Dear reader, I’ve gathered together a number of resources from The Bible, the world’s finest theologians, philosophers and more, below.
If you don’t want to listen to my rambling, please skip to read Fr Phil LeMasters on Marriage and the Eucharist, Behr’s Marriage and Ascetism and even the short articles on what Jesus actually meant when he spoke to the Sadducees for example. (That should at least get your attention.) I hope these and other pieces will cast some light on the goodness of God’s creation and the ultimate meaning and significance of Marriage and human sexuality in light of Christ.This is something I decided to do because I find the common story, which is held to be Christian orthodoxy, that gifts like Marriage and Sex, are only for this worldly life, to be strange, unjustified and to be honest rather crazy. (A lot of people who are outside of, or on the periphery of Christianity today, like I was, think this way.) Maybe that’s actually a benefit.
It’s so ingrained in us that this is the case, and that ‘virginity or an ‘angelic state is a holier and/or thee eschatological state, that we dont even think about the mistakeness of such an assertion. As you’ll see, whilst I think it’s a crazy, unbiblical and untenable position, to put this over and against an equally valid and eschatologically meaningful state of Marriage, I do recognise that it’s incredibly complex.
Both can and should be Eucharistic and God centred however.
Sure, it’s not obvious in a way, based on the many readings of key texts, the mysterious nature of revelation, etc etc…but to be honest, to look at it in terms of the big picture, this idea doesn’t make a lot of sense… Genuinely, try and detach yourself from the common narrative, as if you are hearing it for the first time.(About ‘heaven’).
I can understand why people today would reject Christianity, in this disembodied and ‘spiritualised’ form to be honest.
I hope to do justice to the high and hopeful vision for the Church that the likes of fr Schmemann, Behr, LeMasters and co have. Schmemann seems to have thought clericalism was the father of secularism; that’s a massive claim but sadly I think he’s at least partially right, after reading these great pieces.
My simple way of doing this is by emailing the greatest Theologians out there and getting them to correct the erroneous assumptions we too often live by. (harassing almost, I’m sorry to you all haha)I have to edit a lot of typos, the structure of these pieces(I’ve repeated myself too) and some new finds aren’t included yet. Some who have written on this area and I hope to add soon, if it fits are Phyllis Tribble and Peter Lanfer.(I’ve just came across them through Father Behr’s article and a related search but can’t vouch yet for them.)
John 3:16New International Version (NIV)16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
‘Deification in the Greek patristic tradition was the fulfillment of the destiny for which humanity was created – not merely salvation from sin but entry into the fullness of the divine life of the Trinity.’ – Product description for the great Norman Russell’s book on Deification. The importance of this should become clear…
https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/easternchristianinsights/2016/01/13/747/ A brilliant overview by the sublime Fr Philip LeMasters. This is the most helpful article for introducing our theme, ahhh you know, the small matter of the meaning and value of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection for most of the people throughout human history. Those people whose vocation is to Marriage.
See below- Taken from ‘More Matter: Essays and Criticism’ by John Updike, one of the twentieth century’s finest Literary Critics and Writers-
(Interestingly, also a roommate at Harvard University of my hero, Historian and Cultural Critic Christopher Lasch)
‘If God created the world,
He created sex, and one way to construe our inexhaustible sexual inter-
est is as praise of Creation. Says the Song of Solomon: “The joints of thy
thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.”
In admiring another, and in yearning to make our flesh one with
the other’s, we are stepping out of our skins into a kind of selflessness
and into a sense of beauty. Without lust on the planet, what would
wax glad and lovely?’
See his short Commentary on The Song of Songs in the same work. He, like I and those I cite here, do know that there are tragic elements to sexuality or sensuality and do not posit this gift aside from its relation to God, and our erotic-Agapeic Communion with him and one another, participating in His Energies, always creatures but creatures made for Love and Communion with him and one another , to be rightly ordered in The New Heavens and The New Earth, the Kingdom of God.
Now, an analogy for the topic-
Funnily enough, it’s not often told like this…
Keep the Fast, Keep the Feast | Peter J. Leithart | First Things
((https://publicorthodoxy.org/2016/06/14/reflection-on-the-importance-of-fasting-and-its-observance-today/#more-1228 – I refer to fasting and feasting because, the pattern which it outlines, suggests a certain structure to our life in, of and oriented to an Eschatological Christ centred feast, just like Marriage should be oriented. But just as fasting, and eating, is misunderstood in its ultimate purpose, so is Marriage, by most.(On food and eating, we Norman Wirzba- it belongs to the Kingdom to, as Fr Louths exegesis of the Bible shows in ‘Introducing EO Theology…’).
Both Marriage and the celibate state, if Schmemanns right, and orthodox liturgical theology in general, are things in which we already participate in the Kingdom. (His proper understanding of symbolism corrects a lot of abstract pseudo Christian thought on the meaning of creation.)
Those God-given gifts, which are particular to Marriage then, we can deduce, are meant for eternity rather than this world and the fullness with which we enter in the Kingdom on earth already, will be even fuller than it is now. (See his insight into our remembrance in Christ).
Schmemann makes the profound and necessary point that these things don’t only point to some abstract kingdom of God but through Christ, are a means by which we participate in the Kingdom. I think this important insight into the nature of symbols and Sacraments/Mysteries, expressing the Kingdom really but not yet in its fullness, as well as the Orthodox Essence-Energies distinction can enable us to see these gifts in a genuinely Christian way. Ie, not spiritualising the creation by seeing it only as a sign of some abstract and invisible counterpart; that just won’t do. Peter Leithart has a quality for showing a similar insight, as he does in his book Traces of the Trinity.
Remember he came ‘for the life of the world’, to fulfill the good creation, compromised by sin and death.
This would include all the good elements of marriage, including the one flesh union, sexuality, including shock-horror the physical expressions of this particular love, which belong to particular persons, and gifts often misinterpreted or ‘spiritualised’ away- ignoring what the Bible and Tradition actually points out, the character of the liturgical life, the dwelling of the spirit in us, the perichoretic nature of such relationships in Christ and so much more. (See Behr, LeMasters, Guroian, Coakley, Leithart’s Traces of the Trinity, particularly the chapters on sex and the final chapter… and there’s more where that came from.)
A quite articulate understanding of this is offered in C.S Lewis’ Weight of Glory. (Even though I think he made Theological mistakes about Eros in The Four Loves by not seeing God and our relation to him and one another, as Agapeic and Erotic simultaneously; he seems to have some good to say in highlighting that the Kingdom will be like this world but even greater and that this will include things like food and sex, erroneously assumed by too many to be only for this world. –
https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/01/11/christos-yannaras-the-fall-of-humanity-into-the-desperate-passion-for-survival/amp/ – This, like the Exegesis of Milbank and others, is a lot more sensible than ‘spiritual’ readings, about what it means to be human…often by people who never had wives or children so didn’t know this as a way to experience Grace, etc. (On the fallibity of even Christians who are held to have great authority- Fr Behr, Schmemann and Fr Louth show how historically conditioned and unbiblical some early Church Fathers views were for example, and a crude reading (as i’ve seen amongst Orthodox friends and too many priests) of them as No 1- of one mind and 2, as almost infallible, in arguments referring to Marriage or Sex, without the context of The Bible, Tradition and all the wisdom of the Church, in her pilgrim journey and Kingdom building in Liturgy, eg ‘this is what the Church has always taught’, in the vein of a ‘fundamentalist’ is ludicrous and disturbing.
The same naivety applies to Humanae Vitae amongst my ‘traditionalist’ Catholic friends, about sex and Marriage. Both it and JP2’s views have been shown to be decidely unChristian and modernist, despite the claims to tradition and high- sounding platitudes. (Shown here with some of these sources.)
The key structure of disordering our life with the Triune God and getting it back, in an even better way with Christ and The Spirit, is the thrust of Christian Mystical Theology at her finest, in her liturgy, Iconography and in her nobler ways.
Leithart is right as well- Our life unto ages of ages is fast AND feast, with God’s gifting excess at both ends. Leithart has written sensibly on Eros in a number of articles which are attached down the page.
Like Leithart, a number of Protestant thinkers have nuanced and good things to say about creation, Marriage and Sex, contrary to caricature Calvinism and there are very ‘sacramental’ Protestants alongsise Roman Catholics, Orthodox, etc.
Dr Norman Wirzba is one of the finest and understands the big picture better than most. For the goodness of creation and many points which are very relevant to our theme, please see his great work- Food and Faith: A Rheologot of Eating, for example. This gives a sensible insight into the Resurrection and it’s embodied nature, so very much of what he days applies to human sex too, Incarnate and not merely ‘carnal’ in some anti body Gnostic or Manichaean way. His proper Iconographic insights are helpful and the style of that book could serve as a great basis for a similar book about Marriage and Sex. Unfortunately, I don’t think I could write something so good.
Let’s look at one of the tricky texts, with the help of Gary A. Anderson, to correct some silly antisexual readings of Genesis for example-
‘Eden is thought to be a cosmic
mountain upon which Adam serves as priest. The sin of Adam, though, is not
represented as an act of cultic impropriety, nor is the tree of the knowledge of
good and evil thought to represent the veil before the holy of holies. The section
which relates the story of Eve’s creation is patterned very closely on the biblical
And God cast sleep on Adam and he slept. He took one of his ribs from his
left side and made Eve from it. When Adam awoke, he saw Eve and
rejoiced greatly at her.61
As this essay has shown, the term “rejoice” in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Akkadian
can refer to the act of sexual intercourse. One must reckon with the possibility
that this Syriac text could also refer to this form of marital joy. What is more,
this idiom of joy occurs in the exact location where early Jewish sources had
located Adam and Eve’s first sexual tryst. But could this Syriac text intend the
same thing? There is a strong probability that this was the case, as can be seen
in the rather expansive Arabic “translation” of this
When Adam awoke from his sleep he saw Eve and “rejoiced greatlyuti3 at
her and developed a liking for her. God made them dwell together in the
beautiful Eden of paradise. He clothed them in his splendor and the two of
them radiated that splendor which the two of them were adorned (Ibs’?)in.64
God crowned them with marriage crowns and all the angels took delight in
them. There was a wedding feast there (literally, a “joy,” farahun), the
likes of which has not existed either before or after and will not exist until the day on which the savior of the world comes. That is the day of resurrection.
The Cave of Treasures (A Syriac Christian Document). As shared helpfully by Gary.
And the likes of Walton-
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2013/09/03/a-game-changer-in-the-genesis-1-2-debates/ Walton is right to see Adam and Eve as archetypal, like Jordan Peterson, but there’s a lot of both/and required to properly use their work. (It should be a supplement to other insights and not a fashionable replacement, as I’m sure will be tempting in our ‘scientific’ age. The one flesh union DOES refer to Sex and Marriage, as part of the meaning of these archetypes, in ways that include them but even go beyond that even, as we’ll see it should be both, unlike too many non or anti-sex readings. There’s nothing crude or unGodly about God’s very good gifts.
‘…We can now see that Genesis 2:24 makes more of a statement than we had envisioned. Becoming one flesh is not just a reference to the sexual act. The sexual act may be the one that rejoins them, but it is the rejoining that is the focus. When Man and Woman become one flesh, they are returning to their original state.'( taken from ‘The Lost World of Adam and Eve’).
Walter Brueggeman can help us contextualize Genesis as well-
This original state and the remembered state in the Kingdom to come, which Schmemann illuminates, should always be seen within God’s triune life, and ourselves as very good creations of his. The sexual act and relationship, like other gifts he has given us, such as Marriage, once seen within a loving, rejoicing relationship, rightly ordered by and with God, are clearly gifts from God, which sin and death cannot destroy or explain; with God, these are eternal, very good and have their place in his Kingdom.
Whilst Anderson and co show nuances in Jewish and Christian views of Marriage and Sex, this kind of work and it’s importance is completely underrated. The Church, including those of us who aren’t necessarily even Theologians, should take responsibility to ensure misreading of key Biblical patterns don’t have a catastrophic impact on our lives, as I think they clearly have historically.
The way the culture has developed pertaining to Marriage and sexuality is something we who call ourselves orthodox Christians have to take some responsibility for in my humble opinion. The likes of Boyarin show, implicitly at least and albeit in an incomplete fashion(which misses many of the more hopeful areas of Christian tradition, placing unnecessary dichotomy between rabbinic Judaism and Christianity in this area. He also misunderstands a lot of things about Christianity but says some good and important things.) …how harmful ideas about Marriage and Sexuality have had dreadful consequences. Obviously I won’t entertain Boyarin’s views of the Incarnation, or about St Paul, but he makes some good criticisms of what is taken to be the Christian Tradition. (I hope we can show it’s not the genuine one he’s criticising.)
By secularising or desacralising these Joyful gifts of Marriage, Sex and Sexuality from God in theory and in practice, which I think too many of us actually have done, we have handed them over to ‘the culture’. To continue with the siege mentality of Catholics for example, is therefore very wrong.
People (rightfully) won’t be acquiesced by wooly talk on the importance of Marriage and Sex from churches that don’t really believe that in the most profound metaphysical ways. (Think about the rhetorically powerful but often Theologically pernicious TOB or Humanae Vitae and their slavish proponents as examples.) You’ll see below…
Such Theology and misunderstandings of being createted in the image of God, etc . Theology which divers body and soul, the spiritual and the material in practice, even while claiming to bring them back together is the worst kind of double talk, and the sort of abstract idealist fantasy, that critics of Christianity often criticise. Fr Eugene Pentiuc can help us here-
A bit new-agey for my liking, but the success of Bruce’s book and others like it shows just how eternally relevant this story is.
Feiler has a solid premise in seeing Adam and Eve as a love story and the insights garnered by the likes of Michelangelo in art or Milton in Literature are worth taking seriously. Dr Oliver in ‘Conjugal Spirituality’ makes good use of Brancusi’s lovely piece, ‘The Kiss’ and can serve as a guide.
People are thirsting for the truth about who we are as men and women, who we are as ‘we’ and what this means in an enduring sense so I welcome reflections from all over.
This is one more part to consider alongside some of the rich insights into Genesis(and creation) I’ve shared elsewhere here- from John Behr, John H Walton, Bill Arnold, Ougherlian, Daniel Boyarin, Ellen F. Davis, Gary A. Anderson, John Milbank and co.
Whilst Genesis, particularly the passages relating to what it means to be men and women are foundational, they are always so in God’s Triune life and never in and of themselves. This is the case with all text of course and besides this foundationalism, there is a concurrent coherentism, so we can only understand anything in the light of God’s Triune revelation.
This may be a circular argument but it’s a circular argument in the way Leithart has shown the Gift and Gratitude to be an infinite circle. Just as I hope I have shown with these sources taken together, God’s love is an infinite embracing circle of mutual and reciprocal erotic-agapeic love…our remembering in God, as Schmemann expresses it.
https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2015/01/01/christos-yannaras-human-person-as-icon-of-god/ -in spite of Fr Kimel’s misgivings, which are justified, I think Yannaras is sometimes very good on imagining what true resurrection life should be like. It is not disembodied, unsexed or Disincarnated. Yannaras himself has failed to see this because he has seen only ‘the nature’ in sex and not it’s Giftedness to us creatures (which can keep in the Kingdom, as creatures sharing in God’s life by His energies. His ‘Variations of the song of songs’ should show an outline toward this, even though he doesn’t see through the logic of many of his views, at the last. However, his book could do well to be taken alongside some other, more hopeful views we see below. I think he has unfortunately misread Jesus’ response to the Sadducees, like many others have.
https://www.google.co.uk/amp/s/youhavehearditsaid.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/no-marriage-in-heaven/amp/ – This is a nice corrective to misreading of this key passage. (Even many Orthodox get this wrong on sex, apart from Fr John Behr and one or two others explicitly – as we’ll see however it is implicit in Orthodox Theology that Marriage AND sex should be seen as qualities of the Kingdom- maybe even Procreation. This corrective and a corrective of misreading of Genesis, prove imperative – on Genesis see Bill T Arnold ‘Encountering Genesis…’, e.g. pgs 35 and 36 ) http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Bill+arnold+genesis&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0
http://triablogue.blogspot.co.uk/2007/12/is-there-sex-in-heaven.html?m=1 -you may say that the question still has meaning, and which one partner would a modern Orthodox , who’s been married more than once be married to. A good question but not unanswerable. Marriage is not a legalistic thing, when a marriage is ‘spiritually Dead’, the Orthodox admit the fact, allowing a merciful divorce. The person you’d be married to in the Kingdom would be the one you were fully alive with, in true love, mentally, physically, spiritually and any otherwise. (See Ware in ‘marriage after modernity’). That is a marriage which is for more than just posterity or clan identity, a Kingdom Marriage as opposed to the Sadducees ‘natural’ marriage .
Below are just some of the resources which I hope to tie together to play a small role in a good and authentically Christian ressourcement on the Body, Love and Marriage, including true romantic love.
Apologies for any typos; please have patience because a lot of this has been done in rough terms on my phone. I will correct any mistakes in the future, when I can manage to get a laptop.
I’m merely a concerned Christian although I’ve undertaken some classes at Masters level in Education, via the CCRS certificate, and will share the benefits of any relevant academic education I do have, as well as from my experience teaching R.E.
I might poke fun at people or ideas I disagree with but as a concerned Christian, take this very seriously. I think we are reflecting here on life itself and our purpose as God’s creations. I’m not qualified to meditate on such things at one level, and will always acknowledge my limits- yet, we have a duty as God’s children to approach Christianity with a childlike wonder for it to have any real transfiguring impact on our lives. (Not childish mind you…)
I humbly but assuredly share these with others who can provide their own gifts and talents because I believe there is much work to be done from Christian Theologians and Scholars to properly flesh out the truth of The Gospel in this area.
Whilst this is all very complicated and a lot of the Theologising will undoubtedly go over my head, it is clear to me that the Bible and Tradition have a certain overarching pattern which does not lend itself to a restriction of properly ordered relationships, including Marriage and romantic relationships, our relationship with food and drink, as well as creation in general, to this life alone. This, in spite of the existence of differing views in the history of the Church to the contrary.
I should say that I have read many very brilliant scholars and saints who disagree with the views I’ll lay out, and not always for some nefarious reason- their complex exegesis makes them, most often, arrive at this view in one iteration or another.
Indeed the Roman Catholic Church for the most partand indeed most of western Christendom share the view that Marriage and human sexuality are only for this life. Further, even many Orthodox are in agreement with this general outline, at least regards sexuality, in spite of the logic of the lovely Orthodox Liturgical Theology at large.(This applies to OO like Armenians too, if Guroian is an exemplar.)
https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=ms-android-samsung&source=android-browser&biw=360&bih=310&ei=lwvjWLOhCJavgAbuzpaYDA&q=marriage+the+sacrament+of+love+and+communion+yannaras&oq=marriage+the+sacrament+of+love+and+communion+yannaras&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.3…16690.19668.0.20405.9.9.0.0.0.0.159.962.4j5.9.0….0…1.1.64.mobile-gws-serp..0.8.886…33i22i29i30k1j33i21k1j33i160k1.unJfKwUn5q4 – Fr Calivas’ piece is outstanding.
https://www.google.co.uk/search?client=ms-android-samsung&site=webhp&ei=3hTjWLLbGKTcgAbZwqC4Bw&q=marriage+and+ascetism+John+Behr&oq=marriage+and+ascetism+John+Behr&gs_l=mobile-gws-serp.12..33i160k1l2.2942.6434.0.75188.8.131.52.0.0.0.151.1071.3j7.10.0….0…1.1.64.mobile-gws-serp..0.9.962…30i10k1.6RWbsB3OslA – The gentlemanly Father John Behr making some very important and neglected points.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=O4bcHS-vPYkC&pg=PA101&lpg=PA101&dq=adrian+thatcher+marriage+eternal&source=bl&ots=yMwGVCwsXG&sig=TePhcN_muJkyO2nz4HDB0MzpRpk&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj6uozP94bTAhVLB8AKHSsYBcAQ6AEIIzAE#v=onepage&q=adrian%20thatcher%20marriage%20eternal&f=false – Taken from Thatcher’s book.
(http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=24-01-028-f ) – Dr Vigen Guroian.
Adrian Thatcher, an Anglican Scholar, has performed an heroic task in amassing resources from the tradition of the Church in a very ecumenical manner and has much good to say. ( I got a lot out of Marriage after modernity especially). Amongst many fantastic insights, he offers a just corrective of misunderstandings about ‘Eros’, for East and West alike, showing that in Christ it does not die with death but rather, intensifies, transfigured by Christ and with Agape, such is his desire for us- as is well shown by Christ’s death and resurrection which is both ‘Eros and ‘Agape’- this sort of insight can help the east too in restoring ‘eros’ to it’s proper place in the Kingdom along with a Trinitarian understanding of sexuality as gift, within that.
‘6.4 The Eucharist – Sharing in the New Covenant
The language of covenant now takes us to the Gospel narrative of the Last Supper where Jesus
makes God’s New Covenant with all that God has made (see Section 6.2.1). If marriage is to
be successfully commended as a covenant, the best justification for it lies in the New
Covenant that Jesus names and inaugurates in the Last Supper meal with His disciples, and in
His death. Basing the covenant of marriage directly on the New Covenant established at the
Last Supper is not, it must be conceded, official Church teaching, but it is open to the
churches to draw deeply on the spiritual and doctrinal resources that the Eucharist provides,
and to develop their traditions in this direction. The increasing emphasis on marriage as a
covenant leads inevitably to the Eternal Covenant established through Christ Himself.
Matthew (26:26–29) writes
26While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples,
saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
29I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it
anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
Shared bodies There is a different range of theological meanings associated here with
Christ’s “body.” The activity we have just done revealed different senses accorded to human bodies, marital bodies, and the body of Christ as the Church. Now the linguistic landscape
changes. At the Eucharist the Church thinks of the body of Christ in another form. The
body of Christ is now the bread, which is taken, blessed, broken, given, and eaten, first in
Jerusalem before His death and thereafter whenever that meal is eaten in His name. The red
wine, poured out, taken, blessed, offered, and drunk, symbolizes the offering of His body,
His life, in establishing the New Covenant.
The idea of the body of Christ as bread and wine is very different from the idea of the
body of Christ as Church. Just as the intimacy between a man and a women in their joined,
single flesh, becomes a symbol of the intimacy between Christ and the Church, so here
Christ’s body as bread offers intimate analogies of another kind.
The Eucharist proclaims the new covenant and does so by the giving and receiving of a
body, the body of Christ “This is my body.” There are many unexplored parallels to be
made between the experience of receiving one’s spouse’s body in the intimacy of marriage,
and receiving the body of Christ in the Eucharist. Both of these are life-sustaining, life-
enhancing, life-creating activities. They engage all our senses, especially the less prominent
ones of touch, taste, and smell. They are both intensely joyful celebrations, each deeply
satisfying. Yet both may also be covenanted pledges of love, richly symbolic, festive, and
liberating (Thatcher, 1993, p. 41).
The Eucharist is erotic principally because in it is enacted God’s infinite desire for us. The
sending of the Son and the breaking of His body are the measure of it. It is strong
confirmation of the conviction that God infinitely desires us, and together with Christ’s
crucifixion, it is the principal ground for believing that God is Love. The crucifixion should
be understood less as the death of desire, and more as the intensification of desire, God’s
desire, to become one with us (see Section 4.4.2).’ (God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction).
To receive gratefully the insights from Thatcher, JP2, Salzman, Eugene Rogers, Lawler or any number of other scholars does not necessitate buying into their whole projects(which I know some people thinking in binary ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’, ‘orthodox’ and ‘heretic’ terms will assume.) and when handled in the right way can show a more properly Traditional way than what is erroneously thought to be the ‘orthodox’ or ‘conservative’ position. (A key thinker to read if you wish to see how naive and phoney ‘conservative’ of ‘progressive’ views can be, is the late great Christopher Lasch. For a brilliant Catholic scholar, see Richard Gaillardetz- he can offer a background context for Catholics to properly critique the tradition. He is also a nice man and has been encouraging in my correspondent with him.)
For a more nuanced view of ‘Covenant’ or ‘Perichoresis’ and such from Roman Catholics, relating to this topic, see Michael G Lawler and Todd Salzman for example, alongside aforementioned Gaillardetz –
Why marriage brings you closer to God (and explains the Trinity) | America Magazine
I want to begin then with what I see as this bad news first, that traditionally in some parts, marriage and especially the sexual relationship has been undermined, so then we can more greatly appreciate the genuine message of Christianity, given the arc of its message in toto,which we’ll see in the sources below. This should show how much of a task we have on our hands to properly implement the Kingdom of God, on earth as it is in heaven.
I think not only here, of some of the modern psuedo-orthodox defenders or frightened, half baked statements but even early Christians themselves, although as we’ll see they don’t have a weird literalist infallibility any more than the modern papacy does.
Nay, the council’s of the Church in the East and West, the Liturgy, the Church in her members and grounded in apostolic succession ( expressed collegially, with or without Papal Primacy) is where the authority comes from. This is a dialogic authority of a pilgrim Church.( As the likes of Gaillardet, DeVille and Florovsky show.)
Today, there is a lot of debate and discussion, we have a variety of different views, sometimes mutually exclusive and others not, just like it has been going back through the middle ages, to the patristic era and even to St Peter and St Paul. We don’t hold all the same views in a ‘reasoned cognitive way now, neither did those in the middle ages- East or West- and neither did the earlier Church Fathers and Mothers share the same view. We shall see that they didn’t even maintain a constant view about key exegetical points throughout their own lives.
From today and recent times, the likes of the kindly scholar Rene Gehring, St Pope JP2, J. Warren Smith and Hans Boersma, V Karras, amongst many others, despite some good work they’ve done, have decidely mixed news for the Married in the Church…but, it’s a matter of offering a corrective to them and others, on their reading of the bible and saints writings, from the Tradition.
There is still a perilous naivety towards relationships, even within the blessed sacrament of marriage, a mistrust of the language of’ ‘eros’, as if it were a dirty word, even though as Sarah Coakley points out, the supposed ‘revisionists’ who are bringing back this forgotten element, are being the more truly traditional Christians. Of course there’s a concurrent put-down of human sexuality, although this may eventually be overcome- God willing and there are hopeful signs, not only amongst the Orthodox, thanks be to God.-
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=I3L_fgvKDHQC&pg=PR6&lpg=PR6&dq=peter+jeffery+the+mystery&source=bl&ots=iLfk_b9YRq&sig=AA57GDEVeed2vwn328PXTpVDtIw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjP8r3u84nTAhXBI8AKHRWiCy0Q6AEIaDAQ#v=onepage&q=peter%20jeffery%20the%20mystery&f=false Milbank gets the significance of Eros and links it helpfully with procreation in a quote below, this may pass people buy but seems of the highest importance to me- Procreation is a divine gift or building up the Church and God’s Kingdom, a sacramental journey, linked to the Sacrament of Marriage. This should be seen as a more fair account of the beauty of this gift and prevent us from seeing procreating children as merely for this world- the Church and kingdom are not only for this world. Likewise, the sacraments are not only a means to combat sin in the falen world but also a means of entry into Gods Kingdom and triune life. The utilitarian idea of sex and/or procreation, only linking it to this world, via speculations that it’s only for the here and now to combat sin but will be shed in the hereafter, I think does not fit with the Christian story or understand of Sacraments. It is not a liturgical view or a Trinitarian view and could learn much from Milbank, Rowan Williams, A Thatcher and the great (if overly polemic sometimes- even then I enjoy him, Christ or Yannaras.
Yannaras has seen the truth of Eros as being ‘ecclesial’ and is expressing a beautiful point. There are a number of saints who I think got this better than others, but who need corrected where it counts to bring this message to it’s fullness. ( Augustine, The Areopagite, Aquinas and more). See this –
This quote was taken from a fellow group member in the Jordan Peterson study group and is a good one in my view. Yannaras has some really important advice for us. His realisation that proper Eros is Ecclesial, is of immense importance and as I say can be seen in Milbank but not many places in writing, in spite of the Spirits signs.
‘For those re-examining Christianity, I have found some help sorting out my understanding from a couple of books that I suggest checking out for what I have come to experience as meaningful.
Regarding morality, truth and freedom.
“The Freedom of Morality” By Christos Yannaras.
From the description:
This major Orthodox contribution to the study of “ethics” takes as its point of departure the concept of “hypostasis” or “person,” not only as this is presented in the theology of the Greek Fathers but also as it is experienced in the worship, ascetical life and art of the Orthodox Church. In this perspective, morality is seen not as “an objective measure for evaluating character and behavior, but the dynamic response of personal freedom to the existential truth and authenticity of man.” The author states that “freedom carries with it the ultimate possibility of taking precisely this risk: that man should deny his own existential truth and authenticity, and alienate and distort his existence, his being.” What we call the morality of man is the way he relates to this adventure of his freedom. Morality reveals what man is in principle, as the image of God, but also what he becomes through the adventure of his freedom: a being transformed, or “in the likeness of God.”
This is not really a beginner book and I have read through it a few times.
Another is “The roots of Christian Mysticism” by Olivier Clement.’
Eros and Agape, Sex and Love, Marriage and the Kingdom- all these were literally made for each other and make up , together, our lives in the Triune God. (See Yannaras’ in praise of Marriage for a short, funny take down of ‘virginity as the ultimate in the spiritual life. He is reflecting some people in that short piece, even if that is not generally how people think, and makes some subtle but important points, just like Fr Behr in properly seeing marriage as martyrdom. (This martyrdom should not see marriage or sex, again as only as some preordained and ‘economic gesture to combat evil but is properly situated in God’s abundant Agapeic-Erotic Love. This is where I should say, Behr has made some great points, but we need more to complement his fine reading, Tradition offers much more thank God, but I believe it is both/and for sex and marriage as the logic of Sacraments and Sacramentality, Eschatology, Soteriology etc etc shows. Thank God for Yannaras and others like him, polemical or not.
https://yannarasbooks.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/121/ – A collection of Yannaras books online as shared by some kind psychosomatic unity. Haha
The Bible should be the primary go-to text for the churches in general, and lays out a fine picture for creation- and our traditions can then try and speak to authentic Tradition, guided by the Spirit. That said, as someone very familiar with EO and RC mindset, Papal documents, the authority of the councils , certain saints and/or the writings of ‘the fathers’ have an authority within the Tradition, so I’ll try and contextualize them throughout as I’m thinking from within these two traditions predominantly in a way. ( weve already seen Richard Gaillardetz as a good example for Catholics, Fr Behr is a good example for Orthodox and there are more where they come from.)
A couple of the key texts historically, for better and worse, have been Genesis, Mattgew- when Jesus speaks about Marriage, and Revelation (for its omission or misintrepetation both)
For an Ecumenical look at Genesis for example, see Fr Louth’s book, introduced impeccably by Thomas Oden, or Dr Peter Bouteneff’s.
See then, the likes of Dr Jordan Peterson for a Jungian and archetypal reading. Compare and contrast some of these with JP2 and you’ll see we’ve outlet work cut out.
It’ll open your eyes to the diversity of scholarship on Genesis, which I think is clearly an important text relating to Christian views on Marriage, but only if looked at as part of the big picture, and should be safevouched as such, as shown by N.T Wright.
For the general outline of a gifting God of Love, as I decribe, see this piece by R Williams; for this as related to Marriage and Families directly, see Adrian Thatcher’s, at times, very good work.-
In regards to Pope St JP2, here’s a better side to his endeavour, which gets at the extent of what we are speaking of when we speak of ‘sexuality’- it cannot be divorced from Sacramentality and is no mere fashion of modernity.
On one hand he takes us away from a crude reductionist view of human sexuality whilst dragging us right back down with the emphasis on ‘the sexual act’ cut off from the relationship and a larger sacramental view of relationships in general- the irony being, that this is a mirror reflection in ways, of the sexual libertine, who sees not the relationship in joyful responsibility and growth toward wholeness and holiness. (The old levirate emphasis is there too)- https://youtu.be/Ov0ubPBV1-Y
An Orthodox critique and recapatulation of JP2 is desperately necessary however, as I hope Fr Calivas, Behr, LeMasters, Chryssavgis, Dr Guroian, Evdokimov, Ware, Yannaras, Meyenendorff and others show here.
Indeed, the western view of Marriage in general, needs to be questioned in the light of Escahtology and Liturgy, sinvmce they alone could give it the proper meaning as Christian Marriage, and the work of the EO scholars mentioned, most adequately highlights ours and JP2s ultimate failures most effectively regarding TOB and the sacrament of Marriage.
Regardless of what anyone says, it is hardly a coincidence that Priests who have felt the vocation to the Ordained Priesthood AND Marriage, such as Fr Schmemann or Father John Behr, have the more profound insights to offer. They have experienced God’s grace through their callings in very real ways and can see there is no need to ‘spiritualise’ Marriage from our embodied selves and human sexuality, in the way a monastic like Maximos or celibate like JP2 and Von Balthasar have done. To ‘spiritualise’ marriage in a Gnostic or platonist way, is to miss the point as hopefully you will see.
The cult of the modern papacy and those following it is an unhelpful aside for us in the RC Church, which doesn’t lend itself to dialogue or critique however, and is a regrettable and unnecessary step for Catholics to take- as Dr Adam DeVille, Gaillardetz, P McPartlan and others, Latin and Eastern Catholics can show.
Even Seb Moore or Swidler’s ‘Church in Anguish’ have some reasonable criticisms, for all their problems- one of the key moves for Catholics is to contextualise the openness to the gift of having children, not to ‘the sexual act’s but to the relationship. This restriction, built on humanae vitae, is devastating to our church and wrong, as I hope these resources will show. The Orthodox can help us here, as well as Adrian Thatcher, once we see life as a gift, not a simply fallen obligation. (This misreading of Genesis has crept up over and over, but doesn’t make sense within the Tradition (The Triune God who creates the New Heaven and New Earth, out of gratuitous Love, to make us share in his divine life- but as creatures. See Norman Russell on Deification+ A.N Williams) and seems to have platonist residue written on it.)
Key point- The contractual rather than Covenantal view (that Guroian and Meyendorff open our eyes to) particularly stops Catholic and JP2’s insights from really getting to where they should. (As Eschatological and Eucharistically significant). Likewise his flawed view of sexuality in general, but rooted in speculation on Genesis, such as lust leading to shame etc is proving most unhelpful.
If we were to take this element of EO Theology on board and build it on top of some of the better points of the likes of St Augustine’s, Ambrose and shock-horror even St Thomas Aquinas’ more positive views, on the goodness of Marriage, only now properly understood as an eternal and Covenantal bond, and properly understood from Genesis through to Revelation, then we’d be much better off.( amongst many other saints amd scholars from The areopagite to Yannaras, to Behr and co today.)
