Meyendorff on Roman Catholic Marriage

A Facebook friend of mine posted a controversial passage from Fr. John Meyendorff’s Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective. Here is the quote, along with some prefatory sentences he omitted.

Many confusions and misunderstandings concerning marriage in our contemporary Orthodox practice would be easily eliminated if the original connection between marriage and the Eucharist were restored. Theoretically, Orthodox sacramental theology, even in its scholastic, textbook form, has preserved this connection in affirming, in opposition to Roman Catholicism, that the priest is the ‘minister’ of marriage. Western medieval theology, on the contrary, has created a series of confusions by adopting, as in so many other points Roman legalism as the basis of sacramental theology: marriage, being a ‘contract’, is concluded by the husband and wife themselves, who are therefore the ‘ministers’ of the sacrament, the priest being only a witness. As a legal contract, marriage is dissolved by the death of one of the partners, but it is indissoluble as long as both are alive. Actually, indissolubility i.e., a legal concept taken as an absolute is the main, if not the only, contribution of Christianity to the Roman Catholic concept of marriage. Broken by death, assimilated with a human agreement, marriage, in the prevailing Western view, is only an earthly affair, concerned with the body, unworthy of entering the Kingdom of God. One can even wonder whether marriage, so understood, can still be called a sacrament. But, by affirming that the priest is the minister of the marriage, as he is also the minister of the Eucharist, the Orthodox Church implicitly integrates marriage in the eternal Mystery, where the boundaries between heaven and earth are broken and where human decision and action acquire an eternal dimension.

In the 40 years since Meyendorff penned those lines there have been various attempts within Catholicism to “correct” the idea of marriage-as-contract and adopt an ostensibly more Eastern take on the supernatural end of marriage rather than droning-on exclusively about the begetting and rearing of children. Even so, Latin “contractual theology” regarding marriage remains the prevailing view. It is so prevalent in fact that we have reached a point where a pope can (allegedly) say that more than half of Catholic marriages are invalid on the basis of the partners’ inability to form the proper intention to make a sacramental pact. Had Latin Catholicism adopted the Eastern view, whereby the priest is the minister of the sacrament, it would be far more difficult — if not impossible — to claim that any more than a relative handful of Catholic marriages are in fact invalid. Although Roman Catholics still enjoy lobbing stones at the Orthodox for allowing marriages to be dissolved, arguably the Eastern view of the sacrament better protects its integrity than the dominant Latin one. (And before anyone flies into a huff, I in no way, shape, or form reject fixed Catholic doctrine on marriage.)

Of course, one ought to take some of Meyendorff’s remarks with a grain of salt. As my aforementioned Facebook friend observed — and any Orthodox Christian can confirm — , Orthodox marriage ceremonies take place outside of the context of the Divine Liturgy all of the time. Reception of the Eucharist is not an “essential element” of the rite. Moreover, mixed marriages never include the non-Orthodox spouse receiving Communion. And as Meyendorff himself states elsewhere in the book, Roman Catholic marriages are typically celebrated with the Mass, which seems to splash at least a bit of cold water on Meyendorff’s hyper-contractualist retelling of Latin sacramental theology regarding marriage. Still, one can rightly speculate about the general effect the Latin view has had on the popular Catholic understanding of marriage and whether or not it may have something to do with the anthropocentric — rather than Christocentric — approach many couples take to the wedding ceremony itself. Contemporary Catholic weddings, by and large, have a great deal to do with the couple and very little to do with God.



  1. Anthony
    November 9, 2015

    Meyendorff was the popularizer of “eternal marriage”, which presents two problems:

    1. It directly contradicts Matthew 22:23-30:

    The same day Sad’ducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question,

    [24] saying, “Teacher, Moses said, `If a man dies, having no children, his brother must marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’
    [25] Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother.
    [26] So too the second and third, down to the seventh.
    [27] After them all, the woman died.
    [28] In the resurrection, therefore, to which of the seven will she be wife? For they all had her.”
    But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.

    [30] For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.

