Living the Sacraments
Man and Woman Before God
By Rev. P. F. CRUDDEN
A.C.T.S. No 1465 (1965)
+ JUSTIN D. SIMONDS,
Archbishop of Melbourne.
3rd September, 1965.
In this study of the sacrament of Matrimony there are four sections
corresponding to the four phases in the unfolding, of God's plan of
salvation. The principal thought of each section may be summarized
1 : Marriage in Israel
A study of the relationship between man and woman in Israel points to
such permanent values as the importance of the mutual affection of both
partners in the marriage union and the dignity of human sexuality. In
addition we see how the relationship between man and woman throws light
on the relationship between God and his people. Reciprocally marriage
in Israel draws a special sacredness from the Covenant. In all of these
respects the Old Testament prepares for the part that marriage is to
play in God's plan of salvation after the coming of Christ.
2: Marriage as a Sacrament
Christ gave the relationship between man and woman in marriage the
status of a sacrament of the Church. As a sacrament it becomes a symbol
of Christ's love for his Church and deepens our understanding of his
redemptive activity. A couple united in Christian marriage draw on a
rich source of divine grace in the very action of taking each other as
man and wife.
3: Christian Marriage Today
There is a constantly deepening spirituality of marriage in the Church
today. Many couples are aware that they marry not for each other alone
but for the Church, in the sense that they become by their love for
God, for each other and for their children a living symbol of Christ's
deep love for his bride the Church.
4: Marriage looks to the Future
Married love and life within a Christian family are a preparation for
and an anticipation of the full sharing in the risen life of Christ
that will become possible at his second coming.
As has been said, this study follows the development of God's plan of
salvation from his first revelation about marriage in the Old
Testament, to his transformation of the marriage union by the
redemptive work of Christ, to the spirituality of marriage in the
Church today and finally to the promise of eternal life that is
necessarily associated with each sacrament. There is a sound reason for
this approach. In the Church today we have recognized the idea of
Christianity as "a timeless relationship with God, with truths to be
believed and obligations to be fulfilled." We are now even more
conscious that God has given himself personally to us, and continues to
give himself to us, by his interventions in our history. The gift of
divine grace makes possible for every believer an intimate personal
relationship with each divine person, a relationship that is unique for
This concept is an important preliminary idea for our understanding of
Christian marriage. It would be a pity to think of it merely as an
institution for mass-producing Christian families. No two people love
each other in quite the same way. No two married couples love God in
quite the same way. The love of two people for each other and their
mutual love for God is a precious thing to be preserved at all costs.
The graces given in marriage are in no sense impersonal. They are meant
to sanctify and preserve a quite unique love. It would be true to say,
and it is often said, that God loves each partner in the marriage
union; but the fact that God loves and regards as precious their love
for each other and their mutual love for him, though equally true, is
not often stated or appreciated. The relationship established with God
through a sacrament is certainly not timeless. It varies with the
sensibilities of people from age to age and culture to culture; it
varies from individual to individual even within a given culture at a
given time; it varies within the life of a given person in accordance
with his growth to maturity and the development of his Christian
One result of this is that the Church, in continuing the redemptive
action of Christ, is continually gaining new insights. These insights
are necessarily related to the culture of a particular time and place
and they make it possible for individual Christians to live the life of
Christ ever more deeply in their unique situations. Although the Church
in recent years has gained deeper insights into the real worth of
Christian marriage (the sole purpose of this study is to present some
of those insights), many aspects of the Christian significance of the
relationships between two people and their God in marriage remain
obscure. Nonetheless it is possible, even in a brief study, to do
something towards locating the sacrament of marriage in that personal
and historical perspective in which it rightly belongs.
MARRIAGE IN ISRAEL
Two in One Flesh
In the early chapters of the book of Genesis there are two separate and
supplementary accounts of the creation of the world. In the second
account, a much earlier tradition, we read how God first created Adam
(Gen. 2:7) and then created Eve to be his companion (Gen. 2:18-22).