The EO insight that Marriage is eternal is much sounder In light of the narrative of salvation, in spite of the irony that the typically ‘eastern’ saints likes of St John Chrysostom or Maximos didn’t see Marriage or sex as positively in its supposedly ‘unspiritual’ forms. (See Louth’s book, Thatcher’s etc.)
In fact, I think, that to the contrary- the big picture and story, a beautifully written Icon, if you will, of (especially but not only ) Orthodox theology and liturgy suggests a higher and more hopeful way, building on the sort of good points made by JP2 and others in retrieving the value of Marriage in the west.
The same works in reverse, if the Orthodox can listen to the likes of Fr Behr and Dr Guroian, as well as properly placing St Augustine within the Tradition, they would see what their liturgy, as evidenced, is pointing them to the proper value of Marriage at a greater number of levels than is usually seen and could properly see sexuality as an eternal spiritual gift.
Imagine how even more fruitful Yannaras’ views might be if he didn’t see Blessed Augustine as the fault of so much harm. This divisive figure, like others has said and done good and bad, but when placed rightly in the Tradition might actually be a cause for a greater unity between the Churches, if the Spirit wills it- and we play our part rightly too.
Nb- See A.N William’s work on St Gregory Palamas and St Thomas Aquinas, Demacopoulos on St Augustine and the work of Marcus Plested or Matthew Levering for more scholarly ecumenical efforts at properly understanding allegedly divisive figures. (Levering is valuable to me as he sees consenance in the Temple theology of the great N.T Wright and St Thomas Aquinas). With Milbank, I think Aquinas’ positive view of procreation as a blessing, could perhaps have a positive essclesiological insight as yet undeveloped, on building up the Kingdom Church as a gift, not merely an obligation as in the old lerirate, and may be eternal along with Marriage and Sex (Of Christ was criticising the levitate view more specifically as in its older flesh, and unChrist-centred way. I believe that is a good way to view it, because though who will be married in the Kingdom will still be embodied sexual beings, who wouldnt need to have children like the sadducees in the story said, the lack of need doesnt necessitaye that we might provreate out of gifting love in freedom however. And Christs saying doesnt criticise that. Either way, as Fr Bejr shows, theres more to Marriage and sex than that, so the existence or non existence of new children doesnt mean there will or wont be Marriage and sex. However, perhaps we’re starting see the Spirit’s work in the family described as domestic Church.)
…Tradition, to combat traditions, if you will- by offering a right understanding of a sacramental, relational Churchly Kingdom- not a collective of isolated individuals, seen de-facto separate from being within the church or the Holy Trinity. (See the great N.T Wright below.)
…That being said, there is an ugly turn towards glorification of celibacy at the expense of Marriage once more in the East and West alike, in the RC and EO churches- using a lot ofbthinkers East and West who we’re going to try to recapitulate in light of Tradition rightly understood. (Probably in the Oriental Church as well for all I know- I neglect them only because it’s hard to get the same information on their Theology in English, though the Copts have good online resources and Vigen Guroian of the Armenians is recommended.)
Whilst Fr Behr has great and sensible things to say about Marriage, Fr John Meyendorff, Vigen Guroian and many more, theres are not the only voices- even though theres are the truer.
You have many others who say some really great things but ruin it with dubious exegesis and Theology in key areas – JP2 as mentioned, on the ‘conservative’ side and Adrian Thatcher on the ‘liberal’ side both end up in the wrong place despite truly great points made and laying invaluable groundwork.
In a similarly unfortunate manner to the approach to the papacy in the west, there are amongst the EO at this time, and in contrast to the Tradition- as Pelikan knew it rightly, many in the Church today who read the Fathers one dimensionally, out of context or make wild claims that they all agreed on this point or that point. This is more than a little problematic as serious study will show- they even contradicted themselves within their own writings on fundamental issues and worse still, the Bible and orthodox Tradition in others. (See Behr, Louth, Bouteneff, Hays, Pelikan and Florovsky amongst others below)
Saint John Chrysostom had bad stuff to say about Sex and marriage one minute then good, St Gregory of Nyssa likewise, Maximos the same; I think the latter, for example, dangerously misreads the Bible in suggesting Marriage was implemented ‘after’ the fall (suggesting they were only ‘helpers’ before) even though he was brilliant in many ways and has helped me see the goodness of creation in general. This exegesis is contradicted not only by the general thrust of the Orthodox tradition on the Sacrament of Marriage, in her liturgy for example, as well as her understanding of salvation in general( which is Cross and Kingdom as Wright might say- and like Maximos himself otherwise argues in general) he contrasts herein with the Gospels and St Paul as well as with St Augustine, who is justly Blessed in the Orthodox Church too. It would be the height of foolishness, no, dangerous therefore to see Augustine as irrelevant to the Eastern Church today, as a ‘western saint’ or more contemporary divisive Theologians like Bulgakov even as irrelevant, and to reject the authority of those who may one day be called Church Fathers themselves.
I believe the Church should see Augustine’s insight as the more reliable exegesis of Genesis in this respect and juxtapose that with the great points Maximos enumerates elswehere. This sort of contextualising is very important.
Sidestep- Genesis is a text that cannot be read at one level as it deals with innumerable themes and doesn’t work with a literalist, or only chronological reading so I don’t want to give them impression I speak entirely literally when I talk about what God did before or after the fall; it still needs to be understood as ‘making sense’ though, as a poetic or Theological revelation of things, and that’s the Church’s role together in relation to the ‘greatest story ever told’ surely. (See Dr Peter Bouteneff and Ellen F Davis below for example).
Whilst reading scripture, reflecting on the liturgies, reading the mothers and fathers, saints of the Church, Papal encyclical for RC’s etc are essential, let’s learn from what Philosophy and Sciences have to say, correcting the mistakes of the past and adding bits that people centuries ago could never have dreamed of. Science Dan actually play a role in aiding us against a malevolent spiritualising of Marriage and Sexuality, that even early Christians were guilty of and historical accounts of the apostles and early Christians are invaluable in assistance too. ( See Peter Brown, J Pelikan and co.)
See likewise this talk from Philosopher Roger Scruton for example; we can come to the revealed truth in a variety of ways-
So, this project will not run along illusory East-West lines, or take a literalist, even historically static or linear approach and I’d warn anyone studying Church history and east-west relations off that- the Holy Spirit blows where, when and how it will and it didn’t just dwell on ‘The Fathers’ back then, or only with the magisterium today either. (See Louth on modern Orthodox thinkers for example, McPartlan and Zizioulas, and the documents of Vatican 2 for examples.)
My focus in ways is clearly on RC and EO concerns, because im more familiar with these but am learning a greater deal from a variety of Protestants every day and love the times with my partner at the Methodist Church we attend. A lot of Protestant scholars, especially ‘High Church’s types have proved essential in revealing key insights about Christianity relatingbtonour topic as you will see below.
Now, the ugly- articles like this one below are common amongst Orthodox pieces online, as amongst Roman Catholics, in case you think im making it up about many of the pretty austere, naive views of sex, and would suggest there’s not much hope for the joyful message of Christ for Married men and women, that I’m trying to convey with these resources. That’s what’s so devastating about such lazy half baked and high sounding pseudo-Churchy statements, but as we’ll see- not only is God good, but his creation too in all its gratuitous fullness, indeed very good, including the gift of sexuality in its proper Trinitarian context. People will read silly things like this article or Fr Josiah Trenham’s harmful book and think it the truth of Orthodoxy.- (http://pemptousia.com/2013/09/21273/). This reminds me in it’s dour tone and over compensating grasping at certainty in earlier writers, of the supposedly Trad-Catholics see the magisterium as a great shop in the story See of the evils of ‘modernity’ (yet who flagrantly denounce Walter Kasper or Pope Francis as Satanic, etc. Everyone loves a Supreme Pontiff when they agree with them.) See Eugene Webb on his Psychology of Worldviews.
No, we shall see more clearly. The Church knows better than that… Fr John Behr’s articles below are most insightful for the Orthodox so please check them out even if you do nothing else, and don’t read all of my rambling beyond here. Meyendorffs book on Marriage is down there too. Sadly Dr Guroians great insights, as seen in Incarnate Love arent replicated online from what I can see however. Met Ware’s likewise to my chagrin.
(In terms of a consensusnon the topic- The earlier fathers and mothers disagreed on many things but generally arrive at a positive and Biblical view of God’s creation as good and marriage as at least implicitly good and often in spite of themselves; this then, is despite exegetical slips here and there and a failure of Incarnational nerve as the brilliant Dr Wirzba realised.
This is being built upon today and corrected by the Spirit and by new mothers and fathers today looking to the Holy Scripture and the Liturgy, deepening our understanding of the Poetic- Theological and existential meaning of YHWH in the flesh.
For differences about key points, including even eternal salvation, notbexactly an unimportant topic, within what is a supposedly univocal ‘tradition’, see the likes of this work- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=_6dLdAuS3GYC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=saint+maximos+was+wrong+about+genesis&source=bl&ots=QwfQZYICIo&sig=AoR5iHpnVPBvBGbh-tH1DnPJotU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiA0-nfrYHTAhVFWRQKHWVaBx4Q6AEIGjAA#v=onepage&q=saint%20maximos%20was%20wrong%20about%20genesis&f=false
Looking at the basic plot of the Christian story, I find, with the Church, that YHWH, the God of love and excess, is a good deal more likely to create a good world and bring it back to him even richer than it was in Eden. A good God who creates gratuitously out of loving abundance- this understanding of a Trinitarian Theophany is more common amongst the Orthodox (and has been from with us from the beginning of the Church with the apostles, regardless of polemics against it from the likes of those in the previous article), like the great Fr Louth, DB Hart or Stanilaoe et al show.
So, particularly for the East it’s a matter of correcting some exegetical mistakes ‘in word’, properly contextualising and critiquing ‘The early Fathers’ by listening to the Church’s wisdom in toto- as indeed The Eastern Church already has done by God’s grace, de facto, in her liturgy- which clearly understands Marriage and human sexuality as belonging to the Kingdom. (Stick around for Schmemanns beautiful section below, from his life-changing ‘For the Life of the World…’.)
As N.T Wright, or as Rowan Williams’ wonderful article on creation and creatureliness shows however, non-Orthodox may well believe in this beautiful Theophany too and have a proper Sacramental, relational understanding of the Kingdom when we properly understand Tradition and Liturgy.
People find it hard to believe that N.T Wright has rediscovered the true orthodoxy of the Church, as it were, because they look at what so many within the Church say and have said for a time now, but his is more like a holy foolishness- the orthodoxy comes in an awareness of that basic Sacramental worldview, which is preserved in the ways of the church (eg liturgy, Iconography, etc even when the Church’s statements don’t match up It’s an awareness drawn from being properly within the Church- Met Kallistos Ware has this quality amongst the eastern orthodox, as Fr Louth has said in his own way. So even when there’s a dissonance in the church, there are certain holy fools who can see the spirit at work.)
What Is Marriage For? Tracing God’s Plan from Genesis to Revelation by N. T. Wright
In this respect, I think along with the wisdom of the Church, that we will have all the gifts of a Transfigured Cosmos- Sexuality, Marriage, Bread and Wine, everything in the Kingdom- once it’s rightly ordered with the Triune God!
See this from the great Fr Andrew Louth and Fr Stanilaoe, showing the good side of what St Maximos speaks about creation- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=daEnCQAAQBAJ&pg=PA136&lpg=PA136&dq=creation+as+a+gift+Orthodox&source=bl&ots=ezcs7MDEG0&sig=Nc2hTujizZTAFMycXS18fG6jJqE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiulsnm8PzSAhXHORQKHcZ9BBMQ6AEIHTAB#v=onepage&q=creation%20as%20a%20gift%20Orthodox&f=false
I see the ‘Holy Wisdom’ or ‘Logos’ or whatever we may rightfully call it, of the Orthodox faith, in its overarching worship of the Triune God, as preserving that great truth more than any of the other churches in relation to this issue of Marriage, in spite of the awful views we’ve seen and the continued denigration of sex in places.
It’s abundantly clear that the church in the east has its work cut but in different ways from in the west, and for a variety of different reasons. (Especially in it’s beautiful Theophanic and Covenantal, Sacramental Theology of Marriage, as we’ll see below.) We have issues of authority in RC and Protestant churches, which are different.
An outline- In the Kingdom, we will be like the angels, yes, but that’s to do with how we relate to God, not a slight on our creatureliness (As William’s outline should show).
Yes, we will not ‘marry or be given in Marriage’ in the way of this life but the Orthodox can answer that one. (Father’s Behr, Met Ware and Meyendorff cover this excellently, as does Richard B Hays). We will not ‘procreate’ in the way according to ‘the flesh’ (which Leithart shows was a more man-centred Jewish generational impetus rather than flesh redeemed , rested upon by the Spirit) but Jesus did not say we will not be married nor does this mean his criticisms are of procreation per se as followers of the mistaken, austere view of Maximos would suggest (see Milbank), or Marriage per se. Certain passages in scripture are often read that way but it doesn’t hold up within this Iconographic story. (See Guroian, Behr, Meyendorff, Evdokimov, K Ware, D Ford, Schmemann, Richard B Hays, Wright and more.)
Rather, in God’s Theophanic creation he has a Transfiguring plan for them all which is God-centred. (Staniloae again is useful or Behr who has a complex view of God’s foreknowledge of the fall- these different approaches of bits of creation as gift or as for the purpose of saving are not mutually exclusive in Orthodoxy or Christianity in general. In fact the consensus of the Church, which in the Orthodox tradition hasn’t stopped at any time period, in spite of the significance of the Councils, or which doesn’t rest on the magisterium, would suggest this a case of both/ and, as the non-Orthodox, orthodox Wright shows.)
Below, you will hopefully therefore discover this divine plan more properly understood in Christianity, great mystery that it is ( esp Orthodoxy and her sacramentality) with your mind, body and soul, in right relationship with God, others and the cosmos within the narrative of the Pilgrim Church and guided by the spirit. (This will look different depending on your ecclesiology and sense of authority whether East or West obviously.)
Any criticisms the Lord makes of the older practices that are of this world are directed at the heterodox form God’s gifts had taken, as St Maximos and co. would agree with generally, not at these gifts properly ordered in love and worship of God in his Triune life, in a way that exceeds Eden.
If this is not demonstrably so, I think then that an exegesis of Eternity is something which we could, at worst be only agnostic about; given the mystery of Eden and the Kingdom both. (The difference between east and west, or within even these areas, different readings of the text in and of itself as it were almost, differences between even early Christians like Peter and Paul as recorded, Augustine and Maximos for example. This should cast doubt on what ‘The Fathers’ or ‘The Church’ has ‘always taught’ as a simply historical question- come off it.
These discussions are not new- look at how people were debating ‘when Marriage was instituted in Genesis’, hundreds of years ago in the west as the east. – https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=EXRNDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA581&lpg=PA581&dq=marriage+was+instituted+before+the+fall&source=bl&ots=M5-q0Knp-Y&sig=hv0CVpkS4WvDcw0as4RuqsVN-pw&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwja8sai-fzSAhWK7BQKHSz2BysQ6AEIIDAC#v=onepage&q=marriage%20was%20instituted%20before%20the%20fall&f=false
I think, in line with the Orthodox and general Christian Sacramental worldview, that it makes most sense that Marriage was instituted when God blessed Adam and Eve, bringing them together in one flesh- Ellen F. Davis shows that this was a unique quasi public blessing which the animals or the rest of creation didn’t receive and took place before the fall, with no suggestion that it was only a coming together to combat the evil that God foresaw- the structure of the story of Genesis and Marriage in general across the Bible and Tradition as well as its Liturgical role in the Kingdom will not allow this debasement to continue. (This unique blessing fits with the sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church as eternal more sensibly than viewing Marriage as instituted after the fall, so let’s not be foolish, and let’s at least listen to St Augustine on that.) – See her talk with Krista Tippett at- http://onbeing.org/programs/ellen-davis-wendell-berry-poetry-creatures/
I believe in this light of Christ, as I hope these resources show, that our embodied sexual relationships, food and drink, bread and wine, all God’s gifts, when rightly ordered, do have an eternal place in God’s Kingdom.
Moreover, I fear that if we continue to misinterpret Marriage, Sexuality, Agape and Eros then, aside from showing ingratitude to God, we will all suffer personally, ecclesiastically, sociologically, liturgically, in our prayer life etc, etc.
Truthfully, If this is who God made us to be in the light of eternity and we fail to appreciate that gift, giving gratitude with our whole selves, as the Church, we are in a very real sense not being orthodox- for that is not true worship. It’s actually an unintended placing of man and evil at the centre of the story, reading a God of a recue operation, like the older western view of atonement (in some cases) that was supposedly part of the ‘western’ understanding. Rather than God’s gratuitous gifting love as plan A, B and C- The God who IS Love. (Agapeic-Erotic, Tripersonal, gifting, creating Love which is also a saving love as Fr Behr shows in Mystery of Christ, as does Coakley/Anselm in her talk below…)
“God’s love, and hence the love with which we come to love God, is eros and agape at once: a desire for the other that delights in the distance of otherness.”