    2. With the allowance of up to three marriages in Orthodoxy, who would a person be eternally married to? The first, second or third spouse? To condemn the Catholic Church for saying marriage is only dissolved at death, while some Orthodox like Meyendorff believe it can be dissolved through divorce while the spouses are still alive, then turn around and say marriage extends for eternity in heaven is plain nonsense.

    Have any of the Church fathers spoken about “eternal marriage”? I don’t believe I have seen anything that even hints at that from them. I don’t believe it is a teaching of Orthodoxy beyond Meyendorff and maybe some other modern Orthodox theologians. If it is, it is wrong for the two reasons I have cited.

    Finally, when we hopefully reach heaven we will be in adoration of the Beatific Vision and not be playing house with any of our spouses up there.

    1. Fr Yousuf Rassam
      November 10, 2015

      1 The proposal for a “Byzantine Rite” Nuptial Mass are weak. Firstly because of the theoretical symbolism is not always immediately apparent in practice. That now seems a mid 20th c. naivete. Experience has shown that theoretical reconstructions of practices, or introductions of novel practices quite often fail to convey the intended catechesis and meaning to the faithful upon whom they are foisted. Secondly, in the Byzantine rite the marriage service as we have it and the Divine Liturgy as we have it have never been combined. I am told by those who knew well the ever memorable Father J0hn Meyendorff that he admitted his proposal for combining the Liturgy and the marriage service had no liturgical precedent, (other than the general idea that at some point marriage was solemnized during the Divine Liturgy, well before the codification of the Rites as we have them). If one listens to the three prayers offered by the celebrant it is very clear that the priest is invoking the grace of God to effect the marriage. If one misses this, I am not sure that saying these prayers in the midst of another hour and half plus of Liturgy will help. Certainly the established Orthodox service books envision the Marriage service as being apart from Liturgy, and so the vast majority of Orthodox marriages are performed.

      2 The canonical tradition of the Orthodox Church does not allow three marriages. The fact that this is often asserted does not make it true. The canonical tradition allows for (limited) absolution and re-admission to Communion after re-marriage. For most if not all of the period of the Ecumenical Councils and their canonical promulgations, such re-marriages were not obtained from the Church. The historical process whereby the Church became responsible for all marriages thus caused the creation of such things as “the Second Marriage service”. But no canon allows second marriage. Rather, the canons limit the number of times when one may be absolved for doing something in principle impermissible.

      3 The canonical tradition referenced in point two applies just as much to the widowed as to the divorced. So it is both more lenient and more strict then contemporary Western canon law, depending on the situation.

      4a The general ambivalence of the early Church for second marriages even for those widowed is witnessed even in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 7: 8 – 9. It is seen in the West in Tertullian. As I recall, the leniency (shown by St Paul and the Church after him) to those widowed getting remarried was one of the issues that pushed him out of the Church catholic and into the Montanist religion. After that he saw an analogy between St Paul’s condescension to the widowed remarrying in 1 Cor 7: 9, and Moses allowing divorce. It was for the hardness of hearts, but now is no longer permissible. Where the coming of the Incarnate Messiah cancels the Mosaic allowance for divorce (Matt 19: 8), so for Tertullian the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Montanist prophets cancels St Paul’s allowance for second marriages. I have picked Tertullian because he is Latin and so zealous on the point, but while the extremes to which he took it were peculiar he is far from alone in ambivalence to those widowed remarrying.

      4b This ambivalence does indeed imply that marriage was thought in some way to transcend death. This point is very explicit in St John Chrysostom’s Letter to a Young Widow (St Olympia), which discourages remarriage and explicitly encourages continual fidelity to the deceased husband.

      Thus while Fr John Meyendorff’s expression “eternal marriage” may be novel, the concept that Christian Marriage can and should transcend death is not novel, and the fathers do speak of it. So, for that matter, does the marriage service, where the celebrant prays at the removal of the physical crowns with which the Sacrament was performed “Receive these crowns into Thy Kingdom”. Such a view fits very well with the analogy of marriage to the Kingdom in Eph. 5.

