December 22, 2014

On the Development of Discipline

There is an old joke about a man offering a woman a small sum of money to sleep with him, which she rejects in indignation. He then offers her a fantastic amount and she agrees; but he then counters with another low offer, to which she responds, “What kind of woman do you think I am.” He answers, “My dear, we’ve already established what kind of woman you are; we are just haggling about the price.”

This reminds me of the claim by some in the church that approving same-sex marriage would be caving in to the demands of worldly culture. Surprised at the connection? Stay with me. When one examines the history of the church’s engagement with marriage, one finds that the early church gave in to worldly culture by conceding to marriage in the first place. The teaching of Jesus and Paul marks out marriage as a “worldly” phenomenon in which Christians are permitted to participate (per Paul) when they cannot control themselves and (per Jesus) provided that they remain permanently faithful. A review of the history of marriage in church law ever since shows a steady stream of concessions and adaptations to life in the world. Second marriages of widows, marriage with one not baptized, marriage of one (or more) divorced persons, marriage within the borders of affinity — all of these mark out concessions to worldly pressure.

One cannot claim that this is a matter of the faith once given instead of the discipline constantly revised.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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