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No. 144 Roman Theological Forum | Article Index | Study Program January 2010


by Matthew Buckley


Increasingly around the entire Western world today more and more governments are gradually recognising, or rather creating, a right to persons of the same sex to join together in such a way that they appear to enjoy the same legal status and privileges belonging to traditional matrimony. Many see the matter as one of fundamental human rights, long suppressed, at last being given their due in our more enlightened age. Not infrequently is the issue compared to the removal of apartheid or some other form of discrimination.

But while our modern societies plunge headlong into their pursuit to grant a liberty supposedly long denied, there are several questions that any discerning person should ask themselves. Why did civilization ever concern itself with this pact made between men and women? Of all the ways for human beings to unite with another and be together in association, why did this take such a prominent position? How come this could never remain a purely private affair or contract?

Once an answer is found to these questions, we must ask ourselves, do these same reasons apply to a union of individuals of the same sex? In this paper I will endeavour to explain why the answer to this question is based principally on observations that should be attainable to anyone. That is, the rasion d’être, or the reason of marriage’s very being, will be brought out in order to show why a difference of sex is intrinsically part of what marriage is and is not an accidental feature. This reason for marriage’s being will further be related to society’s obligations with respect to this union.

In the second part of this article I will examine the answer that Catholic teaching gives to the question of marriage’s primary end. This teaching has been the subject of new dispute in the period following the Second Vatican Council. The claim that Church teaching has been changed in this regard calls for a critical examination. It is my belief that this question has received an inadequate response to date.

Part I: The Case for Marriage as the Union of a Man and Woman: the argument against “homosexual marriage”

What’s in a word? My defense of marriage will consist of two main points. The first is one regarding language and word use in order to clear the path for the second point, which is a discussion of what the issue of “homosexual marriage” really hinges upon.

Words are used to designate different things, and one thing we often want to designate is that union obtaining between a man and a woman which is the object of a solemn vow to live together, for better or for worse, that we call marriage. Change an element in the definition and you are speaking of something different that would require a different word. In that fundamental sense, the word “marriage” cannot be extended to a union of two persons of the same sex for the same reason the word circle can’t be extended to include rectangle. Both are shapes (in the same way that both of the aforementioned are ‘unions,’ even if of a radically different kind, as we will see later), but they aren’t each other.

To this it will often be asserted that we should simply change the definition of marriage to include homosexual unions. The reply to this is that, if we did, then a new word for what we previously meant by “marriage” would be required, which presumably would also be desired in due course ad infinitum. So, granted that is what the word means, it is not possible that it mean something else. It is similar to CS Lewis’ discussion of the meaning of the word “Christian.” Speaking of those who want to broaden the word to mean anyone who acts in the “Spirit of Christ” or in a “Christlike manner,” Lewis notes that the word would then become practically useless for the function that it previously fulfilled. That being so, another word would be necessary for what we meant by “Christian” to begin with.

The reason I make this semantic point is for the purpose of exposing more precisely where the fundamental disagreement lies. Abstractly, a person in favour of same sex “marriage” could concede this point without giving up the more essential one: that unions of homosexual pairs should be given public recognition and favour of the law on a par with that given to marriage. For this is in fact the crux of the whole issue. I have also found it not uncommon for some people to even take a strange “middle position,” whereby they say that homosexual unions should be given some kind of recognition but add to this “just don’t call it marriage,” as if it were the mere term that was the decisive factor and not an underlying principle. This is the case with so called “civil unions” which attempt to provide the same status to these unions but under a different name. The present argument is as much opposed to this verbal substitute as to the proposal for “homosexual marriage” in general.

Various types of union; the notion of friendship. There are many types of unions between human beings which involve differing degrees of affection, responsibility and importance to an individual’s life. The pertinent ones to this discussion are those that fall under that union between two persons known as friendship, which itself comes in varying forms, depending on the good by which it is principally characterised. These goods will be discussed in turn below, in order to bring out the chief ways by which people are united in friendship.

Nonetheless, the nature of friendship itself must first be established. Aristotle, in his De Ethica,1 outlines the essential elements belonging to all friendships. The first is that the love be for the good of another. Thus, friendship with inanimate objects is impossible, for we do not wish good for them but wish the good they give to us. Secondly, there must be reciprocation. If I have goodwill towards someone who has no goodwill towards me in return, there is no friendship, for according to Aristotle, “friendship is goodwill with reciprocation.” Thirdly, this mutual goodwill, which some people may have for one another without either of them knowing it, must be recognised by both the parties concerned in order for friendship to exist.

The basis of this goodwill for each other will be found in some good, and depending on what this good is, the nature of the friendship will differ accordingly. In the first place, we have goodwill towards another because of what they may be able to give to us: for instance, two people that trade with one another and over the years form a friendship based on their business relations. The rasion d’être of the friendship is to be found chiefly in the fact that each provides for the other something the other one wants.2 This type of friendship is that of utility. I’ll make a few more comments on that once I briefly mention another type of friendship which is closely allied to it.

That other friendship is one based on something pleasurable that is found in the other person, or the friendship of pleasure. For instance, we may enjoy a person’s company because we find them to be very funny and entertaining. Yet, “friends like these do not love witty people because of their character but because they are pleasant companions.”3

Finally, however, there is friendship based on the virtuous good, or friendship based on willing good to the other for his own sake. “[P]eople who wish good to friends for their sake are the truest friends; they do this for the friends themselves and not for something incidental.”4 Friendship of this kind is the firmest, lasting as long as the virtue remains in each. It is also considerably rarer but at the same time contains all the goods of the lesser types of friendship, “for the virtuous are good without qualification, and useful and entirely pleasing to one another.”5

In each of these cases, the definition of friendship is nonetheless satisfied, since “in each of the three a recognized return of love by someone is possible. Likewise in these three, people can will good to one another according to their love.”6 It is true that only in the virtuous friendship are we dealing with true friendship, since only in this case is the person loved for himself. “[I]t is obvious that those who love for the sake of utility love for the good they get, and those who love for the sake of pleasantness love for the pleasure they enjoy … friendships of this sort plainly are not friendships essentially but incidentally.”7

Other types of friendship can be classified following upon familial relationships such as a parent to a child, or a sibling to another sibling, and other relations of varying degrees of kinship, such as that of an uncle to a nephew or cousins to each other. Such friendship has its basis in having the same family, often the same home and similar upbringing. There is, finally, the friendship of a husband and wife.

So what has been established here is that there are many different kinds of ties between human beings that broadly go under the title of friendship. There are also many other ties besides these, mainly of a professional or political nature, and these others may or may not involve friendship between the persons involved of the three kinds discussed.

Having made a survey of the various forms in which people are closely related to one another, we are now in a position with this context to start evaluating why this last union mentioned is singled out for special treatment by society, involving an act of public commitment and in justice deserving of laws made to help the union flourish.8 I will then examine this in relation to unions of persons of the same sex.

The difference that marriage makes. The first principle to begin with is that the state should take an active interest in rewarding and favouring those unions that are naturally conducive and essential to the common good. That is to say, those that have a direct benefit for the good of the state or society as a whole. The virtuous friendship spoken of above benefits society in as much as, if the citizens are virtuous, the state will prosper even better,9 but this is an indirect effect resulting from the peace and accord existing between private individuals (not to mention impossible to quantify and verify in any simple way). The primary end of these relations is essentially individual and private in nature, being the willing of the good of another for his own sake. Nor do they have the kind of ultimate stability that marriage should possess, even if they have a relative stability compared to the other kinds of friendship examined earlier.10

From this another conclusion can be drawn. The mere fact that two people love each other is insufficient grounds for gaining the obligatory patronage and succour of the state, for every friendship involves love between the persons proportionate to the type of friendship that exists, even including that pure love lacking self interest that belongs to the virtuous friendship.

Now, it’s important to add at this point that a good marriage will also be a friendship in which the persons will the good for the other’s own sake and not merely be directed to the pleasurable or useful good. This is evident enough, since a good friendship only exists when it is based on the good of the person. It is not impossible (and is perhaps rather sadly common) that a marriage could be entered into for less than virtuous reasons, but this is not essential to the specific point being developed here, for we are concerned with properties of this union between man and woman known as marriage that belong to it per se, or of its nature.

To know the importance of this union we have to know what it is for. To ask what something is for is to inquire about the end or final cause, and without this knowledge we cannot discuss anything intelligently. If the committed bond of a man and woman is to be given a recognition that all these other forms of friendship between persons do not have, then it must have some purpose or end that they likewise lack. This purpose can be summed up in the following thesis.

Marriage is that union in which a man and woman bind themselves together for life and is directed per se to the propagation and education of children. It is this end, oriented to the bringing forth and raising of a new generation within the context of a stable union, that differentiates the marital bond from all others considered thus far. Such an end is essential and directly beneficial to the society’s health, survival and growth.

Now, probably the most common objection to this is that not all marriages produce children. It is for this reason that I emphasise that marriage is per se ordered to this end. In the case of an infertile couple, a biological condition on the part of at least one of the spouses contributes to the end’s being frustrated in its fulfilment, but this doesn’t mean that the end does not exist or that it is not essentially ordered thereto. That is, it is an accidental (non essential)11 feature of some marriages that they do not result in the natural end to which they are nonetheless ordered.

With this in mind we can respond to this argument by making a couple of key points. The state rewards and promotes those unions that are naturally beneficial to it in some direct manner. That not every such union of this type may in fact do so doesn’t change this, since we legislate for what is common, not what is exceptional and accidental.12 A couple may not know until many years later that they are infertile. Nonetheless, marriage as such tends to the end of propagating and educating those children within a stable relationship of mother and father. A homosexual union in contrast does not by its very nature tend toward this end, since such an end is strictly impossible to it.

I started this section by saying that the state should take an active interest in rewarding and favouring the union of marriage, because it is directly and essentially necessary for the state’s own health. In saying “should” I am implying that it has a natural obligation to do so, for the state exists primarily for the family. There is an obligation in the other direction, but the state’s duty to the family is prior. The state is essentially made up of families for the sake of the individual families. The reason for society’s concrete arrangement in the form of a state is that groups of families together can mutually benefit each other in ways that would not be possible if everyone were to go their separate way.13

Examining a union of two people of the same sex in relation to the context of friendship examined earlier, we can start to see a few things that place it within the wider context of human relationships. Firstly, that it would be plainly absurd to recognise all the ways in which human beings are united to each other by ties of affection which differ depending on the nature of the good willed to the other (the useful, pleasurable or virtuous). While such goods are also present in the bond of marriage (hopefully all three in a healthy marriage), there is besides this a direct effect on the good of the state and its own survival, since it is made up of and kept in existence by those unions that provide both future citizens and their essential formation as human beings. In a homosexual union, because any use of the generative faculty is plainly not in a manner that would allow it to result in its primary natural end, such a good is lacking. At best, it is a mere exchange of pleasurable goods between persons. If we leave aside, due to the scope of this present article, the morality of homosexual activity, and grant simply for the sake of the present argument that even the highest possible friendship is compatible with it, there is no further good on which such a union could elicit the interest of society.14 In other words, the fact that such persons might want to express themselves by genital activity is simply of no consequence here. Why does the existence of such activity magically create a “need to be recognised” that other close friendships between persons of the same sex do not need? It makes no discernible difference with respect to whether society has a reason to take any interest in such a union than it would in any other friendship between persons. Such an idea neglects to consider why the state has an obligation and interest in the union of a man and woman at all such that it is not simply another form of friendship whose only claim to distinction is simply that the sexes of the persons happen to differ.

It is also worth pointing out that it will often be argued that people’s lives in this area are “private” and that they aren’t “affecting anyone else” and should be left alone. What happens “in people’s bedrooms” we are told is no one else’s business. No better case against any kind of public recognition of such a union could be made than this. For the argument in favour of special treatment for the lifelong committed bond of a husband and wife is that such a union does in general “affect everybody else.”

Taking the issue further. Now, let’s consider a further implication of the recognition of homosexual unions, besides the fact there is no good reason for society to do so. This writer has yet to find anyone in favour of legal recognition of homosexual unions who can clearly articulate precisely why, granted such recognition, other various unions should not also be recognised, based on the same criteria. For instance, what if two women and one man love each other in a three way love-triangle? What about three men and two women? Just as the traditional definition of marriage is criticised for a supposedly arbitrary limitation imposed on the sex of the persons involved, why place a limit on the number? If someone feels love towards more than one person, aren’t they being “excluded” and “limited” in the “affirmation” that is being extended to them?

Once one part of the definition is changed, merely because it can be, there is really no sound basis – provided the criteria that allegedly satisfy contracting matrimony (i.e. that the persons “love each other”) remain fulfilled – to keep it restricted. Just as there is a supposed bias of “sexism,” what about the bigotry of “twoism”? Note that this is not an invalid appeal to the “slippery slope” argument that I am trying to make here. I am not arguing that the recognition of homosexual unions in this manner will cause the recognition of these other such unions (which may or may not happen), but rather that there is no reason in principle not to.15 Most critics I’ve engaged with on this topic have silently refused to respond to this point, and there is a good reason for this. Simply put, I believe that once one admits this point, the whole idea of marriage and the social recognition of a particular type of union becomes an untenable absurdity. It would be far more logical, once this point is reached, to simply declare the very idea of marriage itself as being simply unnecessary. Why bother about any union between anyone? It would be very similar, to take an example from a religious setting to illustrate the point a little, of a women’s ordination conference that I once heard of which concluded with the resolution that women should not be ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. In fact, it was concluded, no one should be ordained a priest at all. The very idea of priesthood itself was in need of jettisoning. I humbly suggest that these “progressives” in ecclesiastical affairs were being far more logical and saw the issue much more clearly than their peers who were still busy clamouring for women’s ordination.

The idea that “twoism” itself will likewise come under attack by the opponents of marriage is no longer any merely theoretical idea, despite the fact that such a prospect was often laughed at by those in favour of homosexual pairs being married. To take one example, on January 22, 2009, it was reported that a current case in Canada is being waged on this very matter by polygamists who are making precisely these arguments. “ ‘If (homosexuals) can marry, what is the reason that public policy says one person can't marry more than one person?’ said Suffredine in an Associated Press report.”16 Indeed.

Once marriage can mean anything, it will soon mean nothing. If it means nothing, it should be treated as nothing. However, given the importance of this particular union between humans to the survival and development of civilization itself, one wonders, once its importance is diminished, how long it will be before our civilization itself becomes nothing at all, as it strays further and further from recognising what is good.

Part II: The Primary End of Marriage in Catholic Theology.

The first part of this article has been a defense of marriage based on social, legal and natural grounds. In it the unique end of marriage was discussed as the key defining feature that sets it apart from all other relationships. Such a feature is evident to reason and common sense. It is the only union between persons that directs itself to the bringing forth and nurturing of, not just any good, but the fundamental good of society itself, namely, other human beings. Naturally, therefore, this is the primary end, not necessarily realised in all cases, of the union of a man and woman bound together for life by a public vow. The union of man and woman per se does not have this end, for a man and woman may be simply friends, but precisely as a union involving the complete, irrevocable commitment of oneself and all one’s powers to the other.

The question to be treated in this second section is one that did not concern the primarily non-religious nature of the first part, but a related topic of Catholic theology that has been contentious in the period following the Second Vatican Council. There has been some degree of controversy regarding whether the Church has changed her teaching17 on the primary end of marriage as the procreation and education of children, a teaching in accordance with what reason tells about this union.

Two primary sources of disputation are Gaudium et Spes and the new Code of Canon Law. I will attempt to show that a close examination of the texts reveals a perfect harmony and continuity of teaching, when all the proper distinctions are made. Firstly, an overview of the principal texts is necessary. Gaudium et Spes makes the following assertions regarding the purposes of matrimony:

“By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown.”18

“Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents.”19

“Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when, despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.”20

The 1983 Code of Canon Law in turn states the following:

“The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized.”21

The controversy that has arisen is the charge that the “good of the spouses” has now taken an equal place alongside that of the procreation and education of children in the ends of matrimony, and that this represents a change in the Church’s teaching. This assertion is deserving of a critical response.

Before discussing these passages in detail, the history of the matter requires some reflection. The Church had typically spoken of the ends of marriage in a hierarchical manner, ordering them as primary or secondary and emphasising the subordination of the secondary to the primary end. Now, in Gaudium et Spes, the section on matrimony does not contain this traditional terminology. This fact is cited as evidence that the Church has radically changed her understanding on the matter.

The claim that Gaudium et Spes represents a retreat by the Church on this teaching is one that has already been responded to by the Magisterium, which rejected this weakly-founded interpretation of the conciliar text. In a doctrinal note on the book Human Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stated the following, appealing to the comment of the theological commission on the text during the drafting stages of Gaudium et Spes:

“Furthermore, in regard to the teaching of Vatican II, we note here another mistaken notion. This book repeatedly states that the Council deliberately refused to retain the traditional hierarchy of primary and secondary ends of marriage, opening ‘the Church to a new and deeper understanding of the meaning and value of conjugal love’ (p. 125 and passim). On the contrary, the Commission of the Modi declared explicitly, replying to a proposal brought forward by many Fathers to put this hierarchical distinction into the text of n 48, ‘In a pastoral text which intends to institute a dialogue with the world, juridical elements are not required… In any case, the primordial importance of procreation and education is shown at least ten times in the text’ (cf. nos. 48 and 50).”22

In other words, the Council keeps intact this teaching, which is evidently brought out by the text whilst refraining from using the hierarchical terminology, not because it is rejecting it as wrong, but because of the pastoral nature of a document issued to the whole world. As we shall see, this general approach has been retained by the Magisterium since that time. For the Code of Canon Law in turn makes no mention of this hierarchical language, but rather states nothing with respect to priorities. It does, however, list “the good of the spouses” first, which would appear to be the foundation of the claim that it is out of accordance with tradition.

What I propose to do here is show what basis this aspect of the question actually has in the tradition, which may at first sight appear opposed to such a view. Secondly, I intend to discuss the content of this other end of marriage. Thirdly, I hope to synthesise what is found, in order to explain in what sense “the good of the spouses” can be mentioned alongside the procreation and education of children.

To begin with, the first point that needs to be brought out is the pedigree in the Church’s own tradition regarding this important end of marriage (the good of the spouses), which, as I hope to show, is also primary in a certain sense.

After reiterating the teaching on the primary end in Casti Connubii23, Pius XI goes on to make this statement on married love:

“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 neighbor, on which indeed ‘dependeth the whole Law and the Prophets.’ ”24

It must be noted regarding this text that, in its annotated version of the Code, produced in 1989, the Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Code cited this as one of the sources for the statement on “the good of the spouses.”25 I will return to this text in discussing the content of this notion. For the moment it provides the preceding context for the following very important section of Casti Connubii, which is not actually cited by the Commission, that is one of the (if not the) key texts in the discussion. Pius XI goes on to make the following nuanced statement:

“This mutual molding 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.”26

If we refer to the Roman Catechism, (commonly known as the Catechism of the Council of Trent), as presented under the heading “The Motives and Ends of Marriage,” the following statement is found:

“We have now to explain why man and woman should be joined in 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.”

Only after this is the desire for a family mentioned, essentially in the order we see repeated in the Code. However, Pius’statement takes this statement from Trent further. As William E. May notes, “Comparing this text with Pius's statement, we can see that the pope has in reality provided us with a gloss, and a most important one, on this text.”27 I want to comment here that mutual assistance is traditionally listed as a secondary end of marriage. However, it must be carefully noted that the main emphasis of this section from the Roman Catechism is on companionship which is “further encouraged” by the hope of mutual assistance. This companionship, which nature impels, takes on a greater significance in the light of the Law of Christ and our eternal goal of heaven, which I believe is the gloss Pius is effectively adding to the text. I will have more to say on this below.

After this brief survey of the texts, the next issue to be addressed is the content of this concept of “the good of the spouses.” May and canonist Cormac Burke28 argue powerfully that the good of the spouses ultimately refers to their growth in holiness so as to attain their ultimate end, eternal life. The prior quote from Pius XI that speaks of married love itself gives the context for his statement on “the chief purpose” of matrimony namely “this determined effort to perfect each other.” The “this” is contained in the previous paragraph, where it was seen to be “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 neighbor …”29 May notes that the Pontifical Commission cited several other sources as well for the phrase “the good of the spouses,” all of which speak of their vocation to holiness. The most significant of these are the references to Lumen Gentium, both the chapter on the lay vocation to holiness in general (chapter five) and a passage contained earlier in the document which identifies marriage as that sacrament by which “Christian spouses … help each other to attain to holiness in their married life and in the rearing and education of their children.”30

At this point I would like to pay brief attention to another proposal regarding this concept, specifically the idea that the “good of the spouses” is a fourth bonum to be added to the traditional three Augustinian goods,31 namely, offspring, fidelity and sacrament. Firstly, all the Augustinian goods are properties that are essential to matrimony and not ends. As Burke notes,32 it is impossible for something that is an end of marriage to be at the same time one of its properties, since a thing cannot be ordained to one of its properties.33

I would furthermore agree with Burke34 that the respective ends of procreation and the good of the spouses should not be seen as being the institutional end on the one hand and the personalist end on the other. For both ends are institutional in that they are both ends that have been established in the institution of marriage itself by the Creator.35 I refer the reader back at this point to the teaching in Gaudium et Spes that begins by stating: “Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation” and “[t]herefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when, despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.” This teaching on the institutional nature of the ends of marriage is part of a continuity of Church teaching on this particular point. For Leo XIII had likewise declared in his encyclical on marriage that, “Not only, in strict truth, was marriage instituted for the propagation of the human race, but also that the lives of husbands and wives might be made better and happier.”36

The task now at hand is to provide some commentary and synthesis of the matter. As can be seen in Pius XI’s encyclical, there are two ideas being held in tension here. On the one hand, “this determined effort to perfect each other” is the “chief reason and purpose” of matrimony. Yet, the primary end is also the procreation and education of children. It would be an audacious individual that would suggest Pius XI was contradicting himself in the space of a few paragraphs. The potential contradiction is even anticipated and answered by Pius himself when he distinguishes between the different points of view from which the marriage union is examined. This point requires some further explanation.

The status of marriage under the New Law by which marriage is now a sacrament cannot be neglected from a discussion on its nature. By virtue of being raised to this new state the ends of marriage are given a renewed and purified meaning that befits its place in the supernatural order. In the context of the New Law and redemption, man’s glorious end lies with the supernatural vision of God Himself as the summit of his perfection. We all have a duty in varying degrees for the salvation of others. The vocation of marriage brings two specific people together in a unique manner and intimate sharing of life that involves the conferral of rights and duties over the other’s very person. Thus, the vocation of marriage as a state in life includes within itself the primary responsibility for another’s salvation.

To return to the other side of the question, marriage’s primary end is the procreation and education of children, firstly, in the sense of that end which is distinctive of it as such. Marriage is primarily instituted for this end when considered from the perspective that, were the nature of man constituted so that either offspring were not necessary37 or no particular stable union between persons were required for their upbringing, then it would not exist. When this need ceases in the next life, there will no longer be marrying and giving in marriage among the children of men.38

The tending to holiness, on the other hand, is primary, not in this functional sense, but in the wider sense of a vocation as such being a call to the pursuit of the greatest good in the context of a certain manner of life and, more particularly here, the greatest good of someone else. Yet, without the previously mentioned end, there would be no need for a mutual moulding and union of the spouses or a need to “perfect each other” specifically, but only oneself in particular and other people in the generic sense that we are all meant to be each other’s keeper to some degree.

Thus, both assertions are true under a different aspect. For this reason, at least in part, I believe the Church has not focused so much on the hierarchical ordering of ends in the language of its documents in recent times. From this point of view it may be better to speak of two interrelated and essential ends39. Yet as we have also seen, the Church does not reject this hierarchical ordering as wrong in itself or incorrect, provided it is understood properly.

Nonetheless, how are we to understand this in relation to Pius XII’s Address to Midwives? Pius XII states that “matrimony, as an institution of nature, in virtue of the Creator's will, has not as a primary and intimate end the personal perfection of the married couple,” and that “The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary….”40 The 1944 ruling of the Holy Office to which Pius refers in this speech states regarding recent literature, “in these works different primary purposes of marriage are designated by other writers, as, for example: the complement and personal perfection of the spouses through a complete mutual participation in life and action; mutual love and union of spouses to be nurtured and perfected by psychic and bodily surrender of one’s own person and many other such things.”41

There are several things to make note of here. It is unlikely that these interventions of the Pius XII Magisterium were intended to contradict what Pius XI had already stated in his 1930 encyclical or that Pius XII himself would have been unaware of it. Secondly, what was stated above concerning the sense in which each end is primary must be kept in mind. Both statements are clearly speaking from the point of view of marriage as “instituted for the proper conception and education of the child.”42 It is worth emphasising that Pius XII states that “marriage as an institution of nature” has not these other ends as a primary end. From the point of view of nature, man needs marriage for the raising of a new generation. The ends are not therefore “equal” under the same formal point of view, nor are they independent of each other (one of the chief errors the document is concerned with combating). Much less are the properly secondary ends “superior.”

Thirdly, Pius XII is not necessarily referring here to precisely the same thing as is Pius XI. While Pius XI is certainly referring to a personal rather than functional end of marriage nowhere does he (or the Code for that matter) use the expression “personal perfection” but rather mentions “this determined effort to perfect each other” -- in other words, the other person and their sanctity specifically, not because one’s own sanctity is unimportant, but because that is the goal of life itself quite apart from marriage. Nor is it synonymous with “mutual participation in life” or “psychic or bodily surrender of one’s person,” even if these may be aids towards achieving the good of the spouses.

It is also worth pointing out here, with reference to “mutual love,” to the future John Paul II’s point in Love and Responsibility that the secondary end of mutuum audiutorium, or mutual aid and comfort, should not be translated as “mutual love,” as if love itself were an end of marriage. After beginning his section with an affirmation of the traditional teaching that the primary end of marriage is procreatio, he comments on this error by saying:

“Those who do this may mistakenly come to believe that procreation as the primary end is something distinct from ‘love,’ as also is the tertiary end, remedium concupiscentiae, whereas both procreation and remedium concupiscentiae must result from love as a virtue, and so fit in with the peronalistic norm …, for the Church, in arranging the objective purposes of love in a particular order, seeks to emphasize that procreation is objectively, ontologically, a more important purpose than that man and woman should live together, complement each other and support each other … just as this second purpose is in turn more important than the appeasement of natural desire. But there is no question of opposing love to procreation nor yet of suggesting that procreation takes precedence over love.”43

As discussed already in the first part of this article, while the mere fact that “two people love each other” – even genuinely so, as in a virtuous friendship – is insufficient grounds by itself for a claim to special recognition of the union, love is nonetheless the indispensible glue that holds marriage together and directs its activities. Marriage without love would be reduced to a mere “factory” for the production of children and would not be a loving nursery in which this end is realised and appreciated as its “ultimate crown.”44

The conclusions reached in this section may be conveniently summarised as follows:

  • Primary end of marriage as a blending of life and union of persons: perfection of the spouses

  • Primary end of marriage as marriage, that is, as an institution founded and directed towards a unique end: procreation and education of children

  • Other ends of marriage: mutual comfort and help (secondary), the quieting of concupiscence (tertiary)

  • Ends of sexuality:45 procreation (primary), union of husband and wife, fostering of mutual love (secondary)

  • Blessings of marriage: offspring,46 fidelity (unity, chastity, charity, honourable obedience), the sacrament (indissolubility, sign of grace)

  • Endnotes

    1 Commonly known as the Nicomachean Ethics.

    2 Unless it progresses to one of the other types of friendship discussed next.

    3 Aristotle, De Ethica, Book VIII, chapter 3. Subsequent references will be to St Thomas’ commentary on this work, but it will be made clear when the quoted section is from St Thomas and not Aristotle’s original text.

    4 St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the De Ethica, 1576.

    5 St. Thomas, Commentary, 1578.

    6 St. Thomas, Commentary 1564

    7 St. Thomas, Commentary 1566

    8 I say “in justice,” since whether this is realized in reality is another matter. The thrust of this article concerns how societies should be constituted in relation to this union, not how they may be constituted in a given case.

    9 Cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 92, art. 1, ad 3.

    10 This fact is undermined by modern very liberal divorce laws, which have wreaked their own havoc on society. Nonetheless, this article is a defense of marriage as it should be, not how modern situations have deformed it. A discussion of this related topic is beyond the scope of this article.

    11 “Accidental” means that the thing in question does not belong to the essence or substance of that thing. However, some accidents known as “proper accidents” or “properties,” such as the faculty of laughter in man, may naturally flow out of the essence, provided they aren’t impeded by some cause,.

    12 Such a marriage can of course provide a ready environment into which a child could be adopted with a loving father and mother, something a homosexual pair cannot provide. But furthermore, such a pairing of human beings is completely accidental with respect to the good of children, that is, it bears no intrinsic relation to it.

    13 For a brief but more detailed discussion of this that goes beyond the purposes of this article, see “The State and the Person” in Right and Reason (2nd ed.) by Fr Austin Fagothey, S.J. (TAN Books), pp. 390-392.

    14 For a short but interesting read that makes some similar points to this present article, see The Secular Case Against Gay Marriage by Adam Kolasinski, in The Tech, Vol. 124, No. 5 (17 February 2004). p. 5 – available at A secular account will, of course, always be incomplete but, nonetheless, it shows that even an agnostic or atheist can see solid grounds for not according identical status to a same-sex pair.

    15 The reason I am at pains to make this point is that those who argue for the alternative view often claim that an appeal is being made to a supposed ‘slippery slope’ fallacy. It is asked exactly how the recognition of same sex pairs would cause the existence of polygamous marriages. Firstly, to appeal to a slippery slope is not invalid, provided one can show there is no reason for the slope to not slip further, based on an opponent’s own principles, which is what I have done here. It may, however, cause the recognition of other such various combinations per accidens in that, once people have adjusted to the concept of homosexual ‘marriage,’ they may now be more open to further proposals aimed at reshaping marriage.

    16 Lifesite News, Jan 22, 2009, “Same Sex Marriage Used as Defense in Polygamy Case”

    17 The traditional teaching is expressed, for example, in CIC (1917), 1013, 1017, in Casti Connubii 17 and in the 1944 Decree of the Holy Office on “The Purposes of Matrimony.” In my copy of the 30th Edition of Denzinger, as translated by Roy Deferrari, this decree appears as no. 2295. In the 36th amended edition, often cited in such places as The Catechism of the Catholic Church, edited in 1976 by Adolf Schönmetzer S.J. (“Denzinger Schönmetzer,” or DS for short), it appears at no. 3838 in the outer margin and at no. 2295 in the inner margin. The decree is available in an online copy of the 30th edition of Denzinger at the following location:

    18 GS 48

    19 GS 50

    20 GS 50

    21 CIC (1983), Can. 1083, cited also in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1601 and 1660.

    22 S.C.D.F., “The Book Human Sexuality”, 13 July, 1979. This document is not available on the Vatican website. It can be located on pp. 505-509 of More Post Conciliar Documents, edited by Austin Flannery (Costello Publishing Company, 1982).

    23 Casti Connubii, 17

    24 Ibid., 23

    25 This is cited and referenced in William E. May’s fine contribution entitled “The Good of the Spouses and Marriage as a Vocation to Holiness,” which appeared in Christendom Awake [ ].

    26 Casti Connubii, 24

    27 May, ibid.

    28 For instance, in “Married Personalism and the Good of the Spouses,” Angelicum 75 (1998), pp. 255-269.

    29 It is interesting to note that between the earlier cited portions of text from Casti Connubii, Pius XI also makes this general statement “For all men of every condition, in whatever honorable 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.” Vatican II is justly famous for its insistence that all are called to holiness, but the Magisterium was by no means silent on this point prior to this time.

    30 Lumen Gentium 11

    31 The encyclical Casti Connubii is in fact structured around these three goods.

    32 Cormac Burke, “Progressive Jurisprudential Thinking” in The Jurist 58 (1998:2), pp. 437-478..

    33 Cf. footnote 46 regarding “offspring.”

    34Cormac Burke, “Marital and Family Commitment: A Personalist View,” in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review, June 1994.

    35 Burke also notes that Genesis presents two descriptions of the creation of the first man and woman and the institution of marriage, the first emphasizing the end of procreation (Gen 1:27-8) while the second has a more personal flavor (Gen 2:18-24): it is “not good that the man should be alone.”

    36 Leo XIII, Arcanum 26. This document, entitled “On Christian Marriage,” was issued in 1880, as Pope Leo fought against laws that restricted the Church’s rights over the administration of the sacrament.

    37 As occurred with the angels, since all the angels to be made were made simultaneously.

    38 Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:29-30).

    39 See Burke, ibid.: “In any case, there seems to me little point in arguing which comes first, because, as I see it, it is the interrelation and inseparability - and not any hierarchy - between the ends of marriage which matters most today and most needs emphasizing.”

    40 Pius XII, Address to Midwives on the Nature of their Profession (October 29 1951). This allocution can be found in AAS 43, p. 873, and is easily obtainable online.

    41 Denzinger (30th ed.), no. 2295.

    42 Casti Connubii, no.24.

    43 Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (Ignatius Press), p. 68.

    44 Some time after writing this I found that Pius XII, in his previously mentioned Address to Midwives, had written similarly “To reduce the common life of husband and wife and the conjugal act to a mere organic function for the transmission of seed would be but to convert the domestic hearth, the family sanctuary, into a biological laboratory.” He takes this thought further in the context of condemning artificial insemination.

    45 Objectively, but not necessarily in the minds of the couple, much as when eating we don’t often advert to its primary function of nourishing the body but are more often conscious of enjoying good food. “It is certainly not necessary always to resolve ‘we are performing this act in order to become parents.’ It is sufficient to say that ‘in performing this act we know that we may become parents and we are willing for that to happen’ ” (Love and Responsibility, p. 234).

    46 The mention of “offspring” here as one of the goods or properties of marriage may confuse some readers. Are not offspring an end of marriage, not a property? This question is ably dealt with by Cormac Burke in his essay in the Angelicum cited earlier. Essentially what is meant here is not procreation per se but rather procreativity, the intention or openness to having children. If the marriage pact were entered lacking this intention, the marriage itself would be invalid. See the reply of St Thomas in the Summa Theologiae, Supplement, q. 49, art. 3.

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