Pius XI 1922-1939

Christian Marriage*

 

[From the Encyclical, “Casti Connubii,” Pius Xl, Dec. 31, 1930]

 

2225 First, then, let this remain as an unchangeable and inviolable basis; marriage was not instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man but by the very author of nature, God; and by the restorer of the same nature was it fortified, confirmed, and elevated through laws; and these laws, therefore, cannot be subject to any decision of man and not even to any contrary agreement on the part of the spouses themselves. This is a doctrine of Holy Scripture [ Gen. 1:27 f.;2:22 f.;Matt. 19:3 ff.;Eph. 5:23 ff.]; this is the continued and unanimous tradition of the Church; this is the solemn definition of the sacred Council of Trent, which declares and confirms [sees. 24; see n.969 ff.] that the perpetual and indissoluble bond of marriage, and the unity and the stability of the same emanate from God as their author.

 

But, although marriage by its nature was instituted by God, nevertheless man’s will has its own role, and a most noble one in it; for, every individual marriage, inasmuch as it is a conjugal union between a certain man and a certain woman, it arises only from the free consent of both spouses, and indeed this free act of the will, by which both parties hand over and accept the rights * proper to matrimony, is so necessary to constitute a true marriage that it cannot be supplied by any human power. * Yet such freedom has this purpose only, to establish that contracting parties really wish to enter upon marriage and wish to do so with a certain person or not; but the nature of marriage is wholly removed from the freedom of man, so much so that as soon as man has contracted marriage he is subject to its divine laws and essential properties. For the Angelic Doctor, discussing good faith in marriage and offspring, says: “These things are so effected in marriage by the conjugal agreement itself that if anything contrary were expressed in the consent which makes the marriage, it would not be a true marriage.” *

 

By wedlock, then, souls are joined and made as one, and the souls are affected earlier and more strongly than bodies; not by any transient affection of the senses or the spirit, but by a deliberate and firm decision of the will; and from this joining of souls, with God so decreeing, a sacred and inviolable bond arises.

 

This entirely proper and peculiar nature of this contract makes it completely different not only from the connections of animals performed by blind instinct of nature alone, in which there is no reason nor free will, but also from those unrestrained unions of men, which are far removed from every true and honorable bond of wills, and destitute of any right to family life.

 

2226 From this it is now well established that truly legitimate authority has the power by law and so is compelled by duty to restrain, to prevent, and to punish base marriages, which are opposed to reason and to nature; but since a matter is involved which follows upon human nature itself, that is no less definitely established which Our predecessor, Leo XIII, of happy memory, plainly taught: * “In choosing a state of life there is no doubt but that it is within the power and discretion of individuals to prefer either one of two: either to adopt the counsel of Jesus Christ with respect to virginity, or to bind himself with the bonds of matrimony. To take away the natural and primeval right of marriage, or in any way to circumscribe the chief purpose of marriage established in the beginning by the authority of God, “Increase and multiply” [ Gen. 1:28], is not within the power of any law of man.”

 

2227 Now as We come to explain what are these blessings, granted by God, of true matrimony, and how great they are, Venerable Brethren, there come to Us the words of that very famous Doctor of the Church, whom not so long ago We commemorated in Our Encyclical Letter, Ad Salutem, published on the fulfillment of the fifteenth century after his death. St. Augustine says: “All these are blessings, because of which marriage is a blessing: offspring, conjugal faith, and the sacrament.” * How these three headings are rightly said to contain a very splendid summary of the whole doctrine on Christian marriage, the Holy Doctor clearly shows when he says: “By conjugal faith care is taken that there be no intercourse outside the marriage bond with another man or another woman; by offspring, that children be begotten in love, nourished with kindness, and brought up religiously; but by the sacrament, that the marriage be not broken, and that the separated man or woman have intercourse with another not even for the sake of offspring. This is, as it were, the law of marriage, whereby the fruitfulness of nature is adorned and the depravity of incontinence is controlled.” *

 

2228 [1] Thus the child holds the first place among the blessing of matrimony. Clearly the Creator of the human race Himself, who because of His kindness wished to use men as helpers in propagating life, taught this in Paradise, when He instituted marriage, saying to our first parents, and through them to all spouses: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth” [Gen. 1:28 ]. This thought St. Augustine very beautifully infers from the words of St. Paul the Apostle to Timothy [1 Tim. 5:14 ], when he says: “So the Apostle is witness that marriage is accomplished for the sake of generation. I wish, he says, young girls to marry.And as if someone said to Him: Why? he immediately adds: To bear children, to be mothers of families” [1 Tim. 5:14]. *

