The Great Adventure Catholic Bible Study 73 Books. One Story. Your Story. Tue, 06 Oct 2015 19:50:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How Did We Get the Catholic Canon of Scripture? Tue, 06 Oct 2015 15:57:36 +0000 So, how many books are in your Bible? Did you ever notice that a Catholic Bible is slightly longer than Bibles used by most Protestants? The question of how the canon of Scripture is formulated is an extremely important question of fundamental theology. This article will look at the criterion for a book’s inclusion in the canon as well as some of the more significant historical moments in the development (and rejection) of the canon of Scripture by Christians.


The Greek word “canon” simply means a rule or a standard. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the formation of the canon was discerned by the apostolic Tradition (see paragraph 120).

The Catholic New Testament

One of the earliest witnesses to that apostolic Tradition is Saint Irenaeus of Lyons. Writing in southern Gaul at the end of the second century, Irenaeus sought to refute the false teachings and writings of the Gnostic heresy by invoking the authority of the writings of the apostles:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.

Irenaeus names the four Evangelists and explains why each of them had the authority to write a Gospel:

Matthew also issued a written Gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church. After their departure, Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter. Luke also, the companion of Paul, recorded in a book the Gospel preached by him. Afterwards, John, the disciple of the Lord, who also had leaned upon His breast, did himself publish a Gospel during his residence at Ephesus in Asia.

Here we see that each of the authors of the Gospels were either an apostolic eyewitness to Jesus himself (Matthew and John) or else a close companion of the apostles (Mark and Luke). The other books included in the New Testament canon were all authored by an apostle and discerned to be authentic by the early Church.

It is important to remember that the first Christian churches (at Rome, at Alexandria, at Corinth, etc.) would not have each possessed the entire New Testament. Each local church would have handed down those letters which it had received (such as Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians) and shared them over time with other local churches. In addition, there were other sacred writings which were also venerated and preserved, such as the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians, the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, and other such writings. In some places these writings may have been read during the Sacred Liturgy, but over time the Church discerned that these writings, although valuable and edifying, were not inspired by the Holy Spirit because they were not truly apostolic in origin, and thus not suitable to be proclaimed during the Sacred Liturgy. There were also various Gnostic Gospels in circulation such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of James. These writings claim apostolic authorship but the doctrine or “false knowledge” they contain is at odds with the teaching of the Gospel.

Saint Athanasius of Alexandria was the first to use the phrase “canonized books” in his Easter Letter of 367, in which he lists the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. It was at the Council of Hippo (393) and the Councils of Carthage (397 and 419) that the assembled bishops defined the canon as including the 46 books of the Old Testament and the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. The definition of these local African councils was sent to “the Church across the sea,” that is, Rome, to be ratified. In this way, the bishops of the Church in union with the bishop of Rome recognized that these books are in fact inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Up until this time, there was not a settled canon. This historical fact may make some non-Catholics uncomfortable, but it illustrates the truth that Scripture comes from the Church, not the other way around (Tweet this).

The Catholic Old Testament

So what about the Old Testament canon? Most Protestants count only thirty-nine books in the Old Testament, whereas the Catholic Church counts forty-six. Seven books were contested in the sixteenth century by Martin Luther: Tobit, Judith, Baruch, Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, First and Second Maccabees, and also certain additions to Esther and Daniel. He referred to them as the “deutero-canonical” books (the “second canon”) because they were not in the original Hebrew collection of Scriptures but were included in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. However, the term “deutero-canonical” was unknown prior to the time of Luther. Protestants also refer to these books as the “Apocrypha” but do not include them in their reckoning of Scripture.

The Jews did not have a fixed canon of their Scriptures, which they called the Law and the Prophets. At Alexandria during the 3rd century B.C. Jewish scribes translated the Scriptures into Greek, which translation came to be known as the Septuagint. The Septuagint included all forty-six books, and thus the Greek-speaking Jews of the Diaspora accepted them as part of Scripture. Because Greek was the predominant language of the Eastern Roman Empire the first Christians accepted the Septuagint as the definitive version of the Old Testament. When the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, the majority of these quotations are in agreement with the Greek of the Septuagint. The seven books were also included in the canon by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage. Thus for the entire first 1,500 years of Christianity, all forty-six books of the Old Testament were accepted by the universal Church as being inspired.

Martin Luther and other early Protestant leaders questioned the canonicity of several New Testament books, including Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. Luther sought to remove these books (which he called “Antilegomena” meaning “disputed” or “spoken against”) from the Bible because he felt they went against his doctrine of sola gratia and sola fide. In his preface to the New Testament, Luther made a doctrinal evaluation of the various books of the New Testament:

St. John’s Gospel and his first Epistle, St. Paul’s Epistles, especially those to the Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and St. Peter’s Epistle – these are the books which show to thee Christ, and teach everything that is necessary and blessed for thee to know, even if you were never to see or hear any other book of doctrine. Therefore, St. James’ Epistle is a perfect straw-epistle compared with them, for it has in it nothing of an evangelic kind.

Clearly, Luther’s attempt to amend the canon was not based in historical study of the canon but in his own doctrinal evaluation of the various books of the Bible.

However, he encountered resistance from other theologians among the Protestants who could not deny that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament canon had never been seriously contested, and Luther ultimately kept all twenty-seven books in his German translation of the Bible. However, to this day Romans, Galatians, Ephesians and “St. Peter’s Epistle” are placed last in German-language Lutheran Bibles.

As for the Old Testament, however, Luther successfully swayed other Protestant theologians to join him in rejecting the deutero-canonical books. His main objection to Catholic abuses was of course the practice of indulgences by which the faithful were asked to make offerings for the dead. The Second Book of Maccabees clearly praises the action of Judas Maccabeus in providing for an expiatory sacrifice for the fallen soldiers: “Thus he made atonement for the dead that they might be absolved from their sin” (2 Maccabees 12:46). Because Luther rejected this practice, he found it necessary to remove this book from the canon of the Old Testament. The rejection of all seven of the deutero-canonical books gave him a more sophisticated theological basis for his effort to remove 2 Maccabees from the canon.

At the Council of Trent in 1546, the council fathers, in refutation of Luther, gave a formal definition of the “Canon of the Bible” and accepted the same list which had been proclaimed by the Councils of Hippo and Carthage and which had always been accepted:

And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one’s mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second.

Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.

This formal dogmatic definition by the Council of Trent, prompted in response to the efforts of Luther and the other Protestants to change what had always been believed, remains the definitive statement of the Catholic Church on the Canon of Scripture.

Some Protestants continued to include the “Apocrypha” in their editions of the Bible, and the Church of England included readings from the “Apocrypha” in liturgical readings. However, the Presbyterian and Calvinist traditions were the most strongly opposed to their inclusion in any publication of the Bible. In 1826 the British and Foreign Bible Society decided to forbid the distribution of any Bible containing the “Apocrypha,” and since that time they are almost never printed in English-language Protestant Bibles.

And that’s why the Catholic Bible is longer than the Protestant Bible!

For further reading on this subject, an excellent resource is Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger by Gary G. Michuta (Port Huron: The Grotto Press, 2007).

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Guardian Angels, Watch over Us Fri, 02 Oct 2015 04:42:28 +0000 Cortona_Guardian_Angel_01Guardian angels are real. Jesus speaks of them in Matthew 18:10, remarking that each of us has an angel assigned to us. Psalm 91:11 states that “he commands his angels…to guard you wherever you go.”  The Catechism affirms this as well in paragraph 336. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” So, according to the Church and Scripture, they are real.

Contrary to popular representations, they are probably not the gown-wearing ladies that adorn so many Christmas trees. Nor are they the chubby, winged babies that have become so familiar. Interestingly, there is not one mention of a female angel in Scripture. The majority of angelic descriptions in the Bible regard them as imposing masculine figures. They are warriors. They lead armies. They stand off hostile mobs. The book of Revelation, using highly symbolic language, describes angels in an even more imposing manner.

. . .there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes (Rev 4:4-8).

If your guardian angel follows the pattern described in Scripture, he is more than likely an imposing figure indeed.

It should be noted, however, that while typically appearing in the masculine form, angels do not have gender in the same way we do. Human gender is related to our physical reality. We are spiritual and physical beings.  St. Thomas Aquinas describes angels, on the other hand, as creatures of pure spirit. They may have masculine or feminine qualities. They cannot, however, be male or female.

