Although marriages are communities formed by mutual consent, still marriage is rooted so deeply in human nature that it is found in every age and culture. Anthropologists studying a culture do not ask whether its members marry but what special characteristics marriage has in that society. In doing so, they refer to something recognizable in any society by its constant characteristics: it is the more or less stable heterosexual relationship recognized by society as the community in which it is appropriate for a man and a woman to engage regularly in sexual intercourse, and to beget and raise children.1
The marriage of two baptized persons is a sacrament (see C, below). However, not only do the spouses’ responsibilities in marriage as such also pertain to sacramental marriage, they underlie the responsibilities which are proper to it; and of course not all Catholics are married to baptized persons. Therefore, before considering a Christian couple’s special responsibilities, it is useful to consider why indissolubility (which excludes divorce) and exclusivity (which excludes polygamy) are essential properties not only of sacramental marriage but of all marriage as God meant it to be.
This question treats (1) the intrinsic goodness of marriage; (2) the complex structure of this good, which includes both the couple’s relationship and the potential of their communion for parenthood; (3) the properties of indissolubility and exclusivity; and (4) the fact that those attempting marriage cannot alter these properties.
Every community joins people in cooperation for a common good, and a community’s appropriate constitution and characteristics are determined by that common good and by the ways in which its members can cooperate for it. To understand the moral responsibilities of marriage, one therefore must begin by identifying its common good. Any such attempt, however, encounters a long theological tradition, which distinguished several goods and ends of marriage and which requires critical reflection in order to clarify the single, unified common good of marriage.
Scripture suggests that marriage is intrinsically good. But St. Augustine, while defending the goodness of marriage, held that it is an instrumental good, and this view influenced subsequent theological reflection. St. Thomas not only accepted it but distinguished between the ends of marriage, classifying them as primary and secondary. This line of theological reflection never achieved an entirely harmonious synthesis of all the facets of Christian marriage.2 The Church’s teaching in modern times implied that marriage is more than an instrumental good, and, during the twentieth century, the Church’s doctrine on marriage has developed. As a result of this development, marriage no longer is seen as a means to ends beyond itself; rather, its intrinsic goodness has been clarified, and its various goods and ends can now be seen as aspects of its intrinsic goodness.
Since intelligible goods which are intrinsically, not merely instrumentally, good, are basic human goods (see CMP, 5.D), the result of this development in Catholic teaching about marriage can be summed up by saying that marriage itself is a basic human good.
a) Scripture suggests that marital communion is intrinsically good. The book of Genesis includes two accounts of the creation of man and woman. According to one, God first creates the man, observes that it is not good for him to be alone, and so creates the woman from part of the man’s body; when God presents the woman to him, the man at once recognizes her as his appropriate partner, as part of himself (see Gn 2.18–23). From this, the sacred writer concludes: “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gn 2.24).3 Here, the contrast between the man’s initial loneliness (“not good”) and the fulfillment of marriage that motivates him to leave his father and his mother implies that marital communion is in itself good.4
According to the other account, man and woman were created together in God’s image and blessed: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’ ” (Gn 1.27–28). Here, the fact that man and woman are created together in God’s image suggests that their very communion pertains to the natural perfection of human persons.5 But this account raises the question: Precisely how is marriage related to the blessing of offspring?
b) St. Augustine held that marriage is an instrumental good. In a work defending the goodness of marriage against those who despised and denigrated it, St. Augustine explicitly denied that marriage is good in itself: “Surely we must see that God gives us some goods which are to be sought for their own sake, such as wisdom, health, friendship; others, which are necessary for something else, such as learning, food, drink, sleep, marriage, sexual intercourse.”6 For Augustine, marriage is good because it makes possible both the propagation of the human race, in which the good of friendship is realized, and the fidelity of chastity, by integrating sexual desire into legitimate activity (and so providing a “remedy for concupiscence”); for Christians, he holds, the good of marriage also is in the sanctity of the sacrament, that is, in marriage’s indissolubility.7 Augustine also holds that marital intercourse is justified only when either intentionally directed to procreation or necessary, because of human weakness, to maintain marital fidelity.8
Nevertheless, perhaps because the Church’s teaching and practice never excluded the marriage of persons known to be infertile, Augustine begins his exposition of the goodness of marriage:
This does not seem to me to be a good solely because of the procreation of children, but also because of the natural companionship [societas] between the two sexes. Otherwise, we could not speak of marriage in the case of old people, especially if they had either lost their children or had begotten none at all. But, in a good marriage, although one of many years, even if the ardor of youths has cooled between man and woman, the order of charity still flourishes between husband and wife.9
Unfortunately, this point, which manifests a certain tension in Augustine’s thinking, is left undeveloped.
Had Augustine developed this insight, he might have resolved the tension by synthesizing the good of the natural society between the sexes with the other three goods—offspring, fidelity, and sacrament—and articulated a more adequate view of the communion of married life as a whole.10
c) St. Thomas held that marriage has primary and secondary ends. About three centuries after Augustine, St. Isidore of Seville set out what became the standard schema in Catholic theology for treating the purposes, as distinct from the goods, of marriage. Following Scripture, Isidore distinguishes three reasons (causae) for marrying: first, for the sake of offspring (“Be fruitful and multiply”); second, for the sake of a helper (“It is not good that the man should be alone”); and third, on account of incontinence (“It is better to marry than to be aflame with passion”).11
About five centuries later, in his Commentary on the Sentences, St. Thomas, drawing on Aristotle, developed this schema by distinguishing between marriage’s primary and secondary ends. Thomas, explaining the sense in which marriage is natural, says its principal end is the good of offspring and its secondary end is the mutual help which the spouses give each other in domestic life. Marriage is natural in respect to its primary end, since nature intends that children be not only born but brought up, and this requires the lasting tie between the parents in which marriage consists. Marriage also is natural in respect to its secondary end:
For, just as natural reason dictates that people dwell together, since individuals are not self-sufficient for everything that pertains to life—which is why human beings are said to be political by nature—so, of those activities which are required for human life, some are better suited to men and others to women, so that nature inclines toward a certain association [associatio] of man with woman, which is matrimony.12
While Thomas does not usually list remedying concupiscence among the ends of marriage, he does teach that, after original sin, marriage serves to curb concupiscence, especially in Christians, to whom the marital sacrament gives healing grace.13
The distinction between primary and secondary ends was vital for Thomas in dealing with one problem: how to reconcile Old Testament polygamy with natural law. His solution is that polygamy did not violate the primary end, and so could be permitted, although it interfered with the secondary end.14 By using the distinction and hierarchy of the ends of marriage in this way, Thomas confirms Augustine’s view that marriage is not good in itself but only as instrumental to the procreation and raising of children.15
Nevertheless, in the very place where he deals with the problem of polygamy, Thomas reveals complexities in his thinking. For, in coordinating the ends with the goods of marriage, he says that the principal end pertains to the human couple according to their generic nature, which they share with other animals, and thus having and raising children is a good of marriage. The secondary end of marriage, which pertains to the human couple precisely as human, is cooperation in the activities necessary for life; thus, the spouses owe each other fidelity, which is another of the goods of marriage. Beyond these two natural ends, marriage among Christians has the end of signifying the union of Christ and the Church, and so the sacrament is a good of marriage.16
Thomas thus coordinates the good of fidelity with the secondary end, cooperation in daily life, which he says belongs to marriage as specifically human. This suggests a question: Is this cooperation, when carried on with fidelity, a good intrinsic to marriage itself? While Thomas never raises this question, an affirmative answer to it seems to be implicit in the explanation he offers (in the Summa theologiae, written many years after his Commentary on the Sentences) of how Mary and Joseph were truly married. There he says that marriage has its first perfection from its form—the intrinsic principle which makes it what it specifically is—and he describes this form as the “indivisible joining of souls, by which each spouse is bound to maintain unbreakable fidelity with the other” (S.t., 3, q. 29, a. 2, c.).17 Moreover, while Thomas does not list friendship among the ends or goods of marriage, he says, in arguing for the indissolubility of marriage, that there seems to be maximum friendship between husband and wife, since they share not only marital intercourse but the whole of domestic life (see S.c.g., 3.123).
d) The Church teaches that there are three reasons to marry. The Catechism of the Council of Trent was first published under the authority of St. Pius V in 1566; during the next four centuries, this book had a very great direct and indirect effect on day-to-day catechesis throughout the Catholic Church. Taking up the question, “Why a man and a woman should be joined in marriage,” the catechism gives a fresh restatement of traditional doctrine. The three purposes are presented, not primarily as ends (fines) which God had in view in instituting marriage, but as reasons (causae) which people should have in view in giving their marital consent:
The first reason, then, is this very society of the two sexes, sought by an instinct of nature, entered into with the hope of mutual help, that each, assisted by the work of the other, may be able more easily to bear the hardships of life and stand up under the weakness of old age.
Thus, the “natural companionship [societas] between the two sexes,” which St. Augustine recognized as a good of marriage but failed to incorporate into his synthesis, finally finds its place in the Church’s teaching: “this very society [societas] of the two sexes, sought by an instinct of nature.” Moreover, this explanation of the purposes of marriage significantly differs from that of St. Thomas. Obviously, the first two purposes’ order is reversed, so that offspring, the primary end in Thomas, becomes the second reason to marry. Less obviously, but even more significantly, the purpose which in Thomas is the secondary end is transformed in becoming the first reason to marry.
Another reason is the desire for procreation, not so much, however, to leave behind heirs to inherit property and wealth, as to bring up worshipers in the true faith and religion. . . . And this was also one reason why from the beginning God instituted marriage. . . .
A third reason was added to the others after the fall of our first parent, when, on account of the loss of the righteousness in which man was created, appetite began to resist right reason: namely, that anyone who is aware of personal weakness and wishes to avoid the struggle with the flesh may use the remedy of marriage to avoid sins of lust. . . .
