The Two Shall Become One Flesh

Joel and Lisa Schmidt - Two Become One


There may be no better commentary on marital unity than the following excerpt from the Exhortation Before Marriage, which was once commonly used at the time of the sermon during the marriage rite.

Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections. And whatever sacrifices you may hereafter be required to make to preserve this mutual life, always make them generously. Sacrifice is usually difficult and irksome. Only love can make it easy, and perfect love can make it a joy. We are willing to give in proportion as we love. And when love is perfect, the sacrifice is complete.

What does all that really mean? Do most couples have any idea what they are getting into when they get married? Do they really understand that “the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5)? Probably not.

Formal marriage preparation often begins between six and twelve months before a couple’s planned wedding date. Often by that time the dress has already been bought, the reception hall booked, the caterer chosen, the invitations designed, and many other arrangements made. Marriage preparation may first appear on the couple’s radar as a condition of booking the church for their desired wedding date.

Do six to eight meetings with a FOCCUS couple really seem sufficient to prepare two people to be united in an indissoluble, lifelong covenant? Consider that there are only two sacraments of service in the Church. The first one requires several years of discernment, formation, study, prayer, and scrutiny before receiving. The other is marriage. The first one, by the way, is holy orders.

You may think, Yeah, but it’s way harder being a priest. Many priests would disagree, especially those who do marriage counseling. Consider that, compared to priesthood, a marriage involves twice as many people who are wounded by Original Sin and, though healed in baptism, still bear the scars of concupiscence. And that’s before any children are involved!

What is the Church to do about this? Should we demand years-long marriage formation and preparation programs? No, that would be unreasonable; nobody would ever get married in the Church. Instead, we need to encourage and support spiritually healthy families so more children have 18+ years of marriage preparation before leaving their parents’ home. Children should be exposed to the Four Goods of Marriage, so they become part of their expectations if they discern marriage for themselves.

What are the Four Goods of Marriage? Initially formulated by Augustine (De bono coniugali), further developed by Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, Supplementum), and expanded upon by Pope Pius XI (Casti connubii), the Four Goods have become a cornerstone of the Church’s official teaching on marital unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643 – 1654). Simply, they are the foundation of this radical, one-flesh union, and they are embedded in the wedding rite.

  1. Partnership. “Have you come here freely and without reservation to give yourselves to each other in marriage?” Husband and wife share their whole life with each other – mind, body, and spirit. This requires a supernatural level of trust, growing together in Christ through hardship and struggles rather than apart. Do you always speak positively and lovingly about your spouse around your children?
  2. Permanence. “Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of your lives?” This supernatural commitment may be the key to the other three. Husband and wife must live with radical confidence that God will give them the courage, strength, and perseverance to carry their crosses. Above all else, this requires mercy which overcomes the inclination to selfishness. Saying “I forgive you,” may actually be more important than saying “I love you.” Do your children have examples of couples who have been married 30, 40, or even 50 years in their lives?
  3. Fidelity. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” Such faithfulness and steadfast reliability requires supernatural intimacy – not just physical – but overall vulnerability and real emotional closeness. In the unconditional acceptance of each other’s true selves, we reveal the very love of God. We find true happiness by giving ourselves away for the good of the other. Do your children see you go out of your way to do things for each other?
  4. Fruitfulness. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?” Accepting the gift of children requires a supernatural generosity, a radical trust in God’s providence. Parenthood is a constant exercise in sacrifice. However, the marriage covenant naturally seeks to perpetuate itself, so it is fundamentally ordered to procreation and education of children in the faith. Are your children active participants in your family\’s domestic church?

The Four Goods of Marriage – partnership, permanence, fidelity, and fruitfulness – work together in harmony like the members of an orchestra to produce the symphony of martial unity. Again from the Exhortation Before Marriage, \”Henceforth you will belong entirely to each other; you will be one in mind, one in heart, and one in affections.\”

How do you model the Four Goods in your marriage?

© 2013. Joel and Lisa Schmidt. All Rights Reserved.

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10 thoughts on “The Two Shall Become One Flesh”

  1. Pingback: What Every Catholic Marriage Prep Program Ought to Cover : Catholic Stand

  2. I have often wondered about how little time is devoted to formal marriage prep compared to the vocation of the priesthood. There should be more, and deeper, although it seems unlikely that we’ll ever manage to make it happen. I do think it’s worth noting, though, that couples are in formation for marriage as soon as they start dating (courting, seeing each other, use your preferred terminology). I think that underscores your later point about formation being lifelong; people ought to be thinking in terms of preparing for marriage long before they get engaged.

