Totally Unnatural Marriage (Response series, Part 3)

It is clear that the Church and the World mean different things by the word, “Marriage”.  These things have never been the same, although at times the Church has come dangerously close to accepting the definition used by the world. To wit: parents or society in general recognize that this couple has permission to have sex.

Think of this for a moment: Eucharist is a Sacrament, but it is a perfectly lovely meal as well: a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine. I’d like some cheese with it, but that’s another issue.  We take a perfectly normal meal, and make it a vehicle for grace and salvation.  A Eucharist is a meal, but not every meal is a Eucharist (despite the attempt so some liberal prots to water down the sacraments by turning everything into communion – butter on the “bread made holy” makes an interesting addition to “communion” at these events).  A Eucharist is a special type of meal.  It is a sacramental subset of dining: it has its own rules, its own etiquette. Imagine if the “High Sacramentalists” got so hung up in the meal quality of the Eucharist and decided to force the state to serve bread and wine to everyone, or outlaw Chicken and Waffles because they are not the right sort of meal.

Sociologically Marriage in the Church is a sacramental subset of “personal pairings” in the world.  We have our own rules, our own etiquette, our own understanding of what it is: two vastly different human beings merging, becoming one flesh, to further their own salvation and the salvation of those around them. Children are a part of this – but not required.  Sex is a part of this – but not required.  Christian marriage is a sign of “Christ and the Church”. The husband is head of the wife, the wife is to yield to her husband’s leadership in love and charity. The husband is supposed to sacrifice his life for his wife’s salvation – which sacrifice will become his salvation as well.  This marriage is supposed to be a Sacramental sign or icon of the Marriage of Christ to the Church (and thus all of Humanity, united to God in Christ).  The Church takes the feminine role to Christ as her husband, as mankind is made anew as God’s bride. We are not replicating cultural functions here: the Church is creating them in response to revelation; as she did in Eucharist. We did not have to invent bread and wine to have Eucharist, but rather we had to give them new functions, new meaning, new purpose.

But this is interior content: this is the Church revealing the sacramental face of  something the world thinks they understand.  As the Eucharist teaches us that eating is not about the consumption of life-sustaining nutrients but rather about human participation in God’s life-sustaining grace in all things, so also marriage shows us that sex and human relationships (with or without sex) are not ends in themselves, but rather are portals to deeper life in God.  No signed secular contract can be this thing.  No heretical wedding can be this thing.  No Hindu or Muslim rite can do this. No handfasting, no broom jumping, no justice of the peace can perform it or make it happen.  Like the Eucharist, like Baptism, Christian sacramental marriage can only happen one way.

But sometimes we have treated Sacramental marriage as a fiscal transaction: with the boy (or his family) paying  to receive permission to have sex with his new bride from her parents.  We’ve given in to the cultural, secular understanding. Sometimes we’ve treated Church marriage as a doorway to respectability and “adulthood”.  Especially in America, the churches have all bought in to these secular meanings. The churches allow their ministers to serve as state functionaries, and even allow that state marriages are “real” marriages needing only a “blessing” from the church to become Sacramental ones.

To allow for this we’ve come up with an odd idea: “Natural Law”.  This fiction allows us to imagine that Christian marriage is part of the natural order.

If it were, it would not be salvific at all. There is grace in the natural order, of course: but it is not saving grace: it is prevenient grace there to bring us to God.  The natural order can give us food, but it can’t give us Eucharist. It can give us bathing, but not baptism.  It can give us sex, but not Christian marriage.

What is part of natural law, of course: it takes sperm and and egg to make a baby.  It takes a man and a woman to pop out children.  If we insist that baby-making is the main function of marriage then we might be able to say Marriage is part of the “natural order”.  That’s not even the primary function!  Getting the daily requirement for carbs is not the purpose of the Eucharist. Getting washed up is not the main purpose of baptism. The main function of marriage – as with all sacraments – is the salvation of the participants.  This may include children, may not. It may include sex – it may not. It may include sleeping apart as “brother and sister” and praying a lot more – it may not.  Christian marriage is not to be evaluated by earthly standards of happiness: frequency of sex, satisfaction with partner’s skills, romance, shared wealth.  It’s something completely different. The content of Christian Marriage is revealed by God to our fallen world as a way out: or else our marriages are meaningless. We’re just taking worldly marriage and dressing it up with a cross and some cool ritual.  I know a lot of so-called churches do this.  Real, Christian Marriage has theological, moral, sacramental and mystical content.  it’s not done by reading the same words we use: it’s done by getting martyred at the altar. As eating is to Eucharist and washing to baptism so secular weddings to Christian marriage.

We cannot make the assumption that when we say “Marriage is one man and one woman” that any non Christian even knows what we’re talking about.  It’s not at all natural: watch primates and other animals. You’ll see many permutations. Watch human cultures around the world, again: many permutations. Our marriage is something else: the real purpose,certainly, the prelapsarian ideal, maybe (we have no idea what that would have been) but not natural.  Nature like us is fallen.  The Church is constantly trying to take the world out of itself, and Christians out of the world.

Regardless of how the world or legal system allow for marriage contracts,  we need to add the descriptors “Christian Sacramental” to “Marriage” any time we want to use the world to see that.  “Christian Sacramental Marriage is one man and one woman”.  CSM and SSM are different.  We are not talking about he difference between “traditional marriage” and something new.  We are talking about “What the world does” versus “What God has revealed to us about using the human process as part of our working out our salvation in fear and trembling.”

I know the heretics will yell out “All the sacraments of all God’s people” but I have no idea what god they worship or what sacraments they practice.  That’s their problem, not mine.  When the world decides it likes the heretics better than the Christians we will suffer for marriage the way our ancestors suffered for icons and for the sacramental faith itself.

Revealed Religion (Response Series, Part 2)

Christianity is a revealed religion.  This may or may not come as a surprise to my readers. Christianity is not contained in the text of the Bible in any way.  It is the other way around: the Bible is contained in Christianity. Bibles in Hotel Rooms are as effective as bumper stickers in  teaching the content of the Truth of Christianity.  Revelation is neither in reading, rites, or rules: God is in Relationship.  “God is the Lord and has revealed himself to us,” we sing at Matins.  His revelation to us is in love: as from a Creator to his creation, as from a Father to his children.  His love for us brings about the world, and all that is in it including us and our salvation.

Or else the world is dead matter and nothing has any meaning unless we make it up as we go along. These two competing worldviews are the only two that matter.  There are only versions of them on a spectrum.  
For a long time – since Constantine, if not before – our story seemed easy to grasp because the world view was shared.  You may not have worshiped our God, but matter wasn’t dead matter.  It was imbued with something. As our story became the dominant story in our culture, it was not even necessary to train folks: we just had to take what they already knew and “activate it”.  Take a passive Christianity and turn it into an active one.  This wasn’t always very easy: in fact, most of Christianity for most people was a passive. Most of the religious culture engaged in, for want of a better label, what we now call “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism”. God was important for fixing things – sickness, the crops, the afterlife. We see this in religious artifacts from pagan cultures and from ours; prayers to fix things.  But if teachings on how to hear confession, east and west, are any evidence at all, the commandments got broken just as much.  
When I read things likes Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels or, when reading Jeeves and Wooster, I am amazed at how much church knowledge the writers can assume of their readers. Snippets of hymns, quotations from theBible, the Mass, or the Book of Common Prayer, all assume a huge cultural dictionary that was shared by everyone, even if they didn’t go to Church. There are hints of this even in earlier Doctor Who episodes. Back in the “golden age” of television, the 1950s and 60s, even the early 70s – everyone had Christmas specials.  No sitcom or variety show was without one, every radio show had one, many dramas did, too: some moment of sentimental softness even in hard cop and detective shows.  No explanation was needed.  Everyone, Christians or Nonchristian understood what was going on.  I particularly remember an Episode of the Brady Bunch, The Voice of Christmas, from 1969.  Carol was too sick to sing her Christmas Solo.
Now: think about that.  That means they go to Church and she’s a member of the choir. It’s not as if the pastor went out into the streets to find some random stranger who could sing.  This “blended” family with six kids goes to Church often enough for Mom to be in the choir  and get picked for a solo on Christmas.  I don’t know if their churchiness ever comes up again (I will be binge-watching the Brady Bunch as soon as I can).  But here it was, without apology.  And it wasn’t some silly, meaningless “love, hugs and white Christmas” song either: 
No explanations, just some good musical theology and lots of family hugs.  As far as I know the only “real” Church person in the show was Ann B. Davis, an Episcopalian who, at a later time, was the chauffeur for the Episcopal Bishop of Los Angeles.  
Would never happen today, of course: most of our “holiday” specials are warm fuzzy feel good things with no reason for the season – or, rather, where the “season”, devoid of content, is the reason for the warm fuzzies.  In fact, increasingly, the warm fuzzies are the content.   While a few folks will know “birth of Christ” in abstract and may (from Charlie Brown) understand shepherds, angels, and Wise Men, the idea of God, “who for us men and for our salvation” was “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary” is meaningless jargon from an “Organized Religion”.  Devoid of theology or even the ability to converse in theological terms it becomes very easy to mislead people with pseudo-theologies, pseudo-gospels, and even fake churches.  You know Christians stole Christmas from the Pagans. We might as well just worship the Solstice Sun, at least it’s real.
In that older culture we are used to not having to explain anything. Taking that route today, in our culture devoid of the content using our normal shorthand or even our internal jargon, can be dangerous. When we discuss “traditional marriage” and the “polarity of the sexes” as if everyone should clearly understand what we mean we are forgetting that we are in a fallen world, in a fallen nature, discussing things that while one time common, albeit week knowledge, were revelations.  The secular response to “marriage is a sacrament” is “well, in your religious cult it is”.  That people do not follow the Christian teaching on marriage should not surprise us if they are not Christians. That a democratic society allows such a change despite a vocal minority should also not surprise us: that’s how a democracy works. That we believe marriage to be a sacrament unaffected by gov’t laws is the surprise.
Fr Andrew Stephen Damick has a wonderful post over on Ancient Faith, Do we preach Orthodoxy… or Christ? He is not talking about our topic at all.  But he hits the point, I believe, solidly, when he says, 

