Marriage and the family trace their origins to the very beginnings of the world. They are rightly understood as the very foundation of all community, the primary building blocks of larger society. Society, and all groups therein, have a primary example in the family, because the family is the first group to which we belong. How does the Church understand marriage and the family? Matrimony is one of those channels, those focused moments, of divine grace that we call a ‘Sacrament’ or ‘Mystery.’ If we open the first pages of the Holy Scriptures, we see the creation of man and woman and their union in what we know as Matrimony.We are told in the Scriptures that man was not created to exist for himself alone. Eve – woman, the bearer of life (chawa) – was given to man as a companion. Bone from his bones, and flesh from his flesh, woman is described as his ezer kenegdo, his ‘helpmate.’ Not his inferior, his subordinate, or his slave… but his helpmate and his equal. They are made of the same ‘stuff’: humanity, created in the image of God. Furthermore, God commanded male and female to “be fruitful and multiply.” Therefore, the union between male and female in Holy Matrimony is intimately linked with children. Just as God created us, so we act in His image by providing for descendants.
Marriage, according to our Judaeo-Christian tradition, is the most complete union possible on earth between man and woman. The complementarity which they bring to one another is cemented in such a way that it does not simply exist in theory, or as some convenient nicety. Rather, it is according to the order of things, as originally intended by the Creator. God made man for woman, and woman for man. They belong to one another. “Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones.” They belong to one another, and they give themselves to one another fully in Matrimony.
When sin came into the human picture, society no longer lived according to this iconic ideal. Man began to dominate woman, to subjugate her to himself, to enslave her. Woman also ceased looking at man as a companion, but rather as competition and a threat. All in all, there was blame, competition, displacement from both sides. In times of trouble or displeasure, there came division. Divorce, allowed by Moses because of the hardness of people’s hearts, was not part of the plan in the beginning (as is written in the Gospel). Marriage means something according to the mind of God: coexistence, companionship, harmony, unity.
Our Christian faith teaches that Christ came to restore everything, according to the way God intended them even before their earthly existence. The sacramental mysteries try to capture this original blueprint. Marriage existed within the divine plan. God intended for us to be in companionship, and this companionship reflects the relationship between God and humanity, and between the Persons of the Holy Trinity. The Christian faith is ultimately about relationship. When asked what the Greatest Commandment was, Christ replied: love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Marriage is a special instance of that love, a sacramental embodiment of divine union.
Christ’s entire life was the embodiment, the incarnation, of God’s relationship with humanity. And this relationship is based on the divine virtue of loving humility. The meaning of human life, according to our Christian faith, is self-gift. Christ said “Greater love has no man, than to give his life for his friends.” Holy Matrimony is one of the most complete ways in which this is realized on earth. And life on earth is designed, it is meant to be, an iconic reflection of divine life. Marriage is a reflection of divine life, love, and humility. And this is precisely how St. Paul explained Christian marriage in his Epistle to the Ephesians (chapter five).
St. Paul describes marriage as a reflection of Christ’s relationship with the Church. Christ died, giving Himself up for the sake of the Church. The Church, in turn, receives Christ’s sacrifice and submits herself to Him. Paul explains that the wife, living as an icon of the Church, submits to her husband out of love for him, as the Church submits herself to Christ. The man, living as an icon of Christ, gives himself completely – even unto death – out of love for his bride. In this iconic relationship, there is no subordination except a humble subordination in love. This is the meaning of all Christian existence, and it is especially witnessed to in Christian Matrimony.