May 20, 2014

Marriage as Eschatological Sign

Ephesians 5:29-32 says that marriage is a sign for the relationship of Christ and the Church. Yet Jesus affirms (in Luke 20:35 || Matthew 22:30) that marriage is a thing of this world, and that the children of the resurrection do not marry; that is, that marriage does not endure into the life of the world to come.

Taken together these passages can be understood as indicating the role of marriage as an eschatological sign — a sign of the end and of eternity, in which the redeemed are united in one body (the Body of Christ) just as spouses are united in one flesh. Once that eternal union in the Body of Christ is realized, there is no longer need for the temporal union of marriage. In this sense, marriage is like a sign on a door that truthfully indicates what it declares, but whose function is fulfilled once one has gone through the door into the reality to which the sign pointed. Once the fullness to which the sign pointed is achieved, there is no need for the sign. As Jesus observed in a similar context, reflecting on how the things of this world ("eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage... buying and selling, planting and building" Luke 17:27,28) will pass away when the Son of Man is revealed, "Remember Lot's wife." (Luke 17:32).

For centuries it was part of the tradition to see celibacy rather than marriage as the superior earthly sign for the world to come, in which "they do not marry"; but by applying the imagery from Ephesians, marriage is also a sign for another aspect of that world: the union of the redeemed with each other and with the Lord.

So marriage and its opposite (celibacy = non-marriage) both can serve as eschatological signs; one by anticipating (analogically or metaphorically) in this world a state only fully realized in the next, the other by foregoing here a reality whose fulfillment is deferred to the next, but which in its practice anticipates another analogical aspect of that eschatological reality. In the life of the world to come all are celibate (not-married) yet united as One in Christ as he and the Father are One.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

4 comments:

Deacon Charlie Perrin said...

I would say that the argument for celibacy is the weaker of the two given that the unmarried state in the afterlife is nowhere near the unmarried state in the present life.

Tobias Haller said...

Deacon Charlie, I think you are correct, but the tradition saw it the other way around. I recall a story I heard from a RC sister Clare Fitzgerald, former head of the League of Women Religious, telling a story about another aged sister who was dying, and who said, "You know, Sister, like all of us I've had my times of trouble with the vows. I've not always been good with poverty; and I sure had some problems with obedience. But the one thing I got right was celibacy: I have loved no one!" Sadly, the understanding of celibacy as the freedom to love all became, for her, the choice to love no one. Hardly an image of the life to come...

Georges Staelens said...

I can't imagine that after the resurrection, my husband's relation with me will be the same as with whichever other person. The necessity of the lasting of the marriage is the same as the necessity of the eternal life.

Tobias Haller said...

Thanks, George. What I'm getting at is the full implication of the Johannine notion that we "shall be one as the Father and the Son are one." It is not that the relationship one has with a spouse will cease to exist in the world to come, nor that we will simply have other spouses, but that all will share in the kind of perichoresis shared by the Trinity -- that is, perfect unity without the loss of the "personality" that each brings, and which each relationship brings. One of the reasons I am such a staunch defender of the non-filioque position is that it makes clear that the relationship of the Father with the Son is not the same as that with the Spirit. Thus ones relationship with a spouse (in the w.t.c.) is not the "same" as that with others -- for the relationship between two entities must differ from the relationship with any other entity -- yet all relationships will be "equal" -- equality without identity is, I think, the key to the Trinity and the eschaton...