THE NATURE OF SEXUALITY (MARRIAGE IN ETHICS)
In this chapter we shall consider the nature of sexuality first in the light of the moral law, and then in the light of love.
I In the Light of the Moral Law
WE HAVE SEEN THAT IT IS A PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL LAW that man conserve his species through the institution of marriage. The primary reason why the exercise of the sexual faculty belongs within marriage alone is that this faculty is ordained towards the procreation of children, who require a stable home and background for their development. Marriage is, then, an institution of natural law because it is required by nature and the natural consequences of sexual union.
The present paragraph gives a brief summary of the Roman Catechism (of the Council of Trent) on the nature of marriage according to the Natural Law. Marriage is defined there as “the conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.”68 (viri et mulieris maritalis coniunctio inter legitimas personas individuam vitae consuetudinem retinens.(P.2.c.8,q.3) This classical definition derives from Roman Law (inst. L.1,c.9), St. Augustine in Gratian (c.3, C.27, q.2), Gregory IX (c.2, X3,33), and a number of the 13th century scholastics, notably St. Thomas (Suppl. q.44, a.3).(cf. Prummer III 628).)
The Roman Catechism explains that “the obligation and tie expressed by the word ‘union’ alone have the force and nature of marriage”; that the word “conjugal” gives the special character of this union; that the phrase “between qualified persons” relates to the legal provisions; and that the life-long duration of the marriage expresses the indissolubility of the tie. Marriage is consummated by the marriage debt but exists as a true marriage even without it. It is brought into being by the mutual consent of the couple which is internal, and is expressed externally by words which refer to the present time. (It may be noted that the consent of the parties is what constitutes the sacrament of marriage when the conditions for sacramentality are met, and that their freedom relates to the undertaking of this contract, but not to its later possible dissolution, for this is excluded by the finalities of marriage.) Marriage has three main “motives or ends” or finalities, which are procreation; companionship and mutual assistance; and the remedy against concupiscence. (The second and third are traditionally taken together and expressed as mutual support and love69). Marriage has in addition two properties: union and indissolubility (the latter already contained in the definition above).
We note here that marriage is brought into being by the consent of the spouses and consists in their union. The word “union” expresses the marital tie, a tie or bond (vinculum) which is indissoluble. Magisterial Personalism, by contrast, presents this union not as a tie or a bond but as an ‘intimate communion of life and love’70. (in the sense of marital love, as a type of the love of friendship Gaudium et Spes 48; Familiaris Consortio 11; The New Catechism1603; Evangelium Vitae I 1471. 98)
Again we witness a shift from the objective to the subjective order (cf. the previous chapter), and in particular from a theological definition, to a psychological description, of marriage. The neglect of the objective order, or in other words of the essence of marriage, is misleading, as can be seen in the following example: a married couple who no longer live an “intimate communion of life and love” may believe that their marriage no longer exists, but this is true only in the subjective and psychological order, whereas in the objective and theological order, or in other words in reality, the marriage still does.
Marriage according to Revelation will be considered in chapter 10; we shall here proceed to expound the finalities and the properties of marriage from the ethical standpoint.
The primary finality of sexuality and marriage, as will be explained in detail in the next chapter, is the propagation of the human species. The sexual differentiation of man and woman and its natural orientation towards sexual union may ultimately be understood only in reference to procreation. But the duties of the parents do not end with the birth of the child, for a child when born needs to be nurtured physically and emotionally, not least through the love of both parents, and to be educated intellectually, morally, but above all spiritually for as Pope Pius XI states in the encyclical Casti Connubii (12), “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 forever in Heaven”. This process of education constitutes a form of continuing procreation whereby, to the enrichment of God’s creation, the couple live out their sublime dignity of parenthood (the woman in particular her inborn propensity for motherhood) and manifest to each other in the highest degree their mutual support and complementarity for the sake of their progeny, the finest fruit of their love and marriage.
The secondary finality of sexuality and marriage is this very mutual support and love of the couple. It promotes their emotional, moral, and, ultimately, spiritual perfection and brings them happiness which Jolivet describes as follows: le vrai bonheur de l’homme qui est spirituel, s’achète souvent au prix des plus durs sacrifices exigés par la fidélité au devoir (Morale p.410) All of the mutual relations of the couple should be guided by Divine Charity, and as for the satisfaction of the sexual instinct, which provides a remedy against concupiscence, it is a part of the couple’s mutual love and subordinate to it, for, as we shall later see, sexual love, marital love, is more than simply sensible love, a love of the senses: it is rational love, a love guided by reason and directed not towards the self, but towards the being of the other. It should always respect the dignity of the woman. The love between the spouses is moreover essential for the happiness and the psychological well-being of their offspring.
