Welcome to February, the month of love! In honor of that time of year where everyone opines on the good, the bad, and the ugly surrounding the most complex and mysterious of human emotions, I want to jump down the rabbit hole and reflect on a particular notion associated with love: the notion of “soulmates.” This notion is a contentious one these days. Modern culture has already given the notion of soulmates a sound thrashing. There is no such thing as Prince Charming, most people say; true love does not befall us in ninety seconds of perfectly harmonious song, and no woodland creatures are coming to rescue us from our laundry while we dance our life away.
Strictly speaking, Catholic theology stands with modern culture on this one. Fr. Brendon Laroche, of the Diocese of Allentown, made a thought-provoking observation on Twitter a few months ago about “soulmates” and the sacramental nature of marriage. He said:
“There is no such thing as a ‘soulmate’ properly so called because a sacramental marriage is indissoluble except by death and souls survive death. Ergo, if marriage was a ‘mating’ of souls, rather than of the whole person as a hylomorphic unity, death would not end it…If ‘soulmates’ were real, marriage would not be dissolved by death. If marriage was not dissolved by death, a widow(er) would not be free to marry. But the Church allows a widow(er) to remarry…”
The notion of a soulmate in this sense, as an “other” who perfectly matches your own soul and creates a life of blissful homogeny is absolutely false. Neither does marriage impart an indelible mark on the soul, resulting in a particular characteristic that is attributed to your self in the beatific vision. The indelible marks conferred at Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders are a special configuration to God Himself that is consummated in Heaven. Marriage configures two people to each other in a cooperative journey towardGod, but does not permanently change who each one ultimately is before God, at least not in the same way as Baptism, Confirmation, and Holy Orders.
Fr. Laroche’s argument has its merits and modern culture’s derision is not totally unfounded. Their positions on the matter do, however, leave room for a more nuanced analysis of the notion of soulmates and its relationship to marriage. There is also room to consider, in light of the whole deposit of Faith, a value to the notion of soulmates that is theologically consistent with the Faith and pastorally beneficial for the faithful.
Soulmates and Marriage: Helpful, but Not Necessary
First, it’s important to recognize that the notion of soulmates and the sacrament of marriage are not indistinguishable from each other, nor are they dependent on each other. The purpose of marriage is the mutual uplifting of spouses and the procreation and education of children. There is no mention of being “soulmates” as a precondition for the conferral of the marital covenant and sacramental graces. Many marriages, both in recorded history and in personal memory, exemplify how easy it is to fulfill the canonical obligations of the sacrament without reaching close to any kind of notion of soulmates.
Yet Scripture offers multiple examples of people who married their “soulmate.” We see Adam exclaim that he finally found “the bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh” upon seeing Eve. We discover the lovers in the Song of Songs, who through their experience come to proclaim that “love is strong as death.” Jacob and Rebekah. Tobias and Sarah. Mary and Joseph. These couples are no accident. They are a revelation. They reveal God’s truth about human love. They profess the fullness of the marital covenant and its ability to lead us into the mystery of God’s own nature and the covenantal bond between Christ and His Church. Their example encourages and admonishes us to discern a vocation to, and potential partner in, marriage carefully. What they do not do is set an expectation that all covenantal marriages must reveal the fullest extent of God’s mysteries.
Soulmate in the Proper Sense
It is also important to clearly define what a “soulmate” is. The reason that this notion appears incompatible with sound theology and is mocked by popular sensibilities is because a “soulmate” is popularly interpreted, grammatically speaking, as a verb. Think carefully about the classic Disney model of princess and Prince Charming. They sing in perfect harmony and dance perfectly in step from the beginning. Their physical attributes are perfectly symmetrical to the point where neither one takes attention from the other. All of this insinuates that true love means becomingan indistinguishable “one” with another person. Fr. Laroche also implicitly admits this: “…if marriage was a ‘mating’ of souls…” Genesis speaks of the “two becoming one flesh” in regards to marriage, but this is not meant literally.
The Scriptural examples mentioned above, however, invite us to consider soulmates in another light. Rather than thinking of the notion of a soulmate as an action where souls “mate” in the attempt to create a chimeric homogeny, it is more theologically-sound to consider “mate” in the nominative sense. There can be a mate for our soul, who in their whole person, is uniquely suited to cooperatively work with us for the salvation of both persons. In this other, the fullness of complementarity is achieved. This unique other makes the effort required for the attainment of salvation feel easier, echoing Christ’s words: “my yoke is light.”
Soulmates in the Economy of Salvation
Does any of this really matter? Is the notion of soulmates merely a niche for sappy romantics, or is there some actual spiritual benefit to incorporating it into our worldview? It’s subtle, but there is a profound spiritual benefit to the notion of soulmates, and it has everything to do with another notion often bound up with soulmates: “happily-ever-after.” The world crafted happily-ever-after as rides into the sunset and passionate kisses without any hint of future strife. This is obviously false, but it doesn’t negate the truth that happily-ever-after does exist. It is a fundamental doctrine of our Faith, and we call it Heaven. We were created for the purpose of sharing in God’s life, under a veil in this life and fully in the next.
The notion of soulmates leads us into a deeper appreciation for the profound communion that we hope to attain in the Beatific Vision. It assumes the truth about our unique dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God, and because of that likeness professes that we have the capacity to reveal the truth about God’s life through our own, pale a comparison as it is.
Not everyone finds a soulmate, and that is ok. It is neither a requirement for the conferral of sacramental graces nor the salvation of a soul. No one will go to Hell for not having a soulmate. But it is a notion worth having. It is a notion worth hoping for, for our self and others. It is a notion that immerses us in the mysteries of the Faith, if we let it. “