Scheeben and Von Hildebrand: A Catechesis for Marriage — Week 10

I wonder if an understanding of marriage between spouses in which they view their marriage as belonging most properly to God rather than to themselves would increase fidelity and reduce divorce rates.

In Chapter 21 — Christian Matrimony — in his work Mysteries of Christianity, Matthias Scheeben discusses the divine origin and end of human marriage. He states, “Consequent upon this special dependence on God in which the married couple make the contract, the ensuing union is necessarily withdrawn from their free disposal, even apart from the actual exigencies of the end” (Scheeben, 596).

It could be the case that overemphasizing the fact that the spouses are themselves the ministers of the sacrament actually creates a sense of ownership or possession within the spouses that does not actually exist.

I think Scheeben helps bust up that notion of marriage. He stresses the “supernatural holiness” of “the matrimonial relationship” (Scheeben, 600). Just as people commit immoral and unfruitful acts when they view others as things that they own (consider for example a parent who understands their child more as a possession and less as a gift), married couples might garner a sense of marriage as something at their disposal rather than something belonging properly to God that is offered to them as a gift and in which he benevolently allows them to participate.

A catechesis of marriage which stresses this point might recapture a greater sense of the sanctity of marriage and the radical care that should be taken to nurture and cultivate it.

Now that the definition of marriage in our culture has been altered to include same-sex relationships, I feel as though extending marriage to something beyond a 2-person relationship is an inevitable next step.

If a person can say that they are in love with a person of the same sex and that subjective love is the basis of what constitutes a legal union, it makes sense that another person could say that they would like to be married to multiple people at once because “that’s just how I experience love — I don’t identify as monogamous.”

Polygamy is out of fashion in the modern mind, but faithful, committed, exclusive love is too (when it’s inconvenient). Dietrich von Hildebrand may help catechize people preparing for the sacrament who are susceptible to such a mindset.

The natural human tendency to desire belonging is sanctified in marriage. “All love certainly desires a reciprocity which is free from every shade of egoism; but in conjugal love there is an aspiration not merely for a return of affection in general, but for the unique love whereby the beloved belongs to the lover in an entirely exclusive manner, as he in turn wants to belong to the beloved…a community where two persons constitute a closed union which can exist only between them” (von Hildebrand, 8 — my emphasis).

Marriage is an antidote to the mistaken notion that more partners means more love. In this case, less really is more. A “closed union” is not one that leads to loneliness and unfulfillment but is actually a response to the deeply human longing to be loved in a way that lasts — to be special to someone.

This isn’t mere sentimentality; it’s an understanding of marriage that stresses the radical depth of devotion of Christ to his Church and therefore of the spouses to one another.

I think it’s important to hold both of these notions in tension — that spouses simultaneously hold their marriage as a gift from God that is not at their disposal and that love desires to belong to the beloved.

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