This paper is not about the arguments over what is now legal marriage in the United States and much of Western society. Some of you are aware that I have been working and writing to promote the Catholic orthodox Truths about what marriage is these past several years. I am aware that most of you do not hold to those beliefs as Truth but as Choice.
A combination of the two words in the title creates a connotation both definitive and confusing. “Conjugal” takes on the descriptive according to the dictionary as “MARITAL, matrimonial, nuptial, marriage, bridal; Law spousal;” (Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, Christine A. Lindburg, Comp. p. 170) and “love” has so many variations it takes up an entire page in the same book. The project within these pages is to attempt to propose one brief view of conjugal love. This essay will define conjugal love and present some ways in which it may be built between a man and a woman. Though commitment to conjugal love is vocalized at the beginning of a marriage, true commitment will be shown to be demonstrated as the marriage progresses. A discussion of how conjugal love may be challenged and preserved throughout its duration is presented before summarizing the ultimate ends intended.
Defining Conjugal Love
“[M]arriage is a school of love” (Grace, Drs. Mike and Joyce. A Joyful Meeting – Sexuality in Marriage, p. 2). The Graces open their discussion of sexuality in marriage with a statement that gives some temporal reference to conjugal love. Marriage is a ‘school’ and ‘school’ takes time. Primary and secondary schooling in our culture takes the better part of twelve years and longer when college is added. Conjugal love is a long-term commitment to learning, then, and as noted already, learning about “love” in marriage
C.S. Lewis provides an opportunity to be more concise in defining love in his book The Four Loves An Exploration on the Nature of Love. Lewis suggests our intentions for the word ‘love’ be divided into four categories using the words Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Affection and Friendship may lead to Eros, or conjugal love, and Eros may and should lead a couple to charitable love. Lewis acknowledges that Eros, known to the Greeks as a worship of sexuality, may include aspects of sexual activity, and the idea is accepted in this essay as well. More importantly, “Eros wants the Beloved” (Lewis, C.S. The Four Loves An Exploration of the Nature of Love, p. 95). The love Lewis describes continues beyond, in the absence of, and in spite of sexual desires. It exists in the heart of one spouse for the good of the other, wanting that good for the other in all circumstances. Three aspects of conjugal love are revealed thus far. They are a long-term commitment, involving sexual intimacy, for the good of the other. Conjugal love moves beyond the casual and fleeting interests of Affection. Unlike Friendship in which the two would face toward a common interest, Conjugal Love has the two focused on the other. The Graces point out that conjugal love and the conjugal act have a “special character” compared to these other loves (Grace, Mike and Joyce, p. 2)
Joseph Martos approaches this special character of love in this manner in his description of the Catholic sacrament of marriage; “…conjugal love […] requires indissolubility, fidelity and openness to fertility: an indissoluble union is the only appropriate relationship for sexual activity, and openness to fertility […] conforms to the natural order as intended by God. The Christian family thus becomes a “domestic church” in which parents and children exercise the priesthood of the baptized in a special way… …for the sake of the kingdom”( Martos, Joseph. Doors to the Sacred – A Historical Introduction to Sacraments in the Catholic Church, p. 391). Martos captures three of four considerations for the Church’s view of sacramental marriage; fidelity, fertility (fruitfulness), and the indissoluble union (forever). The fourth is presented here in the vows taken by the couple; “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” (Champlin, Joseph M. and Peter A. Jarret. Together for Life, p. 86). “At the heart of the act establishing marriage, is a free, self-determining choice on the part of the man and the woman to give themselves a new and lasting identity”( May, William. Marriage: The Rock on Which the Family is Built, p. 4).
The concept developed is summarized in the Catechism of the Catholic Church; “[t]he matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1601). “Conjugal love, as we have seen, is a love that is not only human, total, faithful and exclusive until death, but fertile. Conjugal love is procreative in nature” (May, p. 14). C.S. Lewis may punctuate this with “In it (Eros) there is a real nearness to God (by Resemblance); but not necessarily a nearness of Approach. Eros… may become a means of approach.” (Lewis, pp. 109, 110).
Building Conjugal Love
The building of conjugal love begins before the wedding. J.R.R. Tolkien describes the romantic evolution in Western culture in a letter to his son Michael. “It idealizes ‘love’ and as far as it goes can be very good, since it takes in far more than physical pleasure, and enjoins if not purity, at least fidelity, and so self-denial, ‘service, courtesy, honour, and courage” (Tolkien, John. R. R., The Letters of JRR Tolkien, pp 48, 49). It surely begins with Lewis’ Affection, may include some element of Friendship, and certainly, at some point, determines to become exclusively oriented toward one specific other.
The nuptial blessing of the Catholic ceremony blesses this beginning, and looks forward to the future. “Lord, may they both praise you when they are happy and turn to you in their sorrows. May they be glad that you help them in their work and know that you are with them in their need. May they pray to you in the community of the Church, and be your witnesses in the world. May they reach old age in the company of their friends, and come at last to the kingdom of heaven. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen” (Catholic Rites Today Abridged Texts for Students, p. 441). The blessing promises both good times and bad, work as God promised “in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 1:15) before the Fall, a community to work with and be supportive of their conjugal love, and a commission to witness as one to those they meet on their journey.
