Marriage one and indissoluble in first chapters of Genesis

On 21 November the General Audience was held in two parts—in the Basilica and in the Paul VI Hall. To the Italian-speaking pilgrims in the Basilica the Holy Father spoke as follows:

1. Let us recall that Christ, when questioned about the unity and indissolubility of marriage, referred to what was "in the beginning". He quoted the words written in the first chapters of Genesis. We are trying, therefore, in the course of these reflections, to penetrate the specific meaning of these words and these chapters.

The meaning of the original unity of man, whom God created "male and female", is obtained (particularly in the light of Genesis 2:23) by knowing man in the entire endowment of his being, that is, in all the riches of that mystery of creation, on which theological anthropology is based. This knowledge, that is, the study of the human identity of the one who, at the beginning, is "alone", must always pass through duality, "communion".

Let us recall the passage of Genesis 2:23: "Then the man said, 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man'".  In the light of this text, we understand that knowledge of man passes through masculinity and femininity, which are, as it were, two "incarnations" of the same metaphysical solitude, before God and the world—two ways, as it were, of "being a body" and at the same time a man, which complete each other—two complementary dimensions, as it were, of self-consciousness and self-determination and, at the same time, two complementary ways of being conscious of the meaning of the body.

As Genesis 2:23 already shows, femininity finds itself, in a sense, in the presence of masculinity, while masculinity is confirmed through femininity. Precisely the function of sex, which is, in a sense, "a constituent part of the person" (not just "an attribute of the person"), proves how deeply man, with all his spiritual solitude, with the uniqueness, never to be repeated, of his person, is constituted by the body as "he" or "she". The presence of the feminine element, alongside the male element and together with it, signifies an enrichment for man in the whole perspective of his history, including the history of salvation. All this teaching on unity has already been expressed originally in Genesis 2:23.

Rediscover the mystery of creation

2. The unity of which Genesis 2:24 speaks ("they become one flesh"), is undoubtedly what is expressed and realized in the conjugal act. The biblical formulation, extremely concise and simple, indicates sex, femininity and masculinity, as that characteristic of man—male and female—which permits them, when they become "one flesh", to submit at the same time their whole humanity to the blessing of fertility. However, the whole context of the lapidary formulation does not permit us to stop at the surface of human sexuality, does not allow us to deal with the body and sex outside the full dimension of man and of the "communion of persons", but obliges us right from the beginning to see the fullness and depth characteristic of this unity, which man and woman must constitute in the light of the revelation of the body.

Therefore, first of all, the perspective expression which says: "a man cleaves to his wife" so intimately that "they become one flesh", always induces us to refer to what the biblical text expresses previously with regard to the union in humanity, which binds the woman and the man in the very mystery of creation. The words of Genesis 2:23, just analysed, explain this concept in a particular way. Man and woman, uniting with each other (in the conjugal act) so closely as to become "one flesh", rediscover, so to speak, every time and in a special way, the mystery of creation. They return in this way to that union in humanity ("flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones"), which allows them to recognize each other and, like the first time, to call each other by name.

This means reliving, in a sense, the original virginal value of man, which emerges from the mystery of  his solitude before God and in the midst of the world. The fact that they become "one flesh" is a powerful bond established by the Creator, through which they discover their own humanity, both in its original unity, and in the duality of a mysterious mutual attraction.

Sex, however, is something more than the mysterious power of human corporality, which acts almost by virtue of instinct. At the level of man and in the mutual relationship of persons, sex expresses an ever new surpassing of the limit of man's solitude that is inherent in the constitution of his body, and determines its original meaning. This surpassing always contains within it a certain assumption of the solitude of the body of the second "self" as one's own.

Choice establishes pact

3. Therefore it is bound up with choice. The very formulation of Genesis 2:24 indicates not only that human beings, created as man and woman, were created for unity, but also that precisely this unity, through which they become "one flesh", has right from the beginning a character of union derived from a choice. We read, in fact: "a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife". If the man belongs "by nature" to his father and mother, by virtue of procreation, he, on the other hand, "cleaves" by choice to his wife (or she to her husband).

The text of Genesis 2:24 defines this character of the conjugal bond with reference to the first man and the first woman, but at the same time, it does so also in the perspective of the whole earthly future of man. Therefore, in his time, Christ will appeal to that text, as equally relevant in his age. Formed in the image of God, also inasmuch as they form a true communion of persons, the first man and the first woman must constitute the beginning and the model of that communion for all men and women, who, in any period, are united so intimately as to be "one flesh".

The body, which through its own masculinity or femininity, right from the beginning helps both ("a helper fit for him") to find themselves in communion of persons, becomes, in a particular way, the constituent element of their union, when they become husband and wife. This takes place, however, through a mutual choice. It is the choice that establishes the conjugal pact between persons ( 1), who become "one flesh" only on this basis.

Self-giving of persons

4. That corresponds to the structure of man's solitude, and in actual fact to the "twofold solitude". Choice, as the expression of self-determination, rests on the foundation of his self-consciousness. Only on the basis of the structure peculiar to man is he "a body" and, through the body, also male and female. When they both unite so closely as to become "one flesh", their conjugal union presupposes a mature consciousness of the body. In fact, it bears within it a particular consciousness of the meaning of that body in the mutual self-giving of the persons.

In this sense, too, Genesis 2:24 is a perspective text. It proves, in fact, that in every conjugal union of man and woman there is discovered again the same original consciousness of the unifying significance of the body in its masculinity and femininity. With that the biblical text indicates, at the same time, that in each of these unions there is renewed, in a way, the mystery of creation in all its original depth and vital power. "Taken out of man" as "flesh of his flesh", woman subsequently becomes, as "wife" and through her motherhood, mother of the living (cf. Gen 3:20), since her motherhood also has its origin in him. Procreation is rooted in creation, and every time, in a sense, reproduces its mystery.

5. A special reflection: "Knowledge and procreation" will be devoted to this subject. In it, it will be necessary to refer further to other elements of the biblical text. The analysis made hitherto of the meaning of the original unity proves in what way that unity of man and woman, inherent in the mystery of creation, is "from the beginning" also given as a commitment in the perspective of all following times.


1) "The intimate partnership of life and the love which constitutes the married state has been established by the creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws: it is rooted in the contract of its partners, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent" (GS 48). 

L'Osservatore Romano November 26, 1979
Reprinted with permission