Marriage and the Family
Divinely Established Order
The Origin, Nature, and Dignity of Marriage
God provided for the multiplication of the human race by instituting marriage (see Gen. 1:28; 2:18-24; Mt. 19:4). By its origin, purpose, and function, therefore, marriage is of its nature good and holy. Indeed for the baptized it is a Sacrament, a dignity to which Christ elevated it. The Sacred Synod teaches that this sacrament is constituted between Christians by the very fact that two baptized persons, a man and a woman, legitimately join themselves by one and the same mutual and valid consent in a true marriage. By the very will of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, therefore, such a human consent, even in a Christian marriage, is so essential that without it there is no Sacrament; it is so personal that it cannot be supplied by any other consent or human power; it is so one and indivisible that between the baptized there can be no true and valid marriage without it being by that very fact a Sacrament. By this sacramental character, the dignity, nobility and splendor of Christian spouses is so great that they themselves not only represent the most pure and most fruitful union of Christ with the Church (see Eph. 5:32-33), but they themselves, in the person of Christ and the Church, are made the ministers of this Sacrament through a valid consent mutually manifested and accepted externally in the rite, and by this consent they constitute the sign by which grace is conferred on those who place no obstacle in its way. As the Council of Trent teaches, by the grace which Christ himself merited for us by his passion, natural love is perfected, the indissoluble unity is confirmed, and the spouses are sanctified. And thus in truth the spouses in their own state can and should be a symbol of the grace and love of the Savior.
The Properties of Marriage
Although, considered in itself, Christian marriage does not constitute a state of evangelical perfection, nonetheless according to Christ’s laws, it also requires its own perfection. In the first place, the reigning divine order with regard to the properties, purposes, and goods of marriage must be preserved even if this may require heroic acts. Restoring what had fallen, Christ established that not only Christian marriage but marriage for all be permanently one and, further, so indissoluble that it can never by dissolved by the will of the parties or indeed by any merely human authority. Unity and indissolubility, therefore, are such intrinsic and essential properties of any marriage that they are not even subject to the contrary will of the contracting parties and therefore must be necessarily and perpetually accepted by anyone who wishes to contract a true marriage. Human beings lack any power in this matter, and, therefore, anything proposed or done by them against the unity and indissolubility of marriage, neither responds to the demands of nature or the good of society nor belongs to the progress of human culture, but rather is to be considered an act of no value, which reveals the most wretched moral regression of man the sinner from original justice. For what offends the divine order can in no way profit the individual, the family, or civil society.
The Ends of Marriage
Of itself, furthermore, and independently of the intentions of the contracting parties, marriage has its own divinely established objective ends. Among these, if careful consideration is given to the divine institution of marriage itself and to nature itself as well as to the magisterium of the Church, the primary end of marriage is only the procreation and education of children, even if a particular marriage is not fruitful. By pursuing this end, man, by the dignity of fatherhood and motherhood, cooperates with God, creator and sanctifier of souls, in the propagation and sanctification of the human race. For this reason, the procreation of children, although it is not the object of the marriage consent, is nonetheless of itself so connatural to every marriage, indeed in this sense is essential, that in every valid consent a perpetual and exclusive right to acts of themselves naturally apt for the generation of children is included as the proper object to be handed over; in fact it is so primary and predominant that it does not depend on any other intended ends, even ones indicated by nature, and indeed it cannot be equated or confused with them. The other objective ends of marriage, which arise from the nature of marriage itself but are secondary, are the mutual help and solace of the spouses in the communion of domestic life and what is called the remedy for concupiscence. For in a marriage concupiscence is correctly directed by conjugal fidelity, and therefore, subject to reason, serves chastity and is ennobled by it. Rightly understood, these ends establish rights, although subordinate ones, in a marriage, and therefore, although secondary in themselves, they are not to be despised or thought little of, but are to be promoted in the required way by true charity.
While the procreation of children is legitimately obtained only in a marriage, concupiscence can also by the help of divine grace be conquered outside of marriage. Insofar, however, as the mutual assistance and remedy for concupiscence are to be attained in marriage itself, they participate in the specific nature of the conjugal union and thus differ in kind from any other assistance, even that which comes from a friendship. Other subjective purposes, by which people are not rarely immediately and primarily moved to enter a marriage, do not obstruct a marriage, provided that they do not contradict the ends indicated by nature itself but are subordinated to them.
The faithful should remember that all the ends of marriage, both objective and subjective, even that primary one by which men are associated with God in his creative work, cannot be perfectly attained unless a marriage is informed by true and right conjugal love, which, enriched by supernatural love and the grace of Christ, in Christian marriages, more and more contributes to the attainment of the ends.
The Power of the Church
As belonging to the divine order, marriage was entrusted by Christ, not to individuals, but to the Church that it might preserve, explain, and determine the doctrine and norms by which it is governed. The Church must exercise this power not only for the good of souls but also for the benefit of the Christian faith and the growth of the Mystical Body. For this reason, Christ, who wished the Church to defend to the utmost the indissolubility which He restored to marriage, also gave it the power, within limits and conditions established by divine law, to dissolve the bond of all other marriages, both natural and sacramental, always excepting, however, a marriage consummated after the baptism of both parties.