These therefore are the reasons, and those who wish to contract marriage piously and religiously, as becomes the children of the saints, should propose one or more of them to themselves.18
In Thomas, the secondary end of marriage is the mutual help which the spouses give each other, not the association (associatio) of man and woman to which nature inclines. Of course, since marriage essentially is that association, Thomas must refer to it in showing how marriage is natural, but his argument presupposes that domestic life as an end of marriage is extrinsic to its essence. In the catechism, however, the first reason to marry primarily is “this very society of the two sexes, sought by an instinct of nature”—that is, marriage itself—not merely the mutual help for which the couple hope, although that help is included in this reason for marrying. Thus, in teaching that the first reason to marry is “this very society of the two sexes, sought by an instinct of nature,” the catechism implies that marriage itself is a purpose to marry, since “this very society” refers to marriage itself. This, in turn, implies that marriage is intrinsically good, and that Augustine was mistaken in classifying marriage as an instrumental good, along with learning, food, drink, and sleep.19
e) In the twentieth century, the Church’s teaching on marriage developed. Since canon lawyers deal with issues about the validity of marriages, and a putative marriage’s validity or invalidity is settled when the wedding ceremony ends, canonists necessarily think of marriage as it then is, rather than as an ongoing communion. Only after the wedding, however, do the couple begin to actualize any of its ends. So, despite the development in catechesis, theologians, many of them canonists, tended to maintain the view that the ends of marriage are extrinsic to its essence.20
Moreover, to deal with marriage cases, canon lawyers need a definite and clear statement of the purpose of marriage, and the 1917 Code of Canon Law supplied one: “The primary end of matrimony is the procreation and raising of offspring; the secondary, mutual help and the remedy for concupiscence.”21 Interpreting this statement with a legalistic mentality, theologians read it as decisive with regard to all issues about the meaning and value of marriage. Consequently, the view that marriage and marital intercourse are only instrumental goods became more dominant than ever.
However, that view’s very dominance provoked the emergence of an antithesis: Even if the primary end of marriage and marital intercourse is the procreation and raising of children, still marriage has an intrinsic value and meaning, the spouses’ union in mutual love, and, since chaste marital intercourse expresses this value and meaning, it too has an inherent significance.22 The two views’ incompatibility and the plausibility of the second led to a development in Catholic teaching on marriage.23
f) Pius XI began this development in Casti connubii . Published at the end of 1930, Casti connubii not only reaffirms the truths about marriage which the Church had always taught but adds to previous teaching. While saying nothing inconsistent with canon law’s statement of the ends of marriage and even citing it—but only to make the point that the primary end includes the raising of children, not merely procreation—Pius does not use the ends to organize his treatment; instead, he uses the three goods: offspring, fidelity, and the sacrament. In the good of fidelity, Pius implicitly includes conjugal love, for he lists the fostering of conjugal love among the secondary ends of both marriage and the marital act.24
Moreover, in explaining fidelity, he teaches that conjugal love underlies its realization—conjugal love “pervades all the duties of married life and possesses a certain primacy of nobility in Christian marriage”25—and thus suggests that conjugal love brings about the intrinsic perfection of marital communion. Distinguishing authentic conjugal love from lust, sentiment, and empty talk, Pius explains that true love is expressed by action, which must go beyond mutual help and have as its primary purpose that the spouses help each other grow in virtue and holiness.26 Pius then adds:
This mutual moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism [the Catechism of the Council of Trent] teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose [causa et ratio] of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as a communion, companionship, and association of life as a whole.27
In this way, Pius not only recalls the catechism’s teaching but implies that Christian marriage is in itself a vocation and way of holiness. Thus, he supplies another ground for questioning the view that marriage is good only as instrumental to offspring.
g) Pius XII rejected a misconception of the communion of married life. Some theologians, purportedly developing Pius XI’s remark that marriage can be looked at “more widely as a communion, companionship, and association of life as a whole,” launched a frontal assault against the canonical statement of the ends of marriage.28 They were dissatisfied with the view that marriage is a merely instrumental good and wished to affirm its intrinsic value. However, being thoroughly imbued with the prevailing legalistic mentality, they assumed at the outset that the ends of marriage are extrinsic to it. This led them to deny that procreation is the primary purpose of marriage and to assert that the intrinsic meaning and immediate purpose of marriage is the spouses’ very one-flesh unity.29 Moreover, these theologians not only affirmed the intrinsic meaning and value of the marital relationship, detached from its ordination to reproductivity, but offered an analogous account of conjugal intercourse.30
Although those engaged in this line of theological reflection were groping toward a resolution of longstanding tensions, they oversimplified the problem by reducing the communion of married life to the intimate relationship of husband and wife, considered in abstraction from potential parenthood, which they brought in almost as an afterthought.31 Interpreted in the perspective of the standard account of the ends of marriage, this new theology rejected the primary end and absolutized the secondary end.32 Thus, in 1944 the Holy Office (since renamed “Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”), with the confirmation of Pius XII, declared inadmissible the opinion of those who “either deny that the primary end of marriage is the generation and education of children, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and independent.”33
Pius XII thus made it clear that an adequate account of the intrinsic value of marriage could not displace parenthood from its central position. There remained only one alternative: to treat parenthood as part of the communion of married life.
h) Vatican II articulated an integrated view of marriage and family. Rather than reducing marriage to its essence, which is fully realized when the wedding ceremony ends, Vatican II regards it as an ongoing community. The Council considers marriage globally, entitling its central treatment, the first chapter of the second part of Gaudium et spes: “Fostering the Dignity of Marriage and the Family.”34 In the chapter’s central article (GS 49), the Council repeats and develops Pius XI’s teaching about conjugal love, presenting it as the vivifying source of the whole communion of marriage and family life.
Thus, conjugal love, while never identified as an end or good of marriage, becomes the integrating principle of the whole chapter: marriage and the family are a “community of love” (GS 47); marriage itself is an “intimate community of conjugal life and love” (GS 48); conjugal love “is uniquely expressed and perfected through the marital act” and such acts “signify and foster that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with joyful and grateful hearts” (GS 49); the fruitfulness of marriage is treated as the fulfillment of conjugal love (see GS 50); and the problem of birth regulation is seen as one of harmonizing conjugal love with respect for life (see GS 51).
In this way, the Council presents marriage as a unified reality, continuous with the family, good and holy in itself, and bearing within itself its various goods and ends, whose riches it diffuses widely:
God himself is the author of matrimony, endowed with various goods and ends, all of which are of the greatest importance for the continuation of the human race, for the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of the family, and for the dignity, stability, peace, and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. (GS 48)
When the Council says that God endows marriage with its “various goods and ends,” a note supplies references to the places where the three goods are treated by St. Augustine, the Council of Florence, and Casti connubii. It also supplies one reference to a passage bearing on the ends of marriage (S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 3, ad 1), where St. Thomas, answering an objection to his thesis that the sacrament is the chief of the marriage goods, explains that the good of offspring holds primacy in one way but not in another. The Council’s notes supply no reference to canon law or any other source setting a hierarchy among the ends of marriage. Moreover, the Council refrains from speaking of primary and secondary ends of marriage, thus avoiding the suggestion, associated with that terminology, that marriage is instrumental to ends extrinsic to it.
However, Vatican II by no means repudiates the truth contained in the traditional theology of the primary end of marriage. Immediately after the sentence quoted above mentioning the goods and ends of marriage, the Council adds: “By their own natural character, the institution of marriage and conjugal love are directed to the procreation and raising of children and find their culmination in this” (GS 48). This formulation avoids the suggestion that marriage and conjugal love are means to the end of offspring, and points instead to the view that having and bringing up children normally belong to the full unfolding of marriage and conjugal love themselves.35
Vatican II then goes on at once to treat mutual help, too, not merely as the division of labor appropriate in the household insofar as it is an economic unit, but as the proper unfolding and perfecting of the conjugal covenant itself: “Thus the man and the woman, who by their conjugal covenant ‘are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mt 19.6), by the intimate conjoining of their persons and their actions provide each other with mutual help and service, experience a sense of their oneness, and achieve it more fully day by day” (GS 48). In this way, the Council includes mutual help within the very communion of married life, much as the Catechism of the Council of Trent did by absorbing it into the “very society of the two sexes, sought by an instinct of nature.”
i) Recent Church teaching maintains Vatican II’s integrated view. Laying the foundation for his reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching on contraception, Paul VI avoids any suggestion that marriage is good only as instrumental to offspring and nowhere speaks of its “primary end.” Instead, neatly summing up Vatican II’s integrated vision, he teaches that married love originates from God, who is love, and who instituted marriage to effect in human beings his loving plan: “As a consequence, husband and wife, through that mutual gift of themselves, which is specific and exclusive to them alone, develop that communion of persons, in which they perfect each other, so that they may cooperate with God in the generation and rearing of new lives.”36
Similarly, John Paul II, in responding to the work of the 1980 session of the Synod of Bishops on marriage and family, begins his exposition of the Church’s teaching on marriage by pointing out that, because human beings are created in the image of God who is love, the fundamental vocation of every human being is to love. Since human persons are bodily, their bodies must share in love as they realize their vocation in one of two specific ways: marriage, and virginity or celibacy. He then draws the conclusion:
Consequently, sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is by no means something purely biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it is an integral part of the love by which a man and a woman commit themselves totally to one another until death.37
After explaining that such self-giving excludes the option to change one’s mind, he adds: “This totality which is required by conjugal love also corresponds to the demands of responsible fertility.”38 Thus, John Paul II first describes marriage, without mentioning parenthood, as one way of realizing the human vocation to love, next emphasizes the totality of self-giving required by conjugal love, and only then points out that this totality is itself completed by the procreation and raising of children.
Vatican II’s development of Church teaching concerning marriage received legal force in the 1983 Code of Canon Law. The 1917 code’s statement of the primary and secondary ends no longer appears; in its place in the 1983 code is the first section of the first of the canons on marriage: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament.”39
j) Marriage is one of the basic human goods. Intelligible goods which are intrinsically good are basic human goods (see CMP, 5.D). One way of identifying a basic good is to consider people’s actions and ask, “Why are you doing that?” Persisting with that question eventually uncovers a small number of basic purposes of diverse kinds. These purposes arouse interest because their intelligible aspects are instantiations of the diverse basic goods. If engaged couples are asked why they are preparing to marry, they give many different answers, but often say something like: “We are in love and want to spend the rest of our lives together, and we feel we are ready to settle down and have a family.” That can be restated in abstract terms: the couple not only are drawn together by erotic emotion but will to form a lasting marital communion, which they expect will be fruitful.
