87. Marital Love Reflects God's Love for
By Pope John Paul II
1. Today we
begin a new chapter on the subject of marriage, reading the words of St. Paul to
"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).
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
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.
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."