I continue my comments on Hildebrand's In Defense of Purity.
Last week we talked about the surrender of self that happens in sex. For Hildebrand, sex is uniquely intimate, a manifestation of the secret of the person. Thus, the sexual gift “signifies an incomparably close union with that other and a self-surrender to him or her. The sexual union is thus the organic expression of wedded love, which intends precisely this mutual gift of self” (p 7). The surrender of self that happens in sex makes sense only in a relationship where a spiritual bond also exists because the totality of such a self-surrender and the intimacy of the secret of self requires a full commitment to the other. It is not enough for two people to find each other attractive on a physical, emotional, or intellectual level. It is not enough for this bond to be merely an agreement. The sacrament of marriage accomplishes a connection between the attraction and interest two people have for each other and sanctifies the sexual union in a way no other relationship can.
Some argue that when love is present in a relationship, then sexual relations are should occur. Hildebrand writes, “We can understand the nature of love without any reference to sex” (p 8). This is an important point, and Hildebrand also emphasizes that the loving relationships of human beings cannot be reduced to a “so-called sex instinct” (p 9). In daily life, people often think about love, sex, and relationships rolled into one. Though they are interconnected, it is important to pursue and understand the true nature of the distinctions between them. Love, for example, is not reducible to the sex-instinct, because love includes goodwill toward the other, a desire for union, and self-gift among many other things. Sex, then, is not reducible to either love or merely an appetite like hunger. There is more to uncover.
Hildebrand emphasizes the mystery contained in sex. “Physical sex is certainly something distinct from love, but, nevertheless, between it and wedded love there subsists a pre-established harmony” (p 10). Marriage allows the flowering of intimacy and mystery in the sexual union. Marriage is the space proper to the expression and fulfillment of sex. Though modern society seems to struggle with this concept, it resonates on a deep, fundamental level. To rationalize sex, to reduce it to merely an appetite, is irreverent to the persons involved because it reduces the persons to their appetite.
The sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church includes a threefold purpose that Hildebrand points to in his discussion of sex: proles, fides, sacramentum (offspring, fidelity, the sacrament). Sex cannot be reduced to merely any one of these things, however. Offspring are the fruit of sex yet there is a connection to fidelity because children need their parents, who have been united in the sacrament of marriage. Beyond the natural union of a man and a woman, then, marriage is an instrument that draws out the deeper purpose of human sexuality.
Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defense of Purity (Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1962)
Image of Couple Walking
Image of Wedding