Christ Opened Marriage to the Saving Action of God

Author: Pope John Paul II

Christ Opened Marriage to the Saving Action of God

Pope John Paul II


During the general audience of Wednesday, 24 November, which took place in the Paul VI Hall, Pope John Paul delivered the following discourse.

1. We have analyzed the Letter to the Ephesians, especially the passage of 5:21-33, from the point of view of the sacramentality of marriage. Now we shall examine the same text in the perspective of the words of the Gospel.

Christ's words to the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19) refer to marriage as a sacrament, that is, to the primordial revelation of God's salvific will and deed at the beginning, in the very mystery of creation. In virtue of that salvific will and deed of God, man and woman, joining together in such a way as to become "one flesh" (Gn 2:24), were at the same time destined to be united "in truth and love" as children of God (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24), adopted children in the only-begotten Son, beloved from all eternity. The words of Christ are directed to this unity and toward this communion of persons, in the likeness of the union of the divine persons (cf. Gaudium et Spes 24). His words refer to marriage as the primordial sacrament and at the same time confirm that sacrament on the basis of the mystery of redemption. In fact, the original "unity in the body" of man and woman does not cease to mold the history of man on earth, even though it has lost the clarity of the sacrament, of the sign of salvation, which it possessed at the beginning.

2. If Christ, in the presence of those with whom he was conversing, in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark (cf. Mt 19; Mk 10), confirms marriage as a sacrament instituted by the Creator at the beginning—if in conformity with this he insisted on its indissolubility—he thereby opens marriage to the salvific action of God, to the forces which flow from the redemption of the body, and which help to overcome the consequences of sin and to constitute the unity of man and woman according to the eternal plan of the Creator. The salvific action which derives from the mystery of redemption assumes in itself the original sanctifying action of God in the mystery of creation.

3. The words of the Gospel of Matthew (cf. Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12), have at the same time a very expressive ethical eloquence. These words confirm—on the basis of the mystery of redemption—the primordial sacrament, and at the same time, they establish an adequate ethos which in our previous reflections we have called the ethos of redemption. The evangelical and Christian ethos, in its theological essence, is the ethos of redemption. Certainly, for that ethos we can find a rational interpretation, a philosophical interpretation of a personalistic character; however, in its theological essence, it is an ethos of redemption, rather, an ethos of the redemption of the body. Redemption becomes at the same time the basis for understanding the particular dignity of the human body, rooted in the personal dignity of the man and the woman. The reason of this dignity lies at the root of the indissolubility of the conjugal covenant.

4. Christ refers to the indissoluble character of marriage as a primordial sacrament, and, confirming this sacrament on the basis of the mystery of redemption, he simultaneously draws conclusions of an ethical nature: "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her, and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery" (Mk 10:11-12; cf. Mt 19:9). It can be said that in this way redemption is given to man as a grace of the new covenant with God in Christ—and at the same time it is assigned to him as an ethos, as the form of the morality corresponding to God's action in the mystery of redemption. If marriage as a sacrament is an effective sign of God's salvific action "from the beginning", at the same time—in the light of Christ's words which are being considered here—this sacrament constitutes also an exhortation addressed to man, male and female, so that they may participate consciously in the redemption of the body.

5. The ethical dimension of the redemption of the body is delineated in an especially profound way when we meditate on Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount in regard to the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt 5:27-28). We have previously given an ample commentary on this statement of Christ in the conviction that it has a fundamental significance for the whole theology of the body, especially in the dimension of historical man. Although these words do not refer directly and immediately to marriage as a sacrament, it is impossible to separate them from the whole sacramental substratum. As far as concerns the conjugal pact, the existence of man as male and female is placed in that substratum, both in the original context of the mystery of creation and then, later, in the context of the mystery of redemption. This sacramental substratum always regards individual persons. It penetrates into that which man and woman are (or rather, into who man and woman are) in their original dignity of image and likeness of God by reason of creation, and at the same time, in the same dignity inherited in spite of sin and again continually "assigned" to man as a duty through the reality of the redemption.

6. Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount, gives his own interpretation of the commandment, "You shall not commit adultery"—an interpretation constitutes a new ethos—with the same lapidary words he assigns as a duty to every man the dignity of every woman: and simultaneously (even though this can be deduced from the text only in an indirect way), he also assigns to every woman the dignity of every man.(1) Finally he assigns to every one—both to man and woman—their own dignity, in a certain sense, the sacrum of the person. This is in consideration of their femininity or masculinity, in consideration of the body. It is not difficult to see that Christ's words in the Sermon on the Mount regard the ethos. At the same time, it is not difficult to affirm after deeper reflection that these words flow from the very profundity of the redemption of the body. Although they do not refer directly to marriage as a sacrament, it is not difficult to observe that they achieve their proper and full significance in relationship with the sacrament, whether that primordial sacrament which is united with the mystery of creation, or that in which historical man, after sin and because of his hereditary sinfulness, should find again the dignity and holiness of the conjugal union in the body, on the basis of the mystery of redemption.

7. In the Sermon on the Mount—as also in the conversation with the Pharisees on the indissolubility of marriage—Christ speaks from the depths of that divine mystery. At the same time he enters into the depths of the human mystery. For that reason he mentions the heart, that intimate place in which there struggle struggle in man good and evil, sin and justice, concupiscence and holiness. Speaking of concupiscence (of the lustful look: cf. Mt 5:28), Christ made his hearers aware that everyone bears within himself, together with the mystery of sin, the interior dimension "of the man of concupiscence." This is three-fold: "the concupiscence of the flesh, the concupiscence of the eyes and the pride of life" (1 Jn 2:16).

It is precisely to this man of concupiscence that there is given in marriage the sacrament of redemption as a grace and a sign of the covenant with God—and it is assigned to him as an ethos. Simultaneously, in regard to marriage as a sacrament, it is assigned as an ethos to every man, male and female. It is assigned to his heart, to his conscience, to his looks, and to his behavior. According to Christ's words (cf. Mt 19:4), marriage is a sacrament from the very beginning. At the same time, on the basis of man's historic sinfulness, it is a sacrament arising from the mystery of the redemption of the body.


1. The text of St. Mark which speaks of the indissolubility of marriage clearly states that the woman also becomes a subject of adultery when she divorces her husband and marries another (cf. Mk 10:12).

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
29 November 1982, page 9

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