Wednesday, May 11, 2011

An academic extract: marriage and deacons

Below is a bit from what I have been working on recently:

Owen Cummings is correct to assert that in order to recognize the image of the deacon that arises from what Ditewig has termed the "double vocational sacramentality" of married permanent deacons, marriage must be reaffirmed as a sacrament on par with the other six sacraments and, due to it being a sacrament at the service of communion, having a special affinity with the sacrament of holy orders (Cummings, “Images of the Diaconate” 2). This requires overcoming the view that sees the sacrament of matrimony in primarily or even exclusively juridical terms, a view of marriage that held sway for more than a millennium of the church’s history and which only started to be challenged at Vatican II. In seeking to theologically justify my assertion that by their full and simultaneous participation in the sacraments of matrimony and orders married permanent deacons bring a much needed dimension to the church’s pastoral ministry, there is no need to resort to technical or abstruse theological language.

Cummings points out that the popular mindset almost always reduces sacraments to a singular celebration of the rite for a particular sacrament (2). He is quite right to suggest that this mindset needs to be pastorally and persistently challenged. This all-too pervasive way of seeing things is expressed even in casual conversation when people say things like, "I was married so many years ago," or, "I was ordained so many years ago" (2). Indeed, such an understanding falls far short of the sacramental reality that those who receive these sacraments are called to live them out, flowing as they do from the fundamental sacrament of baptism, from the time of the celebration of the rite in the midst of the church until death (2). This is why, Cummings succinctly notes, "getting married in the church" does not mean much if the couple who so marries are not committed to being church precisely in and through their marriage (2).

The same holds true with regard to ordination. For example, if ordination is received by the ordinand as the conferral of personal honor instead of as a response to a divine call flowing from his baptism by which he is commissioned and strengthened for service appropriate to order into which he is ordained, then being ordained does not mean much. Lest we forget, episcopacy and priesthood, like marriage, are fundamentally diaconal insofar as these orders, too, are conferred so that one who enters them can minister, that is, serve others by performing specific kinds of service.

Due in large part to lingering suspicions about the inherent goodness of human sexuality and perhaps also to the pervasive view, which is held by many in the church, of not understanding marriage as an irrevocable bond, there is a discernible sense that marriage as a sacrament does not quite measure up (Cummings, “Images” 4). Cummings notes "a certain reluctance" on the part of many Christians to understand and experience their sexuality as a divinely-given good, let alone as "a mediating encounter with God" (4). Indeed, to investigate all the factors that contribute to this discernible state-of-affairs would itself require a separate and in-depth probe (4).

To top-off the theological portion of this section, I turn to Karl Rahner, who simply re-proposed an authentically Christian understanding of matrimony as the way to overcome the unhealthy and largely un-Christian duality inherent in the view of human sexuality that is either assumed or explicitly endorsed by those who insist that married permanent deacons in the Roman Catholic Church actually are, or should be, obligated to live continently upon their ordination. In his pre-conciliar essay "The Theology of the Restoration of the Diaconate," which he foresaw, as did most who promoted the restoration of the diaconate as a permanent order prior to Vatican II, as being made up in large part of married men, most of whom would work secular occupations:

in a true theology of marriage, marriage must really and truly not be regarded as a mere concession to human weakness (a conception attempted over and over again by an almost manichaean intellectual undercurrent in the Church), but must be seen to have an absolutely positive and essential function, not only in the private Christian life of certain individuals, but also in the Church. Marriage, understood as a sacramentally consecrated union, is both in and for the Church the concrete and real representation and living example of the mystery of Christ's union with the Church (163)


  1. Came across this issue recently:

    Thoughts as a married deacon?

  2. John:

    What I have posted certainly deals with an important aspect of this question, namely one of the fundamental theological issues. In the work I am finishing I also deal directly with the canonical issues raised by Dr. Peters' his work, in which he has certainly identified a matter that requires some attention from theologians, canonists, and ultimately the members in the upper hierarchy. Once my work is completed and approved, I may share more along these lines here on my blog.

    While I believe discussions about this issue and others like it that tend generate controversy are important, I am not sure that a blog is the appropriate venue to raise them. I am not a fan stoking controversy just for the sake of giving people something to argue about.

    Such matters deserve serious treatment and not just by experts, but also by many who have a stake in these things and who are in a position to contribute to the dialogue, but in an appropriate forum that fosters civility.

    Dcn Scott

  3. I would suggest also, that another reason marriage as a sacrament "does not quite measure up" in the minds of many is because it is repeatable in contrast to the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and orders.

    It would seem that so many Catholics do not appreciate how the call to orders and to marriage comes from our conformity with Christ in baptism.

    There is I fear a movement among some of suppressing the full expression of the marriage vocation for the permanent deacon and his wife. An appeal to canon law and to segments of history seem to be fueling this. It would seem to be a real misunderstanding of the sacrament of marriage.

  4. John:

    I deal with the very legitimate question raised by Dr. Peters directly in my treatment of the relationship between the sacraments of matrimony and holy orders in the lives of married permanent deacons. Nonetheless, what I have posted deals with something more important than canon law, namely sacramentality. Besides, I don't feel free at present to divulge too much of what I am working on until after it is approved, published, and I have been granted my degree. Also, I am not sure that a blog is the best forum to broach important matters.


    I agree. In fact, I addressed this very issue in my last homily: "You are only baptized once. You are only confirmed once. If you are married, ideally, you are only married once. Those of us who are ordained are only ordained to an order of ministry once. Rarely do we receive the sacrament of anointing of the sick, though this is a sacrament, like penance, we should make more use of because it is not only something to receive if you are in danger of death, but something to be received periodically if you suffer from a chronic disease, or are facing surgery, or any serious situation with regard to your physical health. I mention all of this only to highlight the fact that the two sacraments we receive over and over again so that, by God’s grace, we become more like Christ, are penance and Eucharist."

  5. Let's not forget that for most the church's history diagamy (i.e., being married more than once) was very much frowned upon, even for Christians who were widowed. Despite being generally permitted, married clerics were not allowed to re-marry after being widowed. Clerics who did so were deposed.