In Familiaris Consortio 11(West p.65) the Pope writes: ‘Christian revelation recognizes two specific ways of realizing the vocation of the human person, in its entirety, to love: marriage and virginity or celibacy.’ The Pope again has total self-giving love in mind, here as the constitutive feature both of marriage and of virginity/celibacy. We observe that he does not specify here, as he does elsewhere, that this virginity/celibacy is for the Kingdom of Heaven, therefore amounting to the consecrated life. This omission opens his statement to a naturalizing interpretation.
In commentary, whereas the love of spouses cannot be termed total self-giving love, the love for God on the part of those who lead the consecrated life can be so termed, because it constitutes a love with undivided heart (cf.1Cor.7.33 as expounded by Pope Pius XII in Sacra Virginitas 15, 20, 24, 30-1. See chapter 4 of the present book).
As far as vocation is concerned, the concept of vocation to marriage as an alternative to the vocation to the consecrated life is a further instance of naturalization, or, more fully, of the confusion between the natural and supernatural orders, for it involves placing something purely natural on the same level as something purely supernatural. We have analyzed this tendency at the end of chapter 4, where we pointed out that vocation in the traditional, in the most obvious, and also in the deepest, sense of the term signifies: 1) a call, 2) from a person without, 3) id est immediately from God, 4) in order absolutely to transcend the possibilities of human nature; whereas the propensity towards marriage is 1) an instinct, 2) which originates within human nature, 3) and therefore only mediately from God, 4) in order to realize a potential of that same human nature.
We may conclude with the following question: if both states of life involved total self-giving love and both were the object of vocation, in what sense would the life of virginity or celibacy be ‘better and more blessed’ than the married life, as the Council of Trent dogmatically declares? (aut caelibatu quam iungi matrimonio…Anathema sit (S.24 Can.10) Si quis dixerit…non esse melius ac beatius manere in virginitate).
Conjugal Love considered in Relation to God
Pope John Paul II relates the act of conjugal love to God in two ways: first to God’s love for Himself within the Most Blessed Trinity, and secondly to Christ’s love for the Church.
A. Conjugal Love in Relation to the Most Blessed Trinity The Pope states that God’s mystery of love ‘becomes a visible reality through the union on the first man and woman’ (Discourse Oct. 13th 1982, West p. 89). Mr. West, in his exposition of the Pope’s theory, asserts that ‘marital union is meant to be an icon in some way of the inner life of the Trinity’ (West p.25), and explains that ‘becoming one flesh’ therefore refers not only to the joining of two bodies (as amongst animals), but is ‘a ‘sacramental’ expression which corresponds to the communion of persons’ (Discourse June 25th 1980, West p.25); and man images God ‘not only through his humanity, but also through the communion of persons which man and woman form right from the beginning’ (Nov.14th 1979, West p.25).
Here we have the theory, then, that the act of conjugal love is the expression, or sacramental sign, of the inner Trinitarian divine love. Now to say that one thing is the expression or the sacramental sign of another implies at least that: 1) it must be connected to that other thing by a relation of direct causation, and 2) it must manifest that other thing. However this is not the case for the act of conjugal love, for 1) this act is not directly caused by the Holy Trinity, in the sense that there is an intervention of free human agency between the potency and the act; and 2) the act in question does not manifest inner Trinitarian love because (as we shall proceed to argue) it is too dissimilar to it.
The act of conjugal love is too unlike the inner Trinitarian divine love to be an expression of it, for, unlike divine love, a) the former love is a love between two human persons (rather than a love between two divine persons); b) the act does not necessarily participate in the love of God for Himself, for one or both of the spouses may not be in the state of Grace162; c) the act of conjugal love is not an act of total self-giving love; d) the act is marred by concupiscence; e) the act is a means to an end, namely to procreation in this world.
It is true that this act of human love, if it is performed in the state of Grace, also constitutes an act of Charity, and hence also constitutes a certain imitation and participation in divine love; and yet the act of conjugal love is a radically sensible form of love, and is therefore characterized rather by this form of love rather than by Charity. For this reason the act of conjugal love cannot, even in this case, be said to be an expression of divine love.
Far from looking to the love between humans for the expression of inner Trinitarian love, the Church points us for this end to the Word of God, Who is the expression of the Father: ‘the image of the invisible God’ (Col.1.15), for as St. John says (1.18): ‘No man has seen God at any time: the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.’ In short, all we can know about the inner Trinitarian love, the love between Father and Son, is what we can learn from the doctrine and the works of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Church’s Tradition, the form of love on the part of man which comes the closest to the inner Trinitarian love is man’s love for God in the state of Grace: that is to say Charity, the perfection of which is sanctity. For it is by this love of Charity for God that man imitates God’s love for Himself (just as by Faith he imitates God’s knowledge of Himself. Summa I q.93 a.4 cf. the discussion of the natural and supernatural dignity of man in chapter 2 above). Indeed it is by reference to this form of love that the Fathers of the Church interpret the biblical phrase that ‘man is made in the…likeness of God’.
We conclude this section by comparing Pope John Paul II’s view of that love by which man imitates God’s love for Himself with the Traditional view, in other words by comparing his view of the act of conjugal love with the Traditional view of Charity.
The Pope presents the body as an image of God both in itself and in the relation of communion: it is a ‘sacrament’ (Both the term ‚sacrament’ for the body, as the term ‚Theology of the Body’ which denotes the theory which attributes sacramentality to the body, exemplify the tendency to confuse the natural and supernatural orders.), ‘capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine’(Feb.20th 1980, West p.5); moreover ‘man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion’(Nov.14th 1979, West p.25). The Catholic Tradition, by contrast, understands the soul as the image of God, both in itself and in the relation of communion: in the Penny Catechism (TAN 1982 chapter 1 q.4) we read: ‘Is this likeness to God in your body or in your soul? This likeness to God is chiefly in my soul’; in the Major Catechism of St. Pius X (q.55) we read: ‘Why do we say that man was created in the image and likeness of God? We say that man was made in the image and likeness of God, because the human soul is spiritual and rational, free in its workings, capable of knowing and loving God and of enjoying Him forever: perfections which reflect in us a ray of the infinite greatness of the Lord.’
The former love is presented (erroneously, as we have argued) as total self-giving love; the latter love, in its highest form, that is as the perfection of Charity which is sanctity, may in fact be described as such.
The former love is presented (again erroneously, as we have argued) as an expression of the inner Trinitarian love; the latter love is understood (not as an expression, but) as an imitation and participation of that love.
If conjugal love is not the expression or sacramental sign of divine love, how is it related to it? According to Catholic Tradition, things are related to God in proportion to their imitation of Him: the angels and men are related to Him as His image and likeness; while the rest of creation is related to Him as His vestige. Conjugal love, as we have said above, is characterized by the fact that it is a radically sensible form of love, which is only called ‘love’ by analogy with rational love. As such it can only be said to relate to the inner Trinitarian love in a remote manner, as a vestige of that love.
B. Conjugal Love in Relation to Christ and His Church The Pope compares the union between Christ and His Church on one hand and conjugal love on the other on various different counts.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.