry to same-sex couples than it can square the circle. Marriage is not just any kind of union. It is the kind of union naturally fulfilled in the procreation of children.26…

…New Catholics are often surprised to learn that the Church does not see it this way (Ed. that nothing else matters but their own will, their choice to get married civilly, at least, outside the Church]. Marriage is not simply a cultural construct that means whatever we want it to mean. It is not simply the desire for children or for intimacy that creates the conditions for marriage. Rather, marriage is something that derives from the natural law. When it comes to marriage, the Church does not arbitrarily create the conditions for validity. The conditions for a true and valid marriage flow from our nature created as male and female.27

The Church does not invent or impose those conditions. She merely recognizes them. It is not only to Catholics that She speaks, and it is not only about Christian marriage that She teaches. The Church has authority from Christ to judge all moral questions, including the validity of natural marriage.28 The Church discerns and teaches those moral norms that emerge not only from revelation but also from natural law.29

The case is a bit different with respect to Christian marriage. Christian marriage presupposes the conditions for a valid, natural marriage, i.e., one man and one woman united indissolubly for life for the good of the spouses and the bearing and raising of offspring. But Christian marriage is also an ecclesial state. It grants certain rights and privileges within the Church…

…It is important to be precise: To say that a sacrament is invalid does not mean that the persons involved have been denied all grace. God can always extend grace if He chooses. In fact, the prompting and nudging toward faith or holiness that Catholics call actual grace routinely occurs outside the sacraments, as Christ draws people to receive the grace of baptism. (Baptized people also receive actual graces.) But the habitual grace made available through the Christian sacrament of marriage cannot be presumed apart from a valid sacrament. An invalid marriage cannot give rise to sacramental grace.

-Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (p. 120-123). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.


26 Patrick Lee and Robert P. George, Conjugal Union: What Marriage Is and Why It Matters (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014), 47.

27 “The personal bond of marriage is established precisely at the natural level of the male or female mode of being a human person.” Pope St. John Paul II, “God Himself Is the Author of Marriage,” L’Osservatore Romano, English ed., February 7, 2001, 3, posted at EWTN,

28 See Code of Canon Law 747.2; Veritatis Splendor, no. 110.

29 Humanae Vitae, no. 4.

Sacramental Grace & Marriage

-cf Sanctity and Success in Marriage, DeBlanc, Rt. Rev. Msgr. Irving A. And Schavilla, Norma L., ~pp 88 – 94, National Catholic Conference on Family Life, Washington, D.C., (c)1956

by Henry V. Sattler, C.SS.R.

Effects of Sacramental Grace

The question that now faces us is what are the proper effects of this sacramental grace? What precisely does it do? Sacramental grace, first, “makes the receiver of the sacramental grace a habitual connatural agent, so that he can place acts in keeping with the end of the sacrament at will and ex officio.”9 What does this mean? Take an example. Suppose I could talk through a dog as a ventriloquist. The action of the animal would not be changed. Suppose I could talk through that dog, using its voice. The dog would then be an instrument. Suppose I could raise the dog above its nature so that it could talk at will. The dog would then become a habitual agent of speaking, something not natural (super-natural to a dog) to it but made as though natural by my gift. Since there are many strictly human actions that might become supernatural to a dog — so there might be many different “graces” given to it. So in a similar fashion, but in an inexpressibly superior way, man is raised to perform different “divine” actions through the various sacramental graces. When a confirmed person, for example, bravely confesses Christ, or a priest consecrates at Mass, each one acts officially and as the agent of a special supernatural act. And that act flows from them “connaturally,” as the ordinary human act of speaking flows naturally from a human being. Tremendous thought, this! By sacramental grace, truly do actions flowing from divine life come from us effectively as our thinking, and loving come from our ordinary human nature!

Secondly, sacramental grace remedies in us the defects which remain in us from past sin, both original and personal (actual).10 Original sin has destroyed the integrity of the human person, has made it difficult for all the human powers to work together for good. Though original sin has been wiped out by Baptism, its effects will remain with us. This is true of our own personal sins. Even after they have been wiped out in the confessional and by Penance; indeed, even after a life of virtue, sin leaves in us marks or wounds, weaknesses, that remain….