The Competence of Civil Authority
Without doubt, legitimate civil authority enjoys competence with regard to the merely civil effects of marriage, even of the baptized, in accord with the norm of natural law and the right requirements of the common good. In virtue of its own law, it also enjoys the power, on its part and in its own field, to state, apply, and urge the marital requirements of the natural law. But it enjoys no power with regard either to the dissolution of the bond of any validly entered marriage, or to the sacramental character of Christian marriage, or to other goods divinely linked with marriage, or to impediments established by the Church, or to judicial judgements passed by the Church. These things, since they belong to God and not to Caesar, are the competence of the Church alone (see Mt. 22:21).
Errors are Repudiated
The Sacred Synod knows how greatly the salvation of the Mystical Body of Christ depends on a right acknowledgment of the divine order with regard to marriage. To defend it, it knows first of all that it is its duty to condemn all the radical errors of those who maintain that marriage in its origin and constitution is some merely social phenomenon in continuous evolution and without any natural or supernatural value, and that it does not come from God and from Christ and is not subject to the power of the Church in the new economy of salvation. Likewise it condemns those errors by which it is held that the marriage of Christians either is not a sacrament or that the sacrament itself is something accessory and separable from the contract itself. It also rejects the view of those who state that the use of marriage is the specific means for attaining that perfection by which man is truly and properly an image of God and the Most Holy Trinity. It severely rejects the errors and theories by which is denied the immutable divine order with regard to the properties and purposes of marriage. And it explicitly confutes as a supreme calumny the statement that the indissolubility of marriage does not come from God but is a cruel invention of the Church, no less cruelly retained. Finally, it rejects the theories by which, in an inversion of the right order of values, the primary purpose of marriage is esteemed less than biological and personal values and conjugal love, in the objective order itself, is proclaimed to be the primary purpose.
Errors on Marriage
Teaching the Rights, Obligations, and Virtues
The Sacred Synod must severely condemn so-called “temporary” or “experimental” or “companionate” marriages. It also rejects as unworthy of a man and especially of a Christian those instructions by which through various skills a real hedonism in sacred and holy marriage is propagated. It also rejects theories by which a violation of marital fidelity is considered allowed to spouses, either when the mutual love between the couple has failed or when the sexual impulse is falsely thought to be impossible to keep within the limits of monogamous marriage. It is also mistaken to state that civil authority itself never has the power to punish adulterers, and indeed with an equal penalty for both men and women. It also rebukes those who say, and indeed under the pretext of benefitting the Church, that mixed marriages are generally and in themselves to be fostered rather than tolerated. That position is also mistaken which maintains that a marriage can be declared invalid or dissolved solely because of a failure of love. Finally the Sacred Synod most severely condemns so-called “free love,” by which, under a false pretext of constructing a new fraternity and society, sin is committed against the divine order and a lethal wound is inflicted not only on marriage but also on the family and society.
The Divinely Established Order
It is mistaken, therefore, to deny the divine origin of the family and to subvert the order which God set within it or to remove it from the control and influence of the divine order and of the Church. And therefore this Sacred Synod, while it defends the rights of the woman, rejects that evil form of emancipation by which, whether as a daughter or a wife or a mother, her proper nature, function, and role are disfigured by some false view of her equality with the man. Nor does it approve of that way of acting by which some people, indeed civil authority itself, moved by some false exaltation of freedom, either denies or belittles or, what is worse, practically destroys, to the detriment of the family’s good, the natural and distinct qualities of man and woman.
The Care of Children
When weighing demographic questions, it is mistaken and indeed injurious to human and Christian dignity to consider the procreation of people and their families only in relation to the service of civil society or truly to dishonor them by discussing them as if they were animal species. For this reason, the Sacred Synod, while it most urgently exhorts all to provide as much effective help as possible to families burdened with a number of children, at the same time severely condemns the recommending and the spread of shameful contraceptive means in order to limit children; instead of defending the good of peoples, as is sometimes thought today, they corrupt the whole social order. The Sacred Synod also condemns all theories that in any way deny the rights of the Church and of the family with regard to the education of children, or which assign primary rights in this area to civil authority; and it most seriously condemns those who directly support or formally cooperate in the passage of wicked laws about marriage and the family. As for the education of children, it condemns the views of any moral doctrine which defames the Church as if in its moral education, instead of the law of liberty and love, it exclusively favored a moral education resting only on laws and fear, is negative, and contradicts, as they say, authentic Christian doctrine and method. How false such accusations or malevolent insinuations against the Church are will be clear if it is recalled that the Church in its teaching about Christian education, has always had before her eyes the example of the divine Teacher, who on the one hand entrusted to the Church the new and great commandment of charity, but on the other urged even the negative precepts of the Decalogue (see Mt. 19:18), and indeed urgently proposed His own self-abnegation and cross (see Mt. 16:24). And if the Apostle, led by the divine Spirit, warns all the faithful to work out their salvation in fear and trembling (see Phil. 1:12), those who engage themselves by divine will in the equally onerous and glorious task of Christian education know that those words apply to themselves for two reasons.