An excerpt from
"Male and Female He Created Them": On Marriage and the Family
by Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez
This Is a Great Mystery, in Christ and
in the Church [Ephesians 5:32]
No human institution is so deeply rooted in nature and in the heart of man
and of woman as marriage and the family. Prior to any philosophical reasoning,
men and women know that they are made for each other, that they need each
other, and that there exists between them a sort a relationship that is
different from all the other relationships found in human society.
The name given to this relationship is love, and to it artists throughout
the ages have devoted works of great beauty, seeking in it their inspiration
for music, dance, poetry, literature, painting, and sculpture. This is an
unequivocal sign that love is a dimension of human existence that flows
from a most noble wellspring, capable of giving rise to profound joys, sustaining
great efforts, and enduring difficult sacrifices.
The history of the most ancient civilizations always provides data about
the institution of marriage, through which we can detect, albeit with many
imperfections, a nostalgic yearning for an ideal of love that is fully considerate,
faithful, and tender. More than a few studies of peoples that to this day
have preserved certain aboriginal characteristics confirm they have an exalted
concept of marriage and family, a concept expressed in customs of greater
integrity than those that exist, or are accepted, among nations that call
This most noble institution, however, like all the rest of human existence,
bears the disruptive and debasing marks of sin. 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.
These customs and attitudes all have something in common: the dignity of
the person is reduced to the level of a thing or object; the man and the
woman "use" or "exploit" each other, they make themselves
objects of commerce in various ways-in short, they debase themselves. A
"price" is set on something that is priceless; "profits"
are gained from what is, by its very nature, free and gratuitous, and people
fall into the error of believing that a passing emotion, or lewd sensuality,
or a relationship of pleasure completely devoid of sacrifice, deserves the
name of love.
In general, although not exclusively, it is the woman who ends up being
wounded more visibly, even if the man who hurts her is also deeply wounded
by making himself incapable of showing respect, the only attitude that corresponds
to his dignity.
It would be very time-consuming to take an inventory of the degradation
of love, but it is not irrelevant to recall some of its manifestations.
Not all of them display the same characteristics, but all are, in one form
or another, deviations from true love. Some of them provoke universal condemnation;
it is disgraceful that others are accepted as something normal or at least
as a lesser evil.
Antiquity saw the existence of polygamy on a vast scale: a man could have
several women. Whether this occurred as an expression of prestige and power,
or as a means of multiplying family alliances, or from a desire for numerous
offipring, or simply out of concupiscence, there is no doubt that polygamy
dealt a serious blow to love and to the equality between man and woman.
Though more rare, the phenomenon of polyandry, in which several men possess
one and the same woman, was also known.
Repudiation, or divorce, is also known from ancient times. Whether it was
because one of the spouses, usually the woman, had committed a transgression,
or because she was thought to be infertile, or due to discord and disagreements,
or simply because he desired a younger or more beautiful woman, the husband
would abandon his first wife in order to take another. Sometimes divorce
was considered a "merciful" solution, since otherwise some men
might have opted to take the life of the spouse who was bothersome or displeasing.
Adultery has a long history. On an occasional or ongoing basis, a married
person has illicit relations with someone other than his or her spouse,
usually while keeping the atrangement secret, although at times this is
made blatantly and shamelessly public and may even be tolerated or accepted
by the faithful spouse. An innocuous expression has been coined to describe
the adulterer who is involved in ongoing adultery: he or she is called a
"lover", as if adultery could ever be decked out in the apparel
of true love.
Prostitution is an old form of this degradation of love. The poor girl who,
usually because of poverty, offers her body as a commodity with which to
"make love" (what a monstrous misuse of the word!) is prey to
whoever can "pay" for her. services, to a man who does not love
her and will never love her-who, in fact, scorns her and sees nothing in
her but flesh. When there is a shortage in this human traffic, which is
not that different from the slavery of antiquity, the suppliers will resort
to all kinds of contrivances, and a whole system of "export" and
"import" will be put into play to satisfy a market that is always
willing to pay handsomely for its human merchandise. The "white slave
trade" is not, unfortunately, a tale from the past.
Some will speak of, and engage in, so-called "free love". This
means sharing a body as one shares a meal, or friendship, or any other thing.
It is as if the relationship between the man and the woman were, with a
greater or lesser tinge of affection or permanence, nothing more than the
satisfaction of a need to which both parties lend themselves "obligingly",
without any commitment or responsibility. It lasts for as long as it lasts.
