Monday, July 11, 2011

Fr, Touma (Bitar) on Virginity, Marriage, and Reproduction

The Arabic original can be found here.

Virginity and the Correct View of Fertility

Have you ever wondered why Adam did not know Eve in the Garden of Eden, in the sense of entering into physical intimacy with her, but rather it was only after they were expelled from there (Genesis 3:23-24, 4:1)? Then would it have been possible for them to have children had they remained in Paradise and had not been placed outside?

If your response to the second question is yes, they could have had children if they had remained in Paradise, then this raises the question: Why did the Bible not indicate this? Perhaps there is an omission about this matter? I don't think so! There are no omissions in what pertains to God! If your response is no, they could not have children, then why did the Lord God create them capable of fertility and of having children?

My answer to you, starting from the last question, is that the Lord God, in His foreknowledge, knew that Adam and Eve would fall and would be expelled from the Garden of Eden. For this reason He created them capable of fertility and of having natural, human children. As for the actual reproduction, this was was to come after the Fall, for a very worthy purpose! This does not at all mean that sex, insofar as it is the physical faculty of fertility and the means of having children, and so bodily intimacy, is something connected to corruption or is something fallen. Not at all! Sex is from God and physical intimacy is from God, even if they are often used contrary to God's purpose! So both of them are blessed. Both are signs of God's love for humanity, in that God's love was behind His creating man. However, what was God's purpose in creating what would come into effect after the Fall? And going on, why was the capability for fertility and having children not activated in Paradise, before the Fall?

The response that sheds light on all the above questions is that Adam and Eve in Paradise did not need to activate human, natural fertility and having children because they enjoyed another kind of fertility on account of which in Paradise there was no need for natural fertility. This is spiritual fertility, in that they were enveloped in God's grace. Spiritual fertility causes natural human fertility to lack divine value. This is why the Lord said in the Gospel of Matthew, "In the Ressurection they do not marry or are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven (Matthew 22:30)." Thus the Book of Genesis did not mention Adam's knowledge of Eve and his begetting children with her. As for why this matter is mentioned after the Fall, it is first of all because Adam and Eve were excluded from spiritual fertility, and secondly because within God's purpose, the precise goal of human, natural fertility is the restoration, or more exactly the attainment of the state of spiritual fertility in the most perfect way possible. The purpose of natural fertility and this state is exactly so that humanity could reach the time of the Lord's Christ! The Lord's Christ came, humanly, through natural fertility (Matthew 1:1-17) and in God's economy for humanity, He did not come, as is clear, except in this way. Then, after the Lord's Christ came, that is after the incarnation of the Son of God, He entered us, through faith in Him, into divine, spiritual fertility, since following His ascent into heaven He sent us from the Heavenly Father, the comforting Spirit, the Lord's Holy Spirit. This is exactly the Spirit of divine fertility. Thus man has been given the gift of spiritual fertility, the gift of the Kingdom of Heaven, through the acquisition of the Holy Spirit!

All this means that human marriage, or you could call it natural fertility, and the sex and having children that are connected to it, are no longer obligatory after the coming of Christ the Lord. For this very reason the Lord Jesus did not marry, as a human, because He is the fullness of divine, spiritual fertility and because there is no longer any necessity for human fertility. For this reason also, many in the Church of Christ spontaneously inclined toward refraining from natural marriage and toward being content with the struggle toward spiritual marriage, that is toward spiritual fertility, through being engrossed in the principles of the spiritual life-- keeping the commandments, striving to acquire the Gospel virtues, and participating in the divine mysteries. This refraining from marriage had not been known prior to the coming of Christ to the degree that we notice after His coming or according to the new spirit in man's life with regard to spiritual fertility that came to us through the Lord Jesus Christ and through Him alone!

