III. THE RELATION OF CHRIST TO MARRIAGE
In treating of the relation of Christ to marriage we touch also
on the paradoxical source of our divisions as Christians. What divides
us here is not, evidently, Christ himself, but the different conceptions
our Churches have of his action on us through grace; or at any rate
the way these different conceptions are spoken of according to Catholics
the Reformation was particularly radical in its approach to the
question of marriage. In the name of a doctrine of grace that was
often reduced solely to the act, in itself essential, of justification,
the Reformation Churches contested the doctrine of the Catholic
Church on marriage, founded mainly on a doctrine of sanctification.
The Catholic Church on her part developed a sacramental doctrine
of marriage which seemed unacceptable to the Reformation Churches.
To them it appears that the Catholic Church in this way introduces
in marriage an - as it were-automatic efficaciousness of grace which
is theologically unacceptable and spiritually unverified. It seems
to them that in this connection the Catholic Church does not respect
the natural ("weltlich") character of marriage which belongs
to it by virtue of creation itself and of the civil institutions
of man. She also appeared to them to give too much weight in this
domain of marriage to the role of the Church as opposed to that
of the State. Catholic doctrine seems to them, too, to overlook
the fact that such a human institution as marriage is itself in
need of salvation. In the view of Lutherans and the Reformed Churches,
the Catholic Church, in holding that marriage is a sacrament, seems
to forget that marriage does not of itself give grace but needs
to receive it. Lastly, to the Reformation Churches it seems at least
doubtful whether Christ himself instituted this sacrament.
Our intention here is not to try to solve all these problems. We
simply wish to indicate the direction we may need to take if we
are to discover together a Christian view of marriage which might
truly become the object of a common teaching of faith.
Revelation teaches us first of all that God, the living and true
God, is not only not a stranger to the human greatness of love,
but that He personally is its principle and source. In reality only
love can explain that God is truly the Creator and that it is His
plan that there should exist the human family, which is founded
on, and lives by, love. God, who desires that humanity should become,
at all costs, a community of freedom and love, does not want to
accomplish His plan without the conjugal ministry of man and woman.
As a project for total communion which has as its consequence the
bearing and upbringing of human beings in a human way, conjugal
love manifests, therefore, the creative plan of God for a world
where human creatures are made according to, and live in, His image.
However, God is not merely at the creative source of the world and
of humanity. He has Himself given within history an unequaled, an
unsurpassable, example of love. The People of the Covenant loomed
up through the centuries as the unique beneficiary and as the prophetic
witness for all men of a Love without limits which nothing can exhaust
or destroy. In fact, this Love led God to share wholly in our condition
through the Incarnation of His Son. In uniting Himself forever in
the flesh of Christ to our humanity, God reveals that His Covenant
love is comparable to conjugal love. As Spouse, totally faithful
to the People of Israel, God reveals Himself in Christ as the Spouse
par excellence, He who gives proof of His absolute love for the
Church and for humanity by offering Himself up for them on the cross.
We are convinced that such a mystery as this is not, can not, be
unconnected with the conjugal relationship. In fact, the Covenant
that is projected forward from the world's creation, manifested
through Israel, realized in Jesus Christ, announced by the Church
of the Apostles, and communicated by the Holy Spirit, reveals that
God commits Himself in Jesus Christ to lead every form of love to
its complete truth. If we are asked who is this Christ who plays
such a prominent role in conjugal love, we may answer unhesitatingly:
he is the Lord of the Promise, the Lord of the Covenant and of grace.
This is why, without ever forgetting the action of the Spirit present
in the core of all conjugal love, the fact that Christians belong
to the Lord by virtue of being incorporated into his Life through
baptism, also has a bearing on their conjugal existence.
17. If we are ready to step out of our conventional formulations
of one form or another, we shall see that this relationship of Christ
to the conjugal life of Christians is nothing other than what we
all of us refer to as grace. In reality grace is the presence of
Christ given to men in the Spirit according to the promise. Thus,
without being contained in the state of marriage as if it constituted
a reality independent of Jesus Christ, or as if marriage were sufficient
of itself to produce it, grace is wholly a gift of Christ to the
married couple. This grace, which is granted above all as a lasting
promise, is as durable as marriage itself is called to be.
This relationship of grace between the mystery of Christ and the
conjugal state requires a name. We all of us believe that the biblical
term "Covenant" truly characterizes the mystery of marriage.
It is this Covenant that the Catholic Church calls a sacrament.
The Reformation Churches prefer not to employ this term chiefly
because of their definition of what a sacrament is, because of the
special character of marriage in relation to the sacraments of baptism
and Eucharist, and finally because of the controversies and misunderstandings
of the past. We believe, however, that in the light of our different
mentalities and historical situations, we can have a view of marriage
which is in a profound sense a common one.
In fact we are all equally convinced that marriage is closely connected
with God's promise. This promise is nothing other than Christ himself
turning to look upon the spouses so that their love too should become
a real and lasting union. This promise is not simply an idea, but
the reality itself of Jesus Christ. Because it is the face of Christ
himself turned toward married life, this promise is never under
the power of those who are called to benefit from it. It is given
to them without their ever being able to become its masters. Therefore
it presupposes an explicit and ever-renewed annunciation of the
word which is no more the prerogative of the minister than it is
of the beneficiaries of the grace of marriage.
This promise, then, holds the initiative from the beginning and
maintains it throughout. It has a kind of autonomy in regard to
the spouses. It summons them ceaselessly to allow themselves to
be formed by it, without the spouses ever being able to take for
granted they have finally succeeded in wholly identifying themselves
with the full measure of its demands and its grace.
To bring together in this way the initiative of the promise in regard
to the spouses and the re-creative experience which the spouses
are called to have of its power over them, is to speak of the sacramental
power of marriage considered in the light of the Covenant. It also
means that marriage is a sign of the Covenant.
Understood in this manner, marriage confers on Christians a responsibility
both as beneficiaries and as witnesses. The spouses accept more
particularly to live their love according to this promise of grace
which they know makes it possible for them to put their deep longing
for each other in concrete form through the unreserved gift, as
well as to surmount its ambiguities.
In this way Catholics should envisage grace, not as a kind of purely
objective gift which acts unconditionally on the spouses, but as
an experience of fidelity and life that Christ stimulates in their
hearts through the gift of the Spirit. As for Lutherans and members
of the Reformed Churches, they accept that the promise sealed with
the death and resurrection of Christ is active in the hearts and
lives of married Christians who live the mystery of Christ, in this
way becoming its beneficiaries and witnesses. Both are well aware
that in expressing in this manner the "sacramental" aspect
of marriage in the light of the promise and the Covenant, we have
not resolved all the differences that exist between us. We are merely
attempting to get beyond the theological ambiguities which can be,
and must be, overcome. We also know that we don't exhaust the wealth
of meaning inherent in this mystery of grace, a mystery that goes
beyond the frontiers of the Christian life. That is why we should
not exclude from the beneficial effects of the Covenant couples
who are not believers. In trying to describe the relationship between
Christ's grace and Christian marriage, we simply wish to point out
what a wealth of grace the mystery of Christ contains that may be
put at the service of conjugal love which in this way acquires its
true greatness. But this greatness can never be separated from our
weakness. The message of our Churches, especially at such a time
of crisis as ours, should point at one and the same time to the
values which Christ himself proclaimed, and to the weakness which
He denounced and from which He wishes to save us. Christ hands us
over the grace which both judges and saves us.