Oddvar Moi


What is the Difference in the Definition of Marriage in the Code of Canon Law (1917), in H. Doms Meaning, and in John Paul II's Familiaris Concortio. What Foundation in Scripture and Tradition do the Three Approaches have?

An essay presented for a course in Moral Theology at Allen Hall Seminary .

June 1998 - Oddvar Moi


The title of the essay indicates that there have been three quite different definitions of marriage in the Church during this century. This is the view presented in Theodore Mackin's book What is Marriage? Marriage in the Catholic Church. He says for example about the understanding of marriage in the Church in this century: "It is a changed conception, some say so changed as to be substantially different from what it was during the first two-thirds of this century and for about seven centuries earlier." [1] It is mainly the application of Canon Law on marriage annulment cases that has given Mackin this understanding. Among many examples he says about the notion of a needed capacity to form a marital relationship: "It was Gaudium et Spes that expanded the meaning of capacity and incapacity beyond boundaries that pre-conciliar jurists had imagined possible. [2]

On the other hand; Ramón García de Haro, in his book: Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium, argues through the whole book that the Church's understanding has never changed, though there has been a development. I will be drawing on both Mackin's and de Haro's book as I go through the time period given for the essay. Mostly on de Haro's book, though, since I find his arguments more convincing and more applicable to moral theology - Mackin argues very much fro a Canon Law perspective.

How do I understand the word definition in the title of the essay? Has the Church ever had any kind of precise definition of what marriage is? Mackin answers this question very clearly in the negative: "The Catholic magisterium has never tried to formulate a definition of marriage in the strict sense of this term. ... The neglect or reluctance or refusal to define marriage in this rigorous way is surely evident in Gaudium et Spes. ... the document's description of marriage is too abundant, too diffuse, at points too imprecise in its predicating to quality as such a definition." [3] Since there isn't any definition or understanding of marriage in a strict sense, I will be looking at the changes in the understanding - in a wide sense - of marriage in the Catholic Church during this century.

The title also identifies three documents that are to be studied: The Code of Canon Law (1917), H. Doms Meaning, and John Paul II's Familiaris Concortio. From the context I understand this to mean the three periods of time or three traditions of interpretation, instead of only these three document strictly speaking.

I addition to describing the definitions of marriage in these three periods of time, and comparing and discussing them, I am also asked to mention the foundation in Scripture and Tradition that each of these three approaches have. Since I don't find this point to be a major importance for my discussion of the understanding of marriage, I will deal with it briefly at the end of the essay. The general movement back to the sources - the Bible and the early church - , that is so important for the last decades leading up to Vatican II, applies also to this area, of course. But I have found it to be impossible to do justice to such an important development - back to the 'fontes' in this essay on the understanding of marriage.


A quite wide range of descriptions or definitions of marriage have been given through the centuries. There will be no time in this essay to go through all of these, but I will give two examples from the time just before the time period that we will study more in depth starts.

The first example is from the Catechism of Trent, the Roman Catechism, Published in 1566, soon after the end of the Council of Trent, but very influential and much read for centuries. It is quite typical in the sense that it gives a very rich definition of marriage, and it shows "inclusiveness and flexibility". [4] Its definition includes both the contract, the companionship, children as one of the ends of marriage and the several blessing of marriage:

Definition of Matrimony

Matrimony, according to the general opinion of theologians, is defined: The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life. ...

The Motives and Ends of Marriage

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.
A second reason for marriage is the desire of family, not so much, however, with a view to leave after us heirs to inherit our property and fortune, as to bring up children in the true faith and in the service of God. ...
A third reason has been added, as a consequence of the fall of our first parents. ... For fear of fornication, says the Apostle, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband; ......

The Three Blessings of Marriage

The faithful should also be shown that there are three blessings of marriage: children, fidelity and the Sacrament. ...


The first blessing, then, is a family, that is to say, children born of a true and lawful wife. ...


The second advantage of marriage is faith, not indeed that virtue which we receive in Baptism; but the fidelity which binds wife to husband and husband to wife in such a way that they mutually deliver to each other power over their bodies, promising at the same time never to violate the holy bond of Matrimony. ..... Matrimonial fidelity also demands that they love one another with a special, holy and pure love; not as adulterers love one another but as Christ loves His Church. ...