 

2229 Indeed, Christian parents should further understand that they are destined not only to propagate and to preserve the human race on earth, nay rather, not to raise any kind of worshipers of the true God, but to produce offspring of the Church of Christ; to procreate “fellow-citizens of the saints and members of God’s household” [ Eph. 2:19], that the people devoted to the worship of God and our Savior may increase daily. For, even if Christian spouses, although they themselves are sanctified, have not the power to transfuse sanctification into their offspring, surely the natural generation of life has become a way of death, by which original sin passes into the offspring; yet in some manner they share something of that primeval marriage of Paradise, since it is their privilege to offer their own offspring to the Church, so that by this most fruitful mother of the sons of God they may be regenerated through the laver of baptism unto supernatural justice, and become living members of Christ, partakers of immortal life, and, finally, heirs of eternal glory which we all desire with all our heart. . . .

 

2230 But the blessing of offspring is not completed by the good work of procreation; something else must be added which is contained in the dutiful education of the offspring. Surely, the most wise God would have made insufficient provision for the child that is born, and so for the whole human race, unless He had also assigned the right and duty of educating to the same ones to whom He had given the power and right of generating. For it cannot escape anyone that offspring, not only in matters which pertain to the natural life, and much less in those which pertain to the supernatural life, cannot be sufficient unto itself or provide for itself, but is for many years in need of the assistance of others, of care, and of education. But it is certain that, when nature and God bid, this right and duty of educating offspring belongs especially to those who began the work of nature by generating, and they are also absolutely forbidden to expose this work to ruin by leaving it unfinished and imperfect. Surely, the best possible provision has been made in matrimony for this most necessary education of children, in which, since parents are joined to each other by an insoluble bond, there is always at hand the care and mutual assistance of both. . . .

 

Nor can this be passed over in silence, that, since the duty committed to parents for the good of offspring is of such great dignity and importance, any honorable use of this faculty given by God to procreate new life, at the command of the Creator Himself and the laws of nature, is the right and privilege of matrimony alone, and must be confined within the sacred limits of marriage.

 

2231 [2] Another blessing of matrimony which we have spoken of as mentioned by Augustine, is the blessing of faith, which is the mutual fidelity of spouses in fulfilling the marriage contract, so that what by this contract, sanctioned by divine law, is due only to one spouse, cannot be denied him nor permitted to anyone else; nor is that to be conceded to the spouse, which can never be conceded, since it is contrary to divine rights and laws and is especially opposed to conjugal faith.

 

Thus this faith demands in the first place the absolute unity of marriage, which the Creator Himself established in the matrimony of our first parents when He willed that it exist only between one man and one woman And although afterwards God, the supreme legislator, somewhat relaxed this primeval law for a time, nevertheless there is no doubt that the Evangelical Law entirely restored that original and perfect unity and did away with all dispensations, as the words of Christ and the uniform way either of teaching or acting on the part of the Church plainly show [see note 969]. . . .

 

Nor did Christ the Lord wish to condemn only polygamy and polyandry, whether successive * or simultaneous, as they are called, or any other dishonorable act; but, in order that the sacred bonds of marriage may be absolutely inviolate, He forbade also even the willful thoughts and desires about all these 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” [ Matt. 5:28]. These words of Christ the Lord cannot become void even by the consent of one spouse; for they express the law of God and of nature, which no will of man can ever break or bend. *

 

Even mutual familiar intercourse between spouses, that the blessing of conjugal faith may shine with due splendor, should be so distinguished by the mark of chastity that husband and wife conduct themselves in all things according to the law of God and of nature, and strive always to follow the will of the most wise and most holy Creator, with great reverence for the work of God.

 

2232 Moreover, this conjugal fidelity, most aptly called by St. Augustine * the “faith of chastity,” will flourish more readily, and even much more pleasantly, and as ennobling coming from another most excellent source, namely, from conjugal love, which pervades all duties of the married life and holds a kind of primacy of nobility in Christian marriage. “Besides, matrimonial fidelity demands that husband and wife be joined in a peculiarly holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church; for the Apostle prescribed this rule when he said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church” [Eph. 5:25 ;cf.Col. 3:19]; which Church certainly He embraced with tremendous love, not for His own advantage, but keeping before Him only the good of His Spouse.” *

 

We speak, then, of a love that rests not only on a carnal inclination that very quickly disappears, nor on pleasing words only, but that is also set in the innermost affection of the heart; and, “since the proof of love is a manifestation of deeds,” * that is proven by external deeds. Now these deeds in home life include not only mutual assistance, but also should extend to this, rather should aim especially for this, that husband and wife help each other daily to form and to perfect the interior man more fully, so that through their partnership in life they may advance in the virtues more and more, and may grow especially in true love toward God and their neighbors, on which indeed “dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets” [Matt. 22:40] *.Manifestly the most perfect example of all holiness set before men by God is Christ the Lord. All, in whatever condition and whatever honorable way of life they have entered, with God’s help should also arrive at the highest degree of Christian perfection, as is proven by the examples of many saints.

