Sunday, April 01, 2007

The connection between celibacy and marriage, with help from Gabriel Marcel

It is often asserted in Catholic circles that a failure to understand celibacy or virginity for the kingdom of God will lead to a failure to understand marriage. It is true that cultures without monastics generally have lousy marriages. But why is this the case? What is the connection?

I've been reading a bit of Marcel recently, and I think his distinction between the realm of mystery and problem can help. A problem is something we can solve, but which makes no necessary demands on the solver. The Pythagorean Theorem makes no demands on me--I am the same before and after I think about it. Mysteries are not problems, but demands: “A mystery is a problem that encroaches upon its own data, that invades the data and thereby transcends itself as a simple problem.” (Concrete Approaches to the Ontological Mystery, p 178) Mysteries reveal that there is a transcendent dimension to the world, something that cannot be measured or verified, but nevertheless both answers our deepest need and utters a call to us.

How does this relate to marriage? It is the modern tendency to reduce all to problems, not mysteries. We seek objectivity in all things, even in the realm of love. We treat love like such an object, something we can examine, without ourselves being in it to the gills. We say things like "Love just means what makes you happy" or "Love is just an expression of the procreative drive" or "Love is just chemistry." Beware whenever anyone uses the word "just!" This means that we attempt to explain love simply in terms of drives or interests of the people involved. I am attracted to someone, and I call the attraction love.

The monastic life, the life of celibacy for the Kingdom, resists this analysis, since it involves renouncing an interest, giving up the exercise of a drive. The only reason why one would want to do this is because of mystery, because of the impinging of what Marcel calls "being" on one's life. A man gives up sexual intercourse for life; why? Because he recognizes that there is something greater than the satisfaction of one's desires. It is in this greater that the key to understanding marriage lies.

Marriage for life is not able to be explained in terms of interests, drives, or desires (I use the words somewhat interchangeably). I may enter into a relationship for a period of time because it satisfies my desires, but desires are transitory. What happens if they change, or if they are no longer satisfied? Should the marriage end? We see it happen all the time, as people break marriages for the sake of some new person who presumably satisfies the desires better. The only possible ground of a lasting, till death do us part, in good times or bad, in sickness or in health marriage is a recognition that there is something beyond my desires, that makes a demand upon me. Marriage is only possible on the horizon of mystery.

This is the connection between the celibate life and marriage. Both require a recognition of the transcendent. Those who understand monks, understand marriage, since both require one to realize that there is more to life than just desires.


Morisa said...

Marriage is an important thing in one's life. So many people talk about it.In the past,people often marry up with the same race.They hate interethnic people.But now people change their idea. There is a interracial match club which provides some way to date with interracial people.

Thomas said...

I know that this is off-message but you might like to make reference to the above website of the Sodality of Our Lady on your blog:

God bless,


brd said...

I ran across your thoughts and am glad to see that you are thinking/writing on this subject. I like what you have to say. The addition that I would make to this is in the realm of what I would describe as deliberate desire. I do not think that marriage is maintained based on mystery alone. You say marriage is only possible on the horizon of mystery. Yes, yes that is very true. But satisfying and happy marriage must also include desire. As a woman married happily for 30+ years, I think that I attribute some of our married-longevity to choosing deliberately to desire my husband. Happy marriage is not just based on that mystery (triangulation with God) but very importantly also on the active physical and sexual development of the human relationship.

I'm so glad that you are working through these ideas philosophically. I appreciated your analysis of Marcel.