      Taking then Anthony’s two points in reverse, the Orthodox Church does not believe that the marriage bond is meant to be dissolved, even by death, and certainly not by divorce and remarriage. It is a simple fact that some people dissolve it anyway. In such cases there are limits, in the Orthodox Church, to absolution. This is somewhat unusual, most sins may be absolved as often as they are repented of. Even the Roman Church acknowledges the fact of dissolution of marriage and “allows divorce” mostly, one can divorce and cease keeping all the marriage vows save marital sexual fidelity. One can cease “loving, honoring, and cherishing” provided you don’t have sex with anyone else, and you may continue to be a communicant in the Roman Church with out any special hand wringing or special synods on the family. St Paul, the Orthodox Church, and the Roman Catholic Church allow those widowed to dissolve their first marriage by remarriage. Fr John Meyendorff’s teaching is thus no more “plain nonsense”, even if one disagrees with it, than any other time the Church zealously calls us to a lofty life in Christ yet patiently absolves us when we fail.

      To his point 1. In the Kingdom to come, they “neither marry, nor are given in marriage” (Matt 22). The commandment in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and multiply” will no longer be operative. I understand that St John Chrysostom had his doubts that that command even applied after the coming of Christ, but he was unusual in this regard. So in the Kingdom there are neither new marriages nor genital sexual activity and reproduction. That the Sadducees were asking about the hypothetical wife’s sexual activity after the resurrection is clear from the last part of verse 28 “for they all had her”, so then “to which one shall she be wife?” This does not at all mean that one’s relationships end, for the love in them does not need to end. This is more true of the relationships that are helpful to salvation, and very much more so for sacramental relations. One’s spiritual father is still one’s spiritual father, even though there is no confession in the Kingdom. Monks and Nuns are still monastics in the Kingdom, even though there is no more asceticism, and married folk remain married, even though they no longer have sex, reproduce, and raise children, (or indeed “play house” as Anthony chose to say). We enter salvation in our person and in our relationships, purified and enlightened, not destroyed.

      1. Gabriel Sanchez
        November 10, 2015

        Fr. Yousuf,

        Do you know where the order for combining a marriage service with the Divine Liturgy comes from? A couple i was acquainted with had such a service performed in a ROCOR parish. Given ROCOR’s liturgical conservatism, I would imagine they relied on some sort of extant order for combining the two rather than making it up as they went along. I would be interested to know more, if you have any details about this.

        As for your other remarks, I’ll step aside and let Anthony respond to them if he wishes. As always, thank you for sharing.

        1. Dale
          November 10, 2015

          Gabriel, often forgotten is that the Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Greek Catholics, because of their centuries of Greek Catholic heritage, continued to offer nuptial Mass at all weddings. I am not certain if they have continued this traditions, but they certainly did when I was younger. The present movement in their diocese seems to be towards increasing Hellenism.

        2. Fr Yousuf Rassam
          November 10, 2015

          Dear Gabriel,

          I would have no idea where such a rite came from, and am surprised to hear that it would take place in ROCOR. I was told in seminary that the OCA Synod in the 70’s refused to authorize forms for Baptismal Liturgies or Nuptial Liturgies, but went further to forbid the latter. However, a few years ago Met Jonah did a nuptial liturgy on a Sunday morning at the DC cathedral.

          In the Russian tradition the old rite “Old Believer” service and the current rite have more differences than usual. I know that the old rite crowning is specifically to be done immediately after Liturgy, and the couple are to be communed with Holy Gifts from the Liturgy but during the crowning service, right before drinking the common cup together. Unfortunately, I have not seen the full old rite marriage service. I do have, interestingly a “priestless” Old Believer version of their “reader’s marriage service”. With the priest’s parts removed, it is very short.

          One can certainly not find baptismal or nuptial liturgies in the customary Orthodox liturgical books.


      2. Anthony
        November 12, 2015

        I’ll respond quickly for now and just say eternal marriage is illogical when someone is permitted three marriages during their earthly life. Also Matthew 22:23-30 clearly states there is no marriage in heaven not just no sexual activity.

