Friday, January 30, 2015
Time for the Family 1/30/2015 RColeman , St. John Paul II , Theology of the Body , TOB , vulnerability
We continue here our explorations into St. John Paul II’s series of Wednesday Catecheses, which eventually became known as Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body (TOB, for short). To see other posts on this topic, click here.
The phrase “language of the body” doesn’t appear systematically until the third part of St. John Paul II’s TOB, but when it does, it carries a good deal of significance. In fact, the late pope built the first two parts of TOB—dedicated to theological anthropology and sacramentality—such that he could introduce this phrase intelligibly. “Language of the body,” then, could be understood as a key to help open up all of TOB’s meaning a bit more for us.
We are almost all, I think, familiar with the term “body language,” as well as the corresponding factoids about something like 60% of human communication coming through that rather than our words. Clearly, if I say “everything is fine” with a sharp tone, my arms akimbo and a dark look on my face, everything may not, in fact, be fine. Most people understand this on an intuitive level.
We might say, as well, that the body has another kind of language, in the realm of medicine or health. Aches and pains plus a fever probably indicate the flu, while this throbbing below my eye may have something to do with my propensity for sinus headaches. Indeed, the body seems at times to exert its own authority over ourselves in the form of pain: you think you can run a mile in the time it took when you were 18? Well, your left knee, your heart, and your lungs beg to differ. No running for you today. Or any other day.
So let’s start by acknowledging that the body is communicative “of its own accord,” so to speak. It’s not always the mind reading an intelligibility onto the lifeless matter of our body. Rather, this intelligibility is built right in, as it were. The body is not dumb stuff we have to pick apart in order to learn anything about it; it talks to us on its own. Basic principle, then: the body is intelligible, and therefore, communicative.
|John Paul II (AFP Photo/Alberto Pizolli)|
This is not actually a new idea. St. Gregory of Nyssa’s On the Making of Man uses the form of man’s body compared to everything else in the created world, as a sign that man is meant for reason, or vice versa:
1. But man's form is upright, and extends aloft towards heaven, and looks upwards: and these are marks of sovereignty which show his royal dignity. For the fact that man alone among existing things is such as this, while all others bow their bodies downwards, clearly points to the difference of dignity between those which stoop beneath his sway and that power which rises above them: for all the rest have the foremost limbs of their bodies in the form of feet, because that which stoops needs something to support it: but in the formation of man these limbs were made hands, for the upright body found one base, supporting its position securely on two feet, sufficient for its needs.
2. Especially do these ministering hands adapt themselves to the requirements of the reason: indeed if one were to say that the ministration of hands is a special property of the rational nature, he would not be entirely wrong; and that not only because his thought turns to the common and obvious fact that we signify our reasoning by means of the natural employment of our hands in written characters. It is true that this fact, that we speak by writing, and, in a certain way, converse by the aid of our hands, preserving sounds by the forms of the alphabet, is not unconnected with the endowment of reason . . . (from Book VIII)
In this Cappadocian Father’s understanding, our bodies indicate our supremacy over the rest of creation in and through our intellectual soul; even our hands are reasonable by this account. This is obviously still the case, and certainly not something St. John Paul II takes for granted, but it is also not his emphasis.
What St. John Paul II emphasizes in looking at the structure of the body as its own language is the body’s inherent relationality. Yes, the intellectual soul defines man (what is man? “A rational animal,” answers Plato), but if we don’t look at the whole of what that intellect means, we’re missing a big part of the picture; part of it, the late pope helps us to see, is this relational structure.
My body didn’t pop out of nowhere, fully formed as an adult. Rather, I came from someone, in fact, grew in someone before I was ever in born. I come from another, am related to another, from the first moment of my existence; there is then, a certain neediness or vulnerability built in to being human. I need other people, and other things outside of myself in order to survive. Even as a fully formed adult, this remains true; hunger and thirst are not simply biological mechanisms, rather if we take the unity of body and soul seriously, they also help communicate something about what it means to be human: to need things, to be needy, and therefore to have to relate to others.
This inbuilt vulnerability and relationality is not in the idealized version of man with which we are commonly presented today. That man would probably look something like a powerful man who needs nothing and no one—he gets to choose how he relates to anything or anyone, if he chooses to have a relationship at all. Maybe some idealized version of a cowboy? You get the picture.