…Thirdly, sacramental grace brings with it the right to those actual graces necessary to stimulate us to perform supernatural acts in accordance with our needs. If you remember, “actual grace is a supernatural help of God which enlightens our mind and strengthens our will to do good and to avoid evil.”12  Actual grace is a kind of needle which pushes us towards good and away from evil wherever needed to further the end of the respective Sacraments.13   This means that not only does sacramental grace officially constitute a person as supernatural action, not only does it bring remedies to the weakness incurred by sin, but it also gives to the receiver of a Sacrament a right (a right freely conferred by God) to actual pushes from God in the proper direction!

Sacramental Grace in Marriage

This lengthy theological discussion on the nature of sacramental grace is necessary if we are to draw any practical fruits from the awareness of the sacramental graces of matrimony.

“The sacrament of marriage is the imprint of God on the souls of the married couple, not merely in order to deify their life in general, but in order to deify their union . . . The sacrament of marriage is thus not merely a religious act sanctifying a human one, it is a seed sown in the soul and bearing fruit through the whole of married life, giving life to all its acts and sentiments . . . it is a predisposition to holiness placed in their souls by God on the day of their wedding.”

Man and wife are united in God: this last expression can be interpreted in a very strict sense, for the action of the sacrament being a unique divine action in the souls of each of them, and sacramental grace being a reality in their souls, one can truly state that they have something in their souls which really unites them, which constitutes a principle of unity, and that this unifying action is a divine action. The sacrament of marriage is thus in a sense a deifying of the conjugal union . . . “14

The sacramental grace of Matrimony then takes a Christian marriage out of the realm of the natural and makes the married couple connatural principles of supernatural action. In Casti Connubii Pius XI says, quoting the Council of Trent:

“. . . By raising the Matrimony of His faithful to the dignity of a true sacrament, [Christ] made it a sign and source of that peculiar internal grace by which ‘it perfects natural love, confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies both man and wife.'”

And in the same encyclical:

“. . . As Saint Augustine teaches, just as by Baptism and Holy Orders a man is set aside and assisted either for the duties of Christian life or for the priestly office and is never deprived of their sacramental aid, almost in the same way (although not by a sacramental character) the faithful once joined by marriage ties can never be deprived of the help and binding force of the sacrament.”

Not only does Matrimony make the married pair officially supernatural in action, but it provides them with the remedies against the wounds of personality caused by sin. The “cussedness of human nature” left by original sin, the pettiness, the angers and tensions found in marriage have an inherent remedy in sacramental grace. Even the weaknesses incurred by personal sin, the hungers created by unchastity both in and out of marriage, the infidelities to parental obligation which leave marks of desire and parental sloth are met by the repentant husband or wife with special helps to overcome them.

“Thus if they should have been unfaithful to each other or to their duties, no matter for how long, through penance they can always have recourse to this inexhaustible source of sacramental grace, to find in it the means of regaining sanctification through renewed love and appreciation of the ideal to which they are called.”15

Lastly, “the sacrament of marriage confers a strict right to all the actual graces necessary to lead a Christian conjugal life. It also confers the right to all the material and spiritual helps required for the establishment of a home.”16

Since actual grace “enlightens the mind and moves the will,” a married couple can expect God to inspire them to know what they should understand and do in a given case and to strengthen their will to carry it out. This means that in the questions asked by the couple of themselves, in the questions asked by the children, a married pair who stir up the grace of God in them can await with certainty the right answers. It means also when they feel inadequate to the task of the moment they can expect new courage to be available to them.

“By these gifts the parties are assisted not only in understanding, but in knowing intimately, in adhering to firmly, in willing effectively, and in successfully putting into practice, those things which pertain to the marriage state, giving them in fine right to the actual assistance of grace, whensoever they need it for fulfilling the duties of their state.” (Casti Connubii)

This, then is the meaning of sacramental grace in marriage. It is the special mode of Sanctifying Grace which makes the receiver a habitual connatural principle of supernatural action in Marriage — which means that the love, and love-making, and housekeeping and work and worry of marriage are all deified. Further, sacramental grace in marriage brings with it remedies for the weakness of human nature, even for those weaknesses suffered as a result of the infidelities of the married couple. Lastly, it brings a right to the stimulus of God toward knowing the right answers and acting according to them.

Cooperation with Grace

Why, then, with all the tremendous beauty and power of Matrimony’s sacramental grace, do so many Christian marriages fade so far from the ideal?

