Part of the works of God in the space of six days was the institution of marriage. Zanchi, in proper fashion, addresses this topic in the third part of his work on creation. He treats marriage in its three phases, espousal, marriage, and divorce (or the proper termination of marriages). In the middle section of these three, he provides a helpful, scholastic definition of marriage which conforms to the four-fold causation of scholastic theology and philosophy.
If you are not familiar with four-fold causation, it can get a bit confusing as we moderns think of causation as only physical (which would include biological, chemical, electronic, etc.) In a word, we tend to think of causation only in terms of the hard sciences. But, the scholastics employed the notion of causation to philosophy and theology in order to derive clear definitions of the subjects they were treating. This use of causation was most prevalent in the discipline of metaphysics. Since Hume and Kant, the use of the four-fold causation scheme has fallen into disuse and disrepair. Causation was one of the categories that Hume attacked as unreliable and one of the categories that Kant tried to rehabilitate through his categories of knowing. Like time, causation was seen, by Kant, as a necessary, but ultimately ephemeral, category that humans need to make sense of the world.
When we turn to the Reformed scholastics, though, we are turning to a body of work that was perfectly at home in the four-fold causation scheme and employed to great effect. Therefore, it is helpful to understand that the reformed scholastics employed these distinctions quite readily. But it is also important to understand how they employed them. They were employed by the reformed scholastics to clearly define the thing of which they were treating. In many ways, the classical doctrine of divine simplicity is a result of defining God clearly, before making statements about his relation to men. Once you have the definition in place, then you can begin predication.
Hence, in our day, there is much ado about marriage and relationships between (and even among) the sexes. If we are going to make headway in this debate, we must begin with clear definitions. And clear definitions were the stock in trade of the reformed scholastics. So, in this post, I bring before you Zanchi’s definition of marriage in an attempt to clarify the conversation so that we can make progress toward understanding God, his creation, and that highest element of his creation, man and woman.
Coniugium est indissolubilis duorum, maris scilicet & foemeniae, in unam carnem, a Deo iam inde a principio Mundi instituta coniunctio: ex libero utriusque partis consensus, legitime, eoque & in Domino facta: Tum ad vitam piam atque honestam summa cum fide, & charitate, simul in hoc mundo transigendam: eoque ad verum Deum in Spiritu & veritate simul colendum: honestumque solatium, & iustum adiutorium, tam in divinis, quam in humanis rebus mutuo sibi exhibendum: Tum etiam ad liberos, si Deus velit dare, Deo & Ecclesiae Reipublicaeque generandos, honeste educandos, & in vera fide ac religione instituendos: ita tamen, ut in his omnibus, totoque coniugio, vir quidem se mulieri caput exhibeat, sicut etiam Christus Ecclesiae, mulier vero subjecta sit viro, sicut & Ecclesia Christo.
“The conjugal state is an indissoluable union between two, namely a man and a woman, as one flesh, having been established by God at the beginning of the world. It is legitimate when proceeding from the free consent of both parties and when made in the Lord. Further, it is engaged in for the purpose of leading a pious and honest life in sincere faith and love in this world and in worshiping the true God in the Spirit and truth. Honest and just support and aid of each helping the other, both in divine things and in things pertaining to this life ought to be given mutually by each. Then, also, for the propagation, honest education, and instruction in the true faith and religion of legitimate offspring, if God so wills, for the sake of God and his Church and the Republic. Thus, moreover, in all these things and in the entire marriage, let the man show himself to be the head of the woman just as Christ is the head of the church and let the woman be subject to the man, just as the Church is to Christ.”
As Zanchi unpacks this definition, he will note the efficient, formal, material, and final causes which make up this definition. His own comment on this definition is that it contains everything required for a legitimate and holy marriage to be constituted.
First, the efficient cause. Here Zanchi makes a distinction between the primary and secondary efficient causes. The primary efficient cause is God himself, who instituted marriage by bringing the first man and woman together and continuing to bring men and women together in marriage. The second efficient cause is the free consent of both parties. This cause is called by Zanchi “the immediate and proximate” efficient cause.
As an aside, this distinction between the will of God and of man as both being efficient causes is an important distinction for reformed theology. The importance of this distinction is more readily seen when it comes to union with Christ by faith. The primary efficient cause of saving faith is God’s work by his Spirit effectually calling a sinner. But, that faith must be exercised by the sinner if he is to be united to Christ. Therefore the second efficient cause, the proximate one, is the exercise of faith on he part of the sinner. Now, both must be in place for union with Christ to happen. Without either, there is no union with Christ.
And so, Zanchi, acknowledges that there is a two fold efficient in bringing about the married state. God and man must consent to the union between the man and woman. In reformed theology, men are not robots, though God is the primary efficient cause of all.
The material cause is the man and woman themselves. They are that which makes up the substance of the marriage. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that the material cause of marriage is a man and woman. Any other two brought together do not constitute a marriage. Men cannot marry men and women cannot marry women.
The formal cause of marriage is that which Zanchi has just described in these three ways: as one flesh, legitimately, and in the Lord. The formal cause deals with how a thing takes shape, that is in what form it presents itself. Therefore, marriage, holy marriage, is one in which a man and woman are united as one flesh, legitimately, and in the Lord. This aspect of the definition is important for current discussions going on in relation to friendship between the sexes. Note that marriage takes the form of two becoming one flesh. Zanchi, here, is using biblical language by terming the union “one flesh.” What this language means is that the husband and wife are so united that they become one entity, one flesh. This does not mean that they lose their identity as individuals. Rather, it means that their identity as individuals arises out of their union to the other.
Finally, the final cause. Or should I say causes? Here, Zanchi makes another distinction. He notes three final causes for marriage. First, that the couple themselves might live an honest and holy life together in this world which is directed toward God and is honest and pleasant (iucundam). Second, the propagation of children. This is for the enlargement of the church through thier education and training in righteousness. These two combine to the third and final final cause, the glory of God.
Here, I will only make a brief application of this definition to the current debate over spiritual friendship, in particular as it relates to the “siblingship” notion promoted by some and which advocates deep spiritual intimacy between married men and women who are not married to each other. The problem with his approach to male and female relations is that it undercuts one of the purposes of marriage. The first purpose for marriage, as defined by Zanchi, is that the couple might lead a holy, healthy, and happy life together. Those who promote spiritual intimacy between married people, not married to each other, are teaching that spouses need to seek, either holiness, happiness, or mental and emotional health, out side of their marriage. This undermines one of the primary purposes for marriage.
One final application, for all of us, married or not. Note how broad Zanchi’s description of marriage is and how much good you can do for yourself, the church, and your country, by engaging in a holy, legitimate marriage! God’s purposes for marriage are the happiness of the couple, the growth of the church, the good of the commonwealth, and his own glory. Is that not what you want your life to be? Well then, get married, have kids, and love your spouse with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength!