Marriage is the fifteenth volume in the Readings in Moral Theology series and, like its predecessors, provides a successful overview of a specific issue in moral theology. In twenty-six essays divided into three parts, the volume covers a history of twentieth century thought on marriage, an overview of current theologies of marriages, and a sampling of issues relating to marriage. The only weakness comes not from the essays—which are excellent and reflect a diversity of viewpoints—but rather in the understanding of moral theology that frames the entire volume.
Part One of the volume begins with Luke Johnson on the biblical understanding of marriage and Bernard Cook on the development of marriage as a sacrament. These initial essays provide a context for the subsequent essays which trace the transition of official Church teaching from a discussion of the ends of marriage (one by John Ford & Gerald Kelly and another by Susan Ross) to a personalist philosophy found at Vatican II (Theodore Mackin’s essay) and in John Paul II’s reading of Humanae Vitae in his theology of the body (essays by John Grabowski and Richard Hogan & John LeVoir).
Curran’s essay on John Paul II and post-Vatican II moral theologians closes out Part One but does so in a peculiar way. After a balanced analysis of John Paul II’s theology of the body, Curran proceeds to assess recent thinkers on marriage (many of whom appear in this volume) by whether they agree or disagree with Humanae Vitae.
The first two essays of Part Two provide contrasting frameworks for understanding marriage, the first by William Roberts emphasizing respect and equality while the second by Angelo Scola draws from von Balthasar and John Paul II to stress reciprocity. The last three essays shift from spirituality to a focus on the social context of marriage. Rubio explores the responsibility of parents to work and raise children, McCarthy addresses how economics shape family life, and Cahill discusses the potential of families to aid broader society.
Florence Bourg’s essay in the middle of Part Two represents a peculiar editorial selection. The essay comes from Bourg’s masterful work Where Two or Three Are Gathered, an exploration of the family as a domestic church. The selected essay covers the inconsistent use of the term “domestic church” in official church documents making Bourg’s perspective appear as primarily a critique of the Magisterium. This truncated depiction of Bourg’s work fits with neither the focus on spirituality of the first two essays nor the social concern of the last three essays, thereby further rendering Part Two conceptually unclear.
Part Three of the volume addresses several of the contended issues in the field of marriage. Michael Lawler essay’s covers the ecclesial challenges facing interchurch couples. William May’s overview of Church teachings on homosexuality is set in contrast with Stephen Pope’s argument on the inadequate foundations of these teachings. Willard Jabusch covers that difficulties cohabitation presents to marriage, while Kevin Kelly attempts to make positive use of the experiences of those cohabitating. The last seven essays of the volume address issues related to annulments and divorce, including the number and frequency of annulments in the United States, the healing power of annulments, the indissolubility of marriage, and pastoral care of the divorced.
Overall, Marriage provides a substantive overview of marriage in Catholic moral theology. Every significant figure in the field is represented, each essay is excellent in its own right, and the volume as a whole brings one up to date on several issues. The main weakness in the volume comes from its conceptual framework. The understanding of moral theology guiding the selection of essays and topics seems to be: moral theology is about intra-ecclesial juridical issues. This assessment can be supported in two ways. First, the volume gives a disproportionate amount of attention to essays supporting or opposing Church teaching, with 16 of 26 essays focusing on issues such as contraception, premarital sex, homosexuality, and divorce. Moreover, essays that do not fit into this model, like the ones from Part Two, have no clear conceptual home in the volume. Secondly, the volume does not have essays dealing with some of the major issues facing marriages: communication problems, domestic violence, adultery, poverty, the commodification of marriage, children, the hegemony of romantic love for marriage, and the hypersexualization of U.S. culture.
Given this one caveat though, the volume is an excellent resource, essential for graduate students and teachers and useful for most researchers in the field.