Love is not Love Which Alters When it Alteration Finds (Sonnet 116)
Shakespeare was one of the sharpest observers and recorders of human grandeur and foibles. Has he, in these lines, overreached himself? Got soft-headed for the sake of sales? Throughout much of history the majority of marriages have been the result of family needs and class expectations; yet every culture knows and celebrates blazing love affairs that have confounded all familiar patterns. We think of Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, Dante and Beatrice – none of whom knew long and happy days.
What Difference Does a Sacrament Make?
Catholic theology has viewed sacraments as mysterious signs, pointing to far more than they can say, like the consecrated bread that fleetingly but truly holds Christ’s presence. Marriage between two Christians will often look like a million similar relationships: infatuation, enchantment, strain and disenchantment, leading to either re-enchantment, stagnation or dissolution.
What is different about marriages built on religious faith is a constant striving to affirm the divine in a frail partner. Accepting that each partner, no matter how familiar, is an ocean with unplumbed depths does not lead to despair but a day by day struggle to see the mysterious other as a gift whose unravelling can occasion delight rather than dismay. Counsellors say that marriages that survive begin the day with an embrace and end it in the same way. Marriages founded on faith also see each day, no matter how mundane, as yet another day to rediscover Christ’s death and rising in their journey together towards death. They can, without cynicism, complete the sonnet:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.