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Christian Marriage: An Indissoluble Union

Learn Practice and defend your Catholic Faith


The institution of marriage dates back from the time of man's original creation. There are two different accounts of creation in the Old Testament, and as a result there are also two different accounts of the institution of marriage in the Bible, each account showing an element of the meaning of marriage.


In the first account of creation, procreation is stressed: 'God created man in the image of himself, in the image of himself he created him, male and female he created them'. God blessed them, saying to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and conquer it". (Gen. 1: 27-28).


In the other account, the companionship of man and woman is emphasized. All the animals were created male and female; Yahweh God said. "It is not good that the man should be alone, I will make him a helpmate". So from the soil Yahweh God But no helpmate suitable for man was brought her to the man. The man exclaimed: "This at last is bone from my bones, and flesh from my flesh". This is to be called woman, for this was taken from man". This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins his wife and they become one body. (Gen. 2:18, 20, 23-24).

This Old Testament statement was confirmed by Christ Himself when the Pharisees put this question to Him: "Is it against the Law for a man to divorce his wife on any pretext whatever?" He answered: Have you not read that the creator from the beginning made them male and female. They are no longer two therefore, but one body. So then, what God has united, man must not divide". (Matt. 19: 3-6, Mk. 10: 2-12).

Christ in a more positive way confirmed the above statement and said "Now I say this to you; the man who divorces his wife - I am not speaking of fornication - and marries another, is guilty of adultery". (Matt. 19:9; Lk. 16:18). St. Paul also in his letter to the Ephesians, describes Christian marriage as a sacrament, a mystery: "For this reason, a man must leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one body". This mystery has many implications; but I am saying it applies to Christ and the Church. (Eph. 5: 31-32). Thus Christian marriage is a sacrament.

It is a covenant, an unbroken agreement a man and a woman, promising each other to live in marriage love for the rest of their life. The charter which has been established by God himself, at the beginning when God created man. As a sacrament, it has to be administered by an ordained minister of the Church, in the presence of two or more witnesses that is, one or more for each partner. Again because Christian marriage is a sacrament, the Church teaches that, even though it is a human and natural institution it cannot be dissolved by the will of the two partners, or by any human authority.


Every human institution, no doubt, has a background history, and therefore Christian marriage is not an exception to this rule. At the time of the Reformation about 1500-1600, the indissolubility or the sacramentality of Christian marriage came under severe attack. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin, the early reformers, denied the indissolubility and the sacramentality of Christian marriage, on the grounds that there is no record anywhere in the New Testament of Jesus having instituted it as such.

Martin Luther's first attack, stated that marriage, even though among Christians is a natural and human institution, a thing of this world, which does not come under any ecclesiastical jurisdiction, but comes under the authority of civil rulers.

Women in general, were looked upon by both reformers, Luther and Calvin, as inferior to men and that a woman was made for sexual union only according to God's design. Luther argued that, women have a much weaker nature and as such, are not equal to men in glory and prestige. He further argued that women were only necessary for procreation, and as "an antidote against sin". Martin Luther, therefore, concluded that, the subordination of women came about as a result of woman's sin, even though, before the sin, men and women were equal. He supported his claim with the following quotation: "I will multiply your pains in childbearing, you shall give birth to your children in pain. Your yearning shall be for your husband, yet he will lord it over you". (Gen. 3:16). Calvin also argued that woman was created to be man's helper, since she was made after him, and for him. "Yahweh God said; it is not good that the man should be alone. I will make him a helpmate". (Gen. 2:18).

He concluded that, in any event a woman's duty was to take her husband's name, be obedient to him and follow him. The Protestant tradition, however, exalted the status of Christian marriage and placed it above celibate life. Nevertheless, by denying the indissolubility and sacramentality of it, opened the door for civil divorce. Hence today Protestant Churches freely allow divorce.


As a reaction against the Protestant Reformation, the Council of Trent was organised by the then Pope. It, however, took ten years for the Council to get to serious business. Finally on November 11, 1563, in their twenty fourth session, a decree on Christian marriage was issued. First, it stated that God Himself instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden as an indissoluble union, (Gen. 2:18-25) and as a sacrament. (Eph. 5:32). Christ confirmed this when He said “So then, what God has united, man must not divide". (Matt. 19:6). The decree again made any marriage that takes place in the absence of an authorized ordained minister of the Church and two witnesses, one for each partner, invalid.


Although the Church teaches indissolubility of Christian marriage, it does not mean that it is easy to remain faithful until death. It does not mean that married partners can succeed in doing so without the grace of God. Married partners need tremendous power of God's grace to help them at every step along the path of their marriage life. This grace can only be available to them through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, through the regular reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, through their faithful attendance at Sunday Holy Mass and reception of the Holy Eucharist, and in a special way through family prayers in the home. Christ affirmed that when a man married a woman, he married both her body and her soul; he married a whole person. If he got tired of the body, he might not thrust her body away for another. “So what God has united man must not divide". (Mk. 10:9). No man! No judge! No nation can divide them. It is only by a special divine authority that can legitimately dissolve such a union.

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