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Reflecting on the Nature of Marriage Series

Posted Aug. 31, 2020 by DOM No comments yet

Reflecting on the Nature of Marriage Series

We began the “Nature of Marriage” blog series by discussing the basic philosophical concept of nature: why? For the past year, we have discussed the Catholic Church’s teachings on marriage, sexuality, and the family — tackling some tricky ethical questions in the process. Just to name a few, we have discussed the ethics of contraception, divorce, chastity, and in vitro fertilization. It was the purpose of this blog to explain how a proper understanding of human nature is essential for answering such questions. As Catholics, we believe that human nature is the grounding for certain truths about the human person. For instance: that mankind was created male and female, that the human being is ordered toward procreation and family life, and that the human being is by nature a social creature. It is impossible to understand what is good for us, our families, and broader society without knowing who we are and who God designed us to be.

One idea stressed in this blog was that the human being holds a unique place in the whole of God’s creation. Today, it is common to appeal to “nature” without considering the uniqueness of human nature. That something occurs “in nature” does not necessarily mean that it is good for us. There are many activities that may be natural to, say, a beaver, bird, or fish that are not natural for human beings.

Our human nature is the standard against which we judge whether or not an activity is good. In fact, the ability to deliberate about activities is a defining trait of human nature. Human beings are not mere animals but rational animals. Natural reason means, among other things, that we have the ability to guide ourselves in our actions and lead a good life.

But, as Catholics, we believe that human nature is caught up in the divine. What does this mean? First, consider the fact that human beings are the creation of a wise and loving God. We are able to recognize that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God. From this, we know that each and every human person has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated as such. Second, we believe that all human beings naturally seek God Himself insofar as human beings naturally seek the truth, desire to understand their place in the world, and wonder about what they must do to be a good person. In the words of Pope Saint John Paul II, “No one can escape from the fundamental questions: What must I do? How do I distinguish good from evil? The answer is only possible thanks to the splendour of the truth which shines forth deep within the human spirit…”[1]

St. Thomas Aquinas, whose ideas we discussed in this blog series, also recognizes the certain divine quality of human reason. St. Thomas teaches that God designed human reason pre-programmed, so to speak, with the basic moral principle to do good and avoid evil. This is written into our human nature. The predisposition to seek goodness is a way in which we “participate in the wisdom and goodness of the Creator” (CCC 1978). Interestingly, then, the division between the natural and the divine is not so cut and dry. This blog has sought to explain that Catholic moral teaching on the issues of marriage and family life is founded upon the notion that mankind was created by God for a unique purpose and that God cares about who we are and what we do.

Of course, this blog didn’t and can’t cover every issue pertinent to Catholic moral teaching, and new challenges face us every day. But I hope that this blog laid a foundation for approaching a wide array of ethical questions that one may face as a Catholic person in the modern world. To reiterate the introduction to this blog series: it is more important than ever to understand and promote the true nature of the human person and the true nature of marriage. It is more important now than ever to remember that nothing in God’s creation is arbitrary, that (in the words of Aristotle) “nature does nothing in vain”—to remember that not only is marriage unique, it is unique for a reason.

[1] Pope John Paul II. Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 6 August 1993.

About the Author: Bridget Groff is an M.A./Ph.D. student in the School of Philosophy at the Catholic University of America. This blog post concludes her work as a part-time intern for the Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.