[The Apostles] did not preach what might be termed “church life.” They preached Christ crucified and risen from the dead, that we should therefore repent and be baptized into Christ. That is their public proclamation of the Gospel, their kerygma. That is what is supposed to be preached. 

When the Lord gave the Great Commission, He gave four commands: 1) Go into all the world and 2) preach the Gospel to every creature, 3) baptizing them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and 4) teaching them to do all that He had commanded. 

These are not all the same thing. Preaching the Gospel is not the same as baptizing, nor is it the same as teaching all the Lord’s commandments. I saw one commenter want to call everything in the Church “the Gospel,” including relics. But that only works as a sort of metaphor, not as a precise action. Can you hand someone a relic and say, “There, I have preached the Gospel”? Or can you teach them about fasting and say, “There, I have preached the Gospel”?

It is not within the scope of this series of essays to fix this cultural vacuum. This one installment is only intended to point out this vacuum exists.  Telling people, “Ick, God said don’t do that!!” has three meaningless words, “God”, “said” and “don’t” which, filtered out, becomes “Ick. Do that?!?!?!?!” And it’s easy to see how that might be mis-heard as “hate”.  If you pass a “Defense of Marriage Amendment, can you  say “There, I have preached the Gospel”?  I don’t think so – not because of our “hate” or our “message is not relevant” but because all we’ve done is enforced a Christian morality without content.  We’ve opted to make it see as if we are the cultural majority by virtue of having the right laws on the books. We’re trying to bring back the day when Florence Henderson pretended to be a devout and church-going Christian without ever having to see her in Church or at prayer: because it makes us feel better to pretend to be in the cultural majority.
The Apostles did not wander into the Roman World and lobby the SPQR to pass laws forbidding idol worship, abortion or fornication until the entire empire was converting.  You have to preach the revelation before the implications of the revelation make sense.  You have to bring the worldly man into relationship with God before the readings, rites, and rules are of any use for his salvation. Imposed conversion by legislation (everyone acts Christian, no matter what their religion) is just us avoiding our duty to Teach the Good News.  We are damning a world to life without Christ (but we will feel comfortable in it because it’s homogeneous). It is a two-edged sword, however: within the Church, however, to our own people, we need to remember this vacuum also exists.  If we have marches for marriage without “marriage teach-ins” we deserve what we get.  Nature abhors a vacuum and when our kids (and our adults) leave the theological desert of the March for Marriage, nature will suck the unsupported teachings right out into the vacuum like a like an astronaut in a bad airlock.  
Next up: some theology.  I promise.  This discussion, again, is aimed internally.  How do we, among ourselves, teach the theology of marriage.

St Augustine not talking about America.

Only let the Republic remain undefeated, they say, only let it flourish and abound in resources; let it be glorious by its victories, or still better, secure in peace; and what matters it to us?

This is our concern, that every man be able to increase his wealth so as to supply his daily prodigalities, and so that the powerful may subject the weak for their own purposes. Let the poor court the rich for a living, and that under their protection they may enjoy a sluggish tranquillity; and let the rich abuse the poor as their dependants, to minister to their pride. Let the people applaud not those who protect their interests, but those who provide them with pleasure. Let no severe duty be commanded, no impurity forbidden.

