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Why faithfully practicing Christianity is like a ‘marriage’ to God

Peter Kwasniewski Peter Kwasniewski Follow Dr. Peter

July 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – Matrimony, as an unbreakable covenant or sacrament, has the character of resolution (re-solutio, putting back together: “what God has joined together, let no man put asunder”), indissolubility, exclusivity, self-renunciation. Of the trust, confidence, and loyalty demanded of spouses towards each other, no more need be said than the heart of any faithful spouse will supply. Marriage, the earthly union of lover and beloved, presupposes and demands the constant exercise of faith. Love can never thrive without a surrender of self in a spirit of trust. 

Faith in God follows a similar logic. That is why the Old Testament calls Israel the bride and God the bridegroom, while the New Testament calls the Church the bride and Christ the bridegroom. In religious faith, the will holds the intellect captive—“I believe in one God, the Almighty Father”—even as the promise “I do” holds the self captive to one’s spouse, regardless of difficulty or struggle. “For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer”: these words are noble and profound. On their wedding day, the future husband and wife ought to say them with fear and trembling, as they amount to a creed and a baptism immersing the soul in waters deeper and greater than itself. 

Religion can be called a marriage to God. We make manifest in our words and deeds that we desire to love Him. He courts us with His grace, proposes to be united to our souls, and invites us to the wedding feast. In the end, we must decide to love Him “for better or for worse. . .” in this vale of tears, till death brings us face to face with the Bridegroom whose love and real presence we believed in throughout our lives, though we saw Him not.

As Fr. Thomas Dubay writes:

It is obvious that our will has a great deal to do with our attainment of religious certitude. This does not mean that our convictions lack objective intellectual bases but that the nature of the evidence allows for a free, unforced response. In a similar manner our interpersonal responses on a human level are free and unforced. I can have completely adequate evidence that someone loves me, and yet I remain free to reject the love or to refuse to admit that it exists. We do not reach certitude by a mere choice or an arbitrary decision. . . Religious commitment, therefore, is not a blind jump. Nor does the will operate in the dark. The intellectual evidence is there, but frightfully limited and prone to compromise as we are, we need actively willed commitment to truth, if we are to maintain intellectual integrity. Assent to evidence is a duty, and we need our will to assure that we shall act reasonably. (Faith and Certitude, 194–95)

The dogmas of our Christian religion may sometimes seem absurd to carnal reason, because mysteries always escape our finite minds, and we do not know how to approach the infinite God “who dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6:16). But mystery is not absurdity, and what is beyond reason is not unreasonable. Love, like religion, is a mystery—indeed love is the mystery of life—but love is not absurd. It is greater than we are, it encompasses us and transforms us. If man were the measure of all things, love would be absurd, because true love cannot be measured by man. But who that has tasted real and abiding love can think that man is the ultimate measure of all things? Love itself governs the life of the lover. 

The husband trusts his wife, and she for her part trusts her husband. They believe in each other’s words of love. There is no question of a “science” of love. There is a religion of love, a prayer of love, a sacrifice of love, “a peace that surpasseth all understanding” (Phil 4:7), but there cannot be intellectual comprehension. Love surpasses, one might even say overleaps, comprehension.

One may raise the following objection. In human love we see and hear the other person, but the situation is entirely different when it comes to religious faith, where we do not see, or in any way come into contact with, the object of our belief in its proper appearance. 

In reply, we may ask: What is it a man truly sees in his beloved? Does he see her belovedness? Does he even see the person? When contemplating a friend or spouse or child, we see a familiar animal shaped like a human being, we hear it using a conventional language in an attempt to express its hidden thoughts. That is what we encounter. The beloved, the love, the meaning of words and gestures, lies far beneath the surface of the shapes, colors, sounds, etc. We perceive only signs of realities (or, in scholastic terminology, accidents of substances); the realities themselves are forever beyond touch, sight, smell, taste, and hearing, accessible only to the spiritual part of man, his immortal soul, his divinely-crafted mind. 

Human love is beyond the realm of a simple problem that the intellect could set itself to “solve” like an equation in physics. Nothing but faith, loyalty, purity, devotion can get at the heart of reality, the heart of love, the meaning of love, the boundaries of the person created unto God’s image and likeness. He knows little of love who thinks it to be nothing other than its signs and tokens.

Not until we reflect on the nature of friendship do we realize how crucial blind loyalty is in the formation and preservation of friendships. I do not mean “blind” in the sense of refusing to see—such blindness is never a good thing—but blind as being unable to see. It is the difference between people who are afraid to look at the screen during a horror film, and people blind from birth. As intellectual creatures we stare reality in the face; but the greater part of reality, in fact the best and greatest of it, will always escape our mortal gaze, however acute and probing. Spirit, soul, and God, other persons and their thoughts, not to mention first principles of knowledge and the certitude of our senses, can never be directly sensed or experienced as particulars at all. The most important things are the least visible and tangible.

Faith is knowledge in promise, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things that appear not” (Heb 11:1), just as the faith plighted by a bride and bridegroom is in promise of a lifetime of knowledge. When Adam knew Eve in a communion of flesh (Gen 4:1), he physically knew a part of her, the body, but symbolically he knew the whole of her, her future life and inner destiny. Marriage is the promise to share one’s entire life and destiny with another, to make one life and destiny out of two. 

Faith in God follows a similar pattern. The believer plights his faith in God, promising firm fidelity to commands which he is nonetheless free to break, just as the husband or wife may violate the nuptial bed by committing adultery. The believer makes the life of Christ his own, as the wife makes the husband’s life her own; Christ lays down His life to save those who believe in Him, as the husband sacrifices his life for his wife (cf. Eph 5:21–32).

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Peter Kwasniewski

Peter Kwasniewski holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Thomas Aquinas College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. After teaching at the International Theological Institute in Austria and for the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s Austrian Program, he joined the founding team of Wyoming Catholic College in Lander, Wyoming, where he taught theology, philosophy, music, and art history, and directed the choir and schola. He is now a full-time author, speaker, editor, publisher, and composer.

Dr. Kwasniewski has published seven books, including Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014); Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis (Angelico, 2014); Noble Beauty, Transcendent Holiness (Angelico, 2017); A Reader in Catholic Social Teaching (Cluny, 2017); and Tradition and Sanity (Angelico, 2018). Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis has been published in Czech, Polish, German, and Portuguese, and will soon appear in Spanish and Belarusian.

Kwasniewski is a scholar of The Aquinas Institute in Green Bay, which is publishing the Opera Omnia of the Angelic Doctor, a Fellow of the Albertus Magnus Center for Scholastic Studies, and a Senior Fellow of the St. Paul Center. He has published over 750 articles on Thomistic thought, sacramental and liturgical theology, the history and aesthetics of music, and the social doctrine of the Church. 

For news, information, article links, sacred music, and the home of Os Justi Press, please visit his personal website, www.peterkwasniewski.com.