They are to become two in one flesh (Gen. 2:24). They go naked and it
is no embarrassment to them (Gen. 2:25).
The primitive (meaning ancient) earthiness of this account embodies a
number of deep insights:
There is a real feeling for the dignity of the two persons, Adam and
Eve. This conception of the dignity of the human person is basic to a
true theology of marriage.
There is an equally genuine feeling for the mutual affection of Adam
and Eve. Eve is created to be Adam's companion. In the concept of the
two becoming one flesh there is the suggestion of a profound
relationship, a deeper than physical union.
There is a genuine idealism about their relationship. "Both went naked,
Adam and his wife Eve, and thought it no shame." This harmony is
clearly approved by God and must be regarded as the ideal. It was only
after sin that harmony was disrupted.
In the tradition of a people who practised polygamy, it is significant
that the ideal presented here is that a man should leave his father and
mother and cling to one wife. Their becoming two in one flesh is the
basis of society.
Increase and Multiply
The other (the so-called later) account of the creation of the world
(Gen. 1:1-2:3) is a tradition that was probably written down by a
tribal 'priest' closer to Moses' time many centuries before Christ. Its
insights are more deeply theological.
God makes man and woman in his own image and likeness (Gen. 1:26-28).
They therefore have that capacity for union with God which is to be so
important in the Christian concept of marriage.
Both Adam and Eve are given the same destiny. They are to be partners
in dominating the earth (being its overlord and care-taker) (Gen.
1:27). Again this concept of partnership between man and woman has a
peculiarly modern flavour.
Adam and Eve are given a joint vocation "to increase and multiply and
fill the face of the earth (Gen. 1:28). This vocation emanates from God
and is an extension of his creativity.
This tradition insists that "God saw all he had made and found it very
good" (Gen. 1:31). It forcefully implies that sexuality is good when
harmonized with the intention of the creator.
Marriage is Sacred
These two accounts come at the beginning of the bible; revelation began
with them. They belong to an advanced stage of revelation. They are
very remarkable by contrast with the ideas on marriage current in other
cultures of the day and of many of the later cultures with whom the
Hebrews were to come in contact. Marriage, love and human fecundity
have their origin in God and as such are sacred. Their misuse in Israel
never quite dims the nobleness of these basic ideals; they are to
remain through all the vicissitudes of marriage as an institution in
Israel, where polygamy will be practised, divorce permitted, ritual
impurity not unknown and prostitution commonplace; they are to remain
and become the structure for the sanctification of marriage by Christ
in the new creation.
Before the Prophets
Between Abraham and the prophets there lies a period of perhaps a
thousand years or more in the history of Israel. Such couples as
Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Elkanah and
Anna, David and Michal, Ahab and Jezebel, who lived during these years,
are well known to the reader of the bible. Some were happy marriages;
others were not. Well known, too, are such aberrations and affairs as
the vice of Sodom, Lot and his daughters, Onan's refusal to beget sons
to his brother's name, Samson's seduction by Delilah, David's adultery
with Bathsheba and various instances of debauchery and ritual
prostitution. In the narration of these and similar events, we can
detect a scale of values in regard to human sexuality and the
institution of marriage.
Although there are instances of genuine human affection between various
of these couples, the emphasis is always on physical love with a view
to the procreation of children and the continuance of a family line.
Although there are numerous instances of disorder in sexual and marital
relationships, including polygamy, concubinage, divorce, adultery,
incest, fornication and unnaturalness, resulting from both ignorance
and ill-will, there is a code of sexual morality which refuses to
condone lust and values marriage as such.
In these values there are glimmerings of the redemption of marriage
that is ultimately to be effected by Christ. But a long period of
preparation still remains before the final sanctification of conjugal
The Teaching of the Prophets
When the prophet Hosea set out to deepen Israel's understanding of its
true relationship with God, he did so in terms of his own unhappy
marital experience. He had married his wife out of love; she had proved
unfaithful to him, at first accepting the advances of other men and
finally turning to prostitution; but he had forgiven her, helped her to
reform and finally had restored their home.