The third advantage is called the Sacrament, that is to say, the indissoluble bond of marriage. ... [5]

The second document I will look at was published much closer to our proper period, in 1880, and is an Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae. On Christian Marriage. Here the propagation of the human race is mentioned as an end of marriage, but so is mutual help and happiness of husband and wife:

"If, then, we consider the end of the divine institution of marriage, we shall see very clearly that God intended it to be a most fruitful source of individual benefit and of public welfare. 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. This comes about in many ways: by their lightening each other's burdens through mutual help; by constant and faithful love; by having all their possessions in common; and by the heavenly grace which flows from the sacrament. Marriage also can do much for the good of families, for, so long as it is conformable to nature and in accordance with the counsels of God, it has power to strengthen union of heart in the parents; to secure the holy education of children; to temper the authority of the father by the example of the divine authority; to render children obedient to their parents and servants obedient to their masters." [6]


Parallel to this rich understanding of marriage there was another path of development. Here "the goal of marriage that is procreation came under gradually more frequent emphasis". [7] This became more and more clear during the nineteenth century and by the beginning of this century the "definition of marriage had become the product of a reductionist process. Simplicity and univocity had been secured. ... Two major elements from the ancient inheritance were the core of the definition, namely the primary goal of offspring, and the essential object of marital consent, the exchange of the parties' right to their sexual acts." [8] A new thing is the distinction between primary and secondary ends; this is actually the first time anything is called the primary end of marriage.

A background for the definitions of marriage in the Code of Canon Law 1917 is also the felt danger in the Church from modern society. The "doctrinal and legal crisis about marriage in Europe, which broke open in the 17th and 18th centuries, led to a decay in morals. Materialism, the propaganda of the neomalthusians (which obscured the end of marriage), the increasing number of divorces, etc., ended of by shaking the Christian convictions of not a few persons." [9]

As we just saw; in the period in which the Code was promulgated, the majority of canonists conceived marriage as a contract of yielding rights primarily to the body on the part of the spouses. "The Code ... did not give a definition of marriage, perhaps in the desire to avoid a formulation ... less responsive to the theological moral tradition (which tended to emphasise in marriage the community of persons, husband and wife) ... With respect to the ends of marriage, it followed the traditional thesis: it did not include conjugal love among the ends; it placed as the primary end the procreation and education of children, and as secondary ends the 'remedy for concupiscence' and 'mutual help'." [10] Here are a few of the canons from the Code:

Canon 1012.1 Christ our Lord elevated the contract itself of marriage between baptised persons to the dignity of a sacrament.
Canon 1013.1 The primary end of marriage is the procreation and nurture of children; its secondary end is mutual help and the remedying of concupiscence.
Canon 1013.2 The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which acquire a unique firmness in Christian marriage by reason of its sacramental character.

In Henry Davis S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology we have an example of how this new definition was used in practice. Davis' treatment of marriage is, as one would expect, very formal: "Marriage is the lawful contract between man and woman by which is given and accepted the exclusive and perpetual right to those mutual bodily functions which are naturally apt to generate offspring." [12] The primary purpose of the contract is the generation and education of offspring and the secondary purpose is mutual help and the allying of concupiscence. Soon it becomes even more technical: "Marriage as a contract has, for its material object, the persons who enter into the contract. Its formal object is the mutual relation of the contracting parties, to the exclusion of others ..." [13]

Later Davis mentions the two essential properties of marriage. The first is its unity or exclusiveness, which is due to the fact that marriage is an "exclusive contract". [14] The second essential property is its indissolubility whilst both parties to it are alive. "It is intrinsically indissoluble in the sense that the parties cannot dissolve the bond, and this stability is derived from Natural law itself." [15]

Then Davis defines the two purposes of marriage: "The primary and essential purpose of marriage, intended by God, is the procreation and upbringing of offspring. This is an obvious postulate of nature, foe man has this ineradicable tendency." [16] As Davis is writing this book the personalists have presented their alternative understanding, and he argues strongly against them: "No other primary purpose than procreation and the rearing and education of offspring can be rationally maintained. ... This is due to nature itself, and is imposed by Natural law, for Natural law commands man to work out his ultimate perfection. It is, therefore, absurd to think that the purpose of marriage is in any true sense the sexual self-expression of man and woman." [17] After this the secondary and also essential purposes of marriage are mentioned; mutual help and "the allaying of or lawful outlet for concupiscence", [18] described in the traditional (and very technical) way. Finally Davis defines the three "Specific and Substantial Benefits" of marriage, bonum prolis, fidei, Sacramenti, referring often to the then latest Encyclical, Casti Connubii. [19]

This tradition started by the 1917 Code continues in many ways in the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI from 1930, Casti Connubii. On Christian Marriage. Here the pope uses words like: "For each individual marriage, inasmuch as it is a conjugal union of a particular man and woman, arises only from the free consent of each of the spouses; and this free act of the will, by which each party hands over and accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage ..." [20] He also says something very similar to the new tradition that marriage has a primary end: "To take away from man the natural and primeval right of marriage, to circumscribe in any way the principal ends of marriage laid down in the beginning by God Himself in the words 'Increase and multiply,' is beyond the power of any human law." [21]

It is important to note, though, that the primary/principal ends are mentioned in plural, not singular as in the 1917 Code. Pius XI also quotes Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum here, showing that this emphasis on the most important ends of marriage didn't start with the Code of Canon Law. Indeed, it has always been the teaching of the Church, and still is. The novelty was that offspring was identified as the singular, primary end of marriage, and all other ends were secondary.

The Code of Canon Law also limited the definition of marriage very much, from the more elaborate and rich definitions often seen earlier, e.g. in the Roman Catechism. And already in Casti Connubii Pius XI breaks with the new, limited definition, since he "brings to the forefront an element that had once been named clearly in the Catechism of the Council of Trent, but which had since then been almost entirely forgotten. This element is a kind of love specific to marriage, called in the Latin of the encyclical first amor, then caritas." [22]

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. ... 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 ... [23]

And he doesn't stop here, but goes on to say that a "sharing of life" is the chief purpose of marriage, when marriage is looked at more widely, clearly showing that the definition of marriage in Canon Law didn't say everything there was to say about marriage. This important paragraph was soon the be quoted in Herbert Doms' book the Meaning of Marriage. [24]

This mutual moulding 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. [25]

Twenty years after this encyclical, in 1951, Pope Pius XII gives a talk to the association of Italian Midwives, where he presents a very restrictive view of marriage, a much more limited description than the one in Casti Connubii. This is, I think, due to the tension and the debate about marriage that 'raged' the last twenty before this speech. Books on marriage by Herbert Doms and others personalist had for example. been banned in 1944, a fact that Pius XII actually refers to in his speech. The speech is also indicative of the end of Pius XII's pontificate; in the early 50's the Vatican authorities reacted against and censored several modern theologians. Here the midwives are told that "Personal values" and the need to respect such are a theme which, over the last twenty years or so, has been considered more and more by writers. In many of their works, even the specifically sexual act has its place assigned, that of serving the "person" of the married couple." [26]

This is not in agreement with the teaching of the Church, says Pius XII, who then goes on to define the primary end of marriage as the upbringing of new life, and explicitly says that the other ends of marriage are less superior:

Now, the truth is 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 but the procreation and upbringing of a new life. The other ends, inasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, much less superior to the primary end, but are essentially subordinated to it. ...
It was precisely to end the uncertainties and deviations which threatened to diffuse errors regarding the scale of values of the purposes of matrimony and of their reciprocal relations, that a few years ago (March 10, 1944) .... the Holy See, by a public decree, proclaimed that it could not admit the opinion of some recent authors who denied that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of the offspring, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinated to the primary end, but are on an equal footing and independent of it.

The pope doesn't want to deny or diminish what is good and just in personal values resulting from matrimony, and is somehow open to a wider description of marriage. But, he insists, these "must not be divorced completely from the primary function of matrimony - the procreation of offspring." [28] This is of course also the teaching of Vatican II, Paul VI and John Paul II, and for me this example clarifies what this discussion is really about: It is not about now many things that can be included in a wide definition of marriage, but rather what is the most important element of the definition, or about the usefulness or possibility of a narrow and technical definition of marriage. There is obviously also quite a bit of misunderstanding, since words and definition a used in different ways by the authors represented in this essay.