David Bentley Hart (The Beauty of the Infinite…)
For Marriage in the Kingdom…
Some of these sources I wholeheartedly agree with (Dr Guroian, Fr Schmemann and Fr Behr seem very on point in particular), others not so much, but I find each has at least some good ideas and/or references so I will share them ( at times with a caution). Haha
I hope and pray that a work or number of works can be done reconciling Agape and Eros in a properly Trinitarian manner, that this can reconcile the body and soul, sex and love, and that people can grow to understand what’s at stake in this. With this in mind, and taking inspiration from Eclectic Orthodoxy by Fr Kimel, I will gather any good seeds I can find.(His brilliant readings on Universalism series- that said, I’m not a universalist and find Torrance or Stanilaoe solid on that issue. Nor do I think the metaphysical framework of creation as gift necessitates that view.
As you’ll have seen by now, I believe that there are many modern misunderstandings of Marriage, Sex and Love in Christianity from those who count themselves as the most orthodox. Unfortunately one malevolent form of this false orthodoxy is a prevalent putting down of Marriage and Eros amongst Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike, in the mistaken view that this is ‘the Christian belief’. I aim to show otherwise and have brought together the witness of the Holy Bible and many great Christians to address it.
You may say that there is nothing modern about this view, in light of the negative article I shared, and you’d be partly right of course; however as we shall see, the anti-body, anti-sex narrative has never been the only one in the history of the great faith and as I hope to show, nor is it the Christian one according to the Scripture, Liturgy, Theology, Iconography, etc of the Church.
The danger with today’s iteration is in the naive acceptance of this as the only way, it’s reactionary nature and the weight of supposition bearing on it as something that we must believe. (This is a particular problem for Orthodox in their literalist readings of The Fathers and Catholics in light of the modern papacy, especially pertaining to Humanae Vitae and what has followed it.)
Theology of the Body and JP2 are both a blessing and a curse from my view. The humanum series which I’ll share below makes some good points, along contemporary RC lines but needs an Orthodox critique if it is to breathe properly. (JP2’s two lungs)
I think there is a tendency to reactionary views reminiscent of what this fine author, Adam DeVille is criticising here and reject the pseudo- orthodoxy of this approach to key areas like Marriage and Sexuality- http://easternchristianbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/reading-dreher-with-schmemann-and.html
I believe and show with these resources, at least, that things are not nearly so simple. Fr John Behr alone will turn misconception after misconception upside down as indeed will many of the others.
For one example of a more multifaceted understanding of the role of ‘The Fathers’, see Florovsky- http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/print77774.htm
The basic idea that God created all of us as embodied, sexual human beings, to live on food and drink, (oftentimes) to set up families, love and make sacrifices for others…ultimately to renounce these things in favour of some ‘ideal’ virginal life, which runs against most peoples experience within human history, setting up some completely different kingdom, which we can’t really relate to because our lives are supposedly so illusory, seems to be a very poor story to me.
It seems to make Eden more appealing in ways than the Kingdom and to be an affront to the creator God of the Bible who loves each of us personally and communally, and welcomes us into his triune, eternal life.
Whether we follow the path of Marriage or Celibacy; both are clearly affirmed in the bible but without putting down one or the other, despite obviously clever, however twisted, arguments to the contrary and Bible verses taken in isolation. (Or without the proper Incarnational orthodox mind of the Church in her Liturgical wisdom.)
Nor indeed should we see one as merely a precursor to the other- Marriage for this life and Celibacy for the Kingdom come.
Within the matrix of the Orthodox and Catholic tradition , I read the bible as showing that God has not created the vast majority of human beings throughout history as Sexed, embodied persons who long for a more- than- human love, with their whole selves, to be be deluded, playing the role of a mere predecessor to ‘a true spirituality’ in the kingdom.
This story simply does not make sense and good God I hope it is not the Biblical story. I am humble enough to know that I don’t know it all and can see this is inexplicably complicated, but that there is good news for us as embodied sexual creatures for eternity, in spite of the negative views discussed, seems clear as day.
We will be like the angels in that our whole selves will be oriented to God, but as Rowan Williams shows with the help of Bulgakov, this is not a zero sum game, and Kallistos Ware shows, we will be saved together and can be together in Marriage as a Synerge.
To create gratuitous gifts such as human beings and everything in the Cosmos is something God just does in love, not just because he’s anticipating evil.(see Williams below).
Unfortunately I can’t find the great Tom Torrance’s book directly, but here’s a snippet of what he saw. Some of the others referenced in this book like Johnson or Crowder are very wrong but Torrance is great.- https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=1lIGf_0EUfIC&pg=PA321&lpg=PA321&dq=The+Christian+Doctrine+of+Marriage+Torrance&source=bl&ots=HMhVn8cQpU&sig=yB0i4ImjbTI0AFxOu63u4072S5s&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiF5LPAis3TAhVmBMAKHVSuAIkQ6AEIVTAK#v=onepage&q=The%20Christian%20Doctrine%20of%20Marriage%20Torrance&f=false
The Scripture and Tradition would suggest even saintly men are in error, despite many a clever, convoluted and non-literal reading, as we often get in Theology.
Many holy men and women throughout history and today, again who are greater Christians than I, but who espouse this pessimistic view of creation, are still wrong.
This is not an optimistic vs a pessimist binary mind you; I believe the Church in her totality, offers something rather different- Hope.
Scholars of today and of recent times, who do understand the basic thrust of the Gospel message relating to the goodness of creation, include but are not limited to- Sarah Coakley, Catherine Pickstock, N.T Wright, C Yannaras, Peter Leithart, John Behr, Vigen Guroian, K Ware, A Louth, Stanilaoe, J Begbie, Rowan Williams, S Bulgakov, Norman Wirzba, Marty Folsom, Beth Felker Jones, David Bentley Hart, Alexander Schmemann, Ellen F Davis, Gisela Kreglinger, Richard B Hays and James K.A. Smith.
We will see below that in conjunction with today’s finest scholarship, the Bible and The Church Fathers offer a complex picture of creation and God’s gifts to his creatures as well as how both have been misinterpreted; More than that, how the Bible and Church Fathers such as Saint John Chrysostom, Irenaneus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine and others are suffering from crude (mis) interpretations and worse. That’s without even looking at how Scripture has been abused and misused. In this light I should say I take this very seriously, because I think think bad theology is devastating to people’s lives, worse, to the good God who made us.
Despite arguments for or against, in relation to certain (earlier) Church Fathers( The Orthodox Tradition doesnt only refer to the first Christians as ‘Fathers’- otherwise there wouldn’t have been so much emphasis on St Gregory Palamas, now held to be THEE Church Father as it were. This continues today and will into the future, some have called Florovsky a Father, Fr Barron has said the same of Girard in the West, and i’d wonder about Schmemann myself as one.)
I concur ultimately with Fr Behr and the orthodox tradition rightly understood that even ‘The Fathers’ need corrected at times, and those who follow a line of thought which would dismiss things like Marriage and Sexuality, Food and Wine, or the like, as only for this life, can’t contradict Sacred Scripture, the Tradition in her abundance, her Liturgy, Iconography, etc etc and the very logic of the cosmos itself- which show, taken together that these gifts are part of eternal life with God.(see Florovsky’s work on the Bible and the Church, vol 1. In his series for example or Met Kallistos- Catholics should also check out the likes of Gaillardetz or Eastern Catholic Adam DeVille.)
For one rather simple example of a text which I think is obviously misinterpreted at the level of simple logic, I suggest,
As I said in a discussion with the great Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, If God ‘multiplies pain‘ in her childbirth After the fall, that suggests that there was procreation Before the fall and there is no reason whatsoever to believe that’d be unsexed or disembodied. Again, they were made Male and Female Before the fall. (Or at most we could only be agnostic about their state at that time.) This is only on one level of reading, but when taken with the eschatological significance of the new heavens and new earth of the gospel of John, as well as Christ’s ability to transfigure all things, it really should be devastating to a view which would see so much of the good creation as only fleeting and for this world. Whilst God would have known what was going to happen with the fall, the idea that this was his sole or main reason for creating Marriage and Procreation doesn’t makes sense. He blessed these erotic men and women together as a couple then (in a way he hadn’t even done for the animals in Genesis, he blessed the wedding at Cana with his Incarnate presence there and his transfiguring power, and continues to bless Men and Women in Marriage through the Church today- in the Spirit, dwelling in them and building his Kingdom through them- his Kingdom being here and now waiting to be fully consummated later.)
Again, just one example of a more hopeful understanding from the earlier Christian Fathers in the tradition, who changed positions at times, about desires properly ordered in Christ, comes from no less than Saint John Chrysostom. ‘…the Eastern Fathers understand that marriage provides a God-given and God-sanctioned avenue of fulfillment for sexual desire. As Chrysostom puts it,
I do not of course count marriage among evil things, but rather I praise it exceedingly. For it is the harbor of chastity (sophrosynes) for those who desire to use it well, and it renders one’s nature not to be wild. For like a dam, marriage gives us an opportunity for legitimate intercourse and in this way contains the waves of sexual desire.23 It places us in a great calm and watches over us.24
Now this the interesting bit- He even speaks of a transformation of sexual desires: “If you drive away the other things [i.e., inappropriate reveliy], Christ Himself will come to your wedding, and where Christ goes, the angels’ choir follows. If you so desire, He will work for you an even greater miracle than He worked in Cana: that is, He will transform the water of your unstable passions into the wine of spiritual unity.”25′ -Think about what he was doing at the Wedding at Cana- establishing his Kingdom, just like he was elsewhere.
This is not unlike the more solid outline of Wright above, or Leithart’s Theology which sees ‘flesh’ redeemed in Christ.
At this point I’d like to say that we would be making a big mistake to read Genesis in and of itself or anything pertaining to Eden without the Trinity and the Kingdom of God. I can see that this is something the Orthodox and general Christian tradition at her best, understands well, and even when one of her members misreads a text or makes an error in right liturgical worship, we have prophetic and priestly voices calling us back to true orthodoxy. Schmemann is such a man, Guroian, Behr; Coakley is such a woman, Ellen F Davis, Dorothy Day.
We can learn from Christians within different churches I should make clear and I’m indebted to Protestants like Leithart, Coakley or Williams, Orthodox like Behr, Schmemann and Guroian, Catholics like DeVille, JP2 and Day.
Not just Theologians, but the Liturgy and the Sacramental, Iconographic attitude in general offers great hope for the Kingdom come…
Andrew Louth’s book and especially his chapter on Eschatology in ‘Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology’ has this to say about the creation- I think quoting Bulgakov or Berdyaev. ( I’ll check again).- ‘My salvation is not only bound up with that of other men but also of animals, plants, minerals, every blade of grass – all must be transfigured and brought into the kingdom of God’( This chapter has a great deal of good stuff to say on the Kingdom and is joyfully consonant with what we’ve laid out so far. )
This chapter indeed lays out a liturgical understanding of the eschaton, which I think is imperative for our understanding of…well, everything really! I have been more literal than i’d like to be about the order of Genesis and if ive focused on one text st the expense of others im sorry, because like N.T Wright does, we should look at the big Icon and then see how each part fits with the others, this will stop us from building a house without the cornerstone like I think many interpreters of Genesis have, as I’ve shown, even holy ones. That’s what I mean by saying, the liturgy, Iconography, etc and sacramental attitude of the Church KNOWS better, even if we don’t show it and share the message properly.
Fr Louth in sync with the Church shows how God has promised In scripture and liturgy that he will eat with us in the Kingdom of God though and if we understand liturgy properly, how he already is! (‘No food’ or ‘desire for food’ as merely ‘passions’ here- I think not!
Again, these are gifts of the good God of excess. One wonders about the significance of the holy sacrament of Marriage and human sexuality as well as other aspects of creation, just like eating, in that very light. I think that their ultimate meaning is revealed to us sacramentally and in this context they are properly ordering us to God and his kingdom- in part in this life already. Are the sacraments merely symbolic or deluding us in some way as to the character of Food, Wine, Marriage and other Gifts? Are they taking away from right worship of God by his creatures? Are we less than the angels because of our bodies and sexual selves, when we enter into the liturgy? Must all these be stripped off as unnecessary ornamentality in the eschaton? I think not!
I must say that I agree with much of what Catherine Pickstock has to say, including- “The event of transubstantiation in the Eucharist is the condition of possibility of all human meaning.” And…
“Where a community arises by receiving itself [eucharistically], it is constituted as gratitude for a gift of love.” -Catherine Pickstock
Likewise, in all the Church’s services you will find a complex picture of human existence in God’s life. This is taken from an article, cited underneath- the verses from the Psalms are always carefully chosen, and it is very illuminating to look at the entire Psalm from which the prokeimena are drawn, to consider the original context of the verses. This is certainly true of the verses selected for the marriage service. Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a more powerful choice.
The prokeimenon and verses are from the first half of Psalm 20 (21), which reads as follows in the Septuagint:
‘O Lord, the king shall rejoice in Thy strength; and in Thy salvation he shall greatly exult. “Thou hast granted him the desire of his soul, and hast not withheld from him the request of his lips. 3For Thou hast gone before him with blessings of goodness; Thou hast set upon his head a crown of precious stones. 4He asked life of Thee, and Thou gavest him length of days for ever and ever. 5His glory is great in Thy salvation; Thou wilt crown him with glory and majesty. ®For Thou wilt give him a blessing for ever and ever; Thou wilt gladden him with joy in Thy countenance. ?For the king trusts in the Lord, and through the mercy of the Highest he shall not be shaken.27
The prokeimenon is from verses 3 and 4 of the psalm: “Thou hast set upon their heads crowns of precious stones. They asked life of Thee and Thou gavest it them.” We see from the Psalm that originally this is spoken of the king — who, the Psalm says, did receive “length of days for ever and ever.” The authors of the service simply put the verses in the plural. This is fitting, for the new husband and wife are called to be king and queen over their little realm in this life, and like the king in the Psalm, to enjoy eternal salvation in the next life. This is emphasized in the next verse chanted (verse 6 of the psalm), “Thou wilt make them most blessed forever; Thou wilt make them glad with the joy of Thy presence.”
The images of the husband and wife being one flesh, and the Church being the Body of Christ, are intertwined throughout this passage from Ephesians — so close is the analogy. Everything in marriage, then, is to be done in Christ, with the purpose of bringing the couple closer to Christ and to each other in truly Christian love. Such love does not seek its own, but the welfare of the other (cf. I Cor. 13:4-7).
– From Orthodoxchurchlife blog, linked below.
Juxtapose this with Schmemann- ‘Love needs no justification; it is not because it gives life that love is good: it is because it is good that it gives life.’ ‘For the Life of the World’.
I understand that some Saints, and recently those like Von Balthasar and others have arrived at the ‘virginal’ conclusion regarding human sexuality but agree with what the bible itself says, as well as John Milbank, Fr Behr, Sarah Coakley, Augustine et al.
For all I complain about the Roman Catholic Church’s contemporary views on Romantic Love, Sex and Marriage, as well as some of the ideas of saints like Aquinas and Augustine; I believe they can play a very positive role in a properly Christian ressourcement. John Milbank (famed for Theology and Social Theory) has highlighted some of the more positive views of these two great western Saints- Augustine and Aquinas.
I believe there is an untapped potential in their views for a properly Incarnational Theology, taken in conjunction with Scripture and other voices.
…Taken from Milbank’s chapter in Adrian Pabst and Schneider’s ‘Encounter between Eastern Orthodoxy and Radical Orthodoxy.
‘…theurgical perspective helps us to understand, in
theological terms, just why there exist many human generations. It is because the work of praise takes time and is collective, like a cathedral taking many centuries to build. For this reason, I would say that generation, including sexuality, can be seen
as belonging to our original humanity. This should be asserted against the austere and dubious Eastern-derived views of Louis Bouyer, cautiously supported by Hans Urs von Balthasar, who cites more or less approvingly the German idealist view that
where there can be no death, neither can there be any birth, and who erroneously regards a restoration of paradisal virginity alongside the salvific need for the incarnation as the ground for the requirement of the virginal conception. My own, opposite view is, however, in keeping with that of Augustine, who acknowledged
marriage and therefore possible descendants of A dam and Eve before the fall, and still more Aquinas, who – in keeping with an H ebraic outlook – regarded successive generations of children as an intrinsic ‘blessing’, rather than as a contingent postlapsarian
remedy. He also considered that sexual sensible pleasure before the Fall would have been more intense, despite the fact that (in agreement with Augustine
by the time of the Summa, revising his position in his Sentences commentary), Eve’s hymen would not have been broken and there would have been no concupiscence,
since both mind and the entirety of the body would have integrally consented to the maximum to the performance of the sexual act. Rather, precisely on account of harmony with reason, ecstatic bodily pleasure (perhaps because true ecstasy is other-directed?) before the Fall would have been far greater, just as, in the absence
of irrational lust (that is wrongly directed and inappropriate desire) there would have been no merit whatsoever in sexual abstinence. So for Aquinas, it is an unlimitedly erotic and procreative being that humanity has denied and lost through sin.’
This shows, contrary to one-sided polemics (such as Sherrard’s) that Saint Thomas Aquinas and St Augustine were at least not entirely wrong about sex and romantic love. This is not an East-West phenomenon exclusively and it’d be foolish to restrict our scope along those lines.
I would suggest as this author does, that we are cautious with Von Balthasar and those who espouse an essentially unIncarnational view of sexual embodiment.
