Friday, July 26, 2013

Pope Innocent III on the Four Kinds of Marriage (for the Feast of SS. Joachim and Anne)

Juan de Flandes, The Marriage Feast at Cana (1500)
In honor of the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne—a day that beckons us to meditate on the holiness of marriage between man and woman as God the Creator instituted it and as Christ our Redeemer healed and elevated it—I publish for the delight of readers what I believe is the first English translation of the marvelous introduction to Pope Innocent III’s Liber de quadripartita specie nuptiarum or Book of the Four Kinds of Marriage.

I find it particularly beautiful to consider that the marriage of Joachim and Anne, animated by their powerful love for each other, was the created source from which Divine Providence deigned to draw forth the Holy Mother of God, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” even as He drew forth the Holy One of Israel from her virginal womb by the power of an even greater Love, the Holy Spirit.

Pope Innocent here beautifully demonstrates the rich and subtle analogical thinking that was part and parcel of the traditional (patristic and medieval) way of approaching not only Scripture but also the prayers and gestures of the liturgy. It is a kind of thinking and a way of approach we must recover in order to deepen our grasp of the many interlocking layers of meaning to be found in the sacred pages of the Bible and the authoritative pages of the Missal.

I also noted with some interest, as a Benedictine oblate, that on the traditional Benedictine calendar (the one observed prior to the Council and, in our own day, by monasteries celebrating the usus antiquior) today we celebrate the Feast of Saints Joachim and Anne, while in the Roman calendar these feasts were separate until the calendar of the Ordinary Form combined them on this day. But to explore the history further would require a separate article.



Pope Innocent III
By the teaching of Sacred Scripture, we learn that there are four kinds of marriage, according to the four kinds of theological understanding: historical, allegorical, tropological, and anagogical. The first is between man and his lawful [legitimam] woman. The second is between Christ and holy Church. The third is between God and the just soul. The fourth is between the Word and human nature.

The Bride and Bridegroom of the Song
Of the first kind of marriage, the first man [Protoplastus] wakefully prophesied: “On account of this, a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Of the second kind of marriage the angel speaks to John in the Apocalypse: “Come, and I will show you the bride, the spouse of the Lamb” (21:9). Of the third kind of marriage the Lord speaks through the prophet Hosea: “I will espouse you to me in justice and in judgment, in mercy and in lovingkindness” (2:19). Of the fourth kind of marriage the bride speaks in the Song: “Go forth, daughters of Sion, and see king Solomon in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his betrothal” (3:11), as if to say: O daughters of Sion, i.e., impermanent and carnal Jews, go forth out of the darkness of infidelity and of ignorance, and see not with the bodily eye but with the eye of the heart, i.e., believe, king Solomon, i.e., Christ the true peace-maker, who makes one out of two (Eph. 2:14), in the diadem, wherewith his mother crowned him, i.e., in that singular grace by which the Virgin Mary conceived him without fleshly curiosity, without fervor of lust, without stain of sin, holy, clean, and unblemished, according to what the angel said to the Virgin: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon you and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you: on which account the offspring born of you shall be holy, and shall be called the Son of God” (Lk. 1:35); in the day of his betrothal, i.e., of his Incarnation, when “the Word became flesh” (Jn. 1:14), and betrothed [to himself] human nature.

In these four kinds of marriage we discover, with admiration and veneration alike, something most dignified. Through the first, it is brought about that two be in one flesh; through the second, it is brought about that two be in one body; through the third, it is brought about that two be in one spirit; through the fourth, it is brought about that two be in one person. 

For concerning the first, authority testifies: “They shall be two in one flesh” (Gen. 2:24), because of which union the Truth concluded: “Accordingly, they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mk. 10:8). Concerning the second, the Apostle says: “All members of the body, though they be many, are one body” (1 Cor. 12:12); “even so are we one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5), because of which union the same Apostle adds: “for all of us were baptized into one body” (1 Cor. 6:17). Concerning the third, the same Apostle says: “He who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit” (1 Cor. 12:13), and he is one spirit with him, because of which union the Apostle John says: “he who abides in charity, abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 4:6). Concerning the fourth, the Catholic faith confesses that “as rational soul and flesh are one man, so God and man are one Christ” (Athanasian Creed); because of which ineffable union the Evangelist testifies: “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn. 1:14).

Therefore the first union is properly fleshly; the second, sacramental; the third, spiritual; and the fourth, personal. Fleshly, as we have said, between a man and his lawful wife; sacramental between Christ and holy Church; spiritual between God and the just soul; personal between the Word and human nature.

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