The Theology of Marriage
Frederick J. Parrella
As they prepare to launch into their careers, plenty of Santa Clara University seniors also are pondering other aspects of their futures, including relationships.
That's where Fred Parrella comes in.
The longtime Professor of Religious Studies is renowned for teaching “The Theology of Marriage” since 1983; it fulfills one of three Religious Studies classes every SCU student is required to take before graduation.
Parrella believes the course is popular because many of the seniors who enroll in it are immersed in serious and, they expect, permanent relationships. He contends that they have matured beyond the “hook-up” generation and are seeking genuine intimacy with another person.
How does “The Theology of Marriage” relate to students who are probably years away from that event in their lives?
What I tell them in the beginning is that this course should help you make better friendships, relate to your siblings, your parents and your grandparents because it’s all about human relationships. I’ve said if you can’t be gracious to the people you deal with on a daily basis, how in God’s name are you going to be gracious to the person with whom you cuddle up at night?
How often to you teach this class, and who usually signs up for it?
I usually teach it twice a year, but this year I’m teaching it three times. It’s mostly women who take the class; in my current class there are 29 students, and I think I have 23 women and 6 men. I’ve found that some 22-year-old men are not only afraid of marriage, they’re terrified of even taking a course with the word “marriage” in it. That’s why I tell the women that they must have patience, to wait three or four years for the guys so that at age 25, they will be equal.
Have any of your students met each other in your class and gone on to get married?
Oh yes, a couple of times, and I’ve been invited to their weddings. Years ago, a former student asked me to marry her, and perform the ceremony. I said, “I can’t do that.” She said, “Check your email—you’ve just been ordained a Universal Life minister.” I’m marrying a former student next month.
Can you talk about the reading assignments for students in the class?
I give them a number of unusual books; I still assign a legendary book by the Jewish rabbi and teacher Martin Buber, called “I and Thou.” Buber says, “There are only two basic words a human person can speak, and they are not words, but word pairs. One is ‘I Thou,’ the other ‘I It.’” The I that utters Thou is different from the I that utters It. They are different I’s. The I that utters Thou is wholly present to the Thou; the I that utters It is never present.
Let’s put it this way: The I that utters Thou says, “How can I love you? Let me count the ways.” The I that utters It says, ‘How can I use you? Let me count the ways.”
You once said: “Before getting married, say two things: I cannot live without you, yet I can live without you very well. Second: Only marry someone you can talk to endlessly without ever being bored.” How did you come up with that advice?
This advice just seems to make sense! Love is not an attachment based on need, but on care. While one, of course, wants to live with the beloved, one must be strong enough not to. Often there is separation, but the love does not cease. Death is the most obvious and inevitable separation, but there are all those small “deaths” that take our loved one from us. Parents love their children, but there is that moment when a daughter or son leaves for college. Real love lets the young man or woman go, while caring just as much as when he or she was in the cradle. Continued attachment, possessiveness, and control of the offspring cannot let go, and, therefore, genuine love is distorted; at best, it is a love that becomes a caricature of itself!
You have observed that relationships portrayed in our modern culture by Hollywood and in some literature often trivializes relationships. What's at stake?
Yes, beware of the images the media give us. They give us shallow and superficial ideas, based on feelings, and often only sexual feelings. Love is not a feeling. Love brings feelings of joy after caring for another and a commitment to another. Feelings accompany love, but do not constitute it.