Expert Answer Forum
Sexuality and Marriage QUESTION from Amber Simmons December 29, 1999 Dear Brother John Paul,
Thank you for adressing my questions on the other forum. They gave me something to think about during the Christmas holidays.
My next questions I thought more appropriate for this forum so I brought it here. It concerns the issue of marriage and sexuality within that arrangement. Marriage today has become, for many,a very sterile, empty arrangement. Marriage is simply a trip to a minister or justice of the peace, a signed piece of paper and a change of surname. Strictly speaking, at the least, legal marriage is simply this--it is a completely non spiritual, spiritually non comittal institution. Of course people can and do take it further and then the Union does take on spiritual overtones. But legally, it doesn't have to.
This brings me o the question: if I give my heart and my spirit to someone with whom I have not legally married (ie not signed the paper, etc.), is this truly different from the institution of marriage as presented in the Bible? Please correct me if I am wrong, but did folks in the Bible have to undergo some silly legal routine in order to express their union before God? If not, isn't a Holy relationship one that involves true love, true sharing, etc. even without any legal trappings?
That said, sex within any legal marriage is acceptable by the Church, even when love fails and the two are merely using sex to scratch a lustful itch if you will. Why is sex still sacred in this instance even though there is no longer a connection or love between these two? And similarly, why is sex between two people bound by love, trust and spirit but not in the eyes of the law still a sin? Since when does God care about the laws of the US government?
As you know, I am married, and I take my marriage very seriously. But I did have sexual relations with my husband before we were legally married, even though I was committed to only him, and in my mind was already spiritual bound ot him and thus married. So I as these questions only to better understand exactly how God defines marriage.
Lastly, between consenting, married adults, are there any sexual acts that are considered wrong by God?
Thank you, Amber
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius on December 29, 1999 Dear Mrs. Simmons:
You ask: if I give my heart and my spirit to someone with whom I have not legally married (ie not signed the paper, etc.), is this truly different from the institution of marriage as presented in the Bible? Please correct me if I am wrong, but did folks in the Bible have to undergo some silly legal routine in order to express their union before God? If not, isn't a Holy relationship one that involves true love, true sharing, etc. even without any legal trappings?
In order for a marriage to be valid in the eyes of God and the Church, the marriage must normally be legal according to the laws of the state, must also be canonical according to the laws of the Church, and must be sacramental, according to the teachings of the Church.
In Biblical times marriage did have to undergo specific public ritual. One could not just start living together. Marriage is in almost all cultures a public estate, requiring a couple to undergo whatever cultural and local laws and customs there are in order to be considered validly married in that culture.
You express a notion that the legal aspect of marriage is silly. I would beg to differ. Marriage is a solemn and serious estate before God and before the society. It is not to be taken lightly or flippantly. The commitments involved must be entered into with solemn seriousness and permanent intent.
God created us as sacramental beings. Human beings, as material beings, relate to the world in a material or physical way. It is how we are made. God knows this of course. That is why He instituted Sacraments. That is why human beings behave in sacramental ways even outside of religion.
A Sacrament is a physical manifestation of an invisible reality. The invisible reality in this case is the love of the man and woman. That invisible reality must be grounded in the material world. This grounding is the ritual of marriage that announces to the world the proclamation of the couple’s love AND commitment to each other for life.
I have found that contracts, written agreements, also have a sacramental quality (in the non-religious sense). For example, when I did counseling I would work with the individual to draw up a therapy plan. Once the plan was constructed I would ask the client to sign. Oftentimes the client was reluctant to sign or did not sign. Why? Because there is something about putting your signature on the paper that makes the commitment VERY real; it makes it feel binding in a way that is not felt if we agree amongst ourselves. This goes on primarily in the gut or subconcious even if not admitted to consciously. The invisible reality is the personal commitment, the material proof of that is in the signature.
Thus, if a man and woman were not willing to put their signatures on a legal contract of marriage, I would suspect the level of their true commitment. If they really do love one another and are truly committed to each other (both invisible realities), then follow it up with the physical manifestation of that invisible reality by signing on the dotted line and then living the married life in actuality.
You suggest that one can love and share without the trappings of legalities. This is true. But one cannot have true commitment and be hesitant to sign the legal papers. Marriage is NOT merely about love and sharing. It is also about commitment. And I would suggest, as the Bible suggest, that true marital love does not exist without the commitment.
You ask: That said, sex within any legal marriage is acceptable by the Church, even when love fails and the two are merely using sex to scratch a lustful itch if you will. Why is sex still sacred in this instance even though there is no longer a connection or love between these two? And similarly, why is sex between two people bound by love, trust and spirit but not in the eyes of the law still a sin? Since when does God care about the laws of the US government?
Your question really reveals a common and fundamental misunderstanding of marriage and a decided romantic notion of love that is very 20th century.
Sex is ordered to marriage, not romantic love. The reason romantic love is not enough and thus a couple in love is sinning if having sex outside of marriage is because sex is ordered to the state of marriage for the procreation of children and for the unitive value between the couple. Sex is NOT an expression of romantic love. Let me repeat that with feeling. Sex is NOT an expression of romantic love. The purpose of sex is to procreate and to facilitate a unitive effect between the couple. This unitive effect can be present without the naïve notion of romantic love and certainly without the feeling or emotion of love.
We must remember that love is not a warm fuzzy feeling. In fact, the true love of a man and woman in marriage is NOT an emotion. Satan has successfully destroyed in the memories of our culture the real definition of love.
Emotions come and go. They are biologically based and are dramatically affected by psychological and physiological factors. True love transcends the biological and psychological. The definition of true love is defined by God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. No where in that definition is there a description of emotion. Love is a verb, not a noun. It is an action taken by deliberate positive volition of will, not a warm emotion that can flicker in an eye-blink.
I believe this is one of the major reasons for so many divorces and stale marriages – an utter lack of understanding of what love is. When the emotion fades, so does the marriage. Well in such a case, that is because there was no real love in the first place.
God does care what the laws are. To begin with the Bible specifically tells us that we are to be obedient to the laws of the State in as far as they do not violate the laws of God.
Second, the laws of the Church require a valid civil marriage.
Third, the issue is not the law anyway. The issue is the commitment and commitment reluctant to put its money where its mouth is as it were – to make the commitment formal, is a false commitment. God cares very much if a couple makes a false or self-deluded commitment.
As to pre-marital sex even when engaged with the person, the morality does not change. Pre-marital means before marriage. So even if a couple has sex on the night before their wedding, they just committed the grave sin of fornication. That sin must be confessed with repentance and contrition.
Finally, as to any restrictions on sexual activity within marriage between consenting marriage partners, over the years I have been asked the most intimate and detailed questions about that.
One time, a wife asked me a VERY specific question. I simply did not know the answer to it in terms of moral theology. My backup on matters of moral theology has always been Father William Most. He died earlier this year and he is sorely missed.
But I did have an opportunity to discuss with him the nitty-gritty details of this question. At one point he said, concerning the specific question that was asked of me by this one person, It is ugly, but it is permissible.
I do not feel comfortable going into extreme specifics in an open forum, but I will say this – Most sexual techniques, activities, and acts are permissible between a consenting husband and wife AS LONG AS the technique, activity, or act does not interfere with the openness to life that must always be present in the marital bed. This means that, like with Onan in the Bible, the seed of man is not to spill upon ground (or anywhere else that keeps it from the potential of bringing life to the womb).
I believe there are some other acts that relate to the issue of gross impurity or that may not be technically sinful perhaps (I’d have to check on that), but are, like Father Most said, quite ugly.
And finally, there are some acts that even though performed with mutual consent tend to be symptoms of psychological disorder, or moral depravity. We must remember that even with marital sex there is a sense of chastity, purity, and moral decorum (and even modesty).
Frankly, that is about as much as I will say in a public forum on that subject.
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