What marriage is and what it isn’t

I have turned back the clock to June 2016 to find a post at the blog of canonist Ed Peters, who also – to our benefit – comments on these electronic pages.

Peters breaks it down Barney style so that even the most obtuse of libs can follow.

Papal comments on cohabitation and civil marriage suggest a direction

Let’s be clear: marriage is marriage but cohabitation (as that word is nearly universally understood in social discourse) is only cohabitation. Where to begin?

Everybody starts off single. One stays single unless one goes through a ceremony called a wedding, at which point, one is (presumptively, at least) married. People who are married get to do certain things that people who are not married don’t get to do, like, say, submit a married-filing-jointly tax return with a certain someone and have sex with that same certain someone if they both so choose. In addition, though, married couples who are baptized get something else at their wedding, they receive a sacrament called Matrimony, and with that sacrament come very powerful graces put there by Jesus to help Christian couples living the difficult and wonderful thing called marriage.

But, if one is not married, one does not get to submit a married-filing-jointly tax return with anyone and one does not get to have sex with a certain no-one or with anyone else. Moreover, even if one is baptized (and regardless of what other sacramental or actual graces might be wonderfully at work in one’s life) a single person does not get the specific graces of Matrimony. Why? Because cohabitation is NOT marriage, let alone is it “true marriage”, and cohabiting couples do NOT share in the graces of Matrimony.


Read the rest of this brilliant entry over there.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Thomistica says:

    This is perhaps a bit offbeat, but I was at another parish in another dioceses (actually an archdioceses) very recently and noticed that Amoris Laetitia were no longer on the sales rack of print materials in the vestibule. Other papal documents were. Now maybe the copies of AL had sold out. Or maybe the priest removed them. Or whatever.
    Anyhow: I’m wondering whether this might not be obligatory for a priest to remove these.
    Even if his bishop says otherwise.
    This is one for the canon lawyers, but it’s hard to imagine what barrier there would be in canon law to a priest doing so.

  2. Thomistica says:

    Oops, that would be diocese, without the pluralization. Few of us are able to bilocate.

  3. Elizabeth M says:

    There is, as should be, included in many pro-marriage articles this quote “graces received with the sacrament of Matrimony”. However, while I hope most of us can easily recall the graces of other sacraments like Confirmation, it is harder to list the graces of Matrimony. I can’t remember reading anywhere a list even suggesting what they are. Are they different according to each person and each couple? If it were easier for we Catholics to recognize those graces and name some then I bet we could defend Matrimony better.
    Focus on that may make people long for those graces, knowing that they are what help keep couples together.

    After all, it MUST be a grace that I still love my husband even though he never picks up his dirty socks and that HE still loves me when I let the dishes sit out or get insanely emotional during pregnancy.

  4. Poor Dr. Peters! Evidences quite a “rigid” mentality revealing a fear of moving out into the messiness of people’s real lives, no? Probably also only thinks binary (“Yes” or “No”), like Cardinal Burke and the rest of the quartet of cardinals! Perhaps intensive psychotherapy can cure this disease?

  5. ‘Poor’ Dr. Peters resembles Jesus Christ on marriage more than he does some Pharisee, unless somebody would like to suggest our Lord was a Pharisee.

  6. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dr. Peters’ lucid article doesn’t address the question of marriages contracted between Protestants. These are known to come before the Tribunal in instances where a divorced Protestant has civilly married a Catholic and now seeks to come into communion with the Church. My understanding is that tribunals presume the prior Protestant marriage to be valid and thus an impediment. I’m not clear how strong this presumption is. Given that Protestants do not believe that marriage is a sacrament and not a life-long commitment (all allow church remarriage after a civil divorce), I would hope that it is an easily rebuttable one as these facts strongly suggest that they do not do what the Church intends and would consequently be invalid .

