Return to Theological Thoughts.
Before looking at the issues of divorce and remarriage, it is essential to consider the exact teaching given by Our Blessed Lord on this topic, as reported in Sacred Scripture.
"It was said: 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce', but I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife - except on the ground of unchastity - causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery." [Mat 5:31,32]Later in the same Gospel, Our Lord says something slightly different:
"Whoever divorces his wife - except for unchastity - and marries another commits adultery." [Mat 19:9]In the Gospel of Mark, a similar teaching is given a different context. Here, Jesus is in controversy with a number of Pharisees about the specific matter of marriage ethics. He says that "what God has joined together, let no one separate." He then adds in private to his disciples:
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her: and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery." [Mk 10:11,12]In the Gospel of Luke, the equivalent passage has a similar setting to that in Matthew, except that more emphasis is placed on the revolutionary way in which Jesus' teaching fills out and completes the Law.
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery." [Lk 16:18]
The beginning of a marriage (The Marriage or Wedding) is often associated with religious rites and contracted in a religious setting. Nevertheless, the origins of marriage in Western culture are entirely secular. There is no suggestion in the Bible (Old or New Testament) of any priestly or rabinical involvement in any wedding. Neither is there any suggestion of the existence of a marriage ritual beyond a banquet or party to celebrate the agreement. Considering the complexity of the Aaronic Ritual, these facts are remarkable. Until medieval times, the Church had little or no involvement in the business of most weddings, though from about 500 AD, the Church started to regulate marriage post hoc.
In contemporary society, informal romanto-erotic relationships are increasingly the norm. This demonstrates the falsity of the adage that "love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage."
Note that parts of the above specification is in direct conflict with the most recent Official Teaching of the Catholic Church. This is that Marriage:
"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her:Here Jesus makes no explicit judgement about divorce or legal separation. However, He implies that:
and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery [against her first husband?]"
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,This largely repeats the teaching found in Mark's Gospel. If the meaning of "from" is truly "by" (this is the literal meaning of the Greek original), then it is added that even if a husband has divorced a wife (and so can be presumed to have no concern for what becomes of her) another man marrying her still technically commits adultery against the interests of the first husband. This would be because the first husband cannot in fact repudiate his duties and obligations towards his wife and her offspring (by any father), no matter how much he may wish to.
and anyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
"Whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery."This is a subset of the teaching we have already reviewed, except that it apparently gives one ground for divorce. The exact meaning of this one ground has been hotly disputed. I refrain from reviewing or commenting on this controversy here. As I have made clear, my interest is elsewhere.
"It was said: 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."This is largely a repeat of the teaching already given. However, the central part of this text is very strange, if taken literally. As I have already noted, it seems to say that the divorcing husband makes the divorced wife commit a sin without her having to do anything at all! It seems to me that one of the following possibilities must be true:
"Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, 'Thou shalt not put away thy wife, except for the cause of fornication'; and it regards as fornication, the marriage of those separated while the other is alive.We too frequently make rash promises and too frequently renege on them. Neither the giving nor the breaking of such a promise is a just act. The first is a lie and the second its realization.
Not to deck and adorn herself beyond what is becoming, renders a wife free of calumnious suspicion, while she devotes herself assiduously to prayers and supplications; avoiding frequent departures from the house, and shutting herself up as far as possible from the view of all not related to her, and deeming housekeeping of more consequence than impertinent trifling.
'He that taketh a woman that has been put away', it is said, 'committeth adultery; and if one puts away his wife, he makes her an adulteress', that is, compels her to commit adultery. And not only is he who puts her away guilty of this, but he who takes her, by giving to the woman the opportunity of sinning; for did he not take her, she would return to her husband." [Clement of Alexandria: "Stromata" 2:24, A.D. 202]
Notice that Clement does not consider the possibility that a "divorced woman" is anything other than a woman that has been "put away" by her husband, though the text in Mark suggests exactly the opposite. It should also be recognized that not all that the Fathers say can be taken to represent Apostolic Tradition. Sometimes they witness more to the mores, prejudices, "common sense" and presumptions of the society in which they lived. This is inevitable. I doubt that the central part of the text I have just quoted would be accounted authoritative by many folk nowadays! No more do I accept St Clement's eccentric explanation of the admittedly awkward text in terms of the second marriage preventing the re-establishment of the first!
Jesus never says: "it is allowed to separate as long as you do not remarry." In fact He explicitly says the opposite: "What God has joined together, let no one separate." [Mat 19:6] Compare the teaching of Athenagoras, Origen of Alexandria and Ambrose of Milan:
"For we bestow our attention, not on the study of words, but on the exhibition and teaching of actions - that a person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage: for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. 'For whosoever puts away his wife,' says He, 'and marries another, commits adultery;' not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to marry again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the strictest union of flesh with flesh, formed [them?] for the intercourse of the race."Athenagoras, Origen and Ambrose are quite clear that the fundamental wrong is the repudiation of a spouse. Athenagoras states pretty explicitly that polygamy is wrong, but also that even the death of a divorced wife does not free the divorcing husband to remarry! Origen argues that not even the desire to marry a second time excuses this injustice. He does not say that a second marriage is wrong, only that it does not justify a break-up of the first marriage. Jesus only refers to remarriage in order to demonstrate that the divorce that was supposed to facilitate it; favour it; or make it practical, did no such thing. His business is to condemn the initial repudiation of the responsibility undertaken when the promise to "care and provide for, until death parts" was made. He does so not because marriage is in some way special (even if it is so) but because the case in question is a particular example of two important general principles: that one shouldn't lie, and one shouldn't repudiate responsibilities freely undertaken.
[Athenagoras "Plea for the Christians", XXXIII]
"Then, describing what ought to be in the case of those who are joined together by God, so that they may be joined together in a manner worthy of God, the Saviour adds, 'So that they are no more twain'; and, wherever there is indeed concord, and unison, and harmony, between husband and wife, when he is as ruler and she is obedient to the word, 'He shall rule over thee', then of such persons we may truly say, 'They are no more twain'. .... Then .... it is said, 'but one flesh'. And it is God who has joined together the two in one so that they are no more twain, from the time that the woman is married to the man. And, since God has joined them together, on this account in the case of those who are joined together by God, there is a 'gift'; and Paul knowing this, that marriage according to the Word of God was a 'gift,' like as holy celibacy was a gift, says, 'But I would that all men were like myself; howbeit, each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that'. And those who are joined together by God both mind and keep the precept, 'Husbands love your wives, as Christ also the church'. The Saviour then commanded, 'What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder', but man wishes to put asunder what God hath joined together, when .... not only to commit fornication, but 'to marry', he dissolves even those who had been before joined together by the providence of God."
[Origen: "Commentary on Matthew",
"You dismiss your wife, therefore, as if by right and without being charged with wrongdoing; and you suppose it is proper for you to do so because no human law forbids it; but divine law forbids it. Anyone who obeys men ought to stand in awe of God. Hear the law of the Lord, which even they who propose our laws must obey: 'What God has joined together let no man put asunder'" [Ambrose: "Commentary on Luke",
Jesus never explicitly considers the question of a second marriage taking place without a divorce of the first spouse. This possibility does not naturally occur to us, who are accustomed to monogamy as the only norm. We presume that Our Lord does not consider this because it is unthinkable. Of course it is not. In this presumption we reveal our cultural myopia and conceit. Jesus did not consider this possibility simply because both He and his listeners knew that it was entirely licit: though not, perhaps, ideal.
At a conference called in 1950 by the chief rabbis of Israel, an enactment was passed generally making monogamy binding upon all Jews. This did not render second marriages invalid, however, and therefore, if one takes place, it can be dissolved only by divorce. The criminal law of Israel renders it an offence on pain of imprisonment for a married person to contract another marriage without permission of a Rabbinical court. Nevertheless, for Jewish citizens no offence is committed if permission to marry a second wife is given by a final judgement of a rabbinical court and approved by the two chief rabbis of Israel.
" 'What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.' See a teacher's wisdom. I mean, that being asked, 'Is it lawful?' He did not at once say, 'It is not lawful!' lest they should be disturbed and put in disorder, but before the decision by His argument He rendered this manifest, showing that it is itself too the commandment of His Father, and that not in opposition to Moses did He enjoin these things, but in full agreement with him. But mark Him arguing strongly not from the creation only, but also from His command. For He said not, that He made one man and one woman only, but that He also gave this command that the one man should be joined to the one woman. But if it had been His will that he should put this one away, and bring in another, when He had made one man, He would have formed many Women. But now both by the manner of the creation, and by the manner of law giving, He showed that one man must dwell with one woman continually, and never break off from her."