Naturally, here the question is posed: If there natural marriage and natural fertility are no longer required and necessary after divine, spiritual fertility became available, then does this mean that marriage and having children were abolished? Why do Christians still marry and give in marriage? No, until the general resurrection Christian marriage is not abolished, but it takes on a new orientation! Marriage, in Christ, is blessed and so is not marrying! Naturally, it is more virtuous for a person to empty himself completely for the struggle of spiritual fertility, that is working for holiness and the acquisition of the Spirit of the Lord without entering into natural marriage, because he has redoubled his effort toward the One! Let us not forget the reason, as the Apostle Paul presented it in his first letter to the Corinthians: "He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife (1 Corinthians 7:32-33)." The Apostle Paul said this while giving advice that "I want you to be without care (verse 32)," despite that what is sought in both states, marriage or being unmarried, is the same: spiritual fertility, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, holiness, the Kingdom of Heaven, eternal life... This makes natural fertility within the framework of Christian marriage into a new reality! Natural fertility, or you could say natural marriage, has no Christian value in itself. Its value, in Christian terms, is with the goal and within the framework of lively striving toward spiritual fertility, toward holiness, toward caring for "what is the Lord's" (1 Corinthians 7:32)! So what has become available and required in Christ of both the married and the unmarried all at once is the same thing! The difference for one or the other is in the degree and not in the type of new life! Both of them must be for the Lord. "For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord" (Romans 14:8). However, the unmarried pray more, fast more, worship more, and practice asceticism more... Married people practice this things, but to a lesser degree because they have to provide for a family and because there are social obligations and a job. However, in principle both are fully and completely committed to the principles of the spiritual life, each according to his ability and the situation he finds himself in.

I will add to this that the ultimate goal of Christian marriage or its most prominent gift is to leaven the world in which those married in Christ exist, the world that has not yet come to the knowledge of Christ in spirit and in truth. I say leavening it with new leaven for Christ, whether through following the divine commandments, in love, or in the other Christian virtues, and especially in preaching the divine word wherever possible! Unmarried believers also work in all these evangelistic fields, but within different frameworks and measures than the frameworks and measures of married believers. So, as long as the Word of salvation has not reached all the earth, we are ever in need of apostles of the Word and for witnesses of Jesus' love. Thus we are in need of Christian families to have children and to make generation after generation, according to Jesus' love, who will become new servants for Him, fulfilling his command to go forth and make disciples of all the nations and to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).

This is the framework of Christian marriage for us and this is its purpose. It is not fitting for Christians to treat natural marriage and natural fertility as though it was a value in itself, disconnected from spiritual fertility in the way that unbelievers treat it, because they-- that is Christians-- are chosen to become living temples of God so that God might dwell within them. All Christians, whether married or unmarried are all called in this way, not necessarily to celibacy but to virginity, insofar as the deep meaning of virginity is for a person to become a temple of God. The word "batoul" [i.e. 'virgin] comes from "beit El", that is the house of God! But as for those Christians who practice sex for its own sake or who enter into mixed marriages on the basis of human, natural fertility without Christ,the spiritual life, and lively effort toward holiness, even if they still consider themselves to be formally Christians, they are deceiving themselves and effectively practicing paganism, which is the worship of the self, the passions of soul and body under the guise of God and His Christ! And so they are living in clear, practical error!

In short, the purpose and framework of natural fertility and natural marriage in Christ is spiritual fertility and an entrance into the wedding-chamber of Christ. This is the very same goal and framework as that which the unmarried and those not seeking natural fertility seek, if they believe in Christ. And so we seek the face of God, Jesus' word and God's spirit in every matter, and after this we do as the Spirit inspires us. If not, we go astray and fall into error!

There are those who might wonder after this exposition: What about how to treat the body within the framework of Christian marriage, outside the bounds of begetting children, or if one or both of the spouses is unable to have children? Indeed, we do not have a response to give about this. The questions are related to personal conscience and the Church does not legislate about it for us. Indeed, she leaves it for those within the relationship themselves. She only confirms that spiritual fertility is the framework and goal of every physical relation between husband and wife and hands them over to mature, competent spiritual fathers to arrange the matter between them for their well-being, building them up, and rooting them in making an effort toward holiness in their life, insofar as those fathers are our experts in the struggle for spiritual fertility, its details, and the principles of the spiritual life.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of St. Silouan the Athonite- Douma
May 29, 2011


The Jester of Qi said...

Obviously echoes of St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus in here. Thanks for this.

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