The Catholic Church’s long, good fight for family and marriage
I recently heard from an evangelical pastor desperate for allies in a culture where modern citizens render unto themselves the right to redefine the laws of nature and nature’s God.
Like many faithful Christians, this pastor stands speechless at his fellow Americans’ willingness to fundamentally transform the multi-millennia standard of male-female marriage. Having just released a book on this subject, he wanted my advice. In an offer of Christian solidarity, I told him that evangelical churches could and should take example from the Roman Catholic Church on these questions. He was all ears as I shared the instructive Catholic example on marriage and family from the mid-1800s to the 21st century.
My new book, Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage, details a two-century-long attack on family and marriage by extremist forces ranging from socialist utopians to orthodox communists to “cultural Marxists” to the 1960s New Left to modern secular progressives — all culminating in the great takedown that is same-sex “marriage.” This completely new configuration of marriage succeeds in repudiating the natural, traditional, biblical, Judeo-Christian standard of male-female marriage. All along, the one organization that most consistently resisted these efforts was the Church of Rome.
Beginning in the 1800s, rabidly atheistic leftists — from socialist utopians like Robert Owen and Charles Fourier to communists like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels — sought to tear down religion and traditional family and marriage. Marx wrote to Engels: “Blessed is he who has no family.” In their Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels wrote openly of “the abolition of the family,” which, even then (in 1848), they could refer to as “an infamous proposal of the communists.”
It was infamous enough that in Rome two years earlier, Pope Pius IX began his long pontificate with the encyclical Qui pluribus (On Faith and Religion), released in 1846. The first of many Pius IX statements, it eviscerated “the unspeakable doctrine of communism, as it is called, a doctrine most opposed to the very natural law.” Pius IX predicted severe destruction, including moral damage, and specifically warned that communism would violate “the sanctity of marriage.”
Pius IX was succeeded by another long-serving pope, Leo XIII. Likewise, in the first year of his pontificate, this pope zeroed in on the secular left’s burgeoning moral wreckage. In 1878, he released Inscrutabili Dei Consilio (On the Evils of Society), followed by Quod Apostolici muneris (On Socialism). The first encyclical identified the evils being perpetrated by “socialists, communists, nihilists” and others who “strive to bring to a head what they have long been planning — the overthrow of all civil society.” He continued: “They debase the natural union of man and woman, which is held sacred even among barbarous peoples.”
After Leo XIII, a succession of popes echoed these warnings in major pronouncements in 1924, 1928, 1930, 1931, 1932, 1933, and with the harshest still yet to come: In 1937, in the encyclical Divini Redemptoris, Pius XI issued the Church’s most scathing attack on ascendant communist ideology, which it called a “satanic scourge.”
Pius XI instructed the flock that holy “matrimony” is of “divine origin” and was “fundamental” and “fixed” by the Creator. He decried the efforts to make “marriage and the family a purely artificial and civil institution.” Divini Redemptoris was focused here mainly on the forces of atheistic communism, but it also applies to family/marriage redefiners today.
This consistency in defending Christian marriage against its enemies continues in Rome today, without references to communism but instead to radical individualism, to what Popes Francis and Benedict XVI have both called the “dictatorship of relativism.” In January, Francis explicitly warned against “forms of ideological colonization which are out to destroy the family” and that seek to “redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism.” He has asserted that marriage must remain between one man and one woman, and that every child has a “right” to a mother and a father.
There is, in short, a lesson here not only for evangelicals, but for Christians of all stripes, including Catholic priests reticent about addressing such hot-button issues. Priests should not shrink from that obligation. After all, in the Roman Catholic Church, marriage is not a cultural issue, it’s a sacramental issue.
From Pope Francis today, way back to Pope Pius IX two centuries ago, there has been a striking moral and institutional consistency from Rome on marriage, with the only adaptation being not core teaching but a merciful tone that preaches and reaches. Will it work in repelling the gay “marriage” in modern Western culture? Either way, it has to be tried. This must be part of the New Evangelization not just for Christians, but for all the culture, country, and world.
DR. PAUL KENGOR is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is Takedown: From Communists to Progressives, How the Left Has Sabotaged Family and Marriage.