  7. I know that Dr. Peters reads and comments here (and has no combox of his own), so I hope he will entertain a hypothetical question that has been bothering me for at least a couple years. It is sparked by the phrase “because of the inseparability of the marriage contract from the sacrament”. Is that truly so? Say my wife and I divorce. Then a decree of nullity is sought (ignore the problematic nature the concept, please). The marriage is declared valid. We are married in the eyes of the Church, and have never ceased to be, regardless of our status in the civil realm, correct? If we were to reconcile and resume marital relations, including cohabitation, would the Church have grounds to cry foul “because of the inseparability of the marriage contract from the sacrament”? How does that square? Or was that phrase meant in a way different than I’m hearing it? Thanks in advance if you choose to respond.

  8. un-ionized says:

    Gerard Plourde, marriages between baptized persons are considered sacramental by the Church. What Protestants may or may not believe doesn’t generally come into it. The marriage between two baptized persons is sacramental and not natural as would be a marriage between two unbaptized persons such as Hindus.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Elizabeth M,

    You wrote:

    “I can’t remember reading anywhere a list even suggesting what they are. Are they different according to each person and each couple? If it were easier for we Catholics to recognize those graces and name some then I bet we could defend Matrimony better.”

    Here you go:


    Also, see the discussions in the papal encyclicals, Casti Connubii,


    and Arcanum:


    The Chicken

  10. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear BenedictXVIFan,

    You wrote:

    “If we were to reconcile and resume marital relations, including cohabitation, would the Church have grounds to cry foul “because of the inseparability of the marriage contract from the sacrament”?”

    You misunderstand the contract in the quote you cite to be the civil legal contract made for the state. I believe the contract actually referred to in the quote is the vow between the baptized parties. If the Tribunal judges the marriage valid, the vow (contract) is real and so is the sacrament.

    The legal contract is a conceit of society for the purposes of bookkeeping and social order. It does not enable the soul with sacramental graces as the vow between baptized people does. If natural marriages work, it is because of the actual graces each couple brings to the marriage. Christian marriage is supplied with graces beyond the natural.

    The Chicken

  11. Thank you, Chicken. But wouldn’t the substitution of “covenant” for contract prevent my confusion? Why was “contract” chosen instead?

  12. PTK_70 says:

    Here’s what I don’t get: if there was a thorny marriage-related issue facing the pastors of the Church, why wasn’t said thorny issue handed over to the St. John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family? What’s the raison d’etre of this Institute if not to assist and serve the pastors of the Church in regards to thinking through marriage and family related questions and conundrums? Perhaps it’s not too late….

  13. Furthermore, wouldn’t “because of the inseparability of the marriage *covenant* from the sacrament” be redundant and obvious? Or am I missing something else?

  14. The Masked Chicken says:

    Not all vows initiate a sacrament. Vows of religious do not. A person can, ordinarily, be released from a vow by the authority who receives the vow from the person. A valid marriage, by God’s specific command, however, releases only at death and admits no other authority release it.

    So, this particular vow is inseparably linked to the sacrament it creates. It is a special type of vow.

    The Chicken

  15. Scout says:

    BenedictXVIFan says “The marriage is declared valid.”

    The Masked Chicken says “If the Tribunal judges the marriage valid…”

    I think marriages are always presumed to be valid unless and until a competent tribunal issues a certificate of nullity.

    I understood that the tribunal can only issue a certificate of nullity or not. I do not think it has any competence to say that a “marriage is valid”. In other words, they can say there is evidence that the marriage was null. Or they can say that there is no evidence that the marriage is null, but that is not the same as declaring a marriage to be valid.

  16. Michael_Thoma says:


    I understand what you write when stating, “The marriage between two baptized persons is sacramental and not natural as would be a marriage between two unbaptized persons such as Hindus”. However, it would be clearer to state, “The marriage between two baptized persons is sacramental (ie Supernatural) and not ONLY natural as would be a marriage between two unbaptized persons such as Hindus.”

  17. Scout: Great point. I misspoke. Thanks for highlighting the proper distinction between what I said and what I should have meant to say.

  18. Michael_Thoma says:

    The reason the term “contract” may have been chosen in that context is that the Marriage Convenant is made up of two parts: the contract between the two spouses and the witness of the Church. For the Latin Church, this delegated witness is required for a valid marriage. For the Eastern Churches, the witness must be a priest or bishop and said clergyman must bless (covenantalize, if you will) the contract.