 

This mutual interior formation of husband and wife, this constant zeal for bringing each other to perfection, in a very true sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, can be said to be the very first reason and purpose of matrimony; if, however, matrimony be not accepted too narrowly as instituted for the proper procreation and education of children, but more broadly as the mutual participation in all life, companionship, and association.

 

With this same love the remaining rights as well as duties of marriage must be regulated, so that not only the law of justice, but also the norm of love may be that of the Apostle: “Let the husband render the debt to the wife, and the wife also in like manner to the husband” [1 Cor. 7:3].

 

2233   Finally, after the domestic society has been confirmed by the bond of this love, of necessity there must flourish in it that which is called by Augustine the order of love. Now this order includes both the primacy of the husband over the wife and the children, and the prompt and not unwilling subjection and obedience of the. wife, which the Apostle commends with these words: “Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church” [ Eph. 5:22 f.].

 

Yet this obedience does not deny or take away the liberty which by full right belongs to a woman, both in view of her dignity as a human being, and in view of her noble duties of wife, mother, and companion; nor does it demand that she obey every desire of her husband, that is, not in keeping with right reason or with her dignity as a wife; nor, finally, does it mean that a wife is to be placed on the same level with persons who in law are called minors, to whom the free exercise of their rights is not customarily granted because of lack of mature judgment, or because of inexperience in human affairs; but it forbids that exaggerated liberty which has no care for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body of the family the heart be separated from the head, to the great detriment of the whole body and the proximate danger of ruin. For, if the man is the head, the woman is the heart, and just as he holds primacy in ruling, she can and ought to claim primacy in love for herself as her own.

 

Furthermore, this obedience of the wife to her husband, insofar as pertains to degree and manner, can be different, according to different persons, places, and conditions of the time; rather, if a husband fail in his duty, it is the wife’s responsibility to take his place in directing the family. But the very structure of the family and its chief law, as constituted and confirmed by God, can never and nowhere be overturned or tainted.

 

On this point of maintaining order between husband and wife Our predecessor of happy memory, Leo XIII, wisely taught in his Encyclical Letter on Christian marriage which We have mentioned: “The man is the ruler of the family and the head of the woman; yet, since she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone, let her be subject and obedient to the man, not in the manner of a maidservant but of a companion,50that of course, neither honor nor dignity be lacking in the obedience rendered. But let divine charity be the unfailing guide of duty in him who is at the head, and in her who obeys, since both bear the image, the one, of Christ, the other of the Church. . . . ” *

 

2234   [3] Yet the sum total of such great benefits is completed and, as it were, brought to a head by that blessing of Christian marriage which we have called, in Augustine’s words, a sacrament, by which is denoted the indissolubility of the bond and the raising and hallowing by Christ of the contract into an efficacious sign of grace.

 

In the first place, to be sure, Christ Himself lays stress on the indissoluble firmness of the nuptial bond when he says: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” [Matt. 19:6]; 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” [Luke 16:18].

 

Moreover, St. Augustine places in this indissolubility what he calls “the blessing of the sacrament,” in these clear words: “But in the sacrament it is intended that the marriage be not broken, and that the man or the woman dismissed be not joined with another, even for the sake of offspring. *

 

2235 And this inviolable stability, although not of the same perfect measure in every case, pertains to all true marriages; for that saying of the Lord, “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder,” although, said of the marriage of our first parents, the prototype of every future marriage, must apply to all true marriages. Therefore, although before Christ the sublimity and severity of the primeval law were so tempered that Moses allowed the citizens of the people of God because of the hardness of their hearts to grant a bill of divorce for certain causes; yet Christ in accord with His power as Supreme Legislator revoked this permission of greater license, and restored the primeval law in its entirety through those words which are never to be forgotten: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” So, most wisely did Pius Vl, Our predecessor of happy memory, writing to the Bishop of Agria, * say: “From this it is manifestly clear that matrimony, even in the state of nature, and surely long before it was raised to the dignity of a sacrament properly so called, was so established by God that it carries with it a perpetual and indissoluble bond, which, accordingly, cannot be dissolved by any civil law. And so, although the sacramental element can be separated from matrimony, as is true in a marriage between infidels, still in such a marriage, inasmuch as it is a true marriage, there must remain and surely does remain that perpetual bond which by divine right is so inherent in marriage from its very beginning that it is not subject to any civil power. And so whatever marriage is said to be contracted, either it is so contracted that it is in fact a true marriage, and then will have that perpetual bond inherent by divine law in every true marriage, or it is supposed to be contracted without that perpetual bond, and then is not a marriage, but an illicit union repugnant by its purpose to the divine law, and therefore cannot be entered upon or maintained. *

