3parenthood under the three headings of
, I ask how one enters into and sustains a marriage, under
I ask what happens when thingsgo wrong, as inevitably they do in any marriage, and under
I ask what options thereare when things cannot be put right. In each case, I’m offering a theological reflection whichis concerned with the pastoral and social questions that contemporary life poses to theChristian Church. I draw primarily on Catholic theology but what I say has relevance in awider Christian context, although it needs to be borne in mind that only the Roman CatholicChurch, and I think also the Methodist Church, consider marriage to be a sacrament. (TheCatholic Church recognised marriage as one of the seven sacraments in the thirteenthcentury).
Since the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s, the Catholic understanding of marriagehas undergone a transformation. As many of you know, the Catholic view of marriage hasalways included the two dimensions of partnership and procreation. Until Vatican II thepartnership dimension was seen as secondary to the procreative dimension – having childrenwas more important than the quality of the relationship between the husband and wife. Inaddition, although the sacramental understanding of marriage means that it is a sign of gracewhich reveals Christ’s love for the Church, the language of love has been conspicuouslyabsent from the doctrine of marriage. Only with Vatican II did doctrinal statements startemphasising the importance of love in the conjugal relationship. The Vatican II document,
Gaudium et Spes
, is regarded as a landmark in this context because of its emphasis on the lovebetween husband and wife, and because it dispenses with the idea that this unifying love issecondary to the procreative purpose of marriage. Marriage is now understood as equally andinseparably concerned with the loving union between husband and wife, and with theopenness of the relationship to procreation.The idea of marriage as a sacrament became bound up with a legalistic and somewhat staticapproach in the Middle Ages, which focused on the contractual aspect.
Marriage was acontract which was entered into through the marriage vows and sealed through sexualintercourse. This contract created an objective bond, the marriage bond, which was somehowseen as independent of the people involved in the relationship. As a relevant aside, it’s worthdrawing attention to the fact that as late as 1958 a canon law decision stated that“Consummation can be had independently of consciousness and free consent of the will”.
This meant that if necessary, one partner could be drugged in order for intercourse to takeplace to seal the marriage contract. Now, think about that for a minute. I stand to be