“Even as a reality belonging to the order of nature, sexual union is a kind of liturgical act uniting . . . self-possession and self-sacrifice, in a gesture analogous to the Eucharist.”
When the Pharisees attempt to draw him into a tricky debate about the technicalities of divorce law (cf. Mt 19:3), Christ responds by recalling the Creator’s original intention for marriage. The marital bond uniting male and female in exclusive life-long communion, he reminds his interlocutors, is not a merely human institution, much less a malleable plaything of human caprice, but was created by God himself in the beginning as an enduring testament to his own absolute unicity. This is why “a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What God has conjoined, then, let no man put asunder!” (Mt 19:6).1
According to Mt 19, then, the indissolubility of marriage is not simply a topic for learned debate among lawyers and moralists. Before anything else, it is the revelation of the Creator’s original intention for male and female, the archetypal paradigm in whose light we begin to see the sexually differentiated body as it truly is: not as opaque, indifferent, inert, and amoral stuff, as a neutral tool for our arbitrary self-expression, but as the sacrament of an inexhaustibly generous divine intention. To perceive and affirm this intention is not to betray our sexuality, but to liberate it into its primordial truth, which shines forth most brightly in the radiance of what John Paul II called “God’s plan for marriage and family.”2
God’s original intention for sexuality is written into the very pattern of our male and female bodies. We could think of this intention as a word or logos that the Creator speaks into our nature, but it is more than that, too: it is also our first acknowledgment of, and answer to, this divine speech in turn. Though truly ours, this initial response is assured to us before we can will it consciously; indeed, it is given to us as the internal ground and direction sustaining and orienting all our volition from within. To obey this direction is not to become a de-personalized instrument of sub-human forces, but to receive the right form of self-possession, which is itself the condition and the fruit of the vice-regal dominion over nature included in God’s original gift to mankind: “And God blessed them and said ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have dominion over it’” (Gn 1:28).
* Non seulement à la mémoire, mais à l’intention de notre ami et de notre frère Stratford; et à l’intention de son épouse, notre amie et notre sœur Léonie.
1. To be sure, the conjugal bond requires the consent of the spouses, but, once their consent is given, it belongs to God. He gathers up the subjective “Yes” of man and wife into an objective form that encompasses the entirety of their shared lives.
2. “[C]onsilium Dei de matrimonio ac familia” (Familiaris consortio, 3). This and all other translations mine.