Eamonn Keane
Marriage: a language of love and life
By Eamonn Keane
January 26, 2016

(This is a slightly longer version of an article of the same title published in the December 2015 edition of Family Life Australia's magazine LifeLines)


In an address to 52,000 people at Rome's Olympic Stadium on June 1, 2014, Pope Francis stated that the Devil wants to destroy marriage and the family. He said:
    "Families are the domestic Church, where Jesus grows, he grows in the love of the spouses, he grows in the lives of children. This is why the enemy so often attacks the family. The devil does not want the family; he tries to destroy it, to make sure there is no love there...May the Lord bless families and strengthen them in this time of crisis when the devil is seeking to destroy them."
Questions about the nature of marriage and its relationship to family life are at the heart of pressing social, economic, political and cultural questions. Marriage, understood as an indissoluble union of love and life between one man and one woman, is of ultimate significance for human flourishing.

If esteem for monogamous and heterosexual marriage and the privileged position they hold in Western societies collapse, something essential to the maintenance of a humane and just society will have been lost. Attempts to radically change our understanding of marriage, by way of legal redefinition to make it mean anything we want it to mean, will have dire consequences for how we perceive of familial relationships and of ourselves as either male or female. Aptly did the Catholic Bishops of Australia title their Pastoral Letter on the same-sex marriage debate as Don't Mess With Marriage.

William Bennett, a former United States secretary of education and author of the influential work The Book of Virtues – which dealt with the virtues of self-discipline, compassion, responsibility, friendship, work, courage, perseverance, honesty, loyalty and faith – authored an 'Opinion' column in the New York Times on 24 April 2012 titled Stronger Families, Stronger Societies.' After stating that he himself was "the product of divorce and several stepfathers," Bennett added: "but I still believe in the importance of the traditional family." He said "the family is the nucleus of civilization and the basic social unit of society," and that research clearly shows that the institution of the family "is the first, best, and original Department of Health, Education and Welfare." "For a civilization to succeed," he concluded, "the family must succeed, and right now, it's not."

Natural Law and the Common Good

The truth about marriage has been widely undermined by moral relativism which posits that all beliefs and lifestyles are of equal value. It denies the existence of objective, immutable and universally binding moral norms against which the good or evil inherent in particular actions can be judged. It posits instead that the good or evil inherent in particular actions is dependent on their related circumstances and on the weighing of perceived costs and benefits resulting from them. Moral relativism engenders anarchy in society. Though generally espoused in the name of liberalism and freedom, it necessarily gives rise to creeping totalitarianism, whereby those wielding power and influence in society begin to act as though they are the final arbiters of the distinction between good and evil.

For peace and freedom to flourish in society, citizens must be governed by rules or laws that are in harmony with the tenets of natural justice which stem from human nature. These tenets of natural justice give rise to what is called the natural moral law. It affirms that there exist moral norms which reason can discern that are universally binding so as to transcend the customs and laws of any given community. In referring to this natural moral law, Aristotle, the great pagan Greek philosopher of the fourth century BC said: "There is in nature a common principle of the just and unjust that all people in some way divine, even if they have no association or commerce with each other." [1]

In his book The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis marshaled evidence from ancient Egyptian, Jewish, Babylonian, Hindu, Chinese, Greek, Roman and other sources which pointed to the existence of the natural moral law as the foundation of morality. He argued that the necessary consequence of the spread of moral relativism would be "the destruction of the society which accepts it." [2] Lewis pointed out that the Natural Law, which he termed Tao, and to which others have referred to as Practical Reason, is not simply "one among a series of possible systems of value," but rather "is the sole source of all value judgments." [3] He stated that an "open mind" on this question is "idiocy" and he insisted that "the human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in." [4]

No human institution, not even the state, is more deeply rooted in human nature than is the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Some sense of the significance of marriage and of its link to the development of family and community life exists in all cultures.

In speaking of marriage as a union of one man and one woman, Aristotle said: "Between man and wife friendship seems to exist by nature; for man is naturally inclined to form couples – even more than to form cities, inasmuch as the household is earlier and more necessary than the city, and reproduction is more common to man than with the animals." [5]

Aristotle arrived at his somewhat elevated understanding of marriage, albeit inadequate in some respects, by way of rational reflection on the order of things. He regarded monogamous marriage and strong families as essential to the right ordering of society and for the proper socialisation of children. He saw the friendship and unity between husband and wife, together with the biological bond and natural affection linking them to their children and their children to each other, as an important factor conducive to the cultivation of virtues necessary for the development of peaceful coexistence between members of society.

While homosexual practices were common and widely approved of in ancient Greece, the Greeks however never seriously considered equating same-sex relationships with heterosexual marriage. The same cannot be said of the ancient Romans.

Homosexual practices were widespread in ancient Rome, where even instances of same-sex marriage are recorded. Many Romans treated their slaves as objects of sexual gratification. Pederasty was common, i.e. use of 12-18 year old boys for sexual relations. But homosexual relations were common as well among adult Roman citizens.

The Roman historian Tacitus recorded that the Emperor Nero had a passion for "free-born boys" and that he married men. In these contrived 'marriages' to men, he would sometimes play the part of the woman, and sometimes the man. Describing Nero's behaviour, Tacitus said:
    "Nero was already corrupted by every lust, natural and unnatural. But he now refuted any surmises that no further degradation was possible for him. For...he went through a formal wedding ceremony with one of the perverted gang called Pythagoras. The emperor, in the presence of witnesses, put on the bridal veil. Dowry, marriage bed, wedding torches, all were there. Indeed everything was public which even in a natural union is veiled by night."
We also find references to 'homosexual' marriage in the writings of Suetonius, Juvenal and Martial. As time went by, the superiority of the Christian view on marriage and sexuality won out over the pagan one. The Christian faith appeared as a liberating reality holding up all that was noble and true in all areas of morality. The beauty of Christian marriage contrasted starkly with the dehumanising sexual practices of the pagans. In the fifth century, A.D. the Theodosian Code was drawn up by Christian emperors which prohibited same-sex marriage. In doing so they referred to previous prohibitions enacted against the practice in the fourth-century A.D. by Constantius II and Constans. [6]

Divine Revelation

What reason can teach us about the natural moral law is further illuminated by Divine Revelation. Part of this Revelation is the Ten Commandments (Decalogue), which are a summary of the natural law. Speaking of this, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) says:
    "The commandments of the Decalogue, although accessible to reason alone, have been revealed. To attain a complete and certain understanding of the requirements of the natural law, sinful humanity needed this revelation: A full explanation of the commandments of the Decalogue became necessary in the state of sin because the light of reason was obscured and the will had gone astray. We know God's commandments through the divine revelation proposed to us in the Church, and through the voice of moral conscience" (n. 2071).
The Ten Commandments teach us how to live as children of God. Referring to this, the CCC says: "[T]hey teach us the true humanity of man. They bring to light the essential duties, and therefore, indirectly, the fundamental rights inherent in the nature of the human person" (n.2070).

Situating the Ten Commandments in relation to the fundamental vocation of the human person – which is to "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbour as yourself"(Lk 10:27) – Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) said: "The Ten Commandments are a self-revelation of God; they help us to find the way to become like God. They are therefore the explication of what love is...From this it follows that whoever walks the way of the Commandments is on the way to God even if he has not recognised God." [7]

God is the Author of Marriage

Our ability to read God's plan for his creation has been obscured by sin. An account of the first sin committed in human history is recounted in the Bible in the Book of Genesis. The CCC teaches that in the wake of this sin (original sin), the world reaches a stage where it "is virtually inundated by sin." It adds that this reality of sin is not foreign to our own human experience, and that "when man looks into his own heart he finds that he is drawn towards what is wrong and sunk in many evils which cannot come from his good creator" (n. 401).

The Book of Genesis also tells us that a consequence of sin is the disruption of the natural harmony between man and woman that God intended to exist between them when he first created them. The sin of the first couple, had negative consequences not just by way of alienation and discord in their own relationship, but for their children as well. This state of alienation which wounds individuals and society is reflected in Cain's murder of his brother Abel.

In human history, sin does not have the last word however. The Book of Genesis reveals that after the fall of our first parents into sin through the misuse of their freedom, God simultaneously promises to send a Redeemer (cf. Gen 3:15). This promise is fulfilled through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The CCC teaches that "The victory that Christ won over sin has given us greater blessings than those which sin had taken from us: 'where sin increased, grace abounded all the more' (Rom 5:20)" (n.420). Elaborating on the working of this redeeming grace, the CCC says: "But to do its work grace must uncover sin so as to convert our hearts and bestow on us 'righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.' Like a physician who probes the wound before treating it, God, by his Word and by his Spirit, casts a living light on sin" (n. 1848).

Through his words and actions, Jesus Christ teaches us the truth about the dignity and vocation of the human person, which includes the truth about marriage. The Catholic Church's teaching on marriage is an expression of its understanding of this teaching.

In 1968, Pope Paul VI issued a famous encyclical titled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) which defended the truth and meaning of marriage. Initially it met with widespread rejection, both inside and outside the Catholic Church, primarily because it condemned contraceptive acts as intrinsically evil (cf. HV 14).

In 1975, Elisabeth Anscombe, Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University from 1970 to 1986, published an essay titled Contraception and Chastity in which she defended Pope Paul VI's teaching in Humanae Vitae regarding the intrinsically evil nature of contraceptive acts. She stated that once we accept such acts as morally licit, we must as a logical follow-on approve other moral errors as well, including the recognition of same-sex marriage. She said:
    "If you can turn intercourse into something other than the reproductive type of act (I don't mean of course that every act is reproductive any more than every acorn leads to an oak-tree but it's the reproductive type of act) then why, if you can change it, should it be restricted to the married? Restricted, that is, to partners bound in a formal, legal, union whose fundamental purpose is the bringing up of children? For if that is not its fundamental purpose there is no reason why for example 'marriage' should have to be between people of opposite sexes." [8]
Opponents of Humanae Vitae referred to it almost exclusively in terms of its condemnation of contraception, but it was much more than that. Rather, it was a positive expression of marital morality in light of the integral vocation of the human person in both his earthly and eternal dimensions.

Referring to the origin of marriage in God's creative Love, Pope Paul VI said: "Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, Who is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8)..." (HV 8). In light of this, he added: "Marriage is not, then, the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it is the wise institution of the Creator to realise in mankind His design of love..." (HV 8). Then, in reference to the integral nature of marriage, Pope Paul VI said:
    "This love [marital] is first of all fully human, that is to say, of the senses and of the spirit at the same time. It is not, then, merely a question of natural instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection" (HV 9)
Written into the Bodily Composition of Man as 'Male and Female'

The duality of the sexes was willed by God – "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27). In marriage, a man and a woman are called to give themselves as an irrevocable gift to each other: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife" (Gen 1:24). The union of man and woman in marriage is ordered towards the propagation of life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). God inscribed this capacity of husband and wife to cooperate with Him in bringing new human beings into existence in the act of marital sexual union itself.

In his monumental work, commonly referred to as Theology of the Body, St. John Paul II gave us a profound understanding of the human body and sexuality, marriage, celibacy and human relationships. He persuasively described how the human person is called to communion with God and how man and woman share the same humanity but do so differently and complimentarily.

Men have bodies that are inescapably male; women have bodies that are inescapably female. As such, the human body, as male or female, bears in itself a form of sign language pointing to the fact that God created man to be a gift to woman, and woman to be a gift to man. In their bodily existence, which gives expression to their personhood, a man and a woman are uniquely equipped to give themselves as a gift to each other in a unique and complementary way. This possibility for mutual self-giving, expressed through the intimate reality of the gift of the body, and its relationship to love and the propagation of life, calls for a particular context for its expression, which is marriage. Hence, the bond of marriage is brought about by the free consent of the husband and wife to give themselves as an irrevocable gift to each other in the full truth of the complementarity and creative potentiality of their masculinity and femininity.