  19. benedetta says:

    I am not remotely qualified to assess or even second guess in this area, and from what understanding I do have I certainly observe Mr. Peters’ thought process in logic and doctrine and do assent.

    It’s a side note but of interest to me is this notion of the mindset or subjective understanding. Sometimes I wonder whether, at least in his more folksy, to the masses communications in various forms, the Holy Father is not attempting in some ways to get at these mindsets, quite often sort of stuck and formed via a process of ignorance about the often good and worthy realities and helps that practicing the Catholic faith truly offers, in large part because of popular opinion formed by a hostile elitist media and cultural powerhouses. These forces overall discourage nearly everyone from being spiritual or for that matter religious on the grounds of how uncool portrayed in so many ways when the truth is that religious practice is by far a help in terms of human well being and health, and a good for society by measures of community health and other indicators.

    So while I get that it is not relevant to the question of what is or is not…still I think the inquiry into the mindset of people who consider themselves married despite deciding very clearly to not be technically (?) married not a terrible thing, if carried out properly. If we say alright, then, fine, you consider yourself married though legally and technically you are objectively speaking co-habiting, might that not let some very rigid defenses down and permit those who cling to that on some righteous or reactionary grounds, absent much free will because they were popular and media culture conditioned to it to more freely, with an actual free will this time, consider in reason, which they, judging on the situation in media/culture/popular currents, have not exercised a whole lot even though they think themselves only doing what progress and enlightenment dictate? I wonder. In the process, one could perhaps learn a lot about what people have learned or not had a chance to know, and be a bit of a more active fly on the wall so to speak, which helps to catechize better the next generation, gives some places for better entree into an overall discussion that the Church has been shut out of for decades now…and in many places the Church authorities merely echoed or affirmed?

    I answer my own question though in part by pointing to couples that practicing Catholics all know and love who are given this very benefit of the doubt, admitted to sacraments, parents patiently accepting and affirming…who only seem to dig in, so to speak, or become even more defended about the righteousness or superiority of their choices. So in practice on that level that approach doesn’t seem to have furthered any conversation or opened up many new avenues. Still that could be only for people of a certain age, and understanding how that has worked and not worked could be a benefit to preparing younger generations to think through clearly and independently and not just accept the slanders against the Church out of hand as controlling reason and choices.

  20. Chicken: Ok, good point on the distinction between different kinds of vows, but my origin question remains unanswered: why contract, not covenant? It still seems to me that what is being referenced lies within the civil realm. Otherwise, I should expect to see the word covenant.

  21. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear BenedictXVIFan,

    Here is an article that explores this, in depth. It, pretty much agrees with what I said.

    As for the distinction between covenant and contract, Ed Peters can answer more substantially, but here is a passage from Frank Sheed’s, Nullity of Marriage:

    “Marriage, then, is a contract resulting in a relationship; better still, it is a relationship resulting from a contract.

    For when the relationship comes into being the contract has done its work; it has produced the relationship of marriage, and the parties are now governed in their common life, not by the contract (which they made), but by the relationship (which God made in ratification of their contract).”

    The first link:


    The Chicken

  22. msc says:

    Thank you for the link. I would amend one thing: “One stays single unless one goes through a ceremony called a wedding…” In many jurisdictions (including some dozen states) a common law marriage can arise from a long enough period of cohabitation. If my exact vocabulary is wrong, I apologize.
    Interestingly enough (to me, at least) is that there are many societies where marriage arises merely from the intent of the couple–in both ancient Greece and Rome there were wedding ceremonies (and marriage contracts, etc.), but, as a general rule, a marriage was created when two people chose to live together as a couple.