‘The good of the spouses’ requires a refinement of the Affection and the Friendship that brought them together. “…in marriage, we must try to combine a psychological “love-friendship” relationship with an older (in the evolutionary sense) biological “mate” relationship.” (Grace, Mike and Joyce, p. 2) Ideally, this begins after the commitment is publicly professed for the conjugal act confirms the commitment voiced in the open, the giving of oneself to the other. “The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parent hand on to their children by education” (CCC 1653). Joining in the complementarity of intercourse, the man and woman become enveloped in the Divine spark of creation. Their joining, their participation in this Divine creativity, becomes the source of their sustaining conjugal creativity in living their faithful and permanent life as one. It must permeate their daily routines, feed their individual and combined labors that provide for home and hearth and the teaching of those children added to their union. “…what makes for unity is common action: activity toward common ends. Two things are parts of a greater whole- are one– if they act as one; and they act as one if they coordinate toward one end that encompasses them both”(Girgis, Anderson, &George , p. 25)
Committing to Conjugal Love
“Can we be in this selfless liberation for a lifetime? Hardly for a week. Between the best possible lovers this high condition is intermittent” (Lewis, p. 114). Lewis tells no lie. He calls attention to the reality of life. The ‘honey moon’ will end. The man and woman will come down from the loftiness of the romance. “Welcome to the real world of marriage, where hairs are always on the sink and little white spots cover the mirror, where discussions center not on “where should we eat tonight?” but “why didn’t you get milk? It is a world where bills and in-laws and jobs and children all clamor for our attention…” (Chapman, Gary. The 5 love Languages The Secret to Love That Lasts, p. 31). Now the real impact of the commitment begins.
“We must do the works of Eros when Eros is not present. This all good lovers know…” (Lewis, p. 115). The man and women were drawn together, by instinct and by the Spirit. They looked each into the others’ eyes and saw only the other, to the exclusion of all others. They stood before their God and professed a life-long commitment. No amount of observation, no countless conversations with a confraternity of wedded couples could prepare them. Only now, after the haze of the romance is gone does the real work of conjugal love begin. Conjugal love emerges in “the growth and maturing of the spouses as persons, through the aids, comforts, and consolations, but also through the demands and hardships, of conjugal life, when lived according to God’s plan. The full view of the scope and content of the “good of the spouses” emerges when we recall that the spouses are called to eternal life, which is the one definitive bonum of the spouses” (Kimengich, Dominic. The Bonum Coniugum: A Canonical Appraisal. Rome: Pontificiu Athenaeum Santae Crocis, 1997 p. 204. Quoted by May, p. 24)
Though Lewis’ comment enjoins us to reality, the reality may rise and fall with the complementarity of the Conjugal act. Joining physically, emotionally, and within the religious context, spiritually, in three planes of existence the ‘two become one’ in an embrace that begins a third life. It is the greatest act of creativity we possess as humans, the pinnacle of the Divine spark we are granted from Genesis. What God created from dust we mingle to continue to bring forth others who will join Him and us in being tenders of the world we are charged with.
This third life becomes the ribs of the marriage, connected to and strengthening the keel of the vessel with is the indissoluble vows professed at the beginning of the marriage. This addition and every other addition of life to the marriage requires the continued commitment of tending, building, and shaping. A ship does not sail with keel and ribs alone. It requires planks, sealing out the ocean, erecting masts, nailing decks, hanking on sails and the lines to control them. So it follows that the marriage union and the lives generated within it require the planking of survival skills, the deck plates of education upon which to grow a stable life, the inspiration of sails to pull one forward, and the lines of principle to steer the desired course. These are the continuing efforts required of husband and wife becoming parents; to raise the children their love has generated, to become interdependent human beings that will also engage in life-long commitments with continuing fruitful results. “Discussing responsible parenthood in relation to Humanae Vitae he [Pope Paul VI] writes the following; “…the Council teaches: “Thus they will fulfill their task with human and Christian responsibility, and with docile reverence toward God.” This means that they “will make decisions by common counsel and effort” (Pope St. John Paul II. Man and Woman He Created Them A Theology of the Body, 121-2 p. 626)
Preserving Conjugal Love
“Pair-bonding reinforces fidelity. […] And being both mates and parents together gives married love a down-to-earth quality that is healthy. The challenges we face here test our love realistically; they don’t allow us to live in a world of sentimental daydreams and illusions” (Grace, Mike and Joyce, p. 3). The couple are pulled in many directions and often pulled in separate directions. The core ideal in the beginning was to grow together and be as one. “…what makes for unity is common action: activity toward common ends. Two things are parts of a greater whole- are one– if they act as one; and they act as one if they coordinate toward one end that encompasses them both” (Girgis, Anderson, & George, p. 25). Yet individual concerns for careers, decisions about how to handle children’s issues, financial and wealth management methods, and, yes, the concerns of the in-laws all play their parts in pulling on the commitment of conjugal love. More often than not, in our culture, the two are pulled apart. They forget the language of their romance, their Affection, their Friendship. They begin to fall away from conjugal love.
