Spring 2006

Of Spouses, the Real World, and the “Where” of Christian Marriage

David S. Crawford

Several authors have used the scholastic tradition to buttress these arguments. What is the bond, it is asked, but a relation? This relation does not exist, somehow, somewhere, above and beyond the couple.5 Therefore it must be “in” the couple themselves. Marriage is not a character sacrament, so the content of this “in” cannot be an indelible sacramental character such as that of Baptism or Holy Orders. So what type of relation is the bond? From a scholastic point of view, a relation is an accident. Thus the marital relation cannot have some kind of separate or autonomous existence. While, as an accident, the bond is “ontological,”6 this does not mean that it escapes human freedom. It is “a relationship of obligation,” “sealed by God’s grace and commitment to the spouses.”7 The bond is therefore essentially moral.8 As a relation, it therefore has no necessary or essential indissolubility.

Of course, the question of sacramental marriage’s indissolubility raises many important issues, including its ecumenical implications, historical background, and doctrinal status—not to mention the best interpretation or even the theological sufficiency of scholastic understandings of “relation.”9 However, this essay can only address one basic question. As we can see, an important starting point for the issue of indissolubility is in fact the question of “where” this bond is to be located. Does the bond lie solely within the spouses? If so, is it to be located in the order of being, of freedom? Is it rooted in something above and beyond the spouses, however much it might also arise from and shape their freedom? So, the question returns, “where” is this bond and what does it have to do with the real-world marriages of men and women, of flesh and blood?


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5. Örsy, Marriage in Canon Law, 271; Lawler, “Blessed Are the Spouses Who Love,” 221; Himes and Coriden, “The Indissolubility of Marriage,” 486. Cf. also Walter Kasper, Theology of Christian Marriage (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 49.

6. Lawler, “Blessed Are the Spouses Who Love,” 221; Örsy, Marriage in Canon Law, 204f, n. 3.

7. Örsy, Marriage in Canon Law, 204f, n. 3.

8. Himes and Coriden, “The Indissolubility of Marriage,” 486.

9. For criticisms of this view of “relation,” see David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Press, 1996), 275f; Joseph Ratzinger, “Concerning the Notion of Person in Theology,” Communio: International Catholic Review 17 (Fall 1990): 439–454; Hans Urs von Balthasar, “On the Concept of Person,” Communio: International Catholic Review 13 (Spring 1986): 18–26; and John D. Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985).