  23. Thanks, Chicken. Please identify the contract for me. In my understanding, and so I thought that of the Church, a contract is not indissoluble, unlike a covenant. And I’m not sure that I buy the notion that a contract somehow morphs into a covenant. Where is that found or supported in scripture? Certainly not at the Last Supper. Besides, my question has less to do with this distinction than it does with wondering why Catholics (including officiating clergy) should remain duty-bound to participate in the secular realm’s fraudulent understanding of marriage. I am referring to no-fault divorce every bit as much as to state recognition of marriage-mimicking same sex relationships. A Catholic can enter into a marriage, both civilly and religiously, in good faith, only to find that their spouse has decided to unilaterally leverage the state’s fraudulent view. Why allow ourselves as Catholics to participate in such a structurally unsound setup? So, No to civil contracts, and Yes to Church-only covenants. Even if tax breaks are forfeited. (Now if only we could opt out of common-law marriages.)

  24. To clarify/amplify, refer to my original comment: ‘We are married in the eyes of the Church, and have never ceased to be, regardless of our status in the civil realm, correct? If we were to reconcile and resume marital relations, including cohabitation, would the Church have grounds to cry foul?’ Would the Church in such a case take a stance of disapproval, or rather rejoice and support the reconciliation? If the latter, what precludes a couple from arranging their marriage this way from the start? If the former, I would be taken aback. It’s time for Church law and practice to be brought in line with the reality of how she would behave in such a circumstance, in my assessment.

  25. anniemw says:

    In the situation you describe, I think the issue might be more that the civil authorities [state, municipality,etc] would have issue with a Catholic couple who civilly divorced [therefore the marriage has ended, according to the State], as far as their status after reconciliation. Perhaps a new civil ceremony would be required so legally, in the eyes of the state, there is a marriage once again. [ ? ] The couple was always married and bound to one another in the eyes of the Church, even during the separation/civil divorce.

    Scott Hahn gave a good explanation of contract vs covenant. A contract is an exchange of goods [and revocable], a covenant is an exchange of persons. He made this distinction when talking of God’s Covenants in Salvation History, but I always found it helpful in meditating on the reality of my own marriage, this distinction.

    I wonder did the language of ‘marriage contract’ creep in after the Reformation?

    Well, I doubt I really answered anything, but created more questions. It would be great, though, to hear from a canonist or someone well-versed in the theology of marriage.

    As we have heard and read very often lately, it is extremely important for those who love the Church *as She truly is*, to understand as deeply as possible Her teaching on marriage.

    God bless all here, Annie

  26. Thank you, Annie. The thing is: our priests and deacons still witness to and sign the civil marriage document, not merely as a coutesy, but as a compliance with the state’s desire, unless I am mistaken. As I understand it, the priest could refuse to perform the wedding ceremony if the couple was looking to omit the civil procedure. Is this done by the Church more for doctrinal reasons (i.e., to respect legitimate civil authority) or more out of a cooperation motivated by fears of loss of tax exempt status? I believe that the state should no longer be seen in the Church’s eyes as a legitimate civil authority with respect to marriage. Also, the Church will not take on a case seeking an investigation into a declaration of nullity, unless a civil divorce has first taken place. Why on earth does the Church defer to an entity that has turned the historical understanding of marriage into a fraud? Are they using the state as a de facto gatekeeper to the annulment process? If so, why?? And with so many divorces obtained so easily, can this be said to have blown up in the face of our beloved Church?

  27. Imrahil says:

    Dear Scout,

    while it is true that putative marriages enjoy the favor of legal assumption, if a marriage does come into court, nothing hinders the Court (as far as I see) to say “we found positive evidence that the marriage is valid”, rather than only “we found nothing to prove nullity”. Somehow like a (civil-law) criminal case where the judge may acquit “for lack of evidence” a. k. a. “second class”, but also “because of proven innocence”.

    In itself, of course, the marriage is valid or it isn’t; it’s only how to treat it outwardly.

  28. And while I have yet to come right out and say it, if one is not civilly married, one cannot be civilly divorced–*and* therefore cannot be ‘civilly divorced and remarried’. Hence this whole debate eventually melts away. If Church marriage is the only game in town, it simplifies matters greatly and brings thing back into sharp focus for us Catholics, instead of keeping us on the road to possible schism. It certainly would keep popes of a certain bent out of trouble, and by extension those who sincerely want to adhere to the teachings of Christ on matrimony.

