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A conversation with Christ on the foundations of the family/
The Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage

1st Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 5 September 1979 - also in French, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. For some time now preparations have been underway for the next ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops, which will take place in Rome in the autumn of next year. The theme of the Synod, "De muneribus familiae christianae" (The Mission of the Christian family) concentrates our attention on this community of human and Christian life, which from the beginning has been fundamental. Precisely this expression "from the beginning" was used by the Lord Jesus in his conversation about marriage, reported in the Gospels of St Matthew and St Mark. We want to ask ourselves what this word ("beginning") means. We also want to clarify why Christ referred to the "beginning" exactly on that occasion and, therefore, we propose a more precise analysis of the relative text of Holy Scripture.

2. Jesus Christ referred twice to the "beginning", during his conversation with the Pharisees, who posed to him the question about the indissolubility of marriage. The discussion went as follows: "Some Pharisees came up to him to test him and asked him: 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?' And he answered, "Have you not read that from
the beginning the Creator created them male and female, and said, 'Thus a man shall leave his father and mother and be united/joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man put asunder." They objected, 'Why then did Moses command to give him a certificate of divorce to repudiate her?' Jesus answered them, 'For your hardness of heart Moses permitted/allowed you to divorce your wives, but in the beginning it was not thus'" (Mt 19, 3ff, cf Mk 10, 2ff).

Christ did not accept the discussion at the level at which his interlocutors sought to introduce it, in a certain sense he did not approve of the dimension that they had sought to give to the problem. He avoided getting caught up in juridico-casuistical controversies; and instead he referred twice to the "beginning". By acting thus, he made a clear reference to the relative words in the Book of Genesis which his interlocutors also knew by memory/heart. From those words of ancient revelation, Christ drew the conclusion and the conversation ended.

3. "Beginning" means therefore that which is spoken about in the Book of Genesis. Hence it is Genesis 1, 27 that Christ cites, in summary form: "In the beginning the Creator created them male and female", while the complete original passage reads textually as follows: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them". Subsequently, the Master recalled Genesis 2, 24: "Therefore a man will leave his father and his mother and will unite himself/cleave to his wife and the two will become one flesh". Citing/Quoting these words almost "in extenso", in full, Christ gave them an even more explicit normative meaning (since it could be supported that in the Book of Genesis they express de facto statements: "will leave ... will unite himself/cleave .. will become one flesh"). The normative meaning is plausible since Christ did not confine himself only to the quotation itself, but added: "Thus they are no longer two but only one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate/put asunder." That "not separate/
/put asunder" is decisive. In the light of these words of Christ, Genesis 2, 24 enunciates the principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content of the word of God, expressed in the most ancient revelation.

4. It could be maintained at this point that the problem is exhausted, that Jesus Christ's words confirm the eternal law formulated and set up by God from "the beginning" as the creation of man. It might also seem that the Master, confirming this original law of the Creator, did nothing but establish exclusively his own normative meaning, referring to the authority itself of the first Legislator. However, that significant expression "from the beginning," repeated twice, clearly induced his interlocutors to reflect on the way in which man was formed in the mystery of creation, precisely as "male and female," in order to understand correctly the normative sense of the words of Genesis. This is no less valid for the people of today than for those of that time. Therefore, in the present study, considering all this, we must put ourselves precisely in the position of Christ's interlocutors today.

5. During the following Wednesday reflections at the general audiences, we will try, as Christ's interlocutors today, to dwell at greater length on St. Matthew's words (19:3ff.). To respond to the indication, inserted in them by Christ, we will try to penetrate toward that "beginning," to which he referred in such a significant way. Thus we will follow from a distance the great work which participants in the forthcoming Synod of Bishops are undertaking on this subject just now. Together with them, numerous groups of pastors and laymen are taking part in it, feeling especially responsible with regard to the role which Christ assigned to marriage and the Christian family, the role that he has always given, and still gives in our age, in the modern world.

The cycle of reflections we are beginning today, with the intention of continuing it during the following Wednesday meetings, also has the purpose, among other things, of accompanying from afar, so to speak, the work of preparation for the Synod. However, it will not touch its subject directly, but will turn our attention to the deep roots from which this subject springs."