INTAMS Colloquium "More than Being Together: Sacred and Secular Symbols of Marriage" location:KU Leuven date:13-14 March 2009
The article describes and analyses a double speechlessness when it comes to the symbolic and religious significance of marriage, both on the side of contemporary mentality and of the Christian churches as can be seen in sociological and ecclesial/theological discourses respectively. Sociological research has adopted a
predominantly functionalist and pragmatic perspective to explain what meaning people give to marriage. The article highlights five main models that suggest marriage to be instrumental to achieving specific purposes (marriage
as utility-oriented option, marriage as a love match, marriage for the sake of children, marriage as a status transition, marriage as a multifunctional institution). The ecclesial and theological position, in turn, tends to posit a normative religious symbolism that risks suffocating the concrete reality of married life. Recent research as well as the experience of many pastors show, however, that couples who have decided to get married, whether they are believers or not, attach a significance
to marriage that goes beyond practical utility or social convenience but remains difficult to capture in both sociological and theological terms. The article suggests that in order to further profile this “symbolic meaning”
of marriage family researchers should not too quickly dismiss the reservoir of interpretations conserved in the religious traditions of Christianity. To provide such resources, the ecclesial and theological position on the other side ought to concentrate more on exposing why and how the love that two people have for one another includes an intrinsic reference to the saving mystery of God’s covenant or at least is receptive and open to a reference
of this kind (E. Schillebeeckx). Theologically and pastorally, this requires differentiating between two levels of experience and of corresponding conceptualizations which can be characterized as
contrast and participation.