Marriage: A Tabernacle of Truth

In reading (and inevitably rereading) David Bentley Hart, I have grown very fond of his explanation of a concept he typically refers to as “difference” within the Trinity, but which might be more familiar to the typical Christian as a theology of relationality or community. (I realize that in making this connection, as with others that will follow, I am being painfully imprecise in a way that would likely infuriate Hart. Nevertheless, because the concept of community is so prevalent in theology at the moment and because I believe that the emphasis on community arises from the same spirit as Hart’s stress on the priority of difference I think some profit may be derived from equating the two, if only provisionally for the sake of simplicity.) In contrast to the “perverse and sinful fiction” that is contemporary understanding of personality, the Trinity as dogma demonstrates the absolute priority of difference (and again, I know that the imprecision of my language will not do justice to Hart’s theology) against the illusion that a person exists as, in any sense, a self-contained autonomous self. Trinity affirms that relationality is not fundamentally the interaction of independent beings but actually the foundational makeup of Being itself, the essential substance of truth.

To highlight this, Hart makes reference to the analogies used by the early church to comprehend the Trinity. Particularly instructive are the social analogies of the Cappadocian fathers and the psychological analogies of Augustine. Rather than one being more fitting than the other, it is important to realize that both balance each other to create an ineffably distant analogy to the Trinitarian life. The relationality of the Trinity manifests both as an interior reality within the unity God (as in the psychological analogy) and as actual difference manifest in distinct persons (as in the social analogy) – though these persons are always understood in terms of the constant interplay of giving and receiving and giving again.

Thus Hart writes:

As the Son is the true image of the Father, faithfully reflecting him in infinite distance, and as the Spirit forever “prismates” the radiance of God’s image into all the beautiful measures of that distance, one may speak of God as a God who is, in himself, always somehow analogous; the coincidence in God of mediacy and immediacy, image and difference, is the “proportion” that makes every finite interval a possible disclosure – a tabernacle – of God’s truth.

In general, the very nature of humanity can be understood as one of these tabernacles of God’s truth, a window into the infinite Trinitarian reality subsisting in perpetual unity in difference. As with the aforementioned analogies for Trinity, relationality makes up the essential character of all humanities being. There is no need to demonstrate the social nature of the human experience of difference, but Hart argues that even within ourselves there is interior difference. Humans experience themselves within themselves as an “exterior” object. Even in saying “I am…” we necessarily remove ourselves as the speaker, speaking about ourselves as we would an object that could be externally observed. Hart words it better:

…do we really possess identity apart from relation: is not even our “purest” interiority reflexive, knowing and loving itself as expression and recognition, engaged with the world of others through memoria and desire, inward discourse and outward intention (hence the genius of Augustine’s “interior” analogies)?

Or consider:

…knowledge and love of neighbor fulfill the soul’s velleity toward the world, and so grant each of us that internally constituted “self” that exists only through an engagement with a world of others; but that engagement is only possible only in that the structure of interiority is already “othered” and “othering,” in distinct moments of consciousness’ inherence in itself.

It was after reading and synthesizing this understanding of the Trinity (infinitely superior to other “community” themed explanations of the Trinity which I have lately been made to read) and its significance for anthropology that I saw an immediate and fantastic application to marriage as understood through the creation accounts. It struck me that marriage is also one such tabernacle of Trinitarian truth in which humans could “at infinite analogical remove” (to borrow from Hart) participate and understand the incomprehensible divine dynamic of difference. The dance – an Orthodox analogy – of experiencing the self as other and incorporating the other into the self without negating its otherness fits neatly into the language of the garden and the creation of woman. Eve is she who was taken from Adam (his rib) and formed into the other but who Adam immediately takes back into himself (as bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh) without ever negating her complimentary nature. The unity in marriage, the ideal unity perhaps inaccessible in this life of sin, is not a unity of purpose or will, not an exterior contract willingly accepted by two autonomous parties but the embracing of the other into the self so that, without negating the difference, there is separation of will or purpose. It is replaced by a unity of giving up self and embracing the other into self.

If this is true, then some of Hart’s most beautiful language about the Trinity applies, however equivocally, to the marital relationship as an analogy of the divine life. Marriage is that relationship “of self-oblation according to which each ‘I’…is also ‘not I’ but rather Thou.” It is a symphony of mutual joy – the joy of knowing and of loving – which consists of a perpetual self-giving to the different other who is nevertheless self. It is the “fullness of shared love,” a perpetual expression of the “dynamism of distinction and unity.”

That, I think, is a beautiful image of marriage based analogically on a beautiful image of the Trinity. After all, as Hart reminds, we can always affirm that “God is beautiful: not only that God is beauty or the essence and archetype of beauty, nor even only that God is the highest beauty, but that, as Gregory the Theologian says, God is beauty and also beautiful, whose radiance shines upon and is reflected in his creatures.”

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