Reflection on that answer makes it clear that marriage is a basic human good. First, marriage is an intelligible good: although emotion motivates people, as it does other animals, to mate, a person can be interested in marrying before embarking upon a romantic relationship with anyone. Second, people can wish to be married for its own sake, in the sense that they judge marriage to be potentially fulfilling and so choose to do what is necessary or useful to establish and maintain marital communion.40
Reflection also clarifies how the basic good of marriage includes parenthood. In the long theological tradition, offspring and the procreation and raising of offspring often were used interchangeably in referring to the chief good or primary end of marriage.41 However, the two expressions differ in meaning, and the latter, rather than the former, accurately expresses that good and end. For, while children, as distinct persons, are good in themselves and should be loved for their own sakes, procreating and raising children, as activities in which the husband and wife cooperate, not only benefit the children but fulfill the couple. Insofar as it fulfills the couple, parenthood—having a family—is not an extrinsic end to which one-flesh unity is instrumental, but a realization of its potentiality.42
In marrying, of course, many people not only intend the good of marriage but have subjective purposes in view: sexual satisfaction, financial security, social status, and so on. But the fact that marital communion can be regarded as instrumental to other goods does not argue against its status as a basic good, since other basic goods also can be regarded as means. For example, although friendship is good in itself, many people carry on friendships for the sake of their moral and spiritual benefits, and while good work is of itself fulfilling, many people pursue excellence in work as a means to earning more money.
In sum, marriage is a basic human good, and the married couple’s common good is, not any extrinsic end to which marriage is instrumental, but the communion of married life itself. The communion of married life refers to the couple’s being married, that is, their being united as complementary, bodily persons, so really and so completely that they are two in one flesh. This form of interpersonal unity is actualized by conjugal love when that love takes shape in the couple’s acts of mutual marital consent, loving consummation, and their whole life together, not least in the parenthood of couples whose marriages are fruitful. Thus, in considering marriage as a basic human good, none of its traditional ends and goods is set aside; rather, all of them are included in the intrinsically good communion of married life itself.43
Still, those who wish to defend all the truth contained in the traditional theology of marriage might object to this account of marriage as a basic human good: “It sounds suspiciously like the erroneous theology of marriage condemned by Pius XII.” This objection is answered by the whole of the next section, which explains how parenthood is essentially involved in the good of every marriage, even in that of an infertile couple.
The spouses’ interpersonal communion and their parenthood are something like the crypt of a church and the upper church which is built upon it. Sometimes a crypt is built and used as a church in the expectation that eventually it will be the foundation for a grander, upper church. Still, the eventual upper church is not an extrinsic end to which the crypt is only instrumental; rather, the upper church will complete the structure of which the crypt is the first and basic part. But even though the plan for the upper church determines the plan for the crypt, if the upper church never is built, the crypt can serve as, and really be, an entirely adequate church for those who worship in it.
In somewhat the same way, the valid marriage which exists when the wedding ceremony ends is of its very nature part of a larger whole. Always and everywhere, marriage is the relationship recognized as appropriate for begetting and raising children. Parenthood is not the end of marriage to which conjugal communion is instrumental; conjugal communion is intrinsically good. But conjugal communion is designed to be, and normally is, an intrinsically good part of a larger, intrinsically good whole: the family.
Thus, parenthood is the intrinsic fulfillment of the intimate union of persons and actions. Because parenthood fulfills marriage, it shapes the spouses’ interpersonal communion; and the way children come to be sets requirements for marriage as a whole, among them that it be an open-ended community. Nevertheless, while having and raising children perfects marital communion, the latter can exist and fulfill the spouses even if the former is impossible. For marriage realizes the potentiality of man and woman for unqualified, mutual self-giving, which they undertake and begin by the very act of marital consent.
a) Having and raising children perfects marital communion. Vatican II teaches that parenthood is a gift which fulfills the husband and wife precisely insofar as they are a married couple:
Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute in the highest degree to the welfare of their parents. The God himself who said, “It is not good for man to be alone” (Gn 2.18), and “who made man from the beginning male and female” (Mt 19.4), wishing to share with human beings a certain special participation in his own creative work, blessed male and female saying, “Increase and multiply” (Gn 1.28). (GS 50)
Marriage and conjugal love “are by their nature ordained toward” children, “the supreme gift of marriage”; but inasmuch as marriage is a basic human good, it is not instrumental to having and raising children (see 1.j, above). Children are neither the end to which marriage is a means, nor a means (perhaps only optional) to the couple’s perfection as such or as individuals, nor a mere result of interpersonal love.
What then is the relationship between marriage as a communion of persons and parenthood? Having and raising children are the ultimate realization and fulfillment of the good of marital communion itself, as John Paul II makes clear. He richly develops a theology of marital intercourse and of marriage as a personal self-gift resulting in an intrinsically good communion of persons; according to this theology, marriage and the marital act are not merely instrumental goods. But he also teaches that marital love should be fruitful, if possible, because, without openness to parenthood, conjugal love itself cannot be authentic.44
b) Parenthood is the specific, intrinsic perfection of marriage. Biologically, every animal, whether male or female, is a complete individual with respect to most functions: growth, nutrition, sensation, emotion, local movement, and so on. But with respect to reproduction, each animal is incomplete, for a male or a female individual is only a potential part of the mated pair, which is the complete organism that is capable of reproducing sexually. This is true also of men and women: as mates who engage in sexual intercourse suited to initiate new life, they complete each other and become an organic unit. In doing so, it is literally true that “they become one flesh” (Gn 2.24).
Thus, while marriage is not merely instrumental to having and raising children, still children do not perfect marriage accidentally, as furniture and decorations perfect a church. They perfect marriage intrinsically: “Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children” (GS 50, emphasis added). A man and a woman as individuals cannot have and adequately care for children; they fulfill their potentiality to do so by becoming a couple, and the community they thus form differs specifically from other communities, which enable people to cooperate for other common goods.
c) This specific perfection shapes marriage as a community. A community’s specific perfection is its common good as a whole or, at least, a part of it. The common good or goods of any community determine its structure and form of cooperation (see 6.C.2). Therefore, although marriage cannot be reduced to parenthood, its ordering toward the begetting and raising of children determines the conditions for the unity and cooperation of a married couple. Vatican II explicitly points out this essential relationship:
By their own natural character, the institution of marriage and conjugal love are directed to the procreation and raising of children and find their culmination in this.
By using the word thus (itaque) as connective, the Council makes it clear that the married couple’s communion and cooperation are shaped in view of potential parenthood.45
Thus, the man and the woman, who by their conjugal covenant ‘are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Mt 19.6), by the intimate conjoining of their persons and their actions provide each other with mutual help and service. (GS 48, emphasis added)
d) The way children come to be sets requirements for marriage. Offspring come to be within the marital community by a process in which the two partners contribute elements to form a new individual, who then is differentiated and separated from his or her parents. This process is complex and lengthy.
Humans are sentient creatures, whose physiological and psychological capacities develop only gradually with many years of nurture and training. With the help of education, humans also transcend the sentient world, so that by knowledge and belief they live within the whole of reality, and by love and freedom enter into interpersonal communion, and help to shape themselves and others by a lifelong series of free choices. Finally, to live fully in the natural and social worlds, bodily persons must receive, share in, and expand culture: they must learn to use language and tools, develop their creative capacities, and acquire sufficient material goods to survive and hand on life to a new generation.
The complexity of the genesis and development of new persons is mirrored in a married couple’s interpersonal communion. Not limited to the physiological initiation of their offspring, their unity should be not only in flesh but in mind and heart—in every power. And because the development of human persons takes so long, conception resulting from marital intercourse is only the beginning of a marriage’s fulfillment in children, a fulfillment which develops gradually over many years.46
e) Parenthood requires that marriage be an open-ended community. In open-ended community, the members value their interpersonal relationship for its own sake, not merely for the sake of some limited goal or set of goals they pursue together; moreover, not only do they will to cooperate fairly with one another, but each loves the others for their own sakes (see 6.C.2.d, 6.D.2.d). So, if parents love children for their own sake and do not consider them merely a goal whose attainment is instrumental to their self-fulfillment as spouses, their relationship with the children is that of open-ended community. But parents should love children for their own sake. As persons, children cannot rightly be treated as mere means to others’ perfection, and so should be received as a gift and loved for themselves, not sought and used as a means to their parents’ fulfillment.
As has been explained, a married couple’s fulfillment in parenthood intrinsically perfects their spousal relationship. When a couple have children, a man who is not a good father is not a good husband, and a woman who is not a good mother is not a good wife. For spouses who also are parents, the spousal and parental relationships are not entirely separate; the former includes the latter. So, to form open-ended community with their children, husband and wife must form open-ended community with each other.
Hence, in entering marriage, the man and the woman should will their marital communion for its own sake, willing also to each other every good relevant to this relationship. But, insofar as the marital communion is the source from which new persons emerge, every good of the person can become relevant to marriage. Thus, spouses should will each other’s complete perfection as persons. Consequently, while remaining distinct persons, the married couple should also be a uniquely intimate and all-embracing interpersonal communion, as it were, one person.
In sum, a married couple should not regard the long process of a child’s development as a large, joint project to be successfully completed but as the fulfillment of their open-ended community with the child, loved for his or her own sake. Spouses thus should will their own marital communion as something good in itself, and in doing so mutually will their complete perfection as persons, each in this way loving the other for his or her own sake.
f) Marital communion can exist without parenthood. Although the requirements of parenthood shape marriage as a community, the Church always has held in practice that elderly couples and others who know they are sterile can marry.47 Vatican II teaches clearly concerning the marriage of the sterile: “Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation” (GS 50), and draws the conclusion: “Therefore, marriage persists as a companionship and communion of the whole of life, and retains its value and indissolubility, even if offspring are lacking” (GS 50).
