More Excerpts from My Writing: On Marriage

The next morning, a dove led us to this sticker on the way up the steep hill to a service at the Lutheran church on October 4, 2009, St. Francis day in Castleton-on-Hudson. I followed this with a mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. There, I would be confronted with the judgment of my faith tradition. As I sat through the mass, the priest asked everyone who had never been married to raise their hand. I opted out of that one. He then asked everyone who was married to raise their hand. I opted out of that one too. I note the members who refuse to shake my hand with the passing of the peace. I still take communion after my silent confession: “Lord I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” It is against the rules, but short of relinquishing my faith tradition, there is little to be done about it.

I was married in a Lutheran church (my husband’s church) with the blessing of a priest to the most wonderful and supportive man you could imagine. As I went through a midlife crisis, branching out and exploring a new world independently without a paying job, he lost his supportive role in the relationship. He moved overseas, and I stayed here. The marriage fell apart as he sought to establish himself and a new life in my absence. Not every marriage survives midlife. He wanted a divorce. I didn’t. But there is nothing more pointless than clinging to a relationship when the other person wants out. I draw the line where the other person is forced against their will to submit to an institution. It is called respect. I noted my lack of desire for the divorce in my letter to the court, and then signed the divorce papers. The divorce proceeded in my absence.

Pair bonding in the animal kingdom varies from copulation in some species to life long in others. The courtship displays at each respective extreme can be likewise very short or much more complicated. It is interesting to contemplate from a behavioral point of view the forces that cause pair bonding in the animal kingdom.to be a life long event.

God is capable of separating souls (the child from the mother’s), and also in death. And so even if we see marriage as the joining of 2 souls, it seems clear that the souls can be separated once joined. In the Christian conception, in fact, once resurrected, the souls are as independent as angels:

“For in resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Matthew 22:30 RSV

The Semitic traditions (Jewish and Muslim) both simultaneously acknowledge the desired permanence of the union, and permit divorce. Jesus, whose emphasis was decidedly on peace and unity, gave a stronger injunction against divorce:

“And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?’ He (Jesus) answered, ‘Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female’, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.’ They said to him, ‘Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.’ ” Matthew 19:3 RSV .

Dissension in the early Christian church was evident even in the letters of Paul, and most notably the Antioch convention. However, in the face of persecution from the Romans, and although expressing a diversity of beliefs, the Christian church defined by the Antioch council largely remained unified. It was divided into 3 principle branches: the Pauline Christians, the Jewish Christians, and the Gnostic Christians (http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_chov.htm). Constantine I finally legalized Christianity within the Roman empire in 313 AD with the edict of Milan. At this point, the Nicene council was convened (325 AD), and a creed developed. Canon (Greek noun κανών “kanon” meaning “reed” or “cane,” or also “rule” or “measure,” which itself is derived from the Hebrew word קנה “kaneh” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon)) was articulated with an agreement on those texts that were considered the New Testament by 367 AD facilitated by the prior organization (http://www.answers.com/topic/biblical-canon) and discernment of Marcion of Synope about 140 AD (part of Luke and 10 letters of Paul), Iraneus about 160 AD (4 gospels) and Origen in the early 200’s AD (old and new testament +/- a few letters and books) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biblical_canon). The church grew under Rome, to some extent because dissent was persecuted, but there was still a diversity of belief and practice among bishops during the edificatory period, and unity in spite of the political and linguistic division of the Roman empire into western and eastern empires in 395 AD under Theodosius. The integrity of the church even survived the fall of Rome in 476 AD. The first major split in the church after Jesus occurred because of a rewording of the Nicene Creed (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/creeds1.iv.iii.html). The Roman church had already conceptualized the Trinity with the 31 surviving works of the Apologetic Tertullian who lived between 160 AD and 220 AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tertullian).

The Apostles’ Creed

The second major split in the church after Jesus occurred with the 95 declarative statements of Martin Luther posted on the Wittenberg castle in 1517. Luther, a monk well trained in theology, had apparently been extremely sensitive to the question of sin and penance. He despised the system of indulgences that had evolved within the church.