  29. Nan says:

    Gerard Plourde, to expand on what un-ionized said about marriage; Catholics recognize two Protestant sacraments, Baptism and Marriage. The reason isn’t that they’re sacraments but rather they’re the two sacraments for which a priest isn’t a requirement. The priest and deacon are the ordinary ministers of baptism; however, anyone can validly baptize if necessary, so long as they use the Trinitarian formula and the intent is the will to do what the Church does when she baptizes.

    The Church recognizes all marriages; those between Christians are considered sacramental, those between non-baptized persons are natural marriages. Here, the difference is that the priest or deacon acts as witness but the ordinary minister of marriage is the couple marrying, who administer the sacrament to each other by their consent to wed.

    People are funny and tell me all their grievances against the Church; an acquaintance shared her outrage with me at having had to seek a decree of nullity for her first marriage, in a protestant church, in order to marry a Catholic. She had 2 or 3 kids and divorced, met up with a much older man who had never married and took exception to the question “what’s different about this relationship than your previous one,” as part of her pursuit of a decree of nullity. When we met she was Catholic, they were married and had a child so her first marriage must not have been found to have the matrimonial bond. I didn’t know any of these things then so was unable to share anything helpful with her.

  30. Traductora says:

    This has gotten so confused that it’s hard to know where to begin.

    Hard cases make bad law – that is, a ruling given or even a law promulgated to protect some particularly difficult circumstance – will work only for that case and can’t be extended without imposing strange legal strictures on the rest of the law.

  31. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear un-ionized and Nan,

    Thanks for the additional information. This, of course, raises the question whether the denomination baptizes validly. As most Protestant groups use the Trinitarian formula, their Baptisms would be deemed valid. There are Christian Churches (mostly Pentecostal) that do not and groups that identify themselves as Christian or have Christian roots (Unitarians, Christian Scientists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and interestingly, the Salvation Army) who either do not Baptize or whose Baptisms are invalid as to form. The Marriage Tribunal of Archdiocese of Baltimore has produced a helpful document that covers most groups.

  32. un-ionized says:

    Michaelthoma, this is a combox, not a place for publishing perfectly written treatises. There is far too much quibbling here. But then that’s what obsessive compulsives do I guess. I don’t have time for it personally.

  33. Matamoros says:

    There needs to be a better understanding of what the difference is between a civil marriage, a protestant marriage, and a Catholic sacramental marriage.

    My understanding is that civil marriage is a basically legal cohabitation, protestant marriage, although sworn to God, does not rise to the level of a sacrament. Perhaps you would be kind enough, Father, to explain.

    like, say, submit a married-filing-jointly tax return with a certain someone
    That is way out of date. You can file married, jointly filing with your “significant other”, it is not necessary to be married to do so, simply that you declare they are your “partner”.

  34. Tony Phillips says:

    The Church recognises non-Catholic and even non-Christian marriages…but what about polygamous marriages? What if a polygamous pagan man converts to Catholicism–what happens to his wives? (This was and perhaps is a real issue in Africa.) And what happens if a Catholic man–not me, necessarily, but some other hypotherical Catholic man–contracts a second or third marriage, perhaps in a country where it’s legal, perhaps where it’s not?

    (Don’t get me wrong…I can barely afford one wife, let alone two, or three. But sometimes, like Bobby Goldsboro, one gets these silly thoughts of leaving the straight life behind.)

  35. The Masked Chicken says:

    Dear Matamoros,

    You wrote:

    “My understanding is that civil marriage is a basically legal cohabitation, protestant marriage, although sworn to God, does not rise to the level of a sacrament. Perhaps you would be kind enough, Father, to explain.”

    Civil marriage is a natural marriage. Protestant marriages, if the baptisms of both parties are valid, are sacramental (assuming an actual marriage occurs – i.e., one not null for some reason). Protestants are excused from following the Code of Canon Law with regards to certain impediments.