Because “fruitful reception of a sacrament does not conclude the Christian’s duty — it is still up to him to cooperate with the power the sacrament gives . . .”17

Pius XI notes very strongly: “Since men do not reap the full fruit of the sacraments . . . unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless both parties exercise these supernatural powers . . .”

Husbands and wives must carefully cooperate with sacramental grace by prayer, by frequenting the other Sacraments, by meditating on the nobility of their state, by constantly reminding themselves and each other to depend upon this supernatural reality in their lives. It is imperative, also, that they strive earnestly to preserve Sanctifying Grace within their souls, since sacramental grace is but a mode of Sanctifying Grace.

“Another thing worth impressing on the faithful is the importance of conserving or regaining the state of grace, not only for its own sake, but also in order to be assured of sacramental grace. For, according to the more probable opinion, upheld by the majority of theologians, sacramental grace is contingent upon the possession of sanctifying grace.”18

Yet, despite the need of preserving Sanctifying Grace, it should be a consoling thing to a married person to realize that, though grace may be lost when mortal sin is committed, it all returns, with all the special helps of sacramental grace, when Penance returns the Prodigal home.

Let me conclude this entire presentation with the stirring appeal of Pius XI to married people:

“Let not, then, those who are joined in matrimony neglect the grace of the sacrament which is in them; for, in applying themselves to the careful observance, however laborious, of their duties they will find the power of that grace becoming more effectual as time goes on. And if ever they should feel themselves to be overburdened by the hardships of their condition of life, let them not lose courage, but rather let them regard in some measure as addressed to them that which Saint Paul the Apostle wrote to his beloved disciple Timothy regarding the sacrament of Holy Orders when the disciple was dejected through hardship and insults: ‘I admonish thee that thou stir up the grace which is in thee by the imposition of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sobriety.'”



9 Everett, op. cit. p. 118. John of Saint Thomas, Cursus Theologicus, IX, d. 24, a. 2, n. 13.

10 Saint Thomas, Comm. in Sent. IV, d. 7, q. 2, a. 2, q. 2, ad. 2., XXVII de Veritate, a. 5, ad. 12., Summa Theol. III, q 62, a 2, ad. 2.

12 Baltimore Catechism No. 3, q. 113.

13 Shea, op. cit. pp. 119, ff.

14 Jacques Leclercq, Marriage A Great Sacrament, (Dublin; Clonmore & Reynolds, 1951), pp. 29-30.

15 M. M. Philipon, The Sacraments in the Christian Life, (Westminster; Newman Press, 1955), p. 220.

16 Ibid.

17 Shea, op. cit., p. 125.

18 Shea, op. cit., p. 126.

Marriage & Theology 3

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“Catholics understand faith differently. In Catholic doctrine, faith is a human act — a decision we make to believe what God has revealed about Himself. Now, God certainly helps the soul to believe. I don’t believe without God’s help, but believing remains something that I do. Faith is not a “blind impulse of the mind,” but a considered judgment that Christ and the Church are credible and trustworthy.

The Bible compares our relationship to God to human marriage, an analogy that helps us understand something about the relationship between faith and reason. Marriage can be a very rational decision, but it still takes trust. If a man decides that his fiancée is trustworthy, then getting married is very reasonable. But how can I find out if my fiancée is trustworthy? I can find reasons to trust my fiancée, but in the end, it’s not the sort of thing I can demonstrate with a mathematical proof. In the end, I must decide whether to trust her and get married based on the available evidence. The Catholic Church says faith is like that. There are good reasons for faith, but in the end, you must still decide.

Why does this difference matter? As a Presbyterian, it was very important for me to say that “I knew for sure” about everything: “Are you sure you are going to Heaven? Are you sure that you are saved? Are you sure the Bible is God’s word? Are you sure there is a God?” In all these cases, the Calvinist might consult rational arguments, but ultimately, he trusts the “witness of the Spirit.” In the end, his certainty comes from subjective religious experience.

In my formation as a Calvinist, I had developed the habit of identifying my emotional life with the activity of the Holy Spirit. But I was growing to doubt this idea of the “witness of the Spirit.” I didn’t know if I could be “sure” ever again. Without that certainty, I did not see how I could ever commit myself to a religious tradition. This is where St Thomas Aquinas helped me the most.

Thomas helped me see that the content of Christian faith can really be divided into two categories: There are things that we can know with certainty from reason and argument, and there are things that we believe simply on the authority of Christ and the Church. Furthermore — and this is important — there are good reasons to trust Christ and the Church. We do not just believe. These distinctions are very important to understanding what faith should feel like, or whether it should feel like anything at all.

