ANALYZING MARITAL AND CELIBATE INFIDELITY WITH THE HOSEAN MODEL: COMMITMENT, INFIDELITY AND RECONCILIATION.
In the human society, relationships are seen as monogamous. Our partner is the focus of our love, affection and attention; the only person we give ourselves entirely to. Once a connection has been established there is an intrinsic commitment made to each other without it having to be openly discussed or agreed upon. If a partner is getting hot and steamy with someone else the chances are that he/she is not fully committed to the partner and this can lead to feelings of hurt, and betrayal. Commitment is further solidified with the marriage contract. The breach in this commitment is infidelity. This relationship model does not only apply to social and marital relationships, Prophet Hosea presents a similar model in Israel and her relationship with God, a religious commitment between God and his people.
THE HOSEAN MODEL
Hosea was a Prophet of God to the people of Israel: an instrument to present God’s message to Israel, particularly with great concern to Israel’s infidelity to God. Hosea’s marriage acts as a perfect symbolism used in presenting Israel’s infidelity to God. His call to Prophecy came through this experience and Hosea is the first to use the symbolism of marriage and marital infidelity to depict the relationship of God to his people. Hosea in good faith had married a woman whom he loved dearly, but who later deserted him and became a prostitute. His love, however, endures and he brings her back; and after putting her to a test, he makes her his wife again. Hosea’s marital problems made him more attuned to understanding Israel’s infidelity to God and the tragedy Yahweh experienced in his continuous choice of Israel irrespective of their infidelity; their lifestyle of double commitment and identity.
Hosea addressed Israel and cried out, ‘a spirit of adultery leads them astray and makes them unfaithful to their God’ (Hos 4:12b). Hosea’s message is more complex and subtle than it sounds. His statement is clearly devoid from the meaning we will casually ascribe to it. The sexual promiscuity Hosea is talking about is of a specific type, a religious adultery, a breach in commitment with God; Israel getting hot and steamy with Canaanite religion and practices. This has to do with activities associated with sacrifice and offerings (4:13) and sacred prostitution (4:14); a cultic promiscuity of Canaan origin and religion which is set towards their gods with the belief that human sexual activity in a sacred place could stimulate divine sexual action and thereby foster fertility and prosperity throughout the natural realm. Israel with this form of sexual promiscuity shows infidelity to God who requires from them a relationship based on intimate commitment, devoid of all other forms of practices that bonds them to any other god or gods.
The message of God through Hosea is based on commitment, a respect for mutual vows and promises. The Hosean model implores faithfulness to the form of commitment that we choose to embrace. Thus Hosea places the whole episode in a sacramental and covenantal setting by getting married to his wife as an expression of the covenantal pact between God and Israel on Mount Horeb. Second, he presents inordinate desires (an urge to go whoring) as the cause of infidelity: Israel’s lust and desire for Canaanite cultic rituals. God’s choosing of Israel and their acceptance to live a specific way of life in union with Him is the profound relationship, just as Hosea’s choosing of his wife and her acceptance to live in union with him is the marital relationship binding them. Israel’s refusal to commit herself to the profound relationship with God, and the acceptance and practice of another way of life as copied from the Canaanites brings infidelity to her relationship with God. So does the practice of a life outside the marital relationship makes Hosea’s wife unfaithful and thus breeds infidelity. This Hosean model helps in analyzing infidelity, serving as a guide to explain marital and celibate infidelity with a view to restoring fidelity through healing and reconciliation.
MARITAL AND CELIBATE INFIDELITY
The pairing of marriage and celibacy together with the idea of faithfulness may seem uncomplimentary. There is the assumption that celibacy and marriage are of opposite sides: one involving no sex at all; the other supposedly involving as much sex as both partners desire. This however is not entirely true, for not only does faithful celibacy generally involve a greater consciousness of sexual desire and its frustration than a life lived with regular sexual satisfaction, but also, marital sexuality is rarely as care-free and mutually satisfied as the common assumption might presume. Indeed, a realistic reflection on long and faithful marriages will surely reveal periods of enforced ‘celibacy’ in marriages: periods of delicate pregnancy, parturition, illness, physical separation, or impotence, which are simply the lot of the marital ‘long haul’. And so, the generally-assumed disjunction between celibacy and marriage turns out not to be as profound as it seems. Rather, the reflective, faithful celibate and the reflective, faithful married person may have more in common than the unreflective or faithless celibate, or the carelessly happy, or indeed unhappy careless, married person.
Infidelity has pitched both celibacy and matrimony on the same level, as history and daily living presents to us. Initially celibacy had the high impact of accusations; pointing infidelity in celibates as a result of not been married. Marriage is regrettably no stranger to scandal. Indeed, the notion that ‘marrying off’ priests will resolve the sex abuse crisis suggests a rather dim view of marriage as well as a certain naiveté about the rate of sexual abuse committed by individuals who are married. The vocation to matrimony is no cure for sexual drives that are imagined erroneously by popular mind to be irrepressible. Thus there will be no form of unequal measure when dealing with infidelity as it pertains to celibacy and matrimony. Both should seek a firm and faithful commitment to the way of life chosen; with and for whom it is chosen. Infidelity is thus the inability of the celibate or married person to be faithful to the vows and commitment that he/she commits his/herself to and living in accord with the precepts and dictates binding such a relationship. This relationship is monogamous and impervious to anything outside the ethos that binds the relationship, and it is unconditional in its effect. Break in commitment results from a shallow understanding of the desired vocation, inordinate desires and the deficiency of the will to choose.
a. Shallow understanding of the desired vocation
Undertaking the sacraments of Matrimony and Holy Orders entails the exchange of sacred vows to each other and to God. A shallow understanding of these sacred vows often leads to the inability to keep to the sacrament in its entirety when contracted. Marriage is more than sex and children, and the celibate life is more than saying the Mass and administering the sacraments. The demands are more and worse still they endure for a lifetime. Their keywords are faithfulness, commitment and service, irrespective of the glamour or odds they present. Faithfulness in Christian marriage entails great mortification. For a Christian man, there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him- as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state, as it provides easements. No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will and self-denial.
Celibacy is usually defined negatively as ‘not married’ but in fact it is a positive choice, a powerful way of loving with a singleness of purpose and a unique openness of heart. It enables a priest to live his spiritual fatherhood with particular force and efficacy. It is a gift and a way of loving. It is a gift from God that is intended to be shared; the celibate lives for others. Celibate love is a pursuit of holiness, an expression of love for God, a sign of God’s love and grace, a gift of one’s self to others in community or through ministry. An understanding of this leads the celibate to immense himself in God, and makes conscious and deliberate effort with the help of the Blessed Trinity to remain faithful to his vocation.
b. Inordinate desire
Desires and cravings are not evil in themselves for they are intrinsically part of the human nature, an inclination to satisfy our passions, appetites and our lust for things. Desires become inordinate without moderation, a consequence of going beyond sufficient or permitted limits. Any desire that crosses the bounds of commitment, decimate the sacred vows promised and set in a lifestyle contrary to the norm is inordinate. Inordinate desires are of varied forms and manners and they lead to violating commitments already reached in relationships. Inordinate desires breeds selfishness, lack of a moral code, imbalance in marital or celibate life, immoral and unhealthy friendships and associations, and failing marital friendship and intimacy. To avoid these occurrences, the body needs to be disciplined and fine-tuned to embrace the chosen lifestyle. Both celibates and married people are equally involved in the discipline of the body as a life-long ascetical exercise, a practice of training one’s body, of learning self-control.
Inordinate desires can even proceed from seemingly harmless avenues. Intellectual pride can lead to intellectual infidelity. Intellectual infidelity invariably bleeds into moral infidelity. If I can arrogantly bend the teaching of the church to my opinions, preferences and whims, why should that arrogance be limited to dogmatic propositions and liturgical norms? Why not moral precepts too? Soon the individual is led into breaking commitments and seeking solace outside.
c. Deficiency of the will
A matured will furnishes one with the will power to choose and stand by our decisions. This is the unity of the intellect, mind, and body of the individual as a single being. The inability to stand in conformity with our choices creates a double nature in us; a sort of double life, a double identity. Married persons who are unfaithful seek something in their cheating partners that they feel their partner lacks. They feel satisfied with the combination of their partner and their cheating associate. Leaving the marriage is not their intent; they live double lives, enjoying the fruits of both relationships. Celibates who yield to their passions are but unable or unwilling to leave the priesthood they love and on which they depend. Up to the moment it becomes known, it is a balancing act between the priesthood and a relationship, or series of relationships; jugging between two incompatible things. Double identity is a result of a deficiency of the will to choose. The cheating partners like and enjoy the benefits accruing from both identities and cannot choose to abide with one.
Infidelity is not the end of marriage or of celibate life, there is the need to rise, recover and live a more faithful life. Hosea himself talks about recovery and healing for Israel and his estranged wife. The demanding and challenging aspects of the infidelity healing process are resolving the justifiable rage and rebuilding trust. Although not quite easy, the only way to healing and reconciliation is to rebuild what was fallen and resolve to commit to the vows promised. This is where love comes in, the undying love of the faithful spouse as regards marriage and the merciful love of God for the celibate. For Pope St. John Paul, the strength of such a love emerges most clearly when the beloved stumbles, when his or her weaknesses or sins come into the open. One who truly loves does not then withdraw love, but loves all the more, loves in full consciousness of the other’s shortcoming and faults, without in the least approving of them, for the person as such never loses his/her essential value. Hosea in taking his wife back reiterates this valuable point, just as God continues to restore Israel his unfaithful bride to his bosom.
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Joshua Dehi (author) from Lagos, Nigeria on May 20, 2020:
Thanks for reading
Edley Ugwuora on May 19, 2020:
Wow! This is interesting and educative thanks for sharing.