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Analogy of Spousal Love Indicates the Radical Character of Grace

96 (of 129) - Catechesis by John Paul II on the Theology of the Body
General Audience, Wednesday 29 September 1982 - in Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. In the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33)—as in the prophets of the Old Testament (e.g., in Isaiah)—we find the great analogy of marriage or of the spousal love between Christ and the Church.

What function does this analogy fulfill in regard to the mystery revealed in the old and the new covenants? The answer to this question must be gradual. First of all, the analogy of spousal or conjugal love helps to penetrate the essence of the mystery. It helps to understand it up to a certain point, naturally, in an analogical way. It is obvious that the analogy of earthly human love of the husband for his wife, of human spousal love, cannot provide an adequate and complete understanding of that absolutely transcendent Reality which is the divine mystery, both as hidden for ages in God, and in its historical fulfillment in time, when "Christ so loved the Church and gave himself up for her" (Eph 5:25). The mystery remains transcendent in regard to this analogy as in regard to any other analogy, whereby we seek to express it in human language. At the same time, however, this analogy offers the possibility of a certain cognoscitive penetration into the essence of the mystery.

2. The analogy of spousal love permits us to understand in a certain way the mystery which for ages was hidden in God, and which in turn was realized by Christ, as a love proper to a total and irrevocable gift of self on the part of God to man in Christ. It is a question of "man" in the personal and at the same time communitarian dimension. (This communitarian dimension is expressed in the Book of Isaiah and in the prophets as "Israel," and in the Letter to the Ephesians as the "Church"; one could say: the People of God of the old and of the new covenant.) We may add that in both conceptions, in a certain sense the communitarian dimension is placed in the forefront. But it is not to such an extent as completely to hide the personal dimension, which, on the other hand, pertains simply to the essence of conjugal love. In both cases we are dealing rather with a significant "reduction of the community to the person":(1) Israel and the Church are considered as bride-person in relation to the bridegroom-person (Yahweh and Christ). Every concrete "I" should find itself in that biblical "we."

3. So then, the analogy which we are speaking of permits us to understand in a certain degree the revealed mystery of the living God who is Creator and Redeemer. (And as such he is, at the same time, God of the covenant.) It permits us to understand this mystery in the manner of a spousal love, just as it allows us to understand it also in the manner of a love of "compassion" (according to the text of Isaiah), or in the manner of a "paternal" love (according to the Letter to the Ephesians, especially in the first chapter). The above-mentioned ways of understanding the mystery are also without doubt analogical. The analogy of spousal love contains in itself a characteristic of the mystery, which is not directly emphasized either by the analogy of the love of compassion or by the analogy of paternal love (or by any other analogy used in the Bible to which we would have referred).

4. The analogy of spousal love seems to emphasize especially the aspect of the gift of self on the part of God to man, "for ages" chosen in Christ (literally: to "Israel," to the "Church")—a total (or rather radical) and irrevocable gift in its essential character, that is, as a gift. This gift is certainly radical and therefore total. We cannot speak of that totality in a metaphysical sense. Indeed, as a creature man is not capable of receiving the gift of God in the transcendental fullness of his divinity. Such a total gift (uncreated) is shared only by God himself in the triune communion of the Persons. On the contrary, God's gift of himself to man, which the analogy of spousal love speaks of, can only have the form of a participation in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pt 1:4), as theology makes clear with very great precision. Nevertheless, according to this measure, the gift made to man on the part of God in Christ is a total, that is, a radical gift, as the analogy of spousal love indicates. In a certain sense, it is all that God could give of himself to man, considering the limited faculties of man, a creature. In this way, the analogy of spousal love indicates the radical character of grace, of the whole order of created grace.

5. The foregoing seems to be what can be said in reference to the primary function of our great analogy, which has passed from the writings of the prophets of the Old Testament to the Letter to the Ephesians, where, as has already been noted, it underwent a significant transformation. The analogy of marriage, as a human reality in which spousal love is incarnated, helps to a certain degree and in a certain way to understand the mystery of grace as an eternal reality in God and as a historical fruit of mankind's redemption in Christ. However, we said before that this biblical analogy not only "explains" the mystery. On the other hand the mystery defines and determines the adequate manner of understanding the analogy, and precisely this element, in which the biblical authors see "the image and likeness" of the divine mystery. So then, the comparison of marriage (because of spousal love) to the relationship of Yahweh-Israel in the old covenant and of Christ-Church in the new covenant decides, at the same time, the manner of understanding marriage itself and determines this manner.