Authentic Catholic philosophers such as St. Thomas work very hard to prove parts of the Christian faith, but they also admit freely that we can accept other parts only on authority. The Calvinists I studied with did not divide the content of the faith in this way. They considered the faith as a whole, and they dismissed purely philosophical accounts of God, the soul, or the moral life. They were not just uninterested in proving the content of even one part of Christian faith but were skeptical that setting out to do so could be valuable at all.

I recall the very text that changed my mind about becoming Catholic. Here is the essential passage from Thomas’s De veritate (On Truth):

“We are moved to believe what God says because we are promised eternal life as a reward if we believe. And this reward moves the will to assent to what is said, although the intellect is not moved by anything which it understands. Therefore, Augustine says: “Man can do other things unwillingly, but he can believe only if he wills it.”” (14.1)

In one sense, I felt a tremendous disappointment when I read this text. I saw in a flash what St. Thomas was challenging me to do: take responsibility for my belief or unbelief. I could wait a lifetime for God to compel me to believe — and I would likely die without faith. Or I could also respond freely to His invitation to believe. It was disappointing because I realized that I could never achieve the kind of certainty that comes from an immediate and intuitive experience. But it was also liberating, because I finally saw clearly that this is not a bad thing. When I read this passage, I had an epiphany more powerful than the loss I felt on the day my faith first slipped away. I saw clearly how faith could be a rational possibility without being rationally compelled.

Again, it was rather like marriage. It is not irrational to marry a woman, especially one who has demonstrated her trustworthiness. Does my wife really love me? Will she be faithful forever? Can we get over our conflicts and make a life together? What will happen if I apologize? Will she forgive me? Can I ever be happy with this woman? These questions all have answers, but they are not the sort of thing that admit of mathematical certainty.

Catholicism is similarly an invitation to a kind of relationship and a way of being in the world. Above all, I think Catholicism is an invitation to believe that our moral convictions and our desire for meaning correspond to something real — something, or rather Someone, so real that He became incarnate in the world, taking on flesh in the womb of a virgin. You can’t get more real than that.

There are good reasons to believe in the Incarnation; Catholic theology calls them the “motives of credibility.” The fulfillment of prophecy, the miracles of Christ, His Resurrection, and the profound moral influence of Catholicism on world history all testify to the truth of Christian claims. Do these reasons compel me to believe? Obviously they do not; there are many people who consider these reasons and still do not have faith. I must choose what position I will take on life, and whether to accept or to resist the arguments in favor of Christ.

The great existential challenge in the world today is whether there is any meaning at all. Childlessness, suicide, and euthanasia are depopulating whole societies that have given up on life and prefer to die quietly in bed. Japan now sells more adult diapers than baby diapers. Russia has more abortions than live births. Where would I stand? Is there any truth? Is there any love that endures? Every fiber of my being said yes. Yes, to reason; yes, to love; yes, to hope; yes, even to suffering.

I knew I had to become a Catholic.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 100-103). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,

Theology & Marriage 2

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“The Catholic ideal of married life is rigorous and difficult. Catholic spouses are to surrender their own selfish interests in service to a transcendent goal — to bring one’s spouse and one’s children to God. Sometimes that self-surrender calls for enormous and painful sacrifice, just as Jesus sacrificed Himself on the Cross for the sake of the Church. Most importantly, the Catholic Church recognizes Christian marriage as a sacrament, which means that God promises us the grace to meet those difficult demands.

Early Protestants, on the other hand, simply denied that marriage is a sacrament. Instead, they threw up their hands and asserted that the demands of Catholic marriage were too difficult. Therefore, they called for a relaxation of those demands and an end to the Church’s control over marriage. Protestant thought went on to emphasize more strongly the sexual dimension of married life, and eventually the romantic element as well, while deemphasizing the role that suffering plays in union with God.

My Protestantism offered me little solace in the face of a hopeless marriage, but Catholicism seemed to offer me a way to reconceive my suffering. Suffering willingly embraced becomes sacrifice, and sacrifice can bring a deeper experience of God’s grace….