        Yes, the RCC allows remarriage for the widowed. That just proves my point that marriage ends at death and is not carried into eternity. If marriage were eternal the Orthodox and Catholic Churches would never permit second marriages whether the first marriage ended due to divorce or death.

        1. Dcn Anton
          November 12, 2015

          Why then did Pope Alexander III in Vir Autem forbid the nuptial blessing to be given to widows? And in Capellanum suspended all clergy who purported to do so? Based on this, St Bonaventure taught that second marriages were sacramentally incomplete, and St Thomas that second marriages were “less complete”.

          1. Anthony
            November 13, 2015

            Popes and saints wrote and taught many things that weren’t De Fide. Eternal marriage is one of those things.

  2. […] Yesterday’s brief post on Fr. John Meyendorff’s controversial remarks on Roman Catholic marriage prompted me to poke around a bit more in Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective. Here is what Meyendorff has to say on the contraception question. […]

  3. mattd4488
    November 10, 2015

    It may also be worth mentioning that Meyendorff points out that “consent” is an essential element of marriage in the Orthodox tradition. For example, he says that a marriage is not considered valid if a man forces a women to marry him. This seems to as least hint at a contractualist/legalist theory underlying the Orthodox doctrine of marriage.

    1. Dale
      November 10, 2015

      Very interesting point. One issue I have with so much of this is that it presents the Byzantine Orthodox perspective only as a negation of the Latin tradition.

    2. Gabriel Sanchez
      November 10, 2015

      That is a good point. I wonder if Meyendorff would have seen any other role for “consent” (even if not synonymous with “intention”) in Orthodox sacramental theology. For instance, could a man be ordained to the priesthood without giving consent? From my understanding, Latin sacramental theology would hold that even a man under protest could be ordained to the priesthood, though he couldn’t be forced to take vows.

  4. Br. Peter Totleben, O.P.
    November 10, 2015

    A typical pattern that you see in the works of Meyendorff (especially when he is critical of Western practices) is that he takes a term, a tag, or a catch-phrase that strikes him as odd, gives it his own meaning, and then criticizes it in terms of the meaning he has given it. So he can be a bit hard to engage.

    There are also some problems with Meyendorff’s historical work. He’s usually invested in a particular “side” in the historical events that he investigates. And he doesn’t really take the positions of other sides seriously. He usually is too trusting of his own party’s evaluations of its opponents, and he uncritically repeats them as if they were objective summaries of the state of affairs. And he never really consults what the opponents of his side have to say.

    So, reading Meyendorff can sometimes be like letting Rush Limbaugh explain democrats to you. . .

    That’s pretty much what is happening in this quote. Meyendorff treats “contract” and “indissolubility” as if his understanding of these two terms exhausts the understanding of marriage of the Latin Church. Then he concludes that there is nothing particularly Christian about any of it. But of course, a more integral reading of the Latin tradition (or even a slightly less superficial treatment of it) would show that this is nonsense on stilts.

    Really, what’s going on here is that the Latin Church makes a clearer distinction between natural and sacramental marriage. Natural marriage is elevated to the dignity of a sacrament. It’s just an observation of the evident fact that non-Christians fall in love, get married and have children. It’s “the one blessing not lost by the fall.” And it is good. You don’t need grace to make nature good.

    And, in fact, every sacrament presupposes some good natural action. Baptism presupposes washing with water; confirmation presupposes anointing with oil; the Eucharist presupposes offering a sacrifice and eating; penance presupposes the actions of confession, contrition, and satisfaction on the part of the penitent. Likewise, marriage as a sacrament presupposes the committed procreative love of the spouses–i.e. natural marriage. It is this which gets elevated and changed into a sign and instrument of grace. (And the sign has a composite signification with reference to the past, present and future, so the marriage has an inherently eschatological dimension).

    If marriage is an institution of nature, then it is reasonable to suppose that it began with the consent of the two spouses. This is the basis behind the Latin view that consent makes the marriage. But this is without prejudice to either the intercession of the Church or God’s causality.