From 1951 we need to backtrack about twenty years to look at the view of marriage that increasingly challenged the Code of Canon Law's very limited definition. This new view was suppressed, but at the beginning of the Vatican Council in 1963 it had obviously had a great impact on the bishops nearly all over the world. To study this new personalist understanding of marriage, we look at Herbert Doms' book The Meaning of Marriage, published in English in 1939, but written in German a few years earlier.

Herbert Doms starts his famous book by saying that "there is a great deal of confusion in the modern world on the subject of marriage - its purpose, essential nature and, consequently, the laws that should govern it. In striking contrast to this confusion, Catholic tradition seems at first sight to adopt a very firm position towards marriage in maintaining that it is first and foremost an institution ordained for the procreation and education of children, an end to which all the other ends are to be subordinated." [29] Doms continues to say the Canon Law is very clear on this point and that this view originally comes from St. Thomas Aquinas. [30] A large part of Doms is actually used to discuss and attack St. Thomas' view on marriage, and partly also St. Augustine's view (e.g. on p. 46). A whole chapter with this discussion is not included in the English edition, though, since the publishers considered it to be too technical.

The teaching of the Church on marriage is not well received in the moderns days of the 1930s, though, mainly because new knowledge acquired through psychology understands marriage in a very different way. More attention is given to the actual relationship between husband and wife and theologians have started to "distinguish between the meaning and the purpose of marriage and of physical union, and to specify community in love as the 'meaning.'" [31]

And, very surprisingly for many, this "emphasis on marriage as a community rather than as merely an institution to reproduce and educate children has for centuries been part of the teaching .. of the Catholic Church." [32] Doms identifies two streams of thought; one regarding the child as the principal purpose of marriage and the other putting more emphasis on the unity of husband and wife, and the help they give one another.

Doms then identifies several theologians and other sources that give an alternative to view of marriage in the 1917 Code. First he mentions St. Bonaventure and St. Alphonso Ligouri and he quotes extensively from the Roman Catechism. This catechism that was published after the council of Trent gives as the first reason why man and woman should marry precisely the community of the sexes: [33] "This catechism lays far more emphasis than does St. Thomas on the need of husband and wife for intimacy and on the supernatural basis of their deep moral community. It explains why Christ chose just this sanctified union of man and woman as symbol of His intimate union with the Church." [34]

He mentions several other theologians and finally arrives at the Encyclical published only a few years before his own book. "Discussion of this point has recently been very lively. The Encyclical Casti Connubii has taken it into account in refusing to consider marriage just as an institution for the generation and upbringing of children. ... It is a matter of great importance that the Encyclical should have adopted this position. There has of course been no fundamental change of attitude; love and community of life have always been recognised as a true purpose of marriage, if not the first purpose. The Encyclical is important because it provides a timely recognition that we are not unjustified in looking at marriage from a point of view different from that of St. Thomas." [35]

Through several chapters Doms looks at sex and procreation and says among other things that: "There is no doubt at all that the chief biological reason for having sexual differentiation in plants and animals is to preserve and propagate the species", but is it the only or the chief reason for the sexual differences between man and woman? [36] For humans sex is very important and "is easily the most powerful factor of all social and cultural structures. .. The sexual act originates in the depths of the spirit because it is freely willed and involves the giving of the whole personality to somebody else." [37]

Doms claims that the sexual apparatus is meant to "serve husband and wife at least as much as it is meant to serve their children. ... Men and women are drawn together by their desire for completion. They want as persons only to fulfil each other. But thanks to nature they tend, when they do this, to procreate new human beings." [38]

Doms sums up his main points in this way:

The immediate purpose of marriage is the realisation of its meaning, the marital two-in-oneship. In the process of this realisation a community of fundamental importance for human society is formed. This intimate community is marriage. As a result of marriage two human beings come to live a life single in everything from religious community to sexual. But the presence of sexual community is what expressly constitutes marital community, for every other community can be realised outside marriage. By marriage we mean the enduring love-relationship of two grown-up persons of different sex, who come together to form one indivisible and indissoluble community of life in which they can fulfil and help each other. The supreme point of intimacy in this community occurs when they become one in the marriage act. This two-in-oneship of husband and wife is a living reality, and the immediate object of the marriage ceremony and their legal union. This vital two-in-oneship is to some extent a purpose in itself. But it also acts powerfully on the personalities of husband and wife, tough in such a way that the individuality and independence of each is not lost in the union. ... The child assists their own fulfilment, both as a two-in-oneship and as separate individuals. But society is more interested in the child than in the natural fulfilment of the parents and it is this which gives the child primacy among the natural results of marriage.
Thus we distinguish the meaning from the purposes of marriage and maintain that the immediate purpose of the marriage ceremony and the permanent legal bond is the realisation of this meaning. In so doing we vindicate those theologians who think that "the highest and most important purpose of marriage is undivided community of life for man and woman". Our distinction recognises and substantiates what is right of this doctrine, but retains few of its dangers.

Doms, von Hildebrand and other theologians with similar view met resistance, as we have already seen. But it is important to point out that Doms was not a 'liberal' and that he didn't attack the moral teaching of the Church in any way. He says very clearly for example that marriage is for life. And the reasons he gives for this view is an integral part of his understanding of marriage. It is because the sexual act is a complete self-giving; it "can only be fulfilled in an indissoluble marriage." [40] Likewise he argues against artificial contraception: "To put an artificial object in the way of this fulfilment (i.e. the man's seminal fluid entering the woman's vagina) represents a corruption of the integrity of the act itself." [41] This last argument is very similar to Humanae Vitae, and the teaching of John Paul II.


Before Vatican II marriage had been described in many different ways by the Church: As a consent to a union between a man and woman, with the end of procreating and educating children, a "conjugal society" (Leo XIII), a "spiritual and moral union" (Pius XII in 1953) or simply "the idea of consent to the yielding of mutual right to the body" (Codex Iuris Canonici, 1917). [42] Ramón García de Haro insists that "the Magisterium had never understood conjugal love as a secondary end of marriage. Therefore, Vatican Council II will be able to locate it - without disturbing but rather developing the Tradition - as the formal, life-giving principle of the conjugal community: a community of life and love, whose end is the procreation and education of children." [43]

The task assigned to the Council, according to de Haro, was "to find, in a world that was progressively becoming de-Christianised, appropriate ways for bringing to life the rich doctrine of the Church" [44] and apply this to marriage and several other issues. Applied to marriage, the only solution that would work, was to "awaken once more the energies planted by God in the family, promoting .. holiness in marriage and in the family, in the midst of the world, and in this way lead the world back to God." [45]

The Council absolutely needed to speak about marriage in a human and pastoral way, and less with juridical and technical terms. In addition to this change of language, the understanding of language had also developed in some areas. One change we already have looked at is the new personalist understanding of marriage, which by 1963 had influenced the bishops more than most people expected. One example of this influence is Karol Woytila's book Love and Responsibility from 1960. Another important change was a reintroduction of biblical terms to describe marriage, most important of all the term covenant.

The result of all this is that the way marriage is described in the documents of the Council clearly changed; the word end disappears - especially primary and secondary ends, and the former third end; remedy for concupiscence is taken completely out - , the word covenant is used instead of contract (except in some translations of Gaudium et Spes) and the love between husband and wife is more clearly described than ever before. The Council really accomplished a lot in defining doctrinal questions that had not been fully resolved before: It expressed "more precisely the nature of the conjugal covenant in a way that would foster a better understanding of the place of conjugal love within marriage (and it) shed light on the relationships between love and procreation." [46]

When we turn to Vatican Council's Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes. The Church In The Modern World, we can identify three important truths that are affirmed about marriage: 1) Marriage is presented as a specific vocation to holiness, in a way never previously done in a document of the Magisterium. 2) (The most important point for this essay) The definitions of "the role of conjugal love in the structure of marriage, (is) a necessary aspect for understanding its dynamism and (was) at the time the subject of no little polemics, due both to an inexact understanding of the data of Tradition and to the influence of ideas nourished by the growing selfishness of the environment." [47] 3) The relationship between love and procreation is clarified.

It is impossible to do justice to Gaudium et Spes in this essay; I will only quote a little bit from No. 48 - showing how well the Council fathers were able to reconcile and integrate all the discussed areas of the understanding of marriage - and add two comments:

The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the conjugal covenant of irrevocable personal consent. Hence by that human act whereby spouses mutually bestow and accept each other a relationship arises which by divine will and in the eyes of society too is a lasting one. .... 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. [48]

The first thing to note is that the former perceived tension between love and the institution of marriage is resolved and seen to be complementary in this document. "Love and the institution 'come to be in a mutual and essential dependence, and they constantly require each other: love has need of the institution in order to be conjugal, and the institution of marriage always implies a radical exigency to be enlivened by love.'" [49]

Secondly, the document also resolves the much debated question about the ends of marriage. Gaudium et Spes teaches as the Church always has taught, that conjugal love has as its intrinsic end the procreation and education of children. The new is that this is the end both of the institution of marriage and of conjugal love. [50] (See quote from GS, no. 48 above.) "The most novel affirmation of GS, and that which signals true theological advance of the issue, is that conjugal love - and not only marriage - has as its end the procreation and education of children." [51]

Soon after the Council, in 1968, Pope John Paul II published his Encyclical Letter: Humanae Vitae, On the Regulation of Birth. This document is of course famous (or for some infamous) for its teaching on contraception, but it also has a very rich teaching on conjugal love. Developing further what had been accomplished at the Council, it marks a deepening of the personalist conception of marriage. In it, conjugal love is described as "destined not only to give life to the personal communion of the spouses, but it is the way in which they cooperate with God in giving life to a new human person. By their mutual self-donation, the spouses not only 'seek a communion of persons' in order 'perfect each other', they also through this communion, 'share with God the task of procreating and educating new living beings'." [52]

The love between husband and wife are also described in this beautiful way in the Encyclical:

Conjugal love reveals its true nature and nobility when it is considered in its supreme origin, God, who is love, "the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named."
Marriage is not, then, the effect of chance or the product of evolution of unconscious natural forces; it is the wise institution of the Creator to realise in mankind His design of love. ...
This (conjugal) love is first of all fully human, that is to say, of the senses and of the spirit at the same time. It is not, then, a simple transport of instinct and sentiment, but also, and principally, an act of the free will, intended to endure and to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul, and together attain their human perfection.
Then, this love is total, that is to say, it is a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations. Whoever truly loves his marriage partner loves not only for what he receives, but for the partner's self, rejoicing that he can enrich his partner with the gift of himself.

The last document we will look at in some depth is also the place where the Church's teaching on marriage and the family is most developed. In 1981 Pope John Paul II published the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio, On the Family, a document he himself called: "A summa of the teaching of the Church on the life, the tasks, the responsibilities, and the mission of marriage and of the family in the world today." [55]

The exhortation is a result of the fifth Synod of Bishops in Rome in 1980. Therefore the document gathers together the proposals of bishops from all over the world, and in it the teaching of Vatican II on marriage and the family is "deepened and amplified." [56] John Paul II's own interest in and teaching on marriage from as early as the late 50's is clearly also a reasons for the document's clarity and profound content. It is a very long exhortation and I will only mention a few aspects from Part II: The Plan of God for Marriage and the Family. This part discusses the notion of marriage, its fundamental structure and its origin in the conjugal covenant.

In this Part II marriage is presented as a community of persons, brought to life by love and at the service of life. The principal novelty of Familiaris Consortio in this respect is "in the profundity with which it succeeds in showing how the various goods and properties of marriage flow from the very reality of the person and of his innate vocation to love. This allows it to deepen the personalist concept of conjugal love, already shown to be so fertile in Gaudium et Spes. .. Moreover, the rooting of the person in the person of the image of God who is Love gives to the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage an incomparable attractiveness." [57]

The origin of conjugal love, a love that is both faithful and exclusive, is rooted in, and the spouses are united in the fact that that they are created in the image of God:

God created man in his own image and likeness: calling him to existence through love, he called him at the same time for love.
God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in his own image and continually keeping it in being. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion. Love is therefore the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being.

The exhortation also sheds new life on the relationship between conjugal love and procreation. Like Gaudium et Spes it insists on the fact that the ordination to life is not a characteristic only of the institution of marriage, but also of conjugal love itself: "According to the plan of God, marriage is the foundation of the wider community of the family, since the very institution of marriage and conjugal love is ordained to the procreation and education of children, in whom it finds its crowning." [59]

Familiaris Consortio takes a new step in deepening the Catholic doctrine on this matter, when it shows, "in vigorous language, that the tendency to give life is the deepest inclination of true love, its essential truth": [60]

In its most profound reality, love is essentially a gift; and conjugal love, while leading the spouses to the reciprocal "knowledge" which makes them "one flesh," does not end with the couple, because it makes them capable of the greatest possible gift, the gift by which they become co-operators with God for giving life to a new human person. Thus the couple, while giving themselves to one another, give not just themselves but also the reality of children, who are a living reflection of their love, a permanent sign of conjugal unity and a living and inseparable synthesis of their being a father and a mother. [61]

Finally (in my brief study of the document), the understanding of marriage is deepened even more when it is stated that the community of marriage and conjugal love reach their proper perfection in Christ. Christ on the cross is the fullness of the revelation of God's love for us, and the sacrament of marriage then "becomes a sign of and a participation in the new Covenant." [62]

This revelation reaches its definitive fullness in the gift of love which the word of God makes to humanity in assuming a human nature, and in the sacrifice which Jesus Christ makes of himself on the cross for his bride, the church. In this sacrifice there is entirely revealed that plan which God has imprinted on the humanity of man and woman since their creation, the marriage of baptised persons thus becomes a real symbol of that new and eternal covenant sanctioned in the blood of Christ. The Spirit which the Lord pours forth gives a new heart, and renders man and woman capable of loving one another as Christ has loved us. Conjugal love reaches that fullness to which it is interiorly ordained, conjugal charity, which is the proper and specific way in which the spouses participate in and are called to live the very charity of Christ, who gave himself on the cross. [63]

To conclude this treatment of the third period I will include a few quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1993), that show how well the conflicts and disagreements of the first part of the century have been resolved with and after the Council:

On the Sacrament of matrimony

1643 Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. ...
1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory."

On the 6th commandment

2364 The married couple forms "the intimate partnership of life and love established by the Creator and governed by his laws; it is rooted in the conjugal covenant, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent." Both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are no longer two; from now on they form one flesh. ...
2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfilment. ...


Finally we will look a little bit on how these main three traditions for understanding marriage are founded in Scripture and Tradition. At first sight they seem to use mostly the same tradition, at least when it comes to Scriptures; where they all refer to Genesis, Jesus in Matthew 19, Paul in 1 Corinthians and Ephesians, and sometimes other New Testament writing. There is sometimes also an indirect reference to the ancient Roman and German tradition of marriage, much discussed in the Middle Ages. There is only one exception here: The Code of Canon Law 1917 has taken out all references to the Bible, from where they used to be in the older compilations of the Canons.

Also when it comes to Church Tradition the use is fairly similar in the different documents. In Arcanum, 1880, St. Jerome is referred to several times, and St. Augustine is mentioned two times in the text and two times in the footnotes.

In Casti Connubii, 1930, St. Augustine is quoted more than in any other document - 10 times in the text and as many times in the footnotes - indicating the dependence on St. Augustine for this more narrow definition of marriage in this Canon Law tradition.

In Gaudium et Spes, 1965, the Scripture references are the normal ones and both Pius XI and Pius XII are quoted in addition to St. Augustine (4 times in footnotes) and St. Thomas (3 times in footnotes).

Humanae Vitae, 1968, refers to St. Thomas once but not at all to St. Augustine. In addition to this, several document from II Vatican Council are referred to and so are the (old) Roman Catechism.

Familiaris Consortio, 1981, is the only document to have a few references to Old Testament books other than Genesis - Hosea and Ezra. The Church Fathers St. Tertullian and St. John Chrysostom is also referred to addition to St. Augustine, two times, and St. Thomas four times.

I also mentioned earlier in the essay (page 8) how Herbert Doms argues strongly against St. Thomas and partly against St. Augustine and how he later (page 9) agrees more with St. Bonaventure and St. Alphonso Ligouri and finds much support in the Roman Catechism.



Theodore Mackin S.J., What is Marriage? Marriage in the Catholic Church. Paulist Press, New York 1982.
Ramón García de Haro, Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1993

HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS (ordered chronologically)

1563 Council of Trent, 24th Session. Doctrine of the Sacrament of Matrimony and Decree Concerning the Reform of Matrimony (Tametsi)
1566 Catechism of Trent, The Sacrament of Matrimony
1880 Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae. On Christian Marriage. February 10, 1880
1917 Code of Canon Law 1917, Title VII, Marriage
1930 Encyclical of Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii. On Christian Marriage, December 31, 1930
1935 Henry Davis S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, Volume IV, Sheed & Ward, London 1935
1939 Herbert Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, Sheed & Ward, London 1939
1951 Pope Pius XI, Allocution to Midwives, October 29 1951.
1960/81 Karol Wojtyla / Pope John Paul II, Love and Responsibility, Collins London, 1981
1965 Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes. Pastoral Constitution On The Church In The Modern World. Proclaimed by Pope Paul VI on December 7, 1965.
1968 Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Humanae Vitae, On the Regulation of Birth, July 25 1968.
1981 Apostolic Exhortation of Pope John Paul II Familiaris Consortio, On the Family, November 22, 1981
1983 The Code of Canon Law, A Text and Commentary. Canon Law Society of America, Paulist Press, New York 1985.
1987 Donum Vitae, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation Issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, February 22, 1987.
1993 Catechism of the Catholic Church. (Geoffrey Chapman, London 1994)
1994 Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families, February 22, 1994.


1 Theodore Mackin: What is Marriage? Marriage in the Catholic Church, p. 9
2 Mackin, p. 15
3 Mackin, p. 265-266
4 Mackin, p. 198
5 Catechism of Trent, The Sacrament of Matrimony
6 Leo XIII's Encyclical: Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, 1880, no. 26
7 Mackin, p. 198
8 Mackin, p. 203
9 Ramón García de Haro: Marriage and the Family in the Documents of the Magisterium, p. 97
10 de Haro, p. 96
11 Code of Canon Law 1917, Title VII, Marriage
12 Henry Davis S.J., Moral and Pastoral Theology, Volume IV, 1935, p. 49
13 Davis, p. 50
14 Davis, p. 58
15 Davis, p. 59
16 Davis, p. 64
17 Davis, p. 64
18 Davis, p. 65
19 Davis, p. 65
20 Pius XI's Encyclical, 1930, Casti Connubii, no 6
21 Casti Connubii, no. 8, here quoting Encyclical Rerum Novarum, 1891
22 Mackin, p. 217
23 Casti Connubii, no. 23
24 On page xxi in Herbert Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, 1939
25 Casti Connubii, no. 24
26 Pope Pius XI, Allocution to Midwives, 1951
27 Allocution to Midwives
28 Allocution to Midwives
29 Herbert Doms, The Meaning of Marriage, 1939, p. xv
30 Doms, p. xv
31 Doms, p. xvi, here quoting Dietrich von Hildebrand.
Doms, p. xvi
33 Doms, p. xvii
34 Doms, p. xvii-xviii
35 Doms, p. xxi-xxii
36 Doms, p. 10
37 Doms, p. 14
38 Doms, p 36
39 Doms, page 95
40 Doms, p. 56
41 Doms, p. 72
42 de Haro, p. 200
43 de Haro, p. 200
44 de Haro, p. 207
45 de Haro, p. 209
46 de Haro, p. 208
47 de Haro, p. 215
48 Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in The Modern World, no. 48
49 de Haro, p. 240, quoting Gil Hellín, El lugar proprio del amor conyugal, p. 35
50 de Haro, p. 243
51 de Haro, p. 244
52 de Haro, p. 294, with quotes from Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, Humanae Vitae, 1968, no. 8
53 Humanae Vitae, no. 8
54 Humanae Vitae, no. 9
55 de Haro, p. 333
56 de Haro, p. 334
57 de Haro, p. 342
58 Familiaris Concortio no. 11
59 Familiaris Consortio, no. 14, par. 1
60 de Haro, p. 346
61 Familiaris Consortio, no. 14, par. 2
62 de Haro, p. 347
63 Familiaris Consortio, no. 13, par. 3

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