The Blessings of Christian Marriage
Kevin M. Tierney
With the Marriage Amendment so vital in Congress and on the ballot in many states, Pope Pius XI's encyclical Casti Connubii is the best guideline for all to follow. No ambiguity, just the unadulterated truth that cannot be refuted by the agents of the devil.
"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." 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." Pope Pius XI,
Editor's Note: Because the Double of the Second Class Feast of St. Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs supersedes the 17th Sunday After Pentecost, Kevin will not provide a comparison of the Propers this week in his Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. Therefore, in a timely manner, he follows up his commentary last week on the Attacks on Christian Marriage with the positive side and the Blessings of Marriage as laid out so beautifully by Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii.
After outlining the scope of his encyclical on Marriage, and some introductory remarks, His Holiness Pius XI goes on to discuss the three primary blessings of marriage. The first we shall examine is that of children.
1. The Blessings of Marriage: Children
One wonders why Pius XI chose children as that first blessing of marriage, and indeed the primary. Many today feel that the primary blessing of marriage is that of the conjugal love for each other, rather than the bearing and raising of children. This is no doubt a great blessing, and Pius XI covers this right after children. The reason I submit he mentions children as the first blessing is because it is indeed a monumental blessing. Through the act of love, a child made in the image of God is brought upon this earth. Christ Himself identifies with this act, as He Himself was once a child, sharing in the great mystery and blessing. The mother cares for the child just as the Blessed Mother herself cared for the Baby Jesus. The Father cares for the child, and teaches him discpline just as Joseph taught Jesus.
There is an old painting I remember of Joseph and Jesus working late at night, Joseph holding a lamp so that Jesus can see what he is doing. This was obviously work that Joseph could have done himself, yet Joseph, in the role of a Father, teaches his son the value of work, of labor to secure and promote the family. Through the birth of children we are witnesses(and at times in the case of women actual partakers) of a great miracle, in which a child in the image of God is brought to Earth. In raising children, we partake in the same joy that the Holy Family themselves participated in. With this in mind, let us begin our analysis of the Encyclical.
"11. Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth." As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy when he says: "The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is 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'"
Here Pius XI adds yet another aspect of the blessing of children, in that through humans, God uses us to accomplish the goal of propagation of life. We participate in a most special way in this task. Through this act we are fulfilling one of God's first obligations to humanity. We shall see why this is so important later.
"12. How great a boon of God this is, and how great a blessing of matrimony is clear from a consideration of man's dignity and of his sublime end. For man surpasses all other visible creatures by the superiority of his rational nature alone. Besides, God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man. From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock. "
Many today when they hear about "the dignity of man" they start to head for friendlier waters, as today's post-modern society is obsessed with worshipping itself. Yet the idea of man's dignity is not something false, but indeed the root of all Catholic social teaching. It covers man's dignity, and his responsibility to God and his fellow man. God gave us a rational nature and a soul so that we could know him, and know all that which is true. God is very active in the lives of his creation. Furthermore, God without a doubt wishes that he and he alone be worshipped. Hence, in the miracle of birth, and in raising children, not only is the wellbeing of the family enhanced, but the worship of God is as well, which is the primary end of all we should do. Through the miracle of child bearing, and the act of conception itself, we partake in a supernatural event, and in the raising of child, we wish to raise them to their true calling, made in the image and likeness of God.
"14. For although Christian spouses even if sanctified themselves cannot transmit sanctification to their progeny, nay, although the very natural process of generating life has become the way of death by which original sin is passed on to posterity, nevertheless, they share to some extent in the blessings of that primeval marriage of Paradise, since it is theirs to offer their offspring to the Church in order that by this most fruitful Mother of the children of God they may be regenerated through the laver of Baptism unto supernatural justice and finally be made living members of Christ, partakers of immortal life, and heirs of that eternal glory to which we all aspire from our inmost heart."
Though original sin effects us all, we are released from that curse in baptism. Therefore, when we bring children into the world, in wishing to raise worshippers of the True God and Savior, we are to present them for baptism. Since our love for children should be to it that they seek first the Kingdom of God, we are to look out for their eternal well being, and baptism is obviously the first step.
