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This document was approved by the Commission “in forma specifica


1.1. The Human and Divine Views of Matrimony

The matrimonial pact is founded upon preexistent and permanent structures that constitute the difference between man and woman and is “instituted” by the spouses themselves, even though in its concrete form it is very subject to different historical and cultural changes as well as, in a certain sense, to the particular way in which the marriage is carried out by the spouses. In this, marriage shows itself to be an institution of the Creator himself, both from the point of view of mutual help in conjugal love and fidelity as well as through the rearing of children born in marriage within the heart of the family community.

1.2. Marriage in Christ

As is easily shown in the New Testament, Jesus confirmed this institution which existed “from the very beginning”, and cured it of its previous defects (Mk 10:2-9, 10-12) by restoring all its dignity and its original requirements. He sanctified this state of life (GS 48, 2) by including it within the mystery of love, which unites him as Redeemer to his Church. This is the reason why the task of regulating Christian marriage (1 Cor 7:10f.) has been entrusted to the Church.

1.3. The Apostles

The Epistles of the New Testament say that marriage should be honored in every way (Heb 13:4) and, in response to certain attacks, they present it as a good work of the Creator (1 Tim 4:1-5). Rather, they exalt matrimony among the faithful because it is included in the mystery of Covenant and love that unites Christ and the Church (Eph 5:22-23; GS 48, 2).

They ask, therefore, that marriage be contracted “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39) and that matrimonial life be lived in accordance with the dignity of a new creature “ (2 Cor 5:17), “in Christ” (Eph 5:21-33), putting Christians on guard against the pagans’ habits (1 Cor 6:12-20; cf. 6:9-10). On the basis of a “right deriving from faith” and in their desire to assure its permanence, the Churches of apostolic times formulated certain moral orientations (Col 3:18ff.; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7) and juridical dispositions that would help people live matrimony “according to the Faith” in different human situations and conditions.

1.4. The First Centuries

During the first centuries of Church history, Christians contracted marriage “like other men” (Ad Diognetum 5, 6) with the father of the family presiding, and only with domestic rites and gestures, as, for example, uniting hands. Still they didn’t lose sight of the “extraordinary and truly paradoxical laws of their spiritual society” (ibid., 5, 4): they eliminated from the home liturgies every trace of pagan cult. They placed special importance on the procreation and education of offspring (ibid., 5, 6), they accepted the bishops vigilance over matrimony (St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Polycarpum 5, 2), they showed in their matrimony a special submission to God and a relationship with their Faith (Clement of Alexandria, Stromata 4, 20), and sometimes at the marriage rite they enjoyed the celebration of the eucharistic sacrifice and a special blessing (Tertullian, Ad uxorem 2, 9).

1.5. The Eastern Traditions

From very ancient times in the Eastern Churches the shepherds of the Church themselves took an active part in the celebration of marriages in the place of the fathers of the family or even along with them. This change was not the result of a usurpation but was brought about to answer the requests made by the family and with the approval of civil authority. Because of this evolution, the ceremonies formerly carried out within the family were little by little included within liturgical rites. As time passed the idea took shape that the ministers of the rite of the “mystery” of matrimony were not only the couple alone but also the shepherd of the Church.

1.6. The Western Traditions

In the Western Churches the problem of what element constituted marriage from a juridical point of view arose with the encounter between the Christian vision of matrimony and Roman law. This was resolved by considering the consent of the spouses as the only constitutive element. The fact that, up until the time of the Council of Trent, clandestine marriages were considered valid is due to this decision. Still, the blessing of the priest and his presence as witness of the Church, as well as some liturgical rites, had already been encouraged by the Church for a long time. With the decree Tametsi, the presence of the pastor and witnesses became the ordinary canonical form of marriage necessary for validity.

1.7. The New Churches

According to the desires of Vatican Council II and the new rite for celebrating matrimony, it is to be hoped that new liturgical and juridical norms will be developed, under the guidance of ecclesial authority, among peoples who have recently come to the Gospel, to harmonize the reality of Christian marriage with the authentic values of these peoples’ own traditions.

This diversity of norms, due to the plurality of cultures, is compatible with basic unity and therefore does not go beyond the limits of legitimate pluralism.

