Chapter 20: Christian Marriage
The Creator has instituted the marriage covenant that unites man and woman in a life of shared intimate love, under specific rules, while Jesus raised marriage to the level of a sacrament. In fact, the three pillars of Christian marriage are: unity, indissolubility and openness to fertility. Consequently, polygamy contradicts unity, divorce separates what God has united, while denial of reproduction and fertility deprives marital life of the most precious fruit granted by God to man – the child.
What are your views on marriage? Civil laws have a different approach to the institute of marriage. Do you consider the Christian approach more complex, instead of being simpler and more easy-going? On what is based the Christian code for the laws concerning the Sacrament of Marriage? These are the questions we will try to answer in our today’s meeting, with the help of the Gospel and the theological and sacramental teaching on the subject of marriage.
2- Reading and understanding the Gospel: Christian marriage (Mt 19:1-12)
1Jesus had now finished what he wanted to say, and he left Galilee and came into the part of Judaea which is on the far side of the Jordan. 2Large crowds followed him and he healed them there.
3Some Pharisees approached him, and to test him they said, “Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever?” 4He answered, “Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female 5and that he said: This is why a man must leave father and mother, and cling to his wife, and the two become one body? 6They are no longer two, therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.”
7They said to him, “Then why did Moses command that a writ of dismissal should be given in cases of divorce?” 8 “It was because you were so unteachable,” he said, “that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but it was not like this from the beginning. 9Now I say this to you: the man who divorces his wife – I am not speaking of fornication – and marries another, is guilty of adultery.”
10The disciples said to him, “If that is how things are between husband and wife, it is not advisable to marry.” 11But he replied, “It is not everyone who can accept what I have said, but only those to whom it is granted. 12There are eunuchs born that way from their mother’s womb, there are eunuchs made so by men and there are eunuchs who have made themselves that way for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let anyone accept this who can.”
2. 1- Explanation
The question of the Pharisees to Jesus had been a subject of long-standing controversy between hardliners and more lenient Jews. Old Testament law allowed divorce in particular circumstances, and not simply for “any reason” (Deut 24:1-4). The question is clear: is it permissible to divorce for any reason? Jesus, in his answer, goes beyond their sectarian affiliations, and he insists on the indissolubility of marriage, and the prohibition of divorce. Why?
As Jesus is the Son of God, he knows everything that pertains to this subject in God’s will. In his answer (Mt 19.4-6), he returns to the beginning of creation, long before Moses. In the beginning, God intended the human person to be either male or female. This duality is necessary in marriage; no marriage between two people of the same sex is legitimate. And when a man unites with a woman to become one flesh with her, with all that this entails as truth in marital consent, no human authority cannot dissolve such a marriage, for God has blessed and united it. In short, Jesus states that divorce has never been part of the divine plan since the dawn of Creation.
The Pharisees asks further (v.7-8): “Why has Moses permitted divorce?” The question hides another one: Was Moses working against the will of God and His law? Jesus answers in straightforward words: “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because you were so unteachable.” By this, Jesus means that the Law allowed divorce to resolve a crisis created by evil men, and that this solution should never have existed, nor was it ever in God’s thought. In this case, divorce was an exceptional exemption and not a permanent rule of Law. The community of the Kingdom belonging to Christ must live according to God’s essential will; and problems that occur after marriage will be resolved through reconciliation and forgiveness (Mt 18).
The exception, “fornication” – in Greek originally termed porneia – (v.9), which Jesus mentions is found also in St Paul’s First Letter to the people of Corinth (1 Cor 5:1), where close relatives were allowed to marry, which was not originally acceptable. Through extension, this word would mean any impediments that are found before marriage, and on which the Code of Canon Law is based, to declare “the nullity of a marriage”; there is no divorce in Christian terminology.