[John Chrysostom:"On Matthew", 370 AD]
"No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. 'If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce'; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another." [Ambrose: "Abraham",
"Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others. This adultery, nevertheless, is certainly less serious than that of men who dismiss their wives for reasons other than fornication and take other wives. Therefore, when we say: 'Whoever marries a woman dismissed by her husband for reason other than fornication commits adultery', undoubtedly we speak the truth. But we do not thereby acquit of this crime the man who marries a woman who was dismissed because of fornication. We do not doubt in the least that both are adulterers. We do indeed pronounce him an adulterer who dismissed his wife for cause other than fornication and marries another, nor do we thereby defend from the taint of this sin the man who dismissed his wife because of fornication and marries another. We recognize that both are adulterers, though the sin of one is more grave than that of the other. No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery"I suppose that this unthinking rejection of polygamy was because of an uncritical adoption of secular Roman propriety.
"A woman begins to be the wife of no later husband unless she has ceased to be the wife of a former one. She will cease to be the wife of a former one, however, if that husband should die, not if he commit fornication. A spouse, therefore, is lawfully dismissed for cause of fornication; but the bond of chastity remains. That is why a man is guilty of adultery if he marries a woman who has been dismissed even for this very reason of fornication". [Augustine: "Adulterous Marriages",
The second blessing of matrimony which We said was mentioned by St. Augustine, is the blessing of conjugal honour which consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what belongs to one of the parties by reason of this contract sanctioned by divine law, may not be denied to him or permitted to any third person; nor may there be conceded to one of the parties anything which, being contrary to the rights and laws of God and entirely opposed to matrimonial faith, can never be conceded.No rationale is advanced for this doctrine beyond the assertion that it is God's will. Neither is any account given of why God was, for a long interval, apparently content to abrogate his own decree. Neither of why or when He rescinded this abrogation. Moreover, although monogamy and sexual exclusivity is accounted "the second blessing of matrimony", it is not explained how it is a positive blessing, rather than a mere limitation on freedom and choice. As pope Pius says earlier in the same encyclical:
Wherefore, conjugal faith, or honour, demands in the first place the complete unity of matrimony which the Creator Himself laid down in the beginning when He wished it to be not otherwise than between one man and one woman. And although afterwards this primeval law was relaxed to some extent by God, the Supreme Legislator, there is no doubt that the law of the Gospel fully restored that original and perfect unity, and abrogated all dispensations as the words of Christ and the constant teaching and action of the Church show plainly. With reason, therefore, does the Sacred Council of Trent solemnly declare: "Christ Our Lord very clearly taught that in this bond two persons only are to be united and joined together when He said: 'Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh'."
Nor did Christ Our Lord wish only to condemn any form of polygamy or polyandry, as they are called, whether successive or simultaneous, and every other external dishonourable act, but, in order that the sacred bonds of marriage may be guarded absolutely inviolate, He forbade also even wilful thoughts and desires of such like things: "But I say to you, that whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her hath already committed adultery with her in his heart." Which words of Christ Our Lord cannot be annulled even by the consent of one of the partners of marriage for they express a law of God and of nature which no will of man can break or bend.
[Pope Pius XIth: "Casti Connubii" 19-21]
Yet although matrimony is of its very nature of divine institution, the human will, too, enters into it and performs a most noble part. For each individual marriage, inasmuch as it is a conjugal union of a particular man and woman, arises only from the free consent of each of the spouses; and this free act of the will, by which each party hands over and accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage, is so necessary to constitute true marriage that it cannot be supplied by any human power. This freedom, however, regards only the question whether the contracting parties really wish to enter upon matrimony or to marry this particular person; but the nature of matrimony is entirely independent of the free will of man, so that if one has once contracted matrimony he is thereby subject to its divinely made laws and its essential properties. For the Angelic Doctor, writing on conjugal honour and on the offspring which is the fruit of marriage, says: "These things are so contained in matrimony by the marriage pact itself that, if anything to the contrary were expressed in the consent which makes the marriage, it would not be a true marriage." [Pope Pius XIth: "Casti Connubii" #6]
"Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may calumniate the innocent and, for the sake of a second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed a second may not be taken while the first lives" [Jerome: "Commentaries on Matthew", 398 AD].When Jesus says that a man marrying a divorced woman commits adultery, He should not be understood as condemning the man that takes the dispossessed woman into his household! All Jesus is seeking to assert is that the first marriage should not be construed as being dissolved. Formally, the second husband infringes the "property rights" of the first husband. The first husband becomes jointly liable to support any children that might result from the second marriage and he has (I admit, of his own fault!) had no say-so in this matter. It may even be that Jesus was speaking wryly or ironically: pointing out the absurdities that result as soon as anyone attempts to back out of a solemn promise, especially if they then make a second one!
"Just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Saviour, he commits adultery with her" [Origen: "Commentary on Matthew", 248 AD]
Whereas Jesus says "What God has joined together, let no one separate." [Mat 19:6] the Roman Church allows every kind and degree of separation between spouses: for the sake of equanimity. This is compatible with the teaching of various Fathers, in particular the ancient text "The Shepherd of Hermas":
"What then shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this disposition? Let him divorce her, and let the husband remain single. But if he divorce his wife and marry another, he too commits adultery"Equally, Catholics are now more or less freely allowed to marry heretics, infidels and atheists, contrary to the advice of St Paul, the admonition of St Ambrose:
["The Shepherd of Hermas",
"There is hardly anything more deadly than being married to one who is a stranger to the faith, where the passions of lust and dissension and the evils of sacrilege are inflamed. Since the marriage ceremony ought to be sanctified by the priestly veiling and blessing, how can that be called a marriage ceremony where there is no agreement in faith?" [Ambrose: "To Vigilius",and the teaching of Pope Pius XIth, quoting the Code of Canon Law, as then in force:
They, therefore, who rashly and heedlessly contract mixed marriages, from which the maternal love and providence of the Church dissuades her children for very sound reasons, fail conspicuously in this respect, sometimes with danger to their eternal salvation. This attitude of the Church to mixed marriages appears in many of her documents, all of which are summed up in the Code of Canon Law: "Everywhere and with the greatest strictness the Church forbids marriages between baptized persons, one of whom is a Catholic and the other a member of a schismatical or heretical sect; and if there is, add to this, the danger of the falling away of the Catholic party and the perversion of the children, such a marriage is forbidden also by the divine law." [Cod. iur. can., c. 1060.]Obviously, no-one can be sanguine about the breakdown of any significant human bond: a close friendship or parent-sibling relationship no less than a spousal contract: but in this imperfect world bad things happen and one must take account of disorder, not just pretend that it doesn't happen and that people do not get hurt!
If the Church occasionally on account of circumstances does not refuse to grant a dispensation from these strict laws (provided that the divine law remains intact and the dangers above mentioned are provided against by suitable safeguards), it is unlikely that the Catholic party will not suffer some detriment from such a marriage. [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #82]
The only aspect of the Roman discipline that causes pain is the refusal to allow a second marriage. After a long and complex history, the Byzantine Church has come to allow such unions: though reluctantly and only as a "second best" option. Eastern Orthodox Jurisdictions do not view these second marriages as polygamous and certainly do not countenance explicit polygyny or polyandry.
Certainly Orthodoxy regards the marriage bond as in principle lifelong and indissoluble, and it sees the breakdown of marriage as a tragedy due to human weakness and sin. But while condemning the sin, the Church still desires to help suffering humans and to allow them a second chance. When, therefore, a marriage has entirely ceased to be a reality, the Orthodox Church does not insist on the preservation of a legal fiction. Divorce is seen as an exceptional but unavoidable concession to our human brokenness, living as we do in a fallen world
.... the Orthodox Church knows that a second alliance cannot have exactly the same character as the first; and so in the service for a second marriage several of the joyful ceremonies are omitted, and replaced by penitential prayers. In practice, however, this second marriage service is scarcely ever used.
[Archbishop Kallistos Ware: "The Orthodox Church",1993]
Monogamy is a rupture of this tradition. The norm in nearly every major ancient culture (at least, for those players who had power and thus for those whose marriages we have written records of ) has been polygyny: one male with several wives and concubines. In particular, polygyny is found throughout the Old Testament.
Although Augustine ruthlessly exiled his own concubine after his conversion, he counselled marriage for others as a remedy for concupiscence. In general, for the early medieval Church, all sex was problematic. In the sixth-century penitentials, the penalties imposed on monks for having sex with either a man or a woman are equal. On the other hand, the penalties imposed on monks for having sex with an animal was a third of this!
"The Fathers of the first centuries almost all expound the view that in the case of adultery the dismissal of the guilty party is permitted, but that a subsequent re-marriage is forbidden [Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria and Origen are cited. On the other hand] .... St. Basil
(Ep. 188 can. 9), St. Epiphanius (Haer. 59, 4)and Ambrosiaster (on 1 Cor 7,11)in view of Mt 5:32 and 19:9, and influenced by the state of legislation, allowed the man the right to the dissolution of the marriage and to marry again in the case of adultery of the woman. A defender of the absolute indissolubility of marriage, even in the case of adultery, is St. Augustine."
