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date: 06 December 2019

Abstract and Keywords

The chapter provides an overview of recent developments in the theology and ethics of marriage. It places the debates first in a sociocultural context of deinstitutionalization and individualization which has rendered marriage more optional and more fragile, but not weakened its symbolic meaning. It is then shown how the Christian churches have responded to the challenges of late modern society, in particular the Roman Catholic Church with its new emphasis on conjugal love at the Second Vatican Council. Three main strands have marked the theological and ethical discourse subsequently: a revisionist position which defends the subjective and interpersonal aspects of marriage, a traditionalist position which insists on a divine plan for marriage and a corresponding theology of the body, and the approach of a new generation of scholars who accuse the traditionalists of an abstract and idealistic description of the spousal relationship and criticize the revisionists for their narrow focus on private interiority. In a third and final section three major trends are explored and perspectives developed: first, possible arguments for commending marriage over alternative forms of living together are assessed; second, it is argued how heterosexual marriage can still be proclaimed as the ethical norm without discriminating against deviant forms of sexual expression; third, the tension between interpersonal and institutional approaches to marriage is explored and the search for a balance between both poles suggested as a future challenge for the theology of marriage.

Keywords: marriage, spouses, conjugal love, deinstitutionalization, conjugal morality, theology of marriage, Gaudium et spes

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