Thursday, May 16, 2019

Notes on Adriano Oliva's Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels — Procreation in Aquinas' Theology of Marriage

Back in January 2016, I shared with you some notes about Adriano Oliva's book Amours: L'Église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (Paris: Cerf, 2015). As I shared my comments about Oliva's book, which was written as theological reflection on issues central to the synod on the family in 2015, I told you that my comments were more a set of notes than a review of the book per se.

After reading Frédéric Martel's In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy (London: Bloomsbury, 2019) some weeks ago, I decided to re-read Amours, since Martel frequently cites and discusses Oliva's book. From this second reading of Amours, I have a few more book notes to share with you. What follows will focus on the first half of the book (pp. 15-72), which deals with the sacramental understanding of marriage and the question of communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. 

In his discussion of Aquinas' theology of sacramental marriage, 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.

Oliva notes the importance of recognizing that Aquinas, who is considered in the Catholic tradition the teacher of teachers, the doctor of doctors, teaches that procreation does not belong to the very essence of marriage and does not constitute the goal that, above all other goals, gives a sacramental stamp to marriage:

Le Docteur commun de l’Églist enseigne que la generation des enfants n’appartient pas à l’intégralité du marriage et n’en constitue pas la fin proper et prochaine (p. 60).

In an illuminating discussion of Summa Theologiae IIIa pars, q. 29, a. 2, Oliva explains (pp. 17-18) that one of the primary reasons that Aquinas insisted marriage ought not to be defined primarily as about procreation is that taking this tack would create problems for understanding the marriage of the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph as a true marriage, since that marriage was not ever, according to Catholic tradition, consummated. Here, Aquinas concludes that, though Mary and Joseph abstained from sex, their marriage was nonetheless a true marriage, because the perfection of marriage consists in the indissoluble union of spirits and hearts, whereby each spouse is bound to fidelity to the other in an indissoluble way (a true marriage "consiste en une certaine union indivisible des esprits et des coeurs, par laquelle chacun des conjoints est tenu d’être fidèle à l’autre de manière indivisible" [p. 18, citing Aquinas in ibid.]).

This is a fertile theological foundation — and a deeply traditional one — for seeing marriage as not primarily about procreation of children, but as about effecting the loving union of two spouses committed to sharing their lives, resources, and above all, hearts, with one another in imitation of the self-gift of Christ to the church. It should be noted that Oliva is not denying that a sacramental marriage between a man and a woman — and he maintains that no other kind of marriage can be sacramental — should be open to the possibility of procreation. While he supports same-sex unions, proposes that the church should consider blessing them, and says that there is historical precedent for such blessing, he rejects the term "marriage" as a designation of those unions, because they lack the ability to procreate.

Even so, it's important to note how deeply traditional is this theological recognition that marriage is not primarily or in its most fundamental defining sense about the procreation of children, but is about the loving union of two spouses committed to sharing themselves and their goods with each other. My own inclination would be to argue that this traditional theology should open the church to the possibility of recognizing that there are many kinds of generative marital unions, and that procreation of children is not the only way marital unions can be generative — so that childless heterosexual marriages have the very same validity that marriages bearing children have.

Since the church has long chosen to bless the marital union of heterosexual couples in which child-bearing is not an option due to the age of the spouses or to other conditions, and the church insists that those marriages are authentic, true marriages (as was the marriage of Mary and Joseph), I see no reason to refuse to admit the validity of marriages of people of the same sex on the ground that these marriages cannot be procreative. Especially when there's strong evidence that they can be generative in ways that are every bit as generative as the marriages of non-procreative heterosexual couples ….

In a subsequent posting or several subsequent postings, I'll share with you my notes on the second half of Oliva's book, in which he deals with Aquinas' "intuition" that homosexuality is a natural inclination for some human beings, and with the pastoral implications of that recognition.

The photo of the cover of Oliva's book is from its page at the website of Éditions du Cerf — see the second link in this posting.

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