[Ott: "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma", 1952]
Between the time of Constantine (314 A.D.) and Justinian (527 A.D.)
facilities began to be given not only for the putting away of a wife or
husband for adultery (porneia), but also for remarriage after divorce:
at any rate in the case of the innocent party. The most significant early
legislation is that of Novel XXII in 536 A.D. and Novel CXVII promulgated
by the Emperor
In the Latin West, the impossibility of second marriage was maintained in theory from the earliest days. Nevertheless, serial polygyny was regularly practiced by early medieval kings otherwise famous for their piety. Their marital practices did not attract condemnation from Church authorities. While papal decisions like those of Gregory II (726) communicated to St. Boniface, or of Alexander III to the bishop of Amiens, can be represented as declarations of nullity, they look much more like the granting of divorces. Concubinage was widely practiced among the European elite. This was also tolerated by the Church, even in the Eleventh Century. Divorce was unproblematic until the Twelfth Centuary.
Today's concept of marriage, in which a 40% divorce rate is part of the package, would have been unthinkable a century ago. On the other hand, the contemporary average longevity of a marriage is arguably identical to that of a century ago. The difference is that then people (mostly women) died early: now they get divorced. The people of the Nineteenth Century could no more have imagined our divorce rates than we can imagine their death rates.
The idea that marriage has "three thousand years of unchanging history"
can be summarily dismissed.
7. By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from this union of souls by God's decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Hence the nature of this contract, which is proper and peculiar to it alone, makes it entirely different both from the union of animals entered into by the blind instinct of nature alone in which neither reason nor free will plays a part, and also from the haphazard unions of men, which are far removed from all true and honourable unions of will and enjoy none of the rights of family life.This teaching is to be welcomed. It echoes the words of a Thirteenth Century Greek ritual for homo-gender union. It ties in with the ideas that marriage is a species of friendship and that "the chief reason and purpose of matrimony" is the friendly co-operation of the spouses towards their sanctification as individuals and as a partnership. It is contrary to the old Code of Canon Law which clearly states that the "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children."
9. Therefore the sacred partnership of true marriage is constituted both by the will of God and the will of man. From God comes the very institution of marriage, the ends for which it was instituted, the laws that govern it, the blessings that flow from it; while man, through generous surrender of his own person made to another for the whole span of life, becomes, with the help and co-operation of God, the author of each particular marriage, with the duties and blessings annexed thereto from divine institution.This teaching is misguided. It is based on the conventional idea that the highest form of love is altruistic, disinterested love. This is simply false. All love is the attraction that a subject feels towards its proper good: an object from the possession of which it would benefit. Married love is essentially romanto-erotic, not dispassionate. It is self-affirmatory, not self-denying. Any form of love between two people can cause the lover to make great sacrifices for the well-being of the beloved, but this is because the lover somehow sees his or her own benefit or the vindication of some personal characteristic or commitment caught up in the fate of the beloved.
10. Now when We come to explain .... what are the blessings that God has attached to true matrimony .... there occur to Us the words .... "These are all the blessings of matrimony on account of which matrimony itself is a blessing; offspring, conjugal faith and the sacrament." [St. Augustine, De bono coniug., cap. 24, n. 32.]These three aspects are dealt with in turn adequately below.
And how under these three heads is contained a splendid summary of the whole doctrine of Christian marriage, the holy Doctor himself expressly declares when he said: "By conjugal faith it is provided that there should be no carnal intercourse outside the marriage bond with another man or woman; with regard to offspring, that children should be begotten of love, tenderly cared for and educated in a religious atmosphere; finally, in its sacramental aspect that the marriage bond should not be broken and that a husband or wife, if separated, should not be joined to another even for the sake of offspring. This we regard as the law of marriage by which the fruitfulness of nature is adorned and the evil of incontinence is restrained."
[St. Augustine, De Gen. ad litt., lib. IX, cap. 7, n. 12. ]
It is sufficient here to note that the fact that an act might have some outcome that is a blessing or advantage does not mean that this outcome is an end or purpose of that act, still let a defining end or purpose. It might, indeed, be no more than a happy accident or un-noticed beneficial effect. For example, the fact that the drinking of red wine may guard against circulatory disease does not mean that people in fact drink red wine for this reason: nor that they should do so and not at all that they should do so for no other motive!
Indeed, the Roman Catechism carefully lists three ends of marriage:
"First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age." [Catechism of the Oecumenical Council of Trent: "On Marriage"]Second, procreation; third the regulation of sexual desire. Then, quite separately, it lists three blessings: children, fidelity and the sacrament. It was quite clear to its authors that ends and blessings are distinct and disjoint. Sadly, this not so subtle point seems to have been overlooked by Pius XIth.
11. Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth." As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy when he says: "The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: 'I wish,' he says, 'young girls to marry.' [1 Tim 5:14] And, as if someone said to him, 'Why?,' he immediately adds: 'To bear children, to be mothers of families'."The text from the first epistle to Timothy should however be quoted in full:
[St. August., De bono coniug., cap. 24 n. 32.]
"But refuse to put younger widows on the list; for when their sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge. Beside that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say. So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us." [1 Tim 5:11-14]It is clear that the Apostle is proposing marriage, procreation and housekeeping as a means of keeping young widows out of mischief! He does not mean to suggest that the purpose of marriage is procreation, but rather that the purpose of procreation is to occupy women who would otherwise be troublesome! In fact, no New Testament writer ever suggests that procreation is a purpose of marriage.
As a Platonist, I believe that all love should be productive and fruitful. However, there are many ways of being fruitful. Spiritual fruits are to be preferred to fleshly: Piety, the fruit of a religious devotion to God; or Wisdom, the fruit of an academic pursuit of understanding, to mere physical offspring. While I accept that the wish of individuals to procreate, and the need of the state to replenish its population are valid motives for marriage, I insist that "the chief reason and purpose of matrimony" is the friendly co-operation of the spouses towards their sanctification as individuals and as a partnership, and that this is the first fruit of this holy union.
12. How great a boon of God this is, and how great a blessing of matrimony is clear from a consideration of man's dignity and of his sublime end. For man surpasses all other visible creatures by the superiority of his rational nature alone. Besides, God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvellous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the co-operation of those bound in wedlock.Not having been familiar with the text of this encyclical until now, I had always believed that when protestant friends criticised the Church's teaching, saying that it made marriage into a means to populate the pews, their arguments were unfounded. Now, unfortunately, I know better!
13. But Christian parents must also understand that they are destined not only to propagate and preserve the human race on earth, indeed not only to educate any kind of worshippers of the true God, but children who are to become members of the Church of Christ, to raise up fellow citizens of the Saints, and members of God's household, that the worshippers of God and Our Saviour may daily increase.
14. For although Christian spouses even if sanctified themselves cannot transmit sanctification to their progeny, nay, although the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity, nevertheless, they share to some extent in the blessings of that primeval marriage of Paradise, since it is theirs to offer their offspring to the Church in order that by this most fruitful Mother of the children of God they may be regenerated through the laver of Baptism unto supernatural justice and finally be made living members of Christ, partakers of immortal life, and heirs of that eternal glory to which we all aspire from our inmost heart.
Looking towards copulation rather than evangelism to expand the Kingdom of God is symptomatic of a great malaise in the hierarchy. It betrays an introverted vision of a Church with an ethnic base or foundation. It implies that the Church is a ghetto or a besieged fortress: rather than a city built on a hill; with its lights lit bright and its twelve gates open to all people, that the nations of the world might pour in.
For that matter, having as a direct aim an increase in membership of the Church (as if God was in some need of worshippers) rather than the healing and comforting (sanitization and sanctification) of souls (which then accidentally increases the membership of the Church) is fundamentally disordered.
16. The blessing of offspring, however, is not completed by the mere begetting of them, but something else must be added, namely the proper education of the offspring. For the most wise God would have failed to make sufficient provision for children that had been born, and so for the whole human race, if He had not given to those to whom He had entrusted the power and right to beget them, the power also and the right to educate them. For no one can fail to see that children are incapable of providing wholly for themselves, even in matters pertaining to their natural life, and much less in those pertaining to the supernatural, but require for many years to be helped, instructed, and educated by others.It is not at all clear that the "right and duty of educating their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth". The Church and State both have legitimate interests here. Everything else being equal, the cost and burden of education is the responsibility of the parents: because it was from the exercise of their will that the need for education arose. However, parents do not own their children. These are independent, autonomous individuals. Parents have no property rights over their offspring. They do not have the right to indoctrinate them into the belief system of their choice, even if this is the Orthodox and Apostolic Catholic Faith. They do, of course, have the duty responsibility and obligation to present to their offspring the truth as best they comprehend it and to direct them towards whatever authorities they believe (rightly or wrongly) to be the most trustworthy and competent - but this obligation is not particular to their role as parents. Everyone has this obligation towards his or her every neighbour.
Now it is certain that both by the law of nature and of God this right and duty of educating their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth, and they are indeed forbidden to leave unfinished this work and so expose it to certain ruin. But in matrimony provision has been made in the best possible way for this education of children that is so necessary, for, since the parents are bound together by an indissoluble bond, the care and mutual help of each is always at hand.
