The Irony of Feminism and the Reasonableness of Marriage

By Peter A. Kwasniewski
The sharpest irony of the everyday feminism that has trickled down to all levels of society is simply that men—and certainly not the best men—stand to profit most from the so-called liberation of women. Indeed, as a moment’s reflection can show, it is no exaggeration to say that the movement from the very start has played into the manipulative hands of pleasure-hungry males. To see why this is so, we need merely consider what things used to be like before the heralds of “equal rights” and “sexual liberation” came on the scene announcing a new code of behavior. In the past, when a woman’s “honesty” or “virtue” (as the state of premarital and marital chastity came to be called) was guarded by social convention, firm moral codes, parental supervision, religious belief, and a deeply-rooted sense that love quite naturally leads to marriage and children, the man (always in the position of suitor, one who must suit himself to the woman he wishes to woo) was expected, and usually obliged, to honor his would-be bride, promising her the fidelity of his body and the integrity of his intentions.
Now, however, nearly any man can arrange to keep a woman (whom a more forthright age would have called a mistress) for his entertainment at a minimal cost to himself, with little need for vows, forethought, or responsibility. Since women are offended by the idea of dependency, they will bring in extra money; since they are equally horrified at the prospect of offspring (who might curtail their “liberated” desires), a man need not worry himself about the natural result of coition, and is therefore free to indulge his own bodily wants with relative impunity. If a man gets what his body wants without any effort or sacrifice, chances are he will never stop to ask what his soul needs—or for that matter, what his mistress’s soul needs.
In Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II wrote:

I think that a certain contemporary feminism finds its roots in the absence of true respect for woman. Revealed truth teaches us something different. Respect for woman, amazement at the mystery of womanhood, and finally the nuptial love of God Himself and of Christ, as expressed in the Redemption, are all elements that have never been completely absent in the faith and life of the Church. This can be seen in a rich tradition of customs and practices that, regrettably, is nowadays being eroded. In our civilization woman has become, before all else, an object of pleasure. (p. 217)