A Real Spiritual Battle

You may be wondering, “Why do I need such an imposing figure assigned to me?” Well, your life is a battlefield. The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us this in Paragraph 409. “This dramatic situation of ‘the whole world [which] is in the power of the evil one’ makes man’s life a battle.”  The demons rebelled against God. They hate him but they cannot hurt him. You, made in the image and likeness of God, they can come after. They hate you because you are like him in a way they can never be. Christ became man. Our struggle is real and it is not an easy one. That is why the Lord has given us an angel as a strong ally.

Jesus tells us that they “look upon the face of my Father.”  That means that your guardian angel is present to you, and to the Father in heaven at the same time. Our angels are immersed in the awareness and presence of God as they watch over us. That is what makes them angels, as opposed to demons, who look away from God in order to focus their nefarious will upon man.

Guardian angels act to defend us from evil. Most spiritual attack is aimed at the will. Demons often strike by trying to undermine our resolve, often through deception, or through enflaming pride. They work subtly, a nudge here, a whisper there. Your guardian angel can support you by directly opposing any attack the demonic may try to throw.  It is a good idea to formally enlist his help against any regular attack you may come under. “Guardian angel, I have been coming under a lot of cynicism lately. I am asking you to fight off any attack that is in that.”  He is your teammate. Ask him to shore up areas of weakness in your will.

Your angel may assist through inspiration. Have you ever, when heading down a familiar path of sin, found yourself humming a song from Mass, or thinking about a Scripture verse? That very well might have been the inspiration of your guardian.

Guardian angels are with us constantly, ever watchful against attack (Tweet this). They focus on the Lord, worshiping him even as they defend us. It would be a great folly, indeed to ignore such a tremendous ally.

Take a moment today. Consider the areas of sin in your life, the places where you may be coming under spiritual attack, or perhaps where you may have given the enemy a foot hold. Renounce any claim the devil may have made on your life and invite your guardian angel into the struggle.

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Feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael Tue, 29 Sep 2015 13:56:57 +0000 Marco_d'_Oggiono_-_The_Three_Archangels_-_WGA16632Although Scripture itself does not furnish systematic or comprehensive information regarding the exact nature of angels, the names of these three archangels (meaning chief angel in Greek) appear in the Bible and offer us some fascinating clues about them. Most of what we know about angels in general is scattered and sometimes simply “hinted” at throughout the Bible, but 2000 years of Church theology helps clarify what is there.

Angels are pure angelic spirit, so they are immortal (Luke 20:36) but not eternal (because angels are created beings). According to St. Thomas Aquinas, angelic power is superior to human power in its abilities because it is exclusively spirit, without any need for a body (Summa 61.4). Angels freely think (Dan 9:21-22; 10:14; Rev 19:10), will (Jude 6; cf. 2 Peter 2:4), emote (1 Pet 1:12—desirous; Job 38:7—joyful), act, are self-aware, exercise power, are immortal and indestructible and responsible, all without the use of the tool, the “flesh”, in which we humans operate (Catechism of the Catholic Church 330).

The number of angels is unknown, but Daniel says “a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him” (7:10), and the number of demons and fallen angels is “legion” (Mark 5:9). They have existed since the dawn of creation and have the benefit of millennia of experience with humanity.

Because angels are pure spirit, they are not bound by the physical laws that govern a spatial universe of time and matter (CCC 330). Like angels, the human soul is spirit, but the human soul does not become angelic after death, when it is separated from the body.

The human person was created to be a fusion of body and soul; the human spirit is individual and personal, ordained to freely will, think, emote, desire, imagine, remember and act by way of the physical senses. The separation of the body and soul that occurs at death, then, is an unnatural and temporary state, a condition that as Christians we believe will one day be corrected and restored to an even more glorious state through the redemptive work of Christ at the “resurrection of the body” we proclaim in the Creed.

Angels are the earliest works of God’s creation that are known to us. We know they must have been created on or before the first “day” of creation, because Job indicates that the angels were eyewitnesses to the creation of the universe: “the morning stars sang together and the sons of God shouted for joy” when “God laid the foundations of the earth” (Job 38:4, 6). Morning stars and sons of God are literary terms for angels and have been interpreted as such since the Septuagint (“all my angels,” Job 38:7, Septuagint).

“’Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature,” instructs St. Augustine. The word “angel” means messenger in Greek, an indication of their function. Their nature is spirit, and their names (as all names in Scripture do) indicate something of who they are, and their mission and purpose: Michael protects and defends; Gabriel consoles and announces; Raphael heals and guides.

