THE SACRAMENTALITY of MARRIAGE
Pope John Paul II  The Theology of the Body [6]
Part Two [D] § 87-113, General Audiences, 1982-1984

 

 


 1. [87] Marital Love Reflects God’s Love for His People

 2. [88.] The Call to Be Imitators of God and to Walk in Love

 3. [89.] Reverence for Christ the Basis of Relationship Between Spouses

 4. [90.] A Deeper Understanding of the Church and Marriage

  5. [91.] St Paul’s Analogy of the Union of Head and Body

  6. [92.] Sacredness of the Human Body and Marriage

  7. [93.] Christ’s Redemptive Love Has Spousal Nature

  8. [94.] Moral Aspects of the Christian’s Vocation

  9. [95.] Relationship of Christ to the Church Connected With the Tradition of the Prophets

10. [96.] Analogy of Spousal Love Indicates the Radical Character of Grace

11. [97.] Marriage Is the Central Point of the Sacrament of Creation

12. [98.] Loss of Original Sacrament Restored with Redemption in Marriage-Sacrament

13. [99.] Marriage an Integral Part of New Sacramental Economy

14. [100.] Indissolubility of Sacrament of Marriage in Mystery of the Redemption of the Body

15. [101.] Christ Opened Marriage to the Saving Action of God

16. [102.] Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God’s Saving Power

17. [103.] The Redemptive and Spousal Dimensions of Love

18. [104.] The Substratum and Content of the Sacramental Sign of Spousal Communion

19. [105.] The Language of the Body in the Structure of Marriage

20. [106.] The Sacramental Covenant in the Dimension of Sign

21. [107.] Language of the Body Strengthens the Marriage Covenant

22. [108.] Man Called to Overcome Concupiscence

23. [109.] Return to the Subject of Human Love in the Divine Plan [SOS1]

24. [110.] Truth and Freedom the Foundation of True Love[SOS2]

25. [111.] Love Is Ever Seeking and Never Satisfied [SOS3]

26. [112.] Love Is Victorious in the Struggle Between Good and Evil

27. [113.] The Language of the Body: Actions and Duties Forming the Spirituality of Marriage


Pope John Paul II, “The Theology of the Body” [Male and Female He Created Them]

Part Two: THE SACRAMENT

Chapter One: THE DIMENSION of COVENANT and of GRACE
[§ 87-103 (87 - 102)]


1.  [87] MARITAL LOVE REFLECTS GOD’S LOVE FOR HIS PEOPLE

General Audience of 28 July 1982

 

1. Today we begin a new chapter on the subject of marriage, reading the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians:

“Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.’ This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Eph 5:21-33).

Simple and fundamental

2. We should now subject to deep analysis the quoted text contained in this fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, just as we have previously analyzed the individual words of Christ that seem to have a key significance for the theology of the body. The analysis dealt with the words with which Christ recalled the beginning (cf. Mt 19:4; Mk 10:6), the human heart, in the Sermon on the Mount (cf. Mt 5:28), and the future resurrection (cf. Mt 22:30; Mk 12:25; Lk 20:35). What is contained in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians constitutes almost a crowning of those other concise key words. The theology of the body has emerged from them along its evangelical lines, simple and at the same time fundamental. In a certain sense it is necessary to presuppose that theology in interpreting the above-mentioned passage of the Letter to the Ephesians. Therefore if we want to interpret that passage, we must do so in the light of what Christ told us about the human body. He spoke not only to remind historical man, and therefore man himself, who is always contemporary, about concupiscence (in his heart). But he also spoke to reveal, on the one hand, the prospectives of the beginning or original innocence or justice, and on the other hand, the eschatological prospectives of the resurrection of the body, when “They will neither marry nor be given in marriage” (cf. Lk 20:35). All of this is part of the theological viewpoint of the “redemption of our body” (Rom 8:23).

Meanings converge

3. Even the words of the author of the Letter to the Ephesians(1) are centered on the body, both its metaphorical meaning, namely the Body of Christ which is the Church, and its concrete meaning, namely the human body in its perennial masculinity and femininity, in its perennial destiny for union in marriage, as Genesis says: “The man will leave his father and his mother and will cling to his wife and the two will be one flesh” (Gn 2:24).

In what way do these two meanings of the body appear together and converge in the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians? Why do they appear together and converge there? We must ask these questions, expecting not so much immediate and direct answers, but possibly studied and long-term answers for which our previous analyses have prepared. In fact, that passage from the Letter to the Ephesians cannot be correctly understood except in the full biblical context, considering it as the crowning of the themes and truths which, through the Word of God revealed in Sacred Scripture, ebb and flow like long waves. They are central themes and essential truths. Therefore the quoted text from the Letter to the Ephesians is also a key and classic text.

4. This text is well known in the liturgy, in which it always appears in relation to the sacrament of marriage. The Church’s lex orandi sees in it an explicit reference to this sacrament, and the lex orandi presupposes and at the same time always expresses the lex credendi. Admitting this premise, we must immediately ask ourselves: in this classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians, how does the truth about the sacramentality of marriage emerge? In what way is it expressed and confirmed there? It will become clear that the answers to these questions cannot be immediate and direct, but gradual and long-term. This is proved even at a first glance at this text, which brings us back to Genesis and therefore to “the beginning.” In the description of the relationship between Christ and the Church, this text takes from the writings of the Old Testament prophets the well-known analogy of the spousal love between God and his chosen people. Without examining these relationships it would be difficult to answer the question about how the sacramentality of marriage is dealt with in the Letter to the Ephesians. We will also see how the answer we are seeking must pass through the whole sphere of the questions previously analyzed, that is, through the theology of the body.

Body enters into definition of sacrament

5. The sacrament or the sacramentality—in the more general sense of this term—meets with the body and presupposes the theology of the body. According to the generally known meaning, the sacrament is a visible sign. The body also signifies that which is visible. It signifies the visibility of the world and of man. Therefore, in some way, even if in the most general way, the body enters the definition of sacrament, being “a visible sign of an invisible reality,” that is, of the spiritual, transcendent, divine reality. In this sign—and through this sign—God gives himself to man in his transcendent truth and in his love. The sacrament is a sign of grace, and it is an efficacious sign. Not only does the sacrament indicate grace and express it in a visible way, but it also produces it. The sacrament effectively contributes to having grace become part of man, and to realizing and fulfilling in him the work of salvation, the work begun by God from all eternity and fully revealed in Jesus Christ.

6. I would say that already this first glance at the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians points out the direction in which our further analyses must be developed. It is necessary that these analyses begin with the preliminary understanding of the text itself. However, they must subsequently lead us, so to say, beyond their limits, in order to understand possibly to the very depths how much richness of the truth revealed by God is contained in the scope of that wonderful page. Using the well-known expression from Gaudium et Spes, we can say that the passage we have selected from the Letter to the Ephesians, “reveals—in a particular way—man to man, and makes him aware of his lofty vocation” (GS 22), inasmuch as he shares in the experience of the incarnate person. In fact, creating man in his image, from the very beginning God created him “male and female” (Gn 1:27).

During the subsequent analyses we will try—above all in the light of the quoted text from the Letter to the Ephesians—to more deeply understand the sacrament (especially marriage as a sacrament), first in the dimension of the covenant and grace, and afterward in the dimension of the sacramental sign.


NOTE

1) The question of Pauline authorship of the Letter to the Ephesians, acknowledged by some exegetes and denied by others, can be resolved by means of a median supposition which we accept here as a working hypothesis: namely, that St. Paul entrusted some concepts to his secretary, who then developed and refined them.

We have in mind this provisional solution of the question when we speak of “the author of the Letter to the Ephesians,” the “Apostle,” and “St. Paul.”


2.  [88.] THE CALL TO BE IMITATORS OF GOD AND TO WALK IN LOVE

General Audience of 4 August 1982

 

1. During our talk last Wednesday I quoted the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians (vv. 22-25). Now after an introductory glance at this classic text, one should examine the way in which this passage—so important both for the mystery of the Church and of the sacramental character of marriage—is situated in the immediate context of the whole letter.

While realizing that there are a number of problems discussed among biblical scholars as regards the authorship, the date of composition, and those to whom the letter was addressed, one must note that the Letter to the Ephesians has a very significant structure. The author begins this letter by presenting the eternal plan of the salvation of man in Jesus Christ.

“God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ...has chosen us in him that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love 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. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace...as a plan for the fullness of time to unite all things in him...” (Eph 1:3, 4-7, 10).

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians, after having presented in words full of gratitude the plan which, from eternity, is in God, and at a certain time is already fulfilled in the life of humanity,  beseeches the Lord that men (and directly those to whom the letter is addressed) may fully know Christ as head: “He has made him the head over all things for the Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (1:22-23).

Sinful humanity is called to a new life in Christ, in which the pagans and the Hebrews should join together as in a temple (cf. 2:11-21). The Apostle preaches the mystery of Christ among the pagans, to whom he especially addresses himself in his letter, bending “the knee before the Father” and asking him to grant them “according to the riches of his glory to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man” (3:14, 16).

Vocation flowing from the divine plan

2. After this profound and moving revelation of Christ in the Church, in the second part of the letter the author passes to more detailed instructions. These are aimed at defining the Christian life as a vocation flowing from the divine plan, which we have previously spoken of, namely, from the mystery of Christ in the Church. Here also the author touches various questions which are always valid for the Christian life. He makes an exhortation for the preservation of unity, underlining at the same time that this unity is constructed on the multiplicity and diversity of Christ’s gifts. To each one is given a different gift, but all, as Christians, must “put on the new nature created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). To this is linked the categorical summons to overcome vices and to acquire the virtues corresponding to the vocation which all have obtained through Christ (cf. 4:25-32). The author writes: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us...in sacrifice” (5:1-2).

Condemns pagan abuses

3. In the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians these directives become more detailed. The author severely condemns pagan abuses, writing: “For once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light” (5:8). And then: “Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the will of the Lord is. Do not get drunk with wine [referring to the book of Proverbs 23:31]...but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (5:17-19). The author of the letter wishes to illustrate in these words the climate of spiritual life which should animate every Christian community. At this point he then goes on to consider the domestic community, namely, the family. He writes: “Be filled with the Spirit...always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God the Father. Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:20-21). Thus we enter precisely into that passage of the letter which will be the theme of our special analysis. We might easily observe that the essential content of this classic text appears at the meeting of the two principal guidelines of the entire Letter to the Ephesians: the first, that of the mystery of Christ which, as the expression of the divine plan for the salvation of man, is realized in the Church; the second, that of the Christian vocation as the model of life of the baptized individual, and of the single communities, corresponding to the mystery of Christ, or to the divine plan for the salvation of man.

4. In the immediate context of the passage quoted, the author of the letter seeks to explain in what way the Christian vocation thus understood should be realized and manifested in the relations between all members of the family; therefore, not merely between the husband and wife (treated of precisely in the passage of 5:21-33 which we have chosen), but also between parents and children. The author writes: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother (this is the first commandment with a promise) that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (6:1-4). Following that, he speaks of the duty of servants in regard to their masters and, vice versa, of masters in regard to servants, that is, in regard to the slaves (cf. 6:5-9). This is to be referred also to the directives concerning the family in the broad sense. The family, indeed, comprised not only the parents and children (according to the succession of generations), but included also in the wide sense, the servants or slaves of both sexes.

Moral obligations

5. Thus, then, the text of the Letter to the Ephesians which we proposed as the object of a deeper analysis is found in the immediate context of the teaching on the moral obligations of the family society (the so-called “Haustaflen” or domestic codes according to Luther’s definition). We find similar instructions also in other letters (e.g., in Colossians 3:18-24, and in First Peter 2:13; 3:7). Moreover, this immediate context forms part of our passage, inasmuch as the classic text which we have chosen treats of the reciprocal duties of husbands and wives. However, one must note that per se the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33 deals exclusively with married couples and marriage, and what regards the family also in the broad sense is already found in the context. First, however, before undertaking a more detailed analysis of the text, it should be added that the whole letter ends with a stupendous encouragement to the spiritual battle (cf. 6:10-20), with brief recommendations (cf. 6:21-22) and with a final farewell (cf. 6:23-24). That call to the spiritual battle seems to be based logically on the line of argument of the entire letter. It is the explicit fulfillment of its principal guidelines.

Having thus before our eyes the overall structure of the entire Letter to the Ephesians, we shall seek in the first analysis to clarify the meaning of the words: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21), addressed to husbands and to wives.

3.  [89.] REVERENCE FOR CHRIST THE BASIS OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN SPOUSES

General Audience of 11 August 1982

 

1. Today we begin a more detailed analysis of the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33. Addressing husbands and wives, the author recommends them to be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (5:21).

Here it is a question of a relationship of a double dimension or degree: reciprocal and communitarian. One clarifies and characterizes the other. The mutual relations of husband and wife should flow from their common relationship with Christ. The author of the letter speaks of “reverence for Christ” in a sense analogous to that when he speaks of the “fear of God.” In this case it is not a question of fear which is a defensive attitude before the threat of evil. But it is above all a case of respect for holiness, for the sacrum. It is a question ofpietas, which, in the language of the Old Testament, was expressed by the term “fear of God” (cf., e.g., Ps 103:11; Prv 1:7; 23:17; Sir 1:11-16). Arising from a profound awareness of the mystery of Christ, this pietas should constitute the basis of the reciprocal relations between husbands and wives.

Moral instruction

2. The text chosen by us, as likewise the immediate context, has a “parenetic” character, that is, of moral instruction. The author of the letter wishes to indicate to husbands and wives the basis of their mutual relationship and their entire conduct. He deduces the relative indications and directives from the mystery of Christ presented at the beginning of the letter. This mystery should be spiritually present in the mutual relationship of spouses. The mystery of Christ, penetrating their hearts, engendering in them that holy “reverence for Christ” (namely pietas), should lead them to “be subject to one another”—the mystery of Christ, that is, the mystery of the choice from eternity of each of them in Christ to be the adoptive sons of God.

Husband not the “lord”

3. The opening expression of our passage of Ephesians 5:21-33, which we have approached by an analysis of the remote and immediate context, has quite a special eloquence. The author speaks of the mutual subjection of the spouses, husband and wife, and in this way he explains the words which he will write afterward on the subjection of the wife to the husband. In fact we read: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” (5:22). In saying this, the author does not intend to say that the husband is the lord of the wife and that the interpersonal pact proper to marriage is a pact of domination of the husband over the wife. Instead, he expresses a different concept: that the wife can and should find in her relationship with Christ—who is the one Lord of both the spouses—the motivation of that relationship with her husband which flows from the very essence of marriage and of the family. Such a relationship, however, is not one of one-sided domination. According to the Letter to the Ephesians, marriage excludes that element of the pact which was a burden and, at times, does not cease to be a burden on this institution. The husband and the wife are in fact “subject to one another,” and are mutually subordinated to one another. The source of this mutual subjection is to be found in Christianpietas, and its expression is love.

No one-sided domination

4. The author of the letter underlines this love in a special way, in addressing himself to husbands. He writes: “Husbands, love your wives....” By expressing himself in this way, he removes any fear that might have arisen (given the modern sensitivity) from the previous phrase: “Wives, be subject to your husbands.” Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband, an object of unilateral domination. Love makes the husband simultaneously subject to the wife, and thereby subject to the Lord himself, just as the wife to the husband. The community or unity which they should establish through marriage is constituted by a reciprocal donation of self, which is also a mutual subjection. Christ is the source and at the same time the model of that subjection, which, being reciprocal “out of reverence for Christ,” confers on the conjugal union a profound and mature character. In this source and before this model many elements of a psychological or moral nature are so transformed as to give rise, I would say, to a new and precious fusion of the bilateral relations and conduct.

5. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians does not fear to accept those concepts which were characteristic of the mentality and customs of the times. He does not fear to speak of the subjection of the wife to the husband. He does not fear (also in the last verse of the text quoted by us) to recommend to the wife that “she respect her husband” (5:33). It is certain that when the husband and wife are subject to one another “out of reverence for Christ,” a just balance will be established, such as to correspond to their Christian vocation in the mystery of Christ.

Out of reverence”

6. Nowadays our contemporary sensitivity is certainly different. Our mentality and customs are quite different, too, as is the social position of women in regard to men. Nevertheless, the fundamental moral principle which we find in the Letter to the Ephesians remains the same and produces the same results. The mutual subjection “out of reverence for Christ”—a subjection arising from the basis of Christian pietas—always produces that profound and solid structure of the community of the spouses in which there is constituted the true “communion” of the person.

 

A great analogy

7. The author of the text to the Ephesians, who began his letter with a magnificent vision of God’s eternal plan in regard to humanity, does not limit himself to emphasizing merely the traditional aspects of morality or the ethical aspects of marriage. He goes beyond the scope of teaching and writing on the reciprocal relationship of the spouses. He discovers therein the dimension of the mystery of Christ of which he is the herald and the apostle: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his Body, and is himself its Savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her...” (5:22-25). In this way, the teaching of this parenetic part of the letter is inserted, in a certain sense, into the reality of the mystery hidden from eternity in God and revealed to mankind in Jesus Christ. In the Letter to the Ephesians we are, I would say, witnesses of a particular meeting of that mystery with the essence of the vocation to marriage. How are we to understand this meeting? In the text of the Letter to the Ephesians it is presented above all as a great analogy. There we read: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord....” Here we have the first component of the analogy. “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church....” Here we have the second component which clarifies and motivates the first. “As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject to their husbands....” The relationship of Christ to the Church, presented previously, is now expressed as a relationship of the Church to Christ, and this contains the successive component of the analogy. Finally: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her....” This is the ultimate component of the analogy. The remainder of the text of the letter develops the fundamental thought contained in the passage just now quoted. The entire text of the Letter to the Ephesians in 5:21-33 is completely permeated with the same analogy. That is to say, the mutual relationship between the spouses, husband and wife, is to be understood by Christians in the light of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

4.  [90.] A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CHURCH AND MARRIAGE

General Audience of 18 August 1982

 

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.

