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Getting the “Math” of Marriage Right

Guest post by Deacon Jim Russell

We all know there is an ongoing battle to safeguard the meaning of marriage: One man plus one woman equals marriage, right? And an unprecedented battle is now raging to preserve this definition….Right?

Well, yes and no. This contemporary battle over marriage’s definition is unprecedented insofar as it is focused on gender. But we may do well to remember that marriage has always been under attack when it comes to the “math.”

In our affirmation of the institution in the face of same-sex “marriage,” perhaps we too-readily gloss over the historical reality we call polygamy, as though “plural” marriage (most often with one man and multiple wives) has only been a modestly practiced contradiction to “real” monogamous marriage. Maybe we assume that marriage as a societal institution has always been “one plus one.”

A more sobering assessment is this: once a culture accepts the marriage of two men or two women, there is very little to stand between that culture and the acceptance of polygamy.

What might that “very little” be?

Christianity, or, more specifically, the Catholic Church.

Would you be surprised to learn that the only monotheistic religion to proclaim that monogamy (one husband, one wife) is a part of Divine Law is Christianity? As in the un-fragmented original founded by Jesus Christ—the Catholic Church? I was amazed a few years ago when I realized that Judaism, even today, does not view monogamy as a matter of Divine command. It’s true that many centuries ago an influential rabbi, long story short, more or less declared polygamy forbidden, but not because God said so.

Of course, we know the Old Testament is chock-full of examples of polygamy among the Israelites. We also know that Islam is not against polygamy, nor is a multitude of religions and cultures across the globe. Polygamy as an assault on God’s plan for marriage has been around almost from “the beginning.”

I say “the beginning” as in Adam and Eve, in fact. The first married couple shows vividly that God’s plan was “one plus one,” man and woman. It is only *after* the fall that we see polygamy arise, and quickly, within a couple generations after Adam and Eve (Genesis 4, wherein Lamech takes two wives). That didn’t take long! (It should be noted that the “fall” itself is an assault on marriage, but that discussion is for another time.)

Fast-forward to Jesus Christ the Bridegroom instituting the Sacrament of Matrimony for His Bride, the Church—making clear to His disciples that not only did God “make them male and female” but He *also* made marriage “one plus one.” Like divorce, polygamy once reared its ugly head among God’s chosen people, permitted because of their “hardness of heart,” up until Christ’s “redemption” of monogamous or “real” marriage through the Paschal Mystery—the Bridegroom laying down His life for His Bride.

But polygamy has never been far away, and it’s not merely ensconced in certain uncharted corners of traditional “Mormon” territory in Utah. It’s in Islam. It’s not contrary to divine law according to Judaism. It’s still found all over the world. And, I’d suggest it’s right around the corner once same-sex “marriage” is fully enshrined in our secular culture. Seem far-fetched? Well, just consider the “rights” of someone self-identifying as bisexual. Why shouldn’t bisexuals be permitted to have a spouse of each gender?

Stay tuned, and stay on your knees in prayer. Hold fast to your Christian faith—it’s the only thing on the planet claiming that monogamy is God’s plan for us.


Deacon Jim Russell is a lifelong St. Louis resident, “cradle” Catholic, husband, father of eleven, and grandfather of two. Ordained to the Diaconate in 2002, Deacon Russell serves as Director of Liturgy for Immaculate Conception Parish in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, the second-largest parish in the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He remains an active supporter of Catholic radio and can be heard occasionally on “Catholic Answers Live.”  Deacon Russell’s theological interests include the sanctity of marriage and the work of Blessed Pope John Paul II, particularly his “Catechesis on Human Love” (Theology of the Body).