St. Michael, Defend Us

The warrior angel, “Who is like God?” is both Michael’s name and battle cry as leader of all the angels, against Satan and the demons in their rebellion against God, and in defense of his Church. He is mentioned by name four times in the Bible: in Daniel 10 and 12, in the letter of Jude, and in Revelation.

In Daniel’s vision he is “the great prince, who stands for the children of [Daniel’s] people,” Israel, against its enemies; in the Book of Revelation, Michael leads God’s armies in an apocalyptic victory over the forces of evil.

Altogether the Bible attributes three “arch-purposes” to St. Michael: to fight against Satan; to defend the souls of the faithful and protect them from the power of the enemy, especially at the hour of death; and to be the champion of the Church until the end of time.

Devotion to Michael is the oldest angelic devotion, beginning in the fourth century. He is such a powerful ally of the Church on earth, the “St. Michael Prayer” for protection is actually a condensed form of the general exorcism against Satan and demonic powers.

St. Gabriel, Bringer of Good News

Gabriel, meaning “Strength of God,” is also mentioned four times in the Bible. The Old Testament Book of Daniel says he explained a vision and prophesied of Christ. In the New Testament he announces the precursor to the Christ, John the Baptist, and Jesus’ Incarnation in Mary’s womb.

There is also speculation among theologians that Gabriel may have been the angel who appeared to the shepherds announcing Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:9), “strengthened” Jesus in his agony in Gethsemane (Luke 22:43), and heralded his resurrection on Easter morning (Matt. 28:2-3), since his purposes seem to revolve around Christ and his mission from the beginning.

St. Raphael, Heal Us

Raphael, meaning “God has Healed,” is mentioned specifically and only in the Book of Tobit in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Scriptures the apostles used and quoted. As to his function and mission, Raphael speaks for himself: “For I am the angel Raphael, one of the seven, who stand before the Lord . . . when I was with you I was there by the will of God: bless him only, and sing praises to him” (Tob. 12:15).

Raphael guides Tobiah away from his own route and plan, but through a series of fantastic adventures that leads to healing for everyone involved. Raphael reveals himself in Chapter 12 as a divine healer not only of physical infirmity, such as the blindness of old Tobias, but also of spiritual affliction and demonic harassment. So his office is generally accepted as that of healing and guidance.

For this reason, Augustine identifies the angel who descends on the healing pool of water at Bethsaida in John 5:1-4 as Raphael (Sermon I on Tobit). Those with disabilities of all varieties entered the water after it moved, it was thought, under the healing ministrations of the angel, and the first to enter was healed. It is Raphael’s health and healing ministry that is speculated to be at work in the miraculous cures in many of the sacred shrines throughout Christian history all over the world.

Powerful Invisible Helpers

The most gifted writer could never do justice to the magnificent beauty, eclipsing intelligence, and surpassing power of an angel; every biblical person who saw an angel became terrified at their magnificence. And angels are actually the lowest order and rank of the pure spirits! The Bible tells us the ascending ranks are said to be archangels, principalities, powers, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim. Possibly the archangels like Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, are as far above an angel in perfections as an angel is above man.

We should remember that, although they seem like a fantasy, angels are as real as the air we breathe (Tweet this). Your guardian angel has been with you, tirelessly helping and guiding you from the womb to the tomb (Matt 18:10). They are with us this very moment. They surround us at every Mass.

As I celebrate this angelic feast with the Church today, how can I thank Sts. Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael for their ministry and service to me and to the Church I love?

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Even Your Practice is Beautiful Mon, 28 Sep 2015 00:45:56 +0000 motherchildpianoAs the World Meeting of Families draws to a close,  I have been reflecting on my own family through the lens of its theme, Love Is Our Mission: The Family Fully Alive. We began home schooling when my oldest son was in second grade. That single decision has made our lives together more a celebration of family as the sanctuary of love and life than anything else my husband and I have done.

One of the unique gifts of home schooling is how it challenges each of us to love one another more purely and sacrificially, and enables us to focus on each person’s unique gifts and interests in order to make them fully alive and active, both for our own family and the family of society.  

A Musical Home

As their primary teacher, I assemble and organize curriculum for each of my children. I have always included piano lessons and semi-annual trips to the symphony, and maintained from their first years that they would remain in piano until they leave our house (so don’t even ask to quit!).

I maintain that position because I know piano is the best musical foundation to build on; every musician I know says so (and I live in Nashville). And music is a beautiful foundation for other noble endeavors.

Proven to support and nurture logic skills and creativity, kids in the arts also perform better on standardized tests, watch fewer hours of TV, participate in more community service, and report less boredom in school. Music is nurturing in more areas than I wish to document with footnotes.

Family as Music

In our home school, Tuesday is Music Day. EVERYONE LOOKS FORWARD TO TUESDAYS! The boys beg to practice and do more than the required thirty minutes. They eagerly gather their music books and rush to the car to arrive at their lessons early.

Um… not exactly. The truth involves much more messiness. But that’s how life, and family life in particular, really is, right?

My sixteen-year-old accuses me of forcing him to stay in piano because I love it myself. He wants to play guitar or drums. I want him to also, and hope he does. But while he lives at home, he’s going to play piano at least.

Although we suffered five years or so of his regular, ear-bleeding piano practices at our house, we have reached the lovely point that my sixteen-year-old is playing Rachmaninoff and Chopin. He makes up for the current ear-bleeding practices of the youngest.

And I love it all.

When listening to my oldest practice, hearing the music that leaves his fingertips makes me weep—like bawl an ugly cry sometimes—although I don’t let him see that. I just hide somewhere I can hear him and let it out in thanksgiving to God, for music and motherhood, for sons who persevere, for a husband who works so hard in order that I can stay home, and for the best piano teacher I have ever encountered.

Like King Saul, who was only sane when young David played for him (1 Sam 16:23), I am touched and more at ease in the soul when my son practices. My husband often falls asleep listening to him play. Our cat sits on the piano and meows if he stops.

Life as Music

But my son gets agitated and upset at his mistakes and faults. He swears under his breath at every missed note and rest. Sometimes he gets very angry at missing the same note or measure over and over and over. He throws the music and forces away from the piano in a wrath.

But as I listen to him practice, all I hear is glory. At this point in his musical life, even his practice is beautiful. And what I realized, through him, is that God feels the same way about us. Isn’t the messiness of practicing at love—for family, for God, for our neighbor—the essence of life?

“And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9).

Is there a sin you have been battling for weeks or months, maybe even years? Is there a virtue or habit you’re trying to cultivate that you fail in more than you succeed? Is there a goal you’ve been striving toward but missing for what seems like ages?

The family is there to create a supportive environment and help us in the most frustrating moments of our humanity. It takes the love of a mother and father to offer the patience needed to walk with children in their struggles of development. Can you think of ways your parents or loved ones guided you to virtuous habits (Tweet this)? If you have children of your own, have you passed on any of those habits to them? No matter what we may be trying to achieve in life, there will be some ugly moments and some wrong notes played on the road to the goal; but when surrounded by those who love you…even your practice is beautiful.

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The Beauty of Marriage from a Biblical Perspective Fri, 25 Sep 2015 19:17:21 +0000 Marriage and the BibleWe live in a society where the understanding of marriage has become all but lost amid various personal interpretations. There is therefore a need to have a deeper discussion in the family, so to speak—the Christian family. In the midst of widespread confusion regarding the definition of marriage, it’s easy to lose sight of what we believe. We have been blessed with the truths revealed to us in God’s Word. The Scriptures generally, and Jesus in particular, teach us truths about marriage that go beyond what we could ever figure out by human reason alone.

Marriage: A Dominant Scriptural Theme

The first thing we need to understand is that marriage is not a “side teaching” of the Bible, marriage is a central theme of God’s Word, arguably the central theme.  Marriage marks the beginning, middle, and end of the Bible.  In the beginning, the account of creation climaxes with the creation of Eve, the Bride, in Genesis 2:18-22, followed by Adam’s “wedding vows” in Gen 2:23, forming the first marriage ever and establishing the pattern of marriage for the rest of human history (Gen 2:24).

At the end of the Bible, all of human history comes to an end with the announcement of the “wedding feast of the Lamb” (Rev 19:7), followed by the revelation of the “Bride of the Lamb” who comes out of heaven from God (Rev 21:2).  This “Bride of the Lamb” is the Church triumphant, pictured as the new and heavenly Jerusalem.  Some of Scripture’s final words are an invitation from the “Spirit and the Bride” to “come” to the wedding feast (Rev 22:17).