5.  [91.] ST PAUL’S ANALOGY OF THE UNION OF HEAD AND BODY

General Audience of 25 August 1982

 

1. In the preceding reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33), we drew attention especially to the analogy of the relationship which exists between Christ and the Church, and of that which exists between husband and wife united by the bond of marriage. Before undertaking the analysis of the further passages of the text in question, we must note that within the range of the fundamental Pauline analogy: Christ and the Church, on the one hand, and man and woman as spouses on the other, there is a supplementary analogy: the analogy of the head and of the body. This analogy confers a chiefly ecclesiological significance on the statement we analyzed: the Church as such is formed by Christ; it is constituted by him in its essential part, as the body is by the head. The union of the body with the head is above all of an organic nature. To put it simply, it is the somatic union of the human organism. The biological union is founded directly on this organic union, inasmuch as it can be said that the body lives by the head (even if at the same time, though in a different way, the head lives by the body). Besides, in the case of man, the psychic union, understood in its integrity, and the integral unity of the human person is also founded on this organic union.

Eschatological perspective

2. As already stated (at least in the passage analyzed), the author of the Letter to the Ephesians has introduced the supplementary analogy of the head and the body within the limits of the analogy of marriage. He even seems to have conceived the first analogy, “head-body,” in a more central manner from the point of view of the truth about Christ and the Church proclaimed by him. However, one must equally affirm that he has not placed it alongside or outside of the analogy of marriage as a conjugal bond—quite the contrary. In the whole text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33), especially in the first part with which we are dealing (5:22-23), the author speaks as if in marriage also the husband is “head of the wife,” and the wife “the body of the husband,” as if the married couple formed one organic union. This can find its basis in the text of Genesis which speaks of one flesh (Gn 2:24), or in that same text to which the author of the Letter to the Ephesians will shortly refer in the context of this great analogy. Nevertheless, the text of Genesis makes clear that the man and the woman are two distinct personal subjects who knowingly decide on their conjugal union, defined by that ancient text with the words “one flesh.” This is equally clear also in the Letter to the Ephesians. The author uses a twofold analogy: head-body, husband-wife, for the purpose of illustrating clearly the nature of the union between Christ and the Church. In a certain sense, especially in the first part of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:22-23, the ecclesiological dimension seems decisive and dominant.

Particular relationship

3. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the Church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church, and gave himself up for her...” (Eph 5:22-25). This supplementary analogy “head-body” indicates that within the limits of the entire passage of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33, we are dealing with two distinct subjects. In virtue of a particular reciprocal relationship, in a certain sense they become a single subject. The head, together with the body, constitutes a subject (in the physical and metaphysical sense), an organism, a human person, a being. There is no doubt that Christ is a subject different from the Church. However, in virtue of a particular relationship, he is united with her, as in an organic union of head and body. The Church is so strongly, so essentially herself in virtue of a mystical union with Christ. Is it possible to say the same thing of the spouses, of the man and the woman united by the marriage bond? If the author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees also in marriage the analogy of the union of head and body, this analogy in a certain sense seems to apply to marriage in consideration of the union which Christ constitutes with the Church, and the Church with Christ. Therefore, the analogy regards, above all, marriage itself as that union through which “the two become one flesh” (Eph 5:31; cf. Gn 2:24).

Bi-subjectivity

4. This analogy, however, does not blur the individuality of the subjects: that of the husband and that of the wife, that is, the essential bi-subjectivity which is at the basis of the image of “one single body.” Rather, the essential bi-subjectivity of the husband and wife in marriage, which makes of them in a certain sense “one single body,” passes within the limits of the whole text we are examining (Eph 5:21-33) to the image of Church-Body united with Christ as head. This is seen especially in this text where the author describes the relationship of Christ to the Church precisely by means of the image of the relationship of the husband to the wife. In this description the Church-Body of Christ appears clearly as the second subject of the spousal union to which the first subject, Christ, manifests the love with which he has loved her by giving himself for her. That love is an image and above all a model of the love which the husband should show to his wife in marriage, when the two are subject to each other “out of reverence for Christ.”

Two become one flesh

5. We read: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’“ (Eph 5:25-31).

Aim is sanctification

6. It is easy to perceive that in this part of the text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33), bi-subjectivity clearly dominates. It is manifested both in the relationship Christ-Church, and also in the relationship husband-wife. This does not mean to say that the image of a single subject disappears: the image of “a single body.” It is preserved also in the passage of our text, and in a certain sense it is better explained there. This will be seen more clearly when we submit the above-quoted passage to a detailed analysis. Thus the author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of the love of Christ for the Church by explaining the way in which that love is expressed, and by presenting at the same time both that love and its expressions as a model which the husband should follow in regard to his wife. The love of Christ for the Church has essentially her sanctification as its scope. “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her that he might sanctify her” (5:25-26). Baptism is a principle of this sanctification. Baptism is the first and essential fruit of Christ’s giving himself for the Church. In this text baptism is not called by its own proper name, but is defined as purification “by the washing of water with the word” (5:26). This washing, with the power that derives from the redemptive giving of himself by Christ for the Church, brings about the fundamental purification through which Christ’s love for the Church acquires a spousal character, in the eyes of the author of the letter.

7. It is known that the sacrament of baptism is received by an individual subject in the Church. However, beyond the individual subject of baptism the author of the letter sees the whole Church. The spousal love of Christ is applied to her, the Church, every time that a single person receives in her the fundamental purification by means of baptism. Whoever receives baptism becomes—by the virtue of the redemptive love of Christ—at the same time a participant in his spousal love for the Church. In our text “the washing of water with the word” is an expression of the spousal love in the sense that it prepares the Bride (Church) for the Bridegroom. It makes the Church the spouse of Christ, I would say, inactu primo. Some biblical scholars observe that in this text, the washing with water recalls the ritual ablution which preceded the wedding—something which constituted an important religious rite also among the Greeks.

Ecclesiological dimension

8. As the sacrament of baptism, “the washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:26) renders the Church a spouse not only in actu primo but also in the more distant perspective, in the eschatological perspective. This opens up before us when we read in the Letter to the Ephesians that “the washing of water” serves, on the part of the groom “to present the Church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:27). The expression “to present to himself” seems to indicate that moment of the wedding in which the bride is led to the groom, already clothed in the bridal dress and adorned for the wedding. The text quoted indicates that the Christ-spouse himself takes care to adorn the spouse-Church. He is concerned that she should be beautiful with the beauty of grace, beautiful by virtue of the gift of salvation in its fullness, already granted from the moment of the sacrament of baptism. But baptism is only the beginning from which the figure of the glorious Church will emerge (as we read in the text), as a definitive fruit of the redemptive and spousal love, only with the final coming of Christ (parousia).

We see how profoundly the author of the Letter to the Ephesians examines the sacramental reality, proclaiming its grand analogy. Both the union of Christ with the Church, and the conjugal union of man and woman in marriage are illumined in this way by a particular supernatural light.

6.  [92.] SACREDNESS OF THE HUMAN BODY AND MARRIAGE

General Audience of 1 September 1982

 

1. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians, proclaiming the analogy between the spousal bond which unites Christ and the Church, and that which unites the husband and wife in marriage, writes as follows: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the Church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph 5:25-27).

2. It is significant that the image of the Church in splendor is presented in the text quoted as a bride all beautiful in her body. Certainly this is a metaphor. But it is very eloquent, and it shows how deeply important the body is in the analogy of spousal love. The Church in splendor is “without spot or wrinkle.” “Spot” can be understood as a sign of ugliness, and “wrinkle” as a sign of old age or senility. In the metaphorical sense, both terms indicate moral defects, sin. It may be added that in St. Paul the “old man” signifies sinful man (cf. Rom 6:6). Therefore Christ with his redemptive and spousal love ensures that the Church not only becomes sinless, but remains “eternally young.”

3. The scope of the metaphor is, as may be seen, quite vast. The expressions which refer directly and immediately to the human body, characterizing it in the reciprocal relationships between husband and wife, indicate at the same time attributes and qualities of the moral, spiritual and supernatural order. This is essential for such an analogy. Therefore the author of the letter can define the state of the Church in splendor in relation to the state of the body of the bride, free from signs of ugliness or old age (“or any such thing”), simply as holiness and absence of sin. Such is the Church “holy and without blemish.” It is obvious then what kind of beauty of the bride is in question, in what sense the Church is the Body of Christ, and in what sense that Body-Bride welcomes the gift of the Bridegroom who “has loved the Church and has given himself for her.” Nevertheless it is significant that St. Paul explains all this reality, which is essentially spiritual and supernatural, by means of the resemblance of the body and of the love whereby husband and wife become “one flesh.”

4. In the entire passage of the text cited, the principle of bi-subjectivity is clearly preserved: Christ-Church, Bridegroom-Bride (husband-wife). The author presents the love of Christ for the Churchthat love which makes the Church the Body of Christ of which he is the headas the model of the love of the spouses and as the model of the marriage of the bridegroom and the bride. Love obliges the bridegroom-husband to be solicitous for the welfare of the bride-wife. It commits him to desire her beauty and at the same time to appreciate this beauty and to care for it. Here it is a case of visible beauty, of physical beauty. The bridegroom examines his bride with attention as though in a creative, loving anxiety to find everything that is good and beautiful in her and which he desires for her. That good which he who loves creates, through his love, in the one that is loved, is like a test of that same love and its measure. Giving himself in the most disinterested way, he who loves does so only within the limits of this measure and of this control.

5. When the author of the Letter to the Ephesiansin the succeeding verses of the text (5:28-29)turns his mind exclusively to the spouses themselves, the analogy of the relationship of Christ to the Church is still more profound and impels him to express himself thus: “Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies” (Eph 5:28). Here the motive of “one flesh” returns again. In the above-mentioned phrase and in the subsequent phrases it is not only taken up again, but also clarified. If husbands should love their wives as their own bodies, this means that uni-subjectivity is based on bi-subjectivity and does not have a real character but only an intentional one. The wife’s body is not the husband’s own body, but it must be loved like his own body. It is therefore a question of unity, not in the ontological sense, but in the moral sense: unity through love.

6. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:28). This phrase confirms that character of unity still more. In a certain sense, love makes the “I” of the other person his own “I”: the “I” of the wife, I would say, becomes through love the “I” of the husband. The body is the expression of that “I” and the foundation of its identity. The union of husband and wife in love is expressed also by means of the body.

It is expressed in the reciprocal relationship, even though the author of the letter indicates it especially from the part of the husband. This results from the structure of the total image. The spouses should be “subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (this was already made evident in the first verses of the text quoted: Eph 5:21-23). However, later on, the husband is above all, he who loves and the wife, on the other hand, is she who is loved. One could even hazard the idea that the wife’s submission to her husband, understood in the context of the entire passage of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33), signifies above all the “experiencing of love.” This is all the more so since this submission is related to the image of the submission of the Church to Christ, which certainly consists in experiencing his love. The Church, as bride, being the object of the redemptive love of Christ-Bridegroom, becomes his Body. Being the object of the spousal love of the husband, the wife becomes “one flesh” with him, in a certain sense, his own flesh. The author will repeat this idea once again in the last phrase of the passage analyzed here: “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself” (Eph 5:33).

7. This is a moral unity, conditioned and constituted by love. Love not only unites the two subjects, but allows them to be mutually interpenetrated, spiritually belonging to one another to such a degree that the author of the letter can affirm: “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph 5:28). The “I” becomes in a certain sense the “you” and the “you” the “I” (in a moral sense, that is). Therefore the continuation of the text analyzed by us reads as follows: “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29-30). The phrase, which initially still referred to the relationships of the married couple, returns successively in an explicit manner to the relationship Christ-Church. So, in the light of that relationship, it leads us to define the sense of the entire phrase. After explaining the character of the relationship of the husband to his own wife by forming “one flesh,” the author wishes to reinforce still more his previous statement (“He who loves his wife loves himself”). In a certain sense, he wishes to maintain it by the negation and exclusion of the opposite possibility (“No man ever hates his own flesh”—Eph 5:29). In the union through love the body of the other becomes one’s own in the sense that one cares for the welfare of the other’s body as he does for his own. It may be said that the above-mentioned words, characterizing the “carnal” love which should unite the spouses, express the most general and at the same time, the most essential content. They seem to speak of this love above all in the language of agape.

8. The expression according to which man “nourishes and cherishes his own flesh”—that is, that the husband “nourishes and cherishes” the flesh of his wife as his ownseems rather to indicate the solicitude of the parents, the protective relationship, instead of the conjugal tenderness. The motivation of this character should be sought in the fact that the author here passes distinctly from the relationship which unites the spouses to the relationship between Christ and the Church. The expressions which refer to the care of the body, and in the first place to its nourishment, to its sustenance, suggest to many Scripture scholars a reference to the Eucharist with which Christ in his spousal love nourishes the Church. These expressions, even though in a minor key, indicate the specific character of conjugal love, especially of that love whereby the spouses become “one flesh.” At the same time they help us to understand, at least in a general way, the dignity of the body and the moral imperative to care for its good, for that good which corresponds to its dignity. The comparison with the Church as the Body of Christ, the Body of his redemptive and at the same time spousal love, should leave in the minds of those to whom the Letter to the Ephesians was destined a profound sense of the “sacredness” of the human body in general, and especially in marriage, as the “situation” in which this sense of the sacred determines in an especially profound way, the reciprocal relationships of the persons and, above all, those of the man with the woman, inasmuch as she is wife and mother of their children.

7.  [93.] CHRIST’S REDEMPTIVE LOVE HAS SPOUSAL NATURE

General Audience of 8 September 1982

 

1. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes: “No man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, because we are members of his body” (Eph 5:29-30). After this verse the author deems it opportune to cite what can be considered the fundamental text on marriage in the entire Bible, the text contained in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (cf. Eph 5:31). It is possible to deduce from the immediate context of the Letter to the Ephesians that the citation from Genesis (2:24) is necessary here not so much to recall the unity of the spouses, determined from the beginning in the work of creation. But it is necessary to present the mystery of Christ with the Church from which the author deduces the truth about the unity of the spouses. This is the most important point of the whole text, in a certain sense, the keystone. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sums up in these words all that he had said previously, tracing the analogy and presenting the similarity between the unity of the spouses and the unity of Christ with the Church. Citing the words of Genesis 2:24, the author points out where the bases of this analogy are to be sought. They are to be sought in the line which, in God’s salvific plan, unites marriage, as the most ancient revelation (manifestation) of the plan in the created world, with the definitive revelation and manifestation, the revelation that “Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), conferring on his redemptive love a spousal character and meaning.

Mystery of Christ and the Church

2. So then this analogy which permeates the text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) has its ultimate basis in God’s salvific plan. This will become still more clear and evident when we place the passage of this text analyzed by us in the overall context of the Letter to the Ephesians. Then one will more easily understand why the author, after citing the words of Genesis 2:24, writes: “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32).

In the overall context of the Letter to the Ephesians and likewise in the wider context of the words of the Sacred Scriptures, which reveal God’s salvific plan “from the beginning,” one must admit that here the term mystérion signifies the mystery, first of all hidden in God’s mind, and later revealed in the history of man. Indeed, it is a question of a “great” mystery, given its importance. That mystery, as God’s salvific plan in regard to humanity, is in a certain sense the central theme of all revelation, its central reality. God, as Creator and Father, wishes above all to transmit this to mankind in his Word.

Work of salvation

3. It is a question not only of transmitting the Good News of salvation, but of initiating at the same time the work of salvation, as a fruit of grace which sanctifies man for eternal life in union with God. Precisely along the line of this revelation and accomplishment, St. Paul sets in relief the continuity between the most ancient covenant which God established by constituting marriage in the work of creation, and the definitive covenant. After having loved the Church and given himself up for her, in that covenant Christ is united to her in a spousal way, corresponding to the image of spouses. This continuity of God’s salvific initiative constitutes the essential basis of the great analogy contained in the Letter to the Ephesians. The continuity of God’s salvific initiative signifies the continuity and even the identity of the mystery, of the great mystery in the different phases of its revelation—therefore, in a certain sense, of its manifestation—and at the same time of its accomplishment: in its “most ancient” phase from the point of view of the history of man and salvation, and in the phase “of the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4).

Understanding “great mystery”

4. Is it possible to understand that great mystery as a sacrament? In the text quoted by us, is the author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaking perchance of the sacrament of marriage? If he is not speaking of it directly, in the strict sense—here one must agree with the sufficiently widespread opinion of Biblical scholars and theologians—however it seems that in this text he is speaking of the bases of the sacramentality of the whole of Christian life and in particular of the bases of the sacramentality of marriage. He speaks then of the sacramentality of the whole of Christian existence in the Church and in particular of marriage in an indirect way, but in the most fundamental way possible.

Sacrament and mystery

3. Is not “sacrament” synonymous with “mystery”(1) The mystery indeed remains “occult”—hidden in God himself—in such wise that even after its proclamation (or its revelation) it does not cease to be called “mystery,” and it is also preached as a mystery. The sacrament presupposes the revelation of the mystery and presupposes also its acceptance by means of faith on the part of man. However, at the same time, it is something more than the proclamation of the mystery and its acceptance by faith. The sacrament consists in the “manifesting” of that mystery in a sign which serves not only to proclaim the mystery, but also to accomplish it in man. The sacrament is a visible and efficacious sign of grace. Through it, that mystery hidden from eternity in God is accomplished in man, that mystery which the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of at the very beginning (cf. Eph 1:9)—the mystery of God’s call of man in Christ to holiness, and the mystery of his predestination to become his adopted son. This becomes a reality in a mysterious way, under the veil of a sign. Nonetheless that sign is always a “making visible” of the supernatural mystery which it works in man under its veil.