    In the Latin Church, the priest is not simply a witness to the contractual exchange of consent, and this is evident from the liturgy of Marriage. In the traditional rite, the priest even says, “I join you in matrimony, in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Then, the ritual instructs him, “If the nuptial blessing is to take place [ie. if both parties are Catholic], the Pastor celebrates the Mass pro Sponso et Sponsa.” This is because the nuptial blessing (uniquely) is given between the anaphora and communion (where the bride and groom share in the Eucharist). What is really puzzling is that Meyendorff is criticizing Catholics for separating the meaning of marriage from the meaning Eucharist, while the Orthodox have maintained it, when it is the Catholics who have so carefully maintained the connection between the celebration of marriage and the celebration of the Eucharist. It is a bit odd to explain to an Orthodox theologian that the liturgy is supposed to be an important source for theology, but there you go.

    (Actually, this whole dispute over who is the minister of marriage is overblown. In the Byzantine period, the Orthodox Church was responsible for the administration of civil marriage, and they witnessed the consent of the couple as a matter of course, and then blessed them. The Catholic Church would at times admit the validity, but not the liceity of clandestine marriage. However, marriage before a priest was the norm. And for centuries now, the liturgical rite of marriage has been required even for a valid marriage)

    Nor does the doctrine that consent makes the marriage neglect God’s causality. Meyendorff highlights how the couples are the ministers of the sacrament of marriage. What Meyendorff doesn’t tell you is that the minister of the sacrament is always an instrumental cause. In the administration of the sacraments; there is a synergy between God and the human minister, with the human minister subordinated to God’s causal action. No one ever supposed that two baptized people simply ratify a contract, and that is all that marriage is. It is also a bit odd that one has to remind an Orthodox theologian about the doctrine of God’s synergy with human actions, but again, there you go.)

    Seen from this light, the Latin Church is not assimilating marriage to a human contract, but is saying that God enters into a synergy with the couple, deifying their human love to make it a sign and instrument of — or, if you like, an eschatological participation in — his heavenly kingdom. It is simply absurd to assert that the Latin church makes of marriage “only an earthly reality.”

    But that doesn’t mean that marriage carries over into heaven. On a natural level, marriage is for the procreation and upbringing of children. This type of family organization will not obtain in heaven. On a sacramental level, marriage is an eschatological sign and instrument of God’s covenant love for his people, as this is shown in Christ’s love for his Church. Sacraments are for this world. Precisely by calling them sacraments (or mysteries in St. Paul’s sense) and by giving them an eschatological dimension, you are conceding that they are for this world. (You don’t need a sacrament of the kingdom once the reality of the kingdom is consummated.)

    Think about the Eucharist. We will not celebrate the Eucharist in heaven, because we will not need a sacramental liturgy in heaven. In heaven, sacramental worship gives way to a worship of a more un-mediated sort. Priests remain priests in heaven, of course (they are still marked by their character), but they do not exercise their sacramental functions. The hierarchy of sacramental ministers gives way to the hierarchy of charity which is the flourishing of the baptismal priesthood. (Monks remain monks because consecrated life is a more intense participation). Marriage, however, is a type of relationship that is radically characterized by its procreative dimension–that’s why marriage itself, even in its sacramental form passes away at death.

    This is really crass, supine, or affected ignorance on the part of Meyendorff. Instead of paying attention to the discipline, liturgy, theology, or magisterial teaching of the Latin Church, he gives a misleading account of its doctrine so that he can engage in an act of petty point-scoring. How does that help anyone?

    But I wonder if all of this doesn’t highlight another problem. A lot of the Orthodox thinking on marriage in the 20th century makes it seem like the procreative dimension of marriage is somehow not constitutive of marriage, especially when this is seen as a sacrament. The fundamentally procreative nature of marriage is at the heart of Latin thinking about the sacrament. This is true whether it is a discussion of the “ends of marriage” the “goods of marriage” or the “unitive and procreative dimensions of marriage.” The Catholic Church has been pretty consistent in arguing that these cannot be separated.