The Christian and ecclesial character of the union and of the mutual donation of the spouses can, in fact, be expressed in different ways, under the influence of the baptism that they have received and through the presence of witnesses, among whom the “competent priest” occupies the prime post. Today various canonical adaptations of these various elements may seem to be opportune.

1.8. Canonical Adaptations

In the reform of canon law there should be a global view of matrimony according to its various personal and social dimensions. The Church must be aware that juridical ordinances must serve to help and develop conditions that are always more attentive to the human values of matrimony. Nevertheless it must not be thought that such adaptations can bear on the total reality of matrimony.

1.9. Personalistic View of the Institution

“The beginning, the subject and goal of all social institutions, is and must be the human person, which for its part and by its very nature stands completely in need of social life” (GS 25). As an “intimate partnership of life and conjugal love” (GS 48), matrimony is a suitable place and way to improve the welfare of persons in line with their vocation. Therefore marriage can never be thought of as a way of sacrificing persons to some common good extrinsic to themselves, since the common good is the sum of “those conditions of social life that allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (GS 26).

1.10. Structure and Not Superstructure

While marriage is subject to economic realities at its beginning and for its entire duration, it is not a superstructure for private ownership of goods and resources. While, in fact, the concrete ways in which the marriage and the family subsist may be tied to economic conditions, still the definitive union of a man with a woman in a conjugal covenant responds to human nature and the needs that the Creator put in them. This is the reason why matrimony is not only no obstacle to the personal maturation of couples but rather is a great help to them.


2.1. Real Symbol and Sacramental Sign

Jesus Christ disclosed in a prophetic way the reality of matrimony as it was intended by God at man’s beginnings (cf. Gen 1:27; 2:24; Mk 10:6, 7-8; Mt 19:4, 5) and restored it through his death and Resurrection. For this reason Christian marriage is lived “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39) and is also determined by elements of the saving action performed by Christ.

Already in the Old Testament the matrimonial union was a figure of the Covenant between God and the people of Israel (cf. Hos 2; Jer 3:6-13; Ezek 16 and 23; Is 54), In the New Testament, Christian marriage rises to a new dignity as a representation of the mystery that unites Christ and the Church (cf. Eph 5:21-33). Theological interpretation illuminates this analogy more profoundly: the supreme love and gift of the Lord who shed his blood and the faithful and irrevocable attachment of his Spouse the Church become models and examples for Christian matrimony

This resemblance is a relationship of real sharing in the Covenant of love between Christ and the Church. From its own standpoint, Christian marriage, as a real symbol and sacramental sign, represents the Church of Christ concretely in the world and, especially under its family aspect, it is called rightly the “domestic Church” (LG 11).

2.2. Sacrament in a Real Sense

In such a way matrimony takes on the likeness of the mystery of the union between Jesus Christ and his Church. This inclusion of Christian marriage in the economy of salvation is enough to justify the title “sacrament” in a broad sense.

But it is also at once the concrete condensation and the real actualization of this primordial sacrament. It follows from this that Christian marriage is in itself a real and true sign of salvation, which confers the grace of God. For this reason the Catholic Church numbers it among the seven sacraments (cf. DS 1327, 1801).

A unique bond exists between the indissolubility of marriage and its sacramentality, that is, a reciprocal, constitutive relationship. Indissolubility makes one s grasp of the sacramental nature of Christian matrimony easier, and from the theological point of view, its sacramental nature constitutes the final grounds, although not the only grounds, for its indissolubility.

2.3. Baptism, Real Faith, Intention, Sacramental Marriage

Just like the other sacraments, matrimony confers grace in the final analysis by virtue of the action performed by Christ and not only through the faith of the one receiving it. That, however, does not mean that grace is conferred in the sacrament of matrimony outside of faith or in the absence of faith. It follows from this—according to classical principles—that faith is presupposed as a “disposing cause” for receiving the fruitful effect of the sacrament. The validity of marriage, however, does not imply that this effect is necessarily fruitful.

The existence today of “baptized nonbelievers” raises a new theological problem and a grave pastoral dilemma, especially when the lack of, or rather the rejection of, the Faith seems clear. The intention of carrying out what Christ and the Church desire is the minimum condition required before consent is considered to be a “real human act” on the sacramental plane. The problem of the intention and that of the personal faith of the contracting parties must not be confused, but they must not be totally separated either.

