Radical Monogamy

Father Thomas Hopko, Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, has a fresh podcast with as clear, powerful, and convicting account as I can ever recall hearing on the Christian view of marriage. My outline, in tabular form, follows:

0:00 God’s fidelity toward Israel, the Church and humanity generally is likened to a human marriage.
3:30 “Marriage” other than as between a man and a woman is nonsensical.
4:15 Marriage between a man and a woman must be completely and totally faithful forever. There’s no bigamy, polygamy or extramarital relations allowed.
4:50 This is like God’s fidelity to mankind. One of the titles of Jesus is Bridegroom and the Church is His bride.
8:00 The Bride and Groom imagery for God’s relationship to humanity runs through the who Old Testament, most pervasively in Hosea, but also in Isaiah 54. Often the Bride is faithless; the Bridegroom never.
12:00 Jeremiah 31:31-34
13:20 Ezekiel 16
15:50 Hosea is all about God’s faithfulness and his Bride’s unfaithfulness.
18:50 The Christian teaching about marriage is radical, unconditional monogamy.
19:10 Sexual intercourse belongs only within the committed conjugal relationship of one man and one woman. No sexual, genital, erotic relationship is to take place outside the community of marriage.
19:30 True union, of bodies made for that purpose, cannot take place except between a man and a woman. Otherwise, it’s anal or oral – not a true “one flesh” union, which tends toward the creation of children.
20:20 The Song of Songs foreshadows the Christian union. Husband and wife must first be brothers and sisters in the faith.
22:40 We Christians mustn’t have affairs and such because we’re modeling God’s love for humanity.
24:20 Celibate virginity and fully committed conjugal marriage are the two Christian options.
26:30 The Old Testament allowance of divorce was for hardness of heart. It was not so in the beginning.
28:00 The Sermon on the Mount on marriage.
30:30 Joseph may be the only truly monogamous Old Testament figure.
34:00 Father Hopko’s personal opinion [shared with C.S. Lewis] is that it’s not realistic for Christians to expect non-Christians or heretical Christians to follow this standard.
35:30 Sexual relations between unmarried persons are not allowed, so sexual relations between members of the same sex are not allowed.
36:20 Sexuality is good, but is for use in the right context.
37:00 The strict Christian teaching is that one does not remarry even after the death of a spouse.
38:15 Even the New Testament, though, permits remarriage of, for instance, widows who can’t control themselves, which is precedent for the Church’s pastoral leniency at times.
39:30 St. John Chrysostom’s Homily 20 on the Letter to the Ephesians, Homily 12 on Colossians, Homily 10 on I Timothy.
41:30 Fr. Hopko thinks sexual fidelity is an important test of character.
42:00 No erotic sexual contact for unmarried persons does not mean absence of intimate friendships. You love everyone equally and have sex with nobody.
42:35 John Chrysostom’s letter to a young widow encourages the widow not to remarry even though it might be allowed. The Rite for second marriage in the Orthodox Church is penitential.
44:20 There is no “till death do we part” in Orthodox marriage.
45:00 Leniency is not allowed among Orthodox clergy, who are held to the strict standard.
49:20 When Fr. Hopko gave a talk on Christian marriage at Vassar 40 years ago, he was asked if he really believed it, and when he said he did, the questioner said “it would take a miracle to pull that off.” Fr. Hopko replied “I’m very happy to let you all know that at least one person in the auditorium really understood my talk.”
51:00 With human beings, this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

That no sexual, genital, erotic relationship is to take place outside the community of marriage is setting a standard higher than “no penetration” or “no vaginal ejaculation” before marriage. It is setting the more demanding standard of chastity.

It may be tempting to say “Those standards are impossible. It would take a miracle to pull them off,” and then, “How little can I get by with?”

But remember, asking “How little can I get by with?,” when it comes to God, is pretty conclusive proof that you’re not doing enough to “get by.” The first and greatest commandment requires that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The “how little” question comes from despondency or rebellion, not from love.

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One thought on “Radical Monogamy

  1. Most of the time, I think Fr. Hopko’s is great. But with this podcast, several times I found myself waiting for the basis upon which he was making his claims, and was left wanting. The tradition of the Church has certainly held that a marriage consists of one man and one woman. But Fr. Hopko seemed to indicate that this had always been the case, from the beginning. This conclusion seems to be reached by imposing an anachronistic prejudice onto the Old Testament. For example, Nathan’s rebuke of David with Bathsheba- he does not condemn David for already having wives, but presupposes the ‘validity’ of these marriages, when pointing out the injustice David had done to Uriah. There are multiple wives all over the place in the O.T., but condemnation is conspicuously silent. The only prohibition of which I am aware is that a man must not amass too much wealth nor too many wives, lest his heart be turned away from God. How much is ‘too much’ in either of these commodities is undefined.
    He also refers to a ‘strict Christian teaching’ (supposedly upon all the laity, not just clergy) that, if followed, does not allow a widow to remarry. He asserts that re-marriage under any circumstance has only come to be permitted by way of ‘economia’. Yet St. Paul says: “For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.” Rom. 7:3,4 Set in context, wouldn’t the point of Paul’s illustration break down, if Fr. Hopko’s assertion were correct? (We were bound to the Law, but are now free to be united to Christ?) Doesn’t it seem also that the reason David thought he ‘could get away with it’ was that he thought if Uriah ‘accidentally’ died, Bathsheba would become eligible? (Also, many say that Jesus’s brothers were Joseph’s sons from a previous marriage… yet those who hold this view, regard his betrothal to a second woman as honorable.)
    I accept the authority of the Church; she necessarily creates new rules over time. I’m not pushing for polygamy, nor do I personally wish to remarry should my wife die before me. I was just frustrated with what seemed to me a long string of unsubstantiated assertions.

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