Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Humpty Lives On

Illustration by Peter Newell (1862 - 1924) to "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There", (1902) New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, " it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, whether you can make words mean different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all." (Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), c. vi.) 

At the height of the Blitz in the Second World War, Britain`s highest court, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords sat to hear a very important case about the power of the Executive to detain people without trial, simply on the basis of a Ministerial fiat. The case was Liversidge v Anderson [1942] AC 206

The question before the House of Lords was a matter of the interpretation of Defence Regulation 18B which provided that the Home Secretary may order a person to be detained "if he has reasonable cause to believe" the person to be of hostile origin or associations. 

A majority of four Law Lords  held that if the Home Secretary thinks he has good cause that is good enough. 

But one Law Lord did not agree. In his famous dissent Lord Atkin chose the objective interpretation: the statute required the Home Secretary to have reasonable grounds for detention. 

At the time the terms of Lord Atkin's dissent caused grave offence to his colleagues. 

But Lord Atkin's view on the interpretation of provisions such as Regulation 18B has prevailed, not only in England and Wales but in the other common law jurisdictions.The view of the majority who upheld the Government has been thoroughly discredited

In his stinging dissent he quoted the above passage from Lewis Carroll`s book to illustrate what he saw as the position of the majority. Why did Lord Atkin`s view prevail ? Why is it still cited ? It is a passionate and robust statement which even re-reading today still has a live and vital feel.

The present debate in the United Kingdom about whether the law should be changed to allow marriage between persons of the same sex has an unreal feel to it, a Wonderland or Looking Glass feel. Marriage is to be redefined in a way which ten or twenty years ago would have been regarded as ludicrous and incredible

The two Archbishops of Westminster and Southwark in England and Wales have produced an excellent letter to be read out soon setting out the Catholic position in reasonable terms. 

By its very nature their defence of the present definition of marriage  is somewhat abstract. Somewhat dry, But all the points are made. The boxes are ticked.  One does wonder however despite the excellence of its content if it will be persuasive

It does seem likely that the legislation will pass in the United Kingdom.

Like Lord Atkin`s dissent, one hopes that the dissenting  statement of the two Archbishops will eventually prevail.

But in the debate thus far there seems to be lacking a statement of why Marriage holds such an exalted position. in Catholic doctrine. 

Why is it that Cardinal O`Brien of Edinburgh (the gentlest and mildest of men) and other Christian leaders such as the Anglican Archbishop of York have been roused to anger by such a proposal to redefine marriage ?

The best defence of Christian marriage is probably that of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Arcanum (On Christian Marriage) (10th February 1880) Despite it being in translation, the passion and emotion are palpable despite the length of time which has passed since it was written and published.

It should be read in full.

In some ways the joint letter of the two Archbishops is a concise (but filletted) summary of this Encyclical. But it lacks the verve and persuasive edge of the Encyclical.

It is an essay to appeal to reasonable men and women as one would in a submission in response to a civil service consultation. Unfortunately anything stronger would attract the hated epithets "irrational", "emotional", "ideological" and the like. And easily dismissed as such. And ignored.

By writing their letter in such a way, the Government will have to respond in rational logical and reasonable terms. One hopes. But as is clear the die is cast and the Government for its own reasons will have its way, notwithstanding the rationality of the Archbishops` positions.

So how does one explain to a non-government audience what the issue is all about ? Perhaps the answer lies in the Encyclical.

The Encyclical itself is a masterly apologetic for the classic doctrine of Christian marriage and puts the institution in its historical context from earliest times to the time of Christ and to the time of Pope Leo XIII

The key point for the purposes of the present debate is that the founder of Christianity, Christ himself, defined Christian marriage and its rights and duties, It became a sacrament. And there is no higher authority than the words of Christ  for the Christian.

And that teaching has been followed consistently by Christians since Christ founded His Church

And how this is not the first time that a State or State authority has attempted since then to thwart or undermine the institution. And it will not be the last.

The Pope wrote:

"And this union of man and woman, that it might answer more fittingly to the infinite wise counsels of God, even from the beginning manifested chiefly two most excellent properties - deeply sealed, as it were, and signed upon it-namely, unity and perpetuity.  
From the Gospel we see clearly that this doctrine was declared and openly confirmed by the divine authority of Jesus Christ. He bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution, should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve it or render it asunder.  
"For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God bath joined together, let no man put asunder." ... 
So manifold being the vices and so great the ignominies with which marriage was defiled, an alleviation and a remedy were at length bestowed from on high.  
Jesus Christ, who restored our human dignity and who perfected the Mosaic law, applied early in His ministry no little solicitude to the question of marriage. He ennobled the marriage in Cana of Galilee by His presence, and made it memorable by the first of the miracles which he wrought and for this reason, even from that day forth, it seemed as if the beginning of new holiness had been conferred on human marriages.  
Later on He brought back matrimony to the nobility of its primeval origin by condemning the customs of the Jews in their abuse of the plurality of wives and of the power of giving bills of divorce; and still more by commanding most strictly that no one should dare to dissolve that union which God Himself had sanctioned by a bond perpetual.  
Hence, having set aside the difficulties which were adduced from the law of Moses, He, in character of supreme Lawgiver, decreed as follows concerning husbands and wives, "I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery." 
But what was decreed and constituted in respect to marriage by the authority of God has been more fully and more clearly handed down to us, by tradition and the written Word, through the Apostles, those heralds of the laws of God.  
To the Apostles, indeed, as our masters, are to be referred the doctrines which "our holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Tradition of the Universal Church have always taught,"namely, that Christ our Lord raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament; that to husband and wife, guarded and strengthened by the heavenly grace which His merits gained for them,  
He gave power to attain holiness in the married state; and that, in a wondrous way, making marriage an example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church, He not only perfected that love which is according to nature, but also made the naturally indivisible union of one man with one woman far more perfect through the bond of heavenly love.  
Paul says to the Ephesians: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up for it, that He might sanctify it. . . So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. . . For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church; because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church." 
 In like manner from the teaching of the Apostles we learn that the unity of marriage and its perpetual indissolubility, the indispensable conditions of its very origin, must, according to the command of Christ, be holy and inviolable without exception. Paul says again: "To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband." And again: "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty." 
It is for these reasons that marriage is "a great sacrament"; "honourable in all," holy, pure, and to be reverenced as a type and symbol of most high mysteries""