Marriage radiates the grandeur of the cosmos and the whole of salvation history because it reflects the wondrous purpose of all God’s works: our eternal union with him in Christ. Jesus himself revealed the divine beauty of marriage when he declared himself to be the Bridegroom who embraces us by drawing us to himself and by giving himself to us and for us on the Cross and in the Eucharist.
In this light, Paul was able to declare that the creation of the human race as male and female, husband and wife, was patterned on the union of Christ and the Church. The reality of marriage thus inseparably joins the distinct divine works of creation and salvation. Because God created humanity both in the image of the Trinity and in the image of Christ and the Church, the meaning of the cosmos can be found only in the transformation of the children of Adam and Eve into the adopted children of God, united forever with him in that new creation which is the Wedding Feast of the Lamb and his bride, the Church.
This exalted vision of marriage is the exact opposite of a mere “ideal.” It is the nitty-gritty reality and foundation of our existence as human beings. Our physical bodies, differentiated as male and female and united in the procreative union of husband and wife have been fashioned to reflect the fruitful union of Christ and the Church. Our emotional life and its coordination with our spiritual capacities for knowledge and love are the very basis by which we are enabled to give ourselves and receive one another in the totality of our person, body and soul, within the relations of family, friendship, and marriage.
We would not have this particular physical, emotional, and spiritual structure unless God created us to be capable of personal union with others and, by grace, of union with himself. For this reason, every person is a living witness to the mystery hidden in our body-soul existence, and in the conjugal union of marriage. As individuals and married couples we are embodiments of God’s nuptial plan revealed in Jesus. It is encoded in our DNA.
In Genesis, the union of Adam and Eve is ordered to their sharing of life and labor as cooperators in God’s works of creation and salvation. Similarly, in the New Testament the union of Christ and the Church makes his disciples sharers in his life and saving work as members of his body and bride. When Jesus returns, this participation in the divine life will unite redeemed humanity to the Trinity in eternal joy.
The beauty of this nuptial plan would be shattered were God to be unfaithful to his purpose declared in creation and in Christ. Having fashioned us for union with himself, were God now to alter his will, our existence and that of the whole cosmos would be frustrated to an unimaginable degree. It would, quite simply, make existence Hell because we would never be united to him who is our origin and our goal, our love and our hope, our life and our all.
These marital realities form the foundation of covenant theology in the Scriptures. God is unfailingly faithful in his generous, wise, and loving work of drawing humanity to himself. Neither Israel nor the Church has any claim on him rooted in their own actions, certainly not in the face of sin. He is the faithful spouse; we are the adulterers.
Yet his fidelity expresses an infinite mercy that calls us to conversion and to sharing his life through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by which he comes to dwell in us and we in him. For that purpose, the Word took flesh and returned to the Father by way of the Cross. He is the faithful spouse who purifies his bride and brings her home. This unwavering fidelity led Paul to assert: “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)
Only on the basis of Christ’s fidelity, poured into our heart by the indwelling of the Trinity, can we hope to remain faithful. Humanly speaking this is impossible, but “with God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)
In the present crisis regarding marriage, those who say it is sometimes impossible for Christians to remain faithful to the vow made to a spouse and to God (such as when the marriage is irreparably broken or has been replaced by a second union) have forgotten the meaning of Christ, the human person, marriage, and the cosmos, which all declare the glory of God and his fidelity. This is no development of doctrine or relaxing of Church discipline. It is the complete overthrow of the Christian vision of God and human existence.
Were there a single case in which fidelity to a spouse or to God was impossible for a Christian, this would mean that God’s fidelity had failed. Perversely, infidelity in that instance would be rooted in God’s infidelity of withdrawing his grace and/or misleading us through Jesus and the Church’s false teaching regarding the obligations of the Gospel.
Far from being realistic and merciful, the suggestions being made are heartless and cruel abstractions that imply that Jesus’ fidelity is not always available to us. This makes a mockery of those who have lived chastely, after a broken marriage, in fidelity to their earthly and heavenly spouses. The proponents of these theories must name a case in which God and Christ are unfaithful before they presume to permit a Christian to be unfaithful in the slightest matter. That is the concrete, real, personal truth of the Gospel.
Mercy will not be found in exchanging the beauty of marriage for a lifeless illusion. It will be found, as it ever has been, by allowing Jesus to draw us to himself on the Cross and learning that with him we can be faithful even unto death.