28 October 2015

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (1)

For some time, I have wanted to review basic Catholic doctrine on the Sacrament of Matrimony. In today's post I will work through the first part of the Roman Catechism's chapter on Marriage. The text of the Catechism is given in red and each paragraph is summarized in black. Passages I find especially important are set in boldface.  

Those who find the wording of the Catechism difficult are invited to read only the summaries, or to skip to the end, where the essential points of the text are restated in short form.

As it is the duty of the pastor to seek the holiness and perfection of the faithful, his earnest desires must be in full accordance with those expressed by the Apostle when writing to the Corinthians: I would that all men were even as myself, that is, that all should embrace the virtue of continence. No greater happiness can befall the faithful in this life than to have their souls distracted by no worldly cares, the unruly desires of the flesh tranquilized and restrained, and the mind fixed on the practice of piety and the contemplation of heavenly things.
[The Church first sets forth the teaching of St. Paul: that continence, i.e. perfect chastity without marriage, is the ideal.  To be sure, marriage has its own dignity, as will be discussed shortly, but as a state of life, perfect chastity is preferable to marriage. This is because in perfect chastity the soul is distracted by no worldly cares (i.e. the material concerns which accompany family life), and the desires of the flesh are tranquilized and restrained (as opposed to the marriage debt, which is owed by the spouses to each other), leaving us free to devote ourselves to piety and contemplation.]
But as, according to the same Apostle, every one has his proper gift from God, one of this sort, and another of that sort; and as marriage is bestowed with great and divine blessings, so much so as truly and properly to hold a place among the other Sacraments of the Catholic Church, and as its celebration was honoured by the presence of our Lord Himself, it is clear that this subject should be explained, particularly since we find that St. Paul and the Prince of the Apostles have in many places minutely described to us not only the dignity but also the duties of the married state. 
[Although perfect chastity is preferable, marriage is still greatly blessed, is truly a sacrament, and was a subject of concern to Ss. Peter and Paul, and to Christ Himself.  Therefore it should be discussed.]
Filled with the Spirit of God (these Apostles) well understood the numerous and important advantages which must flow to Christian society from a knowledge, and an inviolable observance by the faithful of the sanctity of marriage; while they saw that from ignorance or disregard of (its holiness), many and serious calamities and losses must be brought upon the Church.
[Moreover, a proper understanding of matrimony is very advantageous to Christian society, and the ignorance of the sanctity of marriage tends to bring serious calamities upon the Church.]
The nature and meaning of marriage are, therefore, to be first explained. Vice not infrequently assumes the semblance of virtue, and hence care must be taken that the faithful be not deceived by a false appearance of marriage, and thus stain their souls with turpitude and wicked lusts. To explain this subject, let us begin with the meaning of the word itself.
[As a good teacher, the Church names the sacrament and defines it first, to avoid confusion about the subject matter, and to avoid the improper identification of matrimony with things that are not matrimony.]
The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother; or from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth and train her offspring.
[The first name of the sacrament comes from its intrinsic connection to the bearing of children.]
It is also called wedlock (conjugium) from joining together, because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke.
[The second name comes from the "common yoke" which husband and wife share.  Note that they are united by a yoke, which signifies a burden of mutual care for each other, and, above this, for something which they bear together: children.]
It is called nuptials, because, as St. Ambrose observes, the bride veiled her face through modesty ­­ a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject and obedient to her husband.
[The third name comes from the order obtained within the marital bond: the obedience of wife to husband.  The veil also represents the modesty of the bride, and therefore also the chastity of both bride and groom.]
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.
[Matrimony is defined, in general.  Note that this definition is not specific to either sacramental or natural marriage, but applies to both.  Matrimony is:
  • a conjugal union
  • of man and woman
  • contracted between two qualified persons
  • which obliges them to live together throughout life.]
In order that the different parts of this definition may be better understood, it should be taught that, although a perfect marriage has all the following conditions, ­­ namely, internal consent, external compact expressed by words, the obligation and tie which arise from the contract, and the marriage debt by which it is consummated; yet the obligation and tie expressed by the word "union" alone have the force and nature of marriage.
[The Church distinguishes between perfect and imperfect marriages:

In an Imperfect Marriage (which still possesses the force and nature of marriage) there is internal consent and an external compact expressed in words, which produce an obligation and bond between the bride and groom, but without consummation of the bond.

