Friday, January 29, 2010

An Alternate Marriage Proposal from the East

In my last post I laid out an amateur "synergizing" of the Eastern and Western views on remarriage that, though it would require some reworking of canon law on the part of the West, addresses the concerns and preserves the essential teachings of both sides.

on a side note, I'd like to discuss an interesting alternate proposal I've seen floated by some Orthodox, that I think would, however, be less acceptable to the Catholic side.

This proposal would have us broaden our concept of "validly consummated" to include more nuance than just the first completed mechanical act of intercourse post-wedding. As we admit that even Sacramental marriages validly ratified but not consummated may be dissolved, their proposal would view annulled/dissolved marriages as having been Sacraments in their ratification, but not fully in their consummation.

The uncertainty factor of "how do I know my marriage now is a valid Sacrament if putative marriages later annulled appeared to be also?" made moot in this proposal by changing the whole paradigm, by interpreting "consummation" as an eschatological horizon that is the culmination of the project of a life together, rather than a discreet moment at its beginning.

There would then be no question that Sacramental marriages had been validly ratified, but they always would be viewed as starting off "tentative" and then becoming more and more indissoluble as the couple grows in grace together, ie, as the marriage was progressively "consummated" (viewed as a process, not a moment, like ones relationship with God). The couple could, indeed, only "know for sure" once they did, in practice, persevere till death, for (like salvation itself) it is only then that the process would, in fact, be complete. The analogy with Christian life would extend to viewing baptism as analogous to the wedding, Communion as analogous to sex, mortal sin as analogous to divorce, and confession and penance as analogous to the penitential subsequent marriages.

It is important for Catholics engaged in the ecumenical dialogue to understand this different paradigm. Catholics view Christ's prohibition of divorce as descriptive: meaning that divorce of validly ratified and consummated Christian Matrimony is impossible. Some Orthodox, however, would view Christ's prohibition of divorce as more proscriptive: in other words, divorce is forbidden but is not impossible. The Orthodox make the analogy of divorce to sin and would point out that, while sin is forbidden and the Church should never sanction or enable it...nevertheless, after the fact, the Church can absolve from it and restore communion through penance. Divorce is seen as a civil matter, and a grave sin, and so the Church does not sanction it, but can show oikonomia after the fact.

I find this proposal interesting, if ultimately problematic due to the fact that marriage doesn't continue after death and the fact that when you repent and return to the same God/Church, so the analogy of confession and penance would seem to be, rather, remarriage to the same person. The Orthodox would counter, however, that at death the marriage bond is transformed into the bond with God, and that any woman can be the icon of the Bride Church and any man an icon of the Bridegroom Christ in this analogous reconciliation (in the East, remember, the Priest is the actual minister of marriage, not just the witness, and might be analogized to the role of God the Father in this symbolic triad). But I find this interchangeability of persons disturbing, as part of marriage is the specific choice of one specific individual over all others, like the choice of God over all other idols. So, again, I'd have to say that if the bond is being viewed as specifically that which is analogous to the baptismal bond (as opposed to some lesser bond, like a merely natural marriage) then I'd have to view reconciliation as necessarily being reconciliation with the same spouse.

Still, viewing almost all (rather than a tiny subset of) annulled/dissolved marriages as "Sacraments ratified but not consummated" basically seems to be getting at the same idea as my "natural marriage that was even possibly a sacramental" proposal, it may even be possible to make them equivalent, and the broader conception of "consummation" as an ongoing process analogous to the progression of Christian life might, nevertheless, be an enriching spiritual framework for Catholic couples who want to deepen the spiritual aspect of their Marriage.

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