Archive for the ‘Marriage Covenant’ Category

Natural Family Planning and the Covenant Theology

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Your Right to Know: Covenant Theology

The most basic framework of God’s relationship with man is the covenant. The first was God’s covenant with Noah and every living creature—“never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth” (Gen 9:11). The second covenant was with Abram (Gen 15:18) and then renewed when his name was changed to Abraham (Gen 17:9-14). The third covenant was with Moses and was sealed with the blood of the oxen that had been sacrificed as Moses said, “Behold the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words,” and the people committed themselves to living by the Covenant (Ex 24:8). The final covenant of the Old Covenant was made with David, the promise of God that a son of David would establish an everlasting kingdom (2 Sam 7:12-13). Finally, the work of the Old Covenant was completed and the Lord Jesus, the Son of David, established the New Covenant as He gave himself up for us. “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20).

A covenant is a promise that cannot be broken and it covers everything. A contract stipulates only certain things on which the parties agree and generally will also state the conditions under which the parties agree to void the contract. In the first two covenants, God makes unilateral promises. In the covenant with David, he also promises to punish those descendant kings who violate the covenant, and the sorry record of the king-sons of David is so bad that only two or three of them receive favorable comment by the authors of the Old Testament books. But the promise held.

Marriage is also a covenant. When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce, he surprised his questioners. The Jews of that time took it for granted that a man could divorce his wife and remarry. The dispute among them was whether a man needed a serious reason (e.g., adultery), or “for any cause” (e.g., being a lousy cook) as the question was phrased in Matthew 19:3. Jesus asked them what they had from Moses, and they replied, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to put her away.” (This proof of divorce at least protected a woman from being treated like a yo-yo.) But Jesus replied, “For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:2-9).

In brief, the men of his time wanted to treat marriage as a contract, but Jesus went back to the very order of creation and taught that marriage is a covenant, something that covers everything and lasts until death separates the spouses.

The rainbow was the sign of the covenant with Noah. Beginning with the covenant with Abraham, the sign of the Old Covenant was circumcision of the men. Beginning with Jesus, the sign of the New Covenant is his own Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Each Mass provides us with the opportunity to renew this covenant with the Lord. As St Paul wrote; “…The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:23-26).

In marriage, the sign of the covenant is the marriage act, the sexual union of male husband and female wife. This is a God-given act that by its very nature is oriented toward the co-creation of children and the bonding of the spouses. The marriage act is intended by God to be a renewal of the marriage covenant.

But the renewal of the covenant is not automatic. St. Paul warns us that we can sin by defrauding the New Covenant. “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself” (1 Cor 11: 27-29). This is why the Church teaches that if you are conscious of having committed a mortal sin, you need to repent and receive the sacrament of Penance before receiving Holy Communion.

What makes the marriage act morally different from the same physical act between two people who are not married? It’s the same anatomical act, but there is a world of difference. Sacred Scripture and Tradition describe as seriously immoral all those sexual acts that do not occur within marriage. In other words, in God’s plan, sexual intercourse is intended to be exclusively a marriage act, and within marriage those acts ought to be at least implicitly an authentic renewal of the marriage covenant, that is, at least not contradicting it in any way.

It sometimes helps to remember just what a man and woman do when they “commit marriage.” They promise to love each other, and that entails caring love, not just romantic love. They promise to be faithful to each other. They vow to love and be faithful for better and for worse, knowing full well that there will be difficult times as well as the best of times. And they vow to keep this commitment until death do they part.

Wow! How can those who recognize their own weaknesses and sins write such a blank check to the other person before God? Millions do so every year because they believe that this is God’s plan for love and sexuality and that He will provide all the graces they need to persevere through whatever marital difficulties they will encounter.

The marriage act can also be defrauded, and in more ways than one. There is such a thing as marital rape, and that is certainly not a renewal of the marriage covenant. If you keep in mind that the marriage act ought to be a renewal of the commitment, the caring love, and the for-better-and-for worse of the marriage covenant, then it is not difficult to see that contraception is not a renewal of the marriage covenant. Marital contraception says, “I take you for better but positively not for the imagined worse of possible pregnancy.” It contradicts the “for better and for worse” of the marriage covenant. It pretends to be what it isn’t. It is dishonest and therefore immoral.

The concept is simple: Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant. What I have tried to do in this article is to place that concept in the context of the Commandments, the biblical covenant, and marriage itself.

For more on the analogy between the Eucharistic and marital communions, see .

John F. Kippley

8. Natural Family Planning and Sex and the Marriage Covenant

Saturday, July 25th, 2020

The covenant theology of the marriage act is simple.  Any two people who are mentally and spiritually capable of committing themselves to marriage are also capable of understanding the covenant theology of sexuality and marriage. In fact, if a couple either cannot or will not understand or admit the elements or beliefs involved in this concept of marriage and sex, it is questionable whether their proposed union should be called a Christian marriage. What are these elements or beliefs?

1) God the Creator has created us, loves us and knows what is good for us.

2) God has created the human relationship of marriage and has told us that marriage lasts for a lifetime. In short, God’s creative love has determined the basic rules of marriage.

3) Christian marriage is a covenant, and that is much more than a contract. The whole purpose of human contracts is to spell out very definite limits to what is covered, and they can be changed by mutual consent. However, a covenant entails unlimited liability and promise. This has been traditionally stated in the marriage vows as “in sickness and in health, for richer and for poorer, and for better and for worse.”

4) When you marry, you make no pledges about having romantic feelings toward your spouse, either always or occasionally. Rather, you are promising to exercise self-giving, caring love of the kind described by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13: “Love is patient and kind…”

5) Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be a sign of your marriage commitment, your pledge of self-giving, caring love for better and for worse. It symbolizes both the covenant relationship that God has created and your own personal entry into that covenant with each other and with God.

It needs to be said in connection with the fourth point that although one cannot pledge that he or she will always “feel” well disposed to the other spouse, each does have an obligation to invite and nourish such feelings as much as is reasonably possible. Indifference, not hate, is the common opposite of love within marriage, so each spouse is obliged not to be indifferent but to try to feel good about his or her spouse and to encourage such feelings in return by, for example, thoughtful anniversary and birthday gifts and by frequent compliments.

Each of the previous five points is basic for understanding Christian marriage and could be elaborated upon at length, but in their brevity everyone capable of entering marriage should easily grasp them.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant

7. Natural Family Planning and sex and the Marriage Covenant

Friday, July 24th, 2020

The covenant theology of human sexuality is nearly identical to the papal theology of the body when the latter is applied to the marriage act.  The Pope has given us at least two statements that are not formal parts of the overall theology of the body but which apply it to the marriage act.  The longer statement is in Familiaris Consortio, his 1981 Apostolic Exhortation on the Family.

In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to reciprocal “knowledge” which makes them “one flesh” does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become cooperators with God for giving life to a new person.  Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother.

He wrote a shorter statement in 1994, ten years after he finished the lectures that constitute the “theology of the body.”  In his Letter to Families from Pope John Paul II, he said this about the marriage act:  In the conjugal act, husband and wife are called to confirm in a responsible way the mutual gift of self which they have made to each other in the marriage covenant.

For comparison, here once again is the basic statement of the covenant theology of sexuality:  Sexual intercourse is intended by God to be at least implicitly a renewal of the marriage covenant.

In both statements, the key is that the marriage act really ought to be a true marriage act.  That is, it ought to confirm and renew the commitment, the fidelity, the love, the gift of self that they pledged in their marriage covenant. Both statements focus on what the spouses have done.  It is they who have entered into the lifelong covenant of marriage.

John F. Kippley
Sex and the Marriage Covenant