MARITAL AND NON-MARITAL SEXUALITY (MARRIAGE IN MORAL THEOLOGY)
THE CHURCH TEACHES THAT SEXUALITY BELONGS WITHIN MARRIAGE ALONE, so let us proceed by first giving a brief summary of the Church’s theological doctrine on marriage as contained in the Roman Catechism, and then considering sexuality outside of marriage.
1. Marriage as Instituted by God
In the discussion of the ends of marriage we have considered certain passages from Genesis I and II concerning the creation of man and woman. The Roman Catechism quotes them to show the divine institution of matrimony. The first passage it quotes is Genesis I 27-8: ‘God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply’. The second passage is Genesis II 18:’And the Lord God said: ‘It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.’ The third passage is Genesis II 20-4: ‘But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself…[and after the account of the creation of Eve from his rib] wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh. The Catechism concludes: ‘These words, according to the authority of the Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew, prove the divine institution of Matrimony.’ The Catechism refers to Mt. 19.6 which (with its two preceding verses) reads as follows: ‘…Have you not read that he who made man from the beginning made them male and female? And he said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together let no man put asunder.’
We see here how God instituted marriage for the two ends of procreation and mutual assistance. Moreover the Council of Trent, quoted here by the Catechism, declares that God rendered it perpetual and indissoluble: ‘What God hath joined together, says Our Lord, let no man put asunder.’ As to the unity of marriage, the Catechism explains in a later section that it is expressed by Our Lord’s ‘Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh.’
The two main ends of marriage, together with its two properties, were present from its institution then, whereas, since the Catechism states that marriage was instituted before the Fall, we can conclude that its third end, the remedy for concupiscence, existed only at some time subsequent to its institution, namely after the Fall with the onset of concupiscence. This third end is expressed by the words of St. Paul as follows (I Cor. VII 2): ‘For fear of fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband’, and, after recommending temporary abstinence, the Apostle adds: ‘Return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.’As the Catechism notes in a later section on the blessings of marriage, marriage renders sexual relations ‘right and honourable.’
2. Marriage as a Sacrament
The Catechism explains that marriage as a natural union ‘was instituted from the beginning to propagate the human race,’ it was used by the holy Patriarchs ‘to bring up children in the true faith and in the service of God’, and it was raised to a sacramental dignity ‘in order that a people might be begotten and brought up for the service and worship of the true God and of Christ Our Saviour’(as we might add: in the Church on earth and ultimately in Heaven, by means of the transmission of natural and above all supernatural life, and by an education above all moral and spiritual118). Matrimony is in short ‘a work that is not human but divine.’ Christ takes it as a sign of the ‘intimate union that exists between Him and His Church, of His immense love for us, and the divinity of such an ineffable mystery’. These elements are expressed by the fact that the marriage-tie is the closest of all human relations, that it involves the greatest affection and love, and that it is holy.
To demonstrate the sacramentality of marriage, the Catechism quotes Ephesians V 28-32 which refers to the passage above and concludes: ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and shall adhere to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church.’ The Catechism here relies on Tradition and the Council of Trent (s.24) adding: ‘Itis indubitable, therefore, that the Apostle compares the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church; that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; and that for this very reason the husband should love his wife and the wife love and respect her husband. For Christ loved His Church and gave Himself for her (Eph. V 25), while as the same apostle teaches, the Church is subject to Christ’(Hebrews XIII 4).
Since the Church’s teaching on the husband’s authority over the wife has become unpopular in recent times, one would do well to recall that every society needs some form of authority in order to direct the activities of that society towards its common good (Summa I q. 96 a 4); that God has chosen the man for this function; that Christian authority is not imperious or egoist, but involves service and devotion in the example of the Son of Man ‘Who did not come to be served but to serve’ (Mt.22.25-28); and that the spouses are equals as to their rights, and collaborators as to their common yoke (conjugalis)119.
In a later section the Catechism delineates the duties of the husband and wife. The husband must treat his wife generously and honourably: she is his companion like Eve to Adam. He should earn a livelihood for the family and keep it in order, also in the moral sense. The wife should obey her husband, possess ‘the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit’ (cf. I Peter 3.1-6), train the children, look after the home, and love and esteem her husband above all others after God.