"16. The blessing of offspring, however, is not completed by the mere begetting of them, but something else must be added, namely the proper education of the offspring. For the most wise God would have failed to make sufficient provision for children that had been born, and so for the whole human race, if He had not given to those to whom He had entrusted the power and right to beget them, the power also and the right to educate them. For no one can fail to see that children are incapable of providing wholly for themselves, even in matters pertaining to their natural life, and much less in those pertaining to the supernatural, but require for many years to be helped, instructed, and educated by others. Now it is certain that both by the law of nature and of God this right and duty of educating their offspring belongs in the first place to those who began the work of nature by giving them birth, and they are indeed forbidden to leave unfinished this work and so expose it to certain ruin. But in matrimony provision has been made in the best possible way for this education of children that is so necessary, for, since the parents are bound together by an indissoluble bond, the care and mutual help of each is always at hand."
The blessing of children is indeed a lifelong blessing. For not only is it the parents responsibility to beget them, but also to educate them properly. It is not the village's responsibility to raise and educate a child (a la Hillary Clinton's phrase "It takes a village to raise a child") yet it is the job primarily of the parents. As was noted earlier, and will be covered by Pius XI in far greater detail elsewhere, the Society, by necessity, must start with the family. It should only go to higher levels when those below are absolutely incapable of helping out. The reason it is primarily the right of the parent is that they were involved in that child's creation through the deep mystery of begetting a child in the Image of God. Furthermore, Pius XI tells us that God has instilled within those parents in Christian marriage the ability to educate those children. One could say this is part of the grace indeed that comes from the marriage sacrament.
For these reasons Pius XI concludes with the following statement, right from even Canon Law:
"The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children."
2. Blessings of Marriage: Conjugal Love
The second blessing the Holy Father pointed out was that of conjugal love, exploring the mystery of the teaching of Our Lord that two become one flesh.
"20. Wherefore, conjugal faith, or honor, demands in the first place the complete unity of matrimony which the Creator Himself laid down in the beginning when He wished it to be not otherwise than between one man and one woman. And although afterwards this primeval law was relaxed to some extent by God, the Supreme Legislator, there is no doubt that the law of the Gospel fully restored that original and perfect unity, and abrogated all dispensations as the words of Christ and the constant teaching and action of the Church show plainly. With reason, therefore, does the Sacred Council of Trent solemnly declare: "Christ Our Lord very clearly taught that in this bond two persons only are to be united and joined together when He said: 'Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh'."
We learn here that marriage was originally intended for one man and one woman. While at times this rule was modified by God, with the coming of Christ, as He did with everything else, it was to restore things to the way they were originally intended. Part of this was the institution of marriage. Not only was it restored to it's original glory, but it was even elevated to the level of a sacrament, a means of grace for the two people.
"23. This conjugal faith, however, which is most aptly called by St. Augustine the "faith of chastity" blooms more freely, more beautifully and more nobly, when it is rooted in that more excellent soil, the love of husband and wife which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage. For matrimonial faith demands that husband and wife be joined in an especially holy and pure love, not as adulterers love each other, but as Christ loved the Church. This precept the Apostle laid down when he said: "Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the Church," that Church which of a truth He embraced with a boundless love not for the sake of His own advantage, but seeking only the good of His Spouse. The love, then, of which We are speaking is not that based on the passing lust of the moment nor does it consist in pleasing words only, but in the deep attachment of the heart which is expressed in action, since love is proved by deeds."
Returning to the familiar analogy that Pope Leo XIII expressed so clearly, the marriage between man and woman is based on something higher, the union between Christ and His Church. Christ, as the Good Shepherd, everything He did, He did for His Church. The Church does everything for the benefit of honoring Christ, her spouse, in humble obedience and submissiveness to Christ's directives. This is the model for marriage. The husband, while having authority over his wife, is not to abuse it. Anything he does, he is to do for his spouse. With great power and authority, come even greater power and responsibility. Likewise the Wife honors her husband in love, and is obedient to him, when she is to be obedient. The role of the servant on both sides, where both understand their roles and how they serve each other, will be the most effective ally in keeping that love strong, so it is not a passing infatuation. This is why marriage is such a serious institution, and cannot be entered into lightly. The person you marry is the person you serve, one way or another, for the rest of your life.
