LEO XIII 1878-1903

Christian Marriage *


[From the Encyclical, “Arcanum divinae sapientiae,” February l0, 1880]


1853 To the apostles as masters are to be referred the accepted matters which our holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Universal Church have always taught [see n. 970], namely, that Christ our Lord raised matrimony to the dignity of a sacrament, and at the same time brought it about that the spouses strengthened and fortified by heavenly grace which His merits procured, obtain sanctity in the marriage; and that in it, marvelously conformed to the model of the mystical marriage of Himself with the Church, He perfected a love which is befitting to nature [Cone. Trid. sess. 24, C. I de reform. matr.; cf. n. 969], and He cemented the union of man and woman, indivisible by its own nature, more strongly by the bond of divine love. . . .


1854 And the distinction put forward especially by royal legists must not disturb anyone, in which they separate the nuptial contract from the sacrament, with, of course, this purpose, that, while reserving the conditions of the sacrament to the Church, they may hand over the contract to the power and will of the chiefs of the State. For such a distinction or, more truly, a severance, cannot be approved, since it has been proved that in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament; and so it cannot be a true and legitimate contract without being a sacrament, for this very reason. For, Christ our Lord honored marriage with the dignity of a sacrament; but marriage is the contract itself, provided it is lawfully made. In addition, marriage is a sacrament for this reason, because it is a holy sign, both giving grace and conveying an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the Church. Moreover, the form and figure of these nuptials are expressed by the very bond of the supreme union in which man and woman are bound together, and which is nothing other than marriage itself. And thus it is evident that every just union between Christians is in itself and by itself a sacrament; and that nothing is more inconsistent with truth than the belief that the sacrament is a kind of added ornament, or an external property which can be disengaged and separated from the contract according to man’s pleasure.

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