In his own story Hosea found a parallel to God's relationship with
Israel. God had entered into a covenant with his people. It was an
alliance based on love and fidelity and expressed in a mutual pledge.
Israel had proved unfaithful to God on many occasions and had turned to
However, God had forgiven Israel many times. He looked forward to a
time in the future when he and his people would share a new covenant.
Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the prophet Isaiah (from chapter 40 on) all take
up Hosea's theme. Jeremiah, uses it to castigate Israel for its
infidelity; but he introduces a new concept by suggesting that a
miracle of divine grace will finally transform the infidelity of Israel
into love. (Jeremiah, Chs. 1-3 and 31). Ezekiel presents the whole
history of Israel as a drama of love between God and his people
(Ezekiel Ch. 16). The prophet Isaiah is more concerned with the final
success of God's love Isaiah Chs. 54, 60 and 62). It is interesting to
see that Isaiah Chs. 54, 60 interesting to see that Isaiah looks
forward to the day when the virginity of Israel will be restored and
she will again be given as a chaste bride of God.
Approaching the Ideal
Hosea began by using the marriage contract to give insight into the
Covenant. But it was inevitable that once this process was set in
motion God's covenant with Israel would give deeper insight into the
meaning of marriage. The mutual love between God and his people, their
pledge to each other, the constancy of God, the fidelity of the new
Israel, the fruitfulness of the relationship became ideals for marriage
in Israel. These ideals were further to he clarified in the period
after the exile; but already we note the contrast drawn by the prophets
between the actual state of human sexual relationships under the old
and imperfect covenant and the faithfulness, fruitfulness and
perpetuity of married love in the new covenant. What eventually will
restore human sexuality and make possible this ideal is the redemptive
grace of Christ given through the Sacrament of matrimony.
After the Exile
The Jewish people were never so near extinction as during the exile in
Babylon from 587-538 B.C. Their holy city was destroyed; their temple,
the symbol of God's presence in their midst, was razed to the ground;
their national identity seemed to be lost. But God's purpose in
allowing their humiliation by the Babylonians was to heal, not destroy
them. After the exile a purified remnant returned home and set about
the restoration of the holy city and the temple. The centuries that
followed saw the weakened nation in a constant struggle for survival;
but God continued to work amongst his people, purifying them yet
further in what was to be the final stage of preparation for the coming
of his Son.
What was happening in Israel generally at this time is discernible in
the contemporary teaching on marriage. There is space to consider here
only two of the writings of the time. In the book of Tobit we read the
love story of Tobias and Sarah, who lived at the time of the Israelite
exile. Theirs is a chaste love, a love sanctified by prayer. Their
marriage relationship is seen clearly in its religious perspective and
integrated into the spiritual life of each partner. In the "Song of
Songs which is Solomon's" ( 1:1 ) we read a poem that tells of joyous
love based on a delicately evoked sexual pleasure and on deep mutual
affection. This book is our clearest insight into human love in a
biblical context; but behind the description of human love light is
thrown on to the relationship of love between God and his people and
between God and the individual human soul. For this reason Christian
mystical writers turn frequently to this book in search of expressions
to describe their love for Christ.
There was still polygamy in Israel at this time after the Exile, but it
was the exception; divorce was still permitted, but now the law as
administered by the Rabbis was much tighter; there were still sexual
abuses, but the code of sexual behaviour no longer turned a tolerant
eye towards prostitution. The thought of the time on marriage,
particularly as seen in the "Song of Songs which is Solomon's", looks
back both to the ideal harmony of love between Adam and Eve before the
fall and to the divine archetype of devotion and fidelity in God's love
for his people under the Mosaic Covenant. It looks forward to a future
time when the dialogue of love between redeemed humanity and God will
become a source of sanctification for love between man and woman.
This has been a very long look at the Old Testament; but it was
necessary to dwell on these thoughts because the sacramental action of
Christ always involves a transformation of a basic human experience and
the fulfilment of a promise made in Israel.