I think this sits well with Frederickson’s reading of St Paul and Leithart’s book on Atonement, which sees a Spirit driven transfiguration of the older fleshly generation .Yannaras is most helpful here and corrects many of our mistakes.
‘…The epithalamium emphasized that this κοινωνία between bride and groom is one of the two moments of perfection in the course of a person’s life. If Greek weddings are held in mind, then, it appears that the perfection Paul speaks of in 3:12 (τετελείωμαι) is less a matter of self-discipline as it has usually been conceived and more a vision of human fulfillment in the intimacy of reciprocal desire and communion.’
-David E. Frederickson in Eros and Christ.
Marriage is a noble way which is of God and impacts Ecclesiology, Soteriology, Eschatology, etc. Fr Philip LeMasters has rightly linked it to the liturgy, it’s proper place as a Sacrament of the kingdom, of course.
I have been clearly inspired particularly by Fr John Behr, Schmemann and also by the affable Dr Vigen Guroian but there are many great Christian writers who share the truth of The Gospel about Marriage and Sexuality.
The work of Peter Leithart in bringing together Gift and Gratitude serves as an inspiration in style and at times, content, as does the work of Norman Wirzba on ‘A Theology of Food’ which performs the same joyous role for that aspect of creation that I hope for in other areas. (He helpfully stated in conversation with me that he didn’t believe the very means of life in the world that God has given us could be merely evil, or may I add fallen in general. (Including viewing them as ‘natural passions’.)
It’d be wonderful to see some semblance of these great projects in the realm of Marriage (Agapeic-erotic love).
Let’s look to the example great Liturgical Theologian of the twentieth century, and Married Priest, Alexander Schmemann for inspiration for starters.
From Chapter 5 of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s book “For the Life of the World”
“This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the Church” (Eph. 5:32)
In the Orthodox Church matrimony is a sacrament. It may be asked why, of the many “states” of human life, in the great variety of man’s vocations, only this “state” has been singled out and understood as a sacrament? Indeed, if it is simply a divine sanction of marriage, the bestowing of spiritual help to the married couple, a blessing for the procreation of children—all this does not make it radically different from any other act for which we need help and guidance, sanction and blessing. For a “sacrament,” as we have seen, implies necessarily the idea of transformation, refers to the ultimate event of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is always a sacrament of the Kingdom. In a way, of course, the whole life of the Church can be termed sacramental, for it is always the manifestation in time of the “new time.” Yet in a more precise way the Church calls sacraments those decisive acts of its life in which this transforming grace is confirmed as being given, in which the Church through a liturgical act identifies itself with and becomes the very form of that Gift.… But how is marriage related to the Kingdom which is to come? How is it related to the cross, the death and the resurrection of Christ? What, in other words, makes it a sacrament?
Even to raise these questions seems impossible within the whole “modern” approach to marriage, and this includes, often enough, the “Christian” approach. In the numberless “manuals of marital happiness,” in the alarming trend to make the minister a specialist in clinical sexology, in all cozy definitions of a Christian family which approve a moderate use of sex (which can be an “enriching experience”) and emphasize responsibility, savings and Sunday School—in all this there is, indeed, no room for sacrament. We do not even remember today that marriage is, as everything else in “this world,” a fallen and distorted marriage, and that it needs not to be blessed and “solemnized”—after a rehearsal and with the help of the photographer—but restored. This restoration, furthermore, is in Christ and this means in His life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, in the pentecostal inauguration of the “new eon,” in the Church as the sacrament of all this. Needless to say, this restoration infinitely transcends the idea of the “Christian family,” and gives marriage cosmic and universal dimensions.
Here is the whole point. As long as we visualize marriage as the concern of those alone who are being married, as something that happens to them and not to the whole Church, and, therefore, to the world itself, we shall never understand the truly sacramental meaning of marriage: the great mystery to which St. Paul refers when he says, “But I speak concerning Christ and the Church.” We must understand that the real theme, “content” and object of this sacrament is not “family,” but love. Family as such, family in itself, can be a demonic distortion of love—and there are harsh words about it in the Gospel: “A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Mt. 10:36). In this sense the sacrament of matrimony is wider than family. It is the sacrament of divine love, as the all-embracing mystery of being itself, and it is for this reason that it concerns the whole Church, and—through the Church—the whole world.’
‘…We now can return to the sacrament of matrimony. We can now understand that its true meaning is not that it merely gives a religious “sanction” to marriage and family life, reinforces with supernatural grace the natural family virtues. Its meaning is that by taking the “natural” marriage into “the great mystery of Christ and the Church,” the sacrament of matrimony gives marriage a new meaning; it transforms, in fact, not only marriage as such but all human love.’
‘…having blessed the natural marriage, the priest takes the bridal pair in a solemn procession into the church. This is the true form of the sacrament, for it does not merely symbolize, but indeed is the entrance of marriage into the Church, which is the entrance of the world into the “world to come,” the procession of the people of God —in Christ—into the Kingdom. The rite of crowning is but a later—although a beautiful and beautifully meaningful—expression of the reality of this entrance.’
‘“O Lord and God, crown them with glory and honor!” says the priest after he has put crowns on the heads of the bridal pair. This is, first, the glory and honor of man as king of creation: “Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue and have dominion …” (Gn. 1:25). Each family is indeed a kingdom, a little church, and therefore a sacrament of and a way to the Kingdom.’
‘…In movies and magazines the “icon” of marriage is always a youthful couple. But once, in the light and warmth of an autumn afternoon, this writer saw on the bench of a public square, in a poor Parisian suburb, an old and poor couple. They were sitting hand in hand, in silence, enjoying the pale light, the last warmth of the season. In silence: all words had been said, all passion exhausted, all storms at peace. The whole life was behind—yet all of it was now present, in this silence, in this light, in this warmth, in this silent unity of hands. Present—and ready for eternity, ripe for joy. This to me remains the vision of marriage, of its heavenly beauty.’
In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross joy [and not ‘happiness!’] entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely.
Then secondly, the glory and the honor is that of the martyr’s crown. For the way to the Kingdom is the martyria —bearing witness to Christ. And this means crucifixion and suffering. A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage.
Hence the third and final meaning of the crowns: they are the crowns of the Kingdom, of that ultimate Reality of which everything in “this world”—whose fashion passeth away—everything has now become a sacramental sign and anticipation. “Receive their crowns in Thy Kingdom,” says the priest, as he removes them from the heads of the newlyweds, and this means: make this marriage a growth in that perfected love of which God alone is the end and fullness.
The common cup given to the couple after the crowning is explained today as a symbol of “common life,” and nothing shows better the “desacramentalization” of marriage, its reduction to a “natural happiness.” In the past this was communion, the partaking of the Eucharist, the ultimate seal of the fulfillment of marriage in Christ. Christ is to be the very essence of life together. He is the wine of the new life of the children of God, and communion in it will proclaim how, by getting older and older in this world, we are growing younger and younger in the life which has no evening.
As the wedding service is completed, the bride and bridegroom join hands and follow the priest in a procession around the table. As in baptism, this procession in a circle signifies the eternal journey which has begun; marriage will be a procession hand in hand, a continuation of that which has started here, not always joyful, but always capable of being referred to and filled with joy.
Nowhere is the truly universal, truly cosmic significance of the sacrament of matrimony as the sacrament of love, expressed better than in its liturgical similitude with the liturgy of ordination, the sacrament of priesthood. Through it is revealed the identity of the Reality to which both sacraments refer, of which both are the manifestation.
…what both clericalism and secularism—the former being, in fact, the natural father of the latter—have made us forget is that to be priest is from a profound point of view the most natural thing in the world. Man was created priest of the world, the one who offers the world to God in a sacrifice of love and praise and who, through this eternal eucharist, bestows the divine love upon the world. Priesthood, in this sense, is the very essence of manhood, man’s creative relation to the “womanhood” of the created world. And Christ is the one true Priest because He is the one true and perfect man. He is the new Adam, the restoration of that which Adam failed to be. Adam failed to be the priest of the world, and because of this failure the world ceased to be the sacrament of the divine love and presence, and became “nature.”
But Christ revealed the essence of priesthood to be love and therefore priesthood to be the essence of life. He died the last victim of the priestly religion, and in His death the priestly religion died and the priestly life was inaugurated. He was killed by the priests, by the “clergy,” but His sacrifice abolished them as it abolished “religion.” And it abolished religion because it destroyed that wall of separation between the “natural” and the “supernatural,” the “profane” and the “sacred,” the “this-worldly” and the “other-worldly”—which was the only justification and raison d’etre of religion. He revealed that all things, all nature have their end, their fulfillment in the Kingdom; that all things are to be made new by love.
…the sacrament of ordination is, in a sense, identical with the sacrament of matrimony. Both are manifestations of love. The priest is indeed married to the Church. But just as the human marriage is taken into the mystery of Christ and the Church and becomes the sacrament of the Kingdom, it is this marriage of the priest with the Church that makes him really priest, the true minister of that Love which alone transforms the world and reveals the Church as the immaculate bride of Christ.
The final point is this: some of us are married and some are not. Some of us are called to be priests and ministers and some are not. But the sacraments of matrimony and priesthood concern all of us, because they concern our life as vocation. The meaning, the essence and the end of all vocation is the mystery of Christ and the Church. It is through the Church that each one of us finds that the vocation of all vocations is to follow Christ in the fullness of His priesthood: in His love for man and the world, His love for their ultimate fulfillment in the abundant life of the Kingdom.
From “For the Life of the World” by Fr. Alexander Schmemann.
Mary Anne McPherson Oliver and Adrian Thatcher are others touched upon here who have some great views in their books but hold what I believe to be heterodox and probably heretical views in some places. I’ll flag that here. I agree that Marriage is between one man and one woman and think in cintrast to tje postmodernists, Sex and gender are really differences, but not a violence, as Hadjadj shows. Again unlike (allegedely)Maximos or Nyssa (And/or the scholars who claim they saw sex and gender only for this life)- I agree that these are eternal embodied differences, as well as in their ‘spiritual’ differences, like St Paul and the bible and Tradition itself, Yannaras, Milbank, St Irenaus, arguably Augustine, Aquinas, The Areopagite, Climacus and others, even with their limits, especially the earlier church fathers pertaining to sex, rooted in the time as they were, and not the extent of the Tradition. (As Fr Louth helpfully pointed out to me, in a way which is more Christian and in contrast to the nonsense of ‘traditionalists’ who dont get the tradition.)
(Thatcher’s ideas on using the Song of Songs Liturgically struck me as particularly prescient however and a lot of Oliver’s ‘Conjugal Spirituality’ seemed unusually orthodox until about 90 pages gone of her book.)
Anyway, there are many more which I will share and I hope they help you as much as they have aided me. This seems incredibly important to me because we are talking about Sacraments and ultimate visions of life in God’s Kingdom so I hope people give these pieces the reflection they deserve and that we can retrieve the real understanding of the Bible and Church on Marriage and Love. Is Marriage an Icon rather than an idol, in this a sacrament of three rather than two, and are we talking about an eternal outpouring of mutual love to reflect the life of the whole Trinity, whereby each person maintains their distinct identity in loving erotic-agapeic communion. I believe so and it seems this is what the Bible and Church reveal to us as the big picture.
http://www.svots.edu/sites/default/files/marriage-ascetisicm-sobornost.pdf Fr Behr’s brilliant insights. This great scholar shows, amongst other things, how Celibacy is not a superior state to Marriage but instead rightly understands the significance of both as integral to Christian living, viewing both as forms of Martyrdom and not a postlapsarian remedy or mistake in God’s plan. Fr Behr clears up misinterpretations of Genesis, The Church Fathers and more.
file:///F:/Behr%20-%20Rational%20Animal%20(1).pdf -Likewise, Fr John provides us with a nuanced reading of St Gregory of Nyssa, whereby we can see that the arc of Gregory’s thought arguably corresponds with the Bible, properly understood.)
This was very insightful for me and the Truth of it has struck home- whether it’s a right reading of Gregory of Nyssa or not, it is a right reading of, at least part the goodness of human sexuality according to the bible which s we can see is even more fundamental and important for deification and becoming who we are meant to be in joy with Christ . ( I’ve read the counter arguments from J Warren Smith, Hans Boersma, etc but dont find them convincing, I see them as falling into Gnosticism and/or misinterpreting the general thrust of orthodox theology, and find it hard to Nyssa could be so wrong- but perhaps he was…Not seeing fully the Orthodox Tradition, which is Iconographic- This is obvious in the likes of Yannaras, Russell, Louth, Ware- who sees in the great Gregory Palamas’ insights into Essence-Energies as helping us to understand our true being- together in eternity. Let us learn from this Gregory, the great father he was as well as Schmemann, Staniloae, Coakley Bulgakov, Augustine and many more holy men amd women). Worst case scenario is that this St Gregory is wrong. Fr Louth has shown me that these early Christians were men amd women of their time, not to be read as all knowing guides to every aspect of life, that being celibate was an historical given but not central to doctrine or dogma like other aspects of the Christian life. (I feared a twisted fundamentalist reading of The Fathers, because id seen it so often online and with friends. Thank God, we have people like Fr Louth to correct such nonsense.)
The Scripture, The Council’s, The Liturgy and Iconography, St Gregory Palamas, St Augustine, who the East calls blessed, and a whole plethora of other sources would then come into play in offering a more sensible outline for an Incarnate, Iconographic Theology- if I may call it that.)
…St Iraneus, St Gregory and co. did not necessarily say what you may think they did and ‘Virginity’ in some instances is not what you think.
https://www.google.co.uk/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/pdf/ijt/31-3-4_250.pdf&ved=0ahUKEwih36W_wJrSAhUHI8AKHXCRBokQFggkMAU&usg=AFQjCNGbVo0sL2CLlA6s3Qc7cnk6b8xUMQ – Dr V.C. Samuel supports Behr’s affirmations and has a book on Marriage and Celibacy himself (This is a hard one to come by sadly.).
The outline of the Biblical Narrative, as shared by Coakley here, lends itself as support to Fr Behr’s take and shows an interesting ally in the West (St Anselm) to join the ranks alongside Blessed Augustine. (Even Smith’s critical article of Behr shows this. Dr Coakley suggested likewise in my correspondence with her kindly self.
http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-07-018- Dr Leithart highlights in a short, subtle and sublime way just how the love we receive is not the same as the love we give, showing how difference (in gender and in other ways) is means for Agapeic-Erotic Love. This reflects the trinity and is a welcome insight, reaffirming what we are saying. Dr Leithart references the Orthodox Theologian David Bentley Hart in this piece and this idea is brilliantly linked to the giving of wedding rings by him.
Insights on Marriage and romantic love from Dr Peter Leithart.
‘What makes marital love a true image of divine love is not a renunciation of desire; what makes love truly love is the kind of desire it expresses and the kind of response it anticipates. True eros desires a particular kind of return, a return with difference. A true exchange of love is never an exchange of identical items.
If the woman gave the man the exact ring he gave her, the message would be: “The engagement is off.” As the Orthodox theologian David Hart says, “A gift that is exactly reciprocated is a gift that is returned, rejected . . . a violence, like a blow instantly returned.” To hope that you will receive exactly the same love you give is the crudest form of self-love. You might as well gaze longingly and affectionately into a mirror.
All givers give in hope of a return, but a return with difference; every lover hopes his beloved will reciprocate his love, but the wise lover knows that the reciprocated love will be as wonderfully different as the beloved herself. And the wise lover joyfully embraces that difference, even as he joyfully embraces his beloved.
A man is called to love, and it is right for him to want his wife to love him. But she is not called to give back exactly what he gives her. His wife is a woman, and will love him as a woman, which is not the way a man loves. If a man wants only what he can give, he might as well stay single and live with a bunch of guys the rest of his life or march off to live by a railroad track.
Likewise, when a woman gives herself in love to a husband, she hopes and wants him to give himself to her. But she should not expect him to give back exactly what she has given him, for he will love her as a man, and not just a man; he will love her as only he, a particular man, can.’
I think this sits well again with Frederickson’s reading of St Paul. ( Like others above),
‘…The epithalamium emphasized that this κοινωνία between bride and groom is one of the two moments of perfection in the course of a person’s life. If Greek weddings are held in mind, then, it appears that the perfection Paul speaks of in 3:12 (τετελείωμαι) is less a matter of self-discipline as it has usually been conceived and more a vision of human fulfillment in the intimacy of reciprocal desire and communion.’
David E. Frederickson in Eros and Christ.
v://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=24-01-028-f – Dr Guroian has written a fine piece here besides his other more in-depth, and exquisitely expressed work on the Sacramentality of Marriage in his two books on Ethics, the appropriately named ‘Incarnate Love’ and ‘Ethics after Christendom…’.
…And it was good.
https://ethikapolitika.org/2015/04/14/sexuality-as-transcendence-an-interview-with-fabrice-hadjadj/ Another brilliant western Christian, Fabrice Hadjadj shows the goodness of being male and female; how difference isn’t automatically bad.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/1509640?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents -Consummation or Celibacy?
http://www.brianpatrickmitchell.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Problem-with-Hierarchy.pdf – BP Mitchell makes a good point in showing how Eros is a force for life and not always associated with death. This would mean that embodied sexuality in Christ can be a force for life as others on this page have shown. (Eternal when read with Genesis and Revelation, amongst others). I don’t agree with the reading of Paul which he makes and it’s very susceptible to abuse, nor do I think the filioque dispute necessitates his view. (Dr Sarah Coakley would show otherwise). His is one way to read some of these passages, but just one (see Leithart, Behr, Boyarin, etc.) and the dichotomy is insufficient imho. As an aside, I think this is an ironically good argument for Papal primacy. Haha
https://stnoufer.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/marriage-from-an-orthodox-perspective-john-meyendorff.pdf = Fr Meyendorff, where it started for me. See also Yordan Kalev Zhekov, Met Ware, RB Hays and other Orthodox and properly understand ‘neither married nor given in Marriage.. .’and divorce and remarriage. Pope Francis seems to be leading us in the right direction therefore, even if it’s being done in the wrong way.