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  4. I’m not quite sure why the inclusion of partnership as a good should be of any great concern. I always understood the ‘partnership’ aspect of marriage came with the ‘two being made one’ sacramental aspect of marriage.

    Seeing it elucidated here is good to see and makes complete sense. If ‘two who are now one’ cannot see each other as partners, helping each other, working together for the same good and the same end then the marriage is surely in trouble.

    My own dh is truly my best friend, after all that is why I married him. While we hoped that God would bless us with children, they were never a guarantee and I married him because of who he was and who we would be together – for each other and for Christ and His Church.

    Who he has become because of my love, and who I have become because of his, is truly a visible sign of God’s love for all of us….and 30 years into this adventure of marriage it is also shown by the 11 children He has sent our way. Marriage is truly a gift, a sacrament from God!

  5. I don’t think it should go unremarked that the “goods” of marriage are, traditionally, three and not four. Just enter “the three goods of marriage” into a Google Search and you will see that these “three goods” are very ancient in their definition. It appears that “partnership” is not found until relatively recently (in “Church time”). I can’t find it in CCC 1643-1654 that you note.

    Can you give a bit more detail, and references, on where and when and even whether “partnership” as one of the “goods” of marriage became actual Church teaching? It does seem to be taught today (I entered “the four goods of marriage” into a Google Search) but I can’t find what one would call “authoritative documentation” of its origin. It sounds like “partnership” might be related to that elusive “unitive meaning of marriage” that no one heard about before the last few decades.

    1. Terry, thanks for your comment; the question you raise is an excellent one. Indeed, the Augustinian Goods of Marriage are enumerated as three: faith (fidelity), offspring (fruitfulness), and sacrament (permanence). Interestingly, Aquinas takes up the specific question of whether unity should be enumerated among the goods in Supplementum (Question 49, Article 2, Objection 4). To this objection, he replies:

      By sacrament we are to understand not only indivisibility, but all those things that result from marriage being a sign of Christ’s union with the Church. We may also reply that the unity to which the objection refers pertains to faith, just as indivisibility belongs to the sacrament.

      To be clear, I in no way seek to embellish Augustine or quarrel with Aquinas by my own merits. However, the Code of Canon Law (1056) and the Catechism (1643 – 1645) tend to discuss unity by itself, often alongside indissolubility. Given these, it is difficult to accept Aquinas’s assertion that unity is the exclusive handmaid of faith.

      I don’t suggest that Aquinas is wrong, mind you, but rather that further scholarship in this area perhaps continues to develop and inform precisely what the Church teaches. I suspect this is why partnership, which effectively comprises the unitive dimensions of each of the three Augustinian Goods, has gained traction as a Good unto itself.

      For reference, the 2009 USCCB pastoral letter “Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan” uses the language “total, faithful, exclusive, and open to life” to delineate four distinct dimensions of conjugal love. In addtiion, Canon 1056 references Casti connubii 546 – 556 (1930), Gaudium et Spes 48 (1966), Humanae Vitae 25 (1968), and Ordo Celebrandi Matrimonium 2 (1969).

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  8. Matthew 19:8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

    Obviously. Jesus allowed an exception to the carte blache forever.

    1. Phil, thanks for your comment. This is a point about which there is much confusion, so I welcome the opportunity to clear it up.

      The issue here is matter of translation. The original Greek word porneia is sometimes translated as “adultery” or “unfaithfulness”, which is a very poor choice. If adultery was intended, the word moicheia, literally meaning “adultery”, would have been used. Rather, porneia refers to conduct that is illicit or invalid. Translations like the Douay-Rheims, which uses “fornication,” are better. Even better still is the NABRE: “I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.” This translation most clearly preserves the meaning of the original Greek that divorce is permissible only in cases where no valid marriage exists.

      Going a step further, one might fairly wonder what Matthew’s readers would have understood. To this point, biblical scholars agree that Matthew was writing to a primarily Hebrew audience who would have been abundantly familiar with the Jewish scriptures. Leviticus 18:6-16 lists cases in which it was illegal for Jews to contract marriage, because they are between certain degrees of consanguinity (blood relation) or were with a Gentile, which was forbidden. Hence, Matthew’s Gospel addresses this issue while the others do not.

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