Do We Need To Set Aside The Word Marriage?

I believe that someone in the ‘sphere has linked to this before, but I don’t think I’ve feature it on my blog so its about time. Monseigneur Charles Pope from the Archdiocese of Washington asks if we should stop using the word “marriage” when referring to sacramental unions. A few snippets:

It is a simple fact that word “marriage” as we have traditionally known it is being redefined in our times. To many in the secular world the word no longer means what it once did and when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean.

So the bottom line is that what the secular world means by the word “marriage” is not even close to what the Church means. The secular world excluded every aspect of what the Church means by marriage. Is it time for us to accept this and start using a different word? Perhaps it is, and I would like to propose what I did back in March of 2010, that we return to an older term and hear what you think.

I propose that we should exclusively refer to marriage in the Church as “Holy Matrimony.”

According to this proposal the word marriage would be set aside and replaced by Holy Matrimony. It should be noticed that the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this Sacrament formally as “The Sacrament of Matrimony.”

You can read the rest here.

I think that there is some strong merit to his proposal. Distinguishing ourselves from the secular individuals around us is important right now. Restoring the full meaning of the Sacrament and what it encompasses should be a vital task of the Church at the moment.


Filed under Christianity, God, Marriage, The Church

19 responses to “Do We Need To Set Aside The Word Marriage?

  1. If the progtards are bent on committing legal and linguistic suicide by arbitrarily redefining the word “marriage,” then “Matrimony” sounds good to me.

  2. My juvenile sense of humor is amused by calling someone “Monseigneur Pope.” There’s a writer who’s a reverend, and his legal last name is Priest… “Reverend Priest.”

  3. Someone recently criticized this view, in a way with which I agree, but I can’t find it. In short, the problem is that the Church does teach authoritatively about natural, non‑sacramental marriage. As Pope Leo XIII wrote, the state has no authority to change the meaning of natural marriage by admitting divorces. It was set by God from the beginning. She cannot abandon this authoritative teaching for many reasons, one being that many Catholics are in non‑sacramental marriages. There’s really no way forward with Msgr. Pope’s proposal. The Church’s traditional terminology is perfectly appropriate.

  4. mdavid

    Pope, …when the Church uses the word marriage we clearly do not mean what the increasing number of states mean

    Snort. The Church has been doing her best to make the issue more confusing, not less, with the number of annulments being granted. This crisis squarely lands on the shoulders of bishops, and they think a “name change”, not their behavior, is the solution?

    Anytime Pope and his fellow bishops want to fix the problem and start teaching the flock and enforcing the rules, nothing is stopping them. Except their being pussies, of course. This is what happens when your seminaries exclude masculine men for a generation or more. You actually have people thinking that lack of balls can be overcome by “using the right language”.

  5. @ mdavid

    Monseigneur Pope is not the Ordinary. Since he isn’t a Bishop, he cannot really fix the problem.

  6. @ Nicholas

    My understanding of that piece was that matrimony was the traditional terminology, not marriage.

    I would like to see that critique, always good to get the other side of things.

    And did you mean the “the problem is that the Church doesn’t teach authoritatively…”?

  7. I am wondering, assuming the Lord tarries, if all of Western Christendom will have left the government to play in the mud and stopped bothering with state “marriage” entirely within the next decade?

    Will my children be signing a ketubah instead of a marriage license?

    Looking at today’s papers, I think it not unlikely.

  8. mdavid

    DG, Monseigneur Pope is not the Ordinary. Since he isn’t a Bishop, he cannot really fix the problem.

    He’s not bishop, true. But he’s a pastor. Were I to poll the members of his parish on marriage, what do you think I would find?

  9. Probably not anything great. But from what I recall, he is one of the good ones. There are many more articles by him at that link, check them out if you like. The ones on marriage are usually pretty good.

  10. mdavid

    …if all of Western Christendom

    Methinks Western Christendom, which implies unity, ceased to exist a long time ago. Today, the average Christian in the West is best defined as follower of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

  11. donalgraeme:
    As far as I know, “marriage” and “matrimony” emphasize different aspects, but mostly denote that same thing, which existed from the beginning, and was also elevated to a sacrament in the Church. Fr. Hardon defines matrimony so: “Marriage, but a more appropriate term for legal and religious use. It is the proper term for the sacrament of marriage, and refers more to the relationship between husband and wife than to the ceremony or the state of marriage.” My intended meaning was that the Church should not cease to tell the world that non‑sacramental marriage is truly of nature, and that what notorious men call “marriage” today is an abomination of nature, of real marriage.