From Meyendorff’s book on Marriage-
In the New Testament, the meaning of marriage changes
radically. The opposition is clear precisely because the texts
use Old Testament categories of thought in order explicitly
to modify them. Not a single New Testament text mention-
ing marriage points to procreation as its justification or goal.
Childbirth itself is a means of salvation only if it is
accomplished “in faith, love and sanctity” (I Tim. 2: 15
) All three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 22:23-32;
Mark 12:18·27; Luke 20:27-37) report Jesus’ attitude
towards the “levirate.” It is important to notice that the
question is related to Christ’s teaching on resurrection and
immortality, which cancels worries about survival through
posterity. When the Sadducees (“which say that there is
no resurrection”) asked who, among the seven brothers who
successively married the same woman, will have her to wife
“in the resurrection,” Jesus answers that “in the resurrection
they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the
angels of God in Heaven.”
This text is often understood to imply that marriage is
only an earthly institution and that its reality is dissolved by
death. Such an understanding prevailed in the Western
Church, which never discouraged remarriage of widowers and
never limited the number of remarriages permitted to
Christians. However, if this were the right understanding of
Jesus’ words, they would be in clear contradiction to the
teaching of S1. Paul and to the very consistent canonical
practice of the Orthodox Church throughout the centuries. In
the Christian understanding, marriage is absolutely unique and quite incompatible with the “levirate.” Never would the
Christian Church encourage a man to marry his brother’s
widow (see below, Chapter X). In fact, as Clement of
Alexandria already noted, “The Lord is not rejecting mar-
riage, but ridding their minds of the expectation that in the
resurrection there will be carnal desire.”1 Jesus’ answer to
the Sadducees is strictly limited by the meaning of their
question. They rejected the Resurrection because they could
not understand it otherwise than as a restoration of earthly
human existence, which would include the Judaic understand-
ing of marriage as procreation through sexual intercourse. In
this, Jesus says, they “err,” because life in the Kingdom will
be like that of the “angels.” Jesus’ answer is, therefore, noth-
ing more than a denial of a naive and materialistic under-
standing of the Resurrection, and it does not give any positive
meaning to marriage. He speaks of the levirate, and not of
Christian marriage, whose meaning is revealed-implicitly
and explicitly-in other parts of the New Testament.
2) Christ’s teaching prohibiting divorce reflects, more
positively, the nature of Christian marriage. It is expressed in
direct opposition to the Jewish Deuteronomy, which allowed
livorce (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11; Luke 16:18).
:he very fact that Christian marriage is indissoluble excludes
all utilitarian interpretations. The union between husband
and wife is an end in itself; it is an eternal union between
two unique and eternal personalities which cannot be broken
by such concerns as “posterity” (the justification for con-
cubinage) or family solidarity (the basis for the “levirate”).
Indissolubility, however, is not a requirement which is
legally absolute. The famous exception mentioned by
Matthew (“save for the cause of fornication”-5: 32) is there
to remind us that the law of the Kingdom of God is never
legally compelling, that it presupposes free human response,
and that therefore the gift of Christian marriage needs to be
accepted, freely lived, but can eventually be rejected by man.
In general, the Gospel never reduces the mystery of human freedom to legal precepts. It offers man the only gift worthy
of the “image of God”-“impossible” perfection. “Be perfect,
as your Father is perfect.” Christ’s requirement of absolute
monogamy also appeared as an impossibility to Christ’s
auditors (Matthew 19:10). In fact, love is beyond the
categories of the possible and of the impossible. It is a
“perfect gift,” known only through experience. It is obviously
incompatible with adultery. In case of adultery, the gift is
refused, and marriage does not exist. What occurs then is
not only legal “divorce,” but a tragedy of misused freedom,
i.e., of sin.
3) When he speaks of widowhood, St. Paul presupposes
that marriage is not broken by death, for “love never fails”
(Cor. 13:8). In general, Paul’s attitude towards marriage is
clearly distinct from the Jewish rabbinic view in that-
especially in I Corinthians-he gives such strong preference
to celibacy over marriage. Only in Ephesians is this negative
view corrected by the doctrine of marriage as a reflection of
the union between Christ and the Church-a doctrine which
became the basis of the entire theology of marriage as found
in Orthodox tradition.
However, on one issue-the remarriage of widowers-
Paul’s view, as it is expressed in I Corinthians, is strictly
upheld by the canonical and sacramental tradition of the
Church: “If they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is
better to marry than to burn” (I Corinthians 7: 9). Second
marriage-either of a widower or of a divorcee-is only
tolerated as better than “burning.” Until the tenth century,
it was not blessed in church and, even today, it remains
an obstacle for entering the clergy. Our contemporary rite
for blessing second marriages also shows clearly that it
is admitted only by condescension. In any case, Scripture
and Tradition agree that faithfulness of the widower or the
widow to his or her deceased partner is more than an “ideal”;
it is a Christian norm. Christian marriage is not only an
earthly sexual union, but an eternal bond which will continue
when our bodies will be “spiritual” and when Christ will be
“all in all.”
These three examples clearly show that in the New Testament a totally new concept of marriage is being intro-
duced; it is directly dependent upon the “Good News” of the
Resurrection which was brought by Christ. A Christian is
called-already in this world-to experience new life, to
become a citizen of the Kingdom; and he can do so in
marriage. But then marriage ceases to be either a simple
satisfaction of temporary natural urges, or a means for
securing an illusory survival through posterity. It is a unique
union of two beings in love, two beings who can transcend
their own humanity and thus be united not only “with each
other,” but also “in Christ.” Pgs 13-16
As you’ll well know from this blog, I agree with Clement, in a way but disagree in another way. When we picture people in the Kingdom, who were married on earth, as belonging to the mode proper to persons as Yannaras would put it, rather than nature ( which is what the old Jewish law here is related to) and see Marriage, Eros and sexuality-including procreation- as Triune and gratuitous Gifts of the Kingdom then these silly and wordly visions of the Kingdom go away and there isn’t a problem. (See Fr Behr on this as well as Yannaras.)
https://yannarasbooks.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/sobornost_mitralexis_yannaras.pdf Yannaras has some great insights on embodiment, Eros and sexuality, this obviously has key insights into Marriage as well in my view.(In his work that I’ve seen so far that is.)
http://bookzz.org/book/1111121/3fd310 Stanley Grenz on Sexual Ethics. I like his valuing of Companionship as a part of the marital relationship amongst other things.
http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/the-anti-theology-of-the-body DB Hart on some elements of a Theology of the Body.
https://youtu.be/JRGks0zfLZg Jordan Peterson on the social implications of Genesis, etc which can positively impact our reading of the text. (Like John Milbank and Leithart- previously referenced.)
http://www.orthodoxchristianbooks.com/downloads/543_THE_THEOLOGY_OF_EROS.pdf – His Ecclesiology is insane and he doesn’t take up the starting pounts he raises, falling back on the common view of Sex. but he speaks some sense here, provides decent resources and so is constructive when tampered by others.
http://www.jbburnett.com/resources/evdokimov_strugglewGod1966.pdf – From what I remember, Evdokimov highlighted some of the dangers of a glorification of celibacy in this book and he has written intelligently on Marriage in ‘The Sacrament of Love’. I think Behr’s Marriage as Martyrdom is a lot more on point than a strained Marriage as Monasticism however and opens up a more fruitful picture .
http://bookzz.org/book/2634105/58b2d0- A take on Eros using a complex hitorical approach to reflect on the meaning of parts of Paul. As suggested by one Amazon reviewer- ‘Letter. Paul’s theology. Christology. God. All of these are nested and inter-related.
Fredrickson therefore walks the reader slowly, very slowly, through a series of arguments that build his case.
The argument can be summarized like this:
1) Paul’s letters as letters both express longing, and are themselves examples of the longing that happens through presence in absence (because the letters represent Paul’s absence even while he is present in and through them).
2) Paul is actually pining away like an anxious lover for the Philippians. He longs for communion with them, and this is the dominant motif of his letter, rather than expressing a dogmatic or homiletical point.
3) The language of eros present in these kinds of texts gives evidence that the pothos present in these relationships creates an extraordinary form of human relationship: when two are in love but separated each is both host and visitant of the beloved other.
4) All of this modifies the traditional interpretation of kenosis. Instead of understanding kenosis as “self-emptying,” limiting the power of the self, rather kenosis is a “melting” (see the Philippians hymn in chapter two) Christ’s longing for union with mortals and his desire to share with them all that he is and has and all that they are and have, just as lovers longs to do.
5) In this sense, then, the best understanding of the Christ hymn is in the context of erotic abduction.
6) If this is the case, the “longing for communion” present in Philippians takes on new sense, both the longing and the communion. Intriguingly, Paul celebrates five leaders (who he considers to be apostolic leaders) even though they are of low status in Greek culture. Paul himself was a prisoner. Euodia and Syntyche are women. Timothy was young and Epaphroditus is a homesick slave. Because they are embraced by, and themselves participate in, the desire for communion with an absent beloved, they have status as apostolic leaders by virtue of their claim to participation in the Lord’s (Christ’s) body.
7) “A longed-for koinonia with Christ authorizes Paul’s own ministry and undergirds his recommendation of Euodia and Syntyche, whose legitimation for leadership roles rested on their future sharing with Christ as a bride shares all thinsg with the groom” (130). “Paul uses nuptial imagery in 3:7-14 to delegitimize masculine hegemony and relocate confidence for ministry away from the possession of a male body to the sharing of Jesus’ body. Presenting himself as a manbride of Christ, Paul both fractures the masculine structure of political legitimation and lifts up koinonia as the basis and goal of leaders in the church” (140) For Paul, Christ is the prize, the much-longed-for bride waiting at the end of the lover’s struggle.
Intersubjectivity, the idea that selves (redeemed or otherwise) are on their way to becoming something (though we do not know what) through equal, mutual, and desiring relationships with other selves… and so they suffer the absence of each other. This despised frailty of longing, though apparently despised in one age, may light a fire in the theological imagination of other ages (including ours).
In his conclusion, Fredrickson states that he believes the poetry he examines (as well as some of the medieval theology) confirms a figure he had glimpsed in Paul’s letters–an erotic Paul–and so he is emboldened to write about it having seen it confirmed in these authors. “They teach us there is no escape from the vulnerability to loss and to grief written inside of love. That is to say, there is no dichotomy that can insulate love from longing.” For coming to know that awe-filling truth I am grateful. To project it into God is why I wrote this book” (151).
“The picture of Paul as mourning lover contrasts sharply with the one drawn by many of today’s interpreters, who regard him either as a dogmatist, a rhetor, a disciplinarian, or perhaps a combination of all three.”
“Paul’s desire for communion with Christ opened a social space in which slaves, women, those imprisoned and those deprived of voice could reognizes themselves and be recognized as fully legitimate leaders.” (Review here- https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eros-Christ-Christology-Critical-Contexts-x/dp/0800698231/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1489194053&sr=8-10&keywords=david+fredrickson)
http://bookzz.org/s/?q=sarah+coakley&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0 Sarah Coakley has written on God, Sexuality and the self, amongst other things. I haven’t read yet but am intrigued from any synopses I’ve read.
An Insight into signs and bodies from Leithart; how might we use Derrida for good?
https://mereorthodoxy.com/marriage-as-a-spiritual-discipline/Reading the Bible-
http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Peter+Bouteneff&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0 – Dr Bouteneff gives an incredibly multi- faceted look at Genesis and shows how difficult it is to understand, as well as the breadth of views relating to the text and how it’s percieved.
http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Robert+Alter+Genesis&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0 – Robert Alter provides a good translation of Genesis from Hebrew.
Below is from a PDf available online but it won’t copy properly so please check it out. You can find it linked under the website page for the article ‘Is there sex in heaven’ above.
A Positive Case for the Continuation of Familial Structures
into the Eschatological Age
The thesis of this paper is to present as best of a positive case as might be attempted
for the possibility of the continuation of human familial structures in the eschatological age
i.e. relationships similar to martial bonds and biological propagation. This topic clearly has
pastoral significance to some. Due to the paucity of Biblical data, strong negative data against
this thesis, the di
A Positive Case for the Continuation of Familial Structures
into the Eschatological Age
The thesis of this paper is to present as best of a positive case as might be attempted
for the possibility of the continuation of human familial structures in the eschatological age
i.e. relationships similar to martial bonds and biological propagation. This topic clearly has
pastoral significance to some. Due to the paucity of Biblical data, strong negative data against
this thesis, the di
Some further important points about the body relevant to this project-
“The resurrection of the body – what do we really mean by this? …Did not the mystics and sages of all times teach us that the positive meaning of death is precisely that it liberates us from the prison of the body, as they say, from this perennial dependency on the material, physical, and bodily life – finally rendering our souls light, weightless, free, spiritual?
We [must] consider more profoundly the meaning of the body… We must consider the role of the body in our, in my, life.
On the one hand, of course it is entirely clear that all of our bodies are transitory and impermanent. Biologists have calculated that all the cells that compose our bodies are replaced every seven years. Thus, physiologically, every seven years we have a new body. Therefore, at the end of my life the body that is laid in the grave or consumed by fire is no longer the same body as all the preceding ones, and in the final analysis each of our bodies is nothing other than our individual [being] in the world, as the form of my dependence on the world, on the one hand, and of my life and of my activity on the other.
In essence, my body is my relationship to the world, to others; it is my life as communion and as mutual relationship. Without exception, everything in the body, in the human organism, is created for this relationship, for this communion, for this coming out of oneself. It is not an accident, of course, that love, the highest form of communion, finds its incarnation in the body; the body is that which sees, hears, feels, and thereby leads me out of the isolation of my *I*.
But then, perhaps, we can say in response: the body is not the darkness of the soul, but rather the body is its freedom, for the body is the soul as love, the soul as communion, the soul as life, the soul as movement. And this is why, when the soul loses the body, when it is separated from the body, it loses life.”
― Alexander Schmemann, O Death, Where Is Thy Sting?
‘Only in the body is the human person a truly active being. It is in the body that “he works toward his perfection by spiritualizing the body, that is, by the fact that he makes the body a medium for the senses and for good works” (VI:30). In the body he is given the opportunity to praise and serve God, to love his neighbor, to give alms to the poor, to preach the gospel. In the body he is given the opportunity to cultivate a virtuous character, repent of his sins, alter his behavior, fight against his disordered desires, and freely join himself to the living God in the sacramental and ascetical life of the Church. Precisely because man is made a unity of body and soul, his life in the world is decisive for his ultimate salvation.
God has a cosmic plan of salvation; He does not save singular spiritual monads. The human person cannot fulfill this unique mission except in a body intimately connected with this world. This is why the Son of God Himself became a man in soul and body, so that through His humanity He might gather the entire creation in Himself. How then could man become perfect as a spiritual being if the did not act upon the world, if he were not strengthened as a spirit—with God’s help—in relation to the visible world? Moreover, only in this bodily life does man have needy fellow men whom he can help through his body. St John of Damascus says, “When the market day is over, there is no more trading of goods. For where are the poor? Where are the liturgists and the psalmody? Where are the good works. Before the hour of death, we can help each other, and we can offer manifestations of brotherly love to God, the lover of mankind.” (VI:30-31)
We are neither saved nor damned as discarnate spirits but as embodied beings who share a world with other embodied beings. As the Apostle declares, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:10).
That our earthly existence possesses an absolute significance for our eschatological destiny may seem to us, who fear the divine judgment both for ourselves and those we love, as an arbitrary, even capricious, decree of the Creator. Why such a short time? Why no second chances? The stakes, after all, are so high. At least the reincarnation of Hinduism gives the individual multiple opportunities to get things right. But Staniloae argues that if our earthly life lacked absolute significance, then we would be trapped in an endless cycle of ascents and descents. Life would lose all meaning, and genuine happiness would be impossible:
St Maximus sees the meaning of movement in the fact that we tend toward the final goal: the created beings rest eternally in the divine infinitude. Without the inner tension toward such a goal—absolute perfection in the infinite divine plenitude—movement has no meaning. It deceives us with immediate goals that in fact do not take us out of the plane of relativity, whether we advance further in this plane or we continuously rotate in a circle. In this case, time, in which this movement is produced, has no final goal within eternity, and therefore no meaning. … That is, God’s creation has value because it is a departure point from the state of “being” (εἶναι) that the created being has as a gift from God, through the state of “well-being” (εὖ εἶναι) that he obtains through the movement implanted in him but positively actualized by his will, and to “eternal well-being” (ἀεί εὖ εἶναι) as God’s ultimate and eternal gift.
In this way our existence on earth has a unique, decisive importance. Time is its exclusive form, and this gives time a decisive value, a value that corresponds to that of eternity. Historical life on earth is raised above relativity if obtaining the absolute life in God depends solely on it. It becomes absolute through participation, to translate the patristic expression “deification through participation.” Thus time is also a grace. Eternity cannot be transformed into gradual new decisions and acts; this would mean it was transformed into time.