“How can we speak each other’s love language when we are full of hurt, anger, and resentment over past failures? The answer to that question lies in the essential nature of our humanity. We are creatures of choice.” “…we can say, “I’m sorry.” (Chapman, p. 131) “ And all good Christian lovers know that this programme, modest as it sounds, will not be carried out except by humility, charity, and divine grace; that it is indeed the whole Christian life seen from one particular angle” (Lewis, p. 115). “Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the time as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself” (Pope St. John Paul II, 121-2 p. 626)
Dr. Ed Wheat wrote of the challenges of conjugal love when only one partner is willing. Emotions must be kept in check. This work must be accomplished in the head and in the heart, not on the sleeves. “Undisciplined feelings can cause a crash unless one keeps himself stabilized by the facts of the word of God. […] With daily practice, one learns not to panic but to believe a specific truth (Wheat, Ed. How to Save Your Marriage Alone, p. 17). That truth is conjugal love is meant to last a lifetime.
Sharing Conjugal Love
St. John Paul II reminds us of the nuptial blessing received. The two are part of and supported by a community of believers, a community that is Church. “We see these very conflicts (between husband and wife) as gifts from the Father, designed to help us grow in love and faith, designed to help prepares us for union with Him” (Grace, Mike and Joyce, Preface p. ix). The two were joined as one, yet the one is part of many. Moreover “so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually parts of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us exercise them:” (Rom 12:5, 6) The ‘one body’ of the married in conjugal love has available the skills and blessings of the community.
“In the security of love, a couple can discuss differences without condemnation. Conflicts can be resolved. Two people who are different can learn to live together in harmony. We discover how to bring out the best in each other. Those are the rewards of love.” (Chapman, Gary, p. 143). Those are the rewards of strength through humility, the ability to continue to serve that ‘other’, to refocus as one did when Affection and Friendship turned to Eros. “The essence of love is an act of the will. Feelings come and go in marriage. Those with happy marriages are those who choose – choose to love their [other] more than themselves…” (Guzman, Sam. Rev. of “Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage”). “God promises me that He will teach me how to love you as you should be loved” (Wheat, p. 23).
“”Out of reverence for Christ, […] each spouse realizes that his or her life is no longer about himself or herself. In the love that the share they are called to a life of mutual submission out of reverence for Christ, who submitted himself to the Paschal Mystery out of love for his bride [the Church]. Thus the “family that Christian spouses are called to form becomes an apt acronym for, “Forget About Me, I Love You” (Cahall, p. 346, 347)
Over and again, through the school of love these lessons are learned and re-learned. Sacrifice by each of the two are offered for the sake of the one. The conjugal act remains a sign of the healing. It is in returning to the marriage bed that the two-joined-as-one continue to touch and draw on the Divine spark of creativity, even beyond the years where fertility has left them and the physical joining less intense. More intense is the emotional renewal and the reception of Divine grace of the meeting. The continued rendezvous in the marriage bed strengthens the unity of the two through the Divine and moves them towards that love which is Charity. The one couple’s conjugal love becomes their shield and their source of Divine energy to meet the challenges of the external world with renewed strength and Spirit. Through prayer, commitment, and the counsel of the Church community, one life is lead, raising and educating children until they are prepared for their own vocation and the good of the couple carries the one forward toward conjugal charity.
Towards Conjugal Charity
“…what makes for unity is common action: activity toward common ends. Two things are parts of a greater whole- are one– if they act as one; and they act as one if they coordinate toward one end that encompasses them both.” (Girgis, Anderson, &George, p. 25, italics mine). Because ‘action’ demonstrates commitment this quote is repeated with emphasis. What began as a man’s and a woman’s action of choosing Affection for each other and grew into an Eros where the action of each could only be directed toward the other was the beginning of a journey towards agape’ love, Charity according to Lewis. Only through the act of total submission of each to the other will they truly become one and reflect Love Himself. “And this need not surprise us, for the Author of both is the same. As Christ is perfect God and perfect Man, the natural loves are called to become perfect Charity and also perfect natural loves” (Lewis pp. 133, 134).
Conjugal Charity is the natural goal of conjugal love. The ‘one’ pours itself out for the life of the community. “…Christian couples are entrusted with the tremendous responsibility of preserving the meaning and significance of their conjugal expression of love as a revelation of God’s own fruitful love” (Schumacher, Michele M. “An Inseparable Connection: The Fruitfulness of Conjugal Love and the Divine Norm, Nove et vetera 1.2, p. 386).
Conjugal love is an act of will freely subordinating personal desires to the joint actions with another and for the good of that other, to produce children through the conjugal act. Conjugal love is the act of participation in and practice of Divine creativity. It is a life-long commitment to continually grow together and act as one, for the good of the children-gifts and the good of the greater community of the Church. It is freely given, faithfully exercised, fruitful in progeny and action for the domestic and greater Church and it is for the life of the two-become-one, looking toward the participation in Divine love.
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