Cleave to Christ

POSTED BY Michael B Rooke

Cleave to Christ

“In a recent Post to ‘Protect the Pope’ Ian of England wrote that ‘we must cleave to Christ’

The English word ‘cleave’ has two quite opposite meanings.[1] One is to split and the other stick or adhere to. In terms of etymology it would seem that two quite different Germanic roots [2] kleben (adhere) and klieben (split) became   a single English word ‘cleave’ having the two meanings.

Cleave meaning to adhere to is found in older translations of the Bible for example KJV and the Douai-Rheims(Challoner).  It is widely used in the Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) [3] that appears to be used in Vatican document translations and as such differs from the New American Bible (NAB) found on the Vatican website. The RSVCE only uses cleave in the Old Testament whereas the Douai Rheims uses it in both the Old and the New Testaments.

More recent translations tend to omit ‘cleave’ and a list is provided in [4]. There are some examples of cleave being used in the Bible meaning split but these have not been separated out and the context used below is to adhere to.

Returning to Biblical use of cleave meaning to adhere to. A notable and much quoted example of cleave is Genesis 2:24 (D-R) ‘Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh. ‘ Some have commented on the poetic rhyming of ‘leave’ and ‘cleave’. This is lost in modern translations that retain ‘leave’ but have not used ‘cleave’.

Pope Blessed John Paul II preached on the underlying theology of ‘leave’ and ‘cleave’ and the importance Jesus attached to them in his homily ‘The Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage’ “…Subsequently, the Master referred to Genesis 2:24: “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Quoting these words almost in full, Christ gave them an even more explicit normative meaning (since it could be supported that in Genesis they express de facto statements: “leaves…cleaves…they become one flesh”). The normative meaning is plausible since Christ did not confine himself only to the quotation itself, but added: “So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” That “let not man put asunder” is decisive. In the light of these words of Christ, Genesis 2:24 sets forth the principle of the unity and indissolubility of marriage as the very content of the Word of God, expressed in the most ancient revelation.”

The importance of safeguarding the sanctity of the marriage bond from distractions, even ostensibly religious, was made in 1749 by Pope Benedict XIV. In his Encyclical  Apostolica Constitutio- ON PREPARATION FOR THE HOLY YEAR, the HolyFather firstly  summarised pilgrimages in the Old Testament

“2. In the old law God commanded all sons of the Israelites to approach the Tabernacle or the Temple of the Lord with devotion three times each year. “On three occasions throughout the year all your males will appear in the sight of the Lord your God in the place which He has chosen at the festivals of Azymes, of Weeks and of Tabernacles” (Dt 16). ”

Then went on to state “7. …Thus a husband who is bound to cleave to his wife by the tie of marriage will do evil if he undertakes a long pilgrimage against the will of his wife and leaves her at home, etc. Indeed, even if his wife consents, a long pilgrimage by the husband could constitute an aberration, if the absence might result in the loss of virtue by either of the spouses. Similarly, it would be unusual for the father of a family to go on a pilgrimage, since he is needed at home to support his family..”

Cleaving to other than God is described in  Psalm 119. “My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to your word” (v. 25)”

An exegesis of which is given by Pope Benedict XVI “This Psalm is steeped in love for the word of God whose beauty, saving power and capacity for giving joy and life it celebrates; because the divine Law is not the heavy yoke of slavery but a liberating gift of grace that brings happiness”

“The Law of the Lord, his word, is the centre of the praying person’s life; he finds comfort in it, he makes it the subject of meditation, he treasures it in his heart: “I have laid up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v. 11), and this is the secret of the Psalmist’s happiness; and then, again, “the godless besmear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts” (v. 69).”

“The Psalmist’s faithfulness stems from listening to the word, from pondering on it in his inmost self, meditating on it and cherishing it, just as did Mary, who “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart”, the words that had been addressed to her and the marvellous events in which God revealed himself, asking her for the assent of her faith (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). ”

The document Verbi Sponsa approved by Pope Blessed John Paul II the ‘Instruction on the Contemplative Life and on the Enclosure of Nuns’ stated

“In their undivided attention to the Father’s word: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17), and in their loving acceptance of that word, cloistered nuns are always “with Him on the holy mountain” (2 Pt 1:17-18). Fixing their gaze upon Christ Jesus, shrouded in the cloud of God’s presence, they wholly cleave to the Lord. (2)

Cloistered nuns see themselves especially in the Virgin Mary, (3) Bride and Mother, figure of the Church; (4) and sharing the blessedness of those who believe (cf. Lk 1:45; 11:28), they echo her “Yes” and her loving adoration of the Word of life, becoming with her the living “memory” of the Church’s spousal love (cf. Lk 2:19, 51). (5)”

Pope Blessed John Paul II in the Angelus on All Saints day spoke of the communion of saints in Christ ‘cleave together’ this being an exegesis of the teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 954. The Holy Father said : ‘Today we honour the saints of every age, as we begin praying for our deceased loved ones and visiting cemeteries. …

2. Today’s solemnity thus helps us to deepen our understanding of a basic truth of the Christian faith which we profess in the Creed: the “communion of saints”. This is how the Second Vatican Coucil expressed it: “All, indeed, who are of Christ and have his Spirit form one Church and in Christ cleave together (Eph 4:16). So it is that the union of the wayfarers with the brethren who sleep in the peace of Christ is in no way interrupted, but on the contrary, according to the constant faith of the Church, this union is reinforced by an exchange of spiritual goods…. By their fraternal concern our weakness is thus greatly helped” (Lumen gentium, n. 49).

