The next instalment of the Articles on Marriage presented by Charles and Jane Perryman considers Marriage as a Covenant
In the previous articles we have written, we have described some of the ways that married couples deepen their love for and their commitment to their spouse. We have talked of how couples should be respectful and make requests of their partner not demands; of how we need to value each other; and for the need to listen to one another and to forgive one another.
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council back in 1965 described marriage as, “The intimate partnership of married life and love (that) has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, … is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent”. The key word in this description is “covenant”. Marriage is a covenant type of relationship. What does that mean to us in terms of our everyday lives together?
In the Old Testament, when God made the Covenant with the Israelites on Sinai it was a relationship, an alliance, an agreement which, for the Israelites, encompassed the whole of their lives. The positive aspect of the covenant relationship embodied in the love of man and woman is expressed very powerfully in the Song of Songs where the desire for unity and intimacy is described in a series of vivid love poems. Throughout biblical history, God remained faithful to this covenant in the face of repeated backsliding by the Israelites. The history of the Old Testament is that of God sending Prophet after Prophet to remind the Israelites of the covenant and to call them back to the true worship of their God. This is seen most vividly in the life of the prophet Hosea. That is the negative side. In the end the Israelites tried to fulfil their covenant obligations through keeping to the letter of the Law.
It was this legalism that Jesus challenged time after time. In the new covenant based on Christ’s self-sacrificing love the example of marriage is used by St Paul to illustrate the intimate love between Christ and His Church. When we see married couples being faithful to each other throughout their lives; when we see them deepening their intimacy through listening to each other, forgiving each other when hurts arise, bringing new life into the world and trying consistently to co-operate with Christ living with them, then we get a glimpse of what the love of Christ for His Church is like.
To take one of these characteristics, what do we mean by being faithful to one another throughout our lives? This is not just about not having an extra-marital sexual relationship. We are called to be faithful by nurturing our marriages continually so that our intimacy grows day by day. There are lots of pressures on married couples that tend to pull them apart. Faithfulness entails ensuring that our marriage relationship comes first in our order of priorities. It means being loyal to one another – not criticising our spouse in front of others. It means that when we recognise that our relationship is drifting we take action to bring it back to centre-stage. Above all it means not indulging in activities in order to get recognition or satisfaction when they are in short supply in our own relationships.
If you can get past the often obscure ecclesiastical language, the teaching documents of the church provide great insight into the beauty of marriage. What they don’t do, is to tell us how we go about living up to the great ideals that they set before us. The work of some social psychologists over the last 25 years or so have helped to develop a clear explanation of how and why some relationships thrive and some don’t and what we can do about it. It is our opinion that these ideas are entirely consistent with an understanding of marriage as a covenant.
We have been asked to lead what we are calling a “conversation” about marriage at the Mother of God Parish Hall, Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1DX at 7.30 pm on 15 October. What we hope to do is to develop a few of the ideas we have written about in order to stimulate some discussion in small groups about how these ideas play out in our lives. We hope that many of you reading this will come along and join in the conversation.