As the poet Edmund Spenser brings his Epithalamion or wedding-song to its grand conclusion, he dismisses all those whom he has called in joy to witness his wedding and to celebrate it afterwards. They aren't just family and friends. He dismisses the young ladies who have attended upon the bride, the boys who have been running and cheering up and down the street, the men who have lit bonfires, and the daughters of merchants who never will have seen anything so wondrous and inspiring such reverence as does his modest, chaste, and properly-proud bride. He dismisses the nymphs of the nearby Irish rivers, and the woodland gods. He dismisses the creatures of the forests, and even the sun itself -- for when man and woman marry, man and woman the crown of creation, we Christians must see in that marriage the summation of all that God had created before. The cattle and the birds and all the creeping things that creep upon the earth and the beasts that swim the seas await their king and queen when man is made, male and female; and their own fruitfulness and multiplication is to be summed up in the fruitful increase of man. The very verbs of God's command and blessing rhyme in the Hebrew, as if, for us, to rule were but the natural consequence of our being fruitful, and multiplying, and filling the world.
Spenser does not only dismiss, though. If the celebration is public, what happens after the celebration is downright cosmic. That is, he invokes the moon and the goddess of the moon, the virgin Cynthia, and great Juno, goddess of childbirth, and the heavenly host, all in the Renaissance way of invoking, allegorically, the blessings of heaven. In the bed where he and his bride make love, we are made to understand that something may happen for which all the cosmos, all that grand wild extravagant order of stars and planets and night and day, is but the preparation or the stage, and in comparison with which all the cosmos that is not human is but dust. They may beget a child. Indeed they pray that it be so, "that they may raise a large posterity," to increase the number of the saints in bliss. Nymphs and fauns may witness the spousal. Saints and angels witness the holy consummation.
Does it even require stating that almost none of what Spenser feels and understands is felt and understood now by bride and groom? Our marriages, we think, are our own affairs. Indeed, they are usually preceded by "affairs," ours together or ours with others, and somewhere along the line are granted the ho-hum endorsement of a big party and a "honeymoon". I say "ho-hum," because where there is not much to celebrate, we can only distract ourselves from the lack by throwing big parties, getting drunk, spending a lot of money, or, what is more likely, causing a lot of people to spend a lot of money whether they like it or not, and then pretending excitement as the bride in white is whisked off by the groom to spend the night in their apartment before heading off for the fifth time to their favorite honeymoon hideaway. And they will almost certainly not be invoking a goddess of childbirth to shed her benign influence upon them. Children will kick down your little sandcastle world for sure.
To say that our marriages are not viewed in such an expansive way as to embrace all of physical space and time, and also the time beyond time, where Christ and his hallows dwell, is not nearly enough. I return to the notion of cosmos: order. Man and woman unite in marriage to bring into being a new generation; and even when they cannot do so, because of age or some physical defect, they may well wish to do so, or they stand for others as exemplars of the act that naturally brings forth children. All of which is to say that marriage that is open to children is part of the order created by God. Then marriage that is not open to children violates that order, and introduces into our understanding of marriage a destructive chaos. It is deeply ironic: the messiness and surprise and being-themselves of children not engineered as products at the end of an assembly line are as wild and alive and orderly as Eden. But a marriage whence children have been ruled out recasts itself, most tidily, as the result of personal wilfulness, of desire for some very good things (sexual intercourse, companionship, and so on) but on one's own terms, rather than on the obvious terms whereon nature and nature's God confer them. And wilfulness is essentially chaotic. The tidy wilfulness of the professional couple who like nice cars and hot tubs better than they like new human beings is easier for us to overlook than is the frenzied wilfulness of the people who live in the trailer park and whose children need to invent new words to describe their relation to the people they are living with, but it is not clear to me that it is therefore morally superior because it is tidy, or in the long run less destructive.
I know people who love one another and who decided, when they married, that they would never have children. I'm not doubting their love. But there is a great element of pseudogamy to such a relationship: a refusal to take upon oneself the full responsibility, and the full joy, of marriage. It is related to acedia, I think; a turning aside from the risks of faith and hope and love, and their replacement with the terrible distraction of fun. High time for Christians to remember that joy is to fun as Heaven is to a tourist trap.