This wondrous communion is realized in the most elevated and intense way in the divine liturgy, especially in the Eucharistic sacrifice: here “we are most closely united to the worship of the heavenly Church, when in the fellowship of communion we honour and remember the glorious Ever-Virgin Mary, St Joseph, the holy Apostles and martyrs and all the saints” (ibid., n. 50)….

Speaking of Pope Pius XII, Pope Benedict XVI said ” realizing the lack of any human security, he also felt the strong need to cleave to Christ the one certainty that never fails”

Pope Francis invites us in effect to join the cloistered nuns who  ‘are always with Him on the holy mountain’ so that  cleaving to Christ provides our instructions to share what we have received.

‘From the event of the Transfiguration I would like to take two significant elements that can be summed up in two words: ascent and descent. We all need to go apart, to ascend the mountain in a space of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. This we do in prayer. But we cannot stay there! Encounter with God in prayer inspires us anew to “descend the mountain” and return to the plain where we meet many brothers weighed down by fatigue, sickness, injustice, ignorance, poverty both material and spiritual. To these brothers in difficulty, we are called to bear the fruit of that experience with God, by sharing the grace we have received. And this is curious. When we hear the Word of Jesus, when we listen to the Word of Jesus and carry it in our heart, this Word grows. Do you know how it grows? By giving it to the other! The Word of Christ grows in us when we proclaim it, when we give it to others! And this is what Christian life is. It is a mission for the whole Church, for all the baptized, for us all: listen to Jesus and offer him to others. Do not forget: this week listen to Jesus! And think about the matter of the Gospel: will you? Will you do this? ‘

References [1]

[2] Kleben (verb) exists as a modern German word meaning to stick, glue, adhere, cling Klieben according to the German Dictionary Duden is used colloquially in Southern Germany and Austria to mean split as in cleaving wood.

klieben Part of speech : Irregular verb Use : South German, Austrian colloquially cleave Example Klieben wood

This link can be toggled between the German and the English using the selection tabs at “View”

[3] The Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition (RSVCE) may be found on the following sites

And as a footnote on a footnote information on differences between the RSV and the RSV Catholic Edition may be found on this link

[4] Biblical use of ‘cleave’ and its derivatives.  Cleave, cleaves cleaving cleaveth

KJV 45 times

Douai Rheims 1610 unavailable as searchable text. Douai Rheims (Challoner) 28* times Douai Rheims 1899 American Version 28 times

Revised Standard Version 35 times Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition 35 times

New Revised Standard Version Not found New Revised  Standard Version Catholic Edition Not found NIV Not found Jerusalem Bible 1966 not found The New Jerusalem Bible. Not ascertained. Knox Translation not found

New American Bible (2002) on Vatican web site 3 times NAB word index

Catechism of the Catholic Church  6 times Catechism of the Catholic Church word index

* Most of the web sites performed partial word searches so that a search for ‘cleav’ produced words from that component.  On the DRBO. org website complete words need to be entered.  Search on NAB on the Vatican web site is conveniently accessed via the concordance as is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.”



M Donnelly:  Thank you for this – although I knew both meanings I had not realised how confusing this can be!

7 comments to Cleave to Christ

  • Ian in England

    Thanks for this:
    Yes, “kleben”, not “klieben” – Cleave to Christ, not be cloven from Christ. You could write a sermon on “cleave to” vs “cleave from”! (In fact, somebody probably already has done.)
    I should mention that, as a Germanicist, I appreciate your linguistic asides here, too.
    One (trivial) complaint, though, I’m afraid: The official title is “the Authorised Version”, not the King James Version.

    • Michael B Rooke

      @ Ian in England

      Thank you for your comment and original inspiration. I am far from being a Germanicist but having worked for a German adhesives company, ‘kleben’ was not an altogether unfamiliar term to me.
      I had also overlooked that the Authorised Version which I quoted as KJV originally had the deuterocanonical sections which were subsequently labelled as Apocrypha then finally omitted.
      The original Authorised Version had 52 mentions of cleave and its derivatives compared to 45 times in what is now regarded as the Authorised Version and which I quoted as KJV.
      The canonicity of deuterocanonical sections was explicitly affirmed at the Council of Trent in 1546.
      ‘Celebrated on the eighth day of the month of April, in the year MDXLVI.

  • mia

    The priest in his homily last weekend in Dublin told us that he thought that Lazarus was not really dead at all .He told us that Lazarus was more than likely in a coma or ‘out for the count’. He also said that if Lazarus really and truly died he would have gone to Heaven and have seen God and become like Him and would not have wanted to return to his sisters. The priest also said that Jesus would not have been so cruel as to bring him back from Heaven. This priest said that he ‘stress tested’ the Gospel and this was the result.

    • Lynda

      I don’t need to “stress test” this priest to know he is a heretic. Did you ask him what he called his particular religion? He needs to be removed from ministry so that he can no longer lead souls astray. Write to the bishop (is it county Dublin?) and inform him of what this priest said to his parishioners who rely on him to teach them the deposit of Faith without any alteration. St John Vianney, intercede for the soul of this priest.

  • Sonja

    Thank you for your educational input and pointing out some scholarly resources that I was not aware of. A great point you make with supporting sources that I will be bookmarking. I have even learnt some German I was not previously so aware of (and I speak German).

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