In the last analysis the real intention is born from and feeds on living faith. Where there is no trace of faith (in the sense of “belief”—being disposed to believe), and no desire for grace or salvation is found, then a real doubt arises as to whether there is the above-mentioned general and truly sacramental intention and whether the contracted marriage is validly contracted or not. As was noted, the personal faith of the contracting parties does not constitute the sacramentality of matrimony, but the absence of personal faith compromises the validity of the sacrament.

This gives rise to new problems for which a satisfactory answer has yet to be found, and it imposes new pastoral responsibilities regarding Christian matrimony “Priests should first of all strengthen and nourish the faith of those about to be married, for the sacrament of matrimony presupposes and demands faith” (Ordo celebrandi matrimonium, Praenotanda, 7).

2.4. Dynamic Interconnection

For the Church, baptism is the social basis and the sacrament of faith through which believers become members of the Body of Christ. The existence of “baptized nonbelievers” implies problems of great importance in this respect as well. A true response to practical and pastoral problems will not be found in changes that subvert the central core of sacramental doctrine and of matrimonial doctrine, but only with a radical renewal of baptismal spirituality.

We must view and renew baptism in its essential unity and dynamic interconnection with all its elements and dimensions: faith, preparation for the sacrament, the rite, profession of faith, incorporation into Christ and into the Church, moral consequences, active participation in Church life. The intimate connection between baptism, faith, and the Church must be stressed. Only in this way will it be clear that matrimony between the baptized is “in itself” a true sacrament, that is, not by force of some sort of automatic process but through its own internal nature.


3.1. Marriage as Willed by God

Since all things were created in Christ, through Christ and in view of Christ, marriage as a true institution of the Creator becomes a figure of the mystery of union of Christ, the groom, with the Church, the Bride, and, in a certain way, is directed toward this mystery. Marriage celebrated between two baptized persons has been elevated to the dignity of a real sacrament, that is, signifying and participating in the spousal love of Christ and the Church.

3.2. The Inseparability of Christ’s Actions

Between two baptized persons, marriage as an institution willed by God the Creator cannot be separated from marriage the sacrament, because the sacramental nature of marriage between the baptized is not an accidental element that could be or could just as well not be, but is rather so tied into the essence of it as to be inseparable from it.

3.3. Every Marriage between Baptized Persons Must Be Sacramental

Thus between baptized persons no other married state can exist really and truly that differs from that willed by Christ, in which the Christian man and woman, giving and accepting one another freely and with irrevocable personal consent as spouses, are radically removed from the “hardness of heart” of which Christ spoke (cf. Mt 19:8) and, through the sacrament, really and truly included within the mystery of marital union of Christ with his Church, thus being given the real possibility of living in perpetual love. As a consequence the Church cannot in any way recognize that two baptized persons are living in a marital state equal to their dignity and their life as “new creatures in Christ” if they are not united by the sacrament of matrimony.

3.4. The “Legitimate” Marriage of Non-Christians

The strength and the greatness of the grace of Christ are extended to all people, even those beyond the Church, because of God’s desire to save all men. They shape all human marital love and strengthen created nature as well as matrimony “as it was in the beginning”. Men and women therefore who have not yet heard the Gospel message are united by a human covenant in a legitimate marriage. This legitimate marriage is not without authentic goodness and values, which assure its stability. These goods, even though the spouses are not aware of it, come from God the Creator and are included, in a certain inchoative way, in the marital love that unites Christ with his Church.

3.5. Union of Christians Who Pay No Heed to the Requirements of Their Baptism

It would thus be contradictory to say that Christians, baptized in the Catholic Church, might really and truly take a step backward [and be] content with a nonsacramental marital state. This would mean that they could be content with the “shadow” when Christ offers them the “reality” of his spousal love. Still we cannot exclude cases where the conscience of even some Christians is deformed by ignorance or invincible error. They come to believe sincerely that they are able to contract marriage without receiving the sacrament.

In such a situation, on the one hand, they are unable to contract a valid sacramental marriage because they lack any faith and lack the intention of doing what the Church wishes. On the other hand, they still have the natural right to contract marriage. In such circumstances they are capable of giving and accepting one another as spouses because they intend to contract an irrevocable commitment. This mutual and irrevocable self-giving creates a psychological relationship between them that by its internal structure is different from a transitory relationship.

