Last week we concluded our reflections on the precepts of the Church. We finished by mentioning a sixth precept, which is not part of the universal list found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but which did appear regionally as part of the older Baltimore Catechism published here in the United States.
The sixth precept spoke about the importance of following the church’s norms regarding the Sacrament of Marriage. We considered how these norms are always geared to protecting and safeguarding the Sacrament and those who enter into it. The institution of marriage, though beautiful, is a challenging one to live, especially nowadays. The Church’s norms are there to help ensure the best chance of success for those entering into this blessed union.
Though we know from last week that the Church seeks to protect and strengthen marriages, we haven’t taken the time to consider the more fundamental question: what is marriage? There was a time when the answer to that question would have been more or less uniform across the world, regardless of language or culture. Nowadays, however, it has become a debated point, especially at the level of state and national politics as our different governmental bodies have sought to define or, rather, redefine marriage.
Before trying to define marriage, I like to begin with another question, which I regularly ask couples as we begin marriage prep together. That question is: “who made marriage?” It is a commentary on the mass confusion regarding marriage that pervades our society today that even Christians struggle to answer this question. The answer, of course is clearly contained in the first chapters of the first book of the bible: “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he create them; male and female he create them. God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply.” And “a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”
Marriage, then, is created by God. It wasn’t created by Washington State, or the United States, or Mexico, or any nation, state, or country. It was not created by judges, priests, or philosophers. Marriage predates all of these by millennia. When it comes to marriage, cities, states, and nations neither create nor define marriage. The most that such institutions can do is recognize the validity of this pre-existing institution. Contemporary debates on the issue of marriage have gotten the cart before the horse and are forgetting the simple reality of history. People were getting married in North America before a single state in America existed, let alone the United States of America.
So, if we want an authentic answer to the question, “what is marriage,” we must go back to the beginning. We must consider the meaning of marriage from the perspective of the one who created it—God. It is only in the light of His revelation that we can hope to come to an authentic understanding of this most ancient and enduring of all institutions.