Traditions of courtship and engagement have precisely this deeper purpose: to lay the foundations for a lasting friendship and affection rooted in the common good of man and woman together, teaching them to rise above the limitations of their private goods. That is why continence is required throughout the years prior to consummating the marriage vows. The consummation is meant to be the sacred seal on a pledge already inscribed in the hearts of bride and bridegroom. When they have made their solemn vows to each other, the marriage of wills has already taken place because of their prior devotion and sacrifices. Seen in this light, the privileges of marriage are always secondary to the demands of committed love, although nuptial love receives its most intense and fitting expression through those privileges.
In other words, as Augustine implies, the virtuous man is he who can transform the water of earthly pleasure into the wine of heavenly joy, without scorning the genuine goods of this world. Christ does not say to the steward, “Get rid of that ordinary water and bring something better.” He says, “Fill your jars with water and bring them to me,” whereupon he miraculously transmutes one substance into another, like an alchemist transmuting lead into gold. So too, God calls upon the husband and wife to elevate and purify their fleshly union, not so that it may cease to be fleshly, but rather, that its very fleshliness may become holy and beautiful—a constant renewal of the nuptial promises, a song of praise to the Creator, a worthy symbol of the union of Christ and His Church. The union of husband and wife on all its levels—physical, psychological, spiritual—should be a sacrament of presence, a redemption from selfishness, a banquet where each is offered to and for the other, a celebration of the solemn vows spoken months, years, decades before. And, it seems almost superfluous to add, if such a love is truly present and active in the lives of the spouses it will bear fruit in children whose advent is eagerly sought and generously welcomed. As the Book of Tobias expresses it: “Then Tobias exhorted the virgin, and said to her: Sara, arise, and let us pray to God today and tomorrow, and the next day. . .For we are the children of saints, and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God” (8:4, 5); “And now, Lord, thou knowest that not for fleshly lust do I take my sister to wife, but only for the love of posterity, in which Thy name may be blessed for ever and ever” (8:9).
The wisdom of this approach becomes evident when we consider for a moment one of the basic reasons why the Church, listening to the voice of nature, must forbid contraception. It is wrong for couples to indulge their sensual appetites whenever they please for the simple reason that each appetite of the human being needs to be kept in due proportion or balance with the other activities of a fully human life. When all aspects of a man’s or a woman’s life are properly measured, nothing too prominent or submerged, we then speak of a person of integrity, someone who “has it all together.” For as Democritus says, “If you exceed the measure, what is most enjoyable becomes least enjoyable.” Food is naturally good, eating is an operation according to a natural inclination for sustenance; but one can eat to excess, thereby perverting the goodness of the act. By so exceeding the mark, one brings upon oneself numerous other defects of body and soul. Gluttony is thus an instance of the kind of indulgence which is capable of upsetting a person’s inner peace and outward behavior; it is impossible to cultivate the presence of Christ if the parts of the soul are out of order and cannot harmonize with one another. Likewise with the act of marriage: allowing free indulgence out of a mistaken “realism” is nothing other than approving the malformation of character and the disordering of wills, which is altogether contrary to human dignity and fulfillment. Such a lax and permissive attitude, in fact, leads to the carnalization or cheapening of authentic love, which of its proper essence is a spiritual good having union with God as its final goal. Put otherwise, the Church forbids sensual vice not because she has a problem with pleasure, but because too much pleasure causes problems. It is the nature of man as created by God that lays down the laws by which ordinary conduct is to be governed. An ethical code or a magisterial pronouncement is only meant to help us find the right measure, without having to ruin ourselves by the regrettable mishaps of ill-advised experimentation.
We digress from our initial theme. The most poignant irony of our times is that “modern” women have all but invited men—already inclined by fallen nature to promiscuity and, as a result, in great need of a woman’s good example and discipline—to persevere stubbornly in their own worst vices: arbitrariness of physical passion and the constant temptation to run after the next beautiful girl. The very behavior (not to mention dress) of many contemporary women has the result of frankly encouraging men to satisfy their desires in a bestial way, destroying at its roots the foundation for constancy and fidelity in marriage. On the assumption that such women actually want their husbands to remain faithful to them, one cannot help but marvel at their nearsightedness. According to current standards of “dating” and “engagement,” a man and a woman are free to parade their concupiscence and feed it wantonly. In modern times, there is nothing holy or dignified about the way people approach the real union of lover and beloved, an act ennobled in healthier ages by the sacrament (“sacred pledge”) of matrimony. Is it any surprise that a vast number of marriages end in divorce, when a vast number of relationships begin in lust? Now as before, there is but one way to conquer the blindness of the world and the folly of man: living out the Christian ideal of marriage. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit,” writes St. Paul; again, “Let marriage be honorable in all things.” The Apostle only echoes his Master, who teaches us that God is the source and end of marriage, the one who effects the bond and perfects its blessings: “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Love that is rooted in God, a union nourished by faith and purified through suffering—this love alone will prosper and bear fruit “thirtyfold, sixtyfold, a hundredfold, in time and in eternity.”