    The Chicken

  36. MrsMacD says:

    I can’t help but wonder why the Church doesn’t require couples to sign a paper promising to be open to having children, and to be faithful for life, wouldn’t that clear up some of the questions of validity?

    As far as legal divorce goes it can sometimes be necessary say for example the protection of the children but if there is a reconciliation they are married in the eyes of God and welcome to move right back in with each other, even legally, after a certain time they are considered as legally married.

    The church actually has the power to disolve marriages though, correct? As in the case of a protestant who converts and is persecuted by the spouse for the Faith, then the Church may disolve the marriage, and that person is free to marry in the Church.

  37. chantgirl says:

    I have to admit that it blows my mind that a priest, who “married” the Church and received an indelible mark upon his soul at ordination, can be laicized and marry a woman. However, a validly married Catholic couple, who do not receive any sort of indelible mark on their souls from their wedding, cannot separate and validly marry someone else. I don’t disagree with Christ on this, but it makes me wonder, just what is so special about marriage that God is more strict about a marriage vow than a priestly vow? What do we not understand about marriage yet? I wonder if the divorce of a validly marries Catholic couple has drastic spiritual ramifications that we don’t quite understand yet- along the lines of splitting an atom in the scientific realm?

    I also find it interesting that Our Lady has said that the final battle of good and evil will be fought over marriage and the family. I would think it would be over the nature of Christ, or the Church. Obviously there is something incredibly important about marriage- it’s the primordial sacrament and the last battle. Is there something more I can read about this?

  38. Mike says:

    There may be a peculiarly encouraging note about the tone and direction of the discussion over the dubia. While it is apparent that seeking and proclaiming Truth in its clarity isn’t going to advance any cleric’s career at least in the near term, it seems at least as apparent that the clerics who seek and proclaim truth in its clarity don’t much give a damn about their career advancement. As for the rest, only the thickest and wobbliest can fail to have learned any lesson at all from the Church’s travails over the past two generations.

    In any event, Truth can’t be proclaimed or shaded away, so the sacrament of Marriage will survive the current crisis. But if zeal for Truth and souls, or just the fear of another round of priest scandals, knocks careerism out for the count in the process, Hell will suffer a double defeat.

  39. Nan says:

    chantgirl, laicization is a modern invention; my aunt married a priest. He was ordained in 1962 and left in 1967. She said he was neither laicized nor excommunicated. He was in the first wave of priests who left at that time. An acquaintance who must be nearing 90 told me that the men entering seminary were promised that they’d be allowed to marry after ordination; much to their surprise, Pope Paul VI didn’t go with the plan. I assume if that’s true, laicization came about because men were misled prior to entering seminary. I’d love to hear from someone who knows.

    It was a huge scandal when auntie married the priest; crank phone calls, nasty letters, bricks through the window and grandma had a nervous breakdown. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We have several priests who are out in the world and I have no idea why; one guy was ordained and a year and a half later, he’s back at his old job, the time in seminary and as a priest on his resume as missionary work for his church; another is doing fundraising for a Catholic organization and has all of his priest assignments listed on LinkedIn – that strikes me as really weird because is he or isn’t he? Only his Vicar General knows for sure! The other one is more problematic – he is known to have picked up his marbles and gone home and is rumored to be married to another woman. I watch for an announcement of laicization; I do know that he was dating a woman his mother approved of and have issue with that as she should not approve of her son, the priest, dating! His mother is reportedly a faithful Catholic so it seems a bit sketchy that she approves of this relationship. At an Advent Reflection yesterday, the Msgr giving the reflections, told us that his friend, the seminary rector, asked him to come here because he was down two priests.

    We need all of our faithful priests, not just the ones who are in the mood to say Mass.

  40. PostCatholic says:

    “…and one does not get to have sex with a certain no-one or with anyone else.”

    Yes, one does. Your religion may disapprove of it, but consenting adults may do these things. It is their legal right in this and in most every other non-Islamic nation in the world.

  41. The Masked Chicken says:

    “It is their legal right in this and in most every other non-Islamic nation in the world.”

    Man can make stupid laws.

