Sex and Love in the Home and A Daring Promise

The true superiority of sexual intercourse in marriage is that it does not have to mean very much," says David Matzko McCarthy. Equally provocative is Richard R. Gaillardetz's statement that "marriage, like all sacraments, is paschal to the core, and consequently it is as much about dying as it is about new life." Though the plethora of books on Christian marriage might make one wonder whether there is anything new to say about the subject, these statements are so novel that they and the books in which they are embedded merit careful evaluation.

Both McCarthy and Gaillardetz are Catholics who seek to take a fresh look at marriage and marital sexuality. Both seek a realism that counters the romanticism of modern secular culture. Both acknowledge the authority of Roman Catholic teaching. Yet they differ in emphasis. McCarthy enriches Christian views of marriage by placing marriage in its broader social context, while Gaillardetz traces and deepens marriage's roots in Christian doctrines of conversion and the trinity.

McCarthy, who teaches theology at Maryland's Mount St. Mary's College, argues that Christian theologies of marriage are all too prone to bless romanticism under the guise of promoting a high view of marriage. McCarthy faults the 20th-century Catholic theological movement called personalism, claiming that it attempts to "out-romance romantic love on its own terms." Personalism seems to assume that every sexual act within marriage is or should be the bearer of complete and ultimate self-giving. But for McCarthy, the significance of marital sexuality is cross-temporal: "For sex to have depth, it needs extended bodily communion over time."