On the contrary, if time is eternal, if it continues eternally like an infinite pool, it loses its decisive significance, and every historical act loses its unique importance. Anything can be done anytime; anything can be repaired anytime, in a relative sense. Nothing is bound to a certain historical moment, to a certain person. There is no real progress; everything becomes a tiring uniformity. There is no rush to respond to any appeal. One can postpone responding as long as one likes. With the knowledge that there is an endless time to decide, one can keep postponing the decision. Eternity is not a setting for new decisions, nor is endless time a setting that requires a pressing decision. This is why eternity is only the setting within which we reap the eternal benefit of decisions in time. Eternal time is no longer a setting for real perfection.
There is no longer anything wrong with postponing the fulfillment of a decision as much as possible; there is no longer anything wrong with not doing the requested good now. In this case the philosophy of torpor appears as the wisest course. In the eternal dominion of this sort of time, there is no decisive period of existence.
But if there is no longer a time for obligatory decisions, then there is no importance attached to any one human person or another, nor to the totality of persons who are being perfected. That is, there is no longer any person who has a unique character linked to his own time. If we can still speak of persons, they are uniform. Any person can be killed because any other one can replace him. Neither one person nor all together can move time from its relativity, and such persons do not move toward the absolute so that they might become suitable for it. (VI:32-33)
But a freedom that leads all souls to salvation, or that makes it possible for all of them to pass eternally from good to evil and vice versa, is properly speaking no longer freedom. If all attain salvation either by the will of God or through a law of intrinsic evolution, where is the freedom? Likewise, if souls are led against their will to one incarnation after another, or to one fall after another, where is the freedom? Again, if no one ever reaches perfection in the infinity of divine life, and all continue moving within the plane of eternal relativity, what is freedom good for?
Christian freedom presupposes an absolute that the human person can fight for or can refuse. Without this absolute the human person lacks all support and any cause for affirmation. In a plane of eternal and universal relativity or of strict nature process, the fight for freedom, which on one hand is presupposed by freedom and on the other hand promotes it, loses any incentive. That is why freedom has two forms: freedom obtained by fighting to achieve the absolute good, to impose its victory, and to unite with it; and freedom obtained by fighting to liberate the person from enslaving passions, so as to enter into loving communion with the supreme Person, with God. It is in this communion that the true and complete good is found. He who has attained this has the true freedom (identical with the true and infinite good) from which he no longer wants to depart and from which he can no longer depart, in the sense of an acquired powerlessness. In this communion the person has an unceasing and unending newness, through the good that shines forth from the supreme Person and is manifested in interpersonal communion.’ (VI:37)
– Dumitru Staniloae- Orthodox Dogmatic Theology
The hand that has not learned how to caress does not know how to write. (#1,728) – Don Colacho
What draws us away from God is not sensuality but abstraction. (#343) – Don Colacho
https://www.jstor.org/stable/20005760?seq=7#page_scan_tab_contents Richard E Creel argues (In happiness and Resurrection: A reply to Morreall) against the view that the Resurrection of the body is superfluous by highlighting God’s abundance and differentiating between perfect happiness and unsurpassable happiness- of course nothing is unsurpassable for God and he at least could make room for pleasurable gifts such as eating and sex. I don’t think this goes far enough but it’s better than much of the literature out there.
Regarding those like Staniloae I’m a fan but am not sure about his reading of Maximus the Confessor regarding the passions; I either disagree with the interpretation of The Confessor or else disagree with Maximus himself.
Given the fact that God said Adam and Eve could eat from any tree in the garden before the fall, it is incorrect to suggest that ‘food’ or ‘the desire for food’ is a natural passion that has its place only in this world. (This is in his book on Orthodox Spirituality If I indeed read it rightly.)
Juxtaposed with this, it’s clear that according to Orthodox Theology in tilts broad thrust, all things will return to their origin but not clear at all that they will return in the same way.
The new testament suggests a ‘New Heaven and a New earth’- this may well have a properly ordered sacramental and Eucharistic Desire for food, a reverse of what I believe the actual problem is, that it was disordered from God as Communion- after the fall. (Not before)
Dr Norman Wirzba writes very sensibly on this and I see support from the likes of Schmemann for his (I suspect more biblical) view. The piece I shared about the return of the gift (Leithart and DB Hart) would support this, as the bible itself would. http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/86460.htm
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=TnoVCgAAQBAJ&pg=PA230&lpg=PA230&dq=kallistos+ware+marriage&source=bl&ots=52cc9vs_93&sig=uZkDrHIY5xILkQsxKP_LqNFG3DA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjlxdjW6_zSAhWJKMAKHUnwAJEQ6AEITTAR#v=onepage&q=kallistos%20ware%20marriage&f=false – Even though I disagree with Adrian Thatcher about gender and other important points, he has provided a great service with his books on Marriage. Here he shares some of the insights of Met Kallistos. His ‘celebrating Christian Marriage has good chapters from Thomas Knieps port le roi and on the Orthodox Theology of Marriage.
A conversation I had online with Norman Wirzba and Marty Folsom- MC = Me, NW= Norman and MF= Marty.
MC- Norman Wirzba, does this criticism that I’m sharing make sense in your eyes? I see this put-down of food and sexuality in particular common, but see no warrant in the Biblical story for it, or indeed in the liturgy-if that’s where the Kingdom of God is actually taking place in some way now. (And is what the Kingdom will be like eternally).
Likewise, did Jesus not eat after his death and resurrection in the Biblical story? Surely that shows that whilst we don’t ‘need’ to eat with God, it’s part of his gratuitous gift to us? Something we do for the joy of Communion perhaps?
I’d love to hear your thoughts and thank you.
NW- I agree with you Marcas. There tends to be a failure of incarnational nerve in many theologians, unable to accept that the fullness of God came to dwell (Col. 1) in the embodied, eating life of Jesus. In early church writing, food and sex are such big issues, I think, because this is where intimacy is most easily distorted. In the end, however, sex and food can’t be characterized as evil because they are the God-given means of life.
MC- Thank you Norman! That’s a great way to put it; the fear I have for the Orthodox as well as Catholics is an almost blind acceptance of the fathers, as if they are infallible or even that they all think the same. As opposed to us today standing on their shoulders, as it were. I think Fr John Behr is a fine exception but he’s getting a lot of push back on his reading of St Gregory of Nyssa. ( regardless of Nyssa’s take, I think Fr Behr lays out a truer view in line with the scripture. ) Are there many Fathers who obviously do share our take on this? …I’ve read positive things from Milbank on Augustine and Schmemann on John Chrysostom for example. E.g. that our ‘natural passions’ can be transformed by the ‘supernatural wine’ of Christ or something like that, which I thought was at least an improvement.
…so much of it seems to rest on a misreading of Genesis. In the story God created male and females, gave them a garden in which they were naked and unashamed, provided them with food to eat from any tree but one and there’s no denunciation of food or we anywhere in the story. Only after they eat from the forbidden tree do the feel ashamed of their nakedness or do they have a disordered relationship with the garden or food. This seems obvious and makes me wonder how they made such exegetical mistakes; I mean, they are doubtless much smarter than I so perhaps it is more a failure of Incarnational nerve as you suggest.
Sorry for my wordiness and I appreciate your feedback Norman ) It seems that we could get back on track with a proper Theology of the gift (including creation and these embodied life giving and sacramental elements within it) and I wonder if you’ve any recommendations? The first chapter of Leitart’ s Gratitude has been good for me.
NW- Marcel Henaf’s book on the gift called The Price of Truth is fabulous, though not a theology book. It is worth your time. Cheers!
MC- Thanks again Norman Wirzba. I’m just reading Dr Sarah Coakley’s ‘God, Sexuality and the Self’ and having these questions answered positively. Coakley’s theologie totale lends itself to what we’re talking about imho. God bless!
MC- Marty Folsom, I’d be interested to hear your take on this too and what Thomas Torrance would have said!? I think with your suggestion of seeing things like sexuality as a gift of God, and not seeing God ‘through’ such things, we avoid both debasing them (as they are of God) whilst also not falling into the trap of making them our the focus of our attention in a way that distracts us from God. If the bread and wine are gifts and means of communion with God in the Kingdom as it manifests itself no, why not in the New Heaven and New Earth I wonder!?
MF- I will not presume to speak for TFT, but I will speak for myself and reflect on JB Torrance and John Zizioulas. In the Person of Christ, we are brought into communion with the Father by the Spirt. Is this only in a worship service? No, as we share a meal or a picnic, we are called to a movement of self-giving love that serves and includes as an act of grace. In the Eucharist, we participate in the shared life of the Triune God with thanksgiving that is to permeate all our eating and sharing. Even partaking of wine, in a eucharistic attitude is a proclamation of the joy of the Kingdom coming and present if we move from self-seeking in a state of alienation (the essence of sin) and participate in the Son’s life of gratitude with His Father. The Fruit of the Spirit is that our ways of being are the manifestations of a transformed way of being that frees all out acting when the fruit of the love that is restored in Christ. Even out sexuality can be an event of communion in covenant love that celebrates and extends the gift of our embodied way of being that is necessarily in this world for now, but the resurrection says the body maintains importance that cannot be dismissed. We pray for the Kingdom to come, and therefore must expect that it will be in our midst as the Spirit liberates us to act in love as the regeneration of our spirituality. If we can give thanks for the gift of seeing our sexuality as a gift of God, it is included in the thanks we give in the Eucharist. If we deny the gift, we hand it over to some other power to have its way. The Song of Solomon, which for the Jews is the Holy of Holies in the Bible, would affirm that the gift is from God and is to be appropriately enjoyed as such. If we see God as the Creator, then we are compelled to see the creation both in its proper attunement to God’s purposes and in its modes of alienation–but that is what Jesus is reconciling. We cannot be judges apart from the restoring work of the Son, by the Spirit. Our own renewal is to have the Mind of Christ that sees the original intention for all things to be enjoyed to the glory of God. This is a communing reality that includes all of our creaturely existence.
MC- Great, as I expected Marty! Do you see many within the early Christian community who understood this? It’d be great to show that at least some of the Early Church Mothers and Fathers got this and shared it.
MF- Peter Leithart has more on this in his book Traces of the Trinity where he discussed the perichoretic nature of sexuality. In discovering God, we are opened to discover our humanity, not the other way around.
Based on this recommendation from Marty I bought even more of Leithart’s books and see the general outline, within this aforementioned work, the work on Gratitude and his work ‘Delivered from the elements of the world…’ to lend iself to a solid understanding of creation as a gift which includes our bodies and relationships within the spirit and having the potential to rightly order themselves within the Holy Trinity so that they are (eternally) good and a means of loving commuion. See for example-
This review by Thomas Hamilton- This is a model for what theology should be. Two feet firmly planted in the Christian cosmos, recognition of secularism as an alternative religious framework, not a neutral meeting ground, and a rich and thorough application of the whole Bible to understand the world. Leithart’s book is focused on one principal question: What does Paul mean by the “elemental things of the world” and how is it that Christ has overcome such things? Leithart’s answer is that the “elemental things of the world” are the fundamental socioreligious building blocks of the Old Creation (meaning the creation headed by Adam as contrasted with the present reality of the New Creation) focused on the reality of flesh. Leithart recognizes that the concept of the “flesh” is not Pauline idea, but a Mosaic idea which Paul takes up and expands. Adam was created as flesh, awaiting eventual glorification by the Holy Spirit. He attempted to seize glory, and the way of flesh became a way of mortality and division. God cleaned the world of flesh at the flood, but flesh kept coming back, eventually manifesting at the division of Babel.
In one sense, circumcision is just one more division of flesh from flesh, but at a deeper level, God’s command that Abraham circumcise his offspring is a command that Abraham’s family be set apart from flesh altogether. It is an alternative way of being. Torah itself was accomodated to flesh, but it was meant to provide a way of access to God while still living in the flesh. Every year, the priests would eat the sin offerings, thereby bearing the sins themselves. These would be placed upon the shoulders of the High Priest, and the High Priest would place it on Yahweh’ throne itself on every Day of Atonement. This is what is meant when Paul discusses the intensification of Sin and Flesh within Israel in Romans 7. When we come to the time of Jesus, Torah has been co-opted to serve flesh. Whereas circumcision was a marker against the way of flesh, many Jews had taken it, ironically, as a means of boasting in the flesh, of glorying in their divisions from the Gentiles and adding divisions which Torah never intended. The Torah mandates no such thing as a court of women or court of the Gentiles. Women and Gentiles alike could offer sacrifices in the Levitical system, but in the Second Temple period that changed.
When Jesus came on the scene, He came crying out against this way of Torah which glories in the flesh, and He taught a more excellent way, one which is not even accommodated to the flesh but is all-Spirit. On the Cross, Jesus experiences what Paul calls the “Messiah’s circumcision.” The Word came in the likeness of sinful flesh, experiencing corruption and death, but without sin, and that flesh is cut off at the Cross. Sin was condemned in the flesh of Jesus the Messiah. Hence, both Jewish “nature” and Gentile “nature” is eradicated. The socioreligious building blocks which constituted the alternative ways of life of Jews and Gentiles are cut off in the death of Christ, and the Risen Christ constitutes one new human nature, a new way of being, not-according-to-the-flesh, but according-to-the-Spirit. This is Leithart’s reading of Galatians. The Torah assumed the reality of flesh, but now flesh is dead.
Leithart applies this to look at the present religious landscape. He notes how other religions manifest the “elementary” ways of the world. Hinduism operates based on a rigorous system of distinctions between pure and impure, clean and unclean. Divisions between different groups of people are institutionalized in religious practice. But Leithart goes beyond this in noting that the accomplishment of Jesus is an objective event which has objective effects on world religions outside Christianity. Indeed, the unity of Hinduism itself is a reaction to Christianity. Judaism, while asserting that the fleshly institutions of temple and sacrifice are the permanent way for Israel, has lived for 2000 years without such institutions and regarding the people as the locus of holiness. Buddhism has been “Protestantized” with creeds, confessions, and catechisms.
But the West is a different beast, for the West is a Christian society which has committed the error of the Galatians: returning to the elemental things of the world. Leithart sees Western nationalism in this light. Christian language of personal sacrifice for the sake of the whole Body has been appropriated and mutilated so that it becomes the language of personal sacrifice for the nation. The massive budget of the Defense Department is evidence of our own reliance on flesh. The very existence of nationalism, cementing the divisions between peoples and nations, is the way of flesh. And of course, the absolute separation between Church and State is a new way of separating the pure from the impure. As much as Secularism claims to move forward in history, secularism is just a return to the childish ways of old, an attempt to go back to the way things once were before Christ recreated the world, and Christians should respond accordingly.
This is a wonderful book, rich with insight and application. Do yourself a favor and read it.
available at https://www.amazon.com/Delivered-Elements-World-Atonement-Justification/dp/0830851267/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
or this for an outline of Leithart’s understanding of a flesh/Stoicheia without Satan.
Taken from Fr Kimel’s brilliant ‘Eclectic Orthodoxy’, a little piece on the body… – “We need not only a body to convey revelation to us, but to reveal us to others. Therefore the new body must be like the old. Nay, it must be the same body, glorified as we are glorified, with all that was distinctive of each from his fellows more visible than ever before. The accidental, the nonessential, the incomplete will have vanished. That which made the body what it was in the eyes of those who loved us will be tenfold there. Every eye shall see the beloved, every heart will cry, “My own again! More mine because more himself than ever I beheld him!” Do we not say on earth, “He is not himself today,” or “She is more like herself than I have seen her for long?” For we carry a better likeness of our friends in our hearts than their countenances, save at precious seasons, manifest to us.
“Shall a man love his neighbor as himself, and must he be content not to know him in heaven? Shall the love that God has created towards father and mother, brother and sister, wife and child, go moaning and longing to all eternity; or worse, far worse, die out of our bosoms? No, God will not take you, has not taken you from me to bury you out of my sight in the abyss of his own unfathomable being, where I cannot follow and find you, myself lost in the same awful gulf. Our God is an unveiling, a revealing God. He will raise you from the dead, that I may behold you; that that which vanished from the earth may again stand forth, looking out of the same eyes of eternal love and truth.”
~ George MacDonald
http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.co.uk/2010/09/sexuality-and-christian-body-part-2.html?m=1– Richard Beck on the body’s Grace, based on Scripture, his Marriage and Theologians like Rowan Williams + Eugene Rogers… Some good points made.
Again, this is the true message of Christianity as fast and feast, of the passion and resurrection- there is no reason to restrict out Marriages, our sexuality, our embodiment and our entire relational persons only to this world.
https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/easternchristianinsights/the_last_judgment – I pray we can combat the view of Marriage and Sex, food and drink, God’s good creation in general, which sees only the fast in it and not the feast which we will enjoy in the Kingdom, together in communion- rightly loving God and one another.
http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2106/creation-creativity-and-creatureliness-the-wisdom-of-finite-existence Rowan Williams with a Theology of creatureliness; this is an interesting and helpful appropriation of the idea of Wisdom, in Bulgakov.
