The Death of Socrates

The Death of Socrates

Monday, 31 October 2011

The attitude of Christ and His Apostles to Marriage and Family

Jesus was not at all keen on the family. He warns that family loyalty competes with loyalty to the Kingdom;[1] that His followers must expect to experience hostility from even their closest relatives;[2] and that they may well have to abandon their kin altogether.[3]

Jesus asserts that the true household is not based on ties of blood or romantic attachment; but on a shared acceptance of Gospel values.[4] If such an acceptance is characteristic of a particular family, well and good; but there is nothing about the domestic unit, as such, which makes it apt to substantiate Christian values. The Kingdom is meant to grow by the preaching of the Gospel and by adults being converted towards justice;[5] not by the procreation and indoctrination of children.[6] In any case, Jesus insists that marriage and the family are things of mortality, and that after the resurrection they will cease to exist.[7]
Christ not only took a stand against the whole tradition of the old covenant, according to which marriage and procreation were religiously privileged, as we have said. But in a certain sense He expressed Himself even in opposition to that beginning to which He Himself had appealed. [John Paul II “Allocution” (March 31st 1982)]
The Apostle Paul has a somewhat more positive view of marriage and the family. He expects family members to provide for impoverished relatives, rather then relying on the largess of the Church.[8] He tells children to obey their parents and fathers to be moderate in disciplining their progeny,[9] and in the same passage exhorts slaves to obey their masters. While Paul is convinced that it is much better for men not to have any physical relations with women, and presents his own celibate lifestyle as an example to all;[10] he nevertheless tolerates marriage as a second best arrangement for those incapable of sexual continence.[11] In a more generous spirited moment, Paul writes of Christian marriage as an icon of the relationship of Christ with the Church.[12]

The Epistle to the Hebrews insists that marriage is honourable and its bed is clean,[13] while emphasising that Christians must not adopt an insular domestic outlook: and enjoining the duties of maintaining fellowship with the wider Church community and of showing hospitality to strangers. Neither Jesus nor any of his Apostles ever suggests that either marriage or the family is particularly significant in the divine scheme of things. They never say that it is the building block of secular society, still less of the Church. They never refer to the family as “the domestic church”. Indeed, this is an altogether modern invention.[14] Although Augustine[15] twice makes use of the idea and Chrysostum[16] once, they suggest more that the secular institution of the family can, with some effort, be Christened, than that it is constitutive of the Church.

1. Mat 8:21-22. Lk 9:59-62; 14:16-26.

2. Mat 10:17-22, 34-37. Mk 13:11-13. Lk 12:51-53.

3. Mat 19:27-29. Mk 10:28-30. Lk 18:28-30.

4. Mat 12:46-50. Mk 3:21-35. Lk 8:19-21.

5. Mat 4:17, 10:7. Mk 1:38; 3:14; 16:15. Lk 4:18, 43; 9:2.

6. Jn 1:12-13.

7. Mat 22:29-30 Mk 12:24- 25 Lk 20:34-36. Pope John Paul II deduces from this fact the conclusion that the theological significance of gender cannot be determined in terms of marriage and reproduction.

8. 1Tim 5:4-8, 16.

9. Eph 6:1-9 Col 3:20-4:1.

10. 1Cor 7:1-9, quoted on page 26.

11. 1Cor 7:10-39.

12. Eph 5:21-33. Many modern scholars dispute that Paul wrote Ephesians. The converse image (where the union of Christ and the Church is presented as a marriage) is found in the Apocalypse. [Apoc 19:7-9]

13. Heb 13:4.

14. Vatican II “Lumen Gentium” #11 (1964) & John Paul II “Famularis Consortio” #21 (1981)

15. Augustine “The Good of Widowhood” #29 & “Epistle 188, to The Lady Juliana” #3.

16. Chrysostom “Second Homily on Genesis” #13.

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