I started thinking about the differences between Protestant and Catholic notions of sex and marriage. I discerned four major differences between the two traditions:

1. The Catholic tradition opposes both contraception and sodomy in marriage. Most Protestants allow them.
2. The Catholic Church exalts virginity, celibacy, and perfect continence over marriage. The Protestant tradition has always rejected this.
3. The Catholic Church does not allow Christian divorce and remarriage. Although Protestantism values lifelong fidelity in a broad sense, Protestant tradition has always allowed divorce in at least a few circumstances, such as adultery.
4. The Catholic Church regards Christian marriage as a sacrament that conveys grace. As a sacrament, Christian marriage (not all marriage) ought to be governed by Church law.

Protestant tradition, rather, has always asserted that God ordains marriage, but not as a sacrament. For Protestants, marriage is a civil institution rightly governed by civil law. Protestants and Catholics have different views of marriage, I came to understand, because they have different views about the foundational concepts of morality, spirituality, salvation, and human happiness. Catholics believe that the ultimate end of human life is loving union with God and neighbor. Aided by grace, we ought to bend every fiber of our being toward that end. Catholic ideas about marriage and contemplative life reflect that lofty calling.

The Protestant tradition also extols loving union with God but has always been more skeptical about the Christian’s moral potential. Catholics take quite seriously Christ’s command to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). Relying on God’s grace through prayer and the sacraments, and through diligent cooperation with grace, Catholics believe that all God’s commands can be obeyed. By contrast, the Protestant tradition teaches that sin always remains and that perfect holiness in this life is impossible. Early Protestants argued, therefore, that we ought to relax the discipline of Christian life (including marriage) to accommodate human weakness…

Catholic marriage: “It is a love which is total — that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.” –Pope Paul VI, encyclical letter Humanae Vitae (July 25, 1968), no. 9.

If you approach married life in that way, it becomes impossible to objectify your spouse for your own gratification. Instead, you beg for God’s grace and bend every fiber to order your life toward this transcendent goal. You would be willing to bear suffering, abstinence, and abnegation if they serve that great good. You would, in fact, learn to imitate Christ…

The ideal of celibacy reminds all Christians that the goal of life is spiritual friendship, not personal aggrandizement or pleasure seeking. A few Christians can take up that life in radical detachment from the world, but many more Christians live spiritual friendship through marriage.

The Christian ideal of marriage was very different from the ancient Roman practice. Pagan society expected chastity of women, but not of men. Roman men were allowed prostitutes and concubines, and then to avoid the unwanted consequences of such promiscuity they resorted to forced abortions, infanticide, and rudimentary and extremely harmful contraceptives. Women suffered disproportionately from these practices, which became one of the reasons Roman women were more likely than men to become Christian. The Catholic doctrine on chastity was liberating.

The Catholic Church advocated personal commitment to God over all other social commitments, even for women. This was a particularly radical idea in patriarchal Rome, where women were expected as a matter of course to acquiesce to the will of men. The Church, however, venerated virgin martyrs, such as St. Lucy, who went to their deaths for refusing to marry against their will. Unlike many other cultures of the era, canon law has refused from the very beginning to recognize the validity of forced marriage.

“How beautiful, then, the marriage of two Christians, two who are one in hope, one in desire, one in the way of life they follow, one in the religion they practice. They are as brother and sister, both servants of the same Master. Nothing divides them, either in flesh or in spirit. They are, in very truth, two in one flesh; and where there is but one flesh there is also but one spirit. They pray together, they worship together, they fast together; instructing one another, encouraging one another, strengthening one another. Side by side they visit God’s church and partake of God’s Banquet; side by side they face difficulties and persecution, share their consolations. They have no secrets from one another; they never shun each other’s company; they never bring sorrow to each other’s hearts. Unembarrassed they visit the sick and assist the needy. They give alms without anxiety; they attend the Sacrifice without difficulty; they perform their daily exercises of piety without hindrance. They need not be furtive about making the Sign of the Cross, nor timorous in greeting the brethren, nor silent in asking a blessing of God. Psalms and hymns they sing to one another, striving to see which one of them will chant more beautifully the praises of their Lord. Hearing and seeing this, Christ rejoices. To such as these He gives His peace. Where there are two together, there also He is present; and where He is, there evil is not.” –Tertullian, “To His Wife,” in Treatises on Marriage and Remarriage, Ancient Christian Writers Series, no. 13, trans. William P. LeSaint, S.J. (Westminster, MD: Newman Press, 1951), 35–36.