Still this relationship, even if it resembles marriage, cannot in any way be recognized by the Church as a nonsacramental conjugal society. For the Church, no natural marriage separated from the sacrament exists for baptized persons, but only natural marriage elevated to the dignity of a sacrament.

3.6. Progressive Marriages

It is therefore wrong and very dangerous to introduce within the Christian community the practice of permitting the couple to celebrate successively various wedding ceremonies on different levels, even though they be connected, or to allow a priest or deacon to assist at or read prayers on the occasion of a nonsacramental marriage that baptized persons wish to celebrate.

3.7. Civil Marriage

In a pluralistic society, the public authority of the state can impose on the engaged a public ceremony through which they publicly profess their status as spouses. The state can furthermore make laws that regulate in a precise and correct manner the civil effects deriving from marriage, as well as rights and duties regarding the family.

The Catholic faithful ought to be adequately instructed that these official formalities, commonly called civil marriage, do not constitute real matrimony for them, except in cases when—through dispensation from the canonical form or because of a very prolonged absence of a qualified Church witness—the civil ceremony itself can serve as an extraordinary canonical form for the celebration of the sacrament of matrimony (cf. canon 1098). For non-Christians and often even for non-Catholic Christians, this civil ceremony can have constitutive value both as legitimate marriage and as sacramental marriage.


4.1. The Principle

The early Church’s Tradition, based on the teaching of Christ and the apostles, affirms the indissolubility of marriage, even in cases of adultery. This principle applies despite certain texts that are hard to interpret and examples of indulgence—the extension and frequency of which are difficult to judge—toward persons in very difficult situations.

4.2. The Church’s Doctrine

The Council of Trent declared that the Church has not erred when it has taught and teaches, in accordance with the doctrine of the Gospel and the apostles, that the marriage bond cannot be broken through adultery. Nevertheless, because of historical doubts (opinions of Ambrosiaster, Catharinus, and Cajetan) and for some more-or-less ecumenical reasons, the Council limited itself to pronouncing an anathema against those who deny the Church’s authority on this issue.

It cannot be said, then, that the Council had the intention of solemnly defining marriage s indissolubility as a truth of faith. Still, account must be taken of what Pius XI said in Casti connubii, referring to this canon: “If therefore the Church has not erred and does not err in teaching this, and consequently it is certain that the bond of marriage cannot be loosed even on account of the sin of adultery, it is evident that all the weaker excuses that can be, and are usually brought forward, are of no value whatsoever. And the objections brought against the marriage bond are easily answered” (cf. DS 1807).

4.3. Intrinsic Indissolubility

Intrinsic indissolubility of matrimony can be considered under various aspects and grounded in various ways:

From the point of view of the spouses. Their intimate conjugal union as a mutual donation of two persons, just as their very marital love itself and the welfare of the offspring, demands that indissoluble unity. From this is derived the spouses’ moral duty to protect, maintain, and develop the marital covenant.

From God’s vantage point. From the human act by which the spouses give and accept each other rises a bond, based on the will of God and written in nature as created, independent of human authority and removed from the sphere of power of the spouses, and thus intrinsically indissoluble.

From a Christological perspective. The final and deepest basis for the indissolubility of Christian matrimony lies in the fact that it is the image, sacrament, and witness of the indissoluble union between Christ and the Church that has been called the bonum sacramenti. In this sense indissolubility becomes a moment of grace.

From the social perspective. Indissolubility is demanded by the institution of marriage itself. The spouses’ personal decision comes to be accepted, protected, and reinforced by society itself, especially by the ecclesial community. This is for the good of the offspring and for the common good. This is the juridico-ecclesial dimension of matrimony.

These various aspects are intimately tied together. The fidelity to which the spouses are held and which ought to be protected by society, especially by the ecclesial community, is demanded by God the Creator and by Christ who makes it possible through his grace.

4.4. Extrinsic Indissolubility and the Power of the Church over Marriages

Hand in hand with the practice, the Church has elaborated a doctrine concerning its powers over marriages, clearly indicating its scope and limits. The Church acknowledges that it does not have any power to invalidate a sacramental marriage that is concluded and consummated (ratum et consummatum).

For very serious reasons and with concern for the good of the Faith and the salvation of souls, all other marriages can be invalidated by competent Church authority or—according to another interpretation—can be declared self-invalidating. This doctrine is nothing more than an individual example of the theory, today more or less generally accepted by Catholic theologians, on the evolution of Christian doctrine in the Church.