"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." 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."
After stating what the spouses are to do for each other in the sphere of everyday life, Pius XI then directs the faithful towards that which is eternal. One can see the closeness of the thought of this Pontiff, and that of Leo XIII on social manners. Both stressed the necessity of a right ordering of one's temporal life, in order to have the right ordering of one's eternal life. The Pontiff let's the faithful know that in the married state, the spouse, while having all the normal means of help in leading a life of holiness, also has another means, that of their spouse. The spouse, in being a servant to their spouse, is to help mature and strengthen their faith, to teach them to trust in God even more. As a side-effect of this, this will also cause the person to trust more in God about the very nature of the marriage they are in, and hence increase the strength of the marriage. This example of service was set to us by Christ, who served his Church constantly.
While I may be straying from the subject somewhat, I would like to develop a certain thought. In order to better understand marriage better, perhaps we should look closely at excactly who God is? For since God instituted marriage, examining the nature of the Creator of an institution will tell you a lot about how that institution is to be run itself.
What sets Christianity apart from the faith of other religions is the intense personal nature of God. (By conclusion, this would include Judaism as well.) God is not a courtroom judge with no emotion. He does not sit on a mountaintop and let creation run it's course. No, God is a very personal God. He is actively involved in His creation. Since He requires service of us, it is only fitting that He Himself serves. Many do not understand the service aspect of leadership, but it is the most important aspect of it. So personal He is, He wishes us to know Him, and gave us the natural abilities to do so. The reason given to us is precisely for the purpose of knowing and serving God. Out of all the things God created, He was most pleased with creating humanity, for humanity is the only thing created in the Image of God itself. We see this intense nature of God in how He created humanity.
Next we look at how He interacts with His creation. In being a servant to His creation, He seeks nothing but their betterment. As He rules over His creation, He remains actively involved. When His creation disobeys, He is deeply offended. Our sense of betrayal multiplied about ten thousand times is how offended God feels over our sin. Likewise, when we do what is right, God sings in the heavens alongside us, and our strongest emotion of happiness is the only the tip of the iceberg for God's happiness. I believe as we remember these things about God's nature, we can understand more of why He is so active when two of His creation become one, and why He gave us the model of Christ and the Church as how a marriage is to be.
"26. Domestic society being confirmed, therefore, by this bond of love, there should flourish in it that "order of love," as St. Augustine calls it. This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which the Apostle commends in these words: "Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church."
27. This subjection, however, does not deny or take away the liberty which fully belongs to the woman both in view of her dignity as a human person, and in view of her most noble office as wife and mother and companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request if not in harmony with right reason or with the dignity due to wife; nor, in fine, does it imply that the wife should be put on a level with those persons who in law are called minors, to whom it is customary to allow free exercise of their rights on account of their lack of mature judgment, or of their ignorance of human affairs. But it forbids that exaggerated liberty which cares not for the good of the family; it forbids that in this body which is 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 as he occupies the chief place in ruling, so she may and ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."
Today the big pharse is "mutual subjection." All too often, it comes to mean that there is no head authority in a marriage, but both are heads. Yet this is certainly not how marriage is intended. Indeed, can the Church claim authority of ruling over Christ? Yet do both not serve each other? Once more we see that in some aspects of service, there is leadership, the greatest act of service one can give. Likewise, this is the role of the husband. He is to be leader of the family, and leader over his wife in service, and the wife's service entails her willing obedience.
Yet if "mutual subjection" at times comes to dilute this truth, there are those on the other extreme, who in the name of "submission" dominate their spouses, and give them no liberty. On the end of wives, they look to be "submissive to men" so that they can in all honesty leave their brains at the door. As is the problem with human nature, we have a hard time having balance. Yet this balance must be achieved.
The Pontiff provides that balance. For while the man is the head of the family, the woman is it's heart. The brain cannot function without the heart, and vice versa. This analogy demonstrates the perfect unity that must take place in a marriage. It is her love and her guidance that drives a man to be a fit leader. One can see this as we men are the ones chasing the woman. In the end, we look for that one woman who will always guide us in the right path with her love and advice, just as we guide the future family in the right path in our discipline and decision making. Those who lead are only as good as those whom they lead over. Who would want to lead over someone that has no interest in seeing the institution succeed? Who would want to lead over those who do not also wish to actively participate in that institution? As good as a man's leadership is, you can almost say that without the woman, the man cannot lead. A sobering thought for us men no doubt. Yet sobering thoughts are not always bad, and indeed normally good, as they remind us of what our roles and responsibilities before God are.
Combined with children, the conjugal love of spouses provides numerous strengths and blessings to a marriage. The final one we shall examine is the sacramental aspect of marriage, and the way God gives grace to those married.
3. Blessings of Marriage: Sacrament
His Holiness Pius XI next emphasizes the vital sacramental nature of Marriage.
"31. But this accumulation of benefits is completed and, as it were, crowned by that blessing of Christian marriage which in the words of St. Augustine we have called the sacrament, by which is denoted both the indissolubility of the bond and the raising and hallowing of the contract by Christ Himself, whereby He made it an efficacious sign of grace."
After discussing the benefits of offspring and conjugal love, the Pontiff states that as good as these blessings are, they are completed, and indeed elevated by the fact that marriage is a sacrament, a means of grace. The Married state is no easy life. Likewise, God does not give us anything more than we can handle. Hence, when He is at the focus of a marriage, He provides the grace so that we may strengthen that marriage, and indeed endure.
"32. In the first place Christ Himself lays stress on the indissolubility and firmness of the marriage bond when He says: "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder," 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."
Even many Christians wonder why the Catholic Church still says no to divorce. The reason why is this comes straight from the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. As we will see in the following paragraphs, there used to be certain exceptions for divorce, but that was under the Old Covenant. Those who point to Scripture passages in the Law and the Prophets favoring divorce forget we are under a New Covenant, where we are no longer held under the law. The words of Jesus Christ also confirm marriage as primarily a divine institution, not a human one. As Pius XI, like Leo XIII before him(and whom he much admired), both were concerned with the growing powers of the State over the individuals, and both promoted the institution of a healthy marriage as a check on the State.
"34. And this inviolable stability, although not in the same perfect measure in every case, belongs to every true marriage, for the word of the Lord: "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder," must of necessity include all true marriages without exception, since it was spoken of the marriage of our first parents, the prototype of every future marriage. Therefore although before Christ the sublimeness and the severity of the primeval law was so tempered that Moses permitted to the chosen people of God on account of the hardness of their hearts that a bill of divorce might be given in certain circumstances, nevertheless, Christ, by virtue of His supreme legislative power, recalled this concession of greater liberty and restored the primeval law in its integrity by those words which must never be forgotten, "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
We see originally divorce was for the hardness of man's heart, not because things just "didn't work out the first time." Yet in the New Covenant, as the Prophet Jeremiah told us, God writes His laws on our hearts. Under the New Covenant, that hardness is taken away to a certain extent. We will always be fallible creatures who sin, but the old law was written on tablets of stone, not in our hearts. Christ's job was to restore what Adam and Eve originally forfeited in the garden of Eden. Part of that is that marriage is permanent, for "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder."
"Wherefore, Our predecessor Pius VI of happy memory, writing to the Bishop of Agria, most wisely said: "Hence it is clear that marriage even in the state of nature, and certainly long before it was raised to the dignity of a sacrament, was divinely instituted in such a way that it should carry with it a perpetual and indissoluble bond which cannot therefore be dissolved by any civil law. Therefore although the sacramental element may be absent from a marriage as is the case among unbelievers, still in such a marriage, inasmuch as it is a true marriage there must remain and indeed there does remain that perpetual bond which by divine right is so bound up with matrimony from its first institution 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 really a true marriage, in which case it carries with it that enduring bond which by divine right is inherent in every true marriage; or it is thought to be contracted without that perpetual bond, and in that case there is no marriage, but an illicit union opposed of its very nature to the divine law, which therefore cannot be entered into or maintained."
The reason a State cannot declare an end to a marriage is because this is one of the things that is beyond the states' domain. Even before marriage existed as a sacrament, it still was around before the creation of the State. Hence, just as (in the case of Leo XIII's teaching in Rerum Novarum) the right to private property is something the State may not control, the same is with marriage. A state can only recognize that marriage. The rule of law's primary function in civil society is to safegaurd those rights men have even before that law's creation.
We now see an area that is misunderstood by many Christians, and in today's age, even more Catholics. It is what we call an annulment. Contrary to popular belief, it is not "Catholic divorce." Rather, it is a declaration that the marriage was never valid to begin with. The perpetual bond which exists within a marriage was never there. While no doubt this is abused today to where it essentially means "Catholic divorce" we must remember that an abuse of something is not an attack against the validity of the thing itself. Today we see this in the liturgy, with many abuses going on, yet that does not make the liturgy invalid in and of itself.
"35. And if this stability seems to be open to exception, however rare the exception may be, as in the case of certain natural marriages between unbelievers, or amongst Christians in the case of those marriages which though valid have not been consummated, that exception does not depend on the will of men nor on that of any merely human power, but on divine law, of which the only guardian and interpreter is the Church of Christ. However, not even this power can ever affect for any cause whatsoever a Christian marriage which is valid and has been consummated, for as it is plain that here the marriage contract has its full completion, so, by the will of God, there is also the greatest firmness and indissolubility which may not be destroyed by any human authority."
In these special cases, it is not up to the State to declare these marriages as dissolved or not true to begin with, since once again, this is something beyond the power of the State. Since marriage was instituted by God, it rests upon His laws, and His laws are interpreted by His Church. We must note that Pius XI called these instances "rare" and an exception to the rule, not the rule itself. Yet on those marriages where this is not the case, an annulment cannot be given. Not even the Church may declare a true marriage null and void.
"36. If we wish with all reverence to inquire into the intimate reason of this divine decree, Venerable Brethren, we shall easily see it in the mystical signification of Christian marriage which is fully and perfectly verified in consummated marriage between Christians. For, as the Apostle says in his Epistle to the Ephesians, the marriage of Christians recalls that most perfect union which exists between Christ and the Church: "Sacramentum hoc magnum est, ego autem dico, in Christo et in ecclesia;" which union, as long as Christ shall live and the Church through Him, can never be dissolved by any separation. And this St. Augustine clearly declares in these words: "This is safeguarded in Christ and the Church, which, living with Christ who lives for ever may never be divorced from Him. The observance of this sacrament is such in the City of God . . . that is, in the Church of Christ, that when for the sake of begetting children, women marry or are taken to wife, it is wrong to leave a wife that is sterile in order to take another by whom children may be hand. Anyone doing this is guilty of adultery, just as if he married another, guilty not by the law of the day, according to which when one's partner is put away another may be taken, which the Lord allowed in the law of Moses because of the hardness of the hearts of the people of Israel; but by the law of the Gospel."
The reason a marriage cannot "end" is because the model of which Christ based the marriage on cannot end. The model is that of Christ, and his Church. The Church comprises of the Body of Christ. That is why it is said that two become one flesh in marriage, in that the Church is fully united with Christ. The world comes to Christ through His Church. Christ is the faithful spouse, and His Church is His bridegroom. If they do not leave each other, a marriage cannot dissolve, since it is to emulate that perfect union. Once again, since we are under a New Covenant, we are under a different law, that which comes from the Gospel, not the law of Israel, which is not in force. While the law of the Gospel took certain precepts of the Old law and elevated them, it is not to say that this is the Old Law.
All of these things are helped along by the sacrament of matrimony, as it strengthens the believers. The grace that we receive from that sacrament stays with us, once again, as God is right alongside us, perfecting those things that have been set out so far.
Kevin M. Tierney