Sunday, May 13, 2012

Should Catholics Marry Young?

This is an email I sent to Pat Archbold after he published his article, "Should Catholics Marry Young?" I sent it twice, but did not receive a response.

The combox posts in support were predictable - namely, people speaking about how they married young and it worked out well and they would not do it any other way and others should do likewise.

I would like to highlight some of the dissenting posts (which were in the minority) as providing particularly good rebuttals. These include JB (7th), MarylandBill (19th), Old Soldier (25th), Veronica N. (36th and 56th), Roo (38th), Gracie (41st), L (43rd), Chiming (47nd), Tom R (49th), Leah (60th), Tina (63rd), mrsceecee (64th), Kate (67th).

Here is the email response:

Dear Mr. Archbold,

I wrote the following in response to a friend who had posted a link to your article, "Should Catholics Marry Young?", on his facebook page. I thought I would send it to you. Just to let you know upfront, it is a critique. Here it is in full:

The extremes of the ecumenical movement have led many Catholics to think more like Protestants than like Catholics. Many have used the term “Protestantization of the Church” to identify that tendency of Catholics to think like Protestants, worship like Protestants, incorporate Protestant practices (married ministry being applied to the priesthood is the first that comes to my mind), and use Protestant arguments when forming opinions about certain issues. The most common issue in which I see this happen concerns dating, courtship, and marriage. If you look at Jason Evert’s book on purity, dating, and relationships, “If You Really Loved Me”, you will see a majority or at least a high minority of his quotations come from Protestant resources.

Is this a problem? Indeed, it is. The Catholic and Protestant theologies on this issue are fundamentally in opposition.

Most Protestant Reformers were priests who abandoned their vocations in order to get married. Why? Because, they argued, marriage was a divine mandate, thus rendering celibacy invalid. Plus, living a celibate life was “impossible”. In other words, the longer one delayed marriage, the longer one set himself up to “sin”. Thus, there is no such thing as “single life” in Protestantism – single people are looked upon as an anomaly, as a great tragedy, as people who no doubt continue to sin sexually as self-restraint is impossible. Partly in order to “avoid sin”, Protestantism encourages young marriages (teenage and early-twenties marriages are very common in evangelical Protestant circles). Protestantism has one and only one vocation – marriage, and there is really no good reason to delay it for very long.

The Catholic Church, on the other hand, strongly opposed these ideas at the Council of Trent (and anathematized anyone who professed them). Instead, they said celibacy was not only possible, since God gave the grace necessary to persevere in that call, but was the “highest” call that “all” should consider and pray about before even entertaining thoughts of being married. Because the Catholic view is that God will give those He has not (yet) called to marriage the grace to remain pure, a person can remain in the single life for many years, if God so calls him, and persevere in purity. Catholicism has two vocations – marriage and religious life, and since single life more resembles the latter than the former and the latter is praised above the former in Church dogma, single life, if it the state God so wills the person in, is not only valid but commendable.

In my opinion, Mr. Archbold speaks more like a Protestant than a Catholic when he says: “a key indicator of the societal value of marriage is at what age do we encourage our young people to get married, if we encourage them at all.”

What a Catholic would say, just as generations of Catholics and Magisterial teachings have before, that we should encourage our young people to “pursue their vocation”, whatever it be – celibate, single, or married, but to encourage a religious vocation and the consideration thereof first. Secondly, if one discerns he is not so called, he is not even then to consider marrying young, but to discern and pursue “God’s will” – which to a Catholic could mean single life for many years, but which to a Protestant can only mean marriage, and as soon as possible. Which position does Mr. Archbold’s sound more like?

Archbold says, “Many Catholics, like society at large, encourage their children to postpone marriage. Go to college. Get a job. Get financially stable. Date around. Find out who you are first, then consider marriage.” Is he honestly saying that children who are called to be teachers (requiring a four year degree) or children called to be doctors or lawyers (seven to eight years) or professors (eleven years) should get married at 20 anyway? That means essentially forcing themselves into a situation where they have to practice NFP for a number of years. Since NFP is only to be used for “grave” reasons, it would be imprudent and thus inadvisable to marry until, as Carmen Marcoux says, one is at “an age and stage” in life where they are ready. No, one does not have to have enough to retire on before getting married, but they need to have some degree of financial stability. That is what the Church has long recommended and what Catholics have long practiced. Ask your great-grandparents how well it would have gone over if 19 year old Johnny told his parents he was marrying his girlfriend even though he had four more years of school and would need his folks to put them up in the house and support them and their children until he graduated. They would nip that one in the bud pretty quick.

