A few days ago, I wrote a post about my understanding of marital consent, and the use of the word ‘rape’ in that context.
I went to some lengths to point out that:
a) it was my understanding, and if faulty I was open to correction; (I wrote: My point is very specific: as I understand it, (and of course I am open to correction if I have misunderstood)
b) I was not in any way condoning any behaviour in marriage that falls short of a very high standard of charity (for example, I wrote: Use of threats, force or violence in that context are sinful, and also may well be criminal.)
A number of people have reacted very strongly to that post. Some have misread or misunderstood it and then denounced me, some publicly and some privately, for ‘condoning rape’. I had thought that I had made it quite clear that I was doing nothing of the sort.
Some seem to have read it more carefully and said it is wrong.
Nobody has told me why it is wrong.
The nearest I have had to any explanation of that view is that ‘it is even worse in marriage’ and that I risk ‘giving some men the idea that they can force their wives into sex.’
Neither of these wholly understandable objections address the issue I was raising. It may be that I was imprudent in raising the issue at all, of course, but that is different from my understanding being wrong.
The question I still have is: is one of the undertakings of the marriage vows the total self-giving of the body to the other ‘in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety,’ as Trent has it.
The background to my understanding is that this is what I was taught at an early age: to be honest I don’t even remember by whom or when. It has always been part of my understanding of marriage. Given that, I then look at things like the Catechism of the Council of Trent, and find sentences that seem to point to the same idea: that the gift of each to the other, specifically of their body, is at the heart of the marital covenant: the marriage contract is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man actually yields the dominion of his body to the woman, the woman the dominion of her body to the man.
Now as with all Church teaching, one must not take a single line as a proof text and build too much on it. Trent also says: ‘marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord. It should be remembered that the Apostle admonishes: They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not, and that St. Jerome says: The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.’
I hope that I expressed that part of the teaching when I wrote: Indeed, the standards of love expected of either spouse are very high indeed: husbands must be prepared to give their lives, not just sacrifice their lust, for the love of their wives. Wives, likewise, must love their husbands.
Clearly, if I am wrong in this, it is a serious misunderstanding. As I say, I am open to correction on this, as on anything I write. Some while ago I wrote about the dangers of making absolute truth claims. The only truth-claim I made for that post was that it was my understanding of Catholic teaching: and that was true.
UPDATE: see subsequent post
UPDATE: see subsequent post