    The Chicken

  42. PostCatholic says:

    Man can make stupid religious structures, too.

  43. The Masked Chicken says:

    Man can do stupid things, but God cannot, therefore, if marriage and the Catholic religion comes fom God, it cannot be stupid. Therefore, the argument simplifies to proving the God is the author of marriage and the Catholic religion. That is another discussion.

    The Chicken

  44. PostCatholic says:

    Actually, it’s not because we are talking about a civil right to individual autonomy, one which in western nations includes freedom of religion. To have freedom of religion is to have the ability to reject a notion that “God is the the author of marriage and [ /or] of the Catholic religion,” and to practice one’s alternate belief.

  45. paladin says:

    PostCatholic wrote, in reply to The Masked Chicken:

    Actually, it’s not because we are talking about a civil right to individual autonomy, one which in western nations includes freedom of religion.

    The original article (the link needs to be clicked/followed to see the context for the quote that Fr. Z. printed, above) made a clear distinction between “civil wedding ceremony” and “marriage” (i.e. the first might happen, but it says nothing in particular about whether an actual, valid marriage actually came about at the same time (i.e. a man and a woman, both free to marry and capable of marriage, neither of whom were impeded canonically, etc., who actually exchanged sufficiently full and free consent to marriage). As Dr. Peters and others have already mentioned: the civil government can enact any legal structure it pleases (e.g. a certificate authorizing one to file taxes together, etc.), but that’s a separate issue from whether an actual marriage came into being, or not.

    To have freedom of religion is to have the ability to reject a notion that “God is the the author of marriage and [ /or] of the Catholic religion,” and to practice one’s alternate belief.

    Of course. And no one is suggesting that anyone is not legally free (more’s the pity) to “play house” with any other consenting adult in accord with their religious beliefs (sincere or insincere, right or wrong). But words mean things–coherent words point to realities; the word “marriage” means something, no matter how our culture rips and tears at it and tries to redefine (and ultimately to destroy) it. The culture doesn’t get to redefine reality to suit its present whims and personal tastes. 2 + 2 = 4, even despite the wails and wishes of students who answered differently on a math test and were downgraded for it. Marriage is marriage, even despite the wails and wishes of citizens who misunderstand it and who want to act out their sexual distortions (and/or reserve that right for others) under the pseudo-legitimacy and specious cover of the word “marriage” while individuals (especially children) and and all walks of society suffer for it.

    Forgive me for asking, but: are you a moral relativist (i.e. one who believes that there are no absolute standards for moral “right” and “wrong”, above and beyond subjective vies of individuals or groups)?

  46. PostCatholic says:

    I read the full article before commenting. You may think it clear, but I do not. In the sentence that I quoted, Peters conflated the two ideas that you separated above. He speaks about things married people are allowed to do that the unmarried may not, and then exemplifies this with filing taxes jointly and having extramarital sex. You don’t file tax returns with a church but with a government, so he is talking about the governmental definition of marriage. As I said, all the better governments of the world allow one not to belong to a church and nearly all permit extramarital sex to one degree or another.

    >Forgive me for asking, but: are you a moral relativist?
    I feel as though to answer, I need to supply something almost like a Thomistic potesti/dicendum in form like those that Rev. Zuhlsdorf is so fond of.

    Moral relativism is a huge, huge term encompassing a lot of philosophical viewpoints both pro and con and in-between, on the nature of reality. Many times, the similarly enormous category of moral absolutism includes views which don’t distinguish between what can be judged moral and what can be proved moral.

    For instance, in one model of evolutionary (a type of relative) morality, it is posited that as human social behavior evolved from cave-dweller tribes into complex societies, what was agreed to be moral evolved along with it. An objective standard of morality in that view might be those things judged moral with consensus across many complex societies, but to prove that it is moral would not be possible. To determine whether killing or slavery, e.g., is known to be immoral we can appeal to the consensus judgement and thus justly punish those who violate that consensus, but to prove that it’s immoral is not possible within that frame. This is not quite cultural relativism; think of it in analogy to the Catholic Deposit of Faith in which certain Traditions have to be interpreted for their time and from time to time, certain are discovered to always have been infallible doctrine and cannot be reinterpreted.