…The differences between Protestant and Catholic teaching on marriage have their roots in two fundamental issues. First, the Protestant Reformers thought that Catholic teaching on human sexuality was just too difficult. Second, the Reformers resented the authority that the Catholic Church exercised over Christian marriage. The way they tried to solve these “problems” theologically was to naturalize Christian marriage, removing it from the realm of the supernatural. A major part of the Reformation, therefore, was an attack on the sacramentality of Christian marriage.

The Reformers never denied that God instituted marriage at the creation of Adam and Eve. They simply denied that Christ elevated marriage to a sacrament. “Marriage is a good and holy ordinance of God,” Calvin wrote, “and farming, building, cobbling, and barbering are lawful ordinances of God, and yet are not sacraments.” –Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.19.34.

…In 1 Corinthians 6, St. Paul teaches that Christians must not engage in sexually immoral behavior. That is not terribly surprising. What is surprising is the reason he gives. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Paul writes, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” (1 Cor. 6:15).

In this text, Paul teaches that a Christian’s very body has been permanently changed in a way that identifies him with Christ and thereby affects his sexuality. The Christian literally carries the body of Christ with him into the marriage bed. While I found the idea to be somewhat arresting, I quickly saw that it had profound implications for the doctrine of marriage. If two baptized people got married, then Christ would necessarily be implicated in a very profound, very intimate way in their union.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 53-56, 58-59, 63-64, 67-68). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.


Theology & Marriage

Dr. David Anders, PhD

“I hoped one of us would get hit by a bus. (I didn’t care which one.)…Murder, maybe. Divorce, never.”

“Thomas à Kempis, the author of The Imitation of Christ, once wrote that it is pointless to debate brilliantly about the Trinity if, by being an arrogant ass, you are displeasing to the Trinity[, and] that is [also] the Catholic point of view.”

“I once asked an attorney who handled both criminal defense and divorce cases if he was ever afraid to defend murderers, rapists, and other serious offenders. “Oh, no,” he said. “Often, you are the only person supporting the accused and they are genuinely grateful. What really scares me are the divorces. You wouldn’t believe how vicious these people can get.””

“With God’s help, prayer is a battle against ourselves. Prayer is where we cast off self-deception, artifice, pride, and egotism. Prayer is where we learn to stand naked before God and transparent to ourselves. Prayer is where we take up the Cross of Christ, allow ourselves to be slain, and entrust our resurrection to God alone.”

“The Church, for a Catholic, is a divine reality, the presence of Christ in the world…The Catholic Church sees Herself as the living embodiment of Jesus, as Christ’s real presence in the world. “Whoever beholds the Church,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa, “beholds Christ.”

…How could something so human — so full of incompetence and flesh and pride and ambition — be the living presence of God in the world?…

I caught a glimpse of something I had never seen before. Salvation isn’t just about going to Heaven when you die, escaping the world, or simply having a personal relationship with Jesus. It’s about being Christ in the world, embracing life with both hands, and raising it all up with as many people as possible in transcendent joy. “Whoever beholds the Church beholds Christ.” That mediocre priest, that baby, that grandmother, that college student, and even that corrupt medieval pope: Could God be present in that? Could a man love that?…

Being Catholic — being Christ in the world — doesn’t exempt you from flesh and blood, even from ambition, pride, and sin…It is a life visibly marked out by and for transcendence.”

“In Catholic thought, contemplation means having a deep, intuitive, almost experiential awareness of God through the life of prayer…the Church teaches that marriage is also a kind of full-time Christian spirituality, and one that offers a deep, interior experience of God.

Keeping this mystical dimension of marriage in view is absolutely necessary if we are to understand how to approach suffering in marriage. For many people today, the fact of personal pain would seem to justify almost any decision meant to relieve that pain. Are you in a difficult marriage? Then why not leave and try something else? Have you discovered that your sexual urges don’t line up with the demands of heterosexual or monogamous marriage? Why deny yourself satisfaction? But the Catholic Faith teaches that such suffering can be supremely meaningful, leading even to a mystical union with God.

One of my major concerns in writing this book is to urge suffering couples to a vigorous practice of the Catholic Faith. My hope is that Catholic couples will discover new strength for their marriages and that non-Catholic couples will consider what the Catholic Faith has to offer…my aim is to point married couples beyond the tools of psychology or natural marriage and to help them embrace a transcendent vision of Christian conjugal life….