Finally, the Sacrament of Matrimony signifies and confers Grace (which are the two marks of every Sacrament), as the Council of Trent declares: ‘By His Passion, Christ, the Author and Perfecter of the venerable Sacraments, merited for us the grace that perfects the natural love (of husband and wife), confirms their indissoluble union, and sanctifies them.’(L.c.)
3. Christ restores Marriage to its Primitive Qualities
After the Fall, marriage had fallen from its primitive unity and indissolubility: many of the ancient Patriarchs had several wives at the same time, while under the Law of Moses it was permissible to divorce one’s wife. As to the second point, Christ states: ‘But from the beginning it was not so’(Mt.9.8). He restores to marriage its unity and indissolubility by declaring the spouses to be one flesh and by forbidding their separation (Mt.19.5-6 as quoted above). He expressly forbids polygamy and divorce by the statement; ‘Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery’ (Mk.10.11-12 cf. Mt.19.9, Lk.16.16-8). [We note here that the phrase in Mt.19.9 and Mt.5.32: ‘whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication’ does not permit divorce on this condition, although the Protestant and Orthodox have interpreted it in that way.120The phrase should rather be interpreted as permitting the ‘separation of bed and board’ (with the prior approbation of the Church)121.] The Apostle confirms that the bond of marriage may be dissolved by death alone: ‘A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband die, she is at liberty; let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord’(I Cor.7.39, cf. I Cor.7.10).
4. The Three Blessings of Marriage
Marriage confers three blessings, or goods: children, fidelity, and the Sacrament122. Such blessings compensate for the inconvenience referred to by the Apostle in the words: ‘Such shall have tribulation of the flesh.’ (I Cor.VII 28). They recall the two principal ends and the properties of marriage, one might say, now seen in a Christian context and elevated by Grace.
The first blessing is to be understood of course ‘not only of bearing children but also of bringing them up and training them to the practise of piety.’ The Catechism quotes I Tim II 15: ‘The woman shall be saved by bearing children if she continue in faith’; and Eccl VII 25:’Hast thou children? Instruct them and bow down their necks from childhood.’(We note here that the Church has always also had a high regard for virginal marriages, where the spouses agree to abstain from their marital rights, thus relinquishing the primary end, or first blessing, of marriage in favour of mutual assistance and companionship.)
The second blessing is ‘the fidelity which binds wife to husband and husband to wife in such a way that they mutually deliver to each other power over their bodies (cf. I Cor. VII 4), promising at the same time never to violate the holy bond of Matrimony…Matrimonial fidelity also demands that they love one another with a special, holy, and pure love; not as adulterers love one another but as Christ loves His Church (cf. Eph.5.25)…and surely [Christ’s] love for His Church was immense; it was a love inspired not by His own advantage, but only by the advantage of His spouse.’
The Catechism returns to marital love at the end of the section on Matrimony, indicating that this love should be moderate and modest123: ‘They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not’(I Cor.VII 29); St. Jerome says: ‘The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.’(Contra Jovian I). Furthermore, ‘as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer.’
The third blessing is the Sacrament: ‘that is to say the indissoluble bond of marriage…And truly, if marriage as a Sacrament represents the union of Christ with His Church, it also necessarily follows that just as Christ never separates Himself from His Church, so in like manner the wife can never be separated from her husband in so far as regards the marriage-tie.’ Indeed the bond of marriage is but a symbol of that union which God desires to contract with each human soul. Moderation in sexuality is equivalent to chastity.
The Catechism concludes its exposition of marriage with the following paragraph: ‘Thus will they [the faithful] find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance of divine Grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope,’which confoundeth not,’(Rom.V 5) of arriving, through the divine goodness, at the possession of that life which is eternal.’
A final word may be said concerning the various ways in which marriage can be analyzed. We have considered the three motives, ends, or finalities of marriage: procreation; companionship and mutual assistance; and the remedy against concupiscence; we have considered the two properties of unity and indissolubility; and the three blessings (or goods) of children, fidelity, and the Sacrament. In more recent times, as in the declarations of Pius XII, marriage is analyzed more simply in terms of two goods: the bonum prolis and the bonum conjugum: the good of the offspring and the good of the spouses. For the purpose of this distinction, the procreation and education of children is taken as the first good, and all the other elements are taken together as the second good. In yet more recent times we have seen an analysis in terms of procreation and love, where no further mention is made of the priority of ends, but where love is typically placed first and lacks the detailed presentation which the good of the spouses has received in Tradition.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.