Mystery hidden in God

6. Taking into consideration the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians analyzed here, especially the words: “This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church,” one must note the following. The author of the letter writes not only of the great mystery hidden in God, but also—and above all—of the mystery which is accomplished by Christ. With an act of redemptive love, Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her. By the same act he is united with the Church in a spousal manner, as the husband and wife are reciprocally united in marriage instituted by the Creator. It seems that the words of the Letter to the Ephesians provide sufficient motivation for what is stated at the very beginning of Lumen Gentium: “The Church is in Christ in the nature of a sacrament—a sign and instrument, that is, of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Lumen Gentiumn.1). This text of Vatican II does not say: “The Church is a sacrament,” but “It is in the nature of a sacrament.” Thereby it indicates that one must speak of the sacramentality of the Church in a manner which is analogical and not identical in regard to what we mean when we speak of the seven sacraments administered by the Church by Christ’s institution. If there are bases for speaking of the Church as in the nature of a sacrament, such bases for the greater part have been indicated precisely in the Letter to the Ephesians.

Mission to sanctify

7. It may be said that this sacramentality of the Church is constituted by all the sacraments by means of which she carries out her mission of sanctification. It can also be said that the sacramentality of the Church is the source of the sacraments and in particular of Baptism and the Eucharist. This can be seen from the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians which we have already analyzed (cf. Eph 5:25-30). Finally it must be said that the sacramentality of the Church remains in a particular relationship with marriage, the most ancient sacrament.


FOOTNOTE

1. “Sacrament,” a central concept for our reflections, has traveled a long way in the course of the centuries. The semantic history of the term “sacrament” must begin with the Greek term mystérion which, truth to tell, in the Book of Judith still means the king’s military plans (“secret plan,” cf. Jdt 2:2). But already in the Book of Wisdom (2:22) and in the prophecy of Daniel (2:27), the term signifies the creative plans of God and the purpose which he assigns to the world, and which are revealed only to faithful confessors.

In this sense mystérion  appears only once in the Gospels: “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mk 4:11 and par.). In the great letters of St. Paul, this term is found seven times, reaching its climax in the Letter to the Romans: “...according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which was kept secret for long ages, but is now disclosed...” (Rom 16:25-26).

In the later letters we find the identification of mystérion  with the Gospel (cf. Eph 6:19) and even with Jesus Christ himself (cf. Col 2:2; 4:3; Eph 3:4), which marks a turning point in the meaning of the term: mystérion  is no longer merely God’s eternal plan, but the accomplishment on earth of that plan revealed in Jesus Christ.

Therefore, in the Patristic period, the term mystérion  begins to be applied also to the historical events by which the divine will to save man was manifested. Already in the second century in the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Sts. Justin and Meliton, the mysteries of the life of Jesus, the prophecies and the symbolic figures of the Old Testament are defined with the term mystérion .

In the third century the most ancient Latin versions of Sacred Scripture begin to appear, in which the Greek term is translated both by mysterium and by sacramentum (e.g., Wis 2:22; Eph 5:32). Perhaps this was to distance themselves explicitly from the pagan mystery rites and from the Neo-Platonic gnostic mystagogy.

However, sacramentum originally meant the military oath taken by the Roman legionaries. The aspects of “initiation to a new form of life,” “commitment without reserve,” “faithful service even at the risk of death” can be distinguished in it. Given this, Tertullian pointed out these dimensions in the Christian sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist. In the third century, therefore, the term sacramentum was applied both to the mystery of God’s salvific plan in Christ (cf., e.g., Eph 5:32), and to its concrete accomplishment by means of the seven sources of grace which are today called “sacraments of the Church.”

St. Augustine, making use of various meanings of the term “sacrament,” applied it to religious rites both of the old and the new covenant, to biblical symbols and figures as well as to the revealed Christian religion. All these “sacraments,” according to St. Augustine, pertain to the great sacrament: the mystery of Christ and the Church. St. Augustine influenced the further clarification of the term “sacrament,” emphasizing that the sacraments are sacred signs, that they contain in themselves a resemblance to what they signify and that they confer what they signify. By his analyses, he therefore contributed to the elaboration of the concise scholastic definition of sacrament: signum efficax gratiae.

St. Isidore of Seville (7th century) later stressed another aspect: the mysterious nature of the sacrament which, under the veils of material species, conceals the action of the Holy Spirit in the human soul.

The theological Summae of the 12th and 13th centuries already formulate the systematic definitions of the sacraments, but a special signification belongs to the definition of St. Thomas: “Non omne signum rei sacrae est sacramentum.... sed solum ea quae significant perfectionem sanctitatis humanae.” “Not every sign of a sacred thing is a sacrament.... Only those are called sacraments which signify the perfection of holiness in man” (St. Thomas, Summa Theol., III, q. 60, a. 2, ad 1, 3 [ New York: Benziger, 1947]).

From then on, “sacrament” was understood exclusively as one of the seven sources of grace. Theological studies were directed to a deeper understanding of the essence and of the action of the seven sacraments, by elaborating in a systematic way the principal lines contained in the scholastic tradition.

Only in the last century was attention paid to the aspects of the sacrament which had been neglected in the course of the centuries, for example, to the ecclesial dimension and to the personal encounter with Christ, which have found expression in the Constitution on the Liturgy (no. 59). However, the Second Vatican council returns above all the original significance of “sacramentum-mysterium,” calling the Church “the universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium 48), sacrament, or “sign and instrument of communion with God and of unity among all men” (Lumen Gentium 1).

Here sacrament is understood—in conformity with its original meaning—as the accomplishment of God’s eternal plan in regard to the salvation of mankind.


8.  [94.] MORAL ASPECTS OF THE CHRISTIAN’S VOCATION

General Audience of 15 September 1982

 

1. We have before us the text of the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33, which we have already been analyzing for some time because of its importance in regard to marriage and the sacrament. In its whole content, beginning from the first chapter, the letter treats above all of the mystery for ages hidden in God as a gift eternally destined for mankind. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love 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 1:3-6).

2. Until now the letter speaks of the mystery hidden for ages in God (Eph 3:9). The subsequent phrases introduce the reader to the phase of fulfillment of this mystery in the history of man. The gift, destined for him for ages in Christ, becomes a real part of man in the same Christ: “...in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us. For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Eph 1:7-10).

3. And so the eternal mystery passed from the mystery of “being hidden in God” to the phase of revelation and actualization. Christ, in whom humanity was for ages chosen and blessed “with every spiritual blessing of the Father”—Christ, destined according to the eternal “plan” of God, so that in him, as in a head “all things might be united, things in heaven and things on earth” in the eschatological perspectivereveals the eternal mystery and accomplishes it among men. Therefore the author of the Letter to the Ephesians, in the remainder of the letter, exhorts those who have received this revelation, and those who have accepted it in faith, to model their lives in the spirit of the truth they have learned. To the same end, in a particular way he exhorts Christian couples, husbands and wives.

4. For the greater part of the context the letter becomes instruction or parenesis. The author seems to speak above all of the moral aspects of the vocation of Christians. However, he continually refers to the mystery which is already at work in them, by virtue of the redemption of Christand efficaciously works in them especially by virtue of Baptism. He writes: “In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13). Thus the moral aspects of the Christian vocation remain linked not only with the revelation of the eternal divine mystery in Christ and with its acceptance through faith, but also with the sacramental order. Although it is not placed in the forefront in the whole letter, it seems to be present in a discreet manner. It could not be otherwise seeing that the Apostle is writing to Christians who, through Baptism, had become members of the ecclesial community. From this point of view, the passage of the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5:21-33, analyzed up to the present, seems to have a special importance. Indeed, it throws a special light on the essential relationship of the mystery with the sacrament and especially on the sacramentality of matrimony.

5. At the heart of the mystery, there is Christ. In himprecisely in himhumanity has been eternally blessed “with every spiritual blessing.” In him, in Christ, humanity has been chosen “before the creation of the world,” chosen in love and predestined to the adoption of sons. When later, in the fullness of time this eternal mystery is accomplished in time, this is brought about also in him and through him; in Christ and through Christ. The mystery of divine love is revealed through Christ. Through him and in him it is accomplished. In him, “We have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses...” (Eph 1:7). In this manner men who through faith accept the gift offered to them in Christ, really become participants in the eternal mystery, even though it works in them under the veil of faith. According to the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33, this supernatural conferring of the fruits of redemption accomplished by Christ acquires the character of a spousal donation of Christ himself to the Church, similar to the spousal relationship between husband and wife. Therefore, not only the fruits of redemption are a gift, but above all, Christ himself is a gift. He gives himself to the Church as to his spouse.

6. We should ask whether in this matter such an analogy does not permit us to penetrate the essential content of the mystery more profoundly and with greater exactitude. We should ask ourselves this question with all the greater reason because this classic passage of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) does not appear in the abstract and isolated. But it constitutes a continuity. In a certain sense it is a continuation of the statements of the Old Testament, which presented the love of God-Yahweh for his chosen people Israel according to the same analogy. We are dealing in the first place with the texts of the prophets who, in their discourses, introduced the similarity of spousal love in order to characterize in a particular way the love which Yahweh has for Israel. On the part of the chosen people, this love was not understood and reciprocated. Rather it encountered infidelity and betrayal. That infidelity and betrayal was expressed especially in idolatry, a worship given to strange gods.

7. Truth to tell, in the greater part of the cases, the prophets were pointing out in a dramatic manner that very betrayal and infidelity which were called the “adultery” of Israel. However, the explicit conviction that the love of Yahweh for the chosen people can and should be compared to the love which unites husband and wife is at the basis of all these statements of the prophets. Here one could quote many passages from Isaiah, Hosea and Ezekiel. (Some of these were already quoted when we were analyzing the concept of adultery against the background of Christ’s words in the Sermon on the Mount.) One cannot forget that to the patrimony of the Old Testament belongs also the Song of Solomon, in which the image of spousal love is traced—it is truewithout the typical analogy of the prophetic texts, which presented in that love the image of the love of Yahweh for Israel, but also without that negative element which, in the other texts, constitutes the motive of “adultery” or infidelity. Thus then the analogy of the spouses, which enabled the author of the Letter to the Ephesians to define the relationship of Christ to the Church, possesses an abundant tradition in the books of the Old Testament. In analyzing this analogy in the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians, we cannot but refer to that tradition.

8. To illustrate this tradition we will limit ourselves for the moment to citing a passage of Isaiah. The prophet says: “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you...but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Is 54:4-7,10).

During our next meeting we shall begin the analysis of the text cited from Isaiah.

9.  [95.] RELATIONSHIP OF CHRIST TO THE CHURCH CONNECTED WITH THE TRADITION OF THE PROPHETS

General Audience of 22 September 1982

 

1. The Letter to the Ephesians, by means of a comparison of the relation between Christ and the Church with the spousal relationship of husband and wife, refers to the tradition of the prophets of the Old Testament. To illustrate it we recall again the following passage of Isaiah:

“Fear not, for you will not be ashamed; be not confounded, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and the reproach of your widowhood you will remember no more. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth he is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God. For a brief moment I forsook you, but with great compassion I will gather you. In overflowing wrath for a moment I hid my face from you, but with everlasting love, I will have compassion on you, says the Lord, your Redeemer. For this is like the days of Noah to me: as I swore that the waters of Noah should no more go over the earth, so I have sworn that I will not be angry with you and will not rebuke you. For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord, who has compassion on you” (Is 54:4-10).

Back to the mystery hidden in God

2. The text of Isaiah in this case does not contain the reproaches made to Israel as an unfaithful spouse, which echo so strongly in the other texts, especially of Hosea and Ezekiel. Thanks to this, the essential content of the biblical analogy becomes more evident. The love of God-Yahweh for the chosen people-Israel is expressed as the love of the man-spouse for the woman chosen to be his wife by means of the marriage alliance. In this way Isaiah explains the events which make up the course of Israel’s history, going back to the mystery hidden in the heart of God. In a certain sense, he leads us in the same direction in which, after many centuries, the author of the Letter to the Ephesians will lead us. Basing himself on the redemption already accomplished in Christ, he will reveal much more fully the depth of the mystery itself.

3. The text of the prophet has all the coloring of the tradition and the mentality of the people of the Old Testament. Speaking in the name of God and, as it were, with his words, the prophet addresses Israel as a husband would address the wife he chose. These words brim over with an authentic ardor of love. At the same time they place in relief the whole specific character both of the situation and of the outlook proper to that age. They underline that the choice on the part of the man takes away the woman’s “dishonor.” According to the opinion of society, this “dishonor” seems connected with the marriageable state, whether original (virginity), or secondary (widowhood), or finally that deriving from repudiation of a wife who is not loved (cf. Dt 24:1) or in the case of an unfaithful wife. However, the text quoted does not mention infidelity, but it indicates the motive of the “love of compassion.”(1) Thereby it indicates not merely the social nature of marriage in the Old Testament, but also the very character of the gift, which is the love of God for the spouse-Israel: a gift which derives entirely from God’s initiative. In other words, it indicates the dimension of grace, which from the beginning is contained in that love. This is perhaps the strongest declaration of love on God’s part, linked with the solemn oath of faithfulness forever.

Creator and Lord

4. The analogy of the love which unites spouses is brought out strongly in this passage. Isaiah says: “...for your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; the God of the whole earth he is called” (Is 54:5). So then, in that text God himself, in all his majesty as Creator and Lord of creation, is explicitly called “spouse” of the chosen people. This spouse speaks of his great compassion, which will not depart from Israel-spouse, but will constitute a stable foundation of the alliance of peace with him. Thus the motif of spousal love and of marriage is linked with the motif of alliance. Besides, the Lord of hosts calls himself not only “Creator,” but also “Redeemer.” The text has a theological content of extraordinary richness.

Continuity of analogy

5. Comparing the text of Isaiah with the Letter to the Ephesians and noting the continuity regarding the analogy of spousal love and of marriage, we should point out at the same time a certain diversity of theological viewpoint. Already in the first chapter the author of the letter speaks of the mystery of love and of election, whereby “God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” embraces mankind in his Son, especially as a mystery “hidden in the mind of God.” This is a mystery of eternal love, the mystery of election to holiness (“...to be holy and blameless before him”—Eph 1:4) and of adoption as sons in Christ (“He destined us to be his adopted sons through Jesus Christ”—Eph 1:5). In this context, the deduction of the analogy concerning marriage which we have found in Isaiah (“For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name”—Is 54:5), seems to be a foreshortened view constituting a part of the theological perspective. The first dimension of love and of election, as a mystery hidden for ages in God, is a paternal and not a “conjugal” dimension. According to the Letter to the Ephesians the first characteristic note of that mystery remains connected with the paternity of God, set out in relief especially by the prophets (cf. Hos 11:1-4; Is 63:8-9; 64:7; Mal 1:6).

Theological perspective

6. The analogy of spousal love and of marriage appears only when the Creator and the Holy One of Israel of the text of Isaiah is manifested as Redeemer. Isaiah says: “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name, and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer” (Is 54:5). Already in this text it is possible, in a certain sense, to read the parallelism between the spouse and the Redeemer. Passing to the Letter to the Ephesians we should observe that this thought is fully developed there. The figure of the Redeemer(2) is already delineated in the first chapter as proper to him who is the first “beloved Son” of the Father (Eph 1:6), beloved from eternity, of him, in whom all of us have been loved by the Father “for ages.” It is the Son of the same substance of the Father, “in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace” (Eph 1:7). The same Son, as Christ (or as the Messiah) “has loved the Church and has given himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).

This splendid formulation of the Letter to the Ephesians summarizes in itself and at the same time sets in relief the elements of the Canticle on the Servant of Yahweh and of the Canticle of Sion (cf. e.g., Is 42:1; 53:8-12; 54:8).

And thus the giving of himself up for the Church is equivalent to carrying out the work of redemption. In this way the “Creator Lord of hosts” of Isaiah becomes the “Holy One of Israel,” of the new Israel, as Redeemer.

In the Letter to the Ephesians the theological perspective of the prophetic text is preserved and at the same time deepened and transformed. New revealed moments enter: the trinitarian, Christological(3) and finally the eschatological moment.

His salvific love

7. Thus St. Paul, writing the letter to the People of God of the new covenant and precisely to the church of Ephesus, will no longer repeat: “Your Maker is your husband.” But he will show in what way the Redeemer, who is the firstborn Son and for ages “beloved of the Father,” reveals contemporaneously his salvific love. This love consists in giving himself up for the Church, as spousal love whereby he espouses the Church and makes it his own Body. Thus the analogy of the prophetic texts of the Old Testament (in this case especially of Isaiah) remains preserved in the Letter to the Ephesians and at the same time obviously transformed. A mystery corresponds to the analogy, a mystery which is expressed and, in a certain sense, explained by means of it. In the text of Isaiah this mystery is scarcely outlined, “half-open” as it were; however, in the Letter to the Ephesians it is fully revealed (but of course without ceasing to be a mystery). In the Letter to the Ephesians both dimensions are explicitly clear: the eternal dimension of the mystery inasmuch as it is hidden in God (“the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”), and the dimension of its historical fulfillment, according to its Christological and at the same ecclesiological dimension. The analogy of marriage referred especially to the second dimension. Also in the prophets (in Isaiah) the analogy of marriage referred directly to a historical dimension. It was linked with the history of the chosen people of the old covenant, with the history of Israel. On the other hand the Christological and the ecclesiological dimension was found only as an embryo in the Old Testament fulfillment of the mystery; it was only foretold.

Nonetheless it is clear that the text of Isaiah helps us to understand better the Letter to the Ephesians and the great analogy of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.


NOTES

1. In the Hebrew text we have the words hesed-rahamim, which appear together on more than one occasion.

2. Even though in the most ancient biblical books the word “redeemer” (Hebrew Go’el) signified the person bound by blood relationship to vindicate a relative who had been killed (cf. e.g., Nm 35:19), to help a relative who was unfortunate (e.g., Ru 4:6) and especially to ransom him from servitude (cf. e.g., Lv 25:48), with the passage of time this analogy was applied to Yahweh, “who redeemed Israel from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt” (Dt 7:8). Especially in Deutero-Isaiah the accent changes from the act of redemption to the person of the Redeemer, who personally saves Israel as though merely by his very presence, “not for price or reward” (Is 45:13).

Therefore the passage from the ‘redeemer’ of the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 54, to the Letter to the Ephesians, has the same motivation of the application, in the said letter, of the texts of the Canticle on the Servant of Yahweh (cf. Is 53:10-12; Eph 5:23, 25, 26).

3. In place of the relationship “God-Israel,” Paul introduces the relationship “Christ-Church,” by applying to Christ everything in the Old Testament that refers to Yahweh (Adonai-Kyrios). Christ is God, but Paul also applies to him everything that refers to the Servant of Yahweh in the four canticles (Is 42:49; 50; 52-53) interpreted in a Messianic sense in the intertestimentary period.

The motif of “head” and of “body” is not of biblical derivation, but is probably Hellenistic (Stoic?). In Ephesians this theme is utilized in the context of marriage (while in First Corinthians the theme of the “body” serves to demonstrate the order which reigns in society).

From the biblical point of view the introduction of this motif is an absolute novelty

10.  [96.] ANALOGY OF SPOUSAL LOVE INDICATES THE RADICAL CHARACTER OF GRACE

General Audience of 29 September 1982

 

In the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33)—as in the prophets of the Old Testament (e.g., in Isaiah)—we find the great analogy of marriage or of the spousal love between Christ and the Church.

What function does this analogy fulfill in regard to the mystery revealed in the old and the new covenants? The answer to this question must be gradual. First of all, the analogy of spousal or conjugal love helps to penetrate the essence of the mystery. It helps to understand it up to a certain point, naturally, in an analogical way. It is obvious that the analogy of earthly human love of the husband for his wife, of human spousal love, cannot provide an adequate and complete understanding of that absolutely transcendent Reality which is the divine mystery, both as hidden for ages in God, and in its historical fulfillment in time, when “Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). The mystery remains transcendent in regard to this analogy as in regard to any other analogy, whereby we seek to express it in human language. At the same time, however, this analogy offers the possibility of a certain cognoscitive penetration into the essence of the mystery.

Realized by Christ

2. The analogy of spousal love permits us to understand in a certain way the mystery which for ages was hidden in God, and which in turn was realized by Christ, as a love proper to a total and irrevocable gift of self on the part of God to man in Christ. It is a question of “man” in the personal and at the same time communitarian dimension. (This communitarian dimension is expressed in the Book of Isaiah and in the prophets as “Israel,” and in the Letter to the Ephesians as the “Church”; one could say: the People of God of the old and of the new covenant.) We may add that in both conceptions, in a certain sense the communitarian dimension is placed in the forefront. But it is not to such an extent as completely to hide the personal dimension, which, on the other hand, pertains simply to the essence of conjugal love. In both cases we are dealing rather with a significant “reduction of the community to the person”:(1) Israel and the Church are considered as bride-person in relation to the bridegroom-person (Yahweh and Christ). Every concrete “I” should find itself in that biblical “we.”

God of the covenant

3. So then, the analogy which we are speaking of permits us to understand in a certain degree the revealed mystery of the living God who is Creator and Redeemer. (And as such he is, at the same time, God of the covenant.) It permits us to understand this mystery in the manner of a spousal love, just as it allows us to understand it also in the manner of a love of “compassion” (according to the text of Isaiah), or in the manner of a “paternal” love (according to the Letter to the Ephesians, especially in the first chapter). The above-mentioned ways of understanding the mystery are also without doubt analogical. The analogy of spousal love contains in itself a characteristic of the mystery, which is not directly emphasized either by the analogy of the love of compassion or by the analogy of paternal love (or by any other analogy used in the Bible to which we would have referred).

Radical and total gift

4. The analogy of spousal love seems to emphasize especially the aspect of the gift of self on the part of God to man, “for ages” chosen in Christ (literally: to “Israel,” to the “Church”)—a total (or rather radical) and irrevocable gift in its essential character, that is, as a gift. This gift is certainly radical and therefore total. We cannot speak of that totality in a metaphysical sense. Indeed, as a creature man is not capable of receiving the gift of God in the transcendental fullness of his divinity. Such a total gift (uncreated) is shared only by God himself in the triune communion of the Persons. On the contrary, God’s gift of himself to man, which the analogy of spousal love speaks of, can only have the form of a participation in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pt 1:4), as theology makes clear with very great precision. Nevertheless, according to this measure, the gift made to man on the part of God in Christ is a total, that is, a radical gift, as the analogy of spousal love indicates. In a certain sense, it is all that God could give of himself to man, considering the limited faculties of man, a creature. In this way, the analogy of spousal love indicates the radical character of grace, of the whole order of created grace.

Sacrament and mystery

5. The foregoing seems to be what can be said in reference to the primary function of our great analogy, which has passed from the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament to the Letter to the Ephesians, where, as has already been noted, it underwent a significant transformation. The analogy of marriage, as a human reality in which spousal love is incarnated, helps to a certain degree and in a certain way to understand the mystery of grace as an eternal reality in God and as a historical fruit of mankind’s redemption in Christ. However, we said before that this biblical analogy not only “explains” the mystery. On the other hand the mystery defines and determines the adequate manner of understanding the analogy, and precisely this element, in which the biblical authors see “the image and likeness” of the divine mystery. So then, the comparison of marriage (because of spousal love) to the relationship of Yahweh-Israel in the old covenant and of Christ-Church in the new covenant decides, at the same time, the manner of understanding marriage itself and determines this manner.

6. This is the second function of our great analogy. In the perspective of this function we approach the problem of sacrament and mystery, that is, in the general and fundamental sense, the problem of the sacramentality of marriage. This seems especially justified in the light of the analysis of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33). Indeed, in presenting the relationship of Christ to the Church in the image of the conjugal union of husband and wife, the author of this letter speaks in the most general and at the same time fundamental way. He speaks not only of the fulfillment of the eternal divine mystery, but also of the way in which that mystery is expressed in the visible order, of the way in which it has become visible, and therefore has entered into the sphere of sign.

Visibility of the mystery

7. By the term “sign” we mean here simply the “visibility of the Invisible.” The mystery for ages hidden in God—that is, invisible—has become visible first of all in the historical event of Christ. The relationship of Christ to the Church, which is defined in the Letter to the Ephesians as “a great mystery,” constitutes the fulfillment and the concretization of the visibility of the mystery itself. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians compares the indissoluble relationship of Christ and the Church to the relationship between husband and wife, that is, to marriage—referring at the same time to the words of Genesis (2:24), which by God’s creative act originally instituted marriage—turns our attention to what was already presented—in the context of the mystery of creation—as the “visibility of the Invisible,” to the very “origin” of the theological history of man.

It can be said that the visible sign of marriage “in the beginning,” inasmuch as it is linked to the visible sign of Christ and of the Church, to the summit of the salvific economy of God, transfers the eternal plan of love into the historical dimension and makes it the foundation of the whole sacramental order. It is a special merit of the author of the Letter to the Ephesians that he brought these two signs together, and made of them one great sign—that is, a great sacrament (sacramentum magnum).


NOTE

1. It is not merely a question of the personification of human society, which constitutes a fairly common phenomenon in world literature, but of a specific “corporate personality” of the Bible, marked by a continual reciprocal relationship of the individual to the group (cf. H. Wheeler Robinson, “The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality,” BZAW 66  [1936], pp. 49-62; cf. also J. L. McKenzie, “Aspects of Old Testament Thought,” The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2 [London: 1970], p. 748).


11.  [97.] MARRIAGE IS THE CENTRAL POINT OF THE SACRAMENT OF CREATION

General Audience of 6 October 1982

 

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.

12.  [98.] LOSS OF ORIGINAL SACRAMENT RESTORED WITH REDEMPTION IN MARRIAGE-SACRAMENT

General Audience of 13 October 1982

 

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.

13.  [99.] MARRIAGE AN INTEGRAL PART OF NEW SACRAMENTAL ECONOMY

General Audience of 20 October 1982

 

1. Last Wednesday we spoke of the integral heritage of the covenant with God, and of the grace originally united to the divine work of creation. Marriage was also a part of this integral heritage—as can be deduced from the Letter to the Ephesians 5:21-33—marriage, that is, as a primordial sacrament instituted from the beginning and linked with the sacrament of creation in its globality. The sacramentality of marriage is not merely a model and figureof the sacrament of the Church (of Christ and of the Church). It also constitutes anessential part of the new heritage, that of the sacrament of redemption, with which the Church is endowed in Christ.

Here it is necessary yet again to refer to Christ’s words in Matthew 19:3-9 (cf. also Mk 10:5-9). In replying to the question of the Pharisees concerning marriage, Christ refers only and exclusively to its original institution on the part of the Creator at the beginning. Reflecting on the significance of this reply in the light of the Letter to the Ephesians, and in particular of Ephesians 5:21-33, we end up with a relationship—in a certain sense twofold—of marriage with the whole sacramental order which, in the new covenant, emerges from the same sacrament of redemption.

2. Marriage as a primordial sacrament constitutes, on the one hand, the figure (the likeness, the analogy), according to which there is constructed the basic main structure of the new economy of salvation and of the sacramental order. This order draws its origin from the spousal gracing which the Church received from Christ, together with all the benefits of redemption (one could say, using the opening words of the Letter to the Ephesians, “with every spiritual blessing”—1:3). In this way marriage, as a primordial sacrament, is assumed and inserted into the integral structure of the new sacramental economy, arising from redemption in the form, I would say, of a “prototype.” It is assumed and inserted as it were from its very bases. In conversation with the Pharisees, Christ himself first of all reconfirmed its existence (Mt 19:3-9). Reflecting deeply on this dimension, one would have to conclude that in a certain sense all the sacraments of the new covenant find their prototype in marriage as the primordial sacrament. This seems to be indicated in the classic passage quoted from the Letter to the Ephesians, as we shall say again soon.

3. However, the relationship of marriage with the whole sacramental order, deriving from the endowment of the Church with the benefits of the redemption, is not limited merely to the dimension of model. In his conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19), Christ confirms the existence of marriage instituted from the beginning by the Creator. Not only that, he declares it also an integral part of the new sacramental economy, of the new order of salvific signs which derives its origin from the sacrament of redemption, just as the original economy emerged from the sacrament of creation. In fact, Christ limited himself to the unique sacrament which was marriage instituted in the state of innocence and of original justice of man, created male and female “in the image and likeness of God.”

4. The new sacramental economy which is constituted on the basis of the sacrament of redemption, deriving from the spousal gracing of the Church on the part of Christ, differs from the original economy. Indeed, it is directed not to the man of justice and original innocence, but to the man burdened with the heritage of original sin and with the state of sinfulness (status naturae lapsae). It is directed to the man of the threefold concupiscence, according to the classic words of 1 John 2:16, to the man in whom “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh” (Gal 5:17), according to the Pauline theology (and anthropology), to which we have devoted much space in our previous reflections.

5. These considerations, following upon a deeper analysis of the significance of Christ’s statement in the Sermon on the Mount concerning the lustful look as adultery of the heart,  prepare for an understanding of marriage as an integral part of the new sacramental order. This order has its origin in the sacrament of redemption, that is to say, in that great mystery which, as the mystery of Christ and of the Church, determines the sacramentality of the Church itself. These considerations also prepare for an understanding of marriage as a sacrament of the new covenant, whose salvific work is organically linked with theensemble of that ethos which was defined in the previous analyses as the ethos of redemption. The Letter to the Ephesians expresses the same truth in its own way. It speaks of marriage as a great sacrament in a wide parenetic context, that is, in the context of exhortations of a moral nature. It concerns precisely the ethos which should characterize the life of Christians, that is, of people aware of the election which is realized in Christ and in the Church.

6. Against this vast background of reflections which emerge from reading the Letter to the Ephesians (especially 5:21-33), one can and should eventually touch again the problem of the sacraments of the Church. The text cited from the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of it in an indirect and, I would say, secondary way, though sufficient to bring this problem within the scope of our considerations. However, it is fitting to clarify here, at least briefly, the sense in which we use the term “sacrament,” which is significant for our considerations.

7. Until now we have used the term “sacrament” (in conformity with the whole of biblical-patristic tradition)(1) in a sense wider than that proper to traditional and contemporary theological terminology. By the word “sacrament” this terminology means the signs instituted by Christ and administered by the Church, which signify and confer divine grace on the person who receives the relative sacrament. In this sense each of the seven sacraments of the Church is characterized by a determinate liturgical action, made up of words (the form) and the specific sacramental “matter”—according to the widespread hylomorphic theory deriving from Thomas Aquinas and the whole scholastic tradition.

8. In relationship to this rather restricted meaning, we have used in our considerations a wider and perhaps also more ancient and fundamental meaning of the term “sacrament.”(2) The Letter to the Ephesians, especially 5:21-33, seems in a particular way to authorize us to do so. Here sacrament signifies the very mystery of God, which is hidden from eternity; however, not in an eternal concealment, but above all, in its very revelation and actuation (furthermore, in its revelation through its actuation). In this sense we spoke also of the sacrament of creation and of the sacrament of redemption. On the basis of the sacrament of creation, one must understand the original sacramentality of marriage (the primordial sacrament). Following upon this, on the basis of the sacrament of redemption one can understand the sacramentality of the Church, or rather the sacramentality of the union of Christ with the Church. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians presents this under the simile of marriage, of the conjugal union of husband and wife. A careful analysis of the text shows that in this case, it is not merely a comparison in a metaphorical sense, but of a real renewal (or of a “re-creation,” that is, of a new creation) of that which constituted the salvific content (in a certain sense, the “salvific substance”) of the primordial sacrament. This observation has an essential significance both for the clarification of the sacramentality of the Church (the very significant words of the first chapter of Lumen Gentium refer to this), and also for the understanding of the sacramentality of marriage, understood precisely as one of the sacraments of the Church.


NOTES

1) Cf. Leo XIII, Acta, Vol. II, 1881, p. 22.

2) In this regard, cf. discourse at the general audience of September 8, 1982, note 1 (English edition, 13 September, p.2, 1982, p. 2).

14.  [100.] INDISSOLUBILITY OF SACRAMENT OF MARRIAGE IN MYSTERY OF THE REDEMPTION OF THE BODY

General Audience of 27 October 1982

 

1. The text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) speaks of the sacraments of the Churchand 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 thesacrament 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 bodyinasmuch 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.

15.  [101.] CHRIST OPENED MARRIAGE TO THE SAVING ACTION OF GOD

General Audience of 24 November 1982

 

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.

NOTE

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).

16.  [102.] MARRIAGE SACRAMENT AN EFFECTIVE SIGN OF GOD’S SAVING POWER

General Audience of 1 December 1982

 

1. We have made an analysis of the Letter to the Ephesians, especially 5:21-33, in the perspective of the sacramentality of marriage. Now we shall seek once again to consider the same text in the light of the words of the Gospel and of St. Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians and the Romans.

Marriage—as a sacrament born of the mystery of the redemption and reborn, in a certain sense, in the spousal love of Christ and of the Churchis an efficacious expression of the saving power of God. He accomplishes his eternal plan even after sin and in spite of the threefold concupiscence hidden in the heart of every man, male and female. As a sacramental expression of that saving power, marriage is also an exhortation to dominate concupiscence (as Christ spoke of it in the Sermon on the Mount). The unity and indissolubility of marriage are the fruit of this dominion, as is a deepened sense of the dignity of woman in the heart of a man (and also the dignity of man in the heart of woman), both in conjugal life together, and in every other circle of mutual relations.

2. The truth according to which marriage as a sacrament of redemption is given to the “man of concupiscence” as a grace and at the same time as an ethos, has also found particular expression in the teaching of St. Paul, especially in the seventh chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians. The Apostle, comparing marriage with virginity (or with “celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”) and deciding for the “superiority” of virginity, the Apostle observes at the same time that “each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). On the basis of the mystery of redemption, a special “gift,” that is, a grace, corresponds to marriage. In the same text, giving advice to those to whom he is writing, the Apostle recommends marriage “because of the temptation to immorality” (ib. 7:2). Later he recommends to the married couple that “the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband” (ib. 7:3). He continues thus: “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” (ib. 7:9).

3. These statements of St. Paul have given rise to the opinion that marriage constitutes a specific remedy for concupiscence. However, as we have already observed, St. Paul teaches explicitly that marriage has a corresponding special “gift,” and that in the mystery of redemption marriage is given to a man and a woman as a grace. In his striking and at the same time paradoxical words, St. Paul simply expresses the thought that marriage is assigned to the spouses as an ethos. In the Pauline words, “It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion,” the verb ardere signifies a disorder of the passions, deriving from the concupiscence of the flesh. (Concupiscence is presented in a similar way in the Old Testament by Sirach; cf. Sir 23:17.) However, marriage signifies the ethical order, which is consciously introduced in this context. It can be said that marriage is the meeting place oferos with ethos and of their mutual compenetration in the heart of man and of woman, as also in all their mutual relationships.

4. This truthnamely, that marriage as a sacrament derived from the mystery of redemption is given to historical man as a grace and at the same time as an ethosdetermines moreover the character of marriage as one of the sacraments of the Church. As a sacrament of the Church, marriage has the nature of indissolubility. As a sacrament of the Church, it is also a word of the Spirit which exhorts man and woman to model their whole life together by drawing power from the mystery of the “redemption of the body.” In this way they are called to chastity as to a state of life “according to the Spirit” which is proper to them (cf. Rom 8:4-5; Gal 5:25). The redemption of the body also signifies in this case that hope which, in the dimension of marriage, can be defined as the hope of daily life, the hope of temporal life. On the basis of such a hope the concupiscence of the flesh as the source of the tendency toward an egoistic gratification is dominated. In the sacramental alliance of masculinity and femininity, the same flesh becomes the specific “substratum” of an enduring and indissoluble communion of the persons (communio personarum) in a manner worthy of the persons.

5. Those who, as spouses, according to the eternal divine plan, join together so as to become in a certain sense one flesh, are also in their turn called, through the sacrament, to a life according to the Spirit. This corresponds to the gift received in the sacrament. In virtue of that gift, by leading a life according to the Spirit, the spouses are capable of rediscovering the particular gratification which they have become sharers of. As much as concupiscence darkens the horizon of the inward vision and deprives the heart of the clarity of desires and aspirations, so much does “life according to the Spirit” (that is, the grace of the sacrament of marriage) permit man and woman to find again the true liberty of the gift, united to the awareness of the spousal meaning of the body in its masculinity and femininity.

6. The life according to the Spirit is also expressed in the mutual union (cf. Gn 4:1), whereby the spouses, becoming one flesh, submit their femininity and masculinity to the blessing of procreation: “Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and gave birth...saying: ‘I have begotten a man with the help of the Lord”‘ (Gn 4:1).

The life according to the Spirit is also expressed here in the consciousness of the gratification, to which there corresponds the dignity of the spouses themselves as parents. That is to say, it is expressed in the profound awareness of the sanctity of the life (sacrum) to which the two give origin, participatingas progenitorsin the forces of the mystery of creation. In the light of that hope, which is connected with the mystery of the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:19-23), this new human life, a new man conceived and born of the conjugal union of his father and mother, opens to “the first fruits of the Spirit” (Rom 8:23), “to enter into the liberty of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). If “the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now” (Rom 8:22), a particular hope accompanies the pains of the mother in labor, that is, the hope of the “revelation of the sons of God” (Rom 8:22), a hope of which every newborn babe who comes into the world bears within himself a spark.

7. This hope which is in the world, penetratingas St. Paul teachesthe whole of creation, is not at the same time from the world. Still further, it must struggle in the human heart with that which is from the world, with that which is in the world. “Because everything that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 Jn 2:16). As the primordial sacrament, and at the same time as the sacrament born in the mystery of the redemption of the body from the spousal love of Christ and of the Church, marriage “comes from the Father.” It is not from the world but from the Father. Consequently, marriage also as a sacrament constitutes the basis of hope for the person, that is, for man and woman, for parents and children, for the human generations. On the one hand, “The world passes away and the lust thereof,” while on the other, “He who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn 2:17). The origin of man in the world is united with marriage as a sacrament, and its future is also inscribed in it. This is not merely in the historical dimensions, but also in the eschatological.

8. It is to this that Christ’s words refer when he speaks of the resurrection of the bodywords reported by the three synoptics (cf. Mt 22:23-32; Mk 12:18-27; Lk 20:34-39). “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven,” states Matthew, and in like manner Mark. In Luke we read: “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God” (Lk 20:34-36). These texts were previously subjected to a detailed analysis.

9. Christ states that marriagethe sacrament of the origin of man in the temporal visible worlddoes not pertain to the eschatological reality of the future world. However, called to participate in this eschatological future by means of the resurrection of the body, man is the same man, male and female, whose origin in the temporal visible world is linked with marriage as the primordial sacrament of the mystery of creation. Rather, every man, called to share in the reality of the future resurrection, brings this vocation into the world by the fact that in the temporal visible world he has his origin by means of the marriage of his parents. Thus, then, Christ’s words which exclude marriage from the reality of the future world, reveal indirectly at the same time the significance of this sacrament for the participation of men, sons and daughters, in the future resurrection.

10. Marriage, which is the primordial sacramentreborn in a certain sense in the spousal love of Christ and of the Churchdoes not pertain to the redemption of the body in the dimension of the eschatological hope (cf. Rom 8:23). Marriage is given to man as a grace, as a gift destined by God precisely for the spouses, and at the same time assigned to them by Christ’s words as an ethosthat sacramental marriage is accomplished and realized in the perspective of the eschatological hope. It has an essential significance for the redemption of the body in the dimension of this hope. It comes indeed from the Father and to him it owes its origin in the world. If this “world passes,” and if with it the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life which come from the world also passes, marriage as a sacrament immutably ensures that man, male and female, by dominating concupiscence, does the will of the Father. And he “who does the will of God remains forever” (1 Jn 2:17).

11. In this sense marriage as a sacrament also bears within itself the germ of man’s eschatological future, that is, the perspective of the “redemption of the body” in the dimension of the eschatological hope which corresponds to Christ’s words about the resurrection: “In the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). However, also those who, “being sons of the resurrection...are equal to angels and are sons of God” (Lk 20:36), owe their origin in the temporal visible world to the marriage and procreation of man and woman. As the sacrament of the human beginning, as the sacrament of the temporality of the historical man, marriage fulfills in this way an irreplaceable service in regard to his extra-temporal future, in regard to the mystery of the redemption of the body in the dimension of the eschatological hope.

17.  [103.] THE REDEMPTIVE AND SPOUSAL DIMENSIONS OF LOVE

general audience of 15 December 1982

 

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians, as we have already seen, speaks of a “great mystery,” linked to the primordial sacrament through the continuity of God’s saving plan. He also referred to the “beginning,” as Christ did in his conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:8), quoting the same words: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2:24). This “great mystery” is above all the mystery of the union of Christ with the Church, which the Apostle presents under the similitude of the unity of the spouses: “I mean it in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:32). We find ourselves in the domain of the great analogy in which marriage as a sacrament is presupposed on the one hand, and on the other hand, rediscovered. It is presupposed as the sacrament of the “beginning” of mankind united to the mystery of the creation. However, it is rediscovered as the fruit of the spousal love of Christ and of the Church linked with the mystery of the redemption.

Address to spouses

2. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians, addressing spouses directly,  exhorts them to mold their reciprocal relationship on the model of the spousal union of Christ and the Church. It can be said that—presupposing the sacramentality of marriage in its primordial significance—he orders them to learn anew this sacrament of the spousal unity of Christ and the Church: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her...” (cf. Eph 5:25-26). This invitation which the Apostle addressed to Christian spouses is fully motivated by the fact that through marriage as a sacrament, they participate in Christ’s saving love, which is expressed at the same time as his spousal love for the Church. In the light of the Letter to the Ephesians—precisely through participation in this saving love of Christ—marriage as a sacrament of the human “beginning” is confirmed and at the same time renewed. It is the sacrament in which man and woman, called to become “one flesh,” participate in God’s own creative love. They participate in it both by the fact that, created in the image of God, they are called by reason of this image to a particular union (communio personarum), and because this same union has from the beginning been blessed with the blessing of fruitfulness (cf. Gn 1:28).

New depths of love

3. All this original and stable structure of marriage as a sacrament of the mystery of creation—according to the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians (Eph 5:21-33)—is renewed in the mystery of the redemption, when that mystery assumes the aspect of the spousal love of the Church on the part of Christ. That original and stable form of marriage is renewed when the spouses receive it as a sacrament of the Church, drawing from the new depths of God’s love for man. This love is revealed and opened with the mystery of the redemption, “when Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her to make her holy...” (Eph 5:25-26). That original and stable image of marriage as a sacrament is renewed when Christian spouses, conscious of the authentic profundity of the redemption of the body, are united “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

Fusing the dimensions

4. The Pauline image of marriage, inscribed in the “great mystery” of Christ and of the Church, brings together the redemptive dimension and the spousal dimension of love. In a certain sense it fuses these two dimensions into one. Christ has become the spouse of the Church. He has married the Church as a bride, because “He has given himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). Through marriage as a sacrament (as one of the sacraments of the Church) both these dimensions of love, the spousal and the redemptive, together with the grace of the sacrament, permeate the life of the spouses. The spousal significance of the body in its masculinity and femininity was manifested for the first time in the mystery of creation against the background of man’s original innocence. This significance is linked in the image of the Letter to the Ephesians with the redemptive significance, and in this way it is confirmed and in a certain sense, “newly created.”

Understanding the link

5. This is important in regard to marriage and to the Christian vocation of husbands and wives. The text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) is directly addressed to them and speaks especially to them. However, that linking of the spousal significance of the body with its redemptive significance is equally essential and valid for the understanding of man in general, for the fundamental problem of understanding him and for the self-comprehension of his being in the world. It is obvious that we cannot exclude from this problem the question on the meaning of being a body, on the sense of being, as a body, man and woman. These questions were posed for the first time in relation to the analysis of the human beginning, in the context of Genesis. In a certain sense, that very context demanded that they should be posed. It is equally demanded by the classic text of the Letter to the Ephesians. The great mystery of the union of Christ to the Church obliges us to link the spousal significance of the body with its redemptive significance. In this link the spouses find the answer to the question concerning the meaning of “being a body,” and not only they, although this text of the Apostle’s letter is addressed especially to them.

Explains by analogy

6. The Pauline image of the great mystery of Christ and of the Church also spoke indirectly of celibacy for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. In this celibacy, both dimensions of love, the spousal and redemptive, are reciprocally united in a way different from that of marriage, according to diverse proportions. Is not perhaps that spousal love wherewith Christ “loved the Church”—his bride—”and gave himself up for her,” at the same time the fullest incarnation of the ideal of celibacy for the kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 19:12)? Is not support found precisely in this by all those—men and women—who, choosing the same ideal, desire to link the spousal dimension of love with the redemptive dimension according to the model of Christ himself? They wish to confirm with their life that the spousal significance of the body—of its masculinity and femininity—profoundly inscribed in the essential structure of the human person, has been opened in a new way on the part of Christ and with the example of his life, to the hope united to the redemption of the body. Thus, the grace of the mystery of the redemption bears fruit also—rather bears fruit in a special way—with the vocation to celibacy for the kingdom of heaven.

7. The text of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33) does not speak of it explicitly. It is addressed to spouses and constructed according to the image of marriage, which by analogy explains the union of Christ with the Church—a union in both redemptive and spousal love together. Is it not perhaps precisely this love which, as the living and vivifying expression of the mystery of the redemption, goes beyond the circle of the recipients of the letter circumscribed by the analogy of marriage? Does it not embrace every man and, in a certain sense, the whole of creation as indicated by the Pauline text on the redemption of the body in Romans (cf. Rom 8:23)? The great sacrament in this sense is a new sacrament of man in Christ and in the Church. It is the sacrament “of man and of the world,” just as the creation of man, male and female, in the image of God, was the original sacrament of man and of the world. In this new sacrament of redemption marriage is organically inscribed, just as it was inscribed in the original sacrament of creation.

Fulfillment of the kingdom

8. Man, who “from the beginning” is male and female, should seek the meaning of his existence and the meaning of his humanity by reaching out to the mystery of creation through the reality of redemption. There one finds also the essential answer to the question on the significance of the human body, and the significance of the masculinity and femininity of the human person. The union of Christ with the Church permits us to understand in what way the spousal significance of the body is completed with the redemptive significance, and this in the diverse ways of life and in diverse situations. It is not only in marriage or in continency (that is, virginity and celibacy), but also, for example, in the many forms of human suffering, indeed, in the very birth and death of man. By means of the great mystery which the Letter to the Ephesians treats of, by means of the new covenant of Christ with the Church, marriage is again inscribed in that “sacrament of man” which embraces the universe, in the sacrament of man and of the world which, thanks to the forces of the redemption of the body is modeled on the spousal love of Christ for the Church, to the measure of the definitive fulfillment of the kingdom of the Father.

Marriage as a sacrament remains a living and vivifying part of this saving process.

18.  [104.] THE SUBSTRATUM AND CONTENT OF THE SACRAMENTAL SIGN OF SPOUSAL COMMUNION

General Audience of 5 January 1983

1. “I take you as my wife”; “I take you as my husband”—these words are at the center of the liturgy of marriage as a sacrament of the Church. These words spoken by the engaged couple are inserted in the following formula of consent: “I promise to be faithful to you always, in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love and honor you all the days of my life.” With these words the engaged couple enter the marriage contract and at the same time receive the sacrament of which both are the ministers. Both of them, the man and the woman, administer the sacrament. They do it before witnesses. The priest is a qualified witness, and at the same time he blesses the marriage and presides over the whole sacramental liturgy. Moreover, all those participating in the marriage rite are in a certain sense witnesses, and some of them (usually two) are called specifically to act as witnesses in an official way. They must testify that the marriage was contracted before God and confirmed by the Church. In the ordinary course of events sacramental marriage is a public act by means of which two persons, a man and a woman, become husband and wife before the ecclesial society, that is, they become the actual subject of the marriage vocation and life.

2. Marriage is a sacrament which is contracted by means of the word which is a sacramental sign by reason of its content: “I take you as my wife—as my husband—and I promise to be always faithful to you, in joy and sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love you and honor you all the days of my life.” However, this sacramental word is, per se, merely the sign of the coming into being of marriage. The coming into being of marriage is distinguished from its consummation, to the extent that without this consummation the marriage is not yet constituted in its full reality. The fact that a marriage is juridically contracted but not consummated (ratum—non consummatum) corresponds to the fact that it has not been fully constituted as a marriage. Indeed the very words “I take you as my wife—my husband” refer not only to a determinate reality, but they can be fulfilled only by means of conjugal intercourse. This reality (conjugal intercourse) has moreover been determined from the very beginning by institution of the Creator: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (cf. Gn 2:24).

3. Thus then, from the words whereby the man and the woman express their willingness to become “one flesh” according to the eternal truth established in the mystery of creation, we pass to the reality which corresponds to these words. Both the one and the other element are important in regard to the structure of the sacramental sign, to which it is fitting to devote the remainder of the present reflections. Granted that the sacrament is a sign which expresses and at the same time effects the saving reality of grace and of the covenant, one must now consider it under the aspect of sign, whereas the previous reflections were dedicated to the reality of grace and of the covenant.

Marriage, as a sacrament of the Church, is contracted by means of the words of the ministers, that is, of the newlyweds. These words signify and indicate, in the order of intention, that which (or rather, who) both have decided to be from now on, the one for the other and the one with the other. The words of the newlyweds form a part of the integral structure of the sacramental sign, not merely for what they signify but also, in a certain sense, with what they signify and determine. The sacramental sign is constituted in the order of intention insofar as it is simultaneously constituted in the real order.

4. Consequently, the sacramental sign of marriage is constituted by the words of the newlyweds inasmuch as the “reality” which they themselves constitute corresponds to those words. Both of them, as man and woman, being the ministers of the sacrament in the moment of contracting marriage, constitute at the same time the full and real visible sign of the sacrament itself. The words spoken by them would not per se constitute the sacramental sign of marriage unless there corresponded to them the human subjectivity of the engaged couple and at the same time the awareness of the body, linked to the masculinity and femininity of the husband and wife. Here it is necessary to recall to mind the whole series of our previous analyses in regard to Genesis (cf. Gn 1:2). The structure of the sacramental sign remains essentially the same as “in the beginning.” In a certain sense, it is determined by the language of the body. This is inasmuch as the man and the woman, who through marriage should become one flesh, express in this sign the reciprocal gift of masculinity and femininity as the basis of the conjugal union of the persons.

5. The sacramental sign of marriage is constituted by the fact that the words spoken by the newlyweds use again the same language of the body as at the “beginning,” and in any case they give a concrete and unique expression to it. They give it an intentional expression on the level of intellect and will, of consciousness and of the heart. The words “I take you as my wife—as my husband” imply precisely that perennial, unique and unrepeatable language of the body. At the same time they situate it in the context of the communion of the persons: “I promise to be always faithful to you, in joy and in sadness, in sickness and in health, and to love you and honor you all the days of my life.” In this way the enduring and ever new language of the body is not only the “substratum.” But in a certain sense, it is the constitutive element of the communion of the persons. The persons—man and woman—become for each other a mutual gift. They become that gift in their masculinity and femininity, discovering the spousal significance of the body and referring it reciprocally to themselves in an irreversible manner—in a life-long dimension.

6. Thus the sacrament of marriage as a sign enables us to understand the words of the newlyweds. These words confer a new aspect on their life in a dimension strictly personal (and interpersonal: communio personarum), on the basis of the language of the body. The administration of the sacrament consists in this: that in the moment of contracting marriage the man and the woman, by means of suitable words and recalling the perennial language of the body, form a sign, an unrepeatable sign, which has also a significance for the future: “all the days of my life,” that is to say, until death. This is a visible and efficacious sign of the covenant with God in Christ, that is, of grace which in this sign should become a part of them as “their own special gift” (according to the expression of 1Cor 7:7).

7. Expressing this matter in socio-juridical terms, one can say that between the newlyweds there is a stipulated, well-defined conjugal pact. It can also be said that following upon this pact, they have become spouses in a manner socially recognized, and that in this way the family as the fundamental social cell is also constituted in germ. This manner of understanding it is obviously in agreement with the human reality of marriage. Indeed, it is also fundamental in the religious and religious-moral sense. However, from the point of view of the theology of the sacrament, the key for the understanding of marriage is always the reality of the sign whereby marriage is constituted on the basis of the covenant of man with God in Christ and in the Church. It is constituted in the supernatural order of the sacred bond requiring grace. In this order marriage is a visible and efficacious sign. Having its origin in the mystery of creation, it derives its new origin from the mystery of redemption at the service of the “union of the sons of God in truth and in love” (Gaudium et Spes 24). The liturgy of the sacrament of marriage gave a form to that sign: directly, during the sacramental rite, on the basis of the ensemble of its eloquent expressions; indirectly, throughout the whole of life. As spouses, the man and woman bear this sign throughout the whole of their lives and they remain as that sign until death.