To understand this, it helps to notice that marital communion already exists when a couple marry and begin to live together, for, though shaped by its ordination to children, marriage must exist before it is perfected by actual parenthood. If a couple know or come to learn that they never will be able to have children, their marital communion is no less real and no less fulfilling as a communion of complementary persons, even though it always will lack the fulfillment of parenthood. For while marital communion is unlike friendship in that it fulfills a man and a woman precisely insofar as they can be together the principle of new persons, it also is like friendship by being fulfilling for them in itself, apart from the fruitfulness of their cooperation. God created man and woman for this communion: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner” (Gn 2.18). In marital communion, man and woman image their creator: “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn 1.27). “So,” Jesus teaches, “they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Mt 19.6, Mk 10.8).
Therefore, since marital communion itself fulfills the spouses, a couple can enter marriage for the sake of this fulfillment, even if they cannot attain the ultimate common fulfillment enjoyed by couples whose marital intercourse is fruitful. Given man and woman as they are and the good of marriage as it is, sterile couples can commit themselves to sharing in the good of marriage within their mutually understood and accepted limitations, and cooperate in many appropriate ways to carry out their commitment.
g) Marital consent is the self-giving which forms marital communion. Vatican II teaches that conjugal “love is an eminently human one since it is directed from one person to another through an affection of the will; it involves the good of the whole person” (GS 49).
The “affection of the will” essential for conjugal love is the same reality essential for the very existence of marriage: marital consent.48 Although erotic desire and feelings of affection usually accompany volitional love, a couple can marry without these but not without mutual volitional love. When the couple marry, their love leads them “to a free and mutual gift of themselves” (GS 49).49 In other words, it takes shape in the commitments “whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other” and so form the conjugal covenant (GS 48). The bride and groom bestow themselves by committing their bodily selves to marital communion and thereby undertaking its responsibilities. Each accepts the other by trusting his or her expressed commitments and, acting on that trust, bestowing himself or herself.
Of course, except for communities which are initiated unilaterally, any open-ended community, such as a genuine friendship, is constituted by mutual self-bestowal, in the sense that those involved will the relationship as something good in itself and thus will one another’s good, not selfishly, but for the other’s own sake. However, the mutual self-giving which constitutes marriage differs from that constituting other open-ended communities. Friends will every good for each other, but they need not actually cooperate except with respect to those particular projects which from time to time they find mutually agreeable. Married couples, by contrast, commit themselves to the common life suited to parenthood, and so they must cooperate constantly with respect to the whole range of basic human goods. For this reason, conjugal love as the will to be married is appropriately said to be total.50 (It does not follow that spouses are morally bound to share every commitment and cooperate in every project: see D.5.c–d, below.)
Because a commitment to any open-ended community involves willing its good in a way that transcends any specified goal, it is not limited in time. Usually, however, such commitments are not exclusive and do not require constant mutual service until death. For example, people can and often do carry on two or more friendships simultaneously by means of occasional communication and contact, and a genuine friendship can effectively cease, without being destroyed, when the friends lose touch with each other.
Jesus teaches that marital commitment should be different. It is a commitment to a unique kind of communion, which, he explains, follows from God’s own creative plan for man and woman. He concludes: “So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mt 19.6, Mk 10.8–9).51 Since Jesus refers to God’s original plan, this teaching concerns marriage as such, not only Christian marriage as sacramental. Consequently, in marrying, a man and a woman form an exclusive and indissoluble union, whether it is a sacramental marriage or not.
Some today argue that Jesus’ teaching concerning indissolubility should be understood only as a moral norm: spouses ought not to divorce, and they sin in doing so; but, having repented the sin, they are able to remarry—in other words, divorce is wrong but possible. However, the impossibility of divorce is implied by Jesus’ teaching that attempted remarriage after divorce results in adultery.52 So, Catholic tradition interprets that teaching not only as a moral norm but as a revelation of the intrinsic indissolubility of marriage: an attempt to remarry is wrong because divorce is impossible. Vatican II’s teaching concerning not only Christian marriage but marriage in general sums up this traditional way of understanding indissolubility:
The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the creator and qualified by his laws, and it is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence, by that human act whereby the spouses mutually bestow and accept each other, a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is durable. In view of the good of society as well as that of the spouses and their offspring, this sacred bond does not depend on human decision. (GS 48)53
Several considerations (articulated in a, b, c, and d) help to explain why marital communion’s intimate and all-embracing character calls for a commitment that is both truly mutual and entirely dependable. Additional considerations (articulated in e, f, and g) help clarify why the marital union is exclusive and indissoluble, so that it “does not depend on human decision.”54
a) Erotic love and affection call for exclusivity and permanence. To begin with, even if erotic desire is no part of a couple’s motivation in marrying, marital intercourse normally involves and intensifies erotic love, and such love tends to expand into conjugal affection, which permeates the whole relationship. This affection presses for exclusive and permanent union, as everyone recognizes and Scripture attests:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
In contemporary Western countries, likewise, people in love typically are jealous and, divorce statistics notwithstanding, most brides and grooms want their marriages to last. These demands made by erotic love and conjugal affection for exclusive and lasting union are among their good, God-given characteristics, corresponding to the reality that the man and the woman complete each other to become one flesh.55 Hence, if a couple entering a putative marriage limit their commitment to allow either for similar relationships with others or for divorce, these limitations compromise the erotic and affective elements of marital love.
for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. (Sg 8.6–7)
b) Polygamy is disadvantageous to the multiple partners and others. In a polygamous marriage, two or more persons share one common spouse. Polyandry, the form of polygamy in which one woman has two or more husbands, plainly has serious disadvantages, for it is found in very few cultures.56 Polygyny, the form of polygamy in which one man has two or more wives, has been practiced in many cultures. However, it has disadvantages for most men, for except in transitional social situations in which women substantially outnumber men, it is unavoidable that polygyny either remain the prerogative of a few wealthy and dominant men, or deprive many men of wives, or require that most men delay marriage. Children of the multiple unions also are likely to suffer, for when they are numerous and/or dwell in separate households, they do not receive a full share of their father’s attention and guidance.
Furthermore, polygyny deprives the conjugal relationship itself of mutuality. Husbands with multiple wives, generally of different ages, can hardly treat all with equal regard and affection. Unless all the wives accept lack of reciprocity and unequal treatment with self-abasing resignation, jealous rivalry is likely.57 In any case, this absence of mutuality can seem fair only if everyone concerned assumes women are inferior to men, for, as St. Thomas observes, “among husbands having plural wives, the wives have a status similar to that of servants” (S.c.g., 3.124). Polyandry imposes an analogous lack of mutuality on the multiple husbands of a single wife.
The incompatibility of polygamy with conjugal mutuality is not accidental, but results from its distortion of the essential requirements of unqualified commitment to the good of marriage. Completing each other to become, as it were, one person, spouses need each other but no third party. Indeed, if either carries on a similar relationship with someone else, the couple’s communion will be destroyed or else limited to a less full unity or potential for unity, actualized only discontinuously by the spouse involved in the other relationship. It is no more possible to become as it were one person (one flesh) with two or more others simultaneously than it is to engage simultaneously in marital intercourse with two or more partners. Consequently, if either party in entering a putative marriage limits his or her commitment to allow for one or more similar relationships with others, the commitment, which should be a mutual and unconditional self-bestowal, will be neither mutual nor unconditional.
c) Divorce almost always harms children and often is bad for women. The proper raising of children to maturity requires contributions from both parents, cooperating together in solidarity. Divorce almost always minimizes, and often virtually eliminates, the psychological and moral contribution of one of the parents. The children often suffer material deprivation, and the burden of providing single-handedly for their basic needs which must be borne by the parent who cares for them generally detracts from other aspects of nurture. Thus, children of divorced parents are likely to suffer more or less serious psychological and economic insecurity. Public programs to mitigate the economic effects of divorce on children burden society at large with the responsibilities the parents have failed to fulfill.58
d) The self-giving of marital union calls for indissolubility. Since they complete each other to become, as it were, one person, a man and a woman truly joined in marital communion cannot attempt to divide without severe trauma, analogous to, and in some respects even worse than, the loss of a substantial part of one’s own body. Of course, every married couple must accept the fact that death eventually will divide them. However, if they anticipate that they might intentionally attempt to separate from each other, they either must be prepared to cause the trauma divorce would involve or must will to limit their unity in order to avoid that trauma. But doing either is at odds with conjugal love. If, therefore, in attempting to marry the parties reserve the right to divorce, they act inconsistently with the conjugal love necessary for marriage.
Another consideration lies in the fact that, even though a new person begins at conception, still the child’s full emergence as a mature person takes many years. During all these years, any threat to the marital communion will be a radical threat to the child’s own development. Hence, if the parties in attempting to marry allow for breaking off their marital communion, they endanger the good of any children they might have, and that is inconsistent with the love they should have toward those children.
Besides, becoming, as it were, one person to beget and raise their children, the spouses must provide each other with constant mutual service in a common life, including communication and cooperation with respect to the whole range of goods to be shared with their children. This requires that both contribute wholeheartedly and unconditionally. When people attempt to dissolve marriages, however, it becomes clear how impossible it is to divide and reappropriate what each contributed to so intimate a community. Hence, if in marrying the parties anticipate the possibility that the marital communion might be terminated, they will tend to fashion a less intimate relationship, and their self-gift will be limited and qualified.
Finally, spouses who regard divorce as an option are likely to manipulate each other by threatening it. The relationship not only is destabilized in this way but, often, reduced to a pragmatic arrangement rather than a genuine community.59
e) The couple cannot make marital union exclusive and indissoluble. Couples considering marriage can understand and accept that the good of marital communion calls for a truly mutual and entirely dependable relationship, and so can wish to form a union with these characteristics. At the same time, however, they will be aware of a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to making an absolutely irrevocable commitment: while it is possible for people to commit themselves for life and sincerely desire never to change their minds, even so no one can choose today not to change his or her mind tomorrow. Common experience illustrates this truth: people can wish for and pledge undying friendship, but cannot preclude a future choice to end a relationship which either or both parties have come to consider undesirable. Hence, even if couples planning to marry understand and accept that the good they desire calls for a truly mutual and entirely dependable relationship, they will realize, if they are clearheaded, that they themselves cannot make their marital union exclusive and indissoluble. If the union they are about to form is to have these properties, they will see, it cannot be by their own wills but must be by virtue of something about one-flesh union itself which they must accept, so that, once they enter into that union, nothing they subsequently choose or do will be able to divide them from each other and/or unite them simultaneously in a similar union with someone else.
f) Marital union in itself is exclusive and indissoluble. Since the good of marriage calls for exclusivity and indissolubility, couples considering marriage who understand and accept what marital union requires will reasonably suppose that their prospective marriage, though formed by their consent, somehow will be exclusive and indissoluble in itself. Of course, they can forgo the good of marriage, either by remaining single or by excluding something essential to the relationship; but if they do choose to marry they should assume that their marriage will be exclusive and indissoluble even if one or both should later change their minds and wish they were not married.