Let kings estimate their prosperity, not by the righteousness, but by the servility of their subjects. Let the provinces stand loyal to the kings, not as moral guides, but as lords of their possessions and purveyors of their pleasures; not with a hearty reverence, but a crooked and servile fear. Let the laws take cognizance rather of the injury done to another man’s property, than of that done to one’s own person. If a man be a nuisance to his neighbor, or injure his property, family, or person, let him be actionable; but in his own affairs let everyone with impunity do what he will in company with his own family, and with those who willingly join him.

Let there be a plentiful supply of public prostitutes for every one who wishes to use them, but specially for those who are too poor to keep one for their private use. Let there be erected houses of the largest and most ornate description: in these let there be provided the most sumptuous banquets, where every one who pleases may, by day or night, play, drink, vomit, dissipate. Let there be everywhere heard the rustling of dancers, the loud, immodest laughter of the theatre; let a succession of the most cruel and the most voluptuous pleasures maintain a perpetual excitement.

If such happiness is distasteful to any, let him be branded as a public enemy; and if any attempt to modify or put an end to it let him be silenced, banished, put an end to. Let these be reckoned the true gods, who procure for the people this condition of things, and preserve it when once possessed.

City of God, Book 2, Chapter 20

A Theological Response: Intro

The current moral panic over same sex marriage replaces what could be a great theological depth on the part of the supporters of traditional marriage. Their appeal is mostly to emotion: Who would even dare? (what one Orthodox priest in Chicago called the “Ick Factor”) Or else on emotional abstractions, What about the children? Both of these classes of objections are easily answered: the majority of people do not object in the first way any more and the second one leads to an infinite regress about childless couples and the elderly.  In other words the emotional objections lead to emotional responses.  Which ever emotion you support in this world is up to you: just don’t bring me down, man.

The problem, of course, is that the real, well-reasoned and deeply theological response is not a sound-bite. It’s more a book-length issue, hardly well-presented even in a long form essay, let alone a blog post.  It needs foot notes and or hyperlinks and theological training to understand and digest.  It also needs faith.

There is an Orthodox hymn from the Byzantine rite that says the Angels did not understand the Incarnation and the Resurrection was hidden from the soldiers guarding Our Lord’s tomb because “Both of these truths were from those who questioned them: but they are revealed to those who worship the mystery in faith.”

The correct Christian response to Same-Sex marriage is not emotional, nor is it a mere appeal to authority (God said it, so don’t do that!) In a fallen creation it does not do to appeal to history or nature, for both are filled with opposing examples. We must abandon the idea that our response is culturally relevant (it is not) but a response we must have: “A good reply for the faith that is in you”.

I do not mean that those who are spilling both digital and analogue ink over this topic have not, themselves, theological depth: but rather that they are not using it. The appeal to emotion and authority assume that either or both will be recognized as valuable. In that they are a shared value, they are preaching to the choir to stir up a moral panic. They are not strengthening their own arguments. They are not winning coverts (the primary goal of any Christian assay into the world) nor are they preparing any Christian for his final witness (the primary goal of any internal Christian education). These are the only two acceptable purposes of Christian writing: to present our case and to train our martyrs.  I have a few ideas about what “stirring up emotions” is for, which will come up later: but stirred emotions never get anyone saved.

I don’t think anyone writing ins support of SSM has engaged any depth either.  There is no writing from the Fathers or Saints that can be used to support SSM. Indeed, writers in support of Gay rights (including myself at points on my journey) have only had a semblance of depth whereby we take the clear words of scripture or the saints and show how they “really don’t mean what we’re doing now.”  “Culturally, Paul knew nothing of monogamous, loving, same-sex relationships” is 100% true, 100% beside the point, and about as deep as the dew on the lawn.

To that end, this is the first in a series of  blogposts attempting to lay out a theological response.  I suspect it will be meaningless to a majority of my friends and readers who support SSM, and, ultimately, it is not intended for them except as an attempt to lay out the Christian argument beyond “Cuz. God. Said. No.” This is intended for the two goals stated above: state our cases and to edify the faithful.

By way of outline, I hope to cover Salvation, Sex, and Marriage; there will be side excursions on individualism, nature, Caesaropapism, secular morality, and liturgy.  It may require several posts in each topic, but I hope to not over-tax my readers’ attention spans.

To make following along easier, these will all be tagged as “Theological Response.”