- An Assessment of the Being and Operation of Mary's Marriage
ADRIANO OLIVA, O.P., President of the Leonine Commission whose charge it is to produce a critical edition of St. Thomas Aquinas's works, has recently stated that "sexual union is not part of the essence of marriage" and, therefore, "the exercise of the sexual act between divorced and [civilly] remarried spouses does not harm directly the pre-existent bond."1 Based on this claim, he has proposed that the Church could allow divorced and remarried couples to have habitual sexual intercourse and receive the sacraments. Further, he has gone so far as to claim that an active homosexual couple may be sanctified by grace, vivified by Christ's charity, and nourished by ecclesial communion, and that they may witness to the gospel of mercy.2 Oliva has drawn these conclusions after arguing against the conception of the ontological structure of marriage common in Catholic circles. Paradoxically, he has done so precisely by means of an interpretation of Aquinas's texts on the marriage of Joseph and Mary, an interpretation that we will argue here is erroneous.
The main controversial thesis is set forth by Oliva in two works: an article entitled "Essence et finalité du mariage selon Thomas d'Aquin, pour le soin pastoral renouvelé" published in [End Page 31] the Revue des sciences philosophiques et théologiques (2014); and a book entitled L'amicizia più grande: Un contributo teologico alle questioni sui divorziari risposati e sulle coppie omosessuali, published by Nerbini Editions (2015).3 Oliva claims to understand the ontological structure of marriage in a way more faithful to Aquinas's thought than has hitherto been held and, further, to contribute with this revolutionary interpretation to the pastoral care of couples, especially homosexual couples and those divorced and civilly "remarried."
The central Thomistic text from the Summa theologiae which Oliva uses to propose his new understanding of marriage deals precisely with the marriage of Mary and Joseph. The sacramental and pastoral proposals which he bases upon this understanding have provoked debate and responses. For example, already five Dominicans have criticized this aspect of Oliva's work in an article published in First Things4 and republished in Angelicum.5 We will not examine these issues in detail in this article. Rather, we will concentrate our efforts on two connected problems: the nature of marriage and the fulfillment of all essential conditions for the existence of marriage in the union between the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. This article will, first, explain Aquinas's position on these matters, and second, expand upon that position in order better to explain the biblical facts and theological realities. [End Page 32]
I. Aquinas's Central Text on the Issues under Examination
Aquinas's teachings on marriage are found in many passages. We will focus, however, mostly on one passage drawn from the Tertia pars. In question 29, article 2, Aquinas asks whether there was a real marriage between Mary and Joseph. In the sed contra Aquinas points out:
Augustine says (De Consensu Evang. ii): "It cannot be allowed that the evangelist thought that Joseph ought to sever his union with Mary" (since he said that Joseph was Mary's husband) "on the ground that in giving birth to Christ, she had not conceived of him, but remained a virgin. For by this example the faithful are taught that if after marriage they remain continent by mutual consent, their union is still and is rightly called marriage, even without intercourse of the sexes."
Underlying this text, one finds a powerful objection to considering the union of Joseph and Mary as a "marriage." What kind of marriage, indeed, is one that excludes the act which is of its essence, if it be true that the institution has as its primary end procreation and the raising and education of children? Thus we have the first objection in this article:
It would seem that there was no true marriage between Mary and Joseph. For Jerome says against Helvidius that Joseph "was Mary's guardian rather than her husband." But if this was...