If that’s true though, this cowboy doesn’t have a belly button. By that I mean, again, that our own bodily structure points us to the relationships that both constitute us and precede our choosing them. The relation we have to our parents is pretty clear—it’s natural, and it truly must precede us and truly does constitute us—but if we trace these relationships back through the generations, we may start to understand that something or someone preceded all of them at the beginning: our Creator.
The body’s inherent vulnerability then, is not something about which we must be ashamed, but rather the first place we can start to contemplate what it means to have a relationship with our Creator, in a word, what it means to be a creature. This is what St. John Paul II helps to reminds us of in the Wednesday Catecheses: that rationality doesn’t just define us, it is also first and foremost a gift from the Creator; a gift that is inscribed into our very flesh. And if that is true, then surely the body has a language of its own.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
-- Pope Francis, General Audience on December 17, 2014 (a throwback to a mere month ago!)
Wednesday, January 28, 2015
An acquaintance of mine is in a difficult, although I’m afraid, common, situation. He is Catholic, his wife is not. He desires to follow the teachings of the Church; she is not necessarily driven by that same desire. Their firstborn child is less than a year old and they would like to know when the wife’s fertility will return so that they can get their feet back underneath themselves (for readers who might not have children yet . . . an infant changes one’s life more than one can possibly imagine and some couples thrive on the change while others need relatively more time to
reach an equilibrium) before any more babies come along.
The thing is though, when a wife does not know if she is fertile or not and her husband cannot confidently guide his wife’s interpretations of her body’s natural signs and symptoms of fertility then what happens to said couple’s frequency of, and attitude toward, making love? Unfortunately, my anecdotal evidence (from this and other “case studies”) reveals that frequency drops to “zero” and their attitude turns to “crazy-asinine-risky.”
But is this the inevitable outcome when at least one spouse is striving to follow the wisdom of Blessed Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, when he wrote that every instance of husband and wife making love must climax in a way that is open to the possibility of new life (see numbers 11 & 12)?
Are faithful Catholics invariably signing up for marriages where spouses go for prolonged periods of fearful abstinence? No.
So what are couples such as my buddy and his wife supposed to honestly do in situations? Well, let’s look at the options:
A) Keep on keeping on.
But does this jive with the reality that sacramental marriage between baptized Christians is a channel of grace so that Christ’s love for the Church can be known in the midst of world that does otherwise see his divine love (Eph 5:32)? Or that Jesus is the Good Shepherd come so that his flock may have life in abundance (Jn 10:10)? I don’t think so.
B) Do what most everyone else is doing out there: use hormonal contraception or a barrier method.
But what about the pesky insight that deliberately contraceptive acts are “intrinsically wrong” because they separate the two inbuilt realities (babies and bonding) communicated by spouses when making love? Hmmm.
C) Double down and really make sure we understood what they were teaching when we learned Natural Family Planning (NFP) prior to getting married.
This does, however, assume that spouses already were taught the basics and know them and have a good grasp of them. But even if they do not, they can be brought up to speed relatively quickly. While this certainly entails some work, it seems doable given that all sorts of venues exist for learning NFP or increasing one’s knowledge of how to chart during the objectively more difficult time of breastfeeding/postpartum.
Option A and C are relatively self-explanatory, I believe. It is option B, which is not really a viable possibility for those following a well-formed conscience, that I think perplexes Catholics and non-Catholics alike in the world today. So maybe a brief explanation:
The marital embrace has two “inherent significances” (Humanae vitae 12) that cannot be split apart without necessarily encountering pain/sorrow/woe/anguish far worse than prolonged periods of fear-induced abstinence. But what’s the big deal about the marital embrace anyway? Why this prohibition on contraception with a simultaneous affirmation of NFP?
The conjugal act is not a mechanism; one can’t take it apart and put it back together as one wishes, with or without all its parts. It is rather an organic reality, the significances of which can’t be removed from each other. Without an openness to the procreative meaning of the act, the unitive meaning just isn’t there either. The act is a whole, meaning that it is more than the sum of its parts. We don’t just check off a list of what we want to get out of it each time.