 

2236 If this stability seems subject to exception, however rare, as in the case of certain natural marriages entered into between unbelievers, or if between the faithful of Christ, those which are valid but not consummated, that exception does not depend on the will of man or of any merely human power, but on divine law, whose only guardian and interpreter is the Church of Christ. Yet, not even such a power can for any cause ever affect a Christian marriage which is valid and consummated. For, since the marriage contract is fully accomplished in such case, so also absolute stability and indissolubility by God’s will are apparent, which cannot be relaxed by any human authority.

 

If we wish to investigate with due reverence the intimate reason for this divine will, we shall easily discover it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage, which is fully and perfectly had in a marriage consummated between the faithful. For with the Apostle, in his Epistle to the Ephesians as witness [Eph. 5:32] (to which we referred in the beginning), the marriage of Christians recalls that most perfect union which exists between Christ and the Church: “This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the church,” which union, indeed, as long as Christ shall live and the Church through Him, surely can never be dissolved by any separation. . . .

 

2237 In this blessing of the sacrament, in addition to its indissoluble firmness, far higher emoluments are also contained, very aptly indicated by the word, “sacrament”; for to Christians this is not a hollow and empty name, since Christ the Lord, “the Institutor and Perfector” * of the sacraments, raising the marriage of His faithful to a true and proper sacrament of the New Law, made it in very fact a sign and source of that peculiar interior grace by which it perfects natural love, confirms an indissoluble union, and sanctifies the spouses. *

 

And since Christ established valid conjugal consent between the faithful as a sign of grace, the nature of the sacrament is so intimately bound up with Christian marriage that no true matrimony can exist between baptized persons “unless by that very fact it be a sacrament.” *

 

When then the faithful with sincere minds give such consent, they open up a treasure of sacramental grace for themselves, from which they draw supernatural strength for fulfilling their obligations and duties faithfully, nobly, and perseveringly even until death.

This sacrament, in the case of those who, as they say, place noobex in its way, not only increases the permanent principle of supernatural life, namely sanctifying grace, but also bestows peculiar gifts, good dispositions of mind, and seeds of grace, by increasing and perfecting the natural powers, so that the spouses are able not only to understand by reason, but to know intimately, to hold firmly, to wish efficaciously, and to carry out, indeed, whatever pertains to the marriage state, both its ends and obligations; finally, it grants them the right to obtain the actual assistance of grace as often as they need it for fulfilling the duties of this state.

 

2238 And yet, since it is a law of divine Providence in the supernatural order that men do not gather the full fruit of the sacraments which they receive after acquiring the use of reason, unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of marriage will remain in great part a useless talent hidden in the field, unless the spouses exercise supernatural strength and cultivate and develop the seeds of grace which they have received. But if they do all they can to make themselves docile to grace, they will be able to bear the burdens of their state and fulfill its duties, and will be strengthened and sanctified and, as it were, consecrated by so great a sacrament. For, as St. Augustine teaches, just as by baptism and holy orders a man is set aside and assisted either to lead his life in a Christian manner, or to fulfill the duties of the priesthood, and is never devoid of sacramental help, almost in the same manner (although not by a sacramental sign) the faithful who have once been joined by the bond of marriage can never be deprived of its sacramental assistance and tie. But rather, as the same Holy Doctor adds, they take that holy bond with them even when they may have become adulterers, although not now to the glory of grace, but to the crime of sin, “as the apostate soul, as if withdrawing from union with Christ, even after faith has been lost, does not lose the sacrament of faith which it received from the laver of regeneration.” *

 

But let these same spouses, not restrained but adorned by the golden tie of the sacrament, not impeded but strengthened, struggle with all their might for this end, that their wedlock, not only by the strength and significance of the sacrament, but also by their mentality and character, be and always remain the living image of that most fruitful union of Christ with the Church, which surely is to be revered as the mystery of the most perfect love.

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