St. John Paul II referred to the way in which a man and a woman are uniquely and complementarily constituted so as to be able give themselves as a gift to each other in the marital act as the "nuptial meaning" of the human body. At the same time, in creating man and woman in his own image and likeness, God rendered them capable of being – like him and with him – a source of life. To this end, he inscribed in the dynamism of their "one flesh" (Gen 2:24) sexual union the gift of their combined fertility. Hence, in God's plan for marital love, the marital act, which expresses the self-giving of the spouses one to the other, has inscribed within it by the Creator a "unitive and procreative" significance which, as Pope Paul VI taught, " man on his own initiative may not break" (Humanae Vitae 12).

These goods which God has inscribed in marriage – the faithful love and indissoluble communion of life rooted in the natural complementarity of man and a woman, exclusive and open to new life – are all an expression of the creative love and wisdom of God. Respect for these goods is central to a correct understanding of Jesus' definitive teaching on marriage which is: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:6).

The CCC says that "God's works reveal who he is in himself; the mystery of his inmost being enlightens our understanding of his works" (n.236). Referring to how marital love has a Trinitarian reference point for our understanding of it, St John Paul II said that the "the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning," is constituted as "an image of the inscrutable divine communion of persons." [9]

By analogy, God's Trinitarian life can help us gain some insight into the way in which the unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act coexist together. In the Holy Trinity union and generation coincide perfectly: "The Father generates the Son; the Son is generated by the Father; the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son." [10] The unitive and procreative meanings of the marital act do not coexist together as does the unity of two material things or processes which may be separated by way of a mechanical or chemical intervention. [11] Rather, they are inscribed in the being of the couple, i.e. in the dynamism of their sexual communion.

In the Catholic Church marriage is a sacrament. This means that the love between the husband and the wife is a sign of Christ's spousal love for his bridal Church. St. Paul expresses something of this profound nature of Christian marriage when he says: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ...'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church" (Eph 5:25-32).

The spousal and sacrificial love of Christ for his bridal Church is continuously renewed and made present in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Amongst other things, the Eucharist celebrates the spousal love of the New Adam for the New Eve. In this Eucharistic Sacrifice, Christ the Bridegroom continues to give himself to his Bridal Church. He does this through the gift of his Body. Christ's unity with his Church is self-sacrificing, indissoluble and life giving, so is marriage between one man and one woman intended to be.

The Abolition of Human Nature – Monosexism and Gender Ideology

Practices such as polygamy, divorce, contraceptive acts and IVF are all contrary to the meaning and dignity of marriage. Polygamy degrades the true meaning of marriage, it is a violation of human dignity, and it undermines the potential for peaceful coexistence between family members. Divorce negates the indissoluble nature of the marital bond by breaking the contract the spouses entered into to commit themselves irrevocably to each other until the death of one of them. Contraceptive acts negate the integral meaning of the marital act by separating its unitive meaning from its procreative meaning. IVF attacks the integral meaning of the marital act in that it separates its procreative meaning from its unitive meaning.

The complementarity of man and woman and its symbolic meaning is 'Real' in that it exists not as an abstract concept but as something embodied in human nature by every man and woman. It is 'symbolic' in that it points beyond itself to God's creative and redemptive plan for the human race. Sometimes referred to as "metaphysical symbolism," this symbolism cannot be tampered with without doing great damage to man's spiritual and moral well-being. C.S. Lewis displayed a keen awareness of this when he said: "We have no authority to take the living and sensitive figures that God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures." [12]

Increasingly Western society is embracing the atheistic position that maleness and femaleness are merely biological accidents unrelated to any plan of an all loving and wise Creator and Redeeming God. This monosexism, or gender ideology as it is sometimes referred to, is detrimental to attempts to construct a just and humane society. Related to this and in regard to current debates about the nature of marriage, it is noteworthy that at the time Aristotle was writing, homosexual practices were rampant in ancient Greece. Nevertheless, the possibility that homosexual relationships might be regarded as equivalent to or an alternative to monogamous heterosexual marriage was never seriously considered.