    Yes, I wish I could find it. Even though Pope’s piece is over a year old, it was only a couple days ago I read the critique.

    No, I did mean “does”: i.e., that the problem for Pope’s suggestion is that it would make the Church have to fall silent about something that it has always taught.

  12. mdavid

    nightsky, If the progtards are bent on committing legal and linguistic suicide by arbitrarily redefining the word “marriage,”

    I’m not sure this is fair. Everyone today really does have a different definition of marriage. To a traditional Catholic, it means no divorce, ever, if the marriage was legitimate (both parties understanding this and also being open to life). Meanwhile, to an average American it merely means “going steady”. To a traditional Protestant, it usually means staying together until somebody cheats, goes on drugs, or gets abusive, and children are optional. So everyone is using the word differently.

    If we follow the definition of the law of the land, marriage merely means being together legally until one party gets bored. Since this is a new concept historically, people are confused and really do mean different things when they say they are “married”. Hence, the need for more precise language.

  13. mdavid:
    I disagree with your conclusion. You’re right that everyone has a different definition of marriage—the conclusion I take from that is that everyone is wrong. Except for those holding to the traditional Catholic definition. We do need more precise language: in other words, we need to stop people from calling things marriage when they’re not marriage. Bishops, above all.

  14. mdavid

    NE, …the conclusion I take from that is that everyone is wrong.

    What percent of the English-speaking world still holds the Catholic definition? 5%? I doubt it. Even Eastern Orthodox have redefined. So the Law, pagans, agnostics, atheists. all other Christians, and most “Catholics” hold a different view. So the word has changed, regardless if you like it. The time for defending that word was 50 years ago when it changed, and nothing is more silly than pretending otherwise.

  15. When we tell people today, like Christ did, “thou hast had five husbands: and he whom thou now hast, is not thy husband,” they don’t get confused, as they would if the word had really changed meaning. They know their use of the word is the novel one, they know what we mean, they know more‑or‑less the principles we have in mind. They would just prefer to forget.

  16. mdavid

    NE, They know their use of the word is the novel one, they know what we mean

    This is simply not true. The Catholic definition of marriage is the novel one. I’ve never heard of any prior culture to Catholics forbidding divorce always, not even the Jews. The Catholic approach was always a minority position worldwide, and remains so today.

    Interestingly, the only cultures to come close to the Catholic vision of marriage today (to my knowledge) are the Japanese and Amish-types, both with very low divorce rates and strong social punishment for divorce. Hell, even modern Catholics reject their own doctrine (and their leaders wink) except for the hard-core trads (say, 5% on a good day). So no, they really don’t know what we mean, and most literally laugh and don’t believe it when the doctrine is explained to them.

  17. John Nesteutes


    We “Amish types” do have a low divorce rate—although at a high cost; namely, sacrificing the concept of self-fulfilment as life’s highest and greatest moral good.

    I’m not sure why there is so little interest in understanding the low divorce rates of plain Anabaptists. It is universal amongst very theologically distinct groups and shows no signs of weakening in the future. The only real common element is no tolerance for remarriage under any circumstance and no tolerance for a believer filing divorce under any circumstance. The net result is a gain for both men and women.

  18. mdavid, if these were pagan lands you might have a case. But our culture, including sexual mores, descends by corruption from Christendom. It’s not “your obscure cult sometimes does it this way,” it’s “we all used to do it this way.”
    Subjectivism has sown so much confusion on so many issues. Should we also abandon words like “sin,” “evil,” “charity,” “justice,” or “God” because of the similar situation with them today? What words would be use instead?

  19. mdavid


    These ARE pagan lands. We are now 500 years removed from the Reformation, which had the first split upon the right to divorce. Remember, marriage involves the whole community, so it doesn’t work to say, “Well, I believe X or Y” when everyone else (e.g., wife, husband, extended family) does not. This is why only isolated and interbreeding groups can maintain Catholic-style marriage. The rest will slowly embrace the broader culture until they marry and live within an isolated group and their bishops lead as such.

    What makes the Anabaptists so different today is their rejection of modernity, their isolation, and their strong obedience to their bishops. Otherwise, nothing new there.

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