It’s Time to Double Down on Casti Connubii

The Church would do well to revisit one of the most important and prophetic encyclicals of modern times.

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Legendary mutual fund manager Peter Lynch teaches that investors should “let their winners pay for their losers.” In other words, hold on to companies that show good financials and reasonable prospects for growth, regardless of the share price. If you see a stock go up 20-30 percent, don’t necessarily conclude that it’s time to sell. You have to forget about the price and reexamine the fundamentals because there may be ample room for growth. Similarly, if a stock drops 20-30 percent, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time to accumulate more. The only way to know is to take a deeper dive into the company and see if it’s still undervalued. 

Moreover, if you want your portfolio to outperform the market, you should keep it concentrated. After all, if you’re going to buy fifty different stocks, why not just buy the whole index? That might at least give you average returns. Yet, wouldn’t it be better to buy five or six undervalued stocks and then wait? Similarly, when it comes to business strategy, “diversification,” Lynch says, is “diworsification.” In other words, a company should concentrate on doing what it does best rather than squandering capital by acquiring a bunch of unrelated businesses.  

The Holy See’s effort to come up with something to say about everything resembles a cluttered brokerage portfolio. If the pope is going to say something about Mozart, why not a curial official something about David Bowie? The Holy See’s tightrope walk in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict reminds us yet again that taceat is not always bad policy, especially for an organization whose primary service to the world is prayer.

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So, which “stocks” are worth doubling down on now? Which ones aren’t? Which areas of Catholic teaching are worth emphasizing, explaining, expanding on? Which could receive a little less attention, at least for now?

I know the choice may be artificial, but I would argue nonetheless that the investment presently promising the greatest return is the family. Casti Connubii (Pius XI, 1930) and Familiaris Consortio (John Paul II, 1981) are arguably the richest and most compelling magisterial pronouncements to have emerged in the twentieth century. To test the hypothesis, we only have to determine whether these documents have become more or less relevant since their release. 

At a time when Alabama governor Kay Ivey can invoke a “culture of life” to support in vitro fertilization, Kansas governor Laura Kelly can invoke “parental rights” to veto legislation prohibiting the use of transgender drugs and surgery on minors, author and former new-atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali—a vociferous advocate for the family—can be accused of choosing “the most virulent creed at her disposal” in her conversion to Christianity, and the 46th President of the United States—a Catholic no less—can promise Americans that he “will restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land again,” can any Catholic social teaching be more important than that on the family?

Regrettably, I cannot place Amoris Laetitia (2016) on the same level as Familiaris Consortio and Casti Connubii, even though both are technically Post-Synodal Exhortations. My reasons revolve less around the controversial chapter eight of Amoris Laetitia than around the fact that Amoris Laetitia lacks the theological and practical robustness of Familiaris Consortio. In a word, the 2015 Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops could have doubled down on Familiaris Consortio but—for complicated reasons—did not.

So, what specifically should the Church double down on now? In the world of investing, you want to look for downtrodden stocks that no one wants to buy. You want to aim high—not in the sense of being highly speculative but in the sense of expecting outcomes that others, for some reason or another, do not see.

So, let’s aim high by going back almost a century. Let’s look at the loftiest teachings of Casti Connubii as most worthy of careful analysis. Slowly and gradually, the value of this “investment” will surely become attractive to others and be given a solid “buy” rating.

First and foremost, Pius XI teaches that 

matrimony was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by Whom nature was redeemed, and hence these laws cannot be subject to any human decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves. (CC 5)

Would such a formulation prove persuasive to citizens in a liberal democracy today? Perhaps not. But if Christian couples lived by this principle of matrimony’s divine origin, would they not bear brighter witness to the joy and peace it brings (amid great suffering, of course) to a world torn by hate and division?

Pius XI then offers a beautiful catechesis on the three blessings of marriage identified by St. Augustine: offspring, conjugal faith, and the sacrament.

With regard to the first, Pius aims high, writing that Christian parents must understand 

that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow-citizens of the Saints, and members of God’s household, that the worshippers of God and Our Savior may daily increase. (CC 13)

Would your local Child Protective Services (CPS) adhere to such a principle? Not likely. But if every Christian family planted seeds in the culture by implementing this teaching in their own family, fewer CPS services would likely be needed.

The second blessing of matrimony, “conjugal honor,” 

consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what belongs to one of the parties by reason of this contract sanctioned by divine law, may not be denied to him or permitted to any third person; nor may there be conceded to one of the parties anything which, being contrary to the rights and laws of God and entirely opposed to matrimonial faith, can never be conceded. (CC 19) 

Pius XI sets a very high bar here, enjoining couples to avoid absolutely anything and everything that compromises this honor. In a world saturated with pornography and an increasing tolerance for adultery, Pius XI reminds us that the Lord “forbade also even willful thoughts and desires of such like things: ‘But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart’” (CC 21). Imagine the returns if Christian couples made a large-scale investment in this teaching. In a world saturated with pornography and an increasing tolerance for adultery, Pius XI reminds us that the Lord “forbade also even willful thoughts and desires of such like things.Tweet This

Finally, the “accumulation of benefits” that flow from marriage 

is completed and, as it were, crowned by that blessing of Christian marriage which in the words of St. Augustine we have called the sacrament, by which is denoted both the indissolubility of the bond and the raising and hallowing of the contract by Christ Himself, whereby He made it an efficacious sign of grace. (CC 31) 

The potential effectiveness of this sign, not only to the married couple and the Church but to the culture at large, hardly needs to be argued. As any successfully married couple can tell you, the return on the sacramental investment is literally infinite.

I admit that the analogy between investing and where the Church should dedicate her energy is far from perfect. But it does have some use in a far-from-perfect world. Just as every dollar counts in investing, every word counts in evangelization. Use both wisely and sparingly. Stop pouring them into the losers when you have a winner as big as the family.

Author

  • Daniel B. Gallagher

    Daniel B. Gallagher is a Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy at Ralston College. He previously served as Latin Secretary to Popes Benedict XVI and Francis at the Vatican.

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