The same argument can be put another way. A couple who wish to marry should enter into an exclusive and permanent union. However, people cannot commit themselves to marriage as an exclusive and permanent union unless they believe it has these properties. But they will not reasonably believe this if it is not so.60 Thus, people can marry as they should only if marriage of itself excludes polygamy and divorce. Now, people can marry as they should. Therefore, marriage of itself, independent of the will of those who enter into it, is exclusive and indissoluble.61
g) Further considerations help to clarify marriage’s indissolubility. Marital consent is a mutual self-giving to form, as it were, one new person. In giving such consent, the parties do more than make a contract: they enter into a covenant.62 By a covenant, members of different families or larger communities try to form a community whose ties will be as close as those joining blood relatives. In the context of salvation history, the notion of covenant takes on greater depth from God’s faithfulness. Unlike human freedom during this life, God’s freedom of choice does not imply potential infidelity; for, although God commits himself with sovereign liberty, once he has done so, the relationship into which he enters endures forever. For Jews and Christians, therefore, their covenant with God remains forever, and even if men and women are unfaithful, God sustains the relationship. But since marriage itself is a covenant and is involved in the covenant with God (as will be explained in C.1.d), marriage also participates in the absolute indissolubility of relationships constituted by divine freedom.63
Even when a man and a woman do not wish to marry, if they agree to have sexual intercourse and their intercourse results in the birth of a child, their consent and sexual intercourse have brought about a certain permanent bond between them (although not the bond of marriage). They can wish they were not parents and neglect their responsibilities, but, regardless, they remain the child’s parents and are bound by parental duties. Moreover, the child binds them indissolubly together: the child embodies their unity, and their duties to him or her entail duties toward each other.
When a man and a woman do consent to marriage and enter into communion open to new life, they form not only a bodily union with inescapable moral implications but a full communion of persons: a communion of will by mutual, covenantal commitment, and of organism by the generative act they share in.64 They may later regret having formed this union, but they cannot undo their real oneness. As the elements constituting each of them an individual person are divided only by death, so only death ends the one-flesh unit they constitute in marrying.
Although marriage is a basic human good, people often marry for other reasons or due to merely emotional motives. While some motivations are incompatible with the good of marriage, so that the putative marriage is only a quasi-marital arrangement, many inadequate motives are compatible with the good of marriage and the consent necessary to marry validly. Moreover, the differences in marriage customs in various cultures do not exclude any couple who wish to marry from the possibility of valid marriage.
a) People often get married with inadequate motives. Ideally, people who marry would understand the good of marriage and its properties, intend to participate together in that good, and so commit themselves to a lifelong and exclusive communion of love. They would will their marital union for its own sake and unselfishly will each other’s fulfillment in it, integrating all other relevant interests and emotional motives with this volitional, conjugal love.
However, many people, perhaps most, marry with mixed motives not entirely integrated with unselfish mutual love. Many are motivated by passion; even if they marry with the hope of achieving chastity, their sexual desire will only gradually be integrated with conjugal love. Others are more interested in the security and comfort of a household than in marital communion and its fulfillment in parenthood. Indeed, some people choose to marry without at all intending as an end the good of marriage itself, since none of their motives are reasons or emotions integrated with unselfish love; their choice is to use marriage as a means to other ends.
Many people do not believe marriage is an exclusive and indissoluble union, and their choice to marry takes for granted the possibility of polygamy and/or divorce. Some know about the properties of marriage but only reluctantly accept exclusivity and/or indissolubility, since they would rather make a less wholehearted commitment. Some know about the properties of marriage but reject one or both, perhaps intending to carry on extramarital relationships or to divorce if the marriage does not go well.
Some people act as bride or groom in a marriage ceremony while deliberately rejecting not only one or both of the properties of marriage but elements essential to the good of marriage itself. For example, they may agree in advance always to prevent conception, or not to live together, or to maintain their relationship only as a temporary expedient, perhaps as a way of meeting some legal requirement concerning taxes or immigration.
b) Some inadequate motives are incompatible with valid marriage. Various things other than the motives of those involved can invalidate their attempt to marry, for example, incapacity or invalidating impediments created by law. Apart from these, the validity of marriage depends solely on the reality of mutual consent to marriage.65
To be real, consent must be sincere: it must express a commitment to enter into marriage and undertake its responsibilities. People can exclude indissolubility by so entirely subordinating the relationship they enter to extraneous motives that the relationship is regarded as a mere means to be used or to be set aside as those motives indicate. Moreover, if someone deliberately wills anything inconsistent with elements essential to the good of marriage itself, he or she makes no commitment to marry, and so does not give sincere consent. Something inconsistent with an element essential to the good of marriage can be willed by prior mutual agreement or by one party’s unilateral reservation.
A couple may carry out the formalities required for marriage, while one or both intend only to pursue some specific goal or set of goals, rather than enter into an open-ended relationship. Their relationship is very like a business partnership. Perhaps, agreeing to exclude children, the couple “marry” to provide the woman with financial support and the man with sexual satisfaction—an arrangement similar to prostitution. Or perhaps they plan to work together for the things each desires: a sexual partner, certain emotional satisfactions, a home and other possessions, a certain social status, and even a child or children (considered as desired objects to be possessed and enjoyed). Such a relationship is not truly a marriage, but is only quasi-marital. At least one, if not both, in no way wills the other’s fulfillment and that of their child or children for their own sakes, in a way transcending specific goals; in entering the relationship, at least one partner does not give himself or herself to the other to form marital communion. Instead, the couple at best mutually concede rights to various kinds of service, and if they anticipate becoming parents, at least one of them wants a child or children primarily as a means to some selfish end.
Such relationships plainly are only quasi-marital relationships; they are not exclusive and indissoluble valid marriages. Thus, the intentions of those entering into them do not affect the properties of marriage.
c) Many inadequate motives are compatible with valid marriage. Sincere mutual consent to marriage, which is sufficient for validity, expresses a choice to marry, and that choice is specified by the concept of marriage. This concept neither depends on each couple’s subjective motives for choosing to marry nor on their drawing up a list of mutually agreeable conditions for their particular partnership. Rather, couples who consent to marriage understand it as a social reality whose elements and conditions are already settled. They find it available, just as people find other social realities, such as language, which they can use or not, but cannot arbitrarily change.
Since the choice to marry is specified by this understanding of marriage as a given, a couple who sincerely consent to marriage determine themselves to the essential elements of the good of marriage. Provided their subjective motives are not incompatible with the choice to marry, so as to exclude mutual commitment and sincere consent, they really do what they choose to do, and so they validly marry.66 Thus, even if a couple get married, intending as their end not the good of marriage but some other good or motivated by mere emotion, still, provided they sincerely consent to marry, they will the good of marriage. They will it in making the choice which their consent expresses, for that choice is a commitment to fulfill the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. By that commitment, they establish open-ended community, and in this way they will their marital and parental relationships for their own sakes. In doing so, they also will the good of the other persons involved for their own sakes, and thus mutually give themselves to form marital and familial communion.
d) Various cultures’ customs are compatible with valid marriage. Since a couple’s choice to marry is specified by their understanding of marriage as a given, it might seem that customs in various cultures render valid marriage impossible for people in many times and places. For, it might be argued, marriage customs vary just as languages do, marriage in all non-Christian societies is dissoluble, and many societies also approve polygyny.
In reality, marriage is subject to much less cultural variability than language is. Language is a system of signs used to communicate meanings having no necessary connection with those signs; so, while individuals cannot make language mean whatever they wish, communities do gradually invent and change their languages. Marriage, by contrast, is a basic human reality, rooted in natural inclinations and directed by a self-evident principle of practical reasoning. As a result, the essential elements of the good of marriage always are included in marriage as it is given in a society: marriage always and everywhere is the more or less stable heterosexual relationship that society recognizes as the community in which it is appropriate for a man and a woman to engage regularly in sexual intercourse, and to beget and raise children.
Of course, each society develops various customs and practices which both implement couples’ choices to mate and have children, and regulate the relationship between marriage and other elements of the society, not least economic ones. Such regulations often create conditions, not implied by the good of marriage itself, for the validity of marriage in a particular society. For example, just as the Church requires for validity that Catholics be married before their bishop or pastor, or someone delegated by him,67 other societies require formalities such as approval by some authority, a contract between the families, or the carrying out of some religious rite. Despite the great variability in such customs and practices, however, a valid union remains possible for couples who can and do mutually consent to marriage.
In some societies, male dominance has led to so radical a depersonalization of women that marriage customs and practices suggest a woman’s consent is irrelevant to the validity of marriage. For example, it might appear that in exchange for two cows, a father gives his daughter to a man who wants a mate, and the girl no more consents to the arrangement than the cows do. If so, the society’s depravity prevents the man and the woman from marrying, because mutual consent is absolutely essential for marriage. Instead of being married to the man, the woman is prostituted to him and enslaved by him; rather than engaging in intercourse with a husband, she is the victim of rape. Nevertheless, even if a society considers a marriage valid without the woman’s consent, in particular cases a woman might consent by finding the arrangement made by her father satisfactory and willingly cooperating with it. If so, despite the society’s depravity, the couple marry validly.