    The Church’s position is often misunderstood. People often think of the unitive and procreative ends of marriage as two really distinct things, and then wonder which is primary. (It’s like the old SNL commercial parody: “It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping.”) But that’s not really the right way to think about it. What a thing is is specified by its end, and so a thing can’t have two ends. Actually the procreative and unitive “ends” of marriage aren’t really distinct. Marriage isn’t a friends-with-exclusive-benefits sort of arrangement. Natural marriage has only one end: a procreative end. It’s not just any sort of union, and the sexual act is not accidental to the sort of union that it is. A husband and a wife literally fit their bodies together so that they become one agent, one cause in the creation of a new life.

    And it is important to get fleshy like that when talking about marriage, because that is what makes marriage different from any other kind of union or friendship. When you read modern Orthodox writing about the sacrament of marriage, it seems to sacramentalize the unitive aspects of marriage, while factoring out the procreative nature of that union. But the reason why marriage is a sacrament and other kinds of friendship aren’t is precisely because of the special kind of friendship (i.e. a procreative one) that marriage is.

    And, of course, if marriage is fundamentally about turning procreative union into a sacrament of the kingdom, then marriage does not continue into heaven. In Matthew 22, Jesus did not say that the woman would not have sex with any of her seven husbands in heaven. He said that none of the seven would be her husband–even though she had sex with all of them on earth.

    Nor is it an argument against this position that we will continue to love our families in heaven. Of course we will. But from this it does not follow that we are still married.

    Like so much of what is found in 20th Century Orthodox writers, I’m not sure how well-grounded it actually is in the texts of the Greek Fathers. At any rate, when reading the Fathers, we need to recall that they were living in a culture that took the procreative nature of marriage for granted, and a culture that had a strong pagan background where the unitive implications of marriage needed to be emphasized.

    Actually, I think that a lot of modern Orthodox writers are explicitly trying to appeal to the post-Cartesian sensibilities of their readers. And, as is unfortunately so often the case with 20th century Orthodox writers, “ancient faith” and “light from the East” really just means thinly-veiled modernism.

    It is actually this modern, “de-fleshified” concept of marriage that is behind many of the deviations from traditional Christian morality that some Orthodox writers are trying to promote. Once marriage is no longer fundamentally procreative, there is no reason why you can’t use contraception. Once marriage is no longer essentially characterized by the meaning of the sexual act (the way that the husband and wife become the one cause of their child and are responsible for raising it), there’s no reason the husband and wife can’t move on.

    1. brpetertotleben
      November 10, 2015

      TL;DR : It’s not that Catholics make marriage only an earthly affair, it’s that Orthodox make it only a heavenly one.

      1. Fr Yousuf Rassam
        November 10, 2015

        Brother Peter,

        Did you mean any of this as a response to myself responding to Anthony or are you only responding to Fr John M.?

        Fr Yousuf

        1. Gabriel Sanchez
          November 10, 2015

          I think he’s responding to the late Fr. John.

    2. Gabriel Sanchez
      November 10, 2015

      Thank you for this. I guess poking you on Twitter has awakened you from your combox slumber, eh? Either that or I finally posted about something you can sink your teeth into. Either way, these thoughts are wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    3. Dale
      November 10, 2015

      Thank you for this excellent summary. And I agree that Meyendorff often builds a Latin Straw-man to easily destroy, but this has became the modus operandi of many Orthodox theologians when dealing with the Latin or Western tradition; or even their own.

      What is often unknown, by most Protestants and Roman Catholics, is that not only do some Orthodox reject western baptisms, but because they consider all non-Byzantine Orthodox Sacraments as graceless some also regard that all non-Orthodox are in a marriage situation that is analogous to fornication; and after conversion and Baptism, a converting couple are also married. Of course not all Orthodox accept this position because the Orthodox cannot agree amongst themselves what is or what is not a “real” Sacrament.

      I did try to have conversation with one Russian Orthodox priest who insisted on re-baptism of all converts, but was not also repeating the marriage ceremony, and his reasoning was very much along the lines of what Meyendorff’s regarding supposed Latin concept of marriage as an oath and not a Sacrament. Sometimes the response is that baptism and anointing rectifies all the other Sacraments. It is all rather up-in-the-air actually.