Neither is it to be excluded that the Church can further define the concepts of sacramentality and consummation by explaining them even better, so that the whole doctrine on the indissolubility of marriage can be put forward in a deeper and more precise presentation.


5.1. Gospel Radicalism

Faithful to the radicalism of the Gospel, the Church cannot refrain from stating with Saint Paul the apostle: “To those now married, however, I give this command (though it is not mine; it is the Lord’s): a wife must not separate from her husband. If she does separate, she must either remain single or become reconciled to him again. Similarly, a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Cor 7:10-11). It follows from this that new unions following divorce under civil law cannot be considered regular or legitimate.

5.2. Prophetic Witness

This severity does not derive from a purely disciplinary law or from a type of legalism. It is rather a judgment pronounced by Jesus himself (Mk 10:6ff.). Understood in this way, this harsh norm is a prophetic witness to the irreversible fidelity of love that binds Christ to his Church. It shows also that the spouses’ love is incorporated into the very love of Christ (Eph 5:23-32).

5.3. “Nonsacramentalization”

The incompatibility of the state of remarried divorced persons with the precept and mystery of the Paschal love of the Lord makes it impossible for these people to receive, in the Eucharist, the sign of unity with Christ. Access to eucharistic Communion can only be had through penitence, which implies detestation of the sin committed and the firm purpose of not sinning again (cf. DS 1676).

Let all Christians, therefore, remember the words of the apostle: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, sins against the body and blood of the Lord. A man should examine himself first; only then should he eat of the bread and drink of the cup. He who eats and drinks without recognizing the body eats and drinks a judgment on himself” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

5.4. Pastoral Care of the Divorced Who Have Remarried

While this illegitimate situation does not permit a life of full communion with the Church, still Christians who find themselves in this state are not excluded from the action of divine grace and from a link with the Church. They must not, therefore, be deprived of pastoral assistance (cf. Address of Pope Paul VI, 4 November 1977).

They are not dispensed from the numerous obligations stemming from baptism. They ought to be concerned about the Christian education of their offspring. The paths of Christian prayer, both public and private, penitence, and certain apostolic activities remain open to them. They must not be ignored but rather helped, like all other Christians who are trying, with the help of Christ s grace, to free themselves from sin.

5.5. Combating the Causes of Divorce

The need for a pastoral action to avoid the multiplication of divorces and of new civil marriages of the divorced seems ever more urgent. It is recommended that future spouses be given a living awareness of all their responsibilities as spouses and parents. The real meaning of matrimony must be ever more adequately presented as a covenant contracted “in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:39). In such a way Christians will be better disposed to observe the command of God and to witness to the union of Christ and the Church. And that will redound to the greater personal advantage of the spouses, their children, and society itself.


This document was approved by the Commission “in forma generica”. Sixteen theses on the sacrament of marriage are presented in this paper, which was approved in substance by the members of the Commission.


The sacramentality of Christian marriage appears much more clearly if one does not separate it from the mystery of the Church. “Sign and means of intimate union with God and of the unity of the whole human race”, as the Council said (LG 1), the Church rests upon the indefectible relationship that Christ reestablished with her to make her his Body. The identity of the Church does not then depend just on the power of men but on the love of Christ that the apostolic preaching increasingly announces and to which we adhere through the outpouring of the Spirit. Witness of this love that makes her live, the Church is then the sacrament of Christ in the world because it is the visible Body and the community that proclaims the presence of Christ in the history of men. Certainly, the Church—sacrament whose greatness Paul declared (Eph 5:32)—is inseparable from the mystery of the Incarnation because it is the mystery of a body; it is inseparable also from the economy of the Covenant because it rests upon the personal promise that the risen Christ made to remain “with” her “all days, even to the end of the world” (Mt 28). But the Church sacrament depends further on a mystery that one can describe as conjugal. Christ is bound to her in virtue of a love that makes the Church the Spouse of Christ in the energy of only one Spirit and the unity of one Body.


