John Paul II - Theology of the Body

Marriage Sacrament an Effective Sign of God's Saving Power
General Audience, December 1, 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 Church—is 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 of eros with ethos and of their mutual compenetration in the heart of man and of woman, as also in all their mutual relationships.

4. This truth—namely, 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 ethos—determines 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, participating—as progenitors—in 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, penetrating—as St. Paul teaches—the 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 body— words 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 marriage—the sacrament of the origin of man in the temporal visible world—does 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 sacrament—reborn in a certain sense in the spousal love of Christ and of the Church—does 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 ethos—that 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.

Taken from: L'Osservatore Romano Weekly Edition in English 6 December 1983, page 6

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