Listers, next to converting to Catholicism, the second best choice of my life was marrying my husband. Before I converted and before I met my husband, I did not believe that marriage was a sacrament. Not recognizing this great mysterious gift as one of the major sources of grace caused me to think all sorts of other errant nonsense. For example, I believed that divorce was okay and that contraception was not only permissible but essential to a happy marriage. Fortunately I met St. John Chrysostom before I met my husband.
There was a stat floating around on the internet that said that 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Whether that is true I am not sure. However, it got me thinking. If this stat is true, then why is this the case? I think that part and maybe the whole problem of it is most people don’t understand how serious marriage is. We see youtube videos of these kind of goofy weddings where people are dancing hamfistedly down the aisles, but as cute and adorable and unique as that may be it’s not serious enough for what the occasion is all about. Marriage is a sacrament. Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about what that means.
In this stream of thought, I am going to list 7 quotes from the man who possibly saved my marriage before I even met my husband.1
1. Pick Virtue Rather than Riches When Selecting a Good Husband
First, look for a husband who will really be a husband and a protector; remember that you are placing a head on a body. When your daughter is to be married, don’t look for how much money a man has. Don’t worry about his nationality or his family’s social position […] When you are satisfied that the man is virtuous and decide what day they will be married, beseech Christ to be present at the wedding. He is not ashamed to come for marriage is an image of His presence in the Church. Even better than this: pray that your children will each find such a virtuous spouse; entrust this concern of yours into His hands. If you honor Him in this way, He will return honor for honor. — Sermon on Marriage
2. Advice on How to Pick a Wife
Since we know all this, let us seek just one thing in a wife, virtue of soul and nobility of character, so that we may enjoy tranquility, so that we may luxuriate in harmony and lasting love. The man who takes a rich wife takes a boss rather than a wife. If even without wealth women are with pride and prone to the love of fame, if they have wealth in addition, how will their husbands be able to stand them? The man, however, who takes a wife of equal position or poorer than himself takes a helper and ally and brings every blessing into his house. Her own poverty forces her to care for her husband with great concern, to yield to him and obey him in everything. It removes every occasion of strife, battle, presumption, and pride. It binds the couple in peace, harmony, love, and concord. Let us not, therefore, seek to have money, but to have peace, in order to enjoy happiness. Marriage does not exist to fill our houses with war and battles, to give us strife and contention, to pit us against each other and make our life unliveable. It exists in order that we may enjoy another’s help, that we may have a harbor, a refuge, and a consolation in troubles which hang over us, and that we may converse happily with our wife. How many wealthy men who have taken rich wives and increased their substance have yet destroyed their happiness and harmony, as they contend in daily battles at table?How many poor men who have taken poorer wives now enjoy peace and look upon each day’s sun with joy? –How to Choose a Wife
3. The Two-Fold Purpose of Marriage
Marriage was not instituted for wantonness or fornication, but for chastity. Listen to what Paul says: “Because of the temptation of immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her husband.” There are two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaster, and to make us parents. Of these two, the reason of chastity takes precedence. — Sermon on Marriage
4. Weddings Should Be Christ-Focused
Marriage is not an evil thing. It is adultery that is evil, it is fornication that is evil. Marriage is a remedy to eliminate fornication. Let us not, therefore, dishonor marriage by the pomp of the devil. Instead, let those who take wives now do as they did at Cana in Galilee. Let them have Christ in their midst. “How can they do this?” someone asks. By inviting the clergy. “He who receives you,” the Lord says, “receives Me.” So drive away the devil. Throw out the lewd songs, the corrupt melodies, the disorderly dances, the shameful words, the diabolical display, the uproar, the unrestrained laughter, and the rest of the impropriety. Bring in instead the holy servants of Christ, and through them Christ will certainly be present along with His mother and His brothers. For He says, “Whoever does the will of My Father is My brother and sister and mother.” — Sermon on Marriage
5. Fidelity Is an Equal Responibility in a Marriage
In this passage [1 Corinthians 7:1-2], however, there is no mention of greater or lesser authority. Why does he speak here in terms of equality? Because his subject is conjugal fidelity. He intends for the husband to have greater responsiblity in nearly every concern, but fidelity is an exception. “The husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does.” Husband and wife are equally responsible for the honor of their marriage bed. — Homily on 1 Corinthians 7
6. Love is More Powerful than Fear
Notice, however, that Paul explains love in detail, comparing it to Christ’s love for the Church and our love for our own flesh, saying for this reason a man leaves his father and mother but he does not elaborate concerning fear. Why so? He would much prefer love to prevail, because where there is love, everything else follows, but where love is absent, fear will be of no use. If a man loves his wife, he will bear with her even when she isn’t very obedient. How difficult it is to have harmony when husband and wife are not bound together by the power of love! Fear is no substitute for this. That is why he speaks at greater length about the stronger force. So if you think that the wife is the loser because she is told to fear her husband, remember that the principal duty of love is assigned to the husband, and you will see that it is her gain. “And what if my wife refuses to obey me?” a husband will ask. Never mind! Your obligation is to love her; do your duty! Even when we don’t receive our due from others, we must always do our duty. –Homily on Ephesians 5:22-23
7. The Love between a Husband and Wife is a Vital to the Success of Humanity
The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord?” Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends, and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both of families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise, however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside-down. –Homily on Ephesians 5:22-23
For all married couples, St. John Chrysostom, pray for us!
N.B. Keep in mind that St. John Chrysostom lived from 347-407 AD, so this was clearly a different age and different part of the world. Arranged marriages were a more common place occurrence. Also, the structure of marriages were different in those days. So, please hear out all of what St. John Chrysostom has to say because his intent is not misogyny but to help married couples flourish in their vocation.
More from SPL:
Splendor of the East: 5 Byzantine Hymns All Catholics Should Know
8 Quotes from St. John Chrysostom on How to Raise Children
6 Things You Should Know About the Melkite Catholic Church
Lists referencing “Holy Matrimony”
More lists with recourse to the Early Church Fathers
- All quotes were taken from the following compilation of Chrysostom writings:
Chrysostom, St. John. On Marriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986. [↩]