19.  [105.] THE LANGUAGE OF THE BODY IN THE STRUCTURE OF MARRIAGE

General Audience of 12 January 1983

 

1. We now analyze the sacramentality of marriage under the aspect of sign.

When we say that the language of the body also enters essentially into the structure of marriage as a sacramental sign, we refer to a long biblical tradition. This has its origin in Genesis (especially 2:23-25) and it finds its definitive culmination in the Letter to the Ephesians (cf. Eph 5:21-33). The prophets of the Old Testament had an essential role in forming this tradition. Analyzing the texts of Hosea, Ezekiel, Deutero-Isaiah, and of the other prophets, we find ourselves face to face with the great analogy whose final expression is the proclamation of the new covenant under the form of a marriage between Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33). On the basis of this long tradition it is possible to speak of a specific “prophetism of the body,” both because of the fact that we find this analogy especially in the prophets, and also in regard to its content. Here, the “prophetism of the body” signifies precisely the language of the body.

2. The analogy seems to have two levels. On the first and fundamental level the prophets present the covenant between God and Israel as a marriage. This also permits us to understand marriage itself as a covenant between husband and wife.1 In this case the covenant derives from the initiative of God, the Lord of Israel. The fact that he, as Creator and Lord, makes a covenant first of all with Abraham and then with Moses, already bears witness to a special choice. Therefore the prophets, presupposing the entire juridical-moral content of the covenant, go much deeper and reveal a dimension incomparably more profound than that of a mere “pact.” In choosing Israel, God is united with his people through love and grace. He is bound with a special bond, profoundly personal. Therefore Israel, even though a people, is presented in this prophetic vision of the covenant as a spouse or wife, and therefore, in a certain sense, as a person:

“For your Maker is your husband,

the Lord of Hosts is his name;

and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer,

the God of the whole earth he is called....

But my steadfast love shall not depart from you

and my covenant of peace shall not be removed, says the Lord” (Is 54:5, 10).

3. Yahweh is the Lord of Israel, but he also becomes her Spouse. The books of the Old Testament bear witness to the absolute original character of the dominion of Yahweh over his people. To the other aspects of the dominion of Yahweh, Lord of the covenant and Father of Israel, a new aspect revealed by the prophets is added, that is to say, the stupendous dimension of this dominion, which is the spousal dimension. In this way, the absolute of dominion is the absolute of love. In regard to this absolute, the breach of the covenant signifies not only an infraction of the “pact” linked with the authority of the supreme Legislator, but also infidelity and betrayal. It is a blow which even pierces his heart as Father, as Spouse and as Lord.

4. If, in the analogy employed by the prophets, one can speak of levels, this is in a certain sense the first and fundamental level. Given that the covenant of Yahweh with Israel has the character of a spousal bond like to the conjugal pact, that first level of the analogy reveals a second which is precisely the language of the body. Here we have in mind, in the first place, the language in an objective sense. The prophets compare the covenant to marriage. They refer to the primordial sacrament spoken of in Genesis 2:24, in which the man and the woman, by free choice, become “one flesh.” However, it is characteristic of the prophets’ manner of expressing themselves that, presupposing the language of the body in the objective sense, they pass at the same time to its subjective meaning. That is to say, after a manner of speaking, they allow the body itself to speak. In the prophetic texts of the covenant, on the basis of the analogy of the spousal union of the married couple, the body itself “speaks.” It speaks by means of its masculinity and femininity. It speaks in the mysterious language of the personal gift. It speaks ultimately—and this happens more frequently—both in the language of fidelity, that is, of love, and also in the language of conjugal infidelity, that is, of adultery.

5. It is well known that the different sins of the Chosen People—and especially their frequent infidelities in regard to the worship of the one God, that is, various forms of idolatry—offered the prophets the occasion to denounce the aforesaid sins. In a special way, Hosea was the prophet of the “adultery” of Israel. He condemned it not only in words, but also, in a certain sense, in actions of a symbolic significance: “Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and have children of harlotry, for the land commits great harlotry by forsaking the Lord” (Hos 1:2). Hosea sets out in relief all the splendor of the covenant—of that marriage in which Yahweh manifests himself as a sensitive, affectionate Spouse disposed to forgiveness, and at the same time, exigent and severe. The adultery and the harlotry of Israel evidently contrast with the marriage bond, on which the covenant is based, as likewise, analogically, the marriage of man and woman.

6. In a similar way, Ezekiel condemned idolatry. He used the symbol of the adultery of Jerusalem (cf. Ez 16) and, in another passage, of Jerusalem and of Samaria (cf. Ez 23). “When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love.... I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine” (Ez 16:8). “But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your renown, and lavished your harlotry on any passerby” (Ez 16:15).

7. In the texts of the prophets the human body speaks a “language” which it is not the author of. Its author is man as male or female, as husband or wife—man with his everlasting vocation to the communion of persons. However, man cannot, in a certain sense, express this singular language of his personal existence and of his vocation without the body. He has already been constituted in such a way from the beginning, in such wise that the most profound words of the spirit—words of love, of giving, of fidelity—demand an adequate language of the body. Without that they cannot be fully expressed. We know from the Gospel that this refers both to marriage and also to celibacy for the sake of the kingdom.

8. The prophets, as the inspired mouthpiece of the covenant of Yahweh with Israel, seek precisely through this language of the body to express both the spousal profundity of the aforesaid covenant and all that is opposed to it. They praise fidelity and they condemn infidelity as adultery—they speak therefore according to ethical categories, setting moral good and evil in mutual opposition. The opposition between good and evil is essential for morality. The texts of the prophets have an essential significance in this sphere, as we have shown in our previous reflections. However, it seems that the language of the body according to the prophets is not merely a language of morality, a praise of fidelity and of purity, and a condemnation of adultery and of harlotry. In fact, for every language as an expression of knowledge, the categories of truth and of non-truth (that is, of falsity) are essential. In the writings of the prophets, who catch a fleeting glimpse of the analogy of the covenant of Yahweh with Israel in marriage, the body speaks the truth through fidelity and conjugal love. When it commits adultery it speaks lies; it is guilty of falsity.

9. It is not a case of substituting ethical with logical differentiations. If the texts of the prophets indicate conjugal fidelity and chastity as “truth,” and adultery or harlotry, on the other hand, as “non-truth,” as a falsity of the language of the body, this happens because in the first case the subject (that is, Israel as a spouse) is in accord with the spousal significance which corresponds to the human body (because of its masculinity or femininity) in the integral structure of the person. In the second case, however, the same subject contradicts and opposes this significance.

We can then say that the essential element for marriage as a sacrament is the language of the body in its aspects of truth. Precisely by means of that, the sacramental sign is constituted.

NOTE

1. Cf. Prv 2:17; Mal 2:14


20.  [106.] THE SACRAMENTAL COVENANT IN THE DIMENSION OF SIGN

General Audience of 19 January 1983

1. The texts of the prophets have great importance for understanding marriage as a covenant of persons (in the likeness of the covenant of Yahweh with Israel) and, in particular, for understanding the sacramental covenant of man and woman in the dimension of sign. As already considered, the language of the body enters into the integral structure of the sacramental sign whose principal subject is man, male and female. The words of matrimonial consent constitute this sign, because the spousal significance of the body in its masculinity and femininity is found expressed in them. Such a significance is expressed especially by the words: “I take you as my wife...my husband.” Moreover, the essential “truth” of the language of the body is confirmed with these words. The essential “non-truth,” the falsity of the language of the body is also excluded (at least indirectly, implicitly). The body speaks the truth through conjugal love, fidelity and integrity, just as non-truth, that is, falsity, is expressed by all that is the negation of conjugal love, fidelity and integrity. It can then be said that in the moment of pronouncing the words of matrimonial consent, the newlyweds set themselves on the line of the same “prophetism of the body,” of which the ancient prophets were the mouthpiece. Expressed by the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, the language of the body institutes the visible sign itself of the covenant and of grace which, going back to its origin to the mystery of creation, is continually sustained by the power of the redemption of the body, offered by Christ to the Church.

Perform act of prophetic character

2. According to the prophetic texts the human body speaks a language which it is not the author of. Its author is man who, as male and female, husband and wife, correctly rereads the significance of this language. He rereads that spousal significance of the body as integrally inscribed in the structure of the masculinity or femininity of the personal subject. A correct rereading “in truth” is an indispensable condition to proclaim this truth, that is, to institute the visible sign of marriage as a sacrament. The spouses proclaim precisely this language of the body, reread in truth, as the content and principle of their new life in Christ and in the Church. On the basis of the “prophetism of the body,” the ministers of the sacrament of marriage perform an act of prophetic character. They confirm in this way their participation in the prophetic mission of the Church received from Christ. A prophet is one who expresses in human words the truth coming from God, who speaks this truth in the place of God, in his name and in a certain sense with his authority.

Matrimonial consent

3. All this applies to the newlyweds who, as ministers of the sacrament of marriage, institute the visible sign by the words of matrimonial consent. They proclaim the language of the body, reread in truth, as content and principle of their new life in Christ and in the Church. This prophetic proclamation has a complex character. The matrimonial consent is at the same time the announcement and the cause of the fact that, from now on, both will be husband and wife before the Church and society. (We understand such an announcement as an indication in the ordinary sense of the term.) However, marriage consent has especially the character of a reciprocal profession of the newlyweds made before God. It is enough to examine the text attentively to be convinced that that prophetic proclamation of the language of the body, reread in truth, is immediately and directly addressed to the “I” and the “you”: by the man to the woman and by her to him. The central position in the matrimonial consent is held precisely by the words which indicate the personal subject, the pronouns “I” and “you.” Reread in the truth of its spousal significance, the language of the body constitutes by means of the words of the newlyweds the union-communion of the persons. If the matrimonial consent has a prophetic character, if it is the proclamation of the truth coming from God and, in a certain sense, the statement of this truth in God’s name, this is brought about especially in the dimension of the inter-personal communion, and only indirectly “before” others and “for” others.

Sacrament’s visible sign

4. Against the background of the words spoken by the ministers of the sacrament of marriage, there stands the enduring language of the body, which God originated by creating man as male and female: a language which has been renewed by Christ. This enduring language of the body carries within itself all the richness and depth of the mystery, first of creation and then of redemption. Bringing into being the visible sign of the sacrament by means of the words of their matrimonial consent, the spouses express therein the language of the body with all the profundity of the mystery of creation and of redemption. (The liturgy of the sacrament of marriage offers a rich context of it.) Rereading the language of the body in this way, the spouses enclose in the words of matrimonial consent the subjective fullness of the profession which is indispensable to bring about the sign proper to the sacrament. Not only this, they also arrive in a certain sense at the sources from which that sign on each occasion draws its prophetic eloquence and its sacramental power. One must not forget that before being spoken by the lips of the spouses, who are the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, the language of the body was spoken by the word of the living God, beginning from Genesis, through the prophets of the old covenant, until the author of the letter to the Ephesians.

Decision and choice

5. We use over and over again the expression “language of the body,” harking back to the prophetic texts. As we have already said, in these texts the human body speaks a language which it is not the author of in the proper sense of the term. The author is man, male and female, who rereads the true sense of that language, bringing to light the spousal significance of the body as integrally inscribed in the very structure of the masculinity and femininity of the personal subject. This rereading “in truth” of the language of the body already confers per se a prophetic character on the words of the marriage consent, by means of which man and woman bring into being the visible sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church. However, these words contain something more than a simple rereading in truth of that language spoken of by the femininity and masculinity of the newlyweds in their reciprocal relationships: “I take you as my wife...as my husband.” The words of matrimonial consent contain the intention, the decision and the choice. Both of the spouses decide to act in conformity with the language of the body, reread in truth. If man, male and female, is the author of that language, he is so especially inasmuch as he wishes to confer, and does indeed confer, on his behavior and on his actions a significance in conformity with the reread eloquence of the truth of masculinity and femininity in the mutual conjugal relationship.

Has lasting effect

6. In this sphere man is the cause of the actions which have per se clear-cut meanings. He is then the cause of the actions and at the same time the author of their significance. The sum total of those meanings constitutes in a certain sense the ensemble of the language of the body, in which the spouses decide to speak to each other as ministers of the sacrament of marriage. The sign which they constitute by the words of matrimonial consent is not a mere immediate and passing sign, but a sign looking to the future which produces a lasting effect, namely, the marriage bond, one and indissoluble (“all the days of my life,” that is, until

death). In this perspective they should fulfill that sign of multiple content offered by the conjugal and family communion of the persons and also of that content which, originating from the language of the body, is continually reread in truth. In this way the essential “truth” of the sign will remain organically linked to the morality of matrimonial conduct. In this truth of the sign and, later, in the morality of matrimonial conduct, the procreative significance of the body is inserted with a view to the future—that is, paternity and maternity, which we have previously treated. To the question: “Are you willing to accept responsibly and with love the children that God may give you and to educate them according to the law of Christ and of the Church?”—the man and the woman reply: “Yes.”

Now we postpone to later meetings further detailed examinations of the matter.

21.  [107.] LANGUAGE OF THE BODY STRENGTHENS THE MARRIAGE COVENANT

General Audience of 26 January 1983

 

1. The sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is constituted each time according to that dimension which is proper to it from the “beginning.” At the same time it is constituted on the foundation of the spousal love of Christ and of the Church as the unique and unrepeatable expression of the covenant between “this” man and “this” woman. They are the ministers of marriage as a sacrament of their vocation and their life. In saying that the sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is constituted on the basis of the language of the body, we are using analogy (the analogy of attribution), which we have sought to clarify previously. It is obvious that the body as such does not “speak,” but man speaks, rereading that which requires to be expressed precisely on the basis of the “body,” of the masculinity and femininity of the personal subject, indeed, on the basis of what can be expressed by man only by means of the body.

In this sense man—male or female—does not merely speak with the language of the body. But in a certain sense he permits the body to speak “for him” and “on his behalf,” I would say, in his name and with his personal authority. In this way even the concept of the “prophetism of the body” seems to be well founded. The prophet spoke “for” and “on behalf of”—in the name and with the authority of a person.

2. The newlywed spouses are aware of it when in contracting marriage they institute its visible sign. In the perspective of life in common and of the conjugal vocation, that initial sign, the original sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, will be continually completed by the “prophetism of the body.” The spouses’ bodies will speak “for” and “on behalf of” each of them. They will speak in the name of and with the authority of the person, of each of the persons, carrying out the conjugal dialogue proper to their vocation and based on the language of the body, reread in due course opportunely and continually—and it is necessary that it be reread in truth! The spouses are called to form their life and their living together as a communion of persons on the basis of that language. Granted that there corresponds to the language a complexus of meaning, the spouses—by means of their conduct and comportment, by means of their actions and gestures (“gestures of tenderness”—cf. Gaudium et Spes 49)—are called to become the authors of such meanings of the “language of the body.” Consequently, love, fidelity, conjugal uprightness and that union which remains indissoluble until death are constructed and continually deepened.

3. The sign of marriage as a sacrament of the Church is formed precisely by those meanings which the spouses are the authors of. All these meanings are initiated and in a certain sense “programmed” in a synthetic manner in the conjugal consent for the purpose of constructing later—in a more analytical way, day by day—the same sign, identifying oneself with it in the dimension of the whole of life. There is an organic bond between rereading in truth the integral significance of the language of the body and the consequent use of that language in conjugal life. In this last sphere the human being—male and female—is the author of the meanings of the language of the body. This implies that this language which he is the author of corresponds to the truth which has been reread. On the basis of biblical tradition we speak here of the “prophetism of the body.” If the human being—male and female—in marriage (and indirectly also in all the spheres of mutual life together) confers on his behavior a significance in conformity with the fundamental truth of the language of the body, then he also “is in the truth.” In the contrary case he is guilty of a lie and falsifies the language of the body.

4. If we place ourselves on the perspective line of conjugal consent—which, as we have already said, offers the spouses a particular participation in the prophetic mission of the Church handed down from Christ himself—we can in this regard also use the biblical distinction between true and false prophets. By means of marriage as a sacrament of the Church, man and woman are called explicitly to bear witness—by using correctly the language of the body—to spousal and procreative love, a witness worthy of true prophets. The true significance and the grandeur of conjugal consent in the sacrament of the Church consists in this.

5. The problematic of the sacramental sign of marriage has a highly anthropological character. We construct it on the basis of theological anthropology and in particular on that which, from the beginning of the present considerations, we have defined as the theology of the body. Therefore, in continuing these analyses, we should always have before our minds the previous considerations which refer to the analysis of the key words of Christ. (We call them key words because they open up for us, like a key, the individual dimensions of theological anthropology, especially of the theology of the body.) Constructing on this basis the analysis of the sacramental sign of marriage in which the man and woman always participate, even after original sin, that is, man and woman as historical man, we must constantly bear in mind the fact that that historical man, male and female, is at the same time the man of concupiscence. As such, every man and every woman enter the history of salvation and they are involved in it through the sacrament which is the visible sign of the covenant and of grace.

Therefore, we bear this in mind in the context of the present reflections, on the sacramental structure of the sign of not only what Christ said on the unity and indissolubility of marriage by referring to the “beginning,” but also (and still more) what he said in the Sermon on the Mount when he referred to the “human heart.”