17. Since, however, We have spoken fully elsewhere on the Christian education of youth, let Us sum it all up by quoting once more the words of St. Augustine: "As regards the offspring it is provided that they should be begotten lovingly and educated religiously," - and this is also expressed succinnctly in the Code of Canon Law - "The primary end of marriage is the pprocreation and the education of children." [Cod. iur. can., c. 1013 & 7.]
18. Nor must We omit to remark, in fine, that since the duty entrusted to parents for the good of their children is of such high dignity and of such great importance, every use of the faculty given by God for the procreation of new life is the right and the privilege of the married state alone, by the law of God and of nature, and must be confined absolutely within the sacred limits of that state.Note that this is not the same as "no sex outside marriage", as not all "sex" is a "use of the faculty given by God for the procreation of new life". The pope's argument seems to be that:
19. The second blessing of matrimony which We said was mentioned by St. Augustine, is the blessing of conjugal honour which consists in the mutual fidelity of the spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what belongs to one of the parties by reason of this contract sanctioned by divine law, may not be denied to him or permitted to any third person; nor may there be conceded to one of the parties anything which, being contrary to the rights and laws of God and entirely opposed to matrimonial faith, can never be conceded.I have commented on teaching contained in the Encyclical regarding monogamy previously.
30. These, then, are the elements which compose the blessing of conjugal faith: unity, chastity, charity, honourable noble obedience, which are at the same time an enumeration of the benefits which are bestowed on husband and wife in their married state, benefits by which the peace, the dignity and the happiness of matrimony are securely preserved and fostered. Wherefore it is not surprising that this conjugal faith has always been counted amongst the most priceless and special blessings of matrimony.
23a. This conjugal faith, however, which is most aptly called by St. Augustine the "faith of chastity" blooms more freely, more beautifully and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, the love of husband and wife which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage. For matrimonial faith demands that husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church. This precept the Apostle laid down when he said: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church," that Church which of a truth He embraced with a boundless love not for the sake of His own advantage, but seeking only the good of His Spouse. The love, then, of which We are speaking is not that based on the passing lust of the moment nor does it consist in pleasing words only, but in the deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action, since love is proved by deeds.It is telling indeed that the pope says that "conjugal faith .... blooms more .... nobly, when it is rooted in ..... the love of husband and wife". He hereby indirectly admits that marriage is not, in his view, necessarily bound up with what he here says "holds pride of place" in it and that "matrimonial faith demands" of it; and that he is about to teach is its "chief reason and purpose". This is incoherent. Either marriage is at root the celebration of a loving relationship, or it is at root an inpassionate contract.
There is a deep conflict here. The secular Roman concept of marriage was not concerned with love of any kind: neither romantic nor erotic, still less self-sacrificial. The Church allowed such matrimonial practices to continue between christians, even though they were generally unworthy of christians.
Ironically, though the Magisterium is willing to allow marriages that are devoid of any love whatsoever (and are perhaps contracted for political or financial reasons) the Magisterium will not countenance marriages between two people of the same gender who love each other dearly.
23b. This outward expression of love in the home demands not only mutual help but must go further; must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love toward God and their neighbour, on which indeed "dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets." For all men of every condition, in whatever honourable walk of life they may be, can and ought to imitate that most perfect example of holiness placed before man by God, namely Christ Our Lord, and by God's grace to arrive at the summit of perfection, as is proved by the example set us of many saints.This is profoundly wholesome and welcome teaching. It is, of course, true of all Christian friendship, not just the relationship of spouses. It builds on and advances the teaching of the Roman Catechism, already quoted.
24. This mutual moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose 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 the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.I paraphrase #24 as follows: "The process of mutual sanctification is the primary end of marriage: procreation can only be said to be the primary end of marriage when one's understanding of marriage is improperly restricted to the biological domain." This teaching is revolutionary! While the tone of these words is in line with the gentle and liberal character of the Catechism of the Council of Trent, I can find no direct quotation here and no reference is given in the encyclical.
25. By this same love it is necessary that all the other rights and duties of the marriage state be regulated as the words of the Apostle: "Let the husband render the debt to the wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband," express not only a law of justice but of charity.
26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that "order of love," as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church."The encyclical has a good deal more to say about this matter. At the present moment, I have no desire to comment on this issue.
31. But this accumulation of benefits is completed and, as it were, crowned by that blessing of Christian marriage which in the words of St. Augustine we have called the sacrament, by which is denoted both the indissolubility of the bond and the raising and hallowing of the contract by Christ Himself, whereby He made it an efficacious sign of grace.
