Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Mystical Marriage

Commentor RightJack (who I wish would drop me an e.mail, because I like what he says) has a question for everyone in light of the debate brewing down here
I don't know how many priests read this blog, but would any priests who do -- and who pray, preach, speak or think of themselves as being in a mystical marriage with the church -- please chime in?

Lay men and women who read this blog: when was the last time you heard your priest preach, speak or define himself as being in a mystical marriage with the church?
For my part, I hear the "mystical marriage" blather all the time -- it's a sign of the hyper-cultic mentality. I even have a name for those who mouth it. You can guess what that is.



Blogger Fred said...

Fr Walter Ong, SJ, has written about it, but I've never heard a homily on the topic.

19/10/05 21:55  
Blogger Todd said...

Tony, I think extending a metaphor into theology like that is somewhat weak. Where we speak of celibacy, receptivity, service: these are theological realities, and utilizing the metaphor or marriage to explain them is useful.

But the artistry of words fails when we attempt to take a metaphor, marriage in this instance, as a baseline and attempt to shoehorn theology to fit.

Human beings are also more that their sexual natures. Being more than animals, there is something of both maleness and femaleness to be found in God, as well as each of us.

If you want to pursue the metaphor into genetics, one must concede the reality of x and y chromosomes in the sexes. Everyone possesses the x; some people have two of them.

And lastly, the notion that God is theologically male? I can't buy that. By not imposing divine will upon us, by leaving us free, God is the ultimate example in receptivity: offering an invitation, then waiting for the human soul to take initiative. God's generativity is wholly self-contained. Human beings are children, not spouses.

20/10/05 10:27  
Blogger Fred said...

Celibacy started as a lay vocation and later converged to some extent with the priesthood. It would seem, then, that lay people could learn a great deal about their own vocation by hearing about the vocation of the priest. I recommend the document, Vita Consecrata and Balthasar's book, The Laity in the Life of the Counsels.

Around here, celibacy seems to be more regarded as an extrinsic discipline than a vocation like marriage . . .

20/10/05 12:22  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting discussion. I've heard some younger priests talk in this way, and there's the sort of folk concept of the celibate priest as "married to the Church" or "married to Jesus" or whatever, but I've never found any basis for it in traditional sacramental theology or canon law.

I think the provenence of the idea of clerical celibacy as a "mystical marriage" comes principally from four things. First (and strongest, I think) is the fact that nuns have certainly understood themselves as Brides of Christ, and the whole ceremony of solemn profession consciously patterns itself upon marriage, right down to the ring, the veil, the vows, and the singing of the Sponsa Christi. That she's a bride of Christ, though, comes from her religious vows and belonging to an order of nuns, not from the fact that she's living in the celibate state. Perhaps men in religious vows understand themselves in a similar way? I have no clue. I'm pretty sure that most of us seculars who have promised to remain single don't understand ourselves this way, and never have.

Second is the fact that a bishop at his consecration is presented with a ring, which is explicitly connected to the fidelity he must show to the Church, Christ's Bride. This fidelity is toward the local church entrusted to him, not in virtue of his celibacy, but of his being the bishop. (Reflecting on this, Cardinal Gantin made the very unpopular suggestion that a bishop ought not to be transferred out of his first diocese, to which he is, as it were, wedded. Anyway.)

Third (and almost as strong as the first reason) is the natural assumption that since Father gets a sacrament that married people don't, then somehow it must parallel the sacrament of matrimony. This, I think, confuses the sacrament of Orders with the state of celibacy, which are two distinct things. It also misses the fact that married people enter into a vowed covenant with another human being. The (secular) priest's celibacy is not a vowed covenant with anyone, but a public and canonical promise not to marry for the motive of pastoral charity toward the people entrusted to him, as the Rite specifies. The married couple's sacrament is confected by their pronouncing of the vows; the cleric's sacrament is confected by the laying-on of hands, which may or (in the case of permanent deacons and those presbyters not bound to celibacy) may not be accompanied by a promise to remain celibate. The parallel, in other words, breaks down under closer observation. Perhaps a priest in a religous order understands his vow of perpetual continence in a more marital way, but that would be in virtue of his being a vowed religious, not in virtue of his being a celibate cleric.

The fourth reason, I think, comes from the celibate's desire to apply a spiritual understanding to the canonical fact of his celibacy, to find a way for him to live it in a more prayerful way. For some, that may be by considering it as a "mystical marriage" and trying to apply marital insights to celibacy (clerical or otherwise) lived for the Kindgom. I think that's fine, but one needs to understand that this flows from one's own personal sort of piety, and not from the text of the Fathers, the Councils, the canons, or traditional theology (Eastern or Western).

Not helping things is the fact that people often don't understand what the Church means by the words vow, promise, celibacy, continence, and chastity. Nothing a little canon law and sacramental theology can't remedy, though.

21/10/05 22:33  

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