Sunday, May 19, 2019

Adriano Oliva's Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels — Response from a Reader re: Aquinas' Theology of Marriage

One of my Facebook friends, Jean-François Garneau in Montréal, has responded to my recent posting about how Adriano Oliva's book Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels — deals with the topic of procreation in Thomas Aquinas' theology of marriage. As my posting noted,

Oliva explains that Aquinas maintains consistently throughout his writings that the primary goal of marriage is the indivisible union of hearts and spirits through the spouses' mutual commitment to each other. In Aquinas' theology of marriage, procreation is a secondary goal of marriage and not its primary goal – though over the course of history and especially in the 20th century, church teaching began to act as if Aquinas had stated that procreation is the primary end of marriage. This distinction between the primary and secondary goals of sacramental marriage in Aquinas' theology constitutes a central framework of the first half of Oliva’s book.

Because I find Jean-François' thoughtful response to my posting valuable, I have asked his permission to share it with readers of this blog. Here it is:

Not only is the unitive function of marriage (as opposed to the procreative) deeply traditional of Christianity, it is also the aspect by which the Christian conception of marriage differs from what existed in the Western world until it came about (and perhaps anywhere else in the world). 
Marriage has been more consistently a contract between families for the merging of wealth or the assurance of heirs (the dominus of each household) to worship the souls of each family's ancestors. 
It's the Christians who introduced the notion of love as the purpose of marriage. That's how it became a sacrament (a sign of God's love for mankind), as opposed to a mere contract. This provides much stronger grounds than even Oliva allows for to recognize gay weddings as sacramental, and thus marriage. 
But the same objection that prevented marriage from being recognized as a sacrament is playing against its being extended to gay marriages. And that objection is the presence of sex. Even straight sex was seen as an objection (agapê being opposed to eros, and not seen as a fruition of eros) and that's why it took a long time to see it. The procreative function of marriage is both a continuation of the pagan marriage as contract view AND the excuse to justify that this particular form of erotic love could be sacramental of agapic love. Conservative Christians of good will are asked to give up the crutch they got used to using (the procreative function of marriage) to allow for identifying the sort of erotic love that deserved to be recognized as sacramental of agapê. No longer procreation but unitive love itself is the indicator of a love affair sacramentality. 
Look at Romeo and Juliet. It is not merely a melodrama about teenage love and/or a political play about what civil strife can do to a society. It is a play about marriage and the centerpiece is Friar Laurence marrying the two in secret INDEPENDENTLY of the consent of the two families. Christian marriage is a break from the contractual view of marriage for a unitive / erotic view of it. The entire amour courtois literature is all about that. GK Chesterton (notably in his Francis of Assisi) and Denis de Rougemont (in L'amour en occident) saw that most clearly years ago. They would be surprised to realize they laid the foundations for gay marriage. But I really think they did. 
That's why I also often think that gay theologians should do more theology and less social critique. Not that social critique is not warranted, but that theology is what we need most to untie the knots that are still there, even amongst people of good will.

I personally don't see such a sharp distinction as Jean-François seems to see between social critique and theology. My inclination is to think that theological traditions need to open themselves at this point in history to the valuable new tools of social analysis, sociology, critical theory, etc., now offered to us by various schools of thought — just as, in the past, theology relied on philosophy as its handmaiden when philosophy was the explanatory, illuminating framework for intellectual life. 

I think a lot of what appears to be social critique when it's offered to us by public theologians is actually theology — theology pursued in the public square in a vocabulary that makes sense to people right now, using intellectual tools that have explanatory power for people right now. In my view, you simply can't talk about homosexuality today in a theological conversation that is isolated from sociological insights and social critique.

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