A Deeper Understanding of the Church and Marriage

Author: Pope John Paul II

A Deeper Understanding of the Church and Marriage

Pope John Paul II


During the general audience of Wednesday, 18 August, Pope John Paul delivered the following address to the large crowd present in St Peter's Square.

1. Analyzing the respective components of Ephesians, we established that the reciprocal relationship between husband and wife is to be understood by Christians as an image of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

This relationship is a revelation and a realization in time of the mystery of salvation, of the election of love, hidden from eternity in God. In this revelation and realization the mystery of salvation includes the particular aspect of conjugal love in the relationship of Christ to the Church. Thus one can express it most adequately by applying the analogy of the relationship which exists—which should exist—between husband and wife in marriage. Such an analogy clarifies the mystery, at least to a certain degree. Indeed, according to the author of Ephesians, it seems that this analogy serves as a complement to that of the Mystical Body (cf. Eph 1:22-23) when we attempt to express the mystery of the relationship of Christ to the Church—and going back even further, the mystery of the eternal love of God for man and for humanity, that mystery which is expressed and is realized in time through the relationship of Christ to the Church.

Understanding reciprocal love

2. If—as has been said—this analogy illuminates the mystery, it in its turn is illuminated by that mystery. The conjugal relationship which unites husband and wife should help us—according to the author of the Letter to the Ephesians—to understand the love which unites Christ to the Church, that reciprocal love between Christ and the Church in which the divine eternal plan for the salvation of man is realized. Yet the content of meaning of the analogy does not end here. The analogy used in Ephesians, illuminating the mystery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, contemporaneously unveils the essential truth about marriage. Marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians only when it reflects the love which Christ the Bridegroom gives to the Church his Bride, and which the Church (resembling the "subject" wife, that is, completely given) attempts to return to Christ. This is redeeming love, love as salvation, the love with which man from eternity has been loved by God in Christ: "...even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him..." (Eph 1:4).

Analogy follows two directions

3. Marriage corresponds to the vocation of Christians as spouses only if that love is reflected and effected therein. This will become clear if we attempt to reread the Pauline analogy inversely, that is, beginning with the relationship of Christ to the Church and turning next to the relationship of husband and wife in marriage. In the text, an exhortative tone is used: "As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands." On the other hand: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church...." These expressions make it clear that a moral obligation is involved. Yet, in order to recommend such an obligation one must admit that in the essence of marriage a particle of the same mystery is captured. Otherwise, the entire analogy would hang suspended in a void. The call which the author of Ephesians directed to the spouses, that they model their reciprocal relationship on the relationship of Christ to the Church ("as—so"), would be without a real basis, as if it had no ground beneath its feet. Such is the logic of the analogy used in the cited text of Ephesians.

4. As we can see, the analogy operates in two directions. On the one hand, it helps us to understand better the essence of the relationship between Christ and the Church. On the other, at the same time, it helps us to see more deeply into the essence of marriage to which Christians are called. In a certain sense, the analogy shows the way in which this marriage, in its deepest essence, emerges from the mystery of God's eternal love for man and for humanity. It emerges from that salvific mystery which is fulfilled in time through the spousal love of Christ for the Church. Beginning with the words of Ephesians (5:21-33), we can move on to develop the thought contained in the great Pauline analogy in two directions: either in the direction of a deeper understanding of the Church, or in the direction of a deeper understanding of marriage. In our considerations, we will pursue the latter first of all, mindful that the spousal relationship of Christ to the Church is at the basis of an understanding of marriage in its essence. That relationship will be analyzed even more precisely in order to establish—presupposing the analogy with marriage—in what way the latter becomes a visible sign of the divine eternal mystery, as an image of the Church united with Christ. In this way Ephesians leads us to the foundations of the sacramentality of marriage.

Mentality of the time

5. Let us undertake, then, a detailed analysis of the text. We read in Ephesians that "the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior" (Eph 5:23). The author has already explained that the submission of the wife to the husband as head is intended as reciprocal submission "out of reverence for Christ." We can presume that the author goes back to the concept rooted in the mentality of the time, to express first of all the truth concerning the relationship of Christ to the Church, that is, that Christ is the head of the Church. He is head as "Savior of his Body." The Church is exactly that Body which—being submissive in everything to Christ as its head—receives from him all that through which it becomes and is his Body. It receives the fullness of salvation as the gift of Christ, who "gave himself up for her" to the last. Christ's "giving himself up" to the Father by obedience unto death on the cross acquired here a strictly ecclesiological sense: "Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). Through a total giving up of himself because of his love, he formed the Church as his Body and continually builds her up, becoming her head. As head he is the Savior of his Body, and, at the same time, as Savior he is head. As head and Savior of the Church, he is also Bridegroom of his Bride.

Fruit of Christ's love

6. Inasmuch as the Church is herself, so, as Body, she receives from Christ her head the entire gift of salvation as the fruit of Christ's love and of his giving himself up for the Church, the fruit of his giving himself up to the last. That gift of himself to the Father by obedience unto death (cf. Phil 2:8) is contemporaneously, according to Ephesians, a "giving himself up for the Church." In this expression, redeeming love is transformed, I would say, into spousal love. Giving himself up for the Church, through the same redeeming act Christ is united once and for all with her, as bridegroom with the bride, as husband with his wife. Christ gives himself through all that which is once and for all contained in his "giving himself up" for the Church. In this way, the mystery of the redemption of the body conceals within itself, in a certain sense, the mystery "of the marriage of the Lamb" (cf. Rv 19:7). Because Christ is the head of the Body, the entire salvific gift of the redemption penetrates the Church as the Body of that head, and continually forms the most profound, essential substance of her life. It is the spousal form, given that in the cited text the analogy of body-head becomes an analogy of groom-bride, or rather of husband-wife. This is demonstrated by the subsequent passages of the text, which will be considered next.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
30 August 1982, page 3

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