From 7th Century to Vatican II: The Theology of Marriage of Hugh of St. Victor and St. Thomas Aquinas

Marriage, during the time of Hugh of St. Victor, was primarily took place outside of the Church, with a blessing of the marriage occurring months after the actual marriage had take place. St. Victor firmly believed that creation had fallen and needed to be restored entirely in Christ. This heavily influenced his view of sacraments, which he believed to be largely restorative and healing.  St. Victor articulates that the sacraments are instituted for 3 reasons humility, instruction, and exercise:

  • HUMILITY –  ” . . . just as it was damnable pride to despise the superior though present, so it is praiseworthy humility to seek him through absent and with persevering love not to cease from the search until discovery, so that there is both devotion in humility and humility in devotion.”
  • INSTRUCTION – “For the Sick man can not see the medicine but he can see the vessel in which the medicine is given. And on this account in the species itself of the vessel the virtue of medicine is expressed that he may recognize what he receives and through this knowledge proceed to love”
  • EXERCISE: “The sacraments were instituted for the sake of exercise, that, while the human mind is exercised and cultivated by various species of works without, it may be made fertile for the multiple fruits of virtue within” (I.9.III)

Dr. O’Malley expounds upon this stating that humility is “the return to the created state human beings were intended to be, that humility of the sacraments points us to a new way of seeing the world, a humbling of self that allows us to see God;” instruction is “a form of healing that takes place through instruction, so that you come to see a proper ordering of creation, a proper posture in the world;” lastly exercise, which means they “create us a kind of ordering of self, so that the human mind comes to imagine God, to see God without, it heals because it forms new habits in the person. It makes possible the growth of virtue within.”

For St. Victor, the sacrament of marriage is a means of bringing one back to the original destiny of creation and is a living sign that points to the harmony that should exist between God and the soul. Furthermore, like other theologians, St. Victor believes the sacrament of marriage symbolizes the union between Christ and the Church, with the betrothal taking place on the cross. This understanding of marriage, and connection to creation, can be seen in the Gregorian Sacramentary, in which the Blessing of the Marriage contains the following words:

O God,
you made all things out of nothing by your power.
When you had laid the foundation of the universe,
you created man in the image of God,
and made woman as man’s inseparable helper,
bringing the woman’s body into being
out of the man’s flesh,
teaching us thereby
that what it had pleased to create
out of an original unity
must never be put asunder.
O God,
you have consecrated the bond of marriage
with such an excellent mystery
as to prefigure in the covenant of marriage
the sacrament of Christ and his Church.
(Documents of the Marriage Liturgy, 47-48)

One should not be surprised to find that St. Thomas’s Aquinas’ understanding of the sacrament of marriage is complex, yet beautiful. Like Hugh of St. Victor, Aquinas also believes the union between husband and wife to resemble the union between the Church and Christ. He notes the following:

Matrimony, then, in that it consists in the union of a husband and wife purposing to generate and educate offspring for the worship of God, is a sacrament of the Church; hence, also, a certain blessing on those marrying is given by the ministers of the Church.And as in the other sacraments by the thing done outwardly a sign is made of a spiritual thing, so, too, in this sacrament by the union of husband and wife a sign of the union of Christ and the Church is made; in the Apostle’s words: “This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the church” (Eph. 5:32) (Contra Gentiles 4.78. 2-3).

To Aquinas, fidelity is the way of living out this insoluble bond. It is through this fidelity that the husband and wife give a living sign of the union of Christ to His Church.

In the Nuptial Blessing of Order of Celebrating Matrimony of the Second Vatican Council, we see the importance of the gift of fidelity that Aquinas articulates, as well as what Aquinas lists to be the three goods of matrimony (children to be raised in the Church, fidelity, and the sacrament):

O God, who by your mighty power
created all things out of nothing,
and, when you had set in place
the beginnings of the universe,
formed man and woman in your own image, making the woman an inseparable helpmate to the man,
that they might no longer be two, but one flesh,
and taught that what you were pleased to make one
must never be divided;
O God, who consecrated the bond of Marriage
by so great a mystery
that in the wedding covenant you foreshadowed the Sacrament of Christ and his Church;
O God, by whom woman is joined to man
and the companionship they had in the beginning is endowed with the one blessing
not forfeited by original sin
nor washed away by the food.
Look now with favor on these your servants,
joined together in Marriage,
who ask to be strengthened by your blessing.
Send down on them the grace of the Holy Spirit
and pour your love into their hearts,
that they may remain faithful in the Marriage covenant.
May the grace of love and peace abide in your daughter N.,
and let her always follow the example
of those holy women
whose praises are sung in the Scriptures.
May her husband entrust his heart to her,
so that, acknowledging her as his equal
and his joint heir to the life of grace,
he may show her due honor
and cherish her always
with the love that Christ has for his Church.
And now, Lord, we implore you:
may these your servants
hold fast to the faith and keep your commandments;
made one in the flesh,
may they be blameless in all they do;
and with the strength that comes from the Gospel, may they bear true witness to Christ before all; (may they be blessed with children, and prove themselves virtuous parents, who live to see their children’s children).

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