instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Sunday, April 10, 2016

An icon, not an idol

"The natural order has been so imbued with the redemptive grace of Jesus," Pope Francis writes, "that 'a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptized without it being by that fact a sacrament.' [AL 75]

Marriage is a natural sign of the Trinity, present from creation ("God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." "The LORD God said: 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.'"). AL 11 extends the sign from the married couple to the human family:

The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Decalogue – capable of revealing God the Creator and Saviour. For this reason, fruitful love becomes a symbol of God’s inner life.... [T]he couple’s fruitful relationship becomes an image for understanding and describing the mystery of God himself, for in the Christian vision of the Trinity, God is contemplated as Father, Son and Spirit of love.
The love of God, perfect and complete in itself, overflows into this perfectly gratuitous creation we are all a part of, that all of creation may give glory to God, joining according to the nature we've been given in that one eternal act of love. In a similar way, the love of a family is to overflow into the rest of creation, drawing a similar response -- although, since the family is an icon, not an idol, the love with which creation responds to the family's own love isn't returned to the family itself, but through the family returns to the Source of all love.

All that is simply what families are, necessarily, from the very nature of things as God created them.

To that, Christian families -- which is to say, fruitful Christian (and therefore sacramental) marriages -- add the supernatural sign of the union of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, and His Church. This is so, not through God's act of creation, but through His act of redemption, through Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection. That is simply what Christian families are, necessarily. Ephesians 5:21-33 may be best known for, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands," but the key is verse 32: "This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." And as the Church as a whole is to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, so the domestic church of the Christian family is to proclaim the Gospel to every creature it encounters. A Christian family, based on a marriage that can only exist as a sign that effects the grace it signifies, is to demonstrate -- not just among its members, but to all who encounter it -- the sacrificial and salvific love that held Jesus to the cross and brought Him forth from the grave on the third day.

It's not really up to us whether our particular love or marriage is actually fruitful. The will to be fruitful is what we can provide; the rest is in God's hands.