  5. Felix R
    November 10, 2015

    Whatever the provenance of the idea of marriage in heaven may be, it has never been taught in the West. Besides, whatever the patristic evidence from Eastern sources, I would need to see a pretty clear explanation why they did not take Our Lord at his word (Matt. 22:23-30).

    I would also like to know what the proponents of “eternal marriage”, or something like it, would say in response to the following paragraph by Fr Edmund Waldstein about the reasons for the superiority of celibacy over marriage (something about which there is a clear patristic consensus). Please forgive the length of the quote:

    “The Catholic attitude toward ‘temporal’ affairs is rooted in a view of nature as a temporary order of being, due to be perfected and in a sense replaced by a better, permanent order, a super-nature to be established by grace. On the Catholic view the created natures of things are good. By sin they are wounded, but not destroyed. Christ comes to heal and re-establish nature. But not only to re-establish it the way it was before the Fall; Christ elevates nature, granting a better kind of being, a supernatural being. And in fact nature was always intended as a sign and preparation for the supernatural. So, for example, marriage is a communion of persons that flows from nature and is good. But in the second coming of Christ marriage is shown to have been only a temporary reality a sign of the wedding of Christ and His bride the Church. Everything that was good in marriage will be present in a more eminent mode in the union of Christ and His bride, but natural marriage itself will be no more (cf. Mt 22:30). Nature is thus a shadow and image of the reality that is to come through grace. The natures of things are not destroyed by grace, but they are so transformed that much that belonged to them before is transcended and replaced by that of which it was the image. In the present time, though, both realities are present at once; the new reality of grace is present as a seed alongside the old reality of nature. Thus the Wedding of the Lamb is present as a seed in the Church’s union with Christ in the Sacraments, but this union now exists alongside natural marriage. And natural marriage is now elevated by grace to be a sacrament—an effective sign of the perfect union that is to come. But higher than sacramental marriage is consecrated virginity, because virginity is not merely a sign of the coming reality, but an anticipation of that reality—the consecrated virgin already lives the form of life that the blessed will have in Heaven (although she still lacks the perfect union of the beatific vision).”

  6. Felix R
    November 10, 2015

    P.S. I would also like to see evidence presented by the likes of Fr Meyendorff which could in any way indicate the West has ever held to the Eastern concept of marriage as a sacrament administered by a priest rather than by the spouses. This is the ancient and apostolic teaching of our holy Church, born of St Peter himself, Prince of the Apostles.

    Furthermore, as the Roman Church’s generous and tolerant attitude towards those venerable Eastern Churches in communion with her shows, Rome is generous to recognise the legitimacy of other traditions in this matter. Can the East not exercise the same forbearance and true oikonomia?

    1. Gabriel Sanchez
      November 10, 2015

      I don’t think Fr. Meyendorff was making that point.

      1. Felix R
        November 11, 2015

        Surely he was, at least implicitly. If the Western view of the sacrament as administered by the spouses is illegitimate, as he suggests, then surely the Roman Church would once have held this ostensibly orthodox understanding of marriage?

        Incidentally, I am genuinely interested to know how supporters of Fr. Meyendorff’s position would defend the Church’s traditional teaching that celibacy is superior to marriage? Is not the reasoning behind that teaching incompatible with the idea that there is marriage in heaven?

        P.S. I do apologise for the somewhat aggressive tone of my above comments. I re-read them this morning saw that they might come over a little brittle.

  7. Dcn Anton
    November 10, 2015

    I see comments above about contradiction and not taking the Saviour at his word. I thought Mt 22:23-30 was about marriage between resurrected people. Am I mistaken – does it apply to the dead before resurrection, or to living widows or widowers? Thanks.

  8. […] All thinkers have faults of course, and Meyendroff was no different. Fr. Peter Totleben, whose contributions to this blog are always welcome, had this to say in the combox to “Meyendorff on Roman Catholic Marriage“: […]

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