The marital union of Christ and the Church does not destroy but, on the contrary, accomplishes what the conjugal love of man and woman announces in its own way, what it implies or already realizes, as regards communion and fidelity In effect, the Christ of the Cross accomplishes the perfect oblation of himself that the spouses desire to accomplish in the flesh without, however, ever coming to realize perfectly He accomplishes in regard to the Church he loves as his own body what husbands should do for their spouses, as Saint Paul said. On his part, the Resurrection of Jesus in the power of the Spirit reveals that the oblation he made on the Cross bears fruit in this same flesh in which it is accomplished, and that the Church loved by him so much he would die for it can initiate the world into this total communion between God and men from which it benefits as the Spouse of Jesus Christ.


Thus the Old Testament rightly used a conjugal symbolism to express the inexhaustible love that God feels toward his people and which he intends, through the people, to reveal to all mankind. In the prophet Hosea notably, God is presented to us as the Spouse whose tenderness and fidelity without measure will finally win over Israel, who is, from the start, unfaithful to the measureless love with which it is graced. The Old Testament in this way opens us to an uninhibited understanding of the New Testament in which Jesus is many times called the Spouse par excellence. He is called that by the Baptist in John 3:29; Jesus calls himself that in Matthew 9:15; Paul calls him Spouse in the same way in two places, 2 Corinthians 11:2 and Ephesians 5; Revelation does it also in 22:17-20, not to mention the many explicit allusions to this title that one finds in the eschatological parables of the Kingdom in Matthew 22:1-10 and 25:1-12.


Ordinarily neglected by Christology, this title should once again find all its meaning for us. Just as he is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Light, the Gate, the Shepherd, the Lamb, the Vine, the Man himself, because he receives from the Father “the primacy in everything’’ (Col 1:18), Jesus is also truly and rightfully the Spouse par excellence, that is, the “Master and Lord”, when one thinks of someone who loves the other, who is different from himself, as he loves his own flesh. It is then from this title of Spouse and from the mystery it evokes that a Christology of marriage should begin. In this domain, as in every other, “no one can lay any foundation except the one that has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 3:11). However, the fact that Christ is also the Spouse par excellence is not to be separated from the fact that he is “the second” (1 Cor 15:47) and “the final Adam” (1 Cor 15:45).


The Adam of Genesis, who is inseparable from Eve and to whom Jesus refers in Matthew 19 when he treats the question of divorce, is not fully identified unless one sees in him “the figure of him who is to come” (Rom 5:14). The personality of Adam insofar as it is the initial symbol of all humanity is not, then, a narrow personality closed upon itself. It is, like that of Eve, of a typological order. Adam is related to him to whom he owes his final meaning and to us also: Adam cannot be thought of without Christ, but Christ in his turn cannot be thought of without Adam, that is, without all mankind, without all the humans also, whose appearance Genesis salutes as willed by God in a very singular way. This is because the conjugality that constitutes Adam in his nature as man is attributed also to Christ, who fulfilled it by restoring it. Ruined by a lack of love before which Moses himself had to bow, it finds again in Christ the truth that belongs to it. With Jesus there appears in the world the Spouse par excellence who can as the “second” and “last Adam” save and reestablish the true conjugality that God does not cease to wish for the benefit of the “first Adam”.


Discerning the Mosaic law on divorce as the historical result of “the hardness of their hearts”, Jesus dares to present himself as the renewer who is resolved to restore the primordial authenticity of the couple. In the power that he has to love without limit and to realize by his life, death, and Resurrection, unparalleled union with all mankind, Jesus reestablishes the true meaning of the thought of Genesis, saying “man should not separate what God has united”. In his eyes, man and woman can love each other from now on as God, from all time, desires that they should love, because in Jesus is manifested the source of that love, which establishes the Kingdom. Also, Christ leads all the couples of the world to the initial purity of promised love; he abolishes the prescription in which duty contributed to their misery, lacking the power to suppress its cause. In Jesus’ view, the original couple become what they should always have been in the eyes of God: the prophetic couple beginning with whom God reveals the conjugal love to which mankind aspires, for whom it is made but which it can only attain in him who teaches divinely to men what it is to love. From then on, faithful, lasting love, the conjugality that the “hardness of heart” transforms into an impossible dream, finds again in Jesus the status of a reality that he alone, as the last Adam and as Spouse par excellence, is capable of giving to it once again.