The Popes and Education in the 20th Century

Peter A. Kwasniewski

During her 2,000 years of history, the Catholic Church has been intimately involved in every type of educational endeavor known to Western man, from the ancient schools of rhetoric to the great universities of the High Middle Ages, from humble rudiments taught at grammar schools to lofty flights of reason and imagination in the arts and sciences. The Successor of St. Peter has a special reason to be attentive to the state of education in the flock he shepherds and to guide and encourage it in every way possible. In fact, we find among the popes, particularly those of the last millennium, an impressive connection with schools at various levels—naturally, first and foremost, schools of formation for the clergy, but also, as time goes on, schools for religious and for the laity. Pope John Paul II fittingly reminded the world in Ex Corde Ecclesiae (1990) that the university was born from the heart of the Church and that the Church is still her best ally in the delicate, decisive, and inescapable work of educating the whole person, above all with respect to man’s capacity to know and love God, on which his very dignity is based.
If we consider the popes of our own time, from Leo XIII (1878–1903) onwards, we see several major themes consistently present in their speeches and writings. First and foremost, the Church belongs in higher education. As Leo XIII wrote to the Archbishop of Baltimore in 1887: “It has always been the glory of the Pastors of the Church, but above all, of the Supreme Pontiffs, constantly to promote the acquisition of a knowledge worthy of its name, and carefully to watch over the teaching—especially theological and philosophical—imparted, so that it may be in keeping with the principles of faith. This union between the teaching of revelation and that of reason constitutes an indestructible bulwark of the faith.” The Church has always inspired the best kind of education, the most well-rounded and the most profoundly searching, because, as the same Pope observed in 1897, “divine faith is not only in no way hostile to culture, but rather is the crown and climax of culture.” Indeed, a defining characteristic of Catholic education is its drive toward synthesis, a unified vision of God and the world, with the drama of redemption at its center. “Directly or indirectly, all studies have some connection with religion,” wrote Venerable Pius XII (1939–1958) in 1950. “University does not mean simply an overlaying of curricula which are extraneous to one another, but indicates rather a synthesis of all the subjects of learning. … To actuate this synthesis from its center up to the main key that unlocks the whole edifice is the task of a Catholic university.” Accordingly, the curriculum of a genuinely Catholic institution “assign[s] in its zeal for truth the correct place in its programs to natural sciences and metaphysics, to mind and heart, to past and present, to reason and revelation,” as the same pontiff explained in 1939. On the negative side, as this Pope observed in 1952, “the university would fulfill its mission badly were it to abandon itself to pluralism or to a superficial eclecticism.”
Another important papal theme is service of the common good. Education, at its best, forms Catholics who love the common good of their nation and their Church, are equipped with the knowledge and zeal to work towards that goal, and are willing to make sacrifices for it. Of course, Catholic education cannot form such “apostles” unless it remains abidingly true to itself and to its own identity. As Pope Pius XII declared in 1949: “In accordance with absolute fidelity to Christian principles, which are the whole reason for existence of the Catholic University, it must, today more than ever, watch the aims for which it arose, and with persistent purpose of mind keep faith with the engagement solemnly undertaken to provide the nation’s social body with leaders and lovers of science and learning who will honor the faith and the Church.” Almost fifty years ago, in September 1958, the same pontiff observed: “The Christian school will justify its existence in so far as its teachers—clerics or laymen, religious or secular—succeed in forming staunch Christians”—words that give rise to sober reflection in view of the number of historically Catholic institutions that now justify their existence for reasons extrinsic or even contrary to the apostolic intentions of their founders and benefactors, whose great longing was that minds be illuminated with the light of Christ, souls nourished with the Bread of Life, hearts inflamed with the fire of God’s love.
To all the popes of modern times, therefore, the rapid secularization of schools at all levels, whether by government coercion or by traitorous choice, has been a cause of immense sorrow and a target of their impassioned protests. The popes, especially Pius XI (1922–1939) in his masterful encyclical Divini Illius Magistri (1929), repeatedly and effectively refute the unnatural claims of “naturalism”—the view, now universally accepted in spite of its deplorable record of real-life failure, that children and young adults should be educated without any reference to God, their immortal souls, and the virtues necessary for salvation, and without the aid of the Church’s ministry. Consider these forceful words of Pius XII from 1951: “Education which does not bother about being moral and religious fails in its greatest and better part, in that it neglects the noblest faculties of man, deprives itself of the most efficacious and vital energies, and ends up by ‘diseducating,’ mixing up uncertainties and errors with truth, vice with virtue, and evil with good.” The threat of secularism is a threat not only to the Church’s own institutions of learning but also to the common good of modern nations as they slide more and more rapidly into the moral chaos of techno-barbarism.
In his well-known Apostolic Constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae, John Paul II, a university professor in his younger days, drew extensively upon an ancient and living tradition to offer the Church a compelling vision of what Catholic higher education must be in our times as well as a body of directives and provisions to which institutions must be held accountable to guarantee their fidelity. It seems, then, beautifully providential that at the start of this new millennium the Lord has given His Church another “pope of education” in the person of Joseph Ratzinger, a scholar, theologian, and author of enormous stature. There is seldom an audience, address, or letter in which the Pope does not mention or discuss the subject of education. The famous Regensburg lecture, the speeches given at the Lateran and Gregorian Universities, and the address intended for La Sapienza in Rome are all exemplary of Pope Benedict XVI’s intellectual penetration into the relationship of faith and reason, his sound judgment regarding the modern situation, his deep academic learning made humble by the love of God, and, in a period of doubt and confusion, the strong and steady leadership he exercises for the benefit of the People of God. Let us hope and pray that his example and teaching—a powerful summons to sanity and sanctity—will be heard and heeded by our universities and other institutes of learning.

Catholic Social Teaching at the Catholic University

Peter A. Kwasniewski

An insistence on spreading the Church’s social doctrine among all Catholics, especially by educational programs for the laity, runs throughout the modern papal Magisterium, beginning with Leo XIII’s exhortations to the laity of the late 19th century. At that time, it was indeed somewhat unusual for a pope to appeal directly to the people and to ask them to acquire the intellectual and moral training required to confront successfully the ever-growing challenges of the modern world. Yet by the time we reach Pius XI and Pius XII, it is taken for granted that the main audience for papal teachings on economics and politics must be Christ’s lay faithful, who are striving to impress the divine law upon, and apply the natural law to, the changing situations of their temporal life. Thus, while even the forward-looking Leo XIII addressed his celebrated 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum on labor and capital (or the rights and duties of workers and employers) to the bishops of the world, Pius XI, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the same with his 1931 encyclical Quadragesimo Anno on the reconstruction of the social order, added to his addressees “likewise all the faithful of the Catholic world.” This is only to be expected, for while the clergy have as their primary task the internal governance and upbuilding of the Church, believers living in the world have the corresponding task of purifying and sanctifying secular realities with a view to leading souls to salvation in Christ. Thus, if there is a definite Catholic doctrine on social, political, and economic life—and, of course, there is just such a thing: a rich and detailed corpus of teaching rooted in Scripture and Tradition, refined by centuries of experience—then it only stands to reason that educating the Catholic faithful in this body of doctrine is of paramount importance, a basic and necessary component of their ongoing catechetical and theological training.
Along these lines, St. John XXIII’s great encyclical Pacem in Terris of 1961 stated (and these words are representative of many other papal documents that might be cited): “We must reaffirm most strongly that this Catholic social doctrine is an integral part of the Christian conception of life. It is therefore Our urgent desire that this doctrine be studied more and more. First of all it should be taught as part of the daily curriculum in Catholic schools of every kind … Our beloved sons, the laity, can do much to help this diffusion of Catholic social doctrine by studying it themselves and putting it into practice, and by zealously striving to make others understand it. … It is vitally important, therefore, that Our sons learn to understand this doctrine. They must be educated to it.” The natural conclusion is that Catholic colleges and universities (or chaplaincies connected with non-Catholic ones) must make room in their curricula for mandatory instruction and optional specialized work in this crucial area of the Magisterium.
Those who know about the state of affairs in modern Catholic higher education will not be surprised to hear that unfortunately this obvious conclusion has yet to penetrate the consciousness of school authorities. Or more accurately, many schools that once upon a time offered sound instruction in the area of social ethics abandoned it together with much else that was jettisoned in the wake of the Second Vatican Council—ironically, in view of a Council that contained the strongest endorsement to date of the apostolate of the laity and emphasized the pervasive role Catholic social teaching must play in the modern world, if our world is to be saved from ever-growing futility and violence. Worse still, many of today’s colleges and universities that once gloried in the name Catholic actively subvert the Church’s social teaching by fostering an academic milieu and a campus lifestyle that contradict it on nearly every head, even at times by offering courses in social ethics that inculcate distorted and refuted models such as Marxist-liberation theology or feminist theology. Students enrolled in such institutions are likely to end up worse off than they began, like the clean-swept room into which seven demons settle down (cf. Lk. 11:24-26).