Shortly after this breach, a third splitting over the question of divorce in England would follow. The church of England split as the Anglican church from the Roman Catholic Church when Pope Clement VII would not grant Henry VII an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, formerly his brother’s wife. She was the mother of their daughter. Henry VII had acquired a dispensation from the Pope in order to marry Catherine. After being unable to produce a male child and heir to the thrown, he had wanted the Pope to concede to error in issuing the dispensation, and declare an annulment. Henry believed that his failure to produce a male heir was a curse from God imposed as a consequence of this initial sin. More concretely, he wanted to marry Ann Boleyn. The Pope wouldn’t let him.

England declared a new church subservient to the throne. The next 30 years would be bloody, repressive, and revolutionary, the first sparks of what would later develop into a full-blown English civil war in (1642–1651). Hundreds would be imprisoned, burned at the stake, or decapitated to silence the old and impose a new authority that changed with every new king or queen. Many were priests. By 1559, Queen Elizabeth I attempted to consolidate her authority as the first female “Head of a church”, in fact gaining the approval of Parliament. She initially failed however due to the House of Lord’s inability to accept her religious authority on grounds of her gender. There were other theological questions that were being considered as well at the time: the meaning of communion, the correctness of clerical marriage, images in the church, fines imposed for failing to attend church or attending a church other than the Church of England. Division over these issues no doubt also contributed to an initial inability to accept her church leadership. She would, however, later be given the more equivocal title of “Governor of the Church” by Parliament. In the context of the repressive tone of the English reformation many left for the colonies in those years, seeking a new religious tolerance or freedom.

I know that Jesus would have wanted us to work it out. I also felt that God had chosen my husband to be my partner at that time – although in retrospect, maybe not forever. Maybe my identity was changing. A lot of women probably go through something similar to this when they explore independence. This story would not have been the same story had I been married. I don’t even imagine that there would have been a book. In some ways, perhaps, I unconsciously chose writing this book over a married life, although the book did not even have its conception at the time of my divorce. It is hard to have the dependence of a supportive relationship and independence at the same time.

Someone once compared relationships to rubber bands. The ends can be pulled apart. During their separation, the people grow and change, and then come back together to rediscover each other. All relationships have their moments of closeness and space. This one snapped, as we were pulled in different directions during a time of being apart. I wasn’t there for him. He wanted more, in the end, not just for him, but probably also for me. I wish him happiness. We had a wonderful 15 years together. Not everyone has that even when they remain married. It was a blessing. But by now, almost 10 years later, it is imperative that I recognize that the marriage is over. It’s not coming back. I do. I’m moving on.

Because women had such poor standing in marriage in general in the Semitic societies, divorce would have been seen as an abandonment of the woman. Wives were tools – objects to satisfy bodily lusts, and propagate one’s line, perhaps initially also a man’s helper and companion, often wealth, strategic political, and property negotiation between families. There are exceptions. Abraham surely mourned Sarah, Jacob and Moses worked 7 years as a servant to acquire their wives. There are the love poems in the Song of Solomon. Generally though, in biblical times, a man could have as many wives as he could support – indeed, Solomon is said to have had 700.   Because women could not take care of themselves, they were assimilated as wives of the family when their husbands died. This may have been an improvement over older times when the whole household was simply killed when the head died, so that the head of the household was buried with his family.

Jesus’ initial 12 disciples were all male – this is 2 more than what it would take to have a minyan to hold a Jewish Shabbat service. Although it has been pointed out that Jesus was rather progressive in his regard for women for his time, women could still not form a part of the minyan. In fact, under Jewish law, two women were required to replace a man in a trial as witnesses.

As Paul would start to establish the church, he first began to elevate the status of women. While he yet articulated the submission of women to men, in many passages, there was a mutual submission of man and woman to one another in marriage. But he also did not think very highly of marriage as an institution.

With the expectation of the end of the world around the corner, he advocated the celibate state which was seemingly compatible with the new order to be established on earth as in heaven with the second coming. Peter, the first Pope, was more pragmatic. He was among 7 popes who were married (http://www.futurechurch.org/fpm/history.htm), Matt 8:14.

Celibacy, although advocated by Paul 1 (Corinthians 7:32-35), has had a mixed history in the Catholic church. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD was the first to decree that a priest could not marry after ordination. Still, records show that most priests were married in 7th century France, and about 50% of them were by the 15th century. Today, of course, most priests are not married, although there are exceptions. [Although it is an exceptional person who can answer this call to God, it makes the priest somewhat unable to empathize with the average human who might have to deal with divorce or for that matter procreation or child-rearing.] I feel that it is an individual decision: a person may be called to the priesthood or to a religious life even without a vow of celibacy, as St. Peter and others clearly were. However, some of my respect for the priesthood and religious life derives from the celibacy of the individuals. There are few who are able to make the sacrifices that they do in the name of faith. It puts the word “calling” on a completely different level. Their sacrifice is a symbol of their devotion to God. Gandhi was also celibate. And yet, Jesus was pretty clear about this. Celibacy itself is a calling that not everyone is capable of:

“The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife. It is not expedient to marry.” But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” Matthew 19:10 RSV

As I pointed out in the Prologue, we could have been designed to reproduce asexually, but we were not. Sexual reproduction produces more diversity than asexual reproduction. This has some adaptive advantage in changing environments. The survival of a species that reproduces sexually is intrinsically linked to their sex drive. The interest of most other animals in sex is largely mediated by pheromones emitted by the female when she is in heat, and therefore is procreative. Unlike animals, sex in humans is not pheromone contingent. It has evolved to be relationship-building and relationship-enhancing, not merely procreative. Although there are exceptions, humans have been designed to find sex interesting, and to desire to fulfill one’s need for it independently from the procreative process. That we have been given the ability to do this independently of other beings, I believe is no accident. The sexual drive is such an intense drive that to be completely reliant on another human being to satisfy that drive is to not only potentially enslave the other, but also to make oneself potentially a slave to others. Almost all humans first learn to control and satisfy their own needs for sex independently of others. We are therefore more able to approach others with respect for their needs, and an interest in what they have to offer apart from their sexual gratification of our own needs. Sex is a gift, and not an obligation. This distance allows balance in relationships, and also, from a moral point of view, it equalizes. No other living person is allowed to become so necessary to the satisfaction of our own lust that we can justify their exploitation, or disregard their own needs. Because sex between a man and a woman can potentially involve the creation of another dependent being, if one respects life, there needs to be respect and responsibility associated with sex. This is established with pair-bonding. Potential child-producing relations outside of a pair-bonded union capable of raising a child are irresponsible, even with birth control which can fail. There are many individuals who very capably raise a child alone, and indeed every adult must be prepared to assume this responsibility should the circumstance arise. Pair-bonding in caregivers, however, gives a child security as well as options for role models. It also develops a child’s ability to see things and solve problems from more than one point of view.

In the end, what does it mean to be a priest? The earliest priesthood in Judaism was established through the Levites descendent from Levi, one of Jacob’s 12 sons. The Levites were a smaller tribe, chosen by God for the priesthood through the flowering of Moses’ staff, and they were not numbered among the Israelites. In the Exodus, the census has them as 23 000 / (23 000 + 601 730) or 3.7% of the population Numbers 26:51 and Numbers 26: 62. Moses, his brother Aaron, and Aaron’s son Eleazar were among the Levites. Of this tribe, there were seemingly x out of y selected to serve the Tabernacle. These priests took several oaths, and were not allowed to possess property. Instead, they were given 48 cities to inhabit, and farm land for their animals to graze around these cities. Six of these cities were designated as refuges for fugitives who had involuntarily killed Numbers 35:5-6. And thus the priests, in their own way, served as an ambassador of amnesty, an institution perhaps deriving from the seizing of the altar horns, perhaps also an intermediary in the transition of a justice system from feudal with family accountability for justice, to legislative with community accountability.

Called to serve God, or called to serve the church as an institution? Can there be a difference? The importance of the institution in God’s work. What is the value of an institution? The ability of God to act outside of this institution. Prayer of St. Francis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_of_Assisi).  St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment. He was never a priest. Although he preached, his calling was not to an office. He was known to respect birds as parishioners, and even tame the wolf.

I don’t expect to answer these theological questions – simply to recognize that there is diversity within the church.  I enjoy thinking about the questions.  Blind obedience to anything was never my strong suit.

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