Two good articles on marriage in church history and the contemporary debate on its definition

16 Jul

Matthew Tunininga on the troubled history of understanding sexuality in the history of the Church (excerpt; original article here):

Amid all the controversy over sex and marriage in the modern era, it is easy for conservatives and Christians to imagine that the church has always had it right, that if we could only get to a past era of godliness and morality, following the light of the Christian tradition, or the example of the saints in Scripture, all would be well. Skeptics have no trouble pointing to the flaws in this view. So many of the heroes of Scripture – Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, and many more – were polygamists. The Torah seems to have tolerated polygamy in the same way that it tolerated divorce.

And what of the Christian tradition? Consider the views of the greatest early church father Augustine:

Conjugal intercourse for the sake of procreation carries no fault; intercourse for the sake of satisfying lust, provided that it takes place with a spouse, carries a forgivable fault (venialis culpa) because of marital fidelity; but adultery or fornication carries a mortal fault. Therefore, abstention from all intercourse is better even than marital intercourse that takes place for the sake of procreation.

So writes Augustine in his treatise The Good of Marriage, which he wrote around 410. For Augustine there is a hierarchy of virtues and vices when it comes to human sexuality.

  1. Perfect Virtue – celibacy
  2. No Fault – sex within marriage for the purpose of procreation
  3. Venial Fault – sex within marriage for the purpose of satisfying sexual desire
  4. Mortal Fault – sex outside of marriage

As bizarre as it may seem to most Protestants today, this view of marriage was not out of the ordinary in Augustine’s day, particularly for an intellectual or a philosopher. Sexual desire was viewed by Platonists and Stoics alike as a form of enslavement to the passions of the body, which rational human beings seek to transcend. The early church widely identified the passion of sexual desire with original sin, or concupiscence. Augustine speaks for that tradition when he insists that sex is only fully virtuous when the sexual partners view themselves first and foremost as parents rather than as passionate lovers, sex being a problematic means to a laudable end. Augustine stresses with absolute clarity that sex for the purpose of satisfying sexual desire is not permitted per se. It is simply forgivable.

In fact, Augustine’s view of sexuality powerfully shaped the medieval church (its influence is still obvious, if diminished, even in John Calvin) and to a significant extent that of the Roman Catholic Church to this day. The path of perfect virtue, for Rome, and the path that all priests must take, is that of celibacy. Married partners who engage in sex without being open to the possibility of procreation fall into sin – hence the ban on artificial birth control.

And three good articles on the defense of traditional marriage by Ryan T. Anderson

Why traditional marriage matters

Bad things happen to children when marriage is redefined

“We know the statistics — that children who grow up without a father are five times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime; nine times more likely to drop out of schools and twenty times more likely to end up in prison,” Obama said less than five months before he was elected president in 2008.

“They are more likely to have behavioral problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of it,” he added.

But how can the law teach that fathers are essential if it redefines marriage to make fathers optional? Redefining marriage diminishes the social pressures for husbands to remain with their wives and children, and for men and women to marry before having children.

Redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships makes marriage primarily about emotional union, more about adults’ desires than children’s needs.

If that’s how we understand marriage, marital norms make no sense as a matter of principle. Why require an emotional union to be permanent? Or limited to two persons? Or sexually exclusive (as opposed to “open”)?

The future of marriage

 

 

 

Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: