May 31, 2001
volume 12, no. 134

Sixth Commandment of the Church

"To observe the laws of the Church concerning Marriage"

part two and three

    Every Catholic family should have the Holy Family of Nazareth, Jesus, Mary and Joseph as their model, and live in holiness and mutual love. Every family should preserve the custom of having family prayers in a unity of worship. The family that prays together stays together.

    The chief duty of husband and wife in the married state I to be faithful to each other, and to provide in every way for the welfare of the children God may give them.

    Husband and wife must comfort and support each other in the activities of their common life, in the fulfillment of their duties individual as well as mutual, in all important matters, both spiritual and material. "Now they are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matthew 19:6).

    The wife needs the husband to lean upon; the husband needs his wife to comfort and care for him. The man is the breadwinner and the head; the wife is the queen and mother. In true Christian marriage there is no question of selfishness, competition, or superiority between the spouses, for they two are "one flesh".

    Husband and wife must be faithful to their marriage vows; they owe fidelity to each other. They ought very carefully to avoid even the appearance of unfaithfulness, for where jealousy is awakened, conjugal felicity ends. They should bear with each other's faults and infirmities, and not ruin their home life by dissensions.

    The wife will influence her husband for good more effectually by silence, meekness, and prayer, than by nagging and scandalous scolding. The husband should remember that his wife also needs companionship; he should not be away long.

    The spouses should always live together, and have a real Christian family life. They must however remember that all marital relations must be in accord with divine and natural law in the "faithfulness of chastity." Their affection should not be purely human, but holy and supernatural, in accordance with the purpose of their state, which was instituted by God. "For we are the children of saints; and we must not be joined together like heathens that know not God" (Job. 8:5).

    For its type and model, marriage has the Mystical Union between Christ and His Church. The husband should love his wife as Christ loves the Church, with a holy and supernatural love, as his own self. The wife should love and obey her husband as the head of the family.

    "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church" (Ephesians 5:25). "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is becoming I the Lord" (Colossians 3:19). In explaining the meaning of this latter passage, Pius XI, in his encyclical on Christian marriage says: "This subjection does not 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 ad companion; nor does it bid her obey her husband's every request, even if not in harmony with right reason or the dignity due her as a wife … 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, she ought to claim for herself the chief place in love."

    It is the grave obligation of parents to provide for their children and to train them in the love and fear of God. The primary purpose of marriage is the begetting and rearing of children in the fear and love of God, in order that they may join Him in Heaven some day.

    Since the primary purpose of marriage is to bring children into the world, any attempt to frustrate this purpose while making use of its means is intrinsically evil, against natural and divine law, and necessarily a grievous sin.

    Some parents are at great pains to amass wealth to bequeath to their children, but pay no attention to their upbringing. The best legacy they can leave their children is the love of God.

    Some religious training of the child depends mostly on the mother. A mother who spends her time gossiping with her neighbors, going from one social function to another, or engrossing herself in useless amusements to the neglect of her children, has much to answer for before God. How happy good parents will be when they go before God's judgment seat and are able to say: "Those whom Thou hast given Me I have guarded" (John 17:12).

    Artificial birth control is immoral, contrary to both natural and divine law. Artificial birth control contravenes the primary purpose of marriage and prostitutes it for other ends.

    The practice of birth control and sterilization will, if carried out to its inevitable conclusion, some day, as a sarcastic writer comments, "give over the country to the animals." In the United States the birth rate is steadily going down; it is estimated that by 1960 the population will remain stationary, then decline. One-seventh of couples are now childless. [Note: This was written by Bishop Louis LaRavoire Morrow first in 1949. Consider now in 2001 this decline!]

    God severely punishes even in this life those who practice "birth control." It results in sterility, vice, weakness of the will, etc. besides physical diseases.

    One who tries to circumvent God cannot escape punishment, both in this life and the next. The only licit way of preventing birth and limiting the number of children is by not using the marital rights. If in a formal and explicit stipulation before marriage a man says to a woman (or vice versa): "I marry you, provided we shall have no children," this marriage is null. It is against the natural law of God, confirmed and enforced the Church in Canon 1013, which says: "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of the offspring." If this end is willfully excluded, there can be no marriage.

    Direct abortion is evil, a grave sin, contrary to the law of God; indirect abortion may be permitted. Direct abortion is committed when the fetus is intentionally removed from the separate life, even if this were done in the very earliest period of pregnancy. Direct abortion is equivalent to murder; those guilty of it, or who cooperate either physically or morally, incur excommunication.

    Direct abortion cannot be permitted even to save a mother's life. If the fetus or the baby is killed purposely because by not doing so the mother might die, that is direct abortion. It is estimated that in this country one pregnancy is three ends in abortion.

    Indirect abortion may occur when, although not intended, the death of the fetus follows some operation or other treatment performed on the mother. Such treatments and operations are permitted only when it is certain that both mother and child would otherwise die. In such cases the child must receive Baptism.

    In order to be certain of circumstance, a conscientious Catholic physician should be consulted.

"What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder."

    The bond of the sacrament of Matrimony lasts until the death of husband or wife; because Christ has said: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder."

    Christian marriage is a union between only one man and one woman. God created only one man and one woman in the beginning; there was unity in marriage.

    Under the Mosaic Law divorce was in some cases permitted, to avoid greater evils, because after the Fall the primitive revelation had become obscured to men. But when Christ came, He withdrew this permission absolutely, and restored marriage to its original unity, saying: "Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, made them male and female, and said, 'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to is wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:4-8).

    Christian marriage is a sacred and holy state pleasing to God. St. Paul compares it to the mystical union between Christ and His Church. As Christ is one, and the Church is one, so marriage is between one man and one woman. As Christ and the Church are inseparably united, so marriage is indissoluble. It makes the contracting parties "two in one flesh."

    St. Paul said: "This is a great mystery - I mean in reference to Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32). Christ is the head of the Church; so is the man the head of the wife. The Church is subject to Christ, so must the wife by obedient to her husband. Christ never abandons the Church, and the Church is always faithful to; so a man and his wife must be faithful to each other.

    The important object of marriage is to provide for the proper upbringing of children. This could not be attained if divorce were permitted. What would become of children if parents were free to separate at their leisure? Court records show that many youthful criminals come from the broken homes of divorced parents. Divorce destroys the family and will some day, if not arrested, destroy the State.

    If the indissoluble character of Matrimony is well understood, even should - as may often happen - husband and wife disagree, their tendency would be to make up, not to rush to the divorce court.

    The preservation of the sacred character of marriage is vital to society; give in to divorce, and destruction of all social life will come. Divorce is a breach in the wall of civilization, a destructive force in morality. Today two out of five marriages in our country end in divorce. Beginning with causes of adultery, now in many places divorce can be obtained on almost any grounds; it has become only an excuse to change partners. Is that Matrimony?

    Divorce is a legal separation of married persons; as generally understood today, it is a complete severance of the marriage bond giving the parties the right to marry other persons.

    Divorce is a legal separation of married persons; as generally understood today, it is a complete severance of the marriage bond giving the parties the right to marry other persons.

    Our Lord lifted marriage from the natural to the supernatural level, making of it a holy sacrament. And this consummated sacramental marriage can never be dissolved, except by the death of one of the parties; there can never be such a thing approved by the Church as divorce.

    The marriage of unbaptized persons is not sacramental, though it may be valid. The valid marriage of two baptized persons is always sacramental, whether they be Catholics or non-Catholics. For this reason the valid marriage of two baptized non-Catholics performed in the authorized manner is always a sacrament. This is easily understood when we remember that neither pastor nor official is the minister of the sacrament of Matrimony; they do not really confer the sacrament. The contracting parties are themselves the ministers, and confer the sacrament upon each other.

    Christ definitely and strictly forbade the cutting, the breaking of the marriage bond. Nobody can misinterpret His meaning: "Everyone who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman who has been put away from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).

    "'For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mark 10: 7-9).

    The bond of the sacrament of matrimony lasts until the death of husband or wife. Christian marriage is indissoluble, except by death. Divorce-that is, the breaking of the marriage bond, with the right to remarry is never permitted. By the law of God, the bond uniting husband and wife can be dissolved only by death

    "And He said to them: 'Whoever puts away his wife and marries another, commits adultery, and if the wife puts away her husband and marries another, she commits adultery'" (Mark 10: 11-12).

    No power on earth can break a Christian marriage. The indissolubility of marriage is not a law ordained by the Church, but by God. The Church cannot and will not tamper with the laws of God. As St. Paul said: "To those who are married, not I, but the Lord, commands that a wife is not to depart from her husband, and if she departs, that she is to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not a husband put away his wife" (Corinthians 7: 10, 11).

    Not even to avert the most serious calamities can the Church sanction divorce. When Nicholas I was Pope, the King of Lorraine, Lothaire II, had the Emperor Louis send an army to frighten Pope Nicholas into giving him a divorce from his wife. But the Pope did not grant the divorce. Napoleon Bonaparte appealed to Pope Pius VII to annul the marriage which his brother Jerome had contracted with Miss Patterson of Baltimore. The Pope sent the following reply after minute investigation: "Your majesty will understand that upon the information thus far received by Us, it is not in Our power to pronounce a sentence of nullity. We cannot utter a judgment in opposition to the rules of the Church, and We could not, without laying aside those rules, decree the invalidity of a union which, according to the Word of God, no human power can sunder."

    A non-consummated marriage between two baptized persons or between one baptized and another unbaptized, is dissolved either by the solemn religious profession of either party, or by papal dispensation for very grave cause. This has been greatly relaxed in recent times. Is that good? God is the Judge.

    In contrast to the attitude of the Popes on divorce was the action taken by the Protestant "reformers," Luther, Melanchthon, etc., when Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, wished to have two wives at the same time. For sixteen years Philip had been married to Christiana, daughter of the Duke of Saxony, and the couple had been blessed with several children. Soon after the Protestant outbreak, Philip became attracted to Margaret Saal, a maid of honor in his household. He did not, however, apply for a divorce from the Protestant leaders, but wished them to sanction another marriage, so that he might have two wives, Christiana and Margaret, at one and the same time.

    The Protestant "reformers" gave this answer to Philip: "If Your Highness is resolved to marry a second wife, we judge that it should be done privately…Thus all opposition and scandal will be avoided. Still, we ought not to be anxious about what the world will say, provided the conscience is at rest. Thus we approve of it, and Your Highness has, in writing, our approbation."

    Henry VIII, king of England asked the Pope to grant him a divorce from his lawful wife, Catherine of Aragon, so that he might marry Anne Boleyn. The king had rendered valuable services to the Church. If the Pope refused, England would surely be plunged in heresy. But Pope Clement VII stood firm. Not even to save England for the Church could he break God's Law. The only reply he gave was: "Non possumus; I have no authority to set aside divine law." As a result Henry VIII abandoned his obedience, and intent on his evil desires and yielding to his passions, he revolted from the Church. This was the beginning of the Protestant Church of England.

For past installments of this catechetical series on My Catholic Faith, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives

may 31, 2001
volume 12, no. 134
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