    I think what you may want to know is do I believe in a standard of morality that is absolute because it is set by a constant divine authority. I don’t.

  47. Matamoros says:

    Civil marriage is a natural marriage. Protestant marriages, if the baptisms of both parties are valid, are sacramental (assuming an actual marriage occurs – i.e., one not null for some reason).

    Natural marriage is cohabitation by the parties who agree to live together as man and wife – also called common law marriages. However it is a form of cohabitation rather than a true marriage because it ignores God and His laws.

    Protestant marriages from what I know are generally invalid because there is not a sense of the sacrament because they do not really marry for life (regardless of what they may say), and other impediments. You are right that they can be a sacramental marriage because it is the man and woman who marry each other. But in practice I doubt that many are.

  48. un-ionized says:

    Validity of Protestant marriages hinges on baptism not intent or theology.

  49. Nan says:

    Matamoros, the Church considers all marriages valid unless proven null. The Church defines natural marriage as a marriage between two unbaptized persons or persons whose baptism in some way doesn’t meet the Church’s definition of baptism, such as one not using the Trinitarian format. The Church defines Sacramental marriage as one between two baptized persons, whether those persons are Catholic or some form of Protestant whose baptism meets the Church’s definition of baptism.

    In order for the marriage to be found null, there must be a defect at the outset. Your assumption that generally Protestant marriages are invalid due to their beliefs isn’t how a determination of whether the sacramental bond exists is made. You could say the same of many Catholic marriages. That’s why Canon Law is a whole discipline in and of itself, separate from Civil Law. The marriage is examined for the circumstances at the time of marriage. I am not a canon lawyer but can give you a probably spurious example; allegedly the reason Ted Kennedy was able to receive a decree of nullity from his first marriage is that at the outset, vows of fidelity notwithstanding, he had no intention of remaining faithful to his wife.

    Common law marriage isn’t a good example of a natural marriage because a) in order to achieve a common law marriage one must 1) live with another and 2) hold themselves out as a married couple; 3) the state in which they live must recognize common law marriage.

    un-ionized, the Church believes that all marriages are valid, unless proven otherwise. Anyone divorced and wanting to become Catholic must first have annulled any prior marriages just as anyone divorced and wanting to marry a Catholic must first have annulled any prior marriage.

  50. Gerard Plourde says:

    Dear de-unionized,

    It is precisely on the grounds of defect of intention that Catholic marriages are commonly found to be invalid. If intent is not considered in determining the validity of Protestant marriages, then you are potentially claiming that Protestant marriages are more sacramentally binding than Catholic ones, despite the fact that most Protestant denominations deny the sacramental character and the indissolubility of a marriage..

  51. Nan says:

    Like any legal question, the answer hinges on the application of the law to the particular facts, therefore it is impossible to generalize about “all Protestant marriages” or any other grouping of marriages and whether the marital bond is present. The marital bond isn’t viewed in the abstract but rather within the circumstances of a marriage and a determination will be made after gathering and analyzing information about one marriage, not marriages in the aggregate.

    I’ve attended a few lectures on the topic and find it to be helpful to be out in the world with the information as I cross paths with people who don’t go to Church and am sometimes able to share information that’s helpful to lapsed Catholics.

  52. un-ionized says:

    Nan, you appear to be on quite a winning streak. I bet your catechism is dogeared! I bet you even got those plastic tabs for it too!

  53. Nan says:

    un-ionized, I’m a product of CCD through second grade, 2/3 of RCIA and the entirety of the Harry J Flynn catechetical institute.

    I’m a reader by nature and have twice read the catechism but don’t have tabs! I sometimes put post it tabs on a few pages, but never those sets that stick.

  54. un-ionized says:

    We gotta getcha some tabs! 8-). I, too, am a reader, I read all day at work and come home and read! My eyeballs are gonna fall out! I can duct tape them back in though I guess.

  55. Nan says:

    No tabs, thanks!

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