McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts
James Chukwuma Okoye
Inculturation theology, Arts and Humanities: Religion: Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion, Marriage
Marriage is humanity’s essential characteristic. It is the essential union between male and female geared towards raising and sustaining rational family life in society. This is what makes people human and differentiate them from other animals. Marriage is a natural institution and a socio-cultural reality in which each group of people should determine, according to their own context. In other words, every institution, society, and culture have a right to choose what type of marriage arrangement that best explains and works for it.
Nevertheless, the Western European understanding of marriage, as adopted by the Catholic Church’s Magisterium in her teaching, have been presented as a standard for varied cultures and social groups as may exist within the church. This position brought tension between Christianity and polygamous practices in the Church. But it known that Christian marriage, as it now canonized, did not come down from the sky, it is the result of historical development that is still in process. However, to maintain the Churches position, the code of canon law title seven, cann. 1055-1165, especially cann. 1055.1 presented monogamy as the only acceptable form of marriage. The Catechism of the Catholic church part two, chapter two, article 7 deals exclusively on the sacrament of matrimony, especially nos. 1601-1611 sets monogamy as the acceptable form of marriage in the Church. Moreover, the Christian doctrine determined to obliterate all forms of polygamy long before its encounter with traditional polygamy in Africa. At the encounter of Christianity with African tradition, the former condemned polygamous marriage as a pagan practice and sought to bring it down. Although polygamy was permitted for a certain time, as it appears in the lives of the Old Testament patriarchs such as Abraham, Jacob, and David, with the coming of Christ, polygamy was revoked, Matthew 19:3-9; Mark 10:1-2; and Luke 16:18. So polygamy is thought to be an inadequate institution for expressing oneness, justice, equality and love in marriage. Nevertheless, after many years of Christianization, polygamy in Africa has vivaciously persisted as a cultural institution. But on arrival to the African continent, the Christian missionaries require married converts to Christianity to be monogamous. Those in polygamous marriage prior to their conversion ought to send away their wives but one before receiving baptism. The Church requires polygamous people to send away all wives but one, preferably the first, in order to receive baptism. This requirement is largely viewed by traditional polygamists as in injustice and lack of compassion especially to the wives and children involved. Although, the Church has kept its position against polygamy without compromise, some individuals have also kept the practice consistently. Besides, some people enter polygamy even after baptism.
On the Doctrinal Question on Polygamy, the question whether to accept polygamy as licit institution has been traditionally approached in terms of nature, authority and love. The argument of nature appeals to the Natural Law and it’s largely identified with Scholastics. For them, polygamous relationship is contrary to natural law for it neither ensures equality between man and woman nor education of the offspring. Indeed, “polygamy jeopardizes both parents and children in terms of equality, peace, and education.” The perfection of natural law requires that these basic values be strictly observed in marriage. While among the Tiv people, education of children in polygamous marriage may not necessarily be a major problem, the issue of inequality among the partners cannot be disregarded. The argument of authority is based on the power of customs, culture and the universal authority of the Church to repudiate polygamy. In particular, the ultimate authority which the Church itself appeals to is the authority of the gospels. For instance, “appealing to Matt 19:3-9, the Council of Trent (1563) decreed that polygamy is unacceptable among Christians and that those who intend to become Christians should repudiate the practice.” Until today, appealing to both the gospel and the sacred traditions, the Church insists on monogamous as an ideal Christian marriage. The argument of love attempts to explain more logically why the Church cannot accept polygamy as licit institution. The Second Vatican Council depicts polygamy as a deformation which stains the dignity of marriage. This is because polygamy does not ensure justice and equality in marriage as a community of life and love. The Council asserts that with the grace of Christ, Christian spouses can grow in holistic communion and reveal to the Church and to the world the new communion of love. However, “such communion is radically contradicted by polygamy. Polygamy negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive.” So, against the traditional Tiv understanding of polygamy, the Church insists that as an institution, polygamy falls short of God’s plan for marriage because it puts obstacles in the way towards deeper communion between partners and thus contradicts the Spirit’s gift of love and life. All the three arguments seem to lead to a close that polygamy is not capable of satisfying the demands of Christian marriage. If the Church continue with this project of the Western European understanding of marriage, the other cultures of the world, especially in some African cultures may find it hard to adopt to the western idea of marriage. This will increase the tension between Christianity and polygamous practices.
This attitude may also not allow the church to understand the perception of these groups in their varied contexts. The changing attitude of the church, in openness to inculturation, is a welcome idea that needs to be explored in its verities. In the same spirit, the church in Africa cannot be indifferent to the call of deepening its theology of marriage and ipso facto put it into practice.
However, considered, there are implications for either position of an African understanding of marriage and the current European Influenced Catholic theology of marriage. This proposal considers the pastoral implications of marital concepts in the church’s self-understanding in Tiv culture. It asks, how can the Church address in a persuasive way the dynamics of marriage in Tiv culture? How would Catholic theology of Marriage be different if it were to attend to the yearnings of Tiv culture? What influence does colonialism have on Catholic theology and her sacraments? Is marriage still the same today in the postmodern world as in the pre-Vatican II era? If our understanding of the sacraments is about celebrating what God is doing in the life of the human person, where comes the authority of the church on issues of marriage?
There seem to be multiple narratives about marriage. We have many narratives describing the male /female situations across diverse cultures. Marriage, especially in Africa is not just about love, it is about associations based on extended family and family support systems.
There is considerable literature on marriage and family in African societies. However, literature on the subject in Africa offers generalized practices and so fails to account for marriage and family in a particular African society. Given the importance of marriage and family life every effort should be made to study and analyze each distinct group practice. In light of this, this proposal is designed to address marriage and family among the Tiv of North-central Nigeria. It shall identify means by which the teachings of the church on marriage will bear on the cultural context of Tiv people in a way that makes meaning to their practice of faith. To achieve this, the concept of marriage in the church’s understanding shall be highlighted alongside issues related to the practicality of such understanding in the everyday marital relationship among the Tiv.
The idea of proposing marriage in a monolithic or One-Size-Fits-All fashion will certainly defeat the true contemporary understanding of marriage. A theological appraisal of marriage that would be meaningful, then, will entail a theological treaty that would take cognizance of the essential characteristic of marriage as a vital union intended for the procreation and sustaining of children in a particular society
 Code of canon Law, http://www.vatican.va/system/sling/cqform/defaultlogin.html?resource=%2Farchive%2FENG1104%2F__P3V.HTM&$$login$$=%24%24login%24%24 accessed 9/9/2019.
 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c3a7.htm accessed 9/9/2019.
 Sequibo Dwane, “Polygamy” in Church and Marriage in Modern Africa, 234-35
 Eugene Hillman, Polygamy Reconsidered: African Plural Marriage and the Christian Churches, (NY: Orbis , 1975)
Vatican Council II, “Gaudium et Spes” in Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents. New rev. ed. Gen. ed. Austin Flannery, (New York: Costello, 1992), no. 47.
 Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, no. 47.
 John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio, no. 19.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, (Nairobi: Paulines Publications Africa, 2010), nos. 1645 & 2387.
Ahua, E. (2019). A Theological Appraisal of Marriage in Tiv Culture (Doctoral dissertation, Duquesne University). Retrieved from https://dsc.duq.edu/etd/1833