Monday, September 21, 2009

The Sacrament of Marriage

Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. It is one of the many reasons why I chose to become Catholic. But what is the scriptural proof that marriage is a sacrament? First, we have to know the definition of what a sacrament is.

What is a Sacrament?

A sacrament is "outward signs of inward grace instituted by Christ for our sanctification."

Another definition of a sacrament is: "a rite, instituted by Christ, that mediates grace, constituting a sacred mystery."

Since the New Testament was originally written in Greek, not Latin, the word for sacrament we find in the Bible is the Greek word mysterion, "mystery." Sacraments are something of a mystery, something we cannot fully understand.

Marriage as a Sacrament

Most Protestants don't view marriage as a sacrament. John Calvin was very influential in this line of thinking. Calvin wrote:

"Lastly, there is matrimony, which all admit was instituted by God, though no one before the time of (Pope) Gregory regarded it as a sacrament. What man in his sober senses could so regard it? God's ordinance is good and holy; so also are agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, hair-cutting legitimate ordinances of God, but they are not sacraments."

This is not true.

More than a eleven hundred years before Pope Gregory and the Council of Trent (1545-1563), Saint Augustine (Augustine of Hippo) stated:

"Among all people and all men the good that is secured by marriage consists in the offspring and in the chastity of married fidelity; but, in the case of God’s people, it consists moreover in the holiness of the sacrament, by reason of which it is forbidden, even after a separation has taken place, to marry another as long as the first partner lives . . ." (Source: St. Augustine, De bono conjugii - chap. xxiv in P.L., XL, 394)

The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) was the first to list marriage in the official list of church's seven sacraments.

As Catholic Encyclopedia explains: "The reason why marriage was not expressly and formally included among the sacraments earlier and the denial of it branded as heresy, is to be found in the historical development of the doctrine regarding the sacraments; but the fact itself may be traced to Apostolic times."

Calvin's Viewpoint

Backing up to Calvin's viewpoint, the difference between marriage versus agriculture, architecture, shoemaking, etc, is that these vocations lack a mysterious bond that unites man and woman.

When a man and a women are married, they are united as One:

  • Genesis 2:24: For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
  • Mark 10:7-9: 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

  • Ephesians 5:31-32: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall I be one flesh. This mystery is great; but I speak in regard to Christ and the church.

Earlier in Ephesians, what is marriage compared to? Christ’s church.

  • Ephesians 5:23: For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.
  • Ephesians 5:25: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

And what makes marriage higher than any vocation? What is often the result of this union? God willing--Children--more potential members in Christ's Kingdom.

  • Malachi 2:15; Has not the LORD made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. And why one? Because he was seeking godly offspring.

And God won't hate it if you divorce your career as a farmer, architect, shoemaker, etc. God does, however, hate divorcing your spouse.

  • Malachi 2:16: "I hate divorce," says the LORD God of Israel

Christ's First Miracle

Is it any surprise where Christ's first miracle was performed and what his first miracle turned out to be? At a wedding at Cana when he turned water into wine. See: John 2:1-11 The covenant of marriage parallels the New Covenant Jesus brought to the world. See: Luke 22:20

Building Your Marriage Around God

The following scripture shows the benefit of marriage and hints at the importance of making God the center of it.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their work:

If one falls down, his friend can help him up.

But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!

Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves.

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

The three strands in the cord above are husband, wife and God. Simple math: 1 + 1 = 2. Whereas God's math: 1 + 1 + 1 = 1 (Husband + Wife + God = One). God is the steel strand in the cord. If you center your marriage around God, Satan will not be able to unravel it, divide it or break it.

Given the fact the U.S. has the highest divorce rate in the world, it is important to understand the real purpose of marriage. It isn't necessarily to make us happy, it is to make us more Holy. Ultimately, our happiness comes from our Lord.

Just like religious vocations in the priesthood, we are called to devote ourselves to our spouses as priests devote themselves to their flock. More importantly, as Christ gave himself up for us. That is why marriage is compared to Christ's church in Ephesians. Loving and forgiving the one closest to us, is a great day-to-day test of our Faith.

So please remember:

  • Colossians 3:13: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • Ephesians 5:25-28: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
  • Ephesians 5:22-24: Wives, submit 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, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

And also remember, in troubled times in your marriage and everyday life:

  • Ephesians 6:12: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Don't let Satan ruin your marriage with selfishness, pride and anger.

Pray for humility and to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Peace be with you,

© Michael J. Cox

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