As for the exclusivity and indissolubility of marriage, these are not elements of the good of marriage itself; rather, they are essential properties, that is, requirements for fully realizing that good in and through ongoing marital and familial communion. But even though essential, they are not self-evident elements of the good of marriage itself, and are inevitably obscure to fallen humankind. Hence, except in Christian societies, the given reality of marriage often does not include exclusivity and seldom or never includes indissolubility. How this fact affects marriage will be treated below (in B.4).
e) Inadequate motives endanger the good of marriage. Plainly, people who do not know about the properties of marriage and so fail, through no fault of their own, to commit themselves to a permanent and exclusive union are hindered from realizing fully and stably the good of marital and familial communion. But even if people know about marriage’s essential properties and accept them, their inadequate motives for choosing to marry often lead to trouble. Emotional motives not subordinated to unselfish mutual love often lead to sexual abuse within marriage, irresponsible procreation, and even infidelity. If some other purpose in life is a person’s reason for marrying, he or she will always be tempted not to fulfill marital responsibilities except insofar as that other purpose requires.
Thus, even if inadequate motives are consistent with sincere consent, so that the marriage is valid, these motives threaten marriage. Therefore, not only should people choose to marry because marriage is good in itself; in choosing to marry, they should subordinate their other motives for marrying, insofar as they can, to this uniquely appropriate one.
1. G. Robina Quale, A History of Marriage Systems, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), 305, summarizes: “Marriage is an alliance before it is anything else. It is an alliance between the two who are marrying. It is an alliance between families who become more closely linked . . .. Marriage is the means by which the larger social system recognizes not only the mother, but also the father of the children whom the mother bears. Marriage acknowledges each as the other’s partner in bringing children into the world and raising them. Marriage is also the means by which the larger social system seeks to control the expression of the powerful instincts of sexual attraction.”
2. A study of the history of teaching on the ends of marriage, from Scripture through John Duns Scotus: Claude Schahl, O.F.M., La doctrine des fins du mariage dans la théologie scolastique (Paris: Éditions Franciscaines, 1948).
3. While St. Paul understands “they become one flesh” as referring to sexual intercourse (see 1 Cor 6.15–16), it refers, not to that alone, but to the total communion of the married couple by which they are, as it were, one person; see Maurice Gilbert, S.J., “ ‘Une seule chair’ (Gn 2, 24),” Nouvelle revue théologique 100 (1978): 66–89. Thus, the communion of married life is actualized and experienced not only in chaste marital intercourse but also, when intercourse is fruitful, in having and raising children, and in domestic life as a whole. On this point, also see Pierre Grelot, Man and Wife in Scripture (New York: Herder and Herder, 1964), 35–36, 123–24. The whole of Grelot’s beautiful little book might well be read as background for this chapter.
4. John Paul II, General Audience (9 Jan. 1980), 2 and 4, Inseg. 3.1 (1980) 89 and 90, OR, 14 Jan. 1980, 1, teaches (sec. 2): “When God Yahweh says that ‘it is not good that man should be alone’ (Gn 2.18), he affirms that ‘alone’, man does not completely realize this essence [the very essence of the person]. He realizes it only by existing ‘with some one’—and even more deeply and completely: by existing ‘for some one’.” The Pope explains (sec. 4): “Precisely by traversing the depth of that original solitude, man now emerges in the dimension of the mutual gift, the expression of which—and for that very reason the expression of his existence as a person—is the human body in all the original truth of its masculinity and femininity.” This is what John Paul calls the “nuptial” meaning of the body: sexual differentiation manifests that God has made the man and the woman for each other, so that, inasmuch as they are incomplete and able to exercise freedom of self-determination, these bodily persons can complete each other by their mutual self-donation. A helpful commentary on this aspect of John Paul II’s teaching: Alfredo Martínez Albiach, “Teología del sexo,” Burgense 23 (1982): 425–53.
5. Vatican II teaches that “God did not create the human person as a solitary,” and, having quoted “male and female he created them” (Gn 1.27), explains that the two sexes’ “companionship produces the primary form of interpersonal communion. For by their innermost nature human beings are social, and unless they relate themselves to one another they can neither live nor develop their gifts” (GS 12). This gloss on Gn 1.27 implies that marriage is not merely an instrumental good: the companionship of man and woman belongs to humankind as image of God and is the primary form of one of the essential, intrinsic aspects of human fulfillment.
6. St. Augustine, De bono coniugali 9.9 (Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, trans. Charles T. Wilcox, M.M., et al. [New York: Fathers of the Church, 1955], 21–22).
7. See St. Augustine, De bono coniugali 24.32 (Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, 47–48). Augustine explains the creation of woman as helper, De Genesi ad litteram 9.5.9 (St. Augustine: The Literal Meaning of Genesis, trans. John Hammond Taylor, S.J. [New York: Newman Press, 1982], 75): “Now, if the woman was not made for the man to be his helper in begetting children, in what was she to help him? She was not to till the earth with him, for there was not yet any toil to make help necessary. If there were any such need, a male helper would be better, and the same could be said of the comfort of another’s presence if Adam were perhaps weary of solitude. How much more agreeably could two male friends, rather than a man and woman, enjoy companionship and conversation in a life shared together.”
8. See St. Augustine, De bono coniugali 6.6, 10.11 (Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, 16–17, 24). John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965), 131, claims that Augustine did not invent his understanding of the procreative good but took it from Philo and the Stoics; and while some of Noonan’s interpretations are questionable, he provides (76–81) enough evidence to make it clear that, without explicitly stating it, several other Fathers of the Church shared the view that marriage is only an instrumental good.
9. St. Augustine, De bono coniugali 3.3 (Treatises on Marriage and Other Subjects, 12).
10. Indeed, Augustine may have had a glimmer of insight into the unity of the good of marriage, for the present summary of his view is drawn from his work titled, De bono coniugali (On the Good of Marriage, not: On the Goods of Marriage). John J. Hugo, St. Augustine on Nature, Sex and Marriage (Chicago: Scepter, 1969), 129–36, points out that in this work Augustine is not talking about multiple ends of marriage but multiple goods, and even asserts (133): “St. Augustine, then, does not distinguish a hierarchy of ends within marriage: the one good of marriage is three-faceted.” Likewise, following Augustine, the Council of Florence speaks, not of three goods, but of the threefold good, of marriage (“triplex bonum matrimonii”) (DS 1327/702). Also see: Augustine Regan, C.Ss.R., “The Perennial Value of Augustine’s Theology of the Goods of Marriage,” Studia Moralia 21 (1983): 351–78.
11. See St. Isidore, Etymologiae 9.7.27, PL, 82:367.
12. St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 26, q. 1, a. 1 (S.t., sup., q. 41, a. 1), cf. In Sent., 4, d. 33, q. 1, aa. 1–2 (S.t., sup., q. 65, aa. 1–2). Unfortunately, after his first attempt in his youthful Commentary on the Sentences, Thomas never wrote a full treatment of marriage.
13. See St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 26, q. 2, aa. 1–3 (S.t., sup., q. 42, aa. 1–3); cf. In Sent., 4, d. 34, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3 (S.t., sup., q. 58, a. 1, ad 3); In Sent., 4, d. 34, expositio textus (after a. 5, but not included in S.t., sup.). The curbing of concupiscence is an essential, secondary end of marriage: In Sent., 4, d. 40, q. 1, a. 3 (S.t., sup., q. 54, a. 3); cf. In Sent., 4, d. 30, q. 1, a. 3 (S.t., sup., q. 48, a. 2).
14. See St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 33, q. 1, aa. 1–2 (S.t., sup., q. 65, aa. 1–2).
15. In explaining how the good of offspring makes marriage both a useful good and virtuous, St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 31, q. 1, a. 2, ad 6 (S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 2, ad 6), says: “Marriage, through being directed to offspring, is useful, and nonetheless virtuous (honestum), inasmuch as it is rightly directed.” On this analysis, just as eating, which is only instrumentally good, becomes good in itself insofar as it is temperate, so marriage and the marital act, which are instrumental goods, become good in themselves insofar as they are realized through virtuous acts, and these acts are virtuous because they rationally order these instrumental goods to the ultimate end.
16. See St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 33, q. 1, a. 1 (S.t., sup., q. 65, a. 1). This coordination of ends with goods makes it clear that the primacy of the primary end is not in value, since Thomas previously explained that the sacrament is the most excellent good of marriage: In Sent., 4, d. 31, q. 1, a. 3 (S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 3).
17. The form of a natural thing, such as a plant or animal, is the source rather than the end of its actions. Thinking about marriage, as he does the other sacraments, with concepts drawn from natural philosophy, Thomas overlooks the fact that, since each marriage is constituted by the mutual consent of the parties, its form can be its end. In other words, if one asks a couple who are getting married, “Why are you doing this?” they can answer, “In order to be married,” including within that end everything good which pertains to marriage: living together, enjoying marital intercourse, having and raising children, fulfilling their Christian vocation, and so forth.
18. Catechismus ex decreto Ss. Concilii Tridentini ad parochos (The Catechism by Decree of the Holy Council of Trent), Latin text with trans. by J. Donovan, 2 vols. (Rome: 1839), 2.8.13–14 (1:648, 650; translation supplied). The catechism adds that other decent motives for marrying, compatible with those stated, need not be condemned, for example, Jacob was not condemned for choosing Rachel on account of her beauty.
19. Also see Leo XIII, Arcanum, ASS 12 (1879) 395, PE, 81.26, where the end of the divine institution of marriage is said to include not only “the propagation of the human race, but also that the lives of husbands and wives might be made better and happier . . . in many ways: by their lightening each other’s burdens through mutual help; by constant and faithful love,” and so on—and “for the good of families.”
20. See John C. Ford, S.J., “Marriage: Its Meaning and Purposes,” Theological Studies 3 (1942): 338–64.
21. Codex iuris canonici (1917), c. 1013, §1 (translation supplied).
22. See Dietrich von Hildebrand, In Defence of Purity: An Analysis of the Catholic Ideals of Purity and Virginity (New York: Longmans, Green, 1931), 16–27; Marriage (New York: Longmans, Green, 1942). Since the first of these works was published in German in 1927 and the second in 1929, they could have influenced the drafting of Casti connubii. Even if they did not, however, von Hildebrand’s books no doubt articulated ideas already in circulation; see Noonan, Contraception, 494–95. Von Hildebrand’s position should not be confused with that of theologians, such as Herbert Doms, whose views will be considered shortly, for, while the latter drew on von Hildebrand’s work, they attacked elements of Catholic teaching which he respected and tried to safeguard.
