‘Betrayed Without a Kiss’ — John Clark’s Guide to God’s Plan for Marriage

BOOK PICK: New book defends the sacrament of matrimony.

‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ is shown in a fresco in St. Augustine Church in Covington, Kentucky.
‘The Marriage of the Virgin’ is shown in a fresco in St. Augustine Church in Covington, Kentucky. (photo: Nheyob / CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)



John Clark

TAN Books, 2023

276 pages, $29.95 

To order: BETRAYED WITHOUT A KISS - Defending Marriage after Years of Failed Leadership in the Church | EWTN Religious Catalogue


Catholic marriage is in crisis, in no small measure the consequence of many people failing to recognize matrimony as a sacrament. 

Register contributor John Clark examines the contemporary crises facing marriage and recognizes the necessity of recovering the awareness of its sacramentality. In 10 chapters, he treats the problems affecting modern marriage.

“Modern” here is a relative term, because Chapter One goes back to the Bible, and the subsequent chapters start with the Protestant Revolution. “Modern” problems don’t necessarily lack old roots.

Chapter One, in fact, argues that marriage is one of the lead victims of the Fall. Satan, in his isolated pride, has no love for any communion of persons, be that between man and God or man and woman. The latter, which brings even more hybrid beings — bodies and souls — into the world is especially repugnant to him. So, while Sister Lucia of Fatima has maintained that the final battle with the devil would occur over marriage and the family, it’s no exaggeration to say the first one took place over them, too.

But it’s with the Reformation that many modern problems with marriage originate. The one thread uniting Protestants was denial of marriage’s sacramentality. 

The non-sacramentality of marriage and, therefore, the permissibility of divorce was long the dividing line between Catholic and Protestant. Clark shows how errors multiply in the 20th century. It starts with the Anglican permission of contraceptive intercourse, an “exception” that soon became the pan-Protestant norm. It spread socially with the acceptance of pornography, in print before it became ubiquitous online, and a feminism that saw men and marriage as the enemy. It accelerated with the effort to push the sexual revolution (in the form of contraception in the 1960s) in the Catholic Church, which Clark also blames on the tardy and timid response of bishops and priests. The latter was a phenomenon not unprecedented: Clark argues Clement VII’s delay in acting against Henry VIII’s attempt to divorce Catherine of Aragon, the decade between the call for Trent and its actual convening, and Paul VI’s “no-but” approach leading to Humanae Vitae were all failures to affirm clear Church teaching. 

In subsequent chapters, Clark challenges some contemporary ecclesiastical practices. He argues powerfully against the psychologization of nullity under the “American Procedural Norms” and how they have made U.S. Church tribunals global leaders in issuing annulments. He challenges the norm in diocesan marriage tribunals requiring a civil divorce before nullity proceedings begin. He raises hard questions against the effort to admit divorced-and-“remarried” Catholics to the Eucharist, including the confusion of Amoris Laetitia. He offers concrete suggestions for renewing a Catholic ethos of sacramental marriage. 

But it all comes back to the central truth: Marriage is a sacrament, participating in the divine dispensation of grace, with its own inherent laws. 

Clark sums it up beautifully:

You fall in love with a woman and choose to unite with her for life in Matrimony because Jesus raised Matrimony to the level of a sacrament. In His omniscience, when Jesus raised Matrimony to a sacramental level, He thought precisely of your marriage. The angels in heaven love each other, but no two angels will ever be united like you and your wife. Your hope and prayer is that your ecstatic love brings forth new life. Not a single angel … can ever dream of such a thing; for all their powers, their love was not designed to bring forth new life. … And the band of gold on your finger symbolizes not merely an earthly love but a heavenly one.