22.  [108.] MAN CALLED TO OVERCOME CONCUPISCENCE

General Audience of 9 February 1983

1. We said previously that in the context of the present reflections on the structure of marriage as a sacramental sign, we should bear in mind not only what Christ said about its unity and indissolubility in reference to the beginning, but also (and still more) what he said in the Sermon on the Mount when he referred to the human heart. Referring to the commandment, “You shall not commit adultery,” Christ spoke of adultery in the heart. “Everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).

The sacramental sign of marriage—the sign of the conjugal covenant of a man and a woman—is formed on the basis of the language of the body reread in truth (and continuously reread). In stating this, we realize that he who rereads this language and then expresses it, not according to the requirements proper to marriage as a pact and a sacrament, is naturally and morally the man of concupiscence—male and female, both of them understood as the “man of concupiscence.” The prophets of the Old Testament certainly have this man before their eyes when, using an analogy, they condemn the “adultery of Israel and Judah.” The analysis of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount lead us to understand more deeply “adultery” itself. At the same time it leads us to the conviction that the human heart is not so much accused and condemned by Christ because of concupiscence (concupiscentia carnalis), as first of all called. Here there is a decisive difference between the anthropology (or the anthropological hermeneutics) of the Gospel and some influential representatives of the contemporary hermeneutics of man (the so-called masters of suspicion).

The man who is “called”

2. Continuing our present analysis we can observe that even though man, notwithstanding the sacramental sign of marriage, notwithstanding conjugal consent and its actuation, remains naturally the “man of concupiscence,” he is at the same time the man who has been “called.” He is called through the mystery of the redemption of the body, a divine mystery, which at the same time is—in Christ and through Christ in every man—a human reality. That mystery, besides, implies a determinate ethos which is essentially human, and which we have previously called the ethos of the redemption.

3. In the light of the words Christ spoke in the Sermon on the Mount, in the light of the whole Gospel and of the new covenant, the threefold concupiscence (and in particular the concupiscence of the flesh) does not destroy the capacity to reread in truth the language of the body—and to reread it continually in an ever more mature and fuller way—whereby the sacramental sign is constituted both in its first liturgical moment, and also later in the dimension of the whole of life. In this light one must note that concupiscence per se causes many errors in rereading the language of the body. Together with this it gave rise also to sin—moral evil, contrary to the virtue of chastity (whether conjugal or extra-conjugal). Nevertheless in the sphere of the ethos of redemption the possibility always remains of passing from error to the truth, as also the possibility of returning, that is, of conversion, from sin to chastity, as an expression of a life according to the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:16).

Sacramental sign of love

4. In this way, in the evangelical and Christian perspective of the problem, historical man (after original sin), on the basis of the language of the body reread in truth, is able—as male and female—to constitute the sacramental sign of love, of conjugal fidelity and integrity, and this as an enduring sign: “To be faithful to you always in joy and in sorrow, in sickness and in health, and to love and honor you all the days of my life.” This signifies that man, in a real way, is the author of the meanings whereby, after having reread in truth the language of the body, he is also capable of forming in truth that language in the conjugal and family communion of the persons. He is capable of it also as the man of concupiscence, being at the same time called by the reality of the redemption of Christ (simul lapsus et redemptus).

Hermeneutics of the sacrament

5. By means of the dimension of the sign proper to marriage as a sacrament there is confirmed the specific theological anthropology, the specific hermeneutics of man. In this case it could also be called the hermeneutics of the sacrament, because it permits us to understand man on the basis of the analysis of the sacramental sign. Man—male and female—as the minister of the sacrament, the author (co-author) of the sacramental sign, is a conscious and capable subject of self-determination. Only on this basis can he be the author of the language of the body, the author (co-author) of marriage as a sign—a sign of the divine creation and redemption of the body. The fact that man (male and female) is the man of concupiscence does not prejudice his capacity to reread the language of the body in truth. He is the man of concupiscence. But at the same time he is capable of discerning truth from falsity in the language of the body. He can be the author of the meanings of that language, whether true or false.

Called, not accused

6. He is the man of concupiscence, but he is not completely determined by libido (in the sense in which this term is often used). Such a determination would imply that the ensemble of man’s behavior, even, for example, the choice of continence for religious motives, would be explained only by means of the specific transformations of this libido. In such a case—in the sphere of the language of the body—man would, in a certain sense, be condemned to essential falsifications. He would merely be one who expresses a specific determination on the part of the libido, but he would not express the truth or falsity of spousal love and of the communion of the persons, even though he might think to manifest it. Consequently, he would then be condemned to suspect himself and others in regard to the truth of the language of the body. Because of the concupiscence of the flesh he could only be accused, but he could not be really called.

The hermeneutics of the sacrament permits us to draw the conclusion that man is always essentially called and not merely accused, and this precisely inasmuch as he is the man of concupiscence.

 


23.  [109.] RETURN TO THE SUBJECT OF HUMAN LOVE IN THE DIVINE PLAN

[The Song of Songs, 1 of 3]

General Audience of 23 May 1984

1. During the Holy Year I postponed the treatment of the theme of human love in the divine plan. I would now like to conclude that topic with some considerations especially about the teaching of Humanae Vitae, premising some reflections on the Song of Songs and the Book of Tobit. It seems to me that what I intend to explain in the coming weeks constitutes the crowning of what I have illustrated.

The theme of marital love which unites man and woman in a certain sense connects this part of the Bible with the whole tradition of the “great analogy.” Through the writings of the prophets, this flows into the New Testament and especially into Ephesians (cf. Eph 5:21-33). I interrupted the explanation of this at the beginning of the Holy Year.

The Song of Songs has become the object of many exegetical studies, commentaries and hypotheses. With regard to its content, apparently “profane,” the positions have varied. On the one hand its reading has often been discouraged, and on the other it has been the source from which the greatest mystical writers have drawn. The verses of the Song of Songs have been inserted into the Church’s liturgy.(1)

In fact, although the analysis of the text of this book obliges us to situate its content outside the sphere of the great prophetic analogy, it is not possible to detach it from the reality of the original sacrament. It is not possible to reread it except along the lines of what is written in the first chapters of Genesis, as a testimony of the beginning—that beginning which Christ referred to in his decisive conversation with the Pharisees (cf. Mt 19:4).(2) The Song of Songs is certainly found in the wake of that sacrament in which, through the language of the body, the visible sign of man and woman’s participation in the covenant of grace and love offered by God to man is constituted. The Song of Songs demonstrates the richness of this language, whose first expression is already found in Genesis 2:23-25.

Atmosphere of the Song of Songs

2. Indeed, the first verses of the Song lead us immediately into the atmosphere of the whole poem, in which the groom and the bride seem to move in the circle traced by the irradiation of love. The words, movements and gestures of the spouses correspond to the interior movement of their hearts. It is possible to understand the language of the body only through the prism of this movement. In that language there comes to pass that discovery which the first man gave expression in front of her who had been created as “a helper like himself” (cf. Gen 2:20, 23). As the biblical text reports, she had been taken from one of his ribs (“rib” seems to also indicate the heart).

This discovery—already analyzed on the basis of Genesis 2—in the Song of Songs is invested with all the richness of the language of human love. What was expressed in the second chapter of Genesis (vv. 23-25) in just a few simple and essential words, is developed here in a full dialogue, or rather in a duet, in which the groom’s words are interwoven with the bride’s and they complement each other. On seeing the woman created by God, man’s first words express wonder and admiration, even more, the sense of fascination (cf. Gn 2:23). And a similar fascination—which is wonder and admiration—runs in fuller form through the verses of the Song of Songs. It runs in a peaceful and homogeneous wave from the beginning to the end of the poem.

Mutual admiration

3. Even a summary analysis of the text of the Song of Songs allows the language of the body to be heard expressing itself in that mutual fascination. The point of departure as well as the point of arrival for this fascination—mutual wonder and admiration—are in fact the bride’s femininity and the groom’s masculinity, in the direct experience of their visibility. The words of love uttered by both of them are therefore concentrated on the body, not only because in itself it constitutes the source of the mutual fascination. But it is also, and above all, because on the body there lingers directly and immediately that attraction toward the other person, toward the other “I”—female or male—which in the interior impulse of the heart generates love.

In addition, love unleashes a special experience of the beautiful, which focuses on what is visible, but at the same time involves the entire person. The experience of beauty gives rise to satisfaction, which is mutual.

“O most beautiful among women...” (Sg 1:8), the groom says, and the bride’s words echo back to him: “I am dark—but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Sg 1:5). The words of the spellbound man are repeated continually. They return in all five stanzas of the poem, and they are echoed in similar expressions of the bride’s.

Use of metaphors

4. It is a question here of metaphors that may surprise us today. Many of them were borrowed from the life of shepherds; others seem to indicate the royal status of the groom.(3) The analysis of that poetic language is left to the experts. The very fact of adopting the metaphor shows how much, in our case, the language of the body seeks support and corroboration in the whole visible world. This is without doubt a language that is reread at one and the same time with the heart and with the eyes of the groom, in the act of special concentration on the whole female “I” of the bride. This “I” speaks to him through every feminine trait, giving rise to that state of mind that can be defined as fascination, enchantment. This female “I” is expressed almost without words. Nevertheless, the language of the body, expressed wordlessly, finds a rich echo in the groom’s words, in his speaking that is full of poetic transport and metaphors, which attest to the experience of beauty, a love of satisfaction. If the metaphors in the Song seek an analogy for this beauty in the various things of the visible world (in this world which is the groom’s “own world”), at the same time they seem to indicate the insufficiency of each of these things in particular. “You are all-beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you” (Sg 4:7):—with this saying, the groom ends his song, leaving all the metaphors, in order to address himself to that sole one through which the language of the body seems to express what is more proper to femininity and the whole of the person.

We will continue the analysis of the Song of Songs at the next general audience.

 

FOOTNOTES

1) “The Song is therefore to be taken simply for what it manifestly is: a song of human love.” This sentence of J. Winandy, O.S.B., expresses the conviction of growing numbers of exegetes (J. Winandy, Le Cantique des Cantiques, Poém d’amour mué en écrit de Sagesse [Maredsous: 1960], p. 26).

M. Dubarle adds: “Catholic exegesis, which sometimes refers to the obvious meaning of biblical texts for passages of great dogmatic importance, should not lightly abandon it when it comes to Songs.” Referring to the phrase of G. Gerleman, Dubarle continues: “Songs celebrates the love of man and woman without adding any mythological element, but considering it simply on its own level and in its specific nature. There is implicitly, without didactic insistence, the equivalent of the Yahwist faith (since sexual powers had not been placed under the patronage of foreign divinities and had not been attributed to Yahweh himself who appeared as transcending this sphere.) The poem was therefore in tacit harmony with the fundamental convictions of the faith of Israel.

The same open, objective, not expressly religious attitude with regard to physical beauty and sensual love is found in some collections of Yahwist documents. These various similarities show that the small book is not so isolated in the sum total of biblical literature as is sometimes stated (A. M. Dubarle, “Le Cantique des Cantiques dans l’exégèse récente,” Aux grands carrefours de la Révélation et de l’exégèse de l’Ancien Testament, Recherches Bibliques VIII [Louvain: 1967], pp. 149, 151).

2) This evidently does not exclude the possibility of speaking of a sensus plenior in the Song of Songs.

See, for example: “Lovers in the ecstasy of love seem to occupy and fill the whole book, as the only protagonists.... Therefore, Paul, in reading the words of Genesis, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cling to his wife, and the two shall be made into one’ (Eph 5:31), does not deny the real and immediate meaning of the words that refer to human marriage. However, to this first meaning he adds another deeper one with an indirect reference: ‘I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church,’ confessing that ‘this is a great foreshadowing’ (Eph 5:32)....

Some readers of the Song of Songs rush to read immediately in its words a disembodied love. They have forgotten the lovers, or have petrified them in fictions, in an intellectual key.... They have multiplied the minute allegorical relations in every sentence, word or image.... This is not the right way. Anyone who does not believe in the human love of the spouses, who must seek forgiveness for the body, does not have the right to be elevated.... With the affirmation of human love instead, it is possible to discover in it the revelation of God. (L. Alonso-Schökel, “Cantico dei Cantici—Introduzione,” La Biblia, Parola di Dio scritti per noi. Official text of the Italian Episcopal Conference, Vol. II [Torino: Marietti, 1980], pp. 425-427).

3) To explain the inclusion of a love song in the biblical canon, Jewish exegetes already in the first centuries after Christ saw in the Song of Songs an allegory of Yahweh’s love for Israel, or an allegory of the history of the Chosen People, in which this love is manifested, and in the Middle Ages the allegory of divine Wisdom and of man who is in search of it.

Since the early Fathers, Christian exegesis extended such an idea to Christ and the Church (cf. Hippolytus and Origen), or to the individual soul of the Christian (cf. St. Gregory of Nyssa) or to Mary (cf. St. Ambrose) and also to her Immaculate Conception (cf. Richard of St. Victor). St. Bernard saw in the Song of Songs a dialogue of the Word of God with the soul, and this led to St. John of the Cross’ concept about mystical marriage.

The only exception in this long tradition was Theodore of Mopsuestia, in the fourth century, who saw in the Song of Songs a poem that celebrated Solomon’s human love for Pharaoh’s daughter.

Luther, instead, referred the allegory to Solomon and his kingdom. In recent centuries new hypotheses have appeared. Some, for example, consider the Song of Songs as a drama of a bride’s fidelity to a shepherd, despite all the temptations, or as a collection of songs used during the popular wedding rites or mythical rituals which reflected the Adonis-Tammuz worship. Finally, there is seen in the Song of Songs the description of a dream, recalling ancient ideas about the significance of dreams and also psychoanalysis.

In the 20th century there has been a return to the more ancient allegorical traditions (cf. Bea), seeing again in the Song of Songs the history of Israel (cf. Jouon, Ricciotte), and a developed midrash (as Robert calls it in his commentary, which constitutes a “summary” of the interpretation of Songs).

Nevertheless, at the same time the book has begun to be read in its most evident significance as a poem exalting natural human love (cf. Rowley, Young, Laurin).

Karl Barth was the first to have demonstrated in what way this significance is linked with the biblical context of chapter two of Genesis. Dubarle begins with the premise that a faithful and happy human love reveals to man the attributes of divine love, and Van den Oudenrijn sees in the Song of Songs the antitype of that typical sense that appears in Eph 5:23. Excluding every allegorical and metaphorical explanation, Murphy stresses that human love, created and blessed by God, can be the theme of an inspired biblical book.

D. Lys notes that the content of the Song of Songs is at the same time sensual and sacred. When one prescinds from the second characteristic, the Song comes to be treated as a purely lay erotic composition, and when the first is ignored, one falls into allegorism. Only by putting these two aspects together is it possible to read the book in the right way.

Alongside the works of the above-mentioned authors, and especially with regard to an outline of the history of the exegesis of the Song of Songs, see H. H. Rowley, “The Interpretation of the Song of Songs,” The Servant of the Lord and Other Essays on the Old Testament (London: Lutterworth, 1952), pp. 191-233; A. M. Dubarle, Le Cantique des Cantiques dans l’exégèse de l’Ancien Testament, Recherches Bibliques VIII (Louvain: Desclée de Brouwer, 1967), pp. 139-151; D. Lys, Le plus beau chant de la création—Commentaire de Cantique des Cantiques. Lectio divina 51. (Paris: Du Cerf, 1968), pp. 31-35; M. H. Pope, “Song of Songs,” Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977), pp. 113-234.


24.  [110.] TRUTH AND FREEDOM THE FOUNDATION OF TRUE LOVE

[The Song of Songs, 2 of 3]

General Audience of 30 May 1984

1. We resume our analysis of the Song of Songs with the purpose of understanding in a more adequate and exhaustive way the sacramental sign of marriage. This is manifested by the language of the body, a singular language of love originating in the heart.

At a certain point, expressing a particular experience of values that shines upon everything that relates to the person he loves, the groom says:

“You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;

you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes,

with one bead of your necklace.

How sweet are your caresses, my sister, my bride...” (Sg 4:9-10).

From these words emerges what is of essential importance for the theology of the body—and in this case for the theology of the sacramental sign of marriage—to know who the female “you” is for the male “I” and vice versa.

The groom in the Song of Songs exclaims: “You are all-beautiful, my beloved” (Sg 4:7) and calls her “my sister, my bride” (Sg 4:9). He does not call her by her name, but he uses expressions that say more.

Under a certain aspect, compared with the name “beloved,” the name “sister” that is used for the bride seems to be more eloquent and rooted in the sum total of the Song, which illustrates how love reveals the other person.

Openness toward others

2. The term “beloved” indicates what is always essential for love, which puts the second “I” beside one’s own “I.” Friendship—love of friendship (amor amicitiae)—signifies in the Song a particular approach felt and experienced as an interiorly unifying power. The fact that in this approach that female “I” is revealed for her groom as “sister”—and that precisely as both sister and bride—has a special eloquence. The expression “sister” speaks of the union in mankind and at the same time of her difference and feminine originality. This is not only with regard to sex, but to the very way of “being person,” which means both “being subject” and “being in relationship.” The term “sister” seems to express, in a more simple way, the subjectivity of the female “I” in personal relationship with the man, that is, in the openness of him toward others, who are understood and perceived as brothers. The sister in a certain sense helps man to identify himself and conceive of himself in this way, constituting for him a kind of challenge in this direction.

3. The groom in the Song accepts the challenge and seeks the common past, as though he and his woman were descended from the same family circle, as though from infancy they were united by memories of a common home. So they mutually feel as close as brother and sister who owe their existence to the same mother. From this a specific sense of common belonging follows. The fact that they feel like brother and sister allows them to live their mutual closeness in security and to manifest it, finding support in that, and not fearing the unfair judgment of other men.

