We have the dubious privilege of living in the first human society in history to have no idea of what sex is all about. Other societies have had mistaken or incomplete ideas about sex, but ours is the first to fail to understand that it has something to do with the relationship between a man and a woman. The reasons for our confusion on this point are several, but one is a misplaced compassion that deters us from speaking the truth about sex and marriage simply and directly.
Cardinal Medina Estevez of Chile, labors under no such misconceptions. Formerly the Prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, he wrote the first version of “Male and Female He Created Them” in 1981, as a homage to the fiftieth anniversary of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Casti Connubii. His aim was, in his own words, “to set forth Catholic doctrine [on marriage] with fidelity and precision ….” Its text revised and expanded up until its Spanish publication in 1997, his work succeeds in presenting a clear and simple explanation of Christian marriage.
The Cardinal begins by acknowledging that “[n]o human institution is so deeply rooted in the heart of man and of woman as marriage and the family,” but that, despite the high regard for marriage throughout human history, “[t]his most noble institution, … like all of human existence, bears the disruptive and debasing marks of sin.” He continues:
The disordered sexual appetite has distorted the relationship of love between man and woman, to the point where the word “love” is used nowadays to describe situations that have little or nothing to do with the profound experience that the term implies. The word “love” is sometimes used in ways that are truly a sacrilege or at least a deformed and grotesque caricature. [emphasis in original; compare the discussion of “love” in Pope Benedict XVI’s recently-issued first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, nos. 2-5.]
The Cardinal then sets forth an “inventory of the degradation of love,” including polygamy, polyandry, divorce, adultery, prostitution, free love, premarital relations, incest, sexual abuse of minors, and homosexual activity, all to remind us that “the eminent dignity of love and marriage is as beautiful as it is fragile,” and “to emphasize more clearly the radiance and beauty of the Christian and Catholic message concerning love, marriage and the family.”
What is that message? In the ensuing pages, the Cardinal presents the most complete review of the Biblical foundations of the Catholic teaching on marriage which I have ever seen in a work so accessible to the general reader. From the Old Testament, he ranges from Genesis’ description of the creation and fall of Man and the history of the patriarchs, to the “lyrical poetry” of the Song of Songs, to the many references to “woman, marriage, purity, fidelity, and the education of children” in the Wisdom books, to the Book of Tobit’s exposition of the “spiritual significance” of marriage, until he finally culminates his review in a discussion of the link made by the prophets Ezekiel and Hosea between the conjugal love of spouses and God’s steadfast love for his people, Israel. These prophets emphasize the seriousness of Israel’s sin of religious unfaithfulness by presenting it “under the form of marital infidelity,” presupposing “a teaching about marriage that stresses the immense importance of mutual fidelity between spouses.” [pp. 26-28, citing Ezek 16:4-63; Hosea 2:4-25.]