6. This is the second function of our great analogy. In the perspective of this function we approach the problem of sacrament and mystery, that is, in the general and fundamental sense, the problem of the sacramentality of marriage. This seems especially justified in the light of the analysis of the Letter to the Ephesians (5:21-33). Indeed, in presenting the relationship of Christ to the Church in the image of the conjugal union of husband and wife, the author of this letter speaks in the most general and at the same time fundamental way. He speaks not only of the fulfillment of the eternal divine mystery, but also of the way in which that mystery is expressed in the visible order, of the way in which it has become visible, and therefore has entered into the sphere of sign.

7. By the term "sign" we mean here simply the "visibility of the Invisible." The mystery for ages hidden in God—that is, invisible—has become visible first of all in the historical event of Christ. The relationship of Christ to the Church, which is defined in the Letter to the Ephesians as "a great mystery," constitutes the fulfillment and the concretization of the visibility of the mystery itself. The author of the Letter to the Ephesians compares the indissoluble relationship of Christ and the Church to the relationship between husband and wife, that is, to marriage—referring at the same time to the words of Genesis (2:24), which by God's creative act originally instituted marriage—turns our attention to what was already presented—in the context of the mystery of creation—as the "visibility of the Invisible," to the very "origin" of the theological history of man.

It can be said that the visible sign of marriage "in the beginning," inasmuch as it is linked to the visible sign of Christ and of the Church, to the summit of the salvific economy of God, transfers the eternal plan of love into the historical dimension and makes it the foundation of the whole sacramental order. It is a special merit of the author of the Letter to the Ephesians that he brought these two signs together, and made of them one great sign—that is, a great sacrament (sacramentum magnum)."

After the catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

Ai fedeli di espressione francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

Depuis plusieurs semaines, je commente un texte de la lettre aux Ephésiens, chapitre 5, qui établit une analogie entre l’amour humain des époux et l’amour du Christ pour l’Eglise, considérée comme son Epouse. Cette analogie nous fait pénétrer d’une certaine façon dans l’essence même du mystère de l’amour de Dieu, qui se donne de manière totale et irrévocable à l’homme dans le Christ, à l’homme considéré dans sa dimension personnelle - c’est-à-dire chacun de nous - et dans sa dimension communautaire, en tant que Peuple de Dieu, qui constitue l’Eglise. Ce don de Dieu fait que nous, ses créatures, participons à la nature divine, par la grâce.

L’analogie du mariage comme réalité humaine dans laquelle s’incarne l’amour conjugal nous aide à comprendre le mystère de la grâce comme réalité éternelle en Dieu et fruit “historique” de la rédemption de l’humanité dans le Christ.

* * *

Et maintenant, je salue le groupe nombreux et très international des Petites Sœurs de Jésus. Je sais que 33 d’entre elles, appartenant à 29 nations, viennent de faire leur profession perpétuelle. A toutes et à chacune, mes félicitations et mes vœux!

Au nom de l’Eglise, je suis heureux d’encourager une fois de plus l’Institut tout entier à incarner sur tous les coneinents l’amour brûlant du Père Charles de Foucauld pour la personne du Christ et sa prédilection pleine de tendresse pour les plus pauvres. Chères Petites Sœurs, vous n’aimerez jamais assez tous ces milieux dans lesquels vous avez choisi de vous enfouir “à cause de Jésus et de l’Evangile”, afin que le monde contemporain puisse croire à l’amour de Dieu. Mais en même temps - dans le plus grand respect des croyants non chrétiens ou des incroyants - ne manquez pas de participer à l’annonce explicite du Message révélé confié à l’Eglise, comme l’exhortation “Evangelii Nuntiandi” l’a si fortement rappelé. Enfin, laissez-moi vous encourager à demeurer radicalement fidèles au silence dans vos fraternités, à la contemplation prolongée, à la petitesse évangélique, à la pauvreté aussi effective que possible. L’Eglise, qui aime et soutient tous les Instituts, compte beaucoup sur la solidité et la fidélité du vôtre. Que Dieu vous accorde, ainsi qu’à vos familles et à vos amis ici présents, de nouvelles grâces! Au nom du Seigneur, je vous bénis avec l’affection que vous savez. Et je bénis également tous les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience.

