August 4, 2005

Lost Shepherds?

I am fascinated by the following paragraphs in the C of E Bishop's Pastoral on Civil Partnerships:

2. It has always been the position of the Church of England that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society. It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.

3. The Church of England?s teaching is classically summarised in The Book of Common Prayer, where the marriage service lists the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ?for the procreation of children, ?for a remedy against sin [and]?. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.?

I trust I may take advantage of my position as an Episcopalian (and Anglican pro tempore for the forseeable future) to note some of the difficulties with and consequences of this assertion.

1) There is a problem with the phrase "creation ordinance." The teaching of the Church of England has been that marriage is an honorable estate "instituted" by God in the time of man's innocency." Ordinance (the part of marriage that is "ordained") only comes into play with the ends or goods or "causes" of marriage. (About which more at 3 below).

2) "Means of his grace"? I quote here the pungent assessment of the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, in the article on Matrimony, "St. Augustine... did not see in matrimony a means of grace. The reluctance of the BCP to entitle it a Sacrament... arises from the same hesitation of theologians to recognize as such a rite which did not appear to be manifestly productive of grace."

3) When we come to the "causes" it is good to be reminded of the second one (which our own BCP has omitted) -- "a remedy against sin." The "traditional teaching" is that heterosexual sex, far from being good in itself, only becomes tolerable within the context of marriage. That is, the sexual behavior itself is not the locus of morality; rather it is the status of the parties' relationship that determines the rightness or wrongness of the sexual act. This raises interesting possibilities, no?

House of Bishops Pastoral Statement on Civil Partnerships - Church of England