The confusion of personal identity and male/female roles attendant on attempts to redefine marriage as anything we want it to mean was evidenced in comments made by iconic liberation feminist and author, Germaine Greer, in an address she gave at the Hay Literary Festival in England on 24 May 2015. She criticised Elton John for listing his gay-marriage partner David Furnish as the 'mother' on the birth certificates of their two sons. The boys had been conceived and brought to birth by way of sperm donor, IVF and a surrogate mother. Seeing in this an attack on motherhood, Greer said: "Sir Elton John and his 'wife' David Furnish have entered on the birth certificate of their two sons that David Furnish is the mother. I'm sorry. That will give you an idea of how the concept of motherhood has emptied out. It's gone. It's been deconstructed."

In 1989, Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that the spread of monosexism is rooted in a faulty vision of man, something which is "closely associated with the inability to discern a spiritual message in the material world." [13] He added that men and women of today cannot understand that "their bodiliness reaches the metaphysical depths and is the basis of a symbolic metaphysics whose denial or neglect does not ennoble man but destroys him." [14] He said that those whose vision of man is based on such a faulty anthropology which fails to recognise in the "being" of the human person the handiwork of the Creator, there is "no difference whether the body be of the masculine or the feminine sex: the body no longer expresses being at all." [15] Consequently, added Cardinal Ratzinger, the difference "between homosexuality and heterosexuality as well as that between sexual relations within or outside marriage have become unimportant." [16] Likewise divested of "every metaphysical symbolism" he concluded, is the "distinction between man and woman" which is to be "regarded as the product of reinforced role expectations." [17]

In an address to Diplomatic Corps on 21 December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI again took up the question of monsexism and gender ideology. His comments are so perceptive that I will quote him at length. He said:
    "The Chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, has shown in a very detailed and profoundly moving study that the attack we are currently experiencing on the true structure of the family, made up of father, mother, and child, goes much deeper. While up to now we regarded a false understanding of the nature of human freedom as one cause of the crisis of the family, it is now becoming clear that the very notion of being – of what being human really means – is being called into question. He quotes the famous saying of Simone de Beauvoir: "one is not born a woman, one becomes so" (on ne naît pas femme, on le devient). These words lay the foundation for what is put forward today under the term "gender" as a new philosophy of sexuality.

    According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

    According to the biblical creation account, being created by God as male and female pertains to the essence of the human creature. This duality is an essential aspect of what being human is all about, as ordained by God. This very duality as something previously given is what is now disputed. The words of the creation account: "male and female he created them" (Gen 1:27) no longer apply. No, what applies now is this: it was not God who created them male and female – hitherto society did this, now we decide for ourselves.

    Man and woman as created realities, as the nature of the human being, no longer exist. Man calls his nature into question. From now on he is merely spirit and will. The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned. From now on there is only the abstract human being, who chooses for himself what his nature is to be. Man and woman in their created state as complementary versions of what it means to be human are disputed.