23. A detailed study of the work of the twentieth-century magisterium on marriage: Ramón García de Haro, Matrimonio e famiglia nei documenti del magistero: Corso di teologia matrimoniale (Milan: Edizioni Ares, 1989). A study making clear the dialectical tension which led to development: Francis W. Carney, The Purposes of Christian Marriage (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1950). A study of the development: Alain Mattheeuws, S.J., Union et procréation: Développements de la doctrine des fins du mariage (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1989), 50–204.
24. See Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 561, PE, 208.59.
25. Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 547–48, PE, 208.23 (translation supplied).
26. See Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 548, PE, 208.23.
27. Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 548–49, PE, 208.24 (translation amended).
28. For a summary of this line of theological reflection and references to relevant works: John C. Ford, S.J., and Gerald Kelly, S.J., Contemporary Moral Theology, vol. 2, Marriage Questions (Westminster, Md.: Newman Press, 1964), 20–35; for a fuller treatment and a measured critique: Carney, The Purposes of Marriage, 203–61.
29. The most influential work along these lines was Herbert Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, trans. George Sayer (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1939). Doms presupposes that children are extrinsic to the good of marriage, and regards them as accidental to its intrinsic meaning: “Men and women are drawn together by their desire for completion. They want as persons only to fulfil each other. But thanks to nature they tend, when they do this, to procreate new human beings” (36). He rejects (87) the primacy of procreation: “The constitution of marriage, the union of two persons, does not then consist in their subservience to a purpose outside themselves, for which they marry. It consists in the constant vital ordination of husband and wife to each other until they become one. If this is so, there can no longer be sufficient reason, from this standpoint, for speaking of procreation as the primary purpose (in the sense in which St. Thomas used the phrase) and for dividing off the other purposes as secondary.” He then suggests (88) that it would be best to give up talking about primary and secondary purposes.
30. Thus, Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, holds (85) that the immediate purpose of the marital act “is the realisation through fusion of bodies of the real two-in-oneship of husband and wife” and that procreation is only an ulterior, biological purpose, which he contrasts with the ulterior, personal purpose of the fulfillment of the spouses as persons. In laying his foundation for this claim, Doms idealizes the marital act, for example (48): “For these reasons the normally performed sexual act is an act which employs all the powers of husband and wife on every plane of their being. Spirit, mind, body, everything is given to another person in a common act with the highest degree of intensity.” Moreover, Doms explicitly denies (222) “that the relationship of husband and wife has its foundation in a single principle of generation,” dismissing this as an echo of “the ‘scientific thought’ of the Middle Ages, long since discarded by modern biology.”
31. See the summary which Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, provides of his position (94–95); after defining marriage as an indivisible, indissoluble, intimate community of life specifically differentiated by sexual intercourse, and after listing its benefits to the spouses, he adds (95): “It tends also to the birth and education of new persons—their children. The child assists their own fulfilment, both as a two-in-oneship and as separate individuals. But society is more interested in the child than in the natural fulfilment of the parents and it is this which gives the child primacy among the natural results of marriage.”
32. Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, often puts matters in a way which supports this reading; see, for example, 210–13.
33. DS 3838/2295; for an English translation of the decree and bibliography regarding it, see Ford and Kelly, Marriage Questions, 27–30.
34. A valuable commentary on this chapter of Gaudium et spes: Marcellinus Zalba, S.J., “De dignitate matrimonii et familiae fovenda (ad cap. I partis II Const. de Ecclesia in mundo commentarium,” Periodica de re morali, canonica, liturgica 55 (1966): 381–429.
35. It is often said that Vatican II deliberately set aside the traditional hierarchy of the primary and secondary ends of marriage. But it is more accurate to say that the Council avoided the terminology of primary and secondary ends, which suggested that marriage is only instrumentally good, and developed traditional teaching by relating conjugal love to the various ends (while leaving open the possibility of regarding these as intrinsic elements of the good of marriage considered as a unitary good). See Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Book “Human Sexuality”, EV 6 (1977–79) 1132–33, Flannery, 2:507–8, which refers to the underlying conciliar documents; John Paul II, General Audience (10 Oct. 1984), 3, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 846, OR, 15 Oct. 1984, 8. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981), 66–69, explains that conjugal love as a virtue is not to be confused with one of the purposes of marriage, mutual help, but is the source from which flow all the benefits of marriage: procreation and raising of children, mutual help, and the remedy for concupiscence. While conjugal love is the source (efficient cause) of all the ends, they specify it and in that sense are its ground: see Guy de Broglie, S.J., “Le fondement de l’amour conjugal,” Doctor communis 23 (1970): 192–216; Alberto Ablondi, “Famiglia: comunità di vita e di amore,” Lateranum 45 (1979): 230–44.
36. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 8, AAS 60 (1968) 485–86, PE, 277.8 (translation amended). A helpful study: Settimio Cipriani, “Alcune riflessioni Bibliche sulla ‘Humanae vitae’,” Lateranum 44 (1978): 3–31.
37. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 11, AAS 74 (1982) 92, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 3. This chapter includes many quotations from and references to Familiaris consortio; to understand the document more adequately, one may find helpful the sound commentary: Pope John Paul II and the Family, ed. Michael J. Wrenn (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983).
38. John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 11, AAS 74 (1982) 92, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 3.
39. CIC, c. 1055, §1 (emphasis added); cf. LG 11, 41; AA 11; GS 48. A very extensive commentary on the canons on marriage in the 1983 code: Luigi Chiappetta, Il matrimonio nella nuova legislazione canonica e concordataria: Manuale giuridico-pastorale (Rome: Edizioni Dehoniane, 1990).
40. Someone might object: Since virginity and celibacy for the kingdom’s sake pertain to the vocations of some Christians, marriage cannot be a basic human good, for, if it were, such Christians would be called to renounce part of integral human fulfillment. The answer: Although marriage is a basic human good, not everyone need participate in it by being married; integral human fulfillment means, not the same mode of participation by every individual in every good, but the realization of all the human goods in the whole human community: CMP, 7.F.3; cf. S.t., 2–2, q. 152, a. 2, ad 1. Those called to virginity or celibacy for the kingdom’s sake can participate in the good of marriage in several ways: as children of their own parents, as pastors of families, as collaborators with parents in the education of their children, and so on.
41. For example, compare St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 26, q. 1, a. 1 (S.t., sup., q. 41, a. 1), with In Sent., 4, d. 33, q. 1, a. 1 (S.t., sup., q. 65, a. 1). Often, offspring is used (as in Casti connubii, quoting St. Augustine) when referring to the good and the procreation and raising of offspring when referring to the end (just as in c. 1013 of the 1917 code). Of course, offspring can be used as an abbreviated way of saying the procreation and raising of offspring. However, the latter expression cannot substitute for the former used in its proper sense, and Vatican II and subsequent papal teachings often use the latter expression or others which explicitly refer to parenthood or some aspect of it.
42. The basic goods, grasped by insights which are principles of practical reasoning, also are the objects of natural inclinations; among these goods, which pertain to natural law, St. Thomas lists the union of male and female, raising children, and so on, corresponding to that inclination which human beings have in common with other animals: S.t., 2–2, q. 94, a. 2. Unfortunately, however, Thomas did not complete the part of the Summa in which marriage would have been treated, and so never developed this insight.
43. For further clarification of the notion of basic goods: Germain Grisez, Joseph Boyle, and John Finnis, “Practical Principles, Moral Truth, and Ultimate Ends,” American Journal of Jurisprudence 32 (1987): 102–15. But the lists of basic human goods provided both there and in CMP, 5.D, omitted the good of marriage because of the supposition that in respect to the marital communion itself marriage could be reduced to the reflexive good of friendship and in respect to having and raising children to the substantive good of life and other basic goods. The reduction of the good(s) of marriage to other basic goods, however, is unsatisfactory for three reasons. First, in marrying, people seem to intend only one many-faceted good rather than several distinct goods. Second, since the good of anything is the fullness of its being, and since basic goods of diverse sorts are irreducible to one another, either there is one basic human good proper to marriage or marriage is not one reality; but recent Church teaching, which resolves the tensions in the tradition, presents an integrated view of marriage; therefore, marriage is one reality having a basic good proper to it. Third, while marital friendship and fidelity might be reducible to the reflexive good of friendship, the core of the good of marital communion is the good which Augustine calls the “sacramentum.” (Thomas argues that, if the goods of marriage are considered in themselves, this good is the most essential, since marriage cannot exist without it: In Sent, 4, d. 31, q. 1, a. 3 [S.t., sup., q. 49, a. 3].) Now, this good, the couple’s one-flesh unity itself, is not reducible to the existential good of friendship, for, while the couple’s consent gives rise to the marital bond, it transcends the moral order: unlike a friendship, a marriage is indissoluble.
44. See John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 14, AAS 74 (1982) 96–97, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 3; cf. Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, 224–36.
45. This was the truth, denied by Doms and others, on which the Holy Office insisted (see 1.g, above). Expanding on and restating the 1944 decree, Pius XII, Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, AAS 43 (1951) 848–49, Catholic Mind 50 (1952): 60, stated the point affirmatively: “The truth is that matrimony as a natural institution, by virtue of the will of the Creator, does not have as its primary, intimate end the personal improvement of the couples concerned but the procreation and the education of new life. The other ends, though also connected with nature, are not in the same rank as the first, still less are they superior to it. They are subordinated to it. This holds true for every marriage, even if it bear no fruit, just as it can be said that every eye is made for seeing although in certain abnormal cases, because of special inward and external conditions, it will never be able to see.” Apart from the instrumentalist implication of the analogy—a sterile marriage has intrinsic value which a blind eye lacks—this statement is precisely true.
46. John Paul II, Address to Young Married Couples at Taranto, 4; L’Osservatore Romano, It. ed., 30–31 Oct. 1989, 7; OR, 11 Dec. 1989, 5, teaches: “With marriage, dear couples, you have begun the realization of a great project: fusing your persons to the point of becoming ‘one flesh’, and giving birth, from this stupendous union, to life, to human life. You are collaborators of the Creator in the propagation and rearing of human life. Conjugal love opens of its nature into paternal and maternal love. As you know, however, being a father or mother goes beyond the mere physical fact and becomes a spiritual begetting. This is your educative task! You are called to pass on to the fruit of your union not only material goods but also spiritual goods and those virtues, ideals and moral values, which are their most precious heritage.”