Contraception treats the marital embrace as if it were mechanical and artificial. It’s as if we could choose a part we don’t like and take it out of the equation. And, not incidentally, the attitude behind contraception treats the woman as if she too were mechanical: we don’t like this part of her body, so we’ll just make it obsolete.
NFP, on the other hand, looks at not only the marital embrace as a whole, but also each of the persons involved as organic wholes. Life has a natural rhythm and pattern to it that we can learn and respect, which is, by the way, properly what dominion is. We need not be afraid of the natural; we need instead to know and respect it.
Which, then, is human, Christian, married love more like, a machine or an organic reality? If the latter you say, then we are onto something big and hopefully it is beginning to make sense why we cannot even for one instance of making love with our spouse separate the prospect of baby making from our profound union through sexual intimacy. For to do so would be to treat our bodies, souls and married love as if it were a robotic assembly line product simply interchangeable with other parts if the situation demands.
The Good News though is that if ever we have mistaken the mechanical for the organic, Love Himself stands ready to resurrect our married love and turn our sorrow into joy.
Monday, January 26, 2015
In my previous article, I wrote about the process of determining a marriage valid or invalid as a means through which the Church demonstrates mercy and justice. Unfortunately, we live in culture with disposable mentality. There seems to be a need to have quick fixes in the form of no-fault divorces (or any divorces in general). The desired celerity of resolutions only results in the same mistakes occurring again and again; it buries the burdens and further damages the spouses. While the slow pace of the case is necessary to determine the invalidity or validity of the marriage, it can also provide time the couples need to grow from the experience and better understand their discernment of marriage.
As a canonist, I seek moral certitude, which is accomplished by instructing the case, that is, by determining motives and gathering evidence about the validity or invalidity of the bond of a marriage. I investigate the history of each of the spouses and their background as a couple, and most importantly, there is a discernment of the details that led them to pronounce a vow of marriage in the first place.
I emphasize to couples that the process is lengthy and focuses primarily on the beginning and not the end of their relationship/marriage. Though the ending of the relationship does not often apply to the investigation, the parties tend to be concerned with it, blaming the one another for it. While strong emotions can help me fish out the truth during interviews, my focus is on the beginning and the marriage/relationship itself; it is not a judgment of the persons.
Canonists—or any other tribunal officials—are neither spiritual directors, therapists, nor any sort of healing ministers, but the annulment process unveils elements of the spouses’ characters, psychologies, and personalities, sometimes revealing what has influenced their decision making and resulting mistakes. Every process begins when one of the spouses (the petitioner) requests to have their marriage investigated. In turn, the other spouse (the respondent) shares the same rights as the petitioner. Some petitioners are stuck and can't seem to see past the end of the relationship; they want the annulment process to go by quickly so they can forget their problems. Again, we see evidence here of our quick-fix culture. On the other hand, there are others who see the process as a means to grow and prepare, if called, to marry again. I don’t encourage or recommend how a couple should approach the process, I can only pray to God and His Holy Spirit to lead me to moral certitude as I instruct each case.
As the case nears the end, all the evidence is gathered (the publication of the acts) and both spouses can read the facts of their case. During this stage of the case, the couple is made aware of the evidence that the judge will evaluate and given the opportunity to provide feedback. They may read harsh details that they would rather avoid or simply forget, but this opportunity should also serve as a reminder that God is the healer and He loves us through it all.
When the final decision is reached and a vetitum (condition that needs to be met before the couple can marry in the Church again) given, it provides a level of aid as the spouses discuss their previous relationship with a counselor, psychologist, or cleric as determined by a judge according to the vetitum. For the canonist, the vetitum is placed not to hinder a new marriage but in the hope that next marriage will be according to the teachings of the church.
Some individuals take the decision with a grain of salt and move on to their next marriage quickly (unless a vetitum is required). But from time to time, it is pleasant to witness individuals who go through the lengthy process with some sense of discernment or authentic growth. Yes, the process is slow, but it provides time for discernment and understanding of the mistakes made, in hopes for amendments and a clearer understanding of the fullest sense of a vow—that the couple is no longer two, but one flesh. The annulment process is therefore, no matter what the result, a continuation of the Church upholding what she has always known: that what God has joined together, no human being must separate.” (NABRE Mat. 19:6)
Have a question you’d like answered about canonical law? You can email it directly to askacanonlawyer[at]gmail.com
Thursday, January 22, 2015
Here it is folks. The definitive explanation of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, the one that will answer all your questions from, “Hey, what is a catechesis, anyway?” to, “Isn’t the body a natural thing? Why does it also need to be theological?” You’ll find all the answers below.
Obviously I’m kidding.
A great deal of ink has already been spilled over the series of Wednesday catecheses the late great pope delivered over the course of five years which have become known popularly as the “Theology of the Body,” (TOB) and undoubtedly, more will be spilled for many years to come. St. John Paul II’s writings on this topic are quite long, quite dense, and of course, quite beautiful.
They’ve garnered attention since St. John Paul II began them, and they will continue to do so because they tend to strike a chord with people, as the saint himself does. There is something both astonishing and yet deeply resonant, especially in our current cultural situation, about someone telling us not only that our bodies matter, but that it is precisely the body which opens up our horizons, that relates us to each other, and even to our Creator.
But these things take some unpacking, which explains the aforementioned ink-spilling, and also why, for the next couple of months, I too will be writing on TOB. I hope here to draw attention to some less commonly highlighted aspects of the work. I should also mention that my attempts will in no way be exhaustive.
I’d like to start with the question of why John Paul II wrote and delivered the Wednesday Catecheses. It seems to me that TOB is commonly framed in terms of sex and marriage, but often is not given a great deal of attention outside of that context. The problem with that approach is that the body doesn’t come into play only when it comes to sex and/or marriage. Rather, bodiliness is the human reality, the one we all share, despite myriad other differences, and it is therefore something we have to deal with, in one form or another, all the time. I am embodied from the beginning, not just when I start thinking about getting married.
Let’s be clear: I’m not saying that TOB has nothing to do with sex and marriage or vice versa. I’d just like to broaden the context in which we think about it. Which leads me again to my titular question: Why did John Paul II write a Theology of the Body?
We’ve pointed out a couple times already on this site that an understanding of freedom as a lack of constraint or limits is insufficient to our experiences and desires (see here and here). However, we deal with this modern concept of freedom all the time, and we see its marks on all things in our society.* But freedom from constraints/freedom from limits comes up against a very real and unavoidable limit rather quickly: the body. It’s just human existence: I am limited, not only temporally speaking (i.e., birth and death), but also spatially/physically. I can’t walk through walls. Flying isn’t an option for me like it is for the birds, nor is swimming in the way a whale can. Of course, man can “push himself to the limit” physically, but there is always a limit.
But this bodily limit is a roadblock for a modern conception of freedom. A body gets in the way of my potential-to-be-unfettered. And so, perhaps unsurprisingly, we see the body being attacked in many different ways today. Our anthropology—the way we view ourselves, what we think the meaning of mankind is—is one which looks down on the body, sees it, ultimately, as an inconvenience. This is problematic for many reasons, but in the end it’s a bit like existential suicide: to hate and attack that by which I live is to hate and attack myself.
I would suggest that St. John Paul II saw this kind of attack “coming down the line,” so to speak. This modern conception of unfettered freedom has a long history, and St. John Paul II understood that its eventual end would have to be an attack on our very bodies. This means, of course, an attack on our own self-understanding. Our anthropological vision has become quite skewed, which affects our relation to God, the cosmos, and of course, the relationships between man and woman.
What John Paul II is doing, then, in TOB, is trying to help us repair our vision. This includes seeing our bodies in the light they are meant to be seen: the doubly revelatory lights of the Genesis accounts and the reality of the Incarnation. “From the beginning” man is created with flesh, and then, unbelievably (!), that very flesh has the capacity to become God. This is where our understanding of human nature should begin, rather than some fairly abstract of notion of being able to do whatever I want.
So then, let us begin to think about human nature and its meaning by approaching our bodily reality as good. From this starting point, our questions about the meaning of the body and our own existence may be answered most sufficiently.
*Just for fun: count how many times over the next few days you see an advertisement for anything telling you that you can do whatever you want to do, be whoever you want to be. Once you start to take notice, it’s rather striking.