Archbold says, “People now do not get married until they are in their late twenties, if at all. By then, society has messed them up so much by a decade of self-centeredness that they will probably make lousy spouses. ... Speaking from experience, from the time I turned twenty-one until I got married in my thirties, I learned nothing other than how to be a narcissistic jerk. I learned more about who I really am in my first two years of being a husband and a father than during that entire lost decade.” Another fallacy – because this was his experience, it must be everyone’s experience. I am guessing that in learning to be a narcissistic jerk, he wasn’t attending church. He was probably a “fallen away Catholic”. Let me share “my” experience – I  have spent my 20s going to daily Communion, studying for the priesthood at the seminary, and done a great deal of prayer and spiritual reading, and I can testify that my faith and my relationship with God have taught me how to be a “loving” man. If that was just my experience against his, then it would be as poor an argument as his. But our Church teaches that practicing faith has this effect. Once again, he neglects the true “Catholic” view – that “celibacy” (i.e. not getting married) can produce a greater love in those who practice it than marriage. Grace is greater than nature.

He goes on to say: “We all know that from the dawn of civilization up until 50 years ago or so, people routinely married young ... And society was better off for it.” A lot of things here. First, this is true, but there were probably more bad marriages back then than now. It’s just divorce wasn’t really an option – at least practically speaking. Second, until 50 years ago, most people dropped out of school by grade 6 in order to help dad on the farm or get a job to help feed the family. They learned to grow up quicker, and they also became financially stable quicker. Does Archbold advocate the end to schooling so we can marry sooner?

Third, Archbold, once again neglects his Catholic theology by failing to cite the examples of the Saints. That’s always a dead ringer for me that they are just borrowing Protestant arguments wholesale. Most of the married Saints in the hagiographies married as teens, and almost without exception, their marriages were miserable. There have been three married couples canonized by JP2 to provide examples for married couples to follow and model their lives on: the Quattrochis, the Martins (parents of the Little Flower), and St. Gianna Molla. The Quattrochis did marry young, but practiced perpetual continence after child-bearing years, the Martins married at 35 and 27 respectively (after pursuing but being rejected from religious life and spending many years as happy single people serving God in their singleness), and St. Gianna married when she was 33 and her husband was 43, after, once again, discerning a possible missionary vocation, then getting her education (becoming a doctor), and spending many years serving in her Church and working with the youth. What does Archbold say about them? Why didn’t they marry young? Maybe it is because they didn’t follow Archbold’s advice and instead followed with an open heart the call of God in their lives?

Archbold says, “I think that the best thing that could happen to marriage is that people, particularly Catholics, encourage their children to get married younger.” And I think the best thing that could happen to the Catholic Church is that we start drawing on our Catholic Tradition in order to form our opinions on these issues, not keep borrowing from Protestant theology.

Wade St. Onge


  1. Our demographics are changing drastically and I think we are in danger of our birthrate falling even faster than it has been. We have children spending 4 years in college, running up massive debt, then coming back to live with parents, sometimes for years because they can't find work and pay off their debts. We need to encourage more kids to look at going into trades instead of automatic 4 yr degrees.

    Women who wait until their 30s to begin motherhood have already reduced their chances of even getting pregnant, let alone of being able to have a replacement number of offspring.
    When parents delay having children into their 30s or even 40s, they have essentially set themselves up to deal with costs of college and then supporting the returning graduate about the time they are approaching retirement. There is also the problem of increasing the risk of having serious health issues or even death before the children are grown. And lastly for those postponing childbearing there is the trifecta of having to care for elderly parents at the same time they are approaching retirement and sending kids to college.

    All things considered I think we need to start looking at toughening our children up to be more independent earlier and to get out on their own and start establishing themselves financially and beginning their families earlier rather than later. One way to do this is to be less consumer oriented and to raise children to focus on meeting essential needs rather than expensive wants.

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  2. True as far as it goes.

    However, not all of us are called to be married at 22. After leaving seminary at 27, I tried - and I tried - and I tried - and I tried, to get married, but the women God brought into my life kept saying "no".

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  5. Anon 7:13:

    Everything you write is true, but what you write are policy problems. I agree that these things should be addressed, and even that if they were addressed it would allow for younger marriages. What Archibold writes about, though, are moral problems.

    Archibold makes the classic accusations that anyone who is not married young is immoral, is selfish, is not really experiencing the Faith. It's arrogant and unintelligent. Perhaps he doesn't have children. If he did, he would know the problems young Catholics face.

    Anon 9:13:

    This is the exact condescending attitude one can expect from the people who married young, before it was financially and psychologically mature to do so, and now wants to make everyone assured of how holy he is for hooking up at age 18 or 20.

    Enjoy your hard-earned superiority.

    1. Bingo, jvc.

      I should delete the comment considering anonymous comments are not allowed on my blog.

  6. You make a lot of assumptions based on one, year-old, blog post. Archbold's post is simple and direct. Could one reasonably state contrary ideas? Sure. However, there's no justification at all for questioning his Catholic principles or his adherence to the decrees of the Council of Trent.

    1. Archbold's post is indeed simple and direct:
      "Should Catholics marry young? Yes."

      I was merely demonstrating how he was wrong.

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  8. There is no any right age for marriage, is there? I think that marriage is not about age, it's about finding the right person. Finding YOUR person. Obviously most people are pretty big on the idea that marrying once for love is the ideal, but the fact remains that a lot of marriages end in divorce. And the age doesn't matter again.