MARRIAGE AS A SACRAMENT
An American theologian has pointed out that the sacrament of marriage
is so basic to Christian thought that we simply cannot understand
Christianity without an understanding of this sacrament. What he has in
mind in saying this is that by the institution of Christ, two
Christians do not marry for themselves alone. They marry for the
Church. Now when he says this he does not for one moment merely mean
that two Christians marry primarily for procreation, for the building
up of the body of Christ through their children. He means something
much more basic even than that.
When we say that two people marry for the Church, and we must say this
if we have any insight at all into the meaning of a sacrament, we mean
that their relationship reveals to the Church the deepest truth of
scripture, namely that love is life-giving. God's whole purpose in
sending his Son and Christ's whole purpose in establishing his Father's
kingdom was to create a new mode of existence by which He could
communicate his love to us in Christ and we could enter into a
relationship of love with God in Christ. Hence the human experience of
a man and a woman in the sacrament of marriage is meant to clarify for
the whole Church the relationship between Christ, who is the life of
God given to us, and his Church, the new people of God, loved by God as
his own Son. This relationship, the new covenant, can be understood
only in terms of the most intimate human experience, the consummated
love of husband and wife. The gradual transformation of married love in
the Old Testament was, therefore, directed towards the time when it
could bear the meaning of Christ and his Church.
In the marriage ceremony there is an exchange of wedding rings. In
blessing the wedding rings the priest says in the name of the Church,
"Bless, O Lord, these rings which we
bless in your name. May they who wear them, keep ever faithful to each
other in unbroken loyalty. May they ever remain at peace with you,
obedient to your will, and live together always in mutual love. Through
Christ, our Lord. Amen."
Then the bride and groom, in exchanging their wedding rings, say to
"In the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Take and wear this ring as a pledge of my fidelity."
These concepts of unbroken loyalty, harmony with the will of God, and
mutual love evoke the ideal state of Adam and Eve before the fall.
Through the coming of Christ and his new creation these ideals may be
attained by any Christian couple who are willing to make full use of
the graces placed at their disposal in the sacrament they have
conferred on each other. Their love for each other is the source of the
sacrament and it is precisely their love for each other which is
sanctified by Christ. We are reminded again at this point that the love
of a Christian couple for each other and their mutual love for God are
unique. They are valued by God who loves them not only individually,
but in their love for each other.
The consequence of this is that the fidelity of a man and wife to each
other is more than a personal thing. It is their duty to God to live in
mutual love; but it is also their Christian vocation and privilege to
live in mutual love. By so doing they provide the Church with a witness
of the love of Christ for his Church.
What God has joined . . .
In a Christian marriage the couple love each other not with their own
love alone but with the love of Christ placed at their disposal through
the gift of divine charity and through the sacrament. The outpouring of
divine love that makes this possible is is redemptive action which
restores the institution of marriage to the perfection lost by sin. The
Christian couple must therefore return to the kind of conduct that
conforms to the original ideal. Man and wife are to become two in one
flesh. Hence, when the Pharisees ask Jesus whether it is lawful for a
man to put away his wife, he refers back to the book of Genesis and
"What God has joined, let no man put
The ideal that he embodies in this statement is a striving for the
perfection of God. Thus a Christian who attempts to understand Christ's
teaching on divorce solely in terms of natural law is failing to see
that Christian morality is largely a matter of faith.
The Marriage that Fails
It is a sacred moment of Christian experience when a couple take each
other as man and wife.
"I, John, take you, Mary, for my lawful
wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse,
for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us
This pledge is an act of faith taken by two people in each other and in
God. But it is a sad fact of experience that this act of faith that the
couple make in each other is sometimes misplaced. For a variety of
reasons, it becomes impossible for some couples to live together as man
and wife. After the separation one partner, or occasionally both, faces
a lonely life without the possibility of valid remarriage. In this case
it is necessary to recall that it is God's intention that the bond of
marriage should remain and so the initial act of faith in him is not
misplaced. A person with faith may expect from God the grace to live
even a lonely life with benefit to himself and the Church. In Christian
life we share both the cross and the resurrection of Christ. For
reasons known only to God the cross casts a darker shadow over some
lives than others; but in every case the cross, even of separation and
loneliness, when taken up leads to the victory of Christ.