Through the name “sister,” the groom’s words tend to reproduce, I would say, the history of the femininity of the person loved. They see her still in the time of girlhood and they embrace her entire “I,” soul and body, with a disinterested tenderness. Hence there arises that peace which the bride speaks of. This is the peace of the body, which in appearance resembles sleep (“Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time”). This is above all the peace of the encounter in mankind as the image of God—and the encounter by means of a reciprocal and disinterested gift. (“So am I in your eyes, like one who has found peace”, Sg 8:10.)

Awareness of mutual belonging

4. In relation to the preceding plot, which could be called a “fraternal” plot, another plot emerges in the loving duet of the Song of Songs, another substratum of the content. We can examine it by starting from certain sayings that seem to have a key significance in the poem. This plot never emerges explicitly, but through the whole composition, and is expressly manifested only in a few passages. So the groom says:

“You are an enclosed garden, my sister, my bride,

   an enclosed garden, a fountain sealed(Sg 4:12).

The metaphors just read, an “enclosed garden, a fountain sealed,” reveal the presence of another vision of the same female “I,” master of her own mystery. We can say that both metaphors express the personal dignity of the woman who as a spiritual subject is in possession and can decide not only on the metaphysical depth, but also on the essential truth and authenticity of the gift of herself, inclined to that union which Genesis speaks of.

The language of metaphors—poetic language—seems to be in this sphere especially appropriate and precise. The “sister bride” is for the man the master of her own mystery as a “garden enclosed” and a “fountain sealed.” The language of the body reread in truth keeps pace with the discovery of the interior inviolability of the person. At the same time, this discovery expresses the authentic depth of the mutual belonging of the spouses who are aware of belonging to each other, of being destined for each other: “My lover belongs to me and I to him” (Sg 2:16; cf. 6:3).

5. This awareness of mutual belonging resounds especially on the lips of the bride. In a certain sense, with these words she responds to the groom’s words with which he acknowledged her as the master of her own mystery. When the bride says, “My lover belongs to me,” she means at the same time, “It is he to whom I entrust myself.” Therefore she says, “and I to him” (Sg 2:16). The words “to me” and “to him” affirm here the whole depth of that entrustment, which corresponds to the interior truth of the person.

It likewise corresponds to the nuptial significance of femininity in relation to the male “I,” that is, to the language of the body reread in the truth of personal dignity.

The groom states this truth with the metaphors of the “garden enclosed” and the “fountain sealed.” The bride answers him with the words of the gift, that is, the entrustment of herself. As master of her own choice she says, “I belong to my lover.” The Song of Songs subtly reveals the interior truth of this response. The freedom of the gift is the response to the deep awareness of the gift expressed by the groom’s words. Through this truth and freedom that love is built up, which we must affirm is authentic love.


25.  [111.] LOVE IS EVER SEEKING AND NEVER SATISFIED

[The Song of Songs, 3 of 3]

General Audience of 6 June 1984

1. Again today we will reflect on the Song of Songs, with the aim of better understanding the sacramental sign of marriage.

The truth about love, proclaimed by the Song of Songs, cannot be separated from the language of the body. The truth about love enables the same language of the body to be reread in truth. This is also the truth about the progressive approach of the spouses which increases through love. The nearness means also the initiation into the mystery of the person, without, however, implying its violation (cf. Sg 1:13-14, 16).

The truth about the increasing nearness of the spouses through love is developed in the subjective dimension “of the heart,” of affection and sentiment. This dimension allows one to discover in itself the other as a gift and, in a certain sense, to “taste it” in itself (cf. Sg 2:3-6).

Through this nearness the groom more fully lives the experience of that gift which on the part of the female “I” is united with the spousal expression and meaning of the body. The man’s words (cf. Sg 7:1-8) do not only contain a poetic description of his beloved, of her feminine beauty on which his senses dwell, but they speak of the gift and the self-giving of the person.

The bride knows that the groom’s longing is for her and she goes to meet him with the quickness of the gift of herself (cf. Sg 7:9-13) because the love that unites them is at one and the same time of a spiritual and a sensual nature. It is also on the basis of this love that the rereading of the significance of the body in the truth comes to pass, since the man and woman must together constitute that sign of the mutual gift of self, which puts the seal on their whole life.

2. In the Song of Songs the language of the body becomes a part of the single process of the mutual attraction of the man and woman. This attraction is expressed in the frequent refrains that speak of the search that is full of nostalgia, of affectionate solicitude (cf. Sg 2:7) and of the spouses’ mutual rediscovery (cf. Sg 5:2). This brings them joy and calm, and seems to lead them to a continual search. One has the impression that in meeting each other, in reaching each other, in experiencing one’s nearness, they ceaselessly continue to tend toward something. They yield to the call of something that dominates the content of the moment and surpasses the limits of the eros, limits that are reread in the words of the mutual language of the body (cf. Sg 1:7-8; 2:17). This search has its interior dimension: “the heart is awake” even in sleep. This aspiration, born of love on the basis of the language of the body, is a search for integral beauty, for purity that is free of all stain. It is a search for perfection that contains, I would say, the synthesis of human beauty, beauty of soul and body.

In the Song of Songs the human eros reveals the countenance of love ever in search and, as it were, never satisfied. The echo of this restlessness runs through the strophes of the poem:

“I opened to my lover—but my lover had departed, gone.

I sought him but I did not find him;

I called to him but he did not answer me” (Sg 5:6).

“I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my lover—

What shall you tell him?

that I am faint with love” (Sg 5:9).

3. So then some strophes of the Song of Songs present the eros as the form of human love in which the energies of desire are at work. In them, the awareness or the subjective certainty of the mutual, faithful and exclusive belonging is rooted. At the same time, however, many other strophes of the poem lead us to reflect on the cause of the search and the restlessness that accompanies the awareness of belonging to each other. Is this restlessness also part of the nature of the eros? If it were, this restlessness would indicate also the need for self-control. The truth about love is expressed in the awareness of mutual belonging, the fruit of the aspiration and search for each other, and in the need for the aspiration and the search, the outcome of mutual belonging.

In this interior necessity, in this dynamic of love, there is indirectly revealed the near impossibility of one person’s being appropriated and mastered by the other. The person is someone who surpasses all measures of appropriation and domination, of possession and gratification, which emerge from the same language of the body. If the groom and the bride reread this language in the full truth about the person and about love, they arrive at the ever deeper conviction that the fullness of their belonging constitutes that mutual gift in which love is revealed as “stern as death,” that is, it goes to the furthest limits of the language of the body in order to exceed them. The truth about interior love and the truth about the mutual gift in a certain sense continually call the groom and the bride—through the means of expressing the mutual belonging, and even by breaking away from those means—to arrive at what constitutes the very nucleus of the gift from person to person.

Following the paths of the words marked out by the strophes of the Song of Songs, it seems that we are therefore approaching the dimension in which the eros seeks to be integrated, through still another truth about love. Centuries later, in the light of the death and resurrection of Christ, Paul of Tarsus will proclaim this truth in the words of his Letter to the Corinthians:

“Love is patient; love is kind.

Love is not jealous; it does not put on airs; it is not snobbish.

Love is never rude; it is not self-seeking; it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries.

Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth.

There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.

Love never fails” (1 Cor 13:4-8).

Is the truth about love, expressed in the strophes of the Song of Songs, confirmed in the light of these words of Paul? In the Song we read, as an example of love, that its “jealousy” is “relentless as the nether world” (Sg 8:6). In the Pauline letter we read that “love is not jealous.” What relationship do both of these expressions about love have? What relationship does the love that is “stern as death,” according to the Song of Songs, have with the love that “never fails,” according to the Pauline letter? We will not multiply these questions; we will not open the comparative analysis. Nevertheless, it seems that love opens up before us here in two perspectives. It is as though that in which the human eros closes its horizon is still opened, through Paul’s words, to another horizon of love that speaks another language, the love that seems to emerge from another dimension of the person, and which calls, invites, to another communion. This love has been called “agape” and agape brings the eros to completion by purifying it.

So we have concluded these brief meditations on the Song of Songs, intended to further examine the theme of the language of the body. In this framework, the Song of Songs has a totally singular meaning.


26.  [112.] LOVE IS VICTORIOUS IN THE STRUGGLE BETWEEN GOOD AND EVIL

General Audience of 27 June 1984

1. During these past weeks, in commenting on the Song of Songs, I emphasized how the sacramental sign of matrimony is constituted on the basis of the language of the body, which man and woman express in the truth that is proper to it. Under this aspect, today I intend to analyze some passages from the book of Tobit.

In the account of the wedding of Tobiah with Sarah, besides the expression “sister”—through which there seems to be a fraternal character rooted in spousal love—another expression is also found, likewise analogous to those in the Song.

As you will recall, in the spouses’ duet, the love which they declare to each other is “stern as death” (Sg 8:6). In the book of Tobit we find a phrase which, in saying that he fell deeply in love with Sarah and “his heart became set on her” (Tb 6:19), presents a situation confirming the truth of the words about love “stern as death.”

2. For a better understanding, we must go back to some details that are explained against the background of the specific nature of the book of Tobit. We read there that Sarah, daughter of Raguel, had “already been married seven times” (Tb 6:14), but all her husbands had died before having intercourse with her. This had happened through the work of a demon, and young Tobiah too had reason to fear a similar death.

So from the very first moment Tobiah’s love had to face the test of life and death. The words about love “stern as death,” spoken by the spouses in the Song of Songs in the transport of the heart, assume here the nature of a real test. If love is demonstrated as stern as death, this happens above all in the sense that Tobiah and, together with him, Sarah, unhesitatingly face this test. But in this test of life and death, life wins because, during the test on the wedding night, love, supported by prayer, is revealed as more stern than death.

3. This test of life and death also has another significance that enables us to understand the love and the marriage of the newlyweds. Becoming one as husband and wife, they find themselves in the situation in which the powers of good and evil fight and compete against each other. The spouses’ duet in the Song of Songs seems not to perceive completely this dimension of reality. The spouses of the Song live and express themselves in an ideal or abstract world, in which it is as though the struggle of the objective forces between good and evil did not exist. Is it not precisely the power and the interior truth of love that subdues the struggle that goes on in man and around him?

The fullness of this truth and this power proper to love seems nevertheless to be different. It seems to tend rather to where the experience in the book of Tobit leads us. The truth and the power of love are shown in the ability to place oneself between the forces of good and evil which are fighting in man and around him, because love is confident in the victory of good and is ready to do everything so that good may conquer. As a result, the love of the spouses in the book of Tobit is not confirmed by the words expressed by the language of loving transport as in the Song of Songs, but by the choices and the actions that take on all the weight of human existence in the union of the two. The language of the body here seems to use the words of the choices and the acts stemming from the love that is victorious because it prays.

4. Tobiah’s prayer (Tb 8:5-8), which is above all a prayer of praise and thanksgiving, then one of supplication, situates the language of the body on the level of the essential terms of the theology of the body. It is an “objectivized” language, pervaded not so much by the emotive power of the experience as by the depth and gravity of the truth of the experience.

The spouses profess this truth together, in unison before the God of the covenant: “God of our fathers.” We can say that under this aspect the language of the body becomes the language of the ministers of the sacrament, aware that in the conjugal pact the mystery that has its origin in God himself is expressed and realized. Their conjugal pact is the image—and the original sacrament of the covenant of God with man, with the human race—of that covenant which took its origin from eternal Love.

Tobiah and Sarah end their prayer with the following words: “Call down your mercy on me and on her, and allow us to live together to a happy old age” (Tb 8:7).

We can admit (on the basis of the context) that they have before their eyes the prospect of persevering in their union to the end of their days—a prospect that opens up before them with the trial of life and death, already during their wedding night. At the same time, they see with the glance of faith the sanctity of this vocation in which—through the unity of the two, built upon the mutual truth of the language of the body—they must respond to the call of God himself which is contained in the mystery of the Beginning. This is why they ask: “Call down your mercy on me and on her.”

The spouses in the Song of Songs, with ardent words, declare to each other their human love. The newlyweds in the book of Tobit ask God that they be able to respond to love. Both the one and the other find their place in what constitutes the sacramental sign of marriage. Both the one and the other share in forming this sign.

We can say that through the one and the other the “language of the body,” reread in the subjective dimension of the truth of human hearts and in the “objective” dimension of the truth of living in union, becomes the language of the liturgy.

The prayer of the newlyweds in the book of Tobit certainly seems to confirm this differently from the Song of Songs, and even in a way that is undoubtedly more deeply moving.


27.  [113.] THE LANGUAGE OF THE BODY: ACTIONS AND DUTIES FORMING THE SPIRITUALITY OF MARRIAGE

General Audience of 4 July 1984

1. Today let us return to the classic text of the fifth chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, which reveals the eternal sources of the covenant of the Father’s love and at the same time the new and definitive institution of that covenant in Jesus Christ.

This text brings us to such a dimension of the language of the body that could be called mystical. It speaks of marriage as a great mystery—”This is a great mystery” (Eph 5:32). This mystery is fulfilled in the spousal union of Christ the Redeemer with the Church, and of the Church-Spouse with Christ (“I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church”— Eph 5:22), and it is definitively carried out in eschatological dimensions. Nevertheless the author of the Letter to the Ephesians does not hesitate to extend the analogy of Christ’s union with the Church in spousal love, outlined in such an absolute and eschatological way, to the sacramental sign of the matrimonial pact between man and woman, who “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). He does not hesitate to extend that mystical analogy to the “language of the body,” reread in the truth of the spousal love and the conjugal union of the two.

2. We must recognize the logic of this marvelous text which radically frees our way of thinking from elements of Manichaeism or from a non-personalistic consideration of the body. At the same time it brings the language of the body, contained in the sacramental sign of matrimony, nearer to the dimension of real sanctity.

The sacraments inject sanctity into the plan of man’s humanity. They penetrate the soul and body, the femininity and the masculinity of the personal subject, with the power of sanctity. All of this is expressed in the language of the liturgy. It is expressed there and brought about there.

The liturgy, liturgical language, elevates the conjugal pact of man and woman, based on the language of the body reread in truth, to the dimensions of mystery. At the same time it enables that pact to be fulfilled in these dimensions through the language of the body.

It is precisely the sign of the sacrament of marriage that speaks of this. In liturgical language this sign expresses an interpersonal event, laden with intense personal content, assigned to the two “until death.” The sacramental sign signifies not only the fieri (the “becoming”)—the birth of the marriage—but builds its whole esse (its “being”), its duration, both the one and the other as a sacred and sacramental reality, rooted in the dimension of the covenant and grace—in the dimension of creation and redemption. In this way, the liturgical language assigns to both, to the man and to the woman, love, fidelity and conjugal honesty through the language of the body. It assigns them the unity and the indissolubility of marriage in the language of the body. It assigns them as a duty all the sacrum (holy) of the person and of the communion of persons, and likewise their femininity and masculinity—precisely in this language.

Profound experience of the holy

3. In this sense we affirm that liturgical language becomes the language of the body. This signifies a series of acts and duties which form the spirituality of marriage, its ethos. In the daily life of the spouses these acts become duties, and the duties become acts. These acts—as also the commitments—are of a spiritual nature. Nevertheless, they are expressed at the same time with the language of the body.

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians writes in this regard: “Husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies...” (Eph 5:28) (“as he loves himself”--Eph 5:33), and “the wife for her part showing respect for her husband” (Eph 5:33). Both, for that matter, are to “defer to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).

The “language of the body,” as an uninterrupted continuity of liturgical language, is expressed not only as the attraction and mutual pleasure of the Song of Songs, but also as a profound experience of the sacrum (the holy). This seems to be infused in the very masculinity and femininity through the dimension of the mysterium (mystery), the mysterium magnum of the Letter to the Ephesians. This mystery sinks its roots precisely in the beginning, that is, in the mystery of the creation of man, male and female, in the image of God, called from the beginning to be the visible sign of God’s creative love.

4. So therefore that reverence for Christ and respect which the author of the Letter to the Ephesians speaks of, is none other than a spiritually mature form of that mutual attraction—man’s attraction to femininity and woman’s attraction to masculinity, which is revealed for the first time in Genesis (Gn 2:23-25). Consequently, the same attraction seems to flow like a wide stream through the verses of the Song of Songs to find, under entirely different circumstances, its concise and concentrated expression in the book of Tobit.

The spiritual maturity of this attraction is none other than the blossoming of the gift of fear—one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, which St. Paul speaks of in First Thessalonians (cf. 1 Thes 4:4-7).

On the other hand, Paul’s doctrine on chastity as “life according to the Spirit” (cf. Rom 8:5) allows us (especially on the basis of First Corinthians, chapter 6) to interpret that respect in a charismatic sense, that is, as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

A virtue and a gift

5. The Letter to the Ephesians, in exhorting spouses to defer to each other “out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21), and in urging them, consequently, to show respect in their conjugal relationship, seems to point out—in keeping with Pauline tradition—chastity as a virtue and as a gift.

In this way, through the virtue and still more through the gift (“life according to the Spirit”) the mutual attraction of masculinity and femininity spiritually matures. Both the man and woman, getting away from concupiscence, find the proper dimension of the freedom of the gift, united to femininity and masculinity in the true spousal significance of the body.

Thus liturgical language, that is, the language of the sacrament and of the mysterium, becomes in their life and in their living together the language of the body in a depth, simplicity and beauty hitherto altogether unknown.

Conjugal life becomes liturgical

6. This seems to be the integral significance of the sacramental sign of marriage. In that sign—through the language of the body—man and woman encounter the great mystery. This is in order to transfer the light of that mystery—the light of truth and beauty, expressed in liturgical language—to the language of the body, that is, to the language of the practice of love, fidelity, and conjugal honesty, to the ethos rooted in the redemption of the body (cf. Rom 8:23). In this way, conjugal life becomes in a certain sense liturgical.

 

 

 


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