It is based on a twofold error, since it acknowledges neither what love
is nor what freedom is.
Others engage in "premarital relations". Whether because it is
not possible to get married right away, or because the excuse is made that
"we're in love", or else because "proofs of love" are
demanded and given, or because the couple want to be sure about their sexual
compatibility before getting married, or because such activity is considered
less vicious than, say, masturbation or resorting to prostitution-what is
certain is that this form of conduct is spreading at an alarming rate. Worse
yet, it is excused and defended to the point of being considered normal
and morally irreproachable.
Aside from polygamy and divorce, all the other deviations have something
in common: the fear that a new life may arise from the relationship. Neither
the adulterer nor the lover, the prostitute nor the engaged couples who
are having sexual relations want a child; they are afraid of him, they avoid
him, they kill him before he is born, or, in a cowardly way, they ignore
him afterward or deny responsibility One must admit that in these attitudes
they demonstrate neither responsibility nor courage. If the woman defends
the baby in her womb and brings him into the world, in certain circles people
will point at her or persuade her to get rid of him privately, because she
has "lost her reputation"-as though making paternity less evident
made the father more honorable! If there were less hypocrisy, we would extend
a helping hand to the woman who, due to error, ignorance, or weakness, conceived
a child and had the courage to welcome him and give him a mother's love,
even when the fathera man, but no gentlemanslips away into the
shadows of irresponsibility disguised with "respectability".
We could list still other degradations of love, or rather debaucheries of
the sexual appetite. Sometimes incest occurs, between persons who are closely
related or occasionally, sad to say, between members of the same family.
Then there is sexual abuse of minors, innocent victims of abnormal concupiscence.
Some engage in erotic foreplay, the dangerous antechambers to more serious
acts. There are forms of homosexual activity, often bordering on psychological
The reader may have found that the preceding paragraphs make disagreeable
reading. What sense is there in starting a study on marriage with a catalogue
of the miseries that disfigure and degrade it or which are more or less
crude counterfits of love? Would it not be better to begin by showing the
positive side and to disregard in print what everybody knows in fact?
We have started with this unpleasant inventory because we believe that it
is beneficial to recall that the eminent dignity of love and marriage is
as beautiful as it is fragile, and that the human heart, in this field as
in so many others, experiences the terrible sting of sin. It would be unrealistic
to paint an idyllic or romantic picture of love, when experience shows us
that the facts deviate so lamentably from the human and Christian ideal.
So please excuse us for having caused such a shock! The shadows serve only
to emphasize more clearly the radiance and beauty of the Christian and Catholic
message concerning love, marriage, and the family.
The pages that follow are meant to be a service offered in the first place
to those who hold the Catholic faith, to help them to remember the doctrine
of the Church on love, marriage, and the family. I have in mind so many
young people who are planning to start a family and who need clarity so
as not to give in to confusion and error. I am thinking also of my brothers
and sisters in the faith who have already contracted marriage but need to
deepen their understanding of it and need to guide their children. Perhaps
these words could help some catechist or other brothers in the ministry,
for instance, deacons or priests.
Of course, I am grateful to so many married friends of mine who have helped
me by their example, have encouraged me to put these reflections into writing,
have told me about their experiences of Christian conjugal life and, by
their lives, confirm the conviction that marriage is a source of genuine
happiness and a path to holiness, when it is lived in faith, in love, and
Male and Female He Created Them:
Essays on Marriage and the Family
Cardinal Jorge Medina-Estevez
240 pages. Paperback.
Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez responds to the attack by modern society
on the sanctity and indissolubility of marriage with these beautiful, thought-provoking
and clear essays on marriage and the family. A highly regarded author, teacher,
prelate and strong defender of Catholic doctrine, Cardinal Medina Estévez
presents inspiring insights on the divine plan for male and female, the
family as the "domestic Church", the importance of chastity in
all vocations, and the need for society to uphold the traditional understanding
of marriage and family life.
Cardinal Medina Estévez shows how this most noble institution, and
the loftiness of its dignity and beauty, can be understood only in all its
depth through the timeless Christian teaching on marriage and family, as
seen in the Bible, and in Christs love for the Church.
Also by Cardinal Estévez: Lord,
Who Are You? The Names of Christ
Jorge Cardinal Medina Estévez, former Prefect for the Congregation
for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, has been a professor of Theology
and of Metaphysics at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. He was
a peritus at the Second Vatican Council.