The sacramentality of Christian marriage becomes apparent in faith. Christ draws into his energy the conjugal love of the baptized, visibly part of the Body of Christ that is the Church, in order to communicate to it the authenticity that outside of him this love would lack. He does it in the Spirit, in virtue of the power that he has, as second and final Adam, of appropriating and of making the conjugality of the first Adam succeed. He does it also in accord with the visibility of the Church in which conjugal love, consecrated to the Lord, becomes a sacrament. The spouses attest within the Church that they are committed to a conjugal life and expect from Christ the force to accomplish this form of love that without him would perish. For this reason, the mystery proper to Christ, as Spouse of the Church, radiates and can be radiated within the couples that are consecrated to him. Their conjugal love is deepened and not disfigured because it refers back to the love of Christ who sustains and establishes them. The special outpouring of the Spirit, as the grace proper to the sacrament, makes it possible that the love of the couples becomes the very image of the love of Christ for the Church. However, this constant outpouring of the Spirit never dispenses the Christian couple from the human conditions of fidelity, because the mystery of the second Adam has never supplanted or suppressed in anyone the reality of the first Adam.


As a consequence, then, entrance into Christian marriage could not be accomplished by the sole recognition of a purely “natural” right to marriage, whatever may be the religious value that one recognizes in this right or that it possesses in fact. No natural right can ever, in fact, define by itself the content of a Christian sacrament. If one claims that in the case of marriage, one would falsify the meaning of the sacrament, which has as its end to consecrate to Christ the love of the baptized spouses so that Christ may realize the transforming effects of his own mystery in them. In this light, then, there is a basic difference between the secular states, which see in civil marriage an act that is sufficient to establish the conjugal community from the social point of view, and the Church, which, while not denying value to such marriage for the nonbaptized, questions whether it can ever suffice for the baptized. Only the sacrament of marriage is appropriate for them, and this supposes on the part of the future spouses the will to consecrate to Christ a love whose human value depends finally on the love that Christ himself bears us and that he communicates to us. It follows, then, that the identity of the sacrament and of the “contract”, on which the apostolic Magisterium formally pronounced in the nineteenth century, must be understood in a manner that truly respects the mystery of Christ and the life of Christians.


The act of conjugal union, often called a contract, which acquires the reality of sacrament in the case of baptized spouses, does not become so by the simple juridical effect of baptism. The fact that the conjugal promise of a Christian husband and wife is a true sacrament flows from their Christian identity, renewed by them on the level of the love that they vow to each other in Christ. Their conjugal pact, in free giving to each other, consecrates them also to him who is the Spouse par excellence and who will teach them to become, themselves, perfect spouses. The personal mystery of Christ penetrates, then, from the interior, the natural human pact or “contract”. This becomes sacrament only if the future spouses freely consent to enter into the conjugal life, pronouncing their vows in Christ, into whom they were incorporated by baptism. Their free integration into the mystery of Christ is so essential to the nature of the sacrament that the Church intends to be assured, by the ministry of the priest, of the Christian authenticity of this commitment. The human conjugal alliance does not become sacrament by reason of a juridical statute that is efficacious by itself, independent of ones having freely consented to baptism. It becomes this in virtue of the publicly Christian character that fundamentally affects the mutual commitment and that makes it possible, moreover, to specify in which sense the spouses are themselves ministers of such a sacrament.


Since the sacrament of marriage is the free consecration to Christ of a beginning conjugal love, the couple are evidently the ministers of a sacrament that concerns them in the highest way. However, they are not ministers in virtue of a power that one can call “absolute” and in the exercise of which the Church, strictly speaking, has no right to intervene. They are ministers as living members of the Body of Christ in which they exchange their vows without ever making of their decision, which is irreplaceable, just the pure emanation of their love. The sacrament as such flows entirely from the mystery of the Church in which their conjugal love makes them share in a privileged way. No couple, then, can bestow the sacrament on themselves without the consent of the Church, nor can they do this in a form different from that which the Church has established as the most expressive of the mystery into which the sacrament introduces the couple. It belongs, then, to the Church to examine the dispositions of the future couple to see if they really correspond to the baptism that they have received. It is her duty, moreover, to dissuade them, if there is need, from performing an action that would be derisory in relation to him to whom it witnesses. In their exchange of consent that makes the sacrament, the Church remains the sign and the guarantee of the gift of the Spirit that the spouses receive in committing themselves to each other as Christians. The baptized couple are never ministers of the sacrament of the marriage without the Church, or even less, beyond the Church; they are ministers in the Church and by the Church, without ever leaving in the background the Church whose mystery governs their love. A sound theology of the minister of the sacrament of marriage has not only great importance for the spiritual authenticity of the couples, but also important repercussions for our relationship with the Orthodox.