When God told Adam and Eve to increase and multiply, he gave married
couples the vocation of sharing in his creative work. Human love in
marriage is a profound relationship that can never be understood in
terms of physical love alone; but there is no doubt that it finds its
deepest expression in the sexual relationship and is strengthened by
this relationship. Children born to a Christian couple become for them
living symbols of the love they have shared. The creativity that has
led to the birth of the child culminates when it is baptized as a child
of God. It continues as parents do all in their power to awaken and
nourish the faith and the personalities of their children.
In the Family Circle
The tendency these days is to think of Christianity more and more in
terms of personal relationships. God is love and it is in loving others
that we best express our love for him. It becomes evident, then, that
our capacity to live a deeply Christian life depends largely on our
capacity to receive and give love. The child's capacity to love God and
others is going to depend largely on his experience within the family
circle. If he grows up confident of his parents' love for God,
confident of their love for each other and confident in their love for
him, the foundations for his growth in Christ are being laid. This
places the responsibility on parents of nourishing their love for each
other by every means in their power and of looking to the sacrament of
marriage for the graces they need both to nourish their own love and
the faith of their children.
What Saint Paul Teaches
In the Pauline concept of Christianity the Church is a pure, holy and
sinless bride who has been perfectly prepared for a devotion that is
the expression of generous love. Thus the union of a man and wife in
chaste love is the foundation of a sacrament that symbolizes Christ's
love for the Church.
However, following the pattern of the nuptial theme in the Old
Testament, Christ's sanctifying love for the Church sets the standard
for Christian married love.
"Let wives be subject to their husbands
as to the Lord; because a husband is head of the wife, just as Christ
is head of the Church." Eph. 5:22. "Husbands, love your wives just as
Christ loved the Church, and delivered himself up for her." Eph. 5:24.
Saint Paul envisages marriage as a companionship of mutual love; but he
also sees it as a partnership in which the husband is head of the
St. Paul's teaching may be briefly summarized by saying that the
husband and wife in Christian wedlock may find Christ in their love for
each other; children in a Christian household can acquire their first
experience of Christ's love for his Church in the mutual love of their
parents; all Christians can gain insight into the love of Christ
through the witness of married love. The sacramentality of marriage
rests on these truths and in them a husband and wife find the
inspiration to be constant in their love for each other and in their
mutual life in Christ.
CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE TODAY
In the fifth chapter of the Constitution
on the Church issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1964 we
read a passage that deserves prayerful thought,
"Married couples and Christian parents
should follow their own proper path by faithful love. They should
sustain one another in love throughout their entire lives. They should
imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed as God's gift, with Christian
doctrine and the evangelical virtues. In this manner they offer all men
the example of unwearying and generous love; in this way they build up
the brotherhood of charity; in so doing they stand as witnesses and
co-operators in the fruitfulness of the Church; by such lives, they are
a sign and a participation in that very love with which Christ loved
his bride and for which he delivered himself up for her."
Here there is an emphasis placed on married love as part of the
apostolate of charity in the Church. The Church invites an idealism by
which married couples will live their marriage in faith, hope and
charity, in poverty, chastity and obedience. What does this involve?
FAITH: This is a power of soul
given us in Baptism which enables us to accept God giving himself to us
in Christ and to respond to God by living the life of the Church. It is
exercised in marriage by the willingness of a couple to give themselves
to each other for the sake of Christ and the Church and to live out
their mutual self-gift in Christ and in the Church.
HOPE: This is a power of soul
given to us in Baptism which enables us to have confidence in the
victory of Christ over sin and death. It is exercised in the confidence
of happiness that a young couple have in making their initial pledge of
fidelity and in the confidence with which they meet the demands of
Christian marriage, demands which often seem beyond human solution.