32. In the first place Christ Himself lays stress on the indissolubility and firmness of the marriage bond when He says: "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder," and: "Everyone that putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery, and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."The encyclical has a good deal more to say on this subject. It is the topic of the body of this paper.
36. If we wish with all reverence to inquire into the intimate reason of this divine decree, Venerable Brethren, we shall easily see it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage which is fully and perfectly verified in consummated marriage between Christians. For, as the Apostle says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the marriage of Christians recalls that most perfect union which exists between Christ and the Church: "Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico, in Christo et in ecclesia;" which union, as long as Christ shall live and the Church through Him, can never be dissolved by any separation. And this St. Augustine clearly declares in these words: "This is safeguarded in Christ and the Church, which, living with Christ who lives for ever may never be divorced from Him. The observance of this sacrament is such in the City of God . . . that is, in the Church of Christ, that when for the sake of begetting children, women marry or are taken to wife, it is wrong to leave a wife that is sterile in order to take another by whom children may be had. Anyone doing this is guilty of adultery, just as if he married another, guilty not by the law of the day, according to which when one's partner is put away another may be taken, which the Lord allowed in the law of Moses because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel; but by the law of the Gospel." [St. Augustine, De nupt. et concup., lib. I, cap. 10.]If the sacrament is confected by the exchange of vows, and not by physical consummation, It is difficult to understand why physical consummation changes its status as regard indissolubility. Of course, if the Church's matrimonial discipline is analysed in terms of the regulation of disguised polygamy, then this issue does not arise. The allowance of "divorce" in the case of an unconsummated marriage becomes no more than the (somewhat arbitrary) allowance of a second marriage if the first has not been consummated.
38. But considering the benefits of the Sacrament, besides the firmness and indissolubility, there are also much higher emoluments as the word "sacrament" itself very aptly indicates; for to Christians this is not a meaningless and empty name. Christ the Lord, the Institutor and "Perfecter" of the holy sacraments, [Conc. Trid., Sess. XXIV. ] by raising the matrimony of His faithful to the dignity of a true sacrament of the New Law, made it a sign and source of that peculiar internal grace by which "it perfects natural love, it confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies both man and wife." [Conc. Trid. Sess., XXIV. ]This is profoundly wholesome and welcome teaching.
39. And since the valid matrimonial consent among the faithful was constituted by Christ as a sign of grace, the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons "without it being by that very fact a sacrament." [Cod. iur. can., c. 1012. ]
40. By the very fact, therefore, that the faithful with sincere mind give such consent, they open up for themselves a treasure of sacramental grace from which they draw supernatural power for the fulfilling of their rights and duties faithfully, holily, perseveringly even unto death. Hence this sacrament not only increases sanctifying grace, the permanent principle of the supernatural life, in those who, as the expression is, place no obstacle (obex) in its way, but also adds particular gifts, dispositions, seeds of grace, by elevating and perfecting the natural powers. By these gifts the parties are assisted not only in understanding, but in knowing intimately, in adhering to firmly, in willing effectively, and in successfully putting into practice, those things which pertain to the marriage state, its aims and duties, giving them in fine right to the actual assistance of grace, whensoever they need it for fulfilling the duties of their state.
41. Nevertheless, since it is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless the parties exercise these supernatural powers and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace they have received. If, however, doing all that lies with their power, they cooperate diligently, they will be able with ease to bear the burdens of their state and to fulfil their duties.
53. And now, Venerable Brethren, we shall explain in detail the evils opposed to each of the benefits of matrimony. First consideration is due to the offspring, which many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of matrimony and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people not through virtuous continence (which Christian law permits in matrimony when both parties consent) but by frustrating the marriage act. Some justify this criminal abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say that they cannot on the one hand remain continent nor on the other can they have children because of the difficulties whether on the part of the mother or on the part of family circumstances.I have discussed this doctrine at length elsewhere.
54. But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
55. Small wonder, therefore, if Holy Writ bears witness that the Divine Majesty regards with greatest detestation this horrible crime and at times has punished it with death. As St. Augustine notes, "Intercourse even with one's legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented. Onan, the son of Juda, did this and the Lord killed him for it." [St. August., De coniug. adult., lib. II, n. 12, Gen, XXXVIII, 8-10.]
56. Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defence of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassadorship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.
59. Holy Church knows well that not infrequently one of the parties is sinned against rather than sinning, when for a grave cause he or she reluctantly allows the perversion of the right order. In such a case, there is no sin, provided that, mindful of the law of charity, he or she does not neglect to seek to dissuade and to deter the partner from sin. Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.If, of course, the act has no "intrinsic nature", then this teaching looses any restrictive application.