Catholics and Gays Part 4: What Marriage (and Sex) Reveals
Now that I have considered a pair of objections to the (brief) natural law argument for the Church's proscription against romantic homosexual relationships (RHR), it is worth now considering what sex reveals symbolically. These are signs and symbols, which will largely be theological in nature. They are therefore what might be called more reasons why the Church teaches that RHR are wrong, from a mostly theological point of view.
First, there is the somewhat literal part. Those with weak stomachs or strong imaginations should pass over the next two paragraphs to the second part. (Denoted by skipping between the lines)
This applies more to specifically homosexual relationships, that is, a romantic relationship between two males. The male member—also known as a penis—is for lack f a better word the male procreative organ. It is from this organ that life pours forth; indeed, Aristotle argued that in the procreation of a new person, the form was contributed by the man (via his sperm) and the matter from a woman (via her eggs). We might take issue with Aristotle for this—indeed, if the soul comes from God, then we have taken theological issue with Aristotle. But nonetheless, life does come from both the male and the female, and so we might say that the penis is the organ by which a man transmits life.
And where, exactly, does the penis do during sex between two men? It may be unpleasant to think about this, but there are ultimately three possibilities. The first is the hand via masturbation, the second is the mouth via oral sex, and the third is the anus via anal sex. The first one says, "I take my (or your) life into my hands." The semen is then tossed away as if it were waste. I treat life as waste? I toss life away? What other possible symbolic meaning could this act have? Likewise, in oral sex it is "I drink of your life" or "I swallow your life and spit it back out." Finally, there is anal sex. The anus is, as I believe Mr Christopher West has observed, a cavity for the expulsion of human waste, a place of death and decay. Anal sex therefore says, "Life, be thou surrounded and consumed by death." I can think of no less Christian a sentiment.
If the foregoing discussion seems a bit prurient, I am sorry. On the other hand, part of the point of Catholic morality in general, and the Theology of the Body as well, is that our bodies matter. What we do with our bodies matter, because our bodies are the matter of which our souls are the form. Moreover, the sacramental nature of Catholic theology means that the physical world is important has meaning, both in itself and beyond itself.
So, what is sex supposed to reveal to us? In his book Three to Get Married, the venerable archbishop Fulton J Sheen writes that
"Human generation is related in a special way to eternity. Sex love is not meant for death: rather, Eros is for Bios; love is for life. But once the Divine Source of Love is denied, then Eros becomes death. The denial of the immortality of the soul and parents' deliberate attempt to frustrate new life go together. If the soul has no relation to eternity, then why should the body seek to overcome death by begetting new life? Eros does lead to death."
So sexual intercourse, and specifically its procreative aspect, is a sign to us of our own immortality. In a sense, we live on in our offspring; as our own bodies wax, the bodies of our offspring begin to wane. What he once had in the prime of our lives survives when our children enter into their prime, and then again in their children. In a different (and more literal) sense, our souls survive the deaths of our bodies, and during the resurrection are reunited to those bodies, which have been renewed and perfected. We are to survive death!
But this revelation is more than only of our own immortality. Our mortality is ultimately found in union with Christ, as members of His Church, that is, His mystical body. We who are baptized are born anew as members of Christ's body, meaning that we live in union with that body. In the Church, it is many in one body; in marriage, it is two in one flesh, if in a more immediate and intimate sense. Saint Paul tells us that we see now as through a glass darkly, but that in the next life, all will be revealed. Might we not discover that the union of all the blessed in the Church is more permanent, and indeed more intimate, than the union of two in one flesh? For after all, the union of two in one flesh is a union which may be severed upon the death of one of the spouses—until death parts us, we are two in one flesh—but in heaven, there is no more death, and thus no further severing.
In sex, the procreative and the intimate and the unitive meet: the result is that a new life comes into being, a new entity, a new person. That child is then a visibly manifest symbol of that union, of that intimacy. This is perhaps why marriage is a sacrament—that is, a visible manifestation or even channel for invisible grace; a sign and symbol made present of a mystery which would seem distant and abstract.
But a sacrament does not only tell us something about ourselves, even something so important as life after death. The family as father, mother, and child tells us something about God Himself: that is, it is relatable to the doctrine of the Trinity, arguably the most important of all Catholic dogmas. This doctrine tells us that there are three Persons Who are in one Divine Nature. The three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are each distinct from the other, and yet that distinction comes in the form of relationship. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we read that
“The divine person are relative to one another. Because it does not divide the divine unity, the real distinction of the persons from one another resides solely in the relationships which relate them to one another: 'In the relational names of the persons the Father is related to the Son, the Son to the Father, and the Holy Spirit to both. While they are called three persons in view of their relations, we believe in one nature or substance' [Council of Toledo XI ca. 675]. Indeed, 'everything (in them) is one where there is no opposition of relationship' [Council of Florence]. 'Because of that unity, the Father is wholly in the Son and wholly in the Holy Spirit; the Son is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is wholly in the Father and wholly in the Son' [Council of Florence]” (CCC255).
