From Mark: Meditations on the Gospel of Mark (Ignatius Press, 2012), by Adrienne von Speyr:
“But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh.” (10:6–8)
We will contemplate: 1. the creation of the sexes, 2. being one flesh, 3. no longer being two.
1. “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female." One can take this in different ways: God created Adam, and Eve was already prefigured in Adam so that, in order to create the woman, God did not take anything new or uncreated but made her out of Adam’s rib. Or: God made man and woman, just as before them he created the animals in pairs. In this twofold dimension of the sexes lies a structure that characterizes not only the natural world but also the supernatural and includes the Church, a structure that from the beginning was not only intimated but already present. She endured many vacillations throughout her history, but in her essence she remained the same. You know that when the Son of God became man, he restored this twofold being of man by creating the Church as his Bride. And when a man or a woman renounces natural marriage in the life of the evangelical counsels, they do not give up this twofold being. Rather, they place their life wholly within the nuptial relationship between Christ and the Church by allowing themselves to be initiated into this relationship. The Lord not only places maleness and femaleness at the beginning of his explanation, he not only presupposes it, he carries it all the way through. Being alone is not a possibility; even the hermit is not alone, for he is with God. There are cases where it does not matter whether one is a man or a woman, but a complement is nevertheless necessary. The man or woman who consecrates his life to God without marriage receives this complement from God. This completion is full of fruitfulness, is as fruitful as the completion God gave to Adam when God made woman from Adam’s flesh.
2. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” We cannot imagine the unity they form together other than as a completion that points toward fruitfulness. Being simply one, solitude as opposed to being two, is sterility. Alone, one cannot generate, cannot give birth to anything. Unity must have known the prior tension of being two and have become a unity through this tension, in obedience to God’s commandment to be fruitful.
We do not know how this fleshly unity of man and woman would have come about if sin had not entered the picture. We know only that now, oneness in the flesh is bound up with a kind of humiliation. In order to perform the sexual act, the man demands a humiliation of the woman. And on her part, the woman glimpses in the act, along with all the love that is in it, a humiliation of the man, so that the question remains open what the oneness in the flesh would have looked like if sin had not interfered, if the woman did not give birth in pain and the man did not have to experience the hardness of work. This is a theological problem. It is certain that God intended from the beginning this possibility of oneness in the flesh, since he created man in two sexes. This unity is so powerful that it breaks open every unity prior to it: the family, life with father and mother. Every bond that has this oneness as its goal simultaneously implies separation, renunciation. Just as any gift of God at the same time contains the seed of a renunciation. If a gift were so structured that no possibility of sacrifice and renunciation could be discerned in it, we would have to be very skeptical. It would hardly be a gift of God; rather, it would be a temptation. The greatest proof of this lies in the Incarnation of the Son, whose Passion we cannot contemplate except as the Father’s gift to him. In the gift of the Incarnation, all suffering is contained; suffering and renunciation are the sign of the genuineness of the joy of the gift.
And just as sin threatens the unity between man and wife in the world, indeed, can so rupture it that often there is nothing left of it, every sin ruptures our unity with God. If there had been no sin, Adam and Eve would have had the possibility of being perfectly one in God, each of them in God and each in perfect agreement with the other in God, so that the question of marriage or non-marriage would never have been posed. Rather, all would have taken the one path indicated by God.
“What therefore God has bound together, let not man put asunder.”(10:9 AvS) We will contemplate: 1. the way in which God binds, 2. the prohibition against dividing, 3. the application of the law.
1. “What therefore God has bound together”. How does God bind? He binds in the sacrament. It is as if the Son embodied all sacraments in himself and served as the bond, the link between God the Father and men. And what the Father binds through him may not be divided. It is not hard to think of the Son as the place or, better, the embodiment of the sacraments, as their life and being, for he came into the world through the Spirit, who planted him as God’s seed in the womb of the Virgin. At the baptism, he receives the Spirit again, who then dwells and works in him as the Spirit of God, the trinitarian Spirit, because already from the moment of the Incarnation the Son is the predestined link between heaven and earth. When he took on the form of a man, he did not lose his divinity; he brought it with him and keeps it in him, in order to pass it on in a Christian way. Everything he does bears the mark of his nature that binds. As long as he remains on earth, he perceives the world just as we experience it, and at the same time he possesses the invisible vision of the Father; his one glance embraces earth and heaven. So he binds. He binds because he himself is the bond. He is the bond in order to mediate; he possesses in order to give. What God binds is first of all everything Christian, everything he gave to us through his Son. He binds us through every reception of the sacraments. He binds us through every communion. He already binds us in baptism. He binds us again in confirmation. He binds us in the vows. He binds in the sacrament of the dying. And he also binds in marriage. Marriage does not escape this law of binding through God. The man is free to choose the woman he wishes, but as soon as this choice is sealed through the sacrament, the marriage is indissoluble. It receives its own nature; it exists in itself as the product of a binding word of God. The Lord himself, in whom all the sacraments are grounded, instituted marriage in a sacramental, indissoluble form.
2. “Let not man put asunder.” Who would divide? Obviously not God, for God’s decisions are eternal. Everything he does from heaven, even if its effect seems to be worked out wholly in the world, even if it seems to fit our human measure, our changeable conditions, the brief time allotted to us—everything remains eternal. God does not decide in one way today in order to decide in another way tomorrow. Of course, he can broaden his decisions, he can—from the human perspective— change them; but from the divine perspective, all his decisions and directives are irrevocable. They can be preliminary steps to a higher step. But they cannot at one and the same time contain a Yes and a No. Thus, God cannot divide that which he has bound. Only man can divide, the man who would take it upon himself to claim that God’s law has only a limited validity. He as man would have the right to limit this validity according to his own measure. But man may not do this, for if he allows himself to be bound by God, this means that he acknowledges the divine form of the bond and that he submits his time, with all that is changeable in it, to the will of God, who alone decides in its regard.
3. Application. It could be that two people get married in a kind of infatuation, in the decision of a moment, but really without the intention of definitively binding themselves. But if they ask for the sacrament, they are demanding precisely the bond that God alone can give. Although they may be blinded by their infatuation and their love does not at all bear the mark of something final, they nonetheless demand the finality of the sacrament, drawing God’s consent into their bond as its core. This core belongs to God and remains at his disposal as a visible sign that, here, God has bound and that the partners—even if they had a thousand reasons for it—can no longer divide themselves. In emergencies, the Church recognizes an external separation, but the partners do not receive with it the freedom to enter into another bond. That is the extreme case admitted by the Church. Protestants, who insist so much on the letter of the Gospel, act in a completely arbitrary way with this passage; they bless marriages, read this passage at every wedding, and maybe already a year later, the same people, separated, can stand before the same minister to be bound definitively again. The same Gospel is read, including the verse, “What therefore God has bound together, let not man put asunder.” Perhaps the contrast between the churches is most visible here. But the word of the Lord may never be interpreted in such a way that it is weakened and turned into its opposite.
Let us conclude by asking God to show us ever more clearly from this verse how firmly the sacraments bind us and how uniquely and indissolubly God has bound himself to us in them through his Son. May he help us to understand from this the finality of every single sacrament.
On Ignatius Insight:
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