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Marriage: Willed and designed by God

 

Since tomorrow’s gospel speaks about the basic ground of human marriage- that is, it is designed and willed by God from the beginning, I am posting here as part 1 of my Sunday reflection online, a piece of my 25,000 word theological synthesis which  I did last year to complete my Academic requirements for the degree ‘Masters of Theological Studies’ in Melbourne College of Divinity. The topic on marriage is just one of the many aspects I have covered in my work. Part two of this post then would be my homily for tomorrow, 27th Sunday in Ordinary time.

Marriage

Marriage, a fundamental and ancient of human institution, is established and founded by a marriage covenant- “the irrevocable consent that the spouses freely give to and receive from each other.”[1] And this is rightly so because God has willed this from the beginning of creation, as re-affirmed by the Second Vatican Council  in its Constitution on the Church in the Modern world, acknowledging God himself as “the author of marriage who endowed it with various benefits and with various ends in view.”[2] 

In this light then, we can also  understand that marriage is a commitment for life, an indissoluble communion of love between a man and a woman, until the death of one of the spouses.[3]

Jesus himself affirmed this when he was confronted with the issue of divorce. Re-echoing the Genesis account,  he taught that it had always been part of the divine plan of the Creator that marriage  is between a man and a woman, forming an intimate communion of life and love[4], as expressed in their three-fold action of leaving (the parents), joining (with the spouse), and uniting (as one body)[5], to be “rooted in the personal and total self-giving of the couple, and being required by the good of the children.”[6] For by its very nature, marriage is “ordered toward the good of the couple and to the generation and education of children.”[7]

Marriage is indissoluble.

Walter Kasper explains that marriage is indissoluble not only because God wills it, but also because it is inherent in the sacrament itself. He  asserts that the indissolubility of marriage is in fact “based and founded on the anthropological character of marriage as such”, and that “it is in the inner tendency towards definitiveness and exclusiveness of the act of giving and receiving of the two persons in marriage.”[8] According to him, the indissolubility of marriage is “not based exclusively on a law of the church nor is it simply a moral norm or a metaphysical principle. It is rooted in the sacramentality of marriage itself.”[9]

Bishop Peter Elliot outlines three aspects which render “the bond of marriage indissoluble”[10]: i.e. mutual consent, consummation and spousal union. 

Consent, the Bishop notes, as “expressed through those simple words of taking and accepting each other are “words of great power, words which change reality.”[11] The Bishop adds that the words of consent make up “the form of a sacrament…the effectual form of marriage.”[12] The giving of  consent is also “an act of will by which a man and a woman by an irrevocable covenant mutually give and accept one another for the purpose of establishing a marriage.”[13]

Consummation is an expression of married love.[14] Pope John Paul II writes:

This conjugal communion sinks its roots in the natural complementarity that exists between man and woman, and is nurtured through the personal willingness of the spouses to share their entire life project…for this reason such communion  is the fruit and the sign of a profoundly human need.[15]

The Pope here is not separating the consummation aspect of marriage from consent  because he understands that it is constitutive, meaning that both aspects are intimately linked. For him, consent in consummation is not only a “consent to sexual intercourse, but as consent to the total giving of self in an exclusive and absolutely binding way.”[16]

The third aspect of marriage that makes it indissoluble is spousal union. The Genesis account describes this union quite clearly, i.e. “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Gen.2:24) Jesus has taught us that these three actions are not just human initiatives  but also of God.  “It is God”, Bishop Elliot says, “who joins husband and wife in this sacred bond as they exchange their mutual consent and consummate their solemn nuptial contract by sexual union.”[17] Together with the demands of marriage,[18] spousal union also demands an oath of faithfulness and exclusivity- a “task which had to be realized personally [because] marriage is an ontological bond, [an objective bond] that was exempt from any action or interference…”[19]

St. Paul has elevated marriage, in its aspect of a spousal unity, to a higher level.  He calls this sacrament of marriage a “great mystery,” which he applies by analogy to the relationship of Christ and the Church. [Eph.5:32]. Bishop Elliot agrees with St Paul by delving further the meaning of those words of consent expressed by the couples in marriage. He remarks that the consent they have expressed is a “consent of love, infused with the Love of the archetype which is signified in this sacrament of the ‘great mystery’ of the Love of Jesus Christ for His spouse, the Church.”[20] Knowing this great dignity of marriage, Pope John Paul II realizes that marriage is indeed a part of the Divine will and plan that marriage is an indissoluble covenant for it also serves as the “fruit, a sign and a requirement of the absolutely faithful love that God has for man [& woman] and that the Lord Jesus has for the Church.”[21] Thus, it is rightly called a sacrament.

 

[1] Rite of Marriage, English translation (Sydney: E.J. Dwyer, 1984), n. 2.

[2] Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, n. 8.

[3] Peter J. Elliot, What God Has Joined: The Sacramentality of Marriage (Homebush, NSW: St Paul Publications, 1990), 205-206.

[4] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1660.

[5] (cf Mk 10:6-9; and Mt 19: 6-8) When Jesus responded to the issue of divorce raised by the Pharisees to him, he  re-affirmed the Old Testament teaching  saying: “From the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female,” and thus, “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” [Mk 10: 6-9].

[6] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Apostolic Exhortation (1982), n. 20.

[7] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n.1660.

[8] Kasper, Theology of Christian Marriage, trans. P. Smith (London: Burns & Oates, 1980), 45.

[9] Kasper, Theology of Christian Marriage, 49.

[10] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 162.

[11] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 119.

[12] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 119.

[13] The Code of Canon Law, English translation, (1983), Can. 1057, § 2.

[14] (cf Gaudium et spes, 49) Consummation is another aspect of marriage that renders it indissoluble. Gaudium et Spes carefully puts this aspect in the context of married love. It teaches, “Married love is an eminently human love because it is an affection between two persons…and it embraces the good of the whole person. It can enrich the sentiments of the spirit and their physical expression with a unique dignity…” The Council also tells us that “married love is uniquely expressed and perfected by the exercise of the acts proper to marriage…[and] the truly human performance of these acts  fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude.”

[15]John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, n.19.

[16] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 138.

[17] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 143.

[18] Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, n.50.

[19] Edward Schillebeeckx, Marriage: Human Reality and Saving Mystery, trans. D. Smith (London: Sheed & Ward, 1976), 141.

[20] Elliot, What God Has Joined, 120.

[21] John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, Apostolic Exhortation (1982), n. 20.

 

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