I saw our lives potentially bound together through the mystery of suffering, and reshaped through the mystery of redemption. I felt that the universe was giving me a choice: Will you embrace suffering and redemption, or will you shelter yourself through the pursuit of pleasure?…

But I was coming to realize how the Protestant understanding of grace, assurance, faith, and salvation obscured my awareness of myself. Protestant teaching asserts that everything we do is sinful, but everything is forgiven — if we are “saved.” This is not a doctrine that encouraged me in critical self-examination or growth in virtue. By focusing so heavily on my general depravity, sinfulness, and inability to save myself, I felt strangely freed from responsibility to root out individual faults.

In studying Luther and Calvin, I found, however, that my experience was not unique. John Calvin was a man who confessed the sinfulness of humanity but was incapable of confessing his own personal fault. In tens of thousands of pages of material by and about him, I do not recall Calvin ever admitting wrong, apologizing, or taking responsibility for failure. Calvin divided the world into the elect and the reprobate, the pious and the impious — and he was always on the right side while his enemies were always on the wrong side.

Unlike Calvin, Luther had a tormented conscience; he felt he could never do anything right, and it was this profound guilt that drove him to concoct his new theology. Luther was so convinced of his ineradicable corruption, guilt, and sinfulness that he despaired even of God’s grace to change him. Even to try could lead only to frustration. The solution for Luther was not to focus on ethical behavior toward others but on absolving one’s own conscience.

It really is an extraordinary position. “Whoever wants to be saved,” Luther said, “should act as though no other human being except him existed on earth.” In an important sense, the Reformation doctrine of grace flows from this one man’s attempt to assuage his conscience. Luther articulated a brand-new theology, one that simply denied human freedom and insisted that man plays no role in his own salvation.

Now, to say that Luther and Calvin were flawed men is not surprising or informative. We could say that about anyone. Far more important to me was what I learned about how their flaws worked their way into Protestant theology, and ultimately into my life. There were cracks in the foundation of my religious tradition and those cracks found their way into my heart.

What does all this have to do with my marriage? I was discovering that my Protestant theology did not provide an adequate moral compass, sense of hope, or spiritual inspiration to meet the challenges of marriage. My historical studies further shook the foundations of my worldview, challenged me to deeper self-examination, and forced me to explore new answers to my moral malaise.

I became convinced that Reformation theology advanced neither Luther nor Calvin, as human beings, toward holiness. I began to see their theology, rather, as a highly sophisticated form of self-justification. In one sense this was an easy conclusion to reach, since I found in Luther and Calvin the very same flaws I found in myself. Therefore, if I was going to advance out of my morass, I was going to need different guides. Eventually, these concerns pushed me to seek holiness in the Catholic tradition and in the Catholic sacrament of marriage.

The intellectual history of Protestantism became for me a mirror in which to contemplate my own moral and spiritual dilemma. My tradition formed me to expect absolute assurance about salvation, regardless of my own behavior. Revealed in the lives of my Protestant mentors, though, I began to see how this attitude could have harmful effects not only on marriage, but on all manner of social relations.

I came to believe that my mentors and heroes in the faith had been worse than socially awkward: They had been dangerous ideologues, immune to criticism, utterly cocksure, and willing to impose their views with deadly force. This discovery was disquieting, to say the least. I always thought Catholics were the tyrants and ideologues, leading crusades and inquisitions and so forth, but now I was seeing the seed of interpersonal tyranny in my own tradition…

The Puritans of New England attempted to build an entire civilization on the distinction between the elect and the reprobate. Around the same time, the Westminster Confession of Faith (1647), which was composed in England to provide an authoritative guide for building such a Protestant civilization, promised that the elect can have an “infallible assurance” of their election.

In Protestant thinking, “elect and reprobate” is not the same thing as “good and bad.” Instead, it is having “true faith” that distinguishes the elect from the reprobate. The elect, by virtue of having accepted that faith, can be infallibly certain that they are elect, even when their lives are morally disordered in other ways. Put crudely, you can meet an arrogant, self-righteous, lecherous egotist who knows for sure that he is one of God’s elect, destined for Heaven.

I was that egotist.”

Anders, Dr. David. The Catholic Church Saved My Marriage: Discovering Hidden Grace in the Sacrament of Matrimony (pp. 8, 11, 13, 29-30, 34-35, 44, 49-51). Sophia Institute Press. Kindle Edition.

Love & truth,