47. On sterility, see CIC, c. 1084, §3.
48. The Church teaches that consent makes the marriage; see DS 643/334, 756/397, 1327/702, 1813/990, 3701/2225; Paul VI, Address to the Roman Rota, AAS 68 (1976) 206–7, OR, 26 Feb. 1976, 3–4; CIC, c. 1057, §1.
49. Marital consent is the mutual commitment of the couple to be married. Since this consent is to an open-ended community which embraces all the goods of the person, it is appropriately said to be mutual self-giving. Thus, CIC, after stating in c. 1057, §1, that the consent of the parties makes the marriage, adds in §2: “Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman, through an irrevocable covenant, mutually give and accept each other in order to establish marriage.” This statement of the object of marital consent agrees with the position of St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 28, a. 4, c. (S.t., sup., q. 48, a. 1, c.): marital consent is not precisely consent to future sexual intercourse (and so marriage is not a contractual exchange of rights over each other’s bodies for the purpose of marital intercourse) but is simply consent to marriage, a communion of husband and wife which is oriented to the whole of married life, which, of course, normally includes marital intercourse.
50. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 9, AAS 60 (1968) 486, PE, 277.9, first characterizes married love as fully human inasmuch as it is a compound of sense and spirit, and above all an act of free will; then he characterizes marital love as all-embracing: “It is a love which is total—that very special form of personal friendship in which husband and wife generously share everything, allowing no unreasonable exceptions and not thinking solely of their own convenience. Whoever really loves his partner loves not only for what he receives, but loves that partner for the partner’s own sake, content to be able to enrich the other with the gift of himself.”
51. Some exegetes hold that Jesus’ scriptural premise (drawn from Gn 2.24) was intended to explain sexual desire or love, not indissolubility. However, Angelo Tosato, “On Genesis 2:24,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990): 389–409, cogently argues that the verse was a gloss of the late Persian period intended to ground a newly developed norm “which was generically antipolygamous and implicitly antidivorce” (409). Still, Tosato points out (405, n. 43) that the Old Testament norm is not yet the absolute norm which Catholic tradition finds in the New Testament.
52. See Mk 10.11–12, Lk 16.18, 1 Cor 7.10–11. On the so-called exception clause (Mt 5.32, 19.9) and Pauline privilege (1 Cor 7.15), see B.3–4, below.
53. The Latin is “non ex humano arbitrio pendet,” which is not accurately translated by “no longer depends on human decisions alone” (see both Abbott and Flannery), since that wrongly suggests that the already-constituted bond partly depends on human decisions. The Council of Trent likewise clearly teaches (on the basis of Gn 2.23–24, Mt 19.6, and Mk 10.9) that the bond of marriage, even if it is not sacramental, is in itself perpetual and indissoluble; see DS 1797–99/ 969; cf. Pius IX, DS 2967/1767; Pius XI, DS 3711/2235. On the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage, see C.3, below. When the Church speaks of the bond of marriage, that expression must not be misinterpreted in accord with individualistic assumptions, as if the man and the woman were complete and self-enclosed realities, tied together by the bond, a third something extrinsic to both of them. Rather, the bond is the marriage itself, the union of the two persons, each incomplete in himself and in herself, but now forming one new and complete reality (two in one flesh); thus, the bond is what is proper to married couples as distinct from otherwise similar unmarried couples.
54. Divorce has increased with secularization, but other socioeconomic factors also have been at work; see Roderick Phillips, Putting Asunder: A History of Divorce in Western Society (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
55. See Pius XII, Address to Newlyweds (29 Apr. 1942); Discorsi e radiomessaggi 4 (1942–43): 53–57; Papal Teachings: Matrimony, ed. Benedictine Monks of Solesmes, trans. Michael J. Byrnes (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1963), 346–48.
56. See George Peter Murdock, “World Ethnographic Sample,” American Anthropologist 59 (1957): 686.
57. In a sympathetic study of the subject, Jessie L. Embry, Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987), 193, points out: “They would not have considered living the principle if they had not felt that they would be blessed and receive rewards in an afterlife. The ability to overcome problems of husbands dealing with more than one wife, wives dealing with co-wives, and children dealing with an extended family was possible because of that same faith. Religious motivations enabled them to deal with or suppress expected jealousies and disagreements that would occur in any family, especially where there were more than one wife.” Cf. St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 33, q. 1, a. 1 (S.t., sup., q. 65, a. 1).
58. Theologians and canonists who question the indissolubility of marriage often formulate the issue in terms of a dichotomy between the good of the institution and that of the person. Paul F. Palmer, S.J., “When a Marriage Dies,” America, 22 Feb. 1975, 128, rightly points out: “It might be argued that the enlightened theologian of today cares more for the happiness of people than he does for marriage as an institution. But when the institution is dissolving, as witnessed by the three million American Catholics who have divorced and remarried, there must be a lot of unhappy people, including a host of unhappy children.” U.S. Congress, House Select Committee on Children, Youth, and Families, U.S. Children and Their Families: Current Conditions and Recent Trends, 1989, 101st Cong., 1st Sess., Sept. 1989, 52–53 and 116–18, reports that in the United States: in 1988, 21.4 percent of all children under 18 were living with their mother only; in 1985, only 37 percent of women with children under 21 whose fathers were absent received child support payments from the absent fathers; and in 1987 more than half of all children living in female-headed households lived below the poverty line, even after more than 42 percent of such children received government payments. Also see U.S. Bureau of the Census, Family Disruption and Economic Hardship: The Short-Run Picture for Children, Current Population Reports, series P–70, no. 23 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1991). A number of authors who do not believe marriage indissoluble point out various aspects of the harm divorce causes to the couple, their children, and others: Joseph Epstein, Divorced in America: Marriage in an Age of Possibility (New York: Dutton, 1974); Diane Medved, The Case against Divorce (New York: Donald I. Fine, 1989); Lenore J. Weitzman, The Divorce Revolution: The Unexpected Social and Economic Consequences for Women and Children in America (New York: Free Press, 1985); Terry Arendell, Mothers and Divorce: Legal, Economic, and Social Dilemmas (Berkeley, Cal.: University of California Press, 1986); Tracy Barr Grossman, Mothers and Children Facing Divorce (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1986); Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee, Second Chances: Men, Women, and Children a Decade after Divorce (New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1989), especially the summary of conclusion, 297–308.
59. Pius XII, Sertum laetitiae, AAS 31 (1939) 640–41 and 651, PE, 223.25, quotes Leo XIII, Arcanum, ASS 12 (1879) 396, PE, 81.29, on the bad consequences of divorce: “Because of divorce, the nuptial contract becomes subject to fickle whim; affection is weakened; pernicious incentives are given to conjugal infidelity; the care and education of offspring are harmed; easy opportunity is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of discord are sown among families; the dignity of woman is lessened and brought down and she runs the risk of being deserted after she has served her husband as an instrument of pleasure. And since it is true that for the ruination of the family and the undermining of the State nothing is so powerful as the corruption of morals, it is easy to see that divorce is of the greatest harm to the prosperity of families and of states.”
60. While in general people can reasonably believe propositions which are not so, and while people can unreasonably draw false conclusions from first principles of practical reasoning, people cannot reasonably believe implications of a first principle of practical reasoning—marriage is a good to be pursued—if those implications are not true.
61. If the argument proposed here is sound, one can know, even without faith, that marriage in itself is exclusive and indissoluble, but one cannot fully understand why it has these properties. For the argument proceeds from the requirements of the good of marriage and the limited ability of human freedom to meet these requirements to the supposition that they are met by an objective principle which transcends human freedom. This argument leaves the cause of indissolubility opaque, since it does not demonstrate the property directly from the nature of marital communion itself. However, such direct demonstration is impossible, since marital communion, like the person as such, is not confined to one order of reality. See Germain Grisez, Beyond the New Theism: A Philosophy of Religion (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 230–40 (on the limits of reductionism) and 353–56 (on the inherent mysteriousness of human community, inasmuch as it transcends the distinction of orders of reality).
62. See Paul F. Palmer, S.J., “Christian Marriage: Contract or Covenant?” Theological Studies 33 (1972): 617–65; idem, “When a Marriage Dies,” 126–28. While the word contract still appears in the Church’s law regarding marriage, covenant now is used in crucial canons: CIC, c. 1055, §1; c. 1057, §2.
63. See J. R. Lucas, “The ‘Vinculum Conjugale’: A Moral Reality,” Theology 78 (1975): 226–30.
64. St. Thomas, In Sent., 4, d. 27, q. 1, a. 1, qu’la 2, ad 3 (S.t., sup., q. 44, a. 2, ad 3), says that “the joining of a man and a woman in matrimony is maximal, since it is both of souls and of bodies.”
65. CIC, c. 1060, sets down a presumption which must be borne in mind in any discussion of factors which might render a marriage invalid: “Marriage enjoys the favor of the law; consequently, when a doubt exists the validity of a marriage is to be upheld until the contrary is proven.”
66. CIC, makes this point with respect to the marriages of Catholics: “Error concerning the unity, indissolubility or sacramental dignity of matrimony does not vitiate matrimonial consent so long as it does not determine the will” (c. 1099); outward consent is presumed to express internal consent (c. 1101, §1); “But if either or both parties through a positive act of the will should exclude marriage itself, some essential element or an essential property of marriage, it is invalidly contracted” (c. 1101, §2). The truth these canons articulate does not hold only of the marriages of Catholics, for it follows from the nature of human free choice and the fact that marriage has an objective reality, independent of people’s thoughts about it and motives for entering into it; this objective reality is more or less available to all men and woman in the institution of marriage which they find as a given in their society. While the reality of marriage is completely available in the institution of Christian marriage in the Catholic Church, the intrinsic elements of the good of marriage itself, though not its essential properties, are available in virtually any society, as will be explained in d.
67. See CIC, c. 1108; this requirement admits certain exceptions.