Marriage Is the Central Point of the Sacrament of Creation

Author: Pope John Paul II

Marriage Is the Central Point of the Sacrament of Creation

Pope John Paul II


The general audience of 6 October took place in St Peter's Square in spite of inclement weather. Pope John Paul delivered an address following the theme of the last several weeks.

1. We continue the analysis of the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians, 5:21-33. For this purpose it is necessary to quote some phrases contained in one of the preceding analyses devoted to this theme: "Man appears in the visible world as the highest expression of the divine gift, because he bears within himself the interior dimension of the gift. With it he brings into the world his particular likeness to God, whereby he transcends and dominates also his 'visibility' in the world, his corporality, his masculinity or femininity, his nakedness. Resulting from this likeness there is also the primordial awareness of the conjugal significance of the body, pervaded by the mystery of original innocence" (L'amore umano nel piano divino, Citta del Vaticano, 1980, p. 90). These phrases sum up in a few words the result of the analyses devoted to the first chapters of Genesis, in relation to the words with which Christ, in his conversation with the Pharisees on the subject of marriage and its indissolubility, referred to the "beginning." Other phrases of the same analysis pose the problem of the primordial sacrament: "Thus, in this dimension, there is constituted a primordial sacrament, understood as a sign which effectively transmits in the visible world the invisible mystery hidden from eternity in God. This is the mystery of truth and love, the mystery of the divine life in which man really shares.... It is the original innocence which initiates this participation..." (ibid., p. 90).

The state of man before original sin

2. It is necessary to look again at the content of these statements in the light of the Pauline doctrine expressed in the Letter to the Ephesians, bearing in mind especially the passage of chapter 5, verses 21-33, situated in the overall context of the entire letter. In any event, the letter authorizes us to do this, because the author himself referred to the "beginning," and precisely to the words of the institution of marriage in Genesis (Eph 5:31; cf. Gn 2:24). In what sense can we see in these words a statement about the sacrament, about the primordial sacrament? The previous analyses of the biblical "beginning" have led us gradually to this, in consideration of the state of the original endowment of man in existence and in grace, which was the state of innocence and original justice. The Letter to the Ephesians leads us to approach this situation—that is, the state of man before original sin—from the point of view of the mystery hidden in God from eternity. In fact, we read in the first phrases of the letter that "God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph 1:3-4).

God's eternal plan

3. The Letter to the Ephesians opens up before us the supernatural world of the eternal mystery, of the eternal plans of God the Father concerning man. These plans precede the creation of the world, and therefore also the creation of man. At the same time those divine plans begin to be put into effect already in the entire reality of creation. If also the state of original innocence of man, created as male and female in the likeness of God, pertains to the mystery of creation, this implies that the primordial gift conferred on man by God already includes within itself the fruit of having been chosen, which we read of in the Letter to the Ephesians: "He chose us...that we should be holy and blameless before him" (Eph 1:4). This indeed seems to be indicated by the words of Genesis, when the Creator-Elohim finds in man—male and female—who appeared before him, a good worthy of gratification: "God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good" (Gn 1:31). Only after sin, after breaking the original covenant with the Creator, man feels the need to hide himself "from the Lord God." "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself" (Gn 3:10).

4. On the contrary, before sin, man bore in his soul the fruit of eternal election in Christ, the eternal Son of the Father. By means of the grace of this election man, male and female, was "holy and blameless" before God. That primordial (or original) holiness and purity were expressed also in the fact that, although both were "naked, they were not ashamed" (Gn 2:25), as we have sought to make evident in the previous analyses. Comparing the testimony of the "beginning" found in the first chapters of Genesis, with the testimony of the Letter to the Ephesians, one must deduce that the reality of man's creation was already imbued by the perennial election of man in Christ. Man is called to sanctity through the grace of the adoption as sons. "He destined us to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved" (Eph 1:5-6).

Supernatural endowment

5. Man, male and female, shared from the beginning in this supernatural gift. This bounty was granted in consideration of him, who from eternity was beloved as Son, even though—according to the dimensions of time and history—it had preceded the Incarnation of this beloved Son and also the redemption which we have in him through his blood (cf. Eph 1:7). The redemption was to become the source of man's supernatural endowment after sin and, in a certain sense, in spite of sin. This supernatural endowment, which took place before original sin, that is, the grace of justice and original innocence—an endowment which was the fruit of man's election in Christ before the ages—was accomplished precisely in reference to him, to the beloved One, while anticipating chronologically his coming in the body. In the dimensions of the mystery of creation the election to the dignity of adopted sonship was proper only to the first Adam, that is, to the man created in the image and likeness of God, male and female.

The subject of holiness

6. In what way is the reality of the sacrament, of the primordial sacrament, verified in this context? In the analysis of the beginning, from which we quoted a passage a short time ago, we said that "the sacrament, as a visible sign, is constituted by man inasmuch as he is a 'body,' through his visible masculinity and femininity. The body, in fact, and only it, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine. It was created to transfer into the visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God, and thus to be its sign" (loc. cit., p. 90).

This sign has besides an efficacy of its own, as I also said: "Original innocence linked to the experience of the conjugal significance of the body" has as its effect "that man feels himself, in his body as male and female, the subject of holiness" (Ibid., p. 91). He feels himself such and he is such from the beginning. That holiness which the Creator conferred originally on man pertains to the reality of the "sacrament of creation." The words of Genesis 2:24, "A man...cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh," spoken in the context of this original reality in a theological sense, constitute marriage as an integral part and, in a certain sense, a central part of the "sacrament of creation." They constitute—or perhaps rather they simply confirm—the character of its origin. According to these words, marriage is a sacrament inasmuch as it is an integral part and, I would say, the central point of "the sacrament of creation." In this sense it is the primordial sacrament.

7. The institution of marriage,  according to the words of Genesis 2:24, expresses the beginning of the fundamental human community which through the "procreative" power that is proper to it serves to continue the work of creation. "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gn 1:28). Not only this, it expresses at the same time the salvific initiative of the Creator, corresponding to the eternal election of man, which the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of. That salvific initiative comes from God-Creator and its supernatural efficacy is identified with the very act of man's creation in the state of original innocence. In this state, already in the act of man's creation, his eternal election in Christ fructified. In this way one must recognize that the original sacrament of creation draws its efficacy from the beloved Son (cf. Eph 1:6 where it speaks of the "grace which he gave us in his beloved Son"). If then it treats of marriage, one can deduce that—instituted in the context of the sacrament of creation in its globality, that is, in the state of original innocence—it should serve not only to prolong the work of creation, that is, of procreation. But it should also serve to extend to further generations of men the same sacrament of creation, that is, the supernatural fruits of man's eternal election on the part of the Father in the eternal Son—those fruits which man was endowed with by God in the very act of creation.

The Letter to the Ephesians seems to authorize us to interpret Genesis in this way, and the truth about the "beginning" of man and of marriage contained therein.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
11 October 1982, page 1

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