Msgr. Pope writes a good post on his blog about the seeming conflict between the monogamous plan of creation in Genesis and the practice of polygamy by the ancient patriarchs.
In passing, he notes that marriage is defined by God as a relationship between a man and a woman. The core purposes of marriage are also espoused:
- Adam is lonely and is given a helpmate who complements him in a shared nature.
- Adam and Eve are told to be fruitful and multiply.
The unitive meaning (fidelity) and procreation are stressed. There is nothing capricious about this bond. It is expected that it will be lasting and life-long. They are no longer two, but one.
But as we hear from our Lord in the Gospel of Matthew, there is a problem with their hardness of hearts. The early believers are much like their pagan neighbors. The marriage bed is compromised with many would-be spouses and Moses would even allow a writ of divorce. This is not the way things were supposed to be.
It may be that primitive men of faith lacked the capacity to receive the fullness of truth and God tolerated or even used a situation that would later be remedied. Further, as with various Islamic men today, such extended households were usually reserved to the wealthy and/or to the leadership. Most men had their hands full caring for one wife and family. By the time of Jesus, polygamy was frowned upon and the sin of adultery was attached to any who would compromise a singular union. We must learn from God’s Word, not by extracting isolated proof texts but by an integral approach which respects progressive revelation. The people of God grow in the ways of God and the fullness of truth.
Msgr. Pope argues that the rivalries between the wives and the place of their children are illustrative that polygamy was always frowned upon by God. It is fraught with problems. I would concur, although even having one wife can be a source of both joy and heartache, going back to Adam, the first man. When ladies lament that they feel sorry for priests and wish we could get married, I often respond (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), “Why would I want to get married; I have enough penance in my life!”
Today, our society is indeed returning to the transgressions and abuses of the past. Divorce and remarriage, or the practice of cohabitation and fornication, is essentially serial or successive polygamy. Similarly, just as certain Greeks tolerated and institutionalized homosexual liaisons, there are efforts today to condone and legalize same sex civil unions. When will we learn?
Pic: Adapted from National Catholic Register Blog, America’s Most Complete Catholic News Source.