"I do not hesitate to proclaim before you and before the world that all human life—from the moment of conception and through all subsequent stages—is sacred, because human life is created in the image and likeness of God. Nothing surpasses the greatness or dignity of a human person. Human life is not just an idea or an abstraction; human life is the concrete reality of a being that lives, that acts, that grows and develops; human life is the concrete reality of a being that is capable of love, and of service to humanity.
"Let me repeat what I told the people during my recent pilgrimage to my homeland : "If a person's right to life is violated at the moment in which he is first conceived in his mother's womb, an indirect blow is struck also at the whole of the moral order, which serves to ensure the inviolable goods of man. Among those goods, life occupies the first place. The Church defends the right to life, not only in regard to the majesty of the Creator, who is the First Giver of this life, but also in respect of the essential good of the human person" (8 June 1979).
|Loving Earth, "Baby Feet II" is licensed under CC by 2.0|
"Human life is precious because it is the gift of a God whose love is infinite; and when God gives life, it is for ever. Life is also precious because it is the expression and the fruit of love. This is why life should spring up within the setting of marriage, and why marriage and the parents' love for one another should be marked by generosity in self-giving. The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish. The fear of making permanent commitments can change the mutual love of husband and wife into two loves of self—two loves existing side by side, until they end in separation.
"In the sacrament of marriage, a man and a woman—who at Baptism became members of Christ and hence have the duty of manifesting Christ's attitudes in their lives—are assured of the help they need to develop their love in a faithful and indissoluble union, and to respond with generosity to the gift of parenthood. As the Second Vatican Council declared: Through this sacrament, Christ himself becomes present in the life of the married couple and accompanies them, so that they may love each other and their children, just as Christ loved his Church by giving himself up for her (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 48 ; cf. Eph 5 :25)."
-- St. John Paul II, Mass at the Capitol Mall in Washington, DC, 1979
Monday, January 19, 2015
Time for the Family 1/19/2015 Contraception , Dignity of the human person , Family , Fruitfulness , KVidmar , Love
I recently came across a startling fact: If present trends continue, by the year 2050 roughly 60% of Italians will no longer have the experience of having a brother, sister, aunt, uncle, or cousin. How can this be? Like many countries in Europe, the birth rate is well below the replacement rate. And when couples are having children, they are only having one. Fast forward to the next generation – if I’m an only child and I marry an only child, then neither of us know what it means to have a sibling. And it follows that our children will not have aunts, uncles, or first cousins.
|Dennis Jarvis, "Italy-2516-Taormina" is licensed under CC by 2.0|
Why aren’t Italians having babies? Is it true that their cultural and civilizational morale is truly so low, their hope for the future truly so bleak that they do not have the collective desire to raise up a new generation? Following St. John Paul II’s line of thought, how is it possible that an entire culture can come to view children as a threat rather than a gift?
To find an answer, I need look no further than my own heart.
When my daughter was 11 months old, my husband and I conceived again. Mary Claire, my beloved little girl, was still so dependent on her mama. Due to medical problems early on, she was just beginning to catch up developmentally. Anticipating the demands made on a mother by an infant, I admit that several times throughout the early weeks of my second pregnancy I found myself thinking things like this:
“Mary Claire’s not showing any signs of walking soon – what on earth will I do if I have to carry two babies around wherever I go?”
“Poor Mary Claire! With another baby around, I won’t be able to respond as quickly as I am now when she needs me. What if she’s crying and I can’t comfort her?”
Though it is truly insane, I admit that the notion that this new child was somehow a threat to me, but moreover, a threat to my firstborn, was very real. Gratefully, through the life of grace, a wonderful husband, and good friends, I was able to recognize these passing thoughts for what they were and ask Jesus to send them back to hell where they belong.
Thank God for the experience. It affirms for me the answer to this question: How do the “structures of sin” John Paul II spoke about become embedded in a culture? Always and only and evermore through individual acts of spiritual decision – through the human heart. Hearts like yours, and hearts like mine.
After loving my husband, a sibling is the greatest gift I can give my daughter. By God’s grace, I’ll be able to introduce her to her brother or sister in the next few weeks, and her education in the little “school of love” that is our family will begin a new chapter.
Friday, January 16, 2015
Fiftieth wedding anniversaries used to seem like charming instances of life-long love or inspiring witnesses of the peace that comes from multiple decades of marriage. Sure, most couples mention the “hard times” of marriage, but it seemed to me that such hard times were in the past – perhaps even a couple of decades before. A golden jubilee seemed more like a celebration of a new, peaceful existence.