We are living in times when the tide is beginning, ever so slightly, to change. A newly ignited commitment to their faith on the part of a significant minority of Catholic students around the country is bringing slow change and real alternatives to campuses otherwise awash in the relativism and hedonism of modern academia. We can see a similar phenomenon with the sacred liturgy: campuses that were once desolate wastes of postconciliar faddism are now enjoying a veritable renaissance of such once-forbidden treasures as Gregorian chant and even the traditional Latin Mass. Young people in the same contexts are likewise encountering elements of Catholic social teaching, albeit often by chance and in an over-simplified form, and they find it exciting because it offers a genuine alternative to the stale, predictable “solutions” of analysts and politicians. This small but robust vanguard of what we will soon be calling the “Benedict XVI generation” surely affords educators a providential opportunity to follow up with programs offering solid, orthodox instruction and campus support systems for those who are called to dedicate themselves to applying the Church’s social doctrine to the enormous problems facing us in the Church, in the nation, and in the world.
In addition, we must not forget the handful of staunchly Catholic institutions of higher education, where the disheartening spectacle of doctrinal and moral amnesia was either never experienced or has been successfully driven back. Although on a worldly scale of values their influence would seem a whisper behind the roar of contradiction, graduates of the twenty-one Newman Guide colleges will to one degree or another have engaged authentic Catholic social teaching, at very least by gaining an acquaintance with some of its major sources and themes. Their minds will have been opened to the massive political and economic problems of modernity, problems to which the Catholic Church alone, in her divinely-guided wisdom, offers sane, reasonable answers that comport with human dignity and man’s ultimate end. Students who attend a more traditional Catholic liberal arts college will learn firsthand, usually by discussing influential Great Books, the rotten roots and fatal consequences of self-destructive ideologies; if the program is well designed, it will not fail to include something of the Church’s own Magisterium, whether it be a selection of social encyclicals of the modern popes from Leo XIII down to John Paul II (soon to be joined by Benedict XVI in his forthcoming third encyclical), the excellent summary offered in the relevant portions of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 1691–2557), or the synthesis given in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
In saying this and reflecting on the lamentable fact that the vast majority of Catholic students in our country, through no fault of their own, have no faithfully Catholic curriculum to benefit from, I am reminded of Fr. James Schall’s wonderful book from twenty years ago: Another Sort of Learning, the subtitle of which begins with this phrase: “How finally to acquire an education while still in college or anywhere else.” It is possible, even if not ideal, to educate oneself in Catholic social doctrine; one can find good resources on the internet, sometimes one can find a decent discussion group in one’s area; best of all, one might reach out to like-minded Catholics and start such a group. The reading list is obvious: the aforementioned documents of the Magisterium, above all the papal encyclicals. To commit some free time to working through this material is far better than remaining in the dark. We may hope for the day when Catholic schools will rediscover their birthright and offer it generously to their students. Meanwhile, there is much work to do. As Nehemiah nobly said to the disheartened Israelite exiles who had returned to the land of Canaan: “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer disgrace … The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build” (Neh. 2:17, 20).


Further reading
I published an article called “A Brief Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching,” with a bibliography of recommended papal documents, in the Summer 2008 issue of Catholic Men’s Quarterly. The article has been made available at the following URL:
Rodger Charles, An Introduction to Catholic Social Teaching. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000.
For reference: Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy, 2 vols. Ed. Michael L. Coulter, Stephen M. Krason, Richard S. Myers, and Joseph A. Varacalli. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2007.