So here’s another excerpt from the talk I gave at BYU. “Gave,” of course, doesn’t mean I really read the whole darn thing.
We are, as persons, whole beings. There’s no true distinction between being a person and being a human being. We free persons have bodies, and our freedom is more shaped than limited by their embodiment. So persons are either men and women. And male and female persons, as we can from the very make up of our bodies, are made for union with each others.
We relational beings are erotically directed the intimate relationship called marriage. As Pope John Paul II explained, in the absence of woman the first man was marked by an “existential loneliness.”
One one level the that loneliness could be described by Darwinian evolutionary biology. Man was hardwired by nature to be a pair-bonding and reproductive being. It’s not his purpose to be alone, but to be parts of social wholes greater than himself. So existential loneliness, in part, can be understood as simply being detached from any way of satisfying our social desires.
But the Darwinians are unable to give an account of how we retain our personal identities as relational beings as part of such wholes. We are parts—but not simply parts—because each of us retains our identity as an infinitely valuable and irreplaceable person. Each of us is not merely species fodder or city fodder; each of us is not a means to some impersonal end.
So existential loneliness, of course, means more than being unable to fulfill your natural purpose as a social animal. Adam quickly realized that by naming the animals that he was alone among the animals he named. He had the freedom of the being with a name who can name, and so he couldn’t integrate himself into the rest of creation.
Adam’s loneliness was being without woman, without a person made in God’s image who can know and love him just as he is as a whole being—another being with a name who can name.
We require loving relationships with other persons, and usually a spouse and children, to be who we really are as relational beings. That need is not merely physiological or biological, although it is that. It is the need of the being made to love and be loved personally. It is through personal knowing and loving that we live in the image of God. We can’t be whole or self-sufficient persons all alone, even as God himself cannot.
The remedy for existential loneliness is not the surrender of personal identity—as a Buddhist or Socrates might say—but the loving relationship of one person with another—whole persons shaped by bodies but not determined by bodily necessity the way the other animals are. We need to be loved by a person who complements or completes us, who’s not just like us but for us, and each of us is for that other person.
So marriage is, for Christians, the primordial sacrament, the sacrament that’s most deeply the visible sign of the presence of God or personal logos in the world. It’s through marriage, above all, that man participates in this world in the relational life of the person. It’s in marriage, above all, that our logos is most properly directed to personal knowing and loving.
Marriage is like the personal, relational union that is the Trinity. It’s not exactly like it: Personal identity for us is shaped by our bodies, and so of course our bodily differentiation into men and women.
The members of the Trinity aren’t shaped by bodies, and so God, of course, is more one in being that a husband and wife are. But even in God the three persons don’t surrender their personal identity in their relational being.
So in understanding the family we deceive ourselves if we don’t reconcile ourselves to our personal greatness, the greatness unerotically distorted by Pascal. Human begetting is deeply different from that of the other animals. The human family, unlike, say, the chimp family, is a relational community of persons. It’s in that community, above all, that we come to be as home as we can be in this world. There may be nothing more wounding–more existentially lonely–than children who get stuck with coming into this world and growing up with strangers.