Last week, however, I received a new vision. Living in rural Indiana sometimes feels a bit like the Andy Griffith Show. Towns are small, news travels fast, and everyone is related. When joys and sorrows occur, they are felt by everyone.
So at the conclusion of Sunday Mass when two parishioners stood up to renew their wedding vows on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary, the entire church knew what stood behind their words.
“In good times and bad” … Just a few days before Christmas, their grandson was the first member of the family in three generations to die. He was only 21. Knowing that the celebration of their anniversary took place amidst what was likely the most tragic week of their lives highlighted that their commitment to love each other “in good times and bad” was not a promise of the past but a commitment they were even now witnessing.
“In sickness and in health” … The husband’s health struggles this past year were likely behind his wife’s tearful repetition of this portion of their vow. Through the uncertainties of surgeries and infections and middle-of-the-night care, this couple had witnessed to the parish what it means to give and receive love even when it is difficult.
“I will love you and honor you all the days of my life”… These words took on a renewed meaning as the parish witnessed the renewal of their vows. The priest who asked the couple to “repeat after me” was actually their son. The man who stood in the person of Christ in the sanctuary that morning was the fruit of their own love. Their son (along with their other children and grandchildren filling the front pews) were also concrete signs of the couple’s faithfulness to this vow that they made 50 years ago. But we also saw their desire and commitment to continue loving and honoring each other for however many days God gives them. It’s a promise they made 50 years ago, and one that they did not “remake” on their anniversary, but rather reaffirmed.
In some ways, the renewal of their vows was not about them, but about those of us who sat in the pews observing. It was a reminder of what every married couple is – an icon of God’s love.
|By Ranosonar (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons|
God loves us in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, and He will love us and honor us all the days of our life. Our reflection of that love in marriage is merely a glimmer of God’s love. We fail to love perfectly, and yet our imperfect attempts are called to witness to the existence of a perfect love. We would not be capable of loving one another without first receiving God’s love. Marriage is possible because God “first loved us.”
In St. John Paul II’s messages frequently known as Theology of the Body, he spoke of marriage as an icon of God’s love. As he said, “Can we not deduce that marriage has remained the platform for the realization of God’s eternal plans …?” (Theology of the Body 97:1).
From the beginning of creation, marriage has existed as a sign of God’s love. Every time we see a married couple we should be reminded of God’s love – His faithfulness, total self-giving, and fruitful generosity.
Last Sunday when my fellow parishioners reaffirmed their lifelong love, they were also reminding us that their participation in the Sacrament of Marriage was a gift to us all. Their love in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, all the days of their lives, ought to reveal something of God’s love to us.
And for all married couples, their witness is a reminder that our living of the Sacrament of Marriage is meant to be a gift to the world – a manifestation of God’s love, made visible through day to day acts of selflessness and service. The question we need to ask ourselves: How well does my marriage reflect God’s love to my spouse, my children and to others?
Thursday, January 15, 2015
"It seems to me that it [Gen 2:24; Mk 10:7-8] invites us to be more aware of a reality, already well known but not fully appreciated: that matrimony is a Gospel in itself, a Good News for the world of today, especially the dechristianized world. The union of a man and a woman, their becoming “one flesh” in charity, in fruitful and indissoluble love, is a sign that speaks of God with a force and an eloquence which in our days has become greater because unfortunately, for various reasons, marriage, in precisely the oldest regions evangelized, is going through a profound crisis. And it is not by chance. Marriage is linked to faith, but not in a general way. Marriage, as a union of faithful and indissoluble love, is based upon the grace that comes from the triune God, who in Christ loved us with a faithful love, even to the Cross. Today we ought to grasp the full truth of this statement, in contrast to the painful reality of many marriages which, unhappily, end badly. There is a clear link between the crisis in faith and the crisis in marriage. And, as the Church has said and witnessed for a long time now, marriage is called to be not only an object but a subject of the new evangelization." -- Pope Benedict XVI
Wednesday, January 14, 2015
Time for the Family 1/14/2015 Divorce , Family , Fruitfulness , Indissolubility , Marriage , RColeman
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.