    But if there is no pre-ordained duality of man and woman in creation, then neither is the family any longer a reality established by creation. Likewise, the child has lost the place he had occupied hitherto and the dignity pertaining to him. Bernheim shows that now, perforce, from being a subject of rights, the child has become an object to which people have a right and which they have a right to obtain. When the freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God, as the image of God at the core of his being. The defence of the family is about man himself. And it becomes clear that when God is denied, human dignity also disappears. Whoever defends God is defending man."
From all of the foregoing, we can see that there is no conflict between Catholic faith and reason. The affirmations of both about the meaning and nature of marriage are coherent. Recourse to both are necessary for the defence of the integral dignity of the human person and for the defence of the integral meaning of marriage. This point was beautifully expressed by Pope Francis in his first encyclical Lumen Fidei (Light of Faith) when he said:
    "The first setting in which faith enlightens the human city is the family. I think first and foremost of the stable union of man and woman in marriage. This union is born of their love, as a sign and presence of God's own love, and of the acknowledgment and acceptance of the goodness of sexual differentiation, whereby spouses can become one flesh (cf. Gen2:24) and are enabled to give birth to a new life, a manifestation of the Creator's goodness, wisdom and loving plan. Grounded in this love, a man and a woman can promise each other mutual love in a gesture which engages their entire lives and mirrors many features of faith. Promising love for ever is possible when we perceive a plan bigger than our own ideas and undertakings, a plan which sustains us and enables us to surrender our future entirely to the one we love" (n. 52).
Be Merciful as Your Heavenly Father is Merciful

The Catholic Church's moral doctrine on the meaning of marriage and related questions is at times criticised as being harsh and judgemental. While in some cases this view might be explained because of an overly legalistic and depersonalised presentation of the doctrine by some of its defenders, it is wrong however to attribute such a short-coming to the doctrine itself. This doctrine is about the beauty of God's creation and the stupendous vocation and dignity of the human person made in His image and likeness. It is about love, life, truth, goodness and grace.

As Pope Francis tirelessly points out, in proclaiming the Gospel of Christ and the truth about marriage, the Catholic Church must do so by bringing out the unity that must exist between what can be called 'the Gospel of Mercy' and 'the Gospel of the Family.'

When we look deep into our own hearts and consciences, we should be able to recognise there that we are sinners. We need mercy, we need a redeemer, we need Jesus Christ. In revealing the mystery of the Father and his love, Jesus revealed to us "God, who is rich in mercy" (cf. Eph 2:4). This merciful love of the Father is revealed through the words and actions of Jesus: "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9).

Mercy was one of the principal themes of Jesus' preaching: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36), and "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" (Mt 5:7). Jesus gave us beautiful parables about mercy such as the Prodigal Son (cf. Lk 15: 11-32) and the Good Samaritan (cf. Lk 10:30-37), which he contrasted with the hardened heart of the person in the parable of the merciless servant (cf. Mt 18:23-35). The merciful heart of God comes to the fore in the parable of the Good Shepherd, who goes in search of the Lost Sheep (cf. Mt 18:12-14; Lk15:3-7). Most significantly, the Gospel of Luke has been titled "the Gospel of Mercy."

The greatest manifestation of the God's mercy towards us was in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. Here, the Eternal Son of the Father, became man to die for our sins and thereby reconcile us with God: "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5:8).

In reconciling us with God, Jesus did not negate any of the moral commandments, rather he affirmed them: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them...Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 5:17-19).

In his merciful love for sinners, Jesus did not trade off moral truth against mercy. We see this clearly in the story of The Adulterous Woman in St. John's Gospel (cf. Jn 8:1-11). The accusers of the woman, like all people sinners themselves, wanted to apply the penalty for such a sin which is that the woman should be stoned to death. Before they cast their stones at her, Jesus challenges them to examine themselves in order to see if they are personally without sin. They drop their stones and walk away, they are all sinners. When they are gone, Jesus turns to the woman and says to her: "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? She said, 'No one, Lord. And Jesus said, Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again" (Jn 8:11).

To follow Jesus is to enter with him on the way of mercy. In the practice of mercy, Jesus is our model. In his pastoral outreach to the adulterous woman cited above from the passage in St. John's Gospel, he teaches us that love, mercy and moral truth must not be set in opposition to each other.

In his address to the closing session of the Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family on 24 October 2015, Pope Francis said that one of the purposes of the Synod "was about making clear that the Church is a Church of the poor in spirit and of sinners seeking forgiveness, not simply of the righteous and the holy, but rather of those who are righteous and holy precisely when they feel themselves poor sinners."

