In our day and age it seems like marriage just isn’t taken seriously anymore. The divorce rate is sky high, and the rate of adultery is probably worse! Society needs to be brought back to reality. The sacredness of marriage must be restored! Well, look no further than the Catholic Church. It is here that you will find marriage elevated to the status of a sacrament. The question, however, is: “Did Jesus elevate marriage to a sacrament?”
The answer is yes. Jesus did elevate marriage to a sacrament. To find the best biblical evidence for this we need look no further than Matthew 19. Here Jesus is in Judaea, and the Pharisees begin to question him. Matthew tells us: “The Pharisees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying unto him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?’
“And answered and said unto them, ‘Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be one flesh?” Wherefore they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has bound on earth, let no man rend asunder.'” (Verses 3-6)
Here we have Jesus making a clear statement. It is God who binds in marriage. Therefore, no one but God can unbind. But does God ever unbind a legitimate marriage? For that we return to Matthew 19.
“They said to him, ‘Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorce, and to put her away?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Moses because of the hardness of your heart suffered you to put away your wives: but it was not so from the beginning. And I say to you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoso marries her which is put away commits adultery.'” (Verses 7-9)
So we see that Jesus is again clear that divorce is not allowed. It is only in the case of “fornication” that a man may divorce his wife. Well, such is how some of the English translations of the Bible read. Others read “adultery”. But what about the Greek?
When Jesus makes the exception of “fornication” for divorce, the Greek reads “porneia”. That is an interesting selection, because the Greek word for adultery is “moicheia”. If Jesus meant adultery to always be a reason for divorce, then Matthew should have selected the word “moicheia” when translating Jesus’ words into Greek. But St. Matthew used the word “porneia”. Why was this word selected?
“Porneia” is defined variously as “sexual intercourse”, “adultery”, “lesbianism”, etc. Don’t believe me? Well, you make click the following link to see the definition.
The link posted above is a definition from the KJV Bible. The reason I used it is because Catholics do not use the KJV, but Protestants do. Even their own version of the Bible supports the Catholic definition.
If Jesus meant only adultery to be the reason for divorce, then the word “moicheia” would have been used. The word “porneia” was used because Jesus was making a broader exception. He was essentially saying that any illicit sexual act allows for the dissolution of a marriage. But was Jesus really supporting divorce?
The answer is no. Properly-speaking, no legitimate, sacramental marriage can be dissolved. We must remember that Jesus said, “What God has bound on earth, let no man rend asunder.” (Mt. 19:6) Once God has bound two people in a sacramental marriage, it can not be undone.
Why is marriage considered a sacrament in the Catholic Church. Simply put, it is considered a sacrament because a marriage is a covenant. A covenant is always a sacrament. A covenant is different than a contract. A contract is an exchange of goods, and it can be undone by either party. A covenant is a little different.
All people are created by God. Because God is sacred, His act of creating is sacred. Since the act of creating is sacred, people are sacred. When one person gives his/herself to another in a covenant, the act is sacred. This means that all covenants are sacred. Hence, marriage is sacred.
The only way out of a covenant is death. That’s why God’s punishments are so harsh in the Bible when the Hebrews break their covenant with Him. That’s why we must die. Adam and Eve had a covenant with God. When they broke the penalty was death. Death is the only way out of a covenant.
So if a sacramental marriage takes place, death is the only way out. The Catholic Church, consistent with the Bible, does not believe in divorce. Jesus Himself did not accept divorce. But what does the Catholic Church believe?
The Catholic Church believes in annulments. Many Catholics and non-Catholics believe that annulment is the “Catholic divorce”. This is not the case. A divorce claims to dissolve a legitimate marriage. An annulment is the declaring void of a marriage. In other words, in an annulment, the Catholic Church declares that a marriage was never legitimate in the first place. This is the only way to do it. After all, marriage is a covenant. A covenant is a sacred oath. The only way out of a covenant is death. God joins the two people in marriage. Only He can unbind. Jesus has revealed that this does not happen. So death is the only way out of a sacramental marriage; unless a legitimate reason can be found to declare that the marriage never existed in the first place.
Because marriage is a covenant-and, therefore, sacred-marriage must be a sacrament. A sacrament is defined as: “An outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.” The act of marriage is the outward sign set up clearly by Jesus Christ to signify the uniting of one man and woman by God. The conjugal act then completes and renews the vows taken at the time of the wedding.
So let us celebrate this sacrament given to us by Jesus Christ. We can best celebrate it by being faithful and truthful to our spouse. Let us always remember that God has bound us to our spouse. We can never rend it asunder!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity