The Order of the Intimacy of Love in Marriage

I have been writing about the right order of marriage in relation to social justice, the right order of human society. Following the lead of Jesus in his words about divorce, I have gone back to the first chapters of the book of Genesis, to the ‘beginning’, to God’s original plan for marriage. I noted that Genesis gives us two perspectives on the order of marriage: the objective order of marriage in relation to procreation, which is not a mere physical act, but involves collaborating with God in the transmission of human life, created in his image; and the order of the intimacy of love between husband and wife.

Unfortunately, the untamed might of the industrial revolution has brought us to the pass in which the whole of the western world today seems to move with the inexorable progress of a machine, without any regard for human life.

We might say that the intimacy of true love, nourished by divine grace, is the only force in the world capable of opposing the power of the machine and nourishing human life. Only now, the love revealed in Genesis, must be lived in the midst of a fallen, sinful world, and needs to be purified by the Cross of Christ.

Turning now to the 2nd chapter of Genesis we can focus on four fundamental points: It is not good for man to be alone (Gen 2:18); this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (Gen 2:22); the two shall become one flesh (Gen 2:24); they were both naked and yet they felt no shame. (Gen 2:25)

First, the solitude of Adam in the beginning was not an empty loneliness. Adam was blessed with a life in paradise and the intimate friendship of God. His solitude was possessed a fulness beyond our experience and comprehension. What he lacked was someone with whom to share that fulness. He lacked someone with whom he could share the blessings of God, someone whom he could love as an equal.

So God makes the woman, who will be called, Eve, the mother of the living, as a helper like himself. (cf. Gen 2:18) God having fashioned the woman from the side of the man, leads the woman to the man and the man recognizes the woman as bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Remarkably what Adam notes in the woman’s body is not the difference in sex, but the sameness in nature, sharing the same strength (bone) and the same weakness (flesh).

Yet, obviously the difference in sex is there, the complementarity of the sexes. It is expressed subtly by the woman being brought to the man, being given to the man, by God. The woman thus first appears as a gift to the man, given by God, a gift of God’s love, to be loved by the man.

Here we see beauty and we see danger. On the side of the woman, she is simply brought to Adam, she appears passive. She will need also to give herself. On the side of the man, he could simply take the gift without reciprocating; he must also give himself.
St. John Paul II wrote in this regard: “the man ‘from the beginning’ [has] the function of the one who above all receives the gift. The woman has ‘from the beginning been entrusted to his eyes, to his consciousness, to his sensibility, to his ‘heart’; he by contrast, must in some way ensure the very process of the exchange of the gift, the reciprocal interpenetration of giving and receiving the gift, which, precisely through its reciprocity, creates an authentic communion of persons.” (Theology of the Body 17:6)

In this first meeting of man and woman, they meet in the body, but what is seen through the body, because of the body, is the person, in the image of God. The ‘gift’ that is exchanged is the gift of the person, in love, expressed through the body. This reciprocity of the gift of the person in love, establishes ‘an authentic communion of persons’. This communion of persons in love, is completed and expressed in the sexual act, the marital act, when the two, who are made for each other, who fit together, become one flesh.

In the beginning, before sin, the body is a transparent expression of the person, the innocent sinless person, the person without ulterior motives, the person ready to give himself or herself in love. That is why two are able to be in each other’s presence naked and without shame. Their relationship is transparent; their love is total; they have nothing to hide.

Sin, of course, introduced a disorder with the very person; we are no longer at peace with our own bodies. We find ourselves beset by shameful impulses that we want to hide from others. Our will is not upright. We do not act from pure love – especially in the relations between man and woman – but there are a multitude of ulterior motivations.

Still the path of marital love is subject to the same ‘law of the gift’. Only now, the communion of persons expressed in and through the body, in the complementarity of male and female, is something that must be continually built up as the two learn to grow in mutual trust in order to attain evermore the mutual transparency that our first parents had in the beginning.

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Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.