In this context the indissolubility of marriage also appears in fresh light. Since Christ is the true Spouse of the Church, Christian marriage cannot become and remain an authentic image of the love of Christ for the Church without entering in its way into the fidelity that defines Christ as the Spouse of the Church. Whatever may be the suffering and the psychological difficulties that can result from fidelity, it is impossible to consecrate to Christ—in order to make it a sign or sacrament of his own mystery—a conjugal love that involves the divorce of one or of both the parties whose first marriage was truly valid, though in some cases this is not clear. But if the divorce, as is its intent, declares a legitimate union is already destroyed and permits, on that account, a person to contract another, how can we claim that Christ would make of this other “marriage” a real image of his personal relationship with the Church? Even if it can claim some consideration under some aspects, above all when we deal with a case of the party who is unjustly abandoned, the new marriage of the divorced cannot be a sacrament, and it creates an objective incapacity to receive the Eucharist.


Without refusing to examine the attenuating circumstances and even sometimes the quality of a second civil marriage after divorce, the approach of the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist is plainly incompatible with the mystery of which the Church is the servant and witness. In receiving the divorced and remarried to the Eucharist, the Church would let such parties believe that they can, on the level of signs, communicate with him whose conjugal mystery they disavow on the level of reality. To do so would be, moreover, on the part of the Church to declare herself in accord with the baptized at the moment when they enter or remain in a clearly objective contradiction with the life, the thought, and the being itself of the Lord as Spouse of the Church. If the Church could give the sacrament of unity to those who have broken with her on an essential point of the mystery of Christ, she would no longer be the sign of the witness of Christ but rather a countersign and a counterwitness. Nevertheless, this refusal does not in any way justify any procedure that inflicts infamy and that contradicts in its own way the mercy of Christ toward us sinners.


This Christological vision of Christian marriage allows one to understand why the Church cannot claim for herself the right to dissolve a marriage ratum et consummatum, i.e., a marriage that is sacramentally contracted in the Church and ratified by the spouses through the marriage act. In effect, the entire communion of life, which humanly speaking defines the marriage, evokes in its own way the realism of the Incarnation in which the Son of God becomes one with mankind in the flesh. In committing themselves to each other without reserve, the couple signifies by this act their effective transition to the conjugal life in which love becomes a sharing as absolute as possible of each other. They thus enter into the human behavior whose irrevocable character was recalled by Christ and which he made an image that reveals his own mystery. The Church cannot have any power, then, over the reality of a conjugal union that has passed into the power of him whose mystery she must announce and not hinder.


What we call Pauline privilege does not in any way contradict what we have just stated. In the light of what Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7:12-17, the Church recognizes the right to annul a human marriage that is revealed Christianly unlivable for a party who is baptized, on account of the opposition that the one who is not baptized makes to the baptized party. In this case, the “privilege”, if it truly exists, plays a role in favor of the life of Christ, whose importance can prevail in a legitimate way in the eyes of the Church over a conjugal life that cannot and could not be effectively consecrated to Christ by such a couple.


Whether we treat, then, of the scriptural or dogmatic, moral, human, or canonical aspects of marriage, Christian marriage can never appear isolated from the mystery of Christ. This is because the sacrament of marriage to which the Church testifies and to which she educates, and which she permits couples to receive, is not really livable except in a constant conversion of the spouses to the very Person of Christ. This conversion to Christ is, then, an intrinsic part of the nature of the sacrament, and it directly governs the meaning and scope of such a sacrament in the life of a couple.


However, this Christological vision is not in itself totally inaccessible to nonbelievers themselves. Not only does it have its own coherence, which points to Christ as the sole foundation of what we believe, but it also reveals the greatness of the human couple who can speak to a conscience, even to one that is a stranger to the mystery of Christ. Moreover, the human point of view as such can be explicitly integrated into the mystery of Christ under the heading of the first Adam, from whom the second and last Adam is never separable. To show this clearly in the case of marriage would open the present reflection to other horizons that cannot be treated here. We have wished to recall above all how Christ is the true foundation, often ignored by Christians themselves, of their own marriage insofar as it is a sacrament.