Friday, 17 August 2012

von Balthasar on Marriage

The "Meditation of the Day" in Magnificat for today is an extract from Hans Urs von Balthasar's The Glory of the Lord Vol. 1. The extract makes more sense if, before reading it, you look at Matthew 19:3-12, which is the Gospel reading at Mass today. An intuitive sense of what von Balthasar intends by the word "form" in this passage will do for understanding the passage; but a grasp of the complex and particular philosophical background to this term does make it a bit less obscure. The warning of the last paragraph has, in the present political context, a relevance that perhaps could only have been guessed at the time of the original writing.
What could be stronger than marriage, or what shapes any particular life-form more profoundly than does marriage? And marriage is only true to itself if it is a kind of bracket that both transcends and contains all an individual's cravings to "break out" of its bonds and assert himself. Marriage is that indissoluble reality which confronts with an iron hand all existence's tendencies to disintegrate, and it compels the faltering person to grow, beyond himself, into real love by modelling his life on the form enjoined.

When they make their promises, the spouses are not relying on themselves - the shifting songs of their own freedom - but rather on the form that chooses them because they have chosen it, the form to which they have committed themselves in their act as persons. As persons, the spouses entrust themselves not only to the beloved "thou" and to the biological laws of fertility and family; they entrust themselves foremost to a form with which they can wholly identify themselves even in the deepest aspects of their personality because this form extends through all the levels of life - from its biological roots up to the very heights of grace and of life in the Holy Spirit. And now, suddenly, all fruitfulness, all freedom, is discovered within the form itself, and the life of a married person can henceforth be understood only in terms of this interior mystery ... which mystery is no longer accessible from the profane sphere of the general.

But what are we to say of the person who ignores this form and tramples it underfoot, then to enter into relationships answerable only to his own psychology's principle of "this far and no further?" He is but quick-sand, doomed to certain barrenness. The form of marriage, too, from which derives the beauty of human existence, is today more than ever entrusted to the care of Christians.

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