Blog 6: Three dimensions of Thomas Aquinas’ account of marriage in the Summa Theologica

What are three essential dimensions of Thomas Aquinas’ account of marriage in the Summa Theologica?

Aquinas is perceived as the crown jewel of scholarly theology. He writes Summa Theologica in order to explain his thoughts on whether or not marriage can be defined as a sacrament. He uses objections to help explain the reasoning behind his arguments; making it a bit of a confusing read. He outlines his work by describing three essential dimensions that exist in a marriage. The words he uses to describe the parts of marriage are sacramentum tantum, res et sacramentum, and res tantum.

Initially, Aquinas starts his argument with discussion of sacramentum tantum, which is “the sign.” Marriage has no legitimacy without a mutual agreement that is known as consent. In modern days, couples still make a clear emphasis on the statement “I do.” A marriage where one person does not really desire to be wed to a person is considered illegitimate in the catholic church. The reason why if someone’s spouse passes away they can remarry is because that person can no longer give consent. This shows that consent is an ongoing aspect of a marriage. He adds to this argument that sex is not the heart of marriage. Marriage has been around since before sex because it did not exist for Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Overall, consent as an action to Aquinas is essential to a marriage.

Res et sacramentum is an obvious aspect of a marriage and it is “the bond.” A marriage requires a friendship and partnership between two people for it to survive. Reality manifests through this bond and is carried out throughout the entirety of a marriage. This type of bond is unbreakable and is part of a forever sacrament. The bond reflects the strong union between Christ and the church that mirrors the aspects of a relationship. This reality also could not exist without the consent that Aquinas introduced earlier in sacramentum tantum.

The last aspect of the mystery is what Aquinas discusses as “Res tantum” which is the grace that exists in the bond that was part of the marriage. This grace is what leads Aquinas to define marriage as a sacrament as he says in his statement, “matrimony is a sacrament, it is a cause of grace (2704).”  He argues that marriage is more than a remedy for concupiscence or sexual desire but a grace that becomes a genuine bond between two people. He writes that this union is a way that a husband and wife can come together as one flesh. Again a comparison of marriage can be made with the bond between Christ and the church because it is one that can not be separated.

 

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4 Comments

  1. I liked your summary of Aquinas’ main points and I think that the points that he makes are both well rounded and well merited. I would agree that Aquinas is the crown jewel of Theology and I think that his arguments paint a clear picture as to why marriage is a sacrament. I would really have liked to hear some more of your own thoughts on the Summa and the points that Aquinas made. Do you agree that marriage should be a sacrament? Do you have other reasonings as to why it should/should not be a sacrament? Do you think that marriage is unique from the ret of the sacraments and why?

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  2. I also really enjoyed your summary of Aquinas’ perspective on marriage and the three most important dimensions. I think you explained sacramentum tantum or “the sign” very well. The presence of consent is such an important aspect of marriage that Aquinas really emphasizes in his writing. Without this sign of consent, then there really is no marriage. I liked that you distinguished sex from the center of marriage as Aquinas clearly shows that it is not the central part of marriage but consent is. I also appreciated that you addressed the ability of an individual to remarry once their spouse passes as the consent, which is the heart of marriage, is no longer present.

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  3. I appreciate your mention of the role of consent past death. I think this is an important layer to Aquinas’ argument because it is an important consideration in terms of remarrying and the permanency of the bond of marriage. It also highlights how essential the act of consent is to marriage. According to Aquinas, consent is so essential in marriage that as soon as it is gone, one has the ability to remarry. However, with this in consideration, it questions the eternity of the sacramental bond. In the last sentence, you mention that the bond made in marriage cannot be separated. With this in mind, why can one remarry when your spouse dies and that consent is no longer there?

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  4. Sierra,
    I really enjoyed your distinction between Aquinas’ three dimensions of marriage, and how, in particular, you described res et sacrementum’s essential identity as the bond of marriage. I liked how you established that the bond is illegitimate without consent, and incorporated the “I do” that we say at weddings. I was confused about one part of your blog, when you stated that “reality manifests through this bond and is carried out throughout the entirety of a marriage.” Which reality in particular are you talking about? Are we all experiencing the same reality? Even within a marriage, don’t two people have different views and perspectives on certain issues—which constitutes their reality? I’m not particularly sure of the answer myself, but I’m curious to hear what you—and what you think Aquinas—may have thought about this topic. While the bond of marriage unites the couple as one, does it still regard their individualities as distinct personalities?

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