With Jesus, marriage is not the sole social state for believers. There is also voluntary chastity for the sake of the Kingdom (v.12). Those consecrated to the service of God and the world are a sign of fertility in life, without having to produce and take care of children. That is why we call them (Spiritual) Fathers, Mothers, Brothers and Sisters, granted these respective titles because of the universality of their mission.
2. 2- Summary and Practice
In today’s Gospel, Jesus maintains the divine principle of marriage: one marriage for life, no polygamy, no divorce; people rather, maintain their married life in fidelity and unity throughout life. On the other hand, we note in our current society that separations are multiplied because of selfishness, concupiscence, instant pleasure, and the denial of sacrifice and forgiveness. But, for all that, the Church could not, in any way, return to the law of Moses and legalize divorce. The Church has, in fact, lived for two thousand years in solidarity and unity; from her cradle, there have been martyrs and holy families, the most famous of which today is the family of St Louis Martin and his wife St Zélie, who were canonized in Rome by Pope Francis on October 18, 2015. It is well known that it is difficult to live together, but it is possible to overcome the problems through the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, in which God undertakes to unite the hearts of the two spouses in a communion of love throughout life.
3- Theological and Spiritual Teaching: The Sacrament of Marriage
“It is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18). When God created the human person, He created man and woman, and He planted in their hearts the desire not to be satisfied with living alone, but to seek a partner or soulmate in their life. God said, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and the two will be one flesh.” Jesus recalled these words well, adding: “They are no longer two, but one flesh. So then, what God has united, man must not divide.” He announced this in responding to the Pharisees who questioned him about divorce and its reasons. For Jesus, marriage is unique and definitive, in the sense that man marries only once; And as long as the wife or husband is alive, they will not be able to marry another. This is what is meant by the “unity and indissolubility” of marriage.
Marriage has a purpose, which is no less important than what has just been said: procreation. The spouses must be open to the gift of life. God has said this clearly at the Creation: “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.”
For the Church these are the natural ingredients of marriage, but it does not stop at this level; the grace of the Lord Jesus exceeds all imagination. The Lord has, in fact, elevated marriage to the status of a sacrament, that is, that it is like the Eucharist, Baptism and other sacraments, endowed with the grace of the invisible God, and He pours it into the life of the couple and the family. More specifically, it ensures that the mystery of Christ’s offering on the Cross and of his Resurrection permeate the family. Returning to the epistle of St Paul to the Ephesians, we notice that the apostle speaks of the Cross of Christ and married life together: “This mystery has many implications… It applies to Christ and the Church… Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church… For a man to love his wife is for him to love himself…”
It is also important to talk about another dimension of sacramental marriage, as a sacrament of “communion and unity”. The Church believes that God called humanity to form one people, one family. The couple, through their unity, participate in God’s loving desire, and live, in part and in a particular way, the required communion of humanity. Thus, marriage is considered a school of love, in which the couple learn, day after day, from acts of love and righteous positions in life, the true meaning of love, God’s gift to the Church, through self-giving. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). When love matures in the couple, or when man and woman mature in love, they will be able to translate their experience into the Church and society. As marriage is a Christian sacrament, its role does not stop at sanctifying the couple only, but the Lord calls men and women to make of their marriage a charism at the service of God, the Church and society.
4- Reading and Meditation: Reading from St John Chrysostom (354-407)
The Sacrament of Marriage
It is not enough for the man to love his wife, since she was created from his flesh, but he must love her because God has laid down the following commandment: “A man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” St Paul reminds us of this law in asking us to live love in all its dimensions. In his kindness, the apostle is not content merely to encourage the man to love his wife, in the name of divine or human laws, but he mentions the two divine and human orders at the same time, without separating them from each other. Pious souls love by spiritual motivation, while fragile souls love by a human and natural motivation. That is why he begins his teaching by giving Christ as an example: “Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church.” Then he proposes a human example: “Husbands must love their wives as they love their own bodies.” Later, he returns to Christ: “Are we not the members of his Body?” Finally, he returns to man: “The man must leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife.” After this, he adds: “This is a great mystery.”22