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


Caelius said...

See Summa Theologica Supplementum Tertiae Partis.42.3 for a somewhat fuller discussion of the debate on this issue in the Middle Ages. The Angelic Doctor uses quite a bit of circular reasoning to argue it is a means of grace.

For my money, I would argue against Lombard that marriage is "mere" sign of the mystical union of Christ and the Church. Paul is a little too emphatic when he makes the analogy between marriage and that particular union. But for that to work, you must understand that Marriage as Sacrament is essentially not the rite of vows and blessing but the actions within the union thus made. Hence, marriage is a means of grace insofar as its participates by analogy in the mystical union of Christ and the Church.

Note this does not disparage chaste singleness, which I would argue participates in the most final eschatological mystery in which, "There will be no marriage, nor giving in marriage." Because I would presume, God will be all in all.

Nor does it exclude the inward grace of other potential forms of union that participate in some sort of eschatological mystery.

The Anglican Scotist said...

Might you say more about why you think "marriage is 'mere' sign of the mystical union of Christ and the Church. Paul is a little too emphatic when he makes the analogy between marriage and that particular union"? Why not take Paul seriously as making a normative point?

Caelius said...

Correct, Scotist, "a little too emphatic" to "strongly emphatic" in my comment.

I think I meant exactly what you said. Recall that I am arguing against Peter Lombard, who thought that marriage merely signifies the mystical union (or is mere sign). I am taking Paul as seriously as I can here. I apologize for being confusing.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you Caelius and Scotist for these comments. I will post a separate note in the near future concerning my view on Ephesians, as representing Paul's view on the "sacramentality" [or not!] of marriage. (There is more to be said than can be summarized in a comment.)
Here I note that as Caelius says there are indeed other "forms" through which Christians participate in the mystery of God in some sacramental way, if not strictly speaking as "sacraments" in the fullest sense of the word. Obviously a married couple can and do participate in the life of grace; the question would be to what extent, if any, their marriage is an "sure and certain means" to that grace rather than a "sign" of the more generally available grace of God, as in prayer, devotion, and so on.
Drawing towards my original point in this posting, however, it is surely abundantly clear that the "classical" Anglican view on this matter is other than the Bishops' Pastoral suggests. Apart from the Catechism and the Articles, Hooker, for example, demurs from Aquinas on this question (contrary to his usual rule of following in the Angelic Doctor's wingprints), and holds to the rather more fulsome definition of "sacrament" as used in those Anglican formularies, limiting the term only to Baptism and the Eucharist. (See On the Nature and Number of the Sacraments.)
Again, more on this anon in a separate posting....

Caelius said...

Your point is well-taken. The Bishops in the context of Classical Anglicanism are making Matrimony sound like an Ordinance (or "Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel" in the words of the Article) which is very worrisome.