So here’s still more from my (endless) BYU lecture. This part includes issues that I might well have skipped as above my pay grade, except they were of special interest to my audience. Our friends and expert bloggers THE BROTHERS JUDD said my previous post on marriage vs. existential loneliness was actually an argument for married clergy. It would be if not qualified by the below. And maybe it is one anyway. I leave this issue of whether priests should be able to marry to others. No endless lecture can cover everything. Once again, this is a speculative draft on matters about which I admit to knowing little to nothing.

There is no marriage in heaven. That’s what Jesus said to the legalistic Sadducees who didn’t believe in personal immortality and tried to trip him up on the question on which of a woman’s seven husbands would be her husband in heaven. We would be in heaven, Jesus said, like angels. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have bodies—including all of our parts. But our bodies would haven’t the limitations and distortions caused by our sinful biological existence.

Obviously the natural and civil necessities that shape the institution of marriage would disappear. There would be no need for procreation, because no one would ever die. So there would be no need for sexual union. And there would be none of the shared responsibilities that come with raising children. We would no longer need human companionship to counter existential loneliness. Our deepest longing would be satisfied in perfectly knowing and loving the personal God.

We would, it seems, still know our wives (whatever number each of us might have had) and our children for who they are. But we wouldn’t love them with any kind of exclusivity or special intimacy. The limited and shaped character of our abilities to know and love would disappear. Each of us will, while retaining his or her personal identity, be one with the whole communion of saints and the personal God himself.

We can also see limited and temporary good of marriage—even as the primordial sacrament—in the Catholic view of the celibate life. Celibacy isn’t good for its own sake, but chosen out of love of God. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some choose to orient their lives more exclusively around the love of God—to live more directly in anticipation of their heavenly existence—here and now.

So women religious often think of themselves as brides of Christ, as choosing, in a way, a more perfect union. The celibate remind us all, in a way, that we personal beings are not, most deeply, married beings. And we aren’t most deeply sexual beings.

The vow of celibacy is about being a member of a personal community freed up for loving service to others by being freed from the distractions that come from sexual rivalry and the encumbrances of spouse and children.

Christians don’t, as do the Latter Day Saints, marry for eternity—although they are or should be as confident that they were created, as persons, for life everlasting. We should be as confident that the personal God provides everything we need as relational beings. Eventually—although not as persons in this biological life—we don’t need marriage, even as God himself doesn’t need marriage. But we do remain, as he does, relational persons marked by eros and logos.

I hope it won’t seem blasphemous if I’m reminded here of an episode of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. Larry is about to renew his vows to Cheryl. He’s okay with “til death do us part.” But he balks at pledging his love and devotion for eternity. When it comes to eternity, he wants to keep his options open. I fear that, for the LDS, the Catholics share Larry’s fear of genuinely enduring commitment.

For Catholics more than the LDS, the details of who we are and how we live in heaven remain partly elusive and partly mysterious. For now we live in hope for what is somewhat beyond our experience so far.

Articles by Peter Lawler

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