This is from an emaili recieved from Dr Norman Russell, a kind man and great scholar. (Talking about Christos Yannaras and his work.) -From the time of his 1971 doctoral thesis on John Climacus to his proposals for a revised Orthodox rite of marriage (Sobornost 29/2 , 51-74) he has written much on human embodiedness and its sexual expression as something that is not to be supressed or ignored but an essential element of humanity that is taken up and transformed in Christ. You might also find relevant material in my article on John Climacus in SVTQ 59/4 (2015), 409-24 and more particularly in my forthcoming book with Yannaras (an extended interview covering many topics, including human sexuality) from SVS Press entitledMetaphysics as a Personal Adventure.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank those scholars who have responded courteously to my emails and hope this provides as much light for you as it has for me.
I am eternally grateful to Fr John Behr, Dr Coakley, Norman Russell, Marty Folsom, N.T Wright, Gene Rogers, Norman Wirzba, Fr Philip LeMaster, Fr Louth, Richard Gaillardetz and a number of others cited and referenced for dialoguing with me personally and encouraging my attempt to bring together the rich resources of Christianity on Marriage, the body, human sexuality and everything else i’ve been blessed to unearth in my own meandering and surely unsystematic way.
The gentlemanly David Cayley is another who has been most helpful and has recently suggested reading Ivan Illich’s ‘Gender’, which I intend to. As yet I have not read so I can’t recommend it as it pertains to my aims here. However, from what I’ve gotten out of David and Illich so far- my hopes are high and I’ll share a PDF I discovered online for your attention.
Likewise, I’ve yet to read Michel Henry or Emmanuel Falque but am intrigued. – http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Michel+Henry&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0http://bookzz.org/s/?q=Emmanuel+Falque&yearFrom=&yearTo=&language=&extension=&t=0http://bookzz.org/book/2635128/1279cd
Andrew Louth’s book ‘Introducing Eastern Orthodox Theology’ has this to say, i think quoting Bulgakov- My salvation is not only bound up with that of other men but also of animals, plants, minerals, every blade of grass – all must be transfigured and brought into the kingdom of God’.(a quote from the section on Eucharist as Eschatology. This chapter has a great deal of good stuff to say on the Kingdom and is joyfully consonant with what we’ve laid out. )
This chapter indeed lays out a liturgical understanding of the education which I think is imperative for understanding.. .well everything really and agree with much of what Catherine Pickstock has to say, including- “The event of transubstantiation in the Eucharist is the condition of possibility of all human meaning.” And…
“Where a community arises by receiving itself [eucharistically], it is constituted as gratitude for a gift of love.” -Catherine Pickstock
The humanum series- https://www.archkck.org/dmc/videos/humanum-series-episode-1 – Again we see family and sexuality like Cathedral- building. This idea is a good and important one as Milbank shows. It’s more than just an analogy, like all these key points are; Schmemann shows that analogy is not sufficient.
http://onbeing.org/programs/ellen-davis-wendell-berry-the-poetry-of-creatures/https://www.archkck.org/dmc/videos/humanum-series-episode-2 – The Poetry of creatures….the theology of creatures.
http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/clement_1.html – On Christ in creation and his creatures…more than a memorial I would say. The book of (eternal) life. ( I find a remarkable continuity between this early mysticism of say the likes of Saint Anthony, and Bulgakov (his idea of Holy Wisdom, when rightly understood is a properly Orthodox Theology of creatureliness. In this respect, read this Olivier Clement article just before Rowan Williams’ article on creatureliness and you should see the unfolding of the logic of God’s GOOD creation.) This Holy Wisdom, traces of the trinity, logoi or whatever else we may call the general giveness of how things truly are in the Lord, is the metaphysical framework we should well work within to understand things like food, sex, marriage and other Gifts from our loving God. This goes with proper worship and is not just wisdom but HMMM Orthodoxy!) Father Louth in his work on modern Orthodox thinkers, teaches us that Orthodoxy is not this simple monolith which is completely devoid of history and differing insights. This undermines the rad trad self (mis) understanding and works as a brilliant, necessary critique of even the likes of Meyendorff and Florovsky.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=YVKODQAAQBAJ&pg=PA151&lpg=PA151&dq=flesh+in+genesis+eastern+orthodox&source=bl&ots=K-alXhHikE&sig=NmojGNzbiI5D5SkcNfUFiXWhwfc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiuqqWRzfvSAhXIthQKHReDCooQ6AEIJDAE#v=onepage&q=flesh%20in%20genesis%20eastern%20orthodox&f=false – for those who think of the ‘flesh’ is only for this life as or transient I’d suggest putting it into the proper context, this is not the old flesh that Leithart highlights but the flesh in the light of the spirit- the two are not only one ‘flesh but one ‘spirit’ and this is a special ‘provision from the beginning’. St John Chrysostom and Genesis are great when properly read and contextualized by the big picture of God’s story for mankind.
https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/sexuality-marriage-and-family/marriage1 – This shows an insight into the goodness of Marriage and Sex but doesn’t develop as clearly for more than just this life, or the nuptial meaning of Marriage and sex, even though the basic line of thought would lead in that direction.
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Rr5NAwAAQBAJ&pg=PR11&lpg=PR11&dq=rene+gehring&source=bl&ots=UEzl3i1XsK&sig=6AJJNm_0DBlTrITUO6SkKT57NZU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi73rem5_vSAhUCxxQKHVePC_s4ChDoAQgfMAI#v=onepage&q=rene%20gehring&f=false This work by Rene Gehring, shows in its style, the kind of deep effort required to even discuss the ‘Edenic ideal of the one flesh’. I was inspired to search for this in response to a lazy half baked exegesis, shared on Orthodox Christian network, which suggested marriage was ‘transcient’ because it is ‘flesh’ in Genesis- despite the fact that the Genesis story is referring to Eden and a time before the fall (or rather where there wasn’t even time let alone sinful disordered relations, which ‘flesh’ might suggest in SOME contexts but not all and which is a bad thing without the Spirit, not per se. I take issue with this because OCN and the like get a lot of readers and misreading of key texts can have practical, adverse consequences in the faithful. It is not the Orthodox view that Marriage is only for this life, as the likes of Fr Behr, Meyendorff, Dr Guroian and many others show with pain staking effort.
I have read Gehring’s conclusions and whilst I disagree in a profound way about the Eschaton- he believes marriage is for this life alone- I do admire the serious honest effort that goes in to such work. (You may say you can’t compare the two as the author at ocn was writing in article form and for a broad audience but the truth is she should have been more careful by citing the likes of these more scholarly works or Liturgical texts, and indeed more carefully reading her Bible, or attending more carefully to the liturgy.)
https://youtu.be/TLb2jDmM9kg – See N.T Wright for a beautifully hopeful Eschatological perspective. Likewise, Pastor Begbie himself.
Richard B Hays has this to say, which is very helpful, in his book on the Moral Vision of The New Testament-
The New Creation
The church embodies the power of the resurrection in the midst of a not-yet-redeemed world. Paul’s image of “new creation” stands here as a shorthand signifier for the dialectical eschatology that runs throughout the New Testament.’17 In the present time, the new creation already appears, but only proleptically; consequently, we hang in suspense between Jesus’ resurrection and parousia. “The whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:22–23, adapted from RSV). The eschatological framework of life in Christ imparts to Christian existence its strange temporal sensibility, its odd capacity for simultaneous joy amidst suffering and impatience with things as they are. We can never say—as do the guys in a popular beer commercial—“It doesn’t get any better than this,” because we know it will; we are, like T. S. Eliot’s Magi, “no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation.” The church is, in Paul’s remarkable phrase, the community of those “upon whom the ends of the ages have met” (1 Cor. 10:11, RH).18 In Christ, we know that the powers of the old age are doomed, and the new creation is already appearing. Yet at the same time, all attempts to assert the unqualified presence of the kingdom of God stand under judgment of the eschatological reservation: not before the time, not yet. Thus, the New Testament’s eschatology creates a critical framework that pronounces judgment upon our complacency as well as upon our presumptuous despair. As often as we eat the bread and drink the cup, we proclaim the Lord’s death…until he comes. Within that anomalous hope-filled interval, all the New Testament writers work out their understandings of God’s will for the community.19
These three images, I would propose, can focus and guide our reading of the New Testament texts with respect to ethical issues. Having introduced this proposal, I want to address several points about the derivation, use, and limits of these suggested criteria.
First, no one should suppose that these images have been derived in some strictly scientific or objective manner from exegesis of the individual New Testament texts. It is true that I have settled on these categories through a period of years of teaching on the various New Testament texts and reflecting inductively on the question of their coherence. (Some of the results of that inductive study are presented in Part I.) At the same time, however, it is equally true that my critical reading of the texts is shaped and informed by my participation in a living community of faith that has schooled me from an early age in the art of reading the Scriptures as coherent expressions of a story about God’s grace. Thus, George Lindbeck, having read an earlier draft of my synthetic proposal, rightly remarks that it is “dependent on the mainstream Christian tradition of canonical reading that goes back to Irenaeus” and that it articulates a theological framework “fully consistent with the christological, trinitarian and anti-Marcionite decisions of the church.”20 Thus, both my descriptive readings and my synthesis of these readings are influenced by community traditions of interpretation and practice. This is a clear illustration of a point made earlier: that the four tasks of New Testament ethics inevitably interpenetrate and overlap.
Second, my readings and my proposed synthesis are not merely repetitions of a traditional perspective. They offer a new interpretative “performance,” the product of a fresh encounter with the texts that poses questions not necessarily asked by the tradition. I have sought to do what any serious interpreter must do: to listen to the texts with the aid of the best critical methods available and to discern their witness for the present time. (My reading of the Gospel of Mark is a good illustration of my point: though the interpretation set forth in Chapter 3 would enjoy general acceptance among contemporary New Testament scholars, no one in the church before the late twentieth century ever read this Gospel as embodying an ironic vision of the moral life and resisting epistemological closure.) But if my descriptive and synthetic accounts are a contingent interpretive performance, then they can hardly be claimed to be permanently definitive; the only interesting question is whether they are illuminating. Other equally serious readers might construe the texts in a different pattern. We are not compelled to read the New Testament texts as expressions of and reflections about the story encapsulated in the images of community, cross, and new creation; all that is claimed here is that a synthetic reading guided by these focal images will in fact fruitfully discover a coherent moral vision in the texts.
Third, reading the diverse New Testament witnesses in light of these focal images will not automatically resolve all tensions and difficulties, nor will it end debates about how to appropriate these texts for our time. All that is offered by these synthetic images is a framework within which the next step—hermeneutical reflection—can proceed. Indeed, the actual function of the images will become clear only as we employ them in Part IV of this book to shape our reading of the New Testament texts in relation to particular ethical issues.
Fourth, it might be asked whether the order of the three images is significant. I would suggest that the sequence is important. By placing community first, we are constantly reminded that God’s design of forming a covenant people long precedes the New Testament writings themselves, that the church stands in fundamental continuity with Israel.” By placing cross in the middle, we are reminded that the death of Jesus is the climax and pivot-point of the eschatological drama. By placing new creation last, we are reminded that the church lives in expectation of God’s future redemption of creation. In other words, the images are to be understood within a plot; they figure forth the story of God’s saving action in the world.
Finally, it might be asked whether community, cross, and new creation become de facto a canon within the canon when they are employed in the way I have suggested.22 The answer is yes, though in a way different from the common use of the term. The three images do serve as a canon within the canon in the sense that they provide a “rule” or guide for interpretation. They do not, however, replace or exclude any of the canonical writings. The function of these synthetic images must be kept clearly in mind. They should not be treated as principles that can be applied independently to the analysis of ethical issues without reference to the texts from which they are derived; rather, they are lenses that bring our reading of the canonical texts into sharper focus as we seek to discern what is central or fundamental in the ethical vision of the New Testament as a whole.
http://www.uaocamerica.org/sources-of-orthodox-teachin/marriage-divorce–remarriag.html -This gives us an insight into the Orthodox understanding of Marriage as gift, within God’s Theophany. More than just a temporary solution to combat the evils of this world, until we become ‘really human’ in the world to come. This doesnt sit with the sacramental worldview to be honest. Fr Behr is right. Nay, this is how we are truly human- in Christ. (See Mystery of Christ).
http://bookzz.org/book/941186/1d7937 – A western focused Theology of Love. The author outlines St Augustines views that there was Marriage and Sex in paradise amd sees the problem that these were disordered. He cites Fr Louth and Peter Brown, who are great sources. Blessed Augustine was at least right about this much.
little inspiration to finish from a man who lived his love for his spouse in the light of Eternity, John Wooden – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tySxPue9Dmw
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/camelswithhammers/2010/06/how-genesis-is-not-only-literally-false-but-metaphorically-false/ – I share this from a skeptic in spite of its silliness, because I believe the point about not only literal but metaphorical misreadings being seriously bad is a good one, and see some Christians as creating a metaphorically bad reading of Genesis, even great Christians- some of these have shown me that its not a straight case of Gnostics or orthodox; there is an unhealthy amount of Gnosticism within the Church. (Reading J warren smith or Valerie Karras’ readings of Nyssa’s eschatology show either a Gnostic reading or that Nyssa had Gnostic views. Likewise, if Hans Boersma doesn’t think important enough to talk about in depth, or that Pope Paul the 6th can ignore collegiality to dismiss Church talk on Sexuality and Sacramentality, then we’re in trouble.(our metaphors won’t do).
The lovely irony of this piece is how it so unintentionally but solidly proves the poetic truth of Genesis in spite of itself- the little video made me cringe and laugh in equal measure.
I’ve tried to gather some of the more sensible reflections on the Christian life related to Marriage and to take things seriously, liberal and/or Metaphorical when it should be so, taking the advice of the great N.T Wright in his helpful email.-
May I ask you one question though, in regards to when you think the most likely time is that God instituted Marriage in Eden? From my reading of it, as well as against the big picture- I think it must have been before the fall like Augustine would say and not after like Maximos!? (Once God blessed them together)
It all depends what you mean by ‘instituted marriage’. I think it’s the other way round: what we know as ‘marriage’ is the social, cultural and spiritual consolidation of what is said at the end of Genesis 2 . . . so yes, it is naturally pre-fall. But nb so are the sun and moon which then don’t reappear in Revelation 21 . . . In a way hes right not to be too literal, just like we shouldn’t be too ‘spiritual’ of course, but like the light of God is the new sun/moon- the quality is still there, only in its right order, and as we lived in a garden as his creatures so will we in live his city, so will our relationships be- the same and different both related to this world, unto ages of ages….
Thank you for reflecting on these offerings and let’s pray that the Lord reveals himself in the fullness of truth and love.
|My rreview of Yannaras’ song of songs- This is a very good critique of ‘nature’- positing relation as transcendence, including Agape and Eros. It is sharp and written in a lyrical haiku-like style which I like.
He develops his thought quite nicely around his theme of Relation over and against Nature; This dichotomy is stretched too far however, and he ignores the giftedness of creation and creatureliness, the goodness of sex beyond mere posterity and ‘Traces of the Trinity’ in life and in the Church.
They belong to the Kingdom more than nature, even if they are ‘unnecessary’- surprisingly, he doesn’t see this or develop much of the logic of his own thought in that form. For this reason I give the book 4 stars and not 5… For a failure of Incarnational nerve as Dr Norman Wirzba might put it
Jesus’ response, which begins at v.24, suggests that the Sadducees are ignorant of both the content of the Hebrew Scriptures and the power of God. Jesus stresses that in the age to come, people will neither marry nor be given in marriage. Notice what Jesus doesnot say. He does not say there will be no marriage in the age to come. The use of terms γαμουσινand γαμαζονται is important, for these terms refer to the gender-specific roles played in early Jewish society by the man and the woman in the process of getting married. The men, being the initiators of the process in such a strongly patriarchal culture, “marry,” while the women are “given in marriage” by their father or another older family member. Thus Mark has Jesus saying that no new marriages will be initiated in the eschatological state. This is surely not the same as claiming that all existing marriages will disappear in the eschatological state (see, for example, Tertullian, On Monogamy 10, who specifically denies that God will separate in the next life those whom he has joined together in a holy union in this one). Jesus, the, could seem to be arguing against a specific view held by the Sadducees about the continuity between this life and the life to come, a view involving the ongoing practice of levirate marriage.
I would suggest that Luke’s expansion of his Markan source at Luke 20:36 understands quite well the rift of the discussion. In the eschatological state we have resurrected beings who are no longer able to die. Levirate marriage existed precisely because of the reality of death. When death ceases to happen, the rationale for levirate marriage falls to the ground as well. When Jesus saying in v.25b that people will be like the angels in heaven in the life to come, he does not mean they will live a sexless identity (early Jews did not think angels were sexless in any case; cf. Gen. 6:1-4! [Though there is, interestingly, evidence that some early Jews believed that angels didn’t marry—see 1 Enoch 15:7. There was furthermore the belief that the dead became angels after the resurrection [cf. 1 Enoch 51:4; 104:4; Bar. 51:9-10]. On the discontinuity of this world and the world to come [including the assertion that there will be no begetting], see B. Ber. 17a), but rather that they will be like angels in that they are unable to die. Thus the question of the Sadducees is inappropriate to the condition of the eschatological state. I would suggest that Jesus, like other early Jews, likely distinguished between normal marriage and levirate marriage. In Mark 10 Jesus grounded normal marriage in the creation order, not in the order of the fall, which is the case with levirate marriage (instituted because of death and childlessness and the need to preserve the family name and line). Thus Jesus is intending to deny about the eschatological state “that there will be any natural relation out of which the difficulty of the Sadducees could arise.”