Despite the best intentions, Christian couples will at times fail both
Christ and themselves; and so this virtue is closely related to the
proper use of the sacrament of Penance by a Christian couple.
CHARITY: This is a power of
soul given in Baptism that makes it possible for the Christian to love
God and his fellow men with the love of Christ. The mutual love which
makes Christian marriage possible is an exercise of this gift of divine
love. It must be fostered in marriage by every human means and
especially by the Eucharist.
POVERTY: Every Christian is
called to share the poverty of Christ and to love Christ in the poor.
Poverty of spirit enables Christian parents to place the needs of their
children before their own. It ought to make every Christian home a
place where the love of the poor has a high priority.
CHASTITY: Chastity in marriage
recognizes as good and desirable the pleasures of sexual relationships
and is concerned with their proper use. It recognizes that the exercise
of physical love in marriage is subject to Christ's law of love. The
tensions involved in the control of sexual relationships within
marriage are deeply felt in the Church today. We need to pray that all
couples will be given the strength and guidance to resolve these
OBEDIENCE: Christ's most
outstanding characteristic in his devotion to his Father's will.
Christian couples may unite their interior dispositions most closely
with his by their acceptance of the responsibilities of Christian
marriage as being God's direct will for them.
A life lived according to this pattern demands a real understanding of
Christ's redemptive activity, particularly in relation to the married
state. The action of Christ in giving himself to his Father on Calvary
transforms the action of a husband and wife giving themselves to each
other in married life. Their action can be identified with his
self-gift. It transforms the action of Christian parents in giving
themselves in the clothing, feeding and education of their children.
This action, too, can be identified with the self-gift of Christ. These
actions are truly redemptive in the sense that they lead to salvation
as surely as the cross of Christ led to glory.
Is the idealism suggested for married couples by the Constitution on
the Church misplaced? Has marriage really been "restored" by Christ to
The answer to these questions is given in a Pastoral Letter, called Married Love, issued by Bishop de
Smedt of Bruges, Easter, 1963. Bishop de Smedt wrote to the married
people of his diocese and asked them to meet in small groups to discuss
ways and means of strengthening the unity of their homes. He requested
them to return their findings in writing to him. He then summarized and
collated the returns and issued them as a pastoral letter. In this
letter we find an idealism just as deep as that of the Constitution. It
is impossible to summarize it but perhaps something of its spirit is
conveyed by this single extract, written by a teacher,
"The mission of husband and wife is
extremely exacting; it supposes an ever-growing will to self-sacrifice,
and a dedication to unselfishness taken to ever greater lengths. Only
married people who have penetrated the mystery of union in marriage can
surrender themselves with rapture to what becomes for them the supreme
realization of themselves in self-giving and self-forgetfulness. But
total giving is fully achieved, and the virtue of self-surrender
gradually acquired, only when husband and wife have effective faith in
the living God. For God himself is present at the heart of this
mystery, because he is the source of all true love."
LOOKS TO THE FUTURE
Every sacrament is in some way a preparation for and an anticipation of
the future. The sacrament of matrimony is a preparation for the future
in so far as it confers on a couple a mission and a grace. In working
out their mission or their vocation by their mutual love for God, for
Christ, for the Church, for each other, for their children and for
their fellow men, especially as suggested earlier for the poor, a
married couple are both building up the body of Christ and working out
their own salvation.
The sacrament of matrimony is an anticipation of the future in being a
sign of the new and eternal
covenant. The marriage between Christ and his Church is going to bring
to eternal life "an innumerable generation of redeemed souls". At his
second coming Christ will hand over the kingdom of the redeemed to his
Father. In this gesture God's plan for the salvation of men will be
completed. From that time onwards the redeemed will live in a state of
perfect harmony with God and with each other. The happiness of that
time is beyond all imagining; but we are given some kind of a glimpse
of the future in the harmony and happiness that is the ideal of the
Man and Wife in Scripture ..
(A Compass Book)
Married Love .. Bishop of
(Geoffrey Chapman )
The Bible on Marriage .. G. N.
(Sheed and Ward)