By: Paul Murano – Oct. 2018

It has been said that the reason marriage vows are taken in close proximity to the altar is because marriage is a sacrificial offering of one self to the other. In order to become ‘one couple’ the lives of ‘two individuals’ must be sacrificed.

This sacrifice of two singles into one union is ratified at the altar and consummated at the marriage bed. The first is verbal union, the second bodily union. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two become one body (Gn 2:24).

How can two persons become one body or one flesh? One way is literal, the other metaphorical. Both are essential. Let’s go beneath the surface to take a closer look.

There is a natural order to consider that is fully aligned with reason and science, which we do not create. It includes living bodies. Every body has different parts and every living body has the equivalent of a head and a heart. These main elements are different, interdependent, and necessary for the survival of the body. No body – whether it be a human body, a family, an organization, or a nation – survives without a healthy head and healthy heart. Eve came forth from Adam’s side: she is the heart of humanity.

When these two halves of humanity come together they create something greater than themselves, and each must leave their old self behind. Analogously, once hydrogen and oxygen come together to make water they can never go back to their former existence. Once a male reproductive cell and a female reproductive cell come together and form a child, they can never go backwards to their former existence as gametes. Something greater has been created which cannot be denied. When a man and woman come together to exchange their very body-selves, they too can never pretend there is no union, even if that union does not create a child. The fusion of persons in their genetic material and spirit is permanent by nature, and hence has always been known to be what consummates a marriage to make it unbreakable. The natural union of shared selves cannot be dissolved.

But union cannot and does not occur without the proper elements. If two plugs came together or two outlets, for example, there can never be electricity. A metaphorical head and heart are necessary for a new living body to exist. They are the complementary building blocks. A heart nurtures the internal affairs of the body, caring for the parts and members from within. A head looks outward to lead, protect, and provide. Hidden and humble, the heart keeps the body alive including her head with blood and oxygen, yet cannot survive without the head’s command for her to do so. Without two complementary opposites, physically and psychologically, no real union can form. A body cannot have two heads and no heart, or two hearts without a head. They are equal, different, and both necessary.

St. Paul speaks of marriage as the union of head and body, imaging Christ’s relationship to His bride the Church:

“The husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, his body…Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loves the Church and gave Himself up for her… Husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church…Each one of you should love his wife as himself, and the wife should respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:25, 28-30).

Notice the different yet complementary ways man and woman are naturally ordered to love, according to their masculine and feminine natures: It can be summed up in two words from St. Paul’s passage: cherish and respect. The man cherishes his wife as his own flesh, and the woman respects her husband as her own head.

Politically incorrect? Extremely. True? Absolutely. When Jesus was challenged by the Pharisees about this He responded:

“Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘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 they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man put asunder” (Mt 19:4-6).

This is the mystery of marriage. When two become one they become three. A triadic union. This is most concretely evident with the conception of a child, but is still real with the consummating creation of lover, beloved, and love. Ultimately, this is all a reflection of the Creator God who is Love – eternal Trinity by virtue of eternal unity.

Paul Murano teaches college philosophy and theology and hosts ‘Beneath the Surface’ radio talk show on WCAP. Podcasts at Paul has graduate degrees in philosophy and theology and is certified in health care ethics. He speaks on topics where faith and reason meet, and also plays at local venues as a solo singer-songwriter-musician. E-mail Paul at