Ai fedeli di lingua inglese

Dear brothers and sisters,

We have benne reflecting on the sacrament of marriage, and speaking about the Letter to the Ephesians and the Prophets of the Old Testament. And here we have discovered a great analogy between marriage and the conjugal love that Christ has for his Church.

This analogy helps us to understand to a certain extent the mystery that was hidden for centuries in God and, finally, revealed in Christ: the mystery of the living God who is both Creator and Redeemer. The analogy of conjugal love emphasizes, above all, the fact that God gives himself to man as a gift. On God’s part this gift is radical and total, even though the creature is not able to receive it in all its, transcendency.

This biblical analogy of the love of husband and wife helps to shed light on the mystery of God’s love for his people, but, at the same time, the mystery of God’s love gives us an insight into marriage, which is itself an image and reflection of the divine mystery. In other words, marriage explains God’s love; and God’s love reveals the meaning of marriage.

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians explains how this is done by means of a “sign” through which the invisible becomes visible. The visible sign of marriage is united to the visible sign of Christ and his Church, becoming one great sign, which is called a “great sacrament”.

* * *

I wish to express my pleasure in having visitors and pilgrims from different countries and continents.

A particular greeting goes to the group from Korea who are celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of the present Diocese of Pusan. I join with you in thanking God for all the blessings he has given to your local Church during this last quarter century.

* * *

I am pleased to greet the members of the International Shipping Conference who have come from various countries and who have wished to be present at this audience. It is my hope that your deliberations will contribute to the well-being of your fellow-citizens and further the cause of international and peace.

* * *

It gives me special joy to welcome the Board members and Consultants of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organisations who are meeting in Rome. You have explicitly stated that your presence here with the other faithful is meant to be an expression of your fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to the teachings of his Church, and that it manifests your loyalty to the Successor of Peter. For all of this I am profoundly grateful to you.

At the same time I pray that all your discussions during these days will truly assist you in preparing for your Assembly of Delegates, which is to take place next year in Canada. The effectiveness of the contributions that you will make as Catholic women in offering to the world a new community of love will be in proportion to the awareness that you have of your own true identity. This identity as redeemed women, sisters of the Lord Jesus who are called to the service of life and to the evangelization of the world, must be pondered in prayer ard expressed by the corporate witness of Christian femininity. And may Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Woman of all salvation history, assist you in your great mission and sustain you by her love.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit besonderer Freude grüße ich auch euch in eurer Muttersprache. Ich heiße euch herzlich willkommen zu dieser Audienz und bete für euch, daß euer Glaube und eure Liebe zur Kirche Christi durch euren Rombesuch bestärkt und vertieft werden.

In unseren Überlegungen befassen wir uns weiterhin mit dem Vergleich der Liebe von Mann und Frau mit dem Bund zwischen Christus und der Kirche. Diese Analogie, von der der Epheserbrief spricht, hilft uns, ein wenig in das Geheimnis der Liebe Gottes zu uns Menschen einzudringen. Wir erkennen durch diesen bildlichen Vergleich die göttliche Liebe als ganzheitliche und unwiderrufliche Selbsthingabe Gottes an den Menschen in Christus. Die Selbstmitteilung Gottes geschieht in ihrer höchsten Form in Gott selbst, zwischen den drei göttlichen Personen; dem Geschopf gegenüber kann sie nur in der Weise der Teilnahme an der göttlichen Natur erfolgen. Aber auch für den Menschen ist die gnadenhafte Selbstmitteilung Gottes, wenn auch begrenzt, doch total und vollkommen, nämlich entsprechend seinem Fassungsvermögen und seinen Fähigkeiten.

Schließlich läßt uns der Vergleich der Liebe Gottes zu den Menschen mit der bräutlichen Liebe der Eheleute auch die Ehe selbst tiefer verstehen. Er verhilft uns zur Erkenntnis ihrer Sakramentalität.

Mit besten Wünschen für euch und eure Angehörigen in der Heimat erteile ich euch allen von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

* * *

Besonders herzlich grüße ich bei der heutigen Audienz die Gruppe der Behinderten ”Rom im Rollstuhl“. Ich erbitte euch durch eure Pilgerfahrt zu den Gräbern der Apostel Trost und neuen Mut in euren Prüfungen. Von Herzen segne ich euch und alle die euch in Liebe helfend zur Seite stehen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Saludo con afecto y doy la bienvenida a esta Audiencia a las personas y grupos de lengua española, venidos de España y de los Países de Latinoamérica.

En la Carta a los Efesios - así como en los Profetas del Antiguo Testamento - encontramos la gran analogía del matrimonio y del amor esponsal entre Cristo y la Iglesia.

La analogía del amor esponsal nos permite comprender en cierto modo el misterio escondido desde los siglos en Dios, y que en el tiempo se realiza en Cristo como una donación total e irrevocable de sí por parte de Dios al hombre. La analogía del matrimonio como realidad humana en la que se encarna el amor esponsal, ayuda de alguna manera a comprender el misterio de la gracia como realidad eterna en Dios y como fruto “histórico” de la redención de la humanidad en Cristo. Este misterio invisible se ha hecho visible por medio del signo.

Puede decirse que el signo visible del matrimonio “al principio”, unido al signo visible de Cristo y de la Iglesia, sitúa el plan eterno de amor en la dimensión “histórica” y la hace fundamento de todo el orden sacramental.

El autor de la Carta a los Efesios ha reunido estos dos signos en un gran signo sacramental. A todos mi cordial Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli di espressione portoghese

Agora vai a minha saudação especial aos amados peregrinos e ouvintes de língua portuguesa!

Com a alegria de receber-vos nesta Praça de São Pedro, quero reflectir convosco sobre o amor, como dom total e irrevogável de Deus feito ao homem, em Cristo. De acordo com a carta de São Paulo aos Efésios, a analogia do matrimónio, no qual se encarna o amor esponsal, ajuda a entender o mistério da graça, enquanto realidade eterna em Deus e fruto histórico de redenção da humanidade em Cristo. Neste sentido, o sinal visível do matrimónio, posto em relação com o sinal visível da união de Cristo com a Igreja, dá ao plano eterno do amor de Deus uma dimensão histórica, tornando-o fundamento de toda a ordem sacramental. Este é o grande sinal, isto é o grande sacramento de que fala São Paulo.

Desejando-vos uma feliz estada em Roma, sob a protecção dos Santos Arcanjos, dou-vos a minha Bênção Apostólica.

La preghiera alla Madonna di Jasna Góra

Pani Jasnogórska!

Dzisiaj Kościoł czci w swojej liturgii Świętych Aniołów. Również i w dniu 2 października będzie wspominał Aniołów Stróżów.

Pragnę też dzisiaj w sposób szczególny polecić Ci, o Matko, i zawierzyć wszystkie dzieci w mojej Ojczyźnie.

Za pośrednictwem Aniołów Stróżów ochraniaj je od zła. Dopomagaj im wzrastać w dobrym. Pomimo wszystkich trudności, jakich nie brak - i poprzez wszystkie doświadczenia, przez które przechodzi społeczeństwo - pomagaj im wzrastać w dobrym. Niech dobro będzie silniejsze od zła.

Polecam Tobie, Najświętsza Wychowawczyni mojego Narodu, tych wszystkich, którzy są odpowiedzialni za wychowanie:

- rodzinę

- szkołę

- Kościół.

Niechaj rodziny będą świadome swych wychowawczych zadań.

Niechaj szkoła szanuje przekonania rodziców, ich pracę wychowawczą - niech z nią współpracuje.

Niech Kościół nie przestaje głosić Dobrej Nowiny dziecięcym sercom, które tak chętnie ją chłoną. Niech nie ustaje wychowawcze przymierze Kościoła z rodziną.

Matko Najświętsza! Najlepsza Wychowawczyni! Weź w Twą opiekę dzieci polskie w rodzinie, w Kościele, w szkole, wszędzie! Chroń je!

Ed ecco in una nostra traduzione italiana la preghiera del Santo Padre.

Signora di Jasna Góra!

Oggi la Chiesa venera nella sua liturgia i santi Arcangeli. Anche il 2 ottobre la Chiesa ricorderà gli Angeli Custodi.

Desidero pure oggi in modo particolare raccomandare ed affidare a te, o Madre, tutti i bambini nella mia Patria.

Mediante gli Angeli Custodi proteggili dal male. Aiutali a crescere nel bene. Nonostante le difficoltà che non mancano - e attraverso tutte le prove che passa la società - aiutali a crescere nel bene. Sia più forte il bene del male.

Raccomando a te, santissima Educatrice della mia Nazione, tutti coloro che sono responsabili per l’educazione:

- la famiglia,

- la scuola,

- la Chiesa.

Siano consapevoli le famiglie dei loro compiti educativi.

Rispetti la scuola le convinzioni dei genitori e il loro lavoro educativo, e collabori con esso.

Non cessi la Chiesa di annunziare la Buona Novella ai cuori dei bambini che così volentieri la accolgono. Non venga mai meno l’alleanza educativa tra la Chiesa e la famiglia.

Madre santissima! Ottima Educatrice! Prendi sotto la tua protezione i bambini polacchi nella famiglia, nella Chiesa e nella scuola, ovunque. Proteggili!

Ai fedeli italiani

Desidero salutare il gruppo degli Ufficiali Superiori dell’Aeronautica Militare, i quali celebrano il quarantesimo anno della loro nomina a “Ufficiale Pilota”, conseguita nell’Accademia Aeronautica di Caserta. Al Generale Umberto Bernardini, a tutti gli Ufficiali presenti ed ai loro familiari il mio sincero augurio di pace e di prosperità, avvalorato dalla mia benedizione apostolica.

* * *

Un cordiale saluto anche alle maestranze del Gruppo Tessile IARPAC di Foligno ed al loro Presidente. Sulle vostre persone, sulle vostre famiglie e sul vostro lavoro invoco l’effusione delle grazie divine, di cui è pegno la mia benedizione apostolica.

* * *

Il mio pensiero e il mio saluto vanno poi a voi, Giovani, che portate in questo incontro una lieta ventata di entusiasmo e di gioia. In particolare, vorrei oggi salutare il gruppo di giovani cantanti e musicisti afro-americani i quali sono convenuti a Roma per una manifestazione, su invito dell’Associazione “Incontri culturali internazionali - rassegne internazionali di teatro”.

Carissimi, vi auguro che conserviate il vostro cuore sempre giovane per tutta la vostra vita, e che siate testimoni di solidarietà e di pace!

* * *

Ed a voi, carissimi fratelli Ammalati, che condividete le sofferenze del Cristo Crocifisso, rivolgo la mia parola di incoraggiamento; vi affido l’impegno di offrire il vostro dolore e le vostre preghiere per la continua purificazione della Chiesa pellegrina sulla terra.

* * *

Anche a voi, novelli Sposi, che avete consacrato il vostro amore nel sacramento del Matrimonio, rivolgo l’augurio che la vostra nascente famiglia cristiana sia una autentica comunità di fede e di carità, nella quale regnino la fedeltà e la dedizione vicendevoli.

A voi tutti la mia particolare benedizione apostolica.

* * *

Desidero ora fare un breve riferimento all’odierna festività liturgica: oggi, infatti, la Chiesa commemora i tre santi Arcangeli Michele, Gabriele e Raffaele. Vi esorto a riflettere sulla figura e sulla funzione di questi singolari “principi della milizia celeste”, e a onorarli con la preghiera.

Ciascuno di noi deve educarsi a sentire i tre Arcangeli come amici e protettori presso Dio e invocarli spesso con fiducia. Essi ci danno conforto e luce richiamandoci al cielo ed a quei supremi misteri della fede, che al cielo stesso ci guidano.


1. It is not merely a question of the personification of human society, which constitutes a fairly common phenomenon in world literature, but of a specific "corporate personality" of the Bible, marked by a continual reciprocal relationship of the individual to the group (cf. H. Wheeler Robinson, "The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality," BZAW 66  [1936], pp. 49-62; cf. also J. L. McKenzie, "Aspects of Old Testament Thought," The Jerome Biblical Commentary, Vol. 2 [London: 1970], p. 748).

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