Wednesday, June 6th, 2012
Even radically skeptical scripture scholars — i.e., those wont to say much of the Gospels do not bear Jesus’ actual sayings — recognize the veracity of his teachings on marriage. Of the few legal necessities that the Apostles maintained in granting concessions to the Gentiles, unlawful marriage remained forbidden. And for the early centuries of the Church (much as now), Christians were known for their very particular commitment to marriage and sexual virtue.
The Christian cannot understate the significance of marriage-either in understanding society’s proper ordering, or in appreciating God’s salvific design. In our day, we are witnessing a full-scale attack on marriage: No doubt about it. Many things have been said about the nature of marriage; many more things need be said.
One question we might ask is, “Does marriage really cease in Heaven?” It’s perhaps a bit odd, given the central significance of marriage in the history of Christian doctrine and practice; and it’s odd given the romantic intuition that love “lasts forever.”
Truly, the Church teaches, following our Lord’s own statement in today’s Gospel (Mark 12:18-27), that there is neither giving nor taking in marriage in heaven. Indeed, one common formula of matrimonial consent establishes the bond “until death do us part.” Hence, whatever the other issues, it is certainly allowable for a widow(er) to marry again.
Here are some things to think about:
Whatever people are thinking when they enter into marriage, they desire to give themselves to their spouses absolutely and uniquely. Traditionally, the giving of one to another, if it to be absolute, can only be to “another” who is truly, body and spirit, an other. Until the last several decades in civilized history, marriage has been recognized as contractable between members of opposite (i.e., complementary) sex only.
Two things follow from this complementary and absolute exchange (whether established through family arrangement or thrown individual romance). (1) In order for a person to give himself absolutely, he must give himself wholly, body and spirit. And the absolute gift of one’s body to another means the gift of one’s body until it is no more: until its death. (2) The kind of love that both manifests and supports the kind of absolute gift of oneself to another is naturally capacitated to engender life. (Hence, quite naturally, forms of love that are given to partners that are less than wholly other–not only in spirit but also in body–these forms of love are, in principle, incapable of furthering life: after all, they take away something less than 100% of one’s life since it has been given to someone who is less than 100% an-other, therefore nature need not prepare for its replacement.)
Given these two natural consequences of marital establishment–marriage’s natural and necessary indissolubility and procreativity–all forms of government (traditional-familial, civil, religious) have always maintained the right to regulate the institution–what constitutes it, how it may be established and whether it may be broken, and so on. Because the personal commitment of individuals is generally not sufficient to secure the bond that has been established, because of that bond’s ripple-effects upon the ordering of society, government imposes upon the bond a legal expectation that the agreement will continue.
Not only does the married couple receive certain benefits from the government; the government expects the couple to remain married for the good of society. Not only does the couple expect to remain together; furthermore, government seeks to help ensure they remain together. The principal reason for this legal strengthening is for the sake of the children. But because the individuals of the couple have created a dependency upon each other, the severing of the bond and the potential that one of the pair would consequently lack the means of livelihood is a proper concern of society’s authoritative ordering.
Thus, government imposes a legal constraint upon the free commitment of the couple that, all things being equal, expects them to remain married (even if such governments allow for divorce. Then again, note that the proper government regulates divorce as well).
The Church also expects such things of its couples. Due to moral weakness, the Church levels a legal expectation upon the couple that seeks to strengthen what is otherwise simply their moral commitment. More importantly, the Church teaches that the married couple is strengthened by the grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony to preserve their bond. But these two aspects–the Church’s concerns for both law and grace–are ineluctably coordinated.
At any rate, here is one item we can recognize as not necessary in heaven. Just as the beatified soul, face to face with God, is incapable of leaving God; similarly, in heaven, our bonds of love are incapable of being broken. As a consequence, there is no need for the legal contract to ensure the preservation of the bond! There is no marriage in heaven.
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ANGELS?
Then why are widow(er)s allowed to remarry? Jesus teaches that in heaven, we shall be like the angels. And yet, we know that we are not angels, but as body-soul composites we await the resurrection of our bodies. Moreover, our Lord gives recourse to mentioning the patriarchs, not only for the sake of mentioning life after death, but also for affirming the good of human bonds of affinity, ordinarily established through the family.
So, in heaven, like the angels, we will not suffer from the constraints of bodily distinction; our love will no longer be exclusive. And yet, because our God is God of the living, we shall maintain our bonds of love established here on earth insofar as they have been established in Christ–the order of charity will not cease.
The exclusivity of marriage will no longer exist, but the degrees of Christian love will, whether or not it was (legitimately) established with one or more persons during one’s earthly pilgrimage.
DIVORCEES AND THE SACRAMENTS
One thing to think about is how there is no need for sacraments in heaven. In heaven, we shall simply be in perfect communion with God. There will be no need for visible signs to communicate invisible grace; we shall simply be beholding God’s glory through His glory!
But sacraments are necessary here; just as (though for different reasons) the legal expectations of marriage are necessary here.
Individuals who are divorced and remarried may not receive Holy Communion: The basic bond that the Church expects of them has not only been broken (through divorce) but furthermore transgressed (through re-marriage); hence, the principal sign of one’s own bond with the Church (Holy Communion) is not fittingly received.
Of course, more could be said here about the state of grace and sin. But we are focusing upon the significance of marriage as a structural institution. And Christ has wedded himself to the Church, His Bridegroom, in such a way that is indissoluble, fruitful, and exclusive of those who reject the partnership. Since his coming, people are able to live in absolute self-gift for him (through consecrated life and priesthood) in a way that fulfills their human desires while living with an express view toward our heavenly state. And yet, the married state is not superceded or rendered obsolete. In fact, it is the one pre-lapsarian blessing that is not lost after the Fall, and which remains the seedbed of the Church!
So what are divorced Catholics (who have not remarried) to think about themselves? One thing to think about is their call to love. They need not feel like second-class citizens. They established a matrimonial contract that, for whatever number of reasons, was subsequently broken by civil government. But, lacking the declaration of nullity or the death of one’s partner, the Church does not recognize that marriage as having been dissolved: it basically still exists. Nevertheless, the divorced Catholic is not expected to return to one’s spouse in order to receive Holy Communion. Rather, he is to think of his life of grace and love, and seek everything that will foster it. In his present situation, that the divorced Catholic finds himself no longer “with” his spouse, it is because of the Catholic’s overarching and preeminent desire to love as Christ loves and to remain in his grace.
So what are divorced and remarried Catholics to do? Indeed, as an ordinary rule, they may not receive Holy Communion. But just as love is stronger than its legal bond, so too does God offer grace beyond the sacrament. The couple must be in a state of grace (i.e., minimally living as “brother and sister”), they must recognize they are not in a position to receive the principle visible sign of Communion with the Church, and they must remain obedient to the Church’s other precepts–among which, fulfillment of the Sunday obligation. And just as those couples deep down feel as if they are finally with a good person and ultimately trust in that love regardless of the marriage they previously contracted, similarly, they can trust that, if otherwise living according to God’s plan, they can be receiving grace even if unable to do so sacramentally, i.e., through the participation in the Church’s signs of grace, such as receiving Holy Communion.
THE RIGHT MIND
Let us then not be like the Sadducees, who assaulted Jesus with questions whose truth they were not truly seeking. Rather, let us trust in the marriage between Christ and His Church; let us recognize the super-significance of marriage, such that the Bible begins and ends with it.
Let us know the Scriptures and the power of God (Mark 12:24), and we shall know the truth and mercy of Our Savior.