Family Matters: Catholic Theology of the Family Book Summary

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Title: Family Matters: Catholic Theology of the Family
Author: Dave Armstrong

TLDR: A comprehensive defense of traditional Catholic teachings on family and sexuality, addressing controversial issues like abortion, contraception, divorce, homosexuality, and radical feminism, grounding arguments in Scripture, natural law, and Church history.

Chapter One: Abortion

Armstrong opens his book with a powerful condemnation of abortion, grounding his argument firmly in biblical interpretation and moral reasoning. He begins by analyzing biblical passages like Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, and Luke 1:15, 41, and 44, arguing that they demonstrate God’s foreknowledge of individuals before conception and their inherent personhood from that moment. He refutes the claim that these passages are metaphorical, emphasizing the literal and historical nature of the biblical accounts of Jeremiah and John the Baptist.

Armstrong emphasizes that the Bible, while not explicitly addressing abortion, clearly condemns it as murder through a deductive process. He argues that the preborn child is considered a person in the Bible, with no distinction made between the preborn and born individual. The scriptural condemnation of murder, coupled with God’s knowledge and “ordination” of every individual’s conception, logically extends to the preborn, making abortion morally unacceptable.

He challenges the common “exceptions” for rape and incest, arguing that they are based on emotionalism rather than sound ethical principles. The circumstance of conception does not diminish the inherent right to life of the preborn child. He uses a hypothetical scenario to illustrate the flawed logic of allowing abortion in cases of rape, arguing that killing a child due to the circumstances of its conception is morally indefensible.

Armstrong further addresses the “life of the mother” exception, highlighting the rarity of situations where abortion is truly necessary to save the mother’s life. He distinguishes between ethically permissible medical interventions that may unintentionally result in the death of the fetus and the deliberate, willful act of abortion.

While acknowledging the criticism that Christians are attempting to “force” their morality on others, Armstrong argues that Christians are obligated to advocate for pro-life legislation based on Christian principles and natural law. He emphasizes the universal nature of the condemnation of murder, suggesting that even non-Christians have an inherent understanding of right and wrong, evidenced by their compassion for animals and opposition to other forms of injustice.

He further argues that the pro-life case can be made in purely secular terms, appealing to arguments such as fetal pain and the documented harm abortion causes to women. However, he acknowledges the limitations of intellectual arguments, ultimately suggesting that a spiritual revival is necessary to overcome the deeply ingrained “culture of death.”

Armstrong delves into the “culture of death” mentality, highlighting its reliance on death as a solution to various social and personal problems. He criticizes the “quantitative notion of human value” prevalent in this mentality, where the abundance of human life seemingly justifies abortion, contrasting it with the Christian view of human life as sacred and infinitely valuable.

He draws parallels between the pro-abortion mindset and the Nazi ideology, emphasizing the dangers of defining certain categories of human beings as “less than human.” He argues that the legalization of abortion, based on arbitrary exceptions, has opened the door to practices like sex-selection abortion, perpetuating a dangerous disregard for human life.

Armstrong concludes his chapter by reaffirming his own pro-life convictions, grounded not only in faith but also in secular ethical principles like compassion, concern for the oppressed, and the inherent value of life. He calls for a return to a “civilized” society that respects the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, regardless of the circumstances.

Chapter Two: Contraception

Armstrong delves into the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception, drawing a clear distinction between artificial contraception and Natural Family Planning (NFP). He argues that the morality of these methods hinges not on their “effectiveness” but on the intent and underlying attitude towards procreation. Contraception, he argues, embodies an “anti-child mentality” and violates natural law by separating the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage.

He criticizes the widespread acceptance of contraception within Christian communities, highlighting its relatively recent embrace (post 1930) and its departure from the historically unanimous Christian condemnation of the practice. He challenges the plausibility of the entire Christian Church being morally wrong for centuries before suddenly “seeing the light” in the 20th century. He cites the Anglican Lambeth Conference of 1930 as the turning point, arguing that the context of that decision (a period of rapid secularization and moral decline) casts doubt on its legitimacy.

Armstrong emphasizes the difference between contraception and responsible parenthood, arguing that the Catholic Church recognizes legitimate reasons for spacing or limiting children, such as health, financial, and emotional considerations. However, he stresses that the deliberate, willful prevention of conception through artificial means constitutes a sin by thwarting God’s potential plan for procreation.

He argues that the widespread adoption of contraception has contributed to a decline in birth rates, leading to societal and demographic consequences. He further links contraception to the legalization of abortion, asserting that the contraceptive mentality, with its focus on individual autonomy and control over one’s body, paved the way for the acceptance of abortion as a back-up solution for unplanned pregnancies.

Armstrong outlines the “diabolical logic” that connects contraception to abortion, detailing how the contraceptive mindset, with its emphasis on personal autonomy and convenience, can lead to the devaluing of preborn life. He argues that contraception fuels a culture of sexual hedonism and irresponsibility, contributing to the rise of divorce, cohabitation, and other social ills.

He defends NFP as a morally acceptable method of family planning that respects the natural order of procreation. NFP, he argues, does not involve a “contralife will,” as couples abstain from intercourse during fertile periods, thereby aligning their actions with the natural rhythms of the woman’s body.

Armstrong concludes his chapter by reaffirming the wisdom of the traditional Christian prohibition of contraception, arguing that its abandonment has contributed to the “culture of death” and its attendant societal consequences. He urges readers to reject the “contraceptive mentality” and embrace the Catholic Church’s teachings on NFP as a life-affirming approach to sexuality and family planning.

Chapter Three: Extramarital Sex

Armstrong tackles the topic of extramarital sex, contrasting the prevailing secular view with the traditional Christian perspective, focusing particularly on the Catholic understanding. He argues that the secular view reduces sex to a mere physical pleasure, neglecting its profound spiritual and relational dimensions. He refutes the notion that Christianity opposes pleasure itself, pointing to God’s creation of the senses and our capacity for enjoying physical pleasures.

He emphasizes the deep spiritual unity inherent in sexual intercourse, drawing on biblical passages like Matthew 19:5-6 and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 to support his argument that sex makes two people “one flesh.” He argues that engaging in sexual intimacy outside the context of a lifelong marital commitment constitutes an exploitation of the other, violating the natural order of sexual union and leading to numerous negative consequences.

Armstrong explores the detrimental effects of the sexual revolution, linking the rise of divorce, child abuse, and other social ills to the widespread acceptance of extramarital sex. He criticizes the secular view of sexual freedom as mere license, arguing that true sexual freedom lies in aligning one’s actions with God’s intended purpose for sexuality.

He argues that premarital sex reduces women to objects of pleasure, undermining their inherent dignity and contributing to their exploitation by men. He highlights the traditional Christian view of chastity as empowering for women, enabling them to demand commitment from men before offering the gift of their intimacy.

Armstrong further emphasizes the procreative aspect of sexuality, arguing that attempts to separate sex from procreation through contraception have led to widespread irresponsibility and ultimately contributed to the acceptance of abortion. He condemns the devaluation of human life inherent in the “free love” ethic, where the convenience of unrestricted sex takes precedence over the right to life of the preborn child.

He challenges the notion that traditional Christian morality is “anti-sex,” arguing that it simply recognizes the profound significance of sex and seeks to channel it within the protective boundaries of a lifelong marital commitment. He points to sociological studies demonstrating that Christian couples who remain chaste before marriage experience greater sexual satisfaction and marital happiness.

Armstrong utilizes a “reverse pragmatic argument,” suggesting that the truth of a moral principle can be assessed by its practical consequences. He argues that the harmful societal consequences of the sexual revolution demonstrate the flawed nature of its underlying philosophy.

He concludes his chapter by reiterating the traditional Christian teaching on extramarital sex, emphasizing its grounding in Scripture and natural law. He acknowledges the challenges of living chastely in a sexually permissive society, but encourages readers to embrace the Christian view of sexuality as truly liberating and ultimately conducive to greater happiness and fulfillment.

Chapter Four: Divorce

Armstrong tackles the complex issue of divorce, addressing the common misconception that Catholic annulments are simply “Catholic divorce” in disguise. He acknowledges the increased number of annulments in recent decades, attributing this to two primary factors: a growing lack of understanding of sacramental marriage and the potential abuse of annulment procedures by heterodox priests and bishops.

He emphasizes the key distinction between annulment and divorce, arguing that annulment is not a dissolution of a valid, consummated, sacramental marriage, but rather a declaration that the necessary elements for a valid sacramental marriage were never present in the first place. He references the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which outlines the specific criteria for a valid sacramental marriage.

Armstrong draws parallels between the Old Testament distinction between a concubine and a wife and the Catholic distinction between civil and sacramental marriage. He analyzes the story of Sarah and Hagar in Genesis, arguing that God’s approval of the sending away of Hagar demonstrates the hierarchical nature of relationships, with Sarah’s status as wife taking precedence.

He traces the evolution of biblical teaching on divorce, noting Jesus’ affirmation of monogamy and his teaching that divorce was permitted to the Jews only because of their “hardness of heart.” Armstrong argues that the “except for fornication” clause in Matthew 19:9 refers to ongoing non-marital fornication rather than a valid marriage, providing a biblical basis for annulments along with the Pauline privilege (1 Corinthians 7:15).

He further cites Old Testament passages concerning “strange wives” (wives from foreign lands of different religions) as further evidence for the concept of annulment. He uses the example of King Solomon, whose marriage to foreign women led him to idolatry, and the subsequent sending away of these wives by the Israelites as a parallel to the annulment process.

Armstrong concludes his chapter by reaffirming the Catholic Church’s understanding of annulment as rooted in both biblical teaching and the historical tradition of the Church. He emphasizes that annulment is not a loophole for divorce, but rather a recognition that certain unions, while legally recognized, may lack the essential elements for a valid sacramental marriage in the eyes of God.

Chapter Five: Homosexuality

Armstrong tackles the sensitive topic of homosexuality, grounding his argument in biblical interpretation and natural law. He analyzes Romans 1:26-27, where St. Paul condemns homosexual acts as “unnatural,” “shameless,” and “error.” Armstrong argues that this passage clearly demonstrates the biblical opposition to homosexual practice, refuting the claim that Paul is only condemning excessive passion or exploitative homosexual acts.

He highlights Paul’s appeal to natural law and God’s created order, suggesting that some sexual practices are inherently wrong because they violate the natural purpose of sexuality. He also points to the documented medical consequences of homosexual behavior as further evidence of its unnatural and harmful nature.

Armstrong analyzes 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, where Paul argues that excessive appetite for sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, amounts to slavery and sin against one’s own body. He draws a parallel between uniting oneself with a prostitute and engaging in homosexual acts, arguing that both violate the natural order of sexuality and spiritual unity inherent in marital intercourse.

He emphasizes that fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts all violate the boundaries of proper sexuality, which God intended to be expressed within a lifelong monogamous commitment. He argues that homosexual acts go a step further by violating the very nature of sex itself, which God designed for male and female.

Armstrong connects the acceptance of homosexuality to the broader breakdown of traditional Christian morality, comparing it to other social shifts like the acceptance of abortion, divorce, and euthanasia. He argues that social stigmas against immoral behavior are justifiable and necessary to uphold societal norms, while emphasizing the Christian obligation to love all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

He criticizes attempts to legitimize homosexuality by claiming that it is innate or genetically determined, pointing out that other conditions, like Down’s Syndrome, are also genetically-caused but are not considered “normal.” He argues that people possess an inherent understanding of what is natural and normal, and that societal disapproval of abnormal behavior is both reasonable and expected.

Armstrong addresses the accusations of “homophobia” leveled against Christians, arguing that they are unfounded and fail to acknowledge the nuances of the Christian position. He emphasizes that Catholics are called to love homosexual persons, while rejecting their sin, just as they are called to love all sinners while rejecting their sinful actions.

He concludes his chapter by reiterating the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, emphasizing its grounding in Scripture, natural law, and the historical tradition of the Church. He encourages homosexual individuals to confront the truth of God’s moral law and seek healing and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit, just as all Christians are called to do.

Chapter Six: Radical Feminism

Armstrong confronts the challenges posed by radical feminism to traditional Catholic teachings, particularly regarding the male-only priesthood and the biblical concept of wifely subjection. He begins by defending the male-only priesthood, arguing that it is appropriate for men to serve as alter Christus at Mass since Jesus Christ himself was a man. He also points to the lack of female disciples among the twelve chosen by Jesus as biblical support for this teaching.

He refutes the notion that the male-only priesthood implies inequality between the genders, highlighting the exalted status of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Catholic theology. He argues that the special grace and sinlessness bestowed upon Mary demonstrates God’s profound respect for women and their unique role in salvation history. He further lists numerous female role models in Catholic history, including saints, mystics, and social activists, demonstrating the Church’s affirmation of women’s spiritual and intellectual capabilities.

Armstrong draws an analogy between the Holy Trinity and the relationship between men and women in the Church, suggesting that both demonstrate equality within a context of distinct roles and functions. He argues that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equal in essence, but differ in their roles and relationship to one another, just as men and women are equal in dignity but possess distinct roles in the Church and in marriage.

He acknowledges and condemns the historical subjugation of women by men, while arguing that the traditional Christian view of women is ultimately the most liberating perspective. He contrasts the Christian view with the treatment of women in pagan and non-Christian societies, highlighting practices like concubinage, widow burning, and female infanticide as evidence of the superior status afforded to women within Christianity.

Armstrong addresses the controversial biblical passage in Ephesians 5:22, where wives are instructed to be subject to their husbands. He cites Pope John Paul II’s interpretation of this passage, which emphasizes mutual subjection within a context of Christ-like love and self-sacrifice. He argues that the husband’s headship is modeled after Christ’s headship of the Church, characterized by self-giving love and service, not domination or control.

He criticizes the misinterpretation and abuse of this teaching by men who have used it to justify their own selfishness and control over women. He argues that true biblical headship is rooted in humility and service, exemplified by Christ’s willingness to lay down his life for his bride, the Church.

Armstrong connects the rise of radical feminism to the failure of men to live up to the biblical ideal of headship. He argues that the extreme egalitarianism advocated by some feminists is a reaction to the historical sins of men, who have distorted the biblical teaching on submission and used it to justify their own sinful desires for power and control.

He concludes his chapter by reaffirming the Catholic Church’s teaching on the dignity of women and the complementarity of the sexes. He encourages men to embrace the true meaning of biblical headship, characterized by Christ-like love and service, and calls for a renewed respect for women’s unique gifts and contributions within the Church and in society.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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