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Marriage Covenant-a Heavenly Reality.

In this decisive moment where marriage and family life is being challenged and threatened, it is important that we restate exactly what marriage is. What constitutes marriage? And why it is so crucial to begin again to learn why marriage is a covenant between a male and a female. Unless this happens then all other types of “marriage” become possible. Just as some wish to redefine marriage to incorporate various combinations so those who believe marriage to be a covenant need to fight to reclaim and teach what is the true nature of marriage. To this end understanding what is a covenant? What is a contract? And what is the difference between the two and how this difference is the essence of a true marriage.

Whilst it is important to enter into the fray to vigorously defend marriage via the legal system, political or even secular system, this is not the most important weapon for fighting this demonic attack against the future of humanity. It is important, but not the most important. Entering into the fray using the legal/secular system to win is almost a guarantee of losing, because the legal system seeks secular justice and not moral justice, and on a natural plane, justice demands that all, including those who have desires which are intrinsically wrong, are accorded this justice. On the natural plane all things become possible as long as it appears that a good is being countenanced. We need to fight on our terms. That is, defending of God’s honour and justice, and defending God’s idea of morality. Unless this is done we may win minor scuffles, or even public debates, but the agenda for the destruction of marriage, family, life, remains in place. To this end let us begin anew and relearn and rebuild what we understand to be an eternal covenant.

So what is a covenant and why is it important to see marriage as a covenant?

A secular understanding of the term “covenant” suggests that it is an agreement, with certain stipulations, which must be met by the covenant parties. The reduction of the term “covenant” to such an understanding can and does cheat mankind of an understanding of “covenant” as something more than contract.
The covenant idea is central to our knowledge of God and Scripture.

While our society uses the terms “covenant” and “contract” interchangeably, the differences between them are profound. With a contract what is exchanged are “things” whereas with covenant what is exchanged is “essence of self”. Contracts exchange the material. Covenants exchange the essence of the human being.

D.J. McCarthy defines covenant, “ as a means by which the ancient world took to extend relationships beyond the natural unity of blood”. To be related by blood means a familial relationship. However, to extend this type of relationship, it is done via means of a covenant. Indeed covenant is a type of familial bond based on an oath.[1] The Hebrew word for covenant berit means to “bind” or to “fetter” and in its etymology the word means to bind together by blood.(Lv 1:5e) There is sacredness to the relationship, which is related by blood or by extension, by covenant, because these relationships cannot be broken as the individuals are “fettered.”

God’s word in scripture is based on a series of covenants. Indeed we see how important the covenant idea is to God, and how very much He is involved in the covenants which He establishes with His people.[2] Through the covenants and under this symbol, God “binds” or ties Himself to the human family. The relationship is sacred because it is based on God’s “binding” love for His family (Ps 100, 145, 150, 1Jn 4:7). We can understand the covenants and the importance of them by looking at the progression of the covenant structures and how they “grew” from the first ever-made covenant which was a marriage covenant (Adam and Eve), followed by family covenant (Noah). A tribal covenant (Abraham). National covenant (Moses). Kingdom covenant (David), and finally the definitive overarching universal covenant with Jesus His Son. Over time, God instituted covenants and designed them so as to incorporate larger and larger dimensions of humankind until finally the definitive covenant with Jesus is made. The new family begun by the new Adam (Jesus). Through the covenants God established the means by which imperceptibly, He expanded and extended His relationship until the time when His unique and ultimate relationship in and through Jesus is fulfilled and sealed in and through the new covenant.

To think of “covenant” it is also important to think about the concept of “oath.” These two terms appear interchangeably. (Ez 16:59, 17:13,16,18, Lk.1: 73, Mal 2: 14-17, Ps 105:8-9). There is an oath sworn when a covenant is made. It is the oath, which unites individuals in a lifelong “fettered” covenantal relationship. It is a promise of faithfulness in and to the relationship. The words “I will” spoken by the covenanting couple, (marriage) or by God, (to His people) “you are my people and I will be your God,” (Ez. 31:31) are the pledge of fidelity, “or sacred oath sworn by the faithful love with which Christ loves His Church and sanctifies her through His sacrificial love.”[3] It is the love of God which is the bonding and binding agent which will reside within the covenanted parties in order to give strength and perseverance when it is required.

St. Augustine also understood St. Paul’s word “mysterion” to mean Sacramentum or “oath” which Jesus Christ swore for and on behalf of His bride. As Adam had failed to protect his bride (Eve) and therefore not loving her into eternal life, so Jesus’ Sacramentum (oath) for an on behalf of His bride was that He would remain faithful to her until the end of time. (Mt: 28:20). Fidelity to the Sacramentum (oath) ensured a re imaging of the bride into a reflection of the groom. “The Sacramentum of marriage was therefore not only a sacred sign of a divine reality but it was also a sacred bond between a husband and wife.” [4] The covenant, Sacramentum, because of its divine origin, could not be rendered empty or barren. The covenant Sacramentum was until death and could not be dissolved, because it took on the character of family bond (chain, fetter) and therefore unbreakable. Just as Jesus’ fidelity toward His bride is until death or until the “end of time” so too is the bond between a covenanted married couple, (male/female) unto “the end of time” (Mt. 28:20) and “Until death us do part” (marriage oath).

Marriage was not always understood as a sacrament imbued with sacred properties, but it has been clearly understood from the beginning that marriage, was in the desires and designs of God. From the very beginning, marriage, relationship, and procreation was not cursed (Gn1-3) These were blessed and remained blessed.[5] God blessed marriage, with a special blessing which makes clear its goodness “as proof of His blessing, receive from God, children who crowd about the family table.”[6] Herein lies the difficulty with the newly sought-after redefinitions of marriage (same gender marriages) they cannot receive blessing from God because children cannot legitimately be awaited as a fruit of that blessing. Children cannot crowd around the table because the relationship by the nature of the couple is inherently barren, illicit and fruitless. Redefinitions cannot be blessed irrespective of how much or how many or how devoted are the desires or even the intentions of those calling for them.

“Human marriage finds its eternal and proper reality, in the bridal relationship of God with His people.”[7] . With Jesus and His Bride. (male and female). Perhaps in the mysterious nature of covenant, it may be possible to see why marriage is both indissoluble and between a man and a woman. It is marital relationship unto death. It is a relationship of fecundity. It is steadfastness in the face of infidelity. The character of marriage covenant is one of fecundity, fidelity and steadfastness. Any one of these elements missing then renders the marriage covenant dissolvable and therefore not a fulfilled covenant.. Fecundity in a same gender marriage is decidedly impossible and therefore the union becomes not a covenant marriage, but instead a contracted association where goods and services, or even a friendship might be exchanged, but cannot be the two selves donating their essence to each other and creating of a new “other” because of the exchange. A friendship yes…marriage no.

Jewish progressive understanding of their relationship to God was seen imaged “ not from human marriage to divine covenant but from divine covenant to human marriage.”[8] So in Old Testament times the Hebrew people “gradually discovered an explicit place for marriage in the religious scheme of life.”[9] Marriage for the Hebrew people gradually acquired a dimension of sacredness because a new meaning was read into the relationship between Yahweh and His people and Yahweh’s character, that is faithfulness, self-giving and steadfast love. “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jer 31:3 cf. Ez 16:63: Is 54:7-8). The prophets Hosea, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Malachi turned frequently to the image of marriage “marriage became, as it were, a mirror in which something of God’s love was seen as reflected.” [10]

The idea of covenant relationship is continued in the New Testament. The new covenant entered into by God and His people is facilitated through God’s own Son Jesus Christ and His redeeming action on Calvary. Through His death and resurrection Jesus established the new covenant in which He unites Himself to His people (1 Cor 11:25). His blood sealed the covenant and fulfilled all the stipulations set out, “just as Moses sealed the Old Covenant in blood, from animals offered as “peace offerings” [11] Old Testament covenants, whilst initiated by God Himself, always involved human responses and therefore temporary. The New Testament espousal, between God and humankind has been accomplished by Jesus Christ and is eternal. This covenant, and the relationship between the covenants partners Jesus and His bride, the Church, is assured because of His words “I am with you always” (Mt. 28:20). The new covenant may be seen in the context of the “great mystery” of God’s mighty acts in and through Jesus Christ and His mystical body the church.” [12]

The new covenant of Jesus Christ is realized, actualized and consummated within His new creation. In union with His spouse the Church they give birth to children for God’s Kingdom. Children who have looked to the family and whose parents (Jesus and His bride the Church) can rest in the eternal Sabbath (sign of covenant).

To understand covenants it must first be understood that covenants are not only what God “does” with human persons but also “what” God is. God’s promises are kept because He is the promise itself and for humankind the promise was redemption through His own design and using what He had originally made, that is, the highest of His creation, the human person. The history of covenants is the timeline of salvation and each new covenant took into account expansion of what He had made until finally in Jesus, He Himself, becomes what He has made, in order to fulfill His own promise to redeem. In Old Testament dispensation Yahweh God slowly emerged as the “Bridegroom” a symbol of divine fidelity unlike Adam (infidelity). In the New Testament it is Jesus who is the “bridegroom.” Jesus is the ultimate symbol of “bridegroom” because He is both the divine and the human bridegroom par excellence. Jesus loves His “bride.” In death He gave birth to her, (Church) and with utmost fidelity He loves her. Unlike Adam of old He dies for His bride in order to give birth to her and unlike Adam of old He “binds” Himself to her in faithfulness, and fruitfulness “in this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation.”[13]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has this to say, “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak, the Eucharist. Christian Marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.” (CCC 1617)[14] Indeed it can truly be called a sacrament of the new covenant because it is a sacrament of persons in love with one another. The covenant of marriage is a covenant preserved by one clause – love, faithfulness and endurance and this model of love is based upon the love of Christ (bridegroom) for His very own bride. “It is the model and pattern of all human love.”[15]

The late Blessed Holy Father, John Paul II has seen marriage as the restoration of the “primordial sacrament” the perfect harmony of the “covenant” in creation in Eden- a covenant with God and between man and woman. In the covenant of grace and election, God choosing us and espousing Himself to us. St. Paul in Ephesians revealed marriage as the “sacrament of redemption.” [16] By Baptism men and women, are drawn through marriage, into the eternal spousal covenant of Christ. Matrimony is the sacrament of the new covenant because it is the sacrament of the great “mystery” (Eph 5:32) of Jesus Christ and His Church.

Relationships, according to St. Paul, had to be lived in the Lord, the way Christ gave Himself in love to His bride the Church, and the Church received and submitted with the same love. So too, human marriage was to have those same characteristics. Donation in love is the supreme understanding. Covenant love, both old and new, is underpinned by unhindered “donation” of self in a dimension of divine love. Total, free, fruitful loving donation of self, is the mystery of love, because it is a reflection of a greater love, which is divine love. Marriage as a Christian Sacrament draws on the theology of the covenant relationship between God and Israel, and Christ and the Church.

Redefinition of marriage to incorporate other combinations (same sex and other types of coupling) is therefore illegitimate and cannot be called “marriage” because marriage in its original design (since time immemorial) has inscribed within it nuptial fecundity which is only possible between male and female. Not fecundity outside of the couple but as an encounter which forms one fruitful flesh. It is in marriage that human beings are most like God (God self donates in love perpetually and is fruitfully) creative. God blessed them and commanded them also to be fruitful and multiply. (Gn 1-3) In the natural plane same sex coupling and other coupling cannot be fruitful. God designed one male and one female (Gn 1:27) so that they have natural affinity. They have natural complimentarity. She is a part of him and he is a part of her but they are different. They fit together. They complete one another. What is lacking in male is brought to him by the female. What is lacking in the female is brought to her by the male. (they socialize and humanize one another). Together they form the “one flesh” which in due course is open to “one flesh” plus one new one, child fruit of marriage between one man and one woman, freely entered into and for the duration of life.

[1] D.J. McCarthy, Treaty and Covenant: A Study in Form in the Ancient Oriental Documents and in
The Old Testament, Anacleta Biblica 21a (revised text) Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, 1978,
Pp 253,256,295,296. cited in P.J. Elliott, What God Has Joined…pp 175
[2] M.G. Lawler, Secular Marriage, Christian Sacrament, (Mystic: Twenty-third Publications, 1985) p8

[3] B. Haring, C.SS.R. The New Covenant (London: Burns & Oates) p 203.
[4] Martos, J. Doors to the Sacred (London: SCM Press 1981) p407
[5] A.G. Martimort, The Signs of the New Covenant (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1963) p282
[6] A.G. Martimort, The Signs of the New Covenant, p282, 283
[7] R.Haughton, The Theology of Marriage p21
[8] M.G. Lawler, Secular Marriage, Christian Sacrament, p 11
[9] R. Haughton, The Theology of Marriage
[10] Geoffrey Robinson, “God’s Plan for Marriage, in Marriage and Nullity: A Guide to the Annulment
Process in the Catholic Church. (Melbourne: CollinsDove, 1989) pp1-13
[11] P.J Elliot, What God Has Joined…The sacramentality of Marriage (Homebush: St. Paul, 1990) p173

[12] P.J. Elliott, What God has Joined… p 174
[13] John Paul II Familiaris Consortio: The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern world.(Homebush: St. Paul Publications, 1982) p 26
[14] Catechism of the Catholic Church. Official Edition for Australia & New Zealand (Homebush:
St. Paul Publications, 1994)
[15] Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II. (Homebush: St. Paul
Publications, 1988) p92.
[16] Elliott, P.J., What God has Joined… p 175

Anne Lastman

Anne is a qualified post abortion grief counsellor and sexual abuse counsellor who has worked in this area for nearly 30 years. Over the years Anne has developed a recovery strategy, which works well for those who persevere with the programme. Anne continues to study post abortion grief and the related, sexual abuse grief, which manifest with similar symptoms.

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