In a Perfect Marriage the marriage debt is fulfilled by the consummation of the bond in intercourse.]
The special character of this union is marked by the word "conjugal". This word is added because other contracts, by which men and women bind themselves to help each other in consideration of money received or other reason, differ essentially from matrimony.
[Matrimony differs essentially from useful friendships or contracts of convenience which are entered for the sake of material convenience or profit.]
Next follow the words "between qualified persons"; for persons excluded by law cannot contract marriage, and if they do their marriage is invalid. Persons, for instance, within the fourth degree of kindred, a boy before his fourteenth year, and a female before her twelfth, the ages established by law, cannot contract marriage.
[The Church teaches that only those qualified to enter into marriage can do so: marriages between unqualified persons, whether on account of consanguinity or age or some other impediment, are not only illicit, but also invalid.]
The words "which obliges them to live together throughout life", express the indissolubility of the tie which binds husband and wife.
[Marriage as such is taught to be indissoluble, and this indissolubility is not specific to sacramental marriage, but covers both forms, generically.]
Hence it is evident that marriage consists in the bond spoken of above. Some eminent theologians, it is true, say that it consists in the consent, as when they define it: The consent of the man and woman. But we are to understand them to mean that the consent is the efficient cause of marriage, which is the doctrine of the Fathers of the Council of Florence; because, without the consent and contract, the obligation and tie cannot possibly exist.
[This paragraph contains two points:
  1. The essence of marriage consists in the tie or bond between husband and wife.
  2. The marital bond is brought about by the internal consent and external words of the pair.
Additionally, it cites the Bull of Union with the Armenians, which was promulgated in the 8th Session of the Council of Florence, on 22 November 1439.  This decree contains a wonderful summary of the Christian Faith, and includes in particular this paragraph on Matrimony:
The seventh [Sacrament] is the Sacrament of Matrimony, which is a sign of the union of Christ and the church according to the words of the apostle: This sacrament is a great one, but I speak in Christ and in the church. (Eph 5:32) The efficient cause of matrimony according to the rule is mutual consent expressed in words about the present.  A threefold good is attributed to matrimony.  The first is the procreation and education of children for the worship of God.  The second is the mutual fidelity of the spouses to each other.  The third is the indissolubility of marriage, since it signifies the indivisible union of Christ and the church.  Al though separation of bed is lawful on account of fornication, it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a legitimately contracted marriage is perpetual.]
It is most necessary that the consent be expressed in words denoting present time.
[In other words, the marriage vows must not take the form "I did", or "I will", or "I would", but "I do".  The vows are speech-acts, by which a person manifests a present consent and intention to bind himself to another.  This is emphasized below.]
Marriage is not a mere donation, but a mutual agreement; and therefore the consent of one of the parties is insufficient for marriage, the consent of both being essential.
[The Church rejects the idea of marriage as a transfer of property between two families, and sees the bond as based on the mutual consent of the spouses.]
To declare this consent words are obviously necessary. If the internal consent alone, without any external indication, would be sufficient for marriage, it would then seem to follow as a necessary consequence, that were two persons, living in the most separate and distant countries, to consent to marry, they would contract a true and indissoluble marriage, even before they had mutually signified to each other their consent by letter or messenger ­­ a consequence as repugnant to reason as it is opposed to the decrees and established usage of holy Church.
[An outward demonstration of consent is necessary, so as to avoid all sorts of absurd situations.]
Rightly was it said that the consent must be expressed in words which have reference to present time; for words which signify a future time, promise, but do not actually unite in marriage. Besides, it is evident that what is to be done has no present existence, and what has no present existence can have little or no firmness or stability. Hence a man who has only promised to marry a certain woman acquires by the promise no marriage rights, since his promise has not yet been fulfilled. Such promises are, it is true, obligatory, and their violation involves the offending party in a breach of faith. But he who has once entered into the matrimonial alliance, regret it as he afterwards may, cannot possibly change, or invalidate, or undo what has been done.
[Again, the words expressing consent must reflect a present act and intention.]
As, then, the marriage contract is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man actually yields the dominion of his body to the woman, the woman the dominion of her body to the man, it must therefore be made in words which designate the present time, the force of which words abides with undiminished efficacy from the moment of their utterance, and binds the husband and wife by a tie that cannot be broken.
[The marriage contract is a transfer of right, by which each spouse gives dominion of his or her body to the other.  Note that the act of submission and donation is mutual, and not on the part of the woman only, or the man only.]
Instead of words, however, it may be sufficient for marriage to substitute a nod or other unequivocal sign of internal consent. Even silence, when the result of female modesty, may be sufficient, provided the parents answer for their daughter.
[The particular mode by which consent is expressed can be adjusted according to the needs of the situation.  Note that the essential form of the act of contracting matrimony is a mutual expression of consent to the bond, generally, and not with any particular formula (in contrast to the Sacrament of Baptism, for example).]
Hence pastors should teach the faithful that the nature and force of marriage consists in the tie and obligation; and that, without consummation, the consent of the parties, expressed in the manner already explained, is sufficient to constitute a true marriage. It is certain that our first parents before their fall, when, according to the holy Fathers, no consummation took place, were really united in marriage. Hence the Fathers say that marriage consists not in its use but in the consent. This doctrine is repeated by St. Ambrose in his book On Virgins.
[The text emphasizes again the following points:
  • that the force and nature of marriage consists in the bond and mutual obligation of the spouses
  • that an unconsummated marriage is still truly a marriage, though imperfect.
In support of the latter point, it raises the interesting case of the marriage of Adam and Eve, prior to the fall: there is no doubt that they were truly wed (since Scripture itself attests to this), though Scripture also seems to indicate that they had not yet consummated the bond, since this is mentioned only later on.]

Summary of Today's Catechesis:

  1. Perfect Chastity is preferable to Marriage as a state of life, because it leaves the soul free to devote itself to piety and contemplation.
  2. Marriage has been bestowed with many blessings and is a true Sacrament.
  3. Ignorance of the nature of Matrimony is deeply injurious to the Church.
  4. Marriage has three names:
    —Matrimony, which reflects its essential connection to childbearