Doctors and Fathers of the Church on Marriage

“If for a certain period, you and your wife have abstained by agreement, perhaps for a time of prayer and fasting, come together again for the sake of your marriage. You do not need procreation as an excuse. It is not the chief reason for marriage. Neither is it necessary to allow for the possibility of conceiving, and thus having a large number of children, something you may not want…”

“Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well…it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with His laws? What is a curse, do you seek as though it were a blessing?… In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks…”

“You have heard how important obedience is; you have praised and marveled at Paul, how he welds our whole life together, as we would expect from an admirable and spiritual man. You have done well. But now listen to what else he requires from you; he has not finished with his example. Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.

You have seen the amount of obedience necessary. Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse.

Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him, as he accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife . . . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (v. 28).

What does this mean? He is using a much stronger image and illustration now, much closer and plainer, and much more demanding. Some might not be convinced by his previous illustration, saying, “After all, he was Christ, and Christ is God–naturally he would sacrifice Himself.” Paul’s method is different now; he says, “husbands should love their wives” because such love is an obligation, not a favor “as their own bodies.” Why?

For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it (v. 29). That is, he takes particular care of it. How is she his flesh? Listen: This at last is bone of my bones, said Adam, and flesh of my flesh! and also, They become one flesh. So he nourishes and cherishes his own flesh, as Christ does the Church (v. 29). He returns here to his first comparison: because we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones (v. 30). How is this true? Because Christ was born from our matter, just as Eve was fashioned from Adam’s flesh. Paul does well here to speak of flesh and bones, for the Lord has exalted our material substance by partaking of it Himself: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same nature. It is obvious that He shares our nature, but how do we share His? How are we members of His flesh? We are truly members of Christ because through Him we were created, and we are truly members of His flesh because we are recreated by partaking of His mysteries. There are some who affirm that He came by water and blood but will not accept that the Holy Spirit enables us to share His same essence, through baptism. Foolish heretics! How can the children who confess His truth and are born again in the water not become His Body? St. Paul explicitly says that we are members of His flesh and of His bones.

Understand that Adam was fashioned from matter and Christ was born in the same. From Adam’s side came the bearer of corruption, but from Christ’s side came life. Death blossomed in paradise but was slain on the cross. The Son of God shares our nature so we can share His as He has us in Him, so we have Him in us.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.

So if you think that the wife is the loser because she is told to fear her husband, remember that the principal duty of love is assigned to the husband, and you will see that it is her gain. “And what if my wife refuses to obey me?” a husband will ask. Never mind! Your obligation is to love her; do your duty!”

-St. John Chrysostom

“You are not her master, but her husband; she was not given to you to be your slave, but your wife…. Reciprocate her attentiveness to you and be grateful to her for her love.”

– St. Ambrose

The first effect of this love is the indissoluble union of your hearts. If you glue together two pieces of deal, provided that the glue be strong, their union will be so close that the stick will break more easily in any other part than where it is joined. Now God unites husband and wife so closely in Himself, that it should be easier to sunder soul from body than husband from wife; nor is this union to be considered as mainly of the body, but yet more a union of the heart, its affections and love.
The second effect of this love should be an inviolable fidelity to one another. In olden times finger-rings were wont to be graven as seals. We read of it in Holy Scripture, and this explains the meaning of the marriage ceremony, when the Church, by the hand of her priest, blesses a ring, and gives it first to the man in token that she sets a seal on his heart by this Sacrament, so that no thought of any other woman may ever enter therein so long as she, who now is given to him, shall live.
Then the bridegroom places the ring on the bride’s hand, so that she in her turn may know that she must never conceive any affection in her heart for any other man so long as he shall live, who is now given to her by our Lord Himself.
The third end of marriage is the birth and bringing up of children. And herein, O ye married people! are you greatly honoured, in that God, willing to multiply souls to bless and praise Him to all Eternity, He associates you with Himself in this His work, by the production of bodies into which, like dew from Heaven, He infuses the souls He creates as well as the bodies into which they enter.”

– Introduction to a Devout Life, St. Frances De Sales

For outside reading material, an excellent sermon by Chrysostom on Marriage.


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