Indissolubility of Sacrament of Marriage in Mystery of the Redemption of the Body

Author: Pope John Paul II

Indissolubility of Sacrament of Marriage in Mystery of the Redemption of the Body

Pope John Paul II


Thousands of the faithful were present in St Peter's Square for the general audience on 27 October during which the Holy Father continued his catechesis on marriage in light of the Letter to the Ephesians.

1. The text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) speaks of the sacraments of the Church—and in particular of Baptism and the Eucharist—but only in an indirect and, in a certain sense, allusive manner, developing the analogy of marriage in reference to Christ and the Church. So we read at first that Christ who "loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (5:25), did so "that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word" (5:26). Doubtlessly this treats of the sacrament of Baptism, which by Christ's institution was from the beginning conferred on those who were converted. The words quoted show very graphically in what way Baptism draws its essential significance and its sacramental power from that spousal love of the Redeemer, by means of which the sacramentality of the Church itself is constituted above all (sacramentum magnum). The same can also be said perhaps of the Eucharist. This would seem to be indicated by the following words about nourishing one's own body, which indeed every man nourishes and cherishes "as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body" (5:29-30). In fact Christ nourishes the Church with his body precisely in the Eucharist.

2. One sees, however, that neither in the first nor second case can we speak of a well-developed sacramental theology. One cannot speak about it even when treating of the sacrament of marriage as one of the sacraments of the Church. Expressing the spousal relationship of Christ to the Church, the Letter to the Ephesians lets it be understood that on the basis of this relationship the Church itself is the "great sacrament." It is the new sign of the covenant and of grace, which draws its roots from the depths of the sacrament of redemption, just as from the depths of the sacrament of creation marriage has emerged, a primordial sign of the covenant and of grace. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians proclaims that that primordial sacrament is realized in a new way in the sacrament of Christ and of the Church. For this reason also, in the same classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33, the Apostle urges spouses to be "subject to one another out of reverence for Christ" (5:21) and model their conjugal life by basing it on the sacrament instituted at the beginning by the Creator. This sacrament found its definitive greatness and holiness in the spousal covenant of grace between Christ and the Church.

3. Even though the Letter to the Ephesians does not speak directly and immediately of marriage as one of the sacraments of the Church, the sacramentality of marriage is especially confirmed and closely examined in it. In the great sacrament of Christ and of the Church, Christian spouses are called upon to model their life and their vocation on the sacramental foundation.

4. After the analysis of the classical text of Ephesians 5:21-33, addressed to Christian spouses, Paul announces to them the great mystery (sacramentum magnum) of the spousal love of Christ and of the Church. After the analysis of this text, it is opportune to return to those significant words of the Gospel which we have analyzed previously, seeing in them the key statements for the theology of the body. Christ spoke these words, one might say, from the divine depth of the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:23). All these words have a fundamental significance for man inasmuch as he is a body—inasmuch as he is male or female. They have a significance for marriage in which man and woman unite so that the two become "one flesh," according to the expression of Genesis (2:24). However, at the same time, Christ's words also indicate the vocation to continence "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:12).

5. In each of these ways the redemption of the body is a great expectation of those who possess "the first fruits of the spirit" (Rom 8:23). Not only that, it is also a permanent source of hope that creation will be "set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Rom 8:21). Spoken from the divine depth of the mystery of redemption and of the redemption of the body, Christ's words bear within them the leaven of this hope. They open to it a perspective both in the eschatological dimension and also in the dimension of daily life. In fact, the words addressed to his immediate hearers are simultaneously addressed to historical man of various times and places. That man indeed who possesses "the first fruits of the spirit...groans...waiting for the redemption...of the body" (Rom 8:23). There is also concentrated in him the "cosmic" hope of the whole of creation, which in him, in man, "waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom 8:19).

6. Christ speaks with the Pharisees, who ask him: "Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?" (Mt 19:3) They question him in this way precisely because the law attributed to Moses permitted the so-called "bill of divorce" (Dt 24:1). Christ's reply was as follows: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one'? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt 19:2-6). They then went on to speak about the "bill of divorce" and Christ said to them: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery" (Mt 19:8-9). "He who marries a woman divorced from her husband, commits adultery" (Lk 16:18).

7. The horizon of the redemption of the body is opened up with these words, which constitute the reply to a concrete question of a juridical-moral nature. It is opened up especially by the fact that Christ took his stand on the plane of that primordial sacrament which his questioners inherited in a singular manner, given that they also inherited the revelation of the mystery of creation, contained in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis.

These words contain at the same time a universal reply addressed to historical man of all times and places, since they are decisive for marriage and for its indissolubility. In fact they refer to that which man is, male and female, such as he has become in an irreversible way by the fact of having been created in the image and likeness of God. Man does not cease to be such even after original sin, even though this has deprived him of original innocence and justice. In replying to the query of the Pharisees, Christ referred to the "beginning." He seemed in this way to stress especially the fact that he was speaking from the depth of the mystery of redemption, and of the redemption of the body. In fact, Redemption signifies, as it were, a "new creation." It signifies the assuming of all that is created: to express in creation the fullness of justice, of equity and of sanctity designated by God, and to express that fullness especially in man, created as male and female in the image of God.

In the perspective of Christ's words to the Pharisees on that which marriage was from the beginning, we reread also the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) as a testimony of the sacramentality of marriage based on the great mystery of Christ and of the Church.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
1 November 1982, page 3

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