Thus, there is no distinction between the Three Persons save for their relationships to each other. In his We Believe...: A Survey of the Catholic Faith, Fr Oscar Lukefahr attempts to unravel this mystery:
Theologians have tried to offer insight into the Trinity by saying that the Father knows Himself from all eternity, and this Knowledge is the Son. The father and Son love each other with an infinite love, and this Love is the Holy Spirit….God’s knowledge is so limitless that it is a Person, the Son. The love of Father and Son is so limitless that it, too, is a Person, the Holy Spirit.
The Son is the Knowledge which the Father has of Himself for all eternity—the Word, the divine Logos, as rendered in the Gospel according to St John—and the Holy Spirit is the eternal love between Father and Son, which is also a Person. So what does this have to do with marriage? I have already noted that the child is the manifestation of the love between mother and father; together, the three give a sort of image of the Trinity. The man "knows" his wife, and from that knowledge, and from the love between them which come from and yet enables that knowledge their springs a third person, the child. It is a poetic if imperfect metaphor, the love of man for woman and woman for man is like the love of God; just as man is created in the image of God, the love between man and woman is an image of the love between Father and Son; the former makes another person, the latter Is another Person.
It might here be objected that a same-sex pair can, thanks to the "miracles" or artificial insemination/implantation and cell-reprogramming, also make a new person. Indeed they can, though this is true in a much more literal sense: make, meaning manufacture, rather than make, meaning participate in the creation of. I previously noted that there are three problems with this scenario, namely that
- It makes man into a disposable product for consumption, in some cases literally throwing out the "extra" embryos which are made in this process.
- It separates reproduction from sexual union, thus being more akin to manufacture than procreation
- It means that we not only play God, but that we actually use Him as if He were subject to our whims.
In light of the discussion here, I might add one more thing to the list, which is that we lose the image of God—and of God's unlimited Love—in artificial insemination. The image of making a new person makes for a bad theology, as if the Father and Son "make" the Holy Spirit, or as if the Son is "made" or even "created" by the Father. The Son is Begotten and not made—but in artificial insemination/implantation, and perhaps even more in cell-reprogramming ( e.g. making sperm which is reprogrammed with a woman's DNA), we certainly give this impression. We move from the realm of "this results from (or Is) God's Love, which cannot not exist" to "this results because I/we decided to make it."
The ability to practice in creation in our own right—that is, of procreation—is a gift given to man alone. Animals reproduce, but man alone can pro-create; that is to say, animals can biologically manufacture or make a new body—man does this too—but only men are endowed with those higher souls which are created by God, and which only God can create. We become partners with God, co-creators, in the process of procreation. In this sense we are more nearly like God, more nearly in His image, than even the angels (who are otherwise more like God than men). Saint Thomas Aquinas tells us this much in his Summa Theologica:
"First, we may consider in it that in which the image chiefly consists, that is, the intellectual nature. Thus the image of God is more perfect in the angels than in man, because their intellectual nature is more perfect, as is clear from what has been said (58, 3; 79, 8).
Secondly, we may consider the image of God in man as regards its accidental qualities, so far as to observe in man a certain imitation of God, consisting in the fact that man proceeds from man, as God from God; and also in the fact that the whole human soul is in the whole body, as God from God; and also in the fact that the whole human soul is in the whole body, and again, in every part, as God is in regard to the whole world. In these and the like things the image of God is more perfect in man than it is in the angels. But these do not of themselves belong to the nature of the Divine image in man, unless we presuppose the first likeness, which is in the intellectual nature; otherwise even brute animals would be to God's image. Therefore, as in their intellectual nature, the angels are more to the image of God than man is, we must grant that, absolutely speaking, the angels are more to the image of God than man is, but that in some respects man is more like to God" (Summa Theologica I.93.3).
Accidental quality though it may be, our ability to become parents--mother, father--and thus co-creators ("man proceeds from man") makes us more nearly to be in God's image.
Sex between people of the same sex differs, therefore, from intercourse between a heterosexual couple. It is moreover a difference in kind, and that is all the difference in the world. For these differences are each significant symbolically, and thus would destroy the efficacy of the sacrament of Marriage. Some of the difference communicated a lack of something which is present in heterosexual intercourse—as when homosexual acts fail to communicate the procreative nature of sex; in other differences, homosexual acts positively communicate something not communicated by heterosexual intercourse  which is evil—"life be thou swallowed up in death," for example. These differences are together or separately enough to make a difference in any relationship centered around them, such that a sacramental marriage between spouses of opposite sex is possible (and natural, or even "supernatural"), but ontologically impossible between a pair of partners of the same sex.
 Note that heterosexual intercourse means specifically intercourse in which the couple is joined as one: biologically, this means conjugal sex, not anal or oral or even contracepted sexual acts.