A further finality of marriage in particular and of the family is to serve the community, society, country, and nation. The well being and flourishing of these social entities depends on the well being and flourishing of that very cell of society, which is the family.
The Church teaches that the properties of marriage that best ensure the attainment of these finalities are its unity and indissolubility72.(Essentiales matrimonii proprietates sunt unitas et indissolubilitas. CIC 1056.) The necessity of the unity and indissolubility of marriage may be established on both philosophical and anthropological grounds.
The unity of marriage, or monogamy, fulfils the primary finality of marriage, namely procreation, more efficiently than polygamy, for polyandry, the marital relation between one woman and many men is clearly less fruitful than monogamy, apart from the fact that a woman’s fertility is apparently endangered by relations with many men, and polygyny, the marital relation between one man and many women, is, according to statistics73,(e.g. J. Leclercq: Leçons de Droit naturel Namur-Louvain 1933. 101), also less fertile than monogamy, there being less offspring per woman in polygamous societies than in monogamous societies.
Moreover the proper education of children, the development of mature, happy, and harmoniously well- balanced progeny, requires, as noted above, a harmonious complementarity of parents and a loving devotion towards children. This is however not possible in polygamous, but only in monogamous, marriages, for in polygamous marriages the child is characteristically left with the mother and hence lacks the attentions of a father, whose identity (at least in situations of polyandry) the child may not even know. Such troubles are aggravated by rivalries and jealousies between the various members of this promiscuous consortium.
The second finality of marriage, the mutual support and love of a couple, the physical and spiritual union of two persons, is clearly excluded by polygamy. When indeed, as is natural and typical, a man and a woman in a polygamous marriage form a particular alliance with each other, other consorts are neglected contrary to the spirit of marriage, and rivalries and jealousies ensue, as noted above. Furthermore polygamy promotes sexual incontinence and hence the abuse of the marital partners and of marriage itself. In such ways polygamy hinders the couple’s growth towards emotional, moral, and spiritual perfection. It is particularly wounding to the woman who by her nature is disposed to devote herself entirely to a single man, to love and to be faithful to him alone, and to expect him to respond in like manner.
The indissolubility of marriage, its life-long character, provides the appropriate conditions for the procreation and education of children. For only a lasting bond enables a couple, and especially a mother, to undertake all the heavy burdens that a family life brings with it. Only a lasting bond enables the parents to work together in a complementary manner for the education of their children.
Assuming that a child requires twenty years to attain to full physical and mental maturity and that a couple in their generosity gives birth to several children, the bond must be at least thirty to forty years in duration. In fact, though, it is clear that the bond must be life-long, for only the intention of life-long mutual devotion on the part of the parents, only this degree of love and dedication is sufficient to provide a home and a background stable enough for the development of mature and happy children. An intention, a love and a dedication, which is only temporary or conditional, disrupts the background, the home, and the development of the children.
The indissolubility of marriage is also necessary for the mutual love and support of the couple. Marriage is the most intimate form of friendship that exists, and the more intimate a friendship is, the firmer and more lasting it needs to be. That friendship which is the most intimate needs to be the firmest and the most lasting, and hence life-long. Moreover the bond formed by the mutual love of the spouses is strengthened by the existence of a child, for as Aristotle states in the Nicomachean Ethics 8.14, “children are the common good of both and that which is common holds together”; it is strengthened also by the educational needs of the child. In addition, the indissolubility of marriage gives the couple the forum they need for living a life of dedicated love. This is particularly true of the woman in consequence of her womanly nature. It also serves to protect her form the danger of abandonment at an age when it would be difficult for her to secure a new alliance or to care for her progeny.
Finally, the Roman Catechism explains that the indissolubility of marriage gives prospective spouses to understand that “virtue and congeniality of disposition are to be preferred before wealth and beauty”: it renders them less prone to strife and discord, and if they do for a while live apart, it provides the basis for their future life together.
In opposition to the indissolubility of marriage stand extramarital sexual relationships and divorce, which constitute a rejection of all the values inherent to marriage. They further sexual incontinence and undermine respect for marriage and the moral law; they destroy the respect for the dignity of the person and lead above all to the degradation of the woman; they damage the physical, financial, and spiritual well being of those affected, particularly the woman and child; they lead to frivolous and unhappy marriages; they loosen public morals and thereby damage the common good; they prepare the way to the decline and fall of entire peoples. The mere possibility of divorce in the mind of spouses is indeed sufficient to engender mistrust, to weaken their powers of moral resistance, and to promote sexual incontinence and a hedonism the most evil fruit of which is the murder of the unborn child.
Such then are the arguments for the unity and indissolubility of marriage. They are vindicated by history and anthropology as the original characteristics of marriage and as the characteristics which subsist among primitive peoples to this day.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.