COC #66: A Foundational Protestant Assumption in Regards to Marriage

Many Fundamentalists enjoy two of Christianity’s seven sacraments of grace: Baptism and Matrimony. Those who are baptized are part of the Christian Church, though not in full communion with her; and Catholicism affectionately recognizes their status as brothers and sisters in Christ. Their Marriages are real, too; legitimate priests are not needed to officiate their unions because it is the groom and bride who officiate the Sacrament, but a valid Marriage is performed before a minister. 

This chapter, though, is not intended to work as a celebration for the many wonderful commonalities between Catholicism and Fundamentalism; it has been a response to indicative Fundamentalist attacks on Catholic Marriage, and it is intended to provide both Catholics and Protestants a better understanding of the Catholic Church’s biblical understanding of Marriage and sex. But to better understand Fundamentalism’s approach to the subject, I believe a final note about an undergirding Protestant assumption helps establish where Fundamentalism is, so to speak, coming from.

Martin Luther was a founder of Protestantism, and his belief of “utter depravity” has influenced all of Protestantism—including the Protestant Church of Christ. His writings are filled with some of the most vulgar language and imagery Protestantism offers; his language is nearly legendary within the Comparative Religion and Apologetics realm. Many Protestants today have an affinity for Luther not because they have read or understand a single word of his, but because he protested the Catholic Church, and for that reason only, they often portray him as a well-intended Christian. He was, however, true to his beliefs. He believed he was utterly depraved, that his nature was filth, that he could never be anything other than filth. He believed that, upon justification and thereafter, he was only a “snow-covered dung heap”.

History—including most of Protestant-written history—has attributed to Luther the phrase “snow-covered dung heap”, but it is unclear if those precise words were his. It is easy to attribute them to him, though, because the phrase represents his theology, he used similar language throughout his known writings, and his followers attributed the phrase to him. If Luther’s imagery is new to you, visualize a dung heap covered by snow. Inside is a filthy mess, and it only appears white and pure on the outside. In other words, in Protestant theology, a man’s true nature is only covered, not transformed into a holy, new creation. In Protestant theology, only the “elect” are saved. Nobody knows who the “elect” are, and no amount of “good work” can save a person who is not part of the “elect”. In short, all is futile. Holy living is futile.

Yes, the Bible describes mankind’s righteousness as filthy rags (cf. Isaiah 64:6 New International Version); Scripture is filled with hyperbole to represent the gap between man and God. Man, however, was created very good (Genesis 1:31). As Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “[the human heart] is deeper than the sinfulness inherited.”9 Christ reactivates our true heritage, and sanctification—the process of becoming holy through the power of the Holy Spirit—means we undergo continuous conversion; the dung heap does not remain a dung heap, the dung itself becomes whiter than snow (Psalm 51:7).

As a sacrament, Marriage is grace—is participation in our ongoing conversion, of sanctification. Marriage reorders mankind’s brokenness caused by sin. The Catholic Christian understanding of Marriage is that husband and wife help each other become more holy. Man and woman ideally do not enter into Matrimony believing that all is futile—that all of mankind is utterly depraved. 

Luther’s anguish saturates his writings. He was tormented because he was convinced he could never be holy, and his anguish and torment masquerade today even within the Protestant Church of Christ’s understanding of Marriage. The Protestant Church of Christ cannot understand Catholic Marriage because it, at its root, has adopted Luther’s belief of utter depravity, that man’s righteousness is a snow-covered dung heap. Fundamentalist Marriage can never be (within its own construct) truly holy, so it acquiesces to a disordered, selfish, paradigm that presents lust as love.

Consider Rudd’s indicative argument for “sex on demand” one more time. He posited that lust is alleviated within Marriage if both parties tolerate “sex on demand”, even though his (and Fundamentalism’s) pursuit of “sexual satisfaction independent of the desire for children” is the definition of lust! Rudd quoted St. Paul’s instructions to married people when he taught that spouses should not deny the other person, which, of course, Catholicism supports. St. Paul was describing a Christian context—an ideal Christian context where sex is not withheld, yet not forced, either. Remember, Rudd (and Fundamentalism) presents St. Paul’s instructions to unmarried people and projects those instructions onto married people, forcing a hybrid (Protestant) invention into the Marriage construct: a new context where lust is managed, where lust is covered by snow, where lust is somehow Christianized.

Like Luther, who journeyed through life unable to understand that sanctification—that living and becoming holy—is possible, Fundamentalism has grafted disordered sexual practices into its Marriages. In other words, Fundamentalist Marriage is a sort of “if you can’t beat it, join it” mentality; since the dung heap of lust can only be covered by snow, Fundamentalism brings lust into its Marriages and calls it what Fundamentalists want it to be called: love. But unlike Luther, Fundamentalism does not admit its efforts might be depraved; its Marriages quietly tolerate depravity and treat it as Christian because it knows no other option. Luther gave up trying and became miserable; Fundamentalism’s Marriages, instead of striving for their perceived taunting and impossible goal of holiness, accept a model that incorporates what is good about Marriage and tempers their defeatism with unnatural, illicit sexual behavior.

Comparatively, Catholicism believes that with the Holy Spirit’s help, people can actually achieve holiness. Marriage does not create for itself a scenario that must incorporate defeatism into its model. Holiness is possible. Where Protestantism believes holiness is a taunting and impossible goal, Catholicism believes God who says, Be holy, because I am holy (1 Peter 1:16 referring to Leviticus 20:26 NIV). If holiness were not possible, St. Peter, within his same Letter, would not have referred to the Church as a holy priesthood (2:5), or to the holy women who hoped in God (3:5), or refer to the holy prophets in his Second Letter (2 Peter 3:2). Marriage is an encounter with grace. It is not a Christianized toleration of acts that run counter to God’s word and natural law. The pursuit of sexual satisfaction, outside of Marriage or within, “is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes” (CCC #2351, emphasis added).   

Catholic Men who love their wives and Catholic women who love their husbands do not enter into Marriage with an expectation for “sex on demand”—for “sexual satisfaction independent of the desire for children” (Rudd’s words and Fundamentalism’s position). Spouses do not “demand” sex whenever they want sex, nor do they expect their spouse to sin by utilizing birth control to thwart God’s design. They love their spouses, they demand nothing from their spouses, and they help their spouses see heaven. 

Practicing Catholic men and women enter into Marriage not with a plan to wed recreation with love, but with an understanding that sex is both procreative and unitive; and sexual satisfaction is a result—not a purpose—of participating in sex the right way: the Christian way. Fundamentalists, however, enter into Marriage not for its intended purposes, but for an additional carnal sexual satisfaction disjoined from what provides authentic satisfaction: an understanding that husbands love their wives as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). 

         9 As quoted in: Christopher West, Theology of the Body Explained (Wiltshire: Anthony Rowe Ltd, 2003), 158.