Monday, May 28, 2007

WHY Holy Matrimony—rather than "Christian Marriage"—is so central to the solution of the current Crisis of global Anglicanism

...and why it is so seriously neglected by even "the orthodox".

A starter for serious discussion!

Certainly the innovation of claiming covenanted same-sex unions as "witnesses to holiness," and of blessing them in the Name of Christ, is a serious threat to biblically-based, natural-law based, and traditional Christian teaching on sexuality. Thus right-minded Anglicans are absolutely right to oppose this innovation in their midst, even as they should also, at the same time, treat all fellow Christians who embrace the innovation with respect and compassion.

However, what is not sufficiently widely recognized—indeed seems to be recognized only by the few—is that the widely-received doctrine of marriage set forth in modern canon law, in modern Marriage Services and in contemporary Pastoral Practice ( e.g., in those of The Episcopal Church) is below that standard which used to be called "Holy Matrimony" and is found, for example, as the doctrine of the complete Marriage Service in The Book of Common Prayer (1662), in the context of English canon law.

The difference between modern "Christian Marriage" and traditional "Holy Matrimony" may be stated generally in these terms: "Modern Christian marriage" sees marriage as a means to one or more ends and not an End in itself. "Holy Matrimony" sees marriage as an End and intrinsic Good in and of itself ."

Holy Matrimony is based on the word of the Lord God in Genesis (2:24), a word repeated and underlined by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 10:1ff.; Matthew 19:3ff.): A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. The Good or End or divine Purpose of the marriage of a man and a woman is that they become one—that is, two-in-one-flesh. Here there is sexual complementarity, with permanence and fidelity; and as a result of the two-being-as-one-flesh there is union of hearts and bodies, with the openness to procreation. Then children are raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord within the stability of this continuing, permanent union. Here divorce is an absolutely last resort and is only for the most serious of reasons ( e.g., sustained adultery) and re-marriage is only after the death of one spouse.

This approach of "two-as-one-flesh" may be expressed in a more philosophical way:

Marriage, considered not as a merely legal convention or cultural artifact, but, rather, as a one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts that are reproductive in type, whether or not they are reproductive in effect, or are motivated, even in part, by a desire to conceive a child, is an instrinsic human good and, precisely as such, provides a more than merely instrumental reason for choice and action. The bodily union of spouses in marital acts is the biological matrix of their marriage as a comprehensive, multilevel sharing of life: that is, a relationship that unites the spouses at the bodily (biological), emotional, dispositional, and even spiritual levels of their being. Marriage, precisely as such a relationship, is naturally ordered to the good of procreation (and is, indeed, uniquely apt to for the nurturing and education of children) as well as the good of spousal unity.

Further, the procreative and unitive goods of marriage are tightly bound together. The one-flesh unity of spouses is possible because human (like other mammalian) males and females, by mating, unite organically—they form a single reproductive principle. Although reproduction is a single act, in humans (and in other mammals) the reproductive act is performed not by individual members of the species, but by a mated pair as an organic unit. [Professor Robert P. George, 2006]

And to this may be added:

Though a male and female are complete individuals with respect to other functions—for example, nutrition, sensation and locomotion—with respect to reproduction they are only potential parts of a mated pair, which is the complete organism capable of reproducing sexually. Even if the mated pair is sterile, intercourse, provided it is of the reproductive behavior characteristic of the species, makes the copulating male and female one organism. [Professor German Grisez, 1996.]

In this approach, marriage between a man and women in permanency and fidelity is not the means to anything else but an end or instrinsic good it and of itself; and the one-flesh union is the end and intrinsic good.

In great contrast, "Modern Christian Marriage," following the cultural trends in law and society, sees marriage as instrumental, that is, as the means to various possible ends or objectives (which may be judged by others as good, bad or indifferent). Prominent in modern approaches to marriage are those wherein it is seen in terms of a voluntary contract (made before witnesses or before witnesses and "God") between two persons primarily for their own happiness, fulfillment and satisfaction. Here the union as one flesh is seen not as an End in itself, a true, intrinsic and permanent Good, but as a means to various ends, primarily ones of erotic pleasure, and of friendship, and only sometimes one of procreation (as is well demonstrated by the low birth rate in the West). And the contract in place is not an enforceable one—as with contracts in most other areas of life—for it is governed by "no-fault" divorce law, which allows either partner to dissolve the instrumental union at will. Thus couples marry, recognizing that if it does not work out, then they can make use of divorce and start again, usually also knowing that they can go back to church a second or third time for the blessing of priest or bishop.

A study of the Canon Law of The Episcopal Church on Divorce and Re-Marriage (1973 and following), of its 1979 Marriage Service (cf., Canada 1985), and of the many Resolutions of its General Convention from 1970 to the present on Sexuality, clearly reveals that this Denomination is committed to "modern Christian marriage" (even though—thanks be to God--individual members may choose to live by the principles of "Holy Matrimony".) In fact, The Episcopal Church has in practice—if not yet in Canon law—taken the logic of "modern Christian marriage" to its apparent conclusion.

Here is how the logic works in this particular area of human experience. Since the coming together of two persons in marriage is not any longer taught as for the one and only Good, Purpose and End of being two-as-one-flesh (an End with various implications and fruit) but, rather, for one or more possible purposes which are self-chosen and which focus on self-fulfillment, then there is no reason why two loving same-sex persons should not also be united as a partnership (whether it is called "marriage" or "civil union") and given the blessing of a bishop or priest. This position makes very good sense when a Church has abandoned Holy Matrimony and is seeking to take into account the full impact of human rights legislation. Further, why should not God bless same-sex unions when apparently—says the modern Church--he blesses now opposite-sex unions which are entered for self-fulfillment and mutual support primarily or only.

From the point of view of the historical, received doctrine of Holy Matrimony, the real problem today is not what Bishop Gene Robinson and his partner are doing in New Hampshire. It is the rejection of Holy Matrimony in favor of diluted Christian Marriage by not only the Anglican Churches of the West but also of the so-called Global South as well. These so-called "orthodox" Churches/Provinces use Marriage Services from the 1979 Episcopal Book ( e.g., Southern Cone) or similar to it (e.g., Nigeria through its "modern" Prayer Book).

The tragedy of the present crisis of Anglicanism is that at its center is a battle between on the one hand a conservative reading and application of "modern Christian marriage" and on the other a radical reading of the same. The so-called "orthodox" and "traditionalists" are not standing on the platform of "Holy Matrimony" but, rather, at the high end of the one platform of "modern Christian marriage." This is most clearly seen in that all on the platform appear content with the 1979 Marriage Service of The Episcopal Church (or its equivalents). As the American Integrity leadership have said recently in all seriousness and with basic rationality: "The 1979 Service is fine for a same-sex couple if we simply change the words 'man' and 'woman' and 'he' and 'she' when necessary in the Service."

The tragedy is that the "orthodox" (be it "The Network" in the USA or "the Global Primates" overseas) have abandoned the sound ship, "Holy Matrimony," and are sailing—howbeit on a different deck—with their opponents on the unstable ship, "Modern Christian Marriage." May 25, 2007

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