Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What does it mean that marriage is indissoluble, Part II

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As mentioned in Part I of this article, we are exploring the concept of what is meant by “indissolubility” with regard to marriage, occasioned by the attention surrounding it following the 2014 Extraordinary Synod on the Family. We continue here.

We had to go into freedom and the vows before getting into indissolubility, because not only do we need to understand that this is not extrinsic to human nature, but also what is at stake in the Church’s upholding of this doctrine: what the Church is preserving when she declares marriage’s indissolubility is the ability of the human being to give himself forever. But this “forever” is not simply held in each spouse’s hands, subject to the follies of human nature—rather, the “forever” said by each of the spouses is a reality in itself that is both in each of the spouses, but also beyond each of the spouses, not sustained by shifting moods, emotions, or phases. The “forever” is held in the marriage bond itself, a third thing, which both generates and is generated by the freely chosen relationship of the spouses. What I mean to say here is that the marriage bond is not simply a moral or contractual reality, with each party meeting the other 50% of the way; by “third thing” I mean that the marriage bond is a substance in itself (invisible, though no less real). It is, so to speak, a 100% in itself, generated by the 100% of both of the spouse’s selves. In this case, 100% does not equal 50%+50%; the equation actually looks more like this: 1+1=1.

David Amsler, "Happy Family" is licensed under CC. by 2.0
This is one of the reasons we say that a man and a woman “enter into” marriage: the form, somewhat mysteriously, precedes them and calls them to marriage itself, even while their freedom is perfectly respected. In fact it answers a deep desire included in our freedom—to give oneself away, and by doing so, create something new.

Thus, we see that if the marriage bond is a “third thing,” if the bond itself has a reality outside of the spouses’ persons, it cannot simply be destroyed because one or both of the spouses decides they no longer desire the relationship. The relationship, in the form of the marriage bond, which is given reality by the vows, now exists separate from the spouses from the moment they exchange their marriage vows. The handing of oneself over to another body and soul is so radical and powerful that when two people do it in the form of the vows, it generates an entirely new reality! This is what I mean when I wrote in the first part of this article that the Church cannot grant divorces because divorce does not truly exist. The Church knows and trusts human nature and freedom so profoundly that she recognizes its ability to say “forever” and generate an entirely third reality, different from each of the spouses. A marriage is indissoluble because it has an existence beyond the Church’s ability to grant or deny: it is not a permission the Church gives but rather an existence she recognizes and upholds. She knows and has always known that marriage is thus supernaturally-natural—marriage is a sacrament, but one which has existed from “the beginning,” as it were (see on this point Eph 5, and Mt 19).

Should this “third” quality really be all that surprising to us? We see it all the time in another, analogical form: children. We know that the conjugal act, which is proper to marriage, bears out this “third” quality in a material way, bringing new human persons to being. Children are both generated by each parent, and yet entirely different beings, apart from their parents. Their existence is indissoluble, and their reality both mirrors and helps to explain the indissolubility of the marriage bond. Both children and the marriage bond are a third generated by, but truly apart from, the spouses, holding each of their “forevers,” well, forever.

And so I return again to the supernaturally-natural quality of marriage, and its indissoluble bond: what is more mysterious than the capacity of our freedom, of our very selves, to create something other than ourselves? It is a gift that was bestowed on human nature from the beginning, and a gift that the Church upholds and for which she cares. What indissolubility shows us and protects, therefore, is the capacity for human persons to reach beyond the confines of their limited being and affect the world with their action and freedom forever.

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