Pope Francis added that "the Church's first duty is not to hand down condemnations or anathemas, but to proclaim God's mercy, to call to conversion, and to lead all men and women to salvation in the Lord (cf. Jn 12:44-50). Then he quoted Pope Benedict XVI as having said: "Mercy is indeed the central nucleus of the Gospel message; it is the very name of God... May all that the Church says and does manifest the mercy God feels for mankind. When the Church has to recall an unrecognized truth, or a betrayed good, she always does so impelled by merciful love, so that men may have life and have it abundantly (cf. Jn 10:10)."


[1]  Aristotle, On Rhetoric, Book 1, Chapter 13.

[2]  C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, Collins Fount Paperbacks. Glasgow 1990, p. 21

[3]  Ibid.

[4]  Ibid. pp. 30-31

[5]  Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics 8.1162a16-20.

[6]  For what I have recounted here about same-sex marriage in ancient Rome, I have drawn heavily on an article authored by Dr. Benjamin Wiker titled Gay Marriage – Nothing New Under The Sun, published in the May 22, 2012 edition of Catholic World Report.

[7]  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Commentary on Veritatis Splendor, L'Osservatore Romano, 6/3/93.

[8]  Elisabeth Anscombe, Contraception and Chastity, Catholic Truth Society, London, 1977, p.5).

[9]  Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 14, 1979; (cf. Theology of the Body, p. 46)

[10]  Compendium of Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 48

[11]  Cf. Bartholomew Kiely, S.J. in Science and Morality, L'Osservatore Romano, 13/4/87

[12]  C.S. Lewis, "Priestesses in the Church?", in Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics, London, 1971, p. 195, cited by Manfred Hauke in Women in the Priesthood, op. cit. p. 193.

[13]  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, L'Osservatore Romano, July 24, 1989.

[14]  Ibid.

[15]  Ibid.

[16]  Ibid

[17]  Ibid.

© Eamonn Keane


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
(See RenewAmerica's publishing standards.)

Click to enlarge

Eamonn Keane

Eamonn Keane is married with five children. He studied Commerce and Education at the National University of Ireland and Religious Education at the Catholic Teachers Training College in Sydney, Australia. He currently serves as Head of Social Science at Sydney's Redfield College... (more)


Receive future articles by Eamonn Keane: Click here

More by this author


Stephen Stone
HAPPY EASTER: A message to all who love our country and want to help save it

Stephen Stone
The most egregious lies Evan McMullin and the media have told about Sen. Mike Lee

Siena Hoefling
Protect the Children: Update with VIDEO

Stephen Stone
FLASHBACK to 2020: Dems' fake claim that Trump and Utah congressional hopeful Burgess Owens want 'renewed nuclear testing' blows up when examined

Cherie Zaslawsky
RFK Jr.: The silver-tongued spoiler

Randy Engel
A documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus – The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part VIII

Linda Goudsmit
CHAPTER 22: What Is Social Justice?

Stephen Stone
A Song for Independence Day: ‘Have You Been To My Hometown?’

Rev. Mark H. Creech
From ancient idols to modern misconceptions: The call to worship only God

Michael Bresciani
Pride Month – Are we proud of the decimation, disfigurement, and death of children?

Tom DeWeese
The second great Colorado land grab

Matt C. Abbott
Dealing with the Dobbs backlash

Ronald R. Cherry
Book Review: Left Imperialism – From Cardinal Richelieu to Klaus Schwab, by Gary Gindler

Cliff Kincaid
Trump’s life is in grave danger

Randy Engel
A documentary: Opus Dei and the Knights of Columbus – The anatomy of a takeover bid, Part VII

Jerry Newcombe
Why 'Bad Faith' is a bad movie
  More columns


Click for full cartoon
More cartoons


Matt C. Abbott
Chris Adamo
Russ J. Alan
Bonnie Alba
Chuck Baldwin
Kevin J. Banet
J. Matt Barber
Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
. . .
[See more]

Sister sites