Blog #4: Why is Christian marriage healing of human sinfulness for Augustine?
In The Excellence of Marriage, Augustine tries to argue for the good in marriage but in my opinion ultimately still ends up making it sound less than ideal in comparison to a life devoted to God and virginity. Marriage is good for social order, children, and is sacramental; it heals through restoring communion and transforming love.
For Augustine, Christian marriage is the healing of human sinfulness in that it is a symbolic return to the way things were before the Fall of man, that is, the way things were intended to be. In this “return” to the time of creation, there only communion, thus human sinfulness is not present. In situations of infidelity or divorce, the communion is broken and human sinfulness reemerges in the form of adultery. Jesus is so explicitly against divorce and adultery on the Sermon on the Mount because he came to restore the Kingdom of God on earth. Destroying communion is directly against the mission of Jesus. Marriage is a restored kinship between man and woman; this is good, in itself, for reasons of social order and for procreation, because children are seen as a gift. Augustine noted that children are a blessing even when a couple isn’t intending to have one. Augustine also acknowledges that marriage is sacramental and transformative. Union between husband and wife is symbolic of the union between Christ and the Church. Within Christian marriage, human love becomes divine, and the marriage itself becomes a sign of the wedding feast to come when all are united with God. Because love is transformed to become more perfect, human sinfulness is diminished.
Marriage is sanctifying for husband and wife in that it erases some sin associated with sex. Unfortunately, the way Augustine puts this, it seems like having sex is still wrong — but not as bad as it would be outside of marriage. The whole discussion felt like it was saying, “Ok, so if you really can’t help it, go ahead and have sex within marriage. You’re still sinning but it’s better than engaging in fornication or adultery.” This was off-putting to me as I’ve always been a person who believes that sex is God’s gift for husband and wife to enjoy and participate in his creative power. Also I think there are more reasons to get married than just not being able to control oneself. I’m really confused about this point and I’m hoping that we will dig deeper into what Augustine means and how this applies to modern Christian marriages. Certainly, marriage should be about more than sex, but I also think it’s an important aspect of a healthy and happy marriage.