|dc.description.abstract||“Marriage is honored in all things, and the conjugal bed is undefiled.” (Hebrews 13:4)
Advocacy for “strong marriage and family” must be understood not only in the pragmatic terms of empirical benefits. These of course can be demonstrated through adherence to traditional practices, observation, and personal experience, as well as modern research. They include benefits to physical and emotional health, financial stability and provision, personal development and education, and social stability and development.1
But “marriage and family” in Christian terms must be grasped in more “essentialist” and reciprocal ways. Marriage is not an optional “life choice” or a matter only of “personal experience.” It has not been invented by human ingenuity to provide means for the raising of children, economic sustenance, patriarchal dominance, or the personal benefit of partners. Marriage is essential to human well-being because it is integral, at the core, of Divine Creation and of the understanding of what it is to be human. God engaged in the inauguration and differentiation of Creation in order to “proceed” from Himself; and to establish a place for his “image” to dwell and flourish. The purpose of Creation was to enable the true Image of God (his Son) to unite the created image with God. Thus Union with God is expressed in terms of the Marriage of Christ and His Church. The Church is described as the “Household (oikos) of God” and “the Bride of Christ.” The consummation of history is depicted as “the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.” Thus created human life reflects the Glory of the Life of the un-created God – the Unity and Economy of the Holy Trinity – and thereby participates in the life of God. Any understanding of human “flourishing” or goodness is incomplete without this foundation of gift and reciprocity.
This understanding is developed in various theological formulations, most notably the “Theology of the Body” of Karol Wotyla/John Paul II, the household imagery of St. Irenaeus, the “nuptial mysticism” of St. Catherine of Siena and others, as well as the rich resources of contemporary political theology exemplified by Oliver O’Donovan, John Milbank, Michael Hanby and others. These theological insights include the “marital structure of the body and the soul” as well as the necessity of social adherence to the Fidelity, Permanence and Fruitfulness of human marriage. Human marriage can only be “binary” – male and female, fatherhood and motherhood, reciprocal and mutually submissive. And this union, matrimony, is the core and foundation of the natural family. Natural Law plays a recovered role in the formation of the essentialist understanding. These and other sources are consulted for fuller development of this theme.
The purpose of this paper then is to provide an anchor for this Conference on the Family – held at Uganda Christian University and under the imprimatur of the Church of Uganda and its Archbishop – in the Christian biblical and theological narratives, for the exploration of historical and contemporary developments in the life of marriage and family. The paper, and the research it reflects, seeks to demonstrate that what we now term “marriage” and “family” are temporal expressions of eternal realities, and thus altered or ignored only with great risk and consequence for persons, families, churches and all social structures. It is hoped that this point of reference will contribute to the explorations of the conference by recalling permanent truths and firm foundations for contemporary challenges.||en_US