In the middle of the Bible we find the Song of Songs, the longest love poem in the Bible.  Through images and metaphors, this book describes the relationship between the Messiah and the people of God as a courtship and marriage based on love which is “stronger than death” (Song 8:6).

So the Bible begins and ends with marriage, and stresses it in the middle.  We should add that the prophets describe God’s relationship to Israel as a marriage (Isa 56, 60; Hos 2; Jer 1-3; Ezek 16, 23) and Jesus tells parables portraying himself as a Bridegroom come to wed his Bride (Matt 22:1-14; 25:1-13).

Marriage is not incidental in the Bible.  It’s central.

If you don’t “get” marriage, you don’t “get” the message of the Bible. Why is that?  Let’s do a little theology.  Marriage is a covenant.  A “covenant” is the extension of kinship by oath.  In other words, it’s a way of swearing someone into your family.

Now, the Bible is all about covenants.  It’s divided into two of them: the “Old” and the “New”, because “Testament” is just the Latin word for “covenant.” The fourth Eucharistic prayer sums up the whole Old Testament in one phrase: “Time and again you offered them covenants, and through the prophets taught them to hope for salvation.”  As the Catechism points out, the story of the Bible is the story of God offering covenants to mankind, because God is always inviting us to become his family.  Jesus came to make the New Covenant, where we become God’s family by ingesting his flesh and blood, so becoming the very “flesh and blood” of God, members of his family.

Marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman.  It symbolizes the covenant between God and his people.  Marriage is celebrated by two persons becoming one flesh in the marriage bed.  The New Covenant is celebrated by God’s people becoming “one flesh” with Christ in the Eucharist.  There is a very close connection between marriage and the Eucharist.

Marriage has to be lifelong, and to one person, because it is a holy icon of the relationship between God and his people (Tweet this).  God does not reject his people, divorce them and leave them and take up with another.  God is always faithful to his people.  And God is not married to several bodies.  He is wedded to one Body, which is the Church (Eph 5).  That’s why we don’t divorce and remarry, nor marry more than one person (cf. Matt 19:6; Mark 10:9).  Doing either of these things destroys marriage as an icon of God’s faithfulness to his people.

(It’s important here to note that an annulment is not a Catholic version of divorce. An annulment is a declaration that a marriage did not actually take place. It does not dissolve a valid marriage.)

Marriage is tied up with what it means that human beings are “made in the image of God.”  Genesis 1:27 describes it this way: “So God created the man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  Notice that “the man” (in Hebrew, literally, “the adam”) is both singular and plural: God created him; but as both male and female he created them.  How can the one be two and the two one?  The answer comes at the end of the next chapter: “a man … cleaves to his wife and the two become one flesh.

Notice that being created male and female is united to being created “in the image of God.”  God is most fully “imaged” by the one-flesh union of man and wife.  Both maleness and femaleness have their role in imaging God.  Husband and wife image God (or are an “icon” of God) by representing his permanent, exclusive covenant relationship with his people.  They also image God because husband and wife are two persons whose fruitful love becomes a third person, a child.  This is an icon of the Trinity, in which the love between two persons becomes the third person.

Because marriage is a sacred icon on the image of God, people’s idea of God and their idea of marriage are always tied.  If you get one wrong, the other will also be wrong.  One’s theology determines one’s matrimony.  Atheists, for example, don’t believe that God has any relationship to his people, because he doesn’t exist.  Therefore, atheists tend to have no theory of marriage at all, and a number of influential atheist thinkers (like Marx and Engels) have wanted to abolish marriage and the family, or at least minimize them as much as possible.  Muslims, on the other hand, understand God’s relationship between himself and his people as that of master and servant.  For example, the word “Islam” means “submission.”  This becomes reflected in the law and practice of marriage, which in Islamic societies is very imbalanced in favor of the authority of the husband.  And so it goes with other religions and philosophies, as well: one’s view of marriage flows from one’s view of God.

God planned for marriage to be a life-giving relationship. This doesn’t just mean that it ought to lead to the husband and wife having children and starting a family together. It also means inviting Life himself into their marriage. With this understanding, the couple sees the need to pray together, to seek God’s will in their lives at every turn, and to find ways in which they can draw closer to each other while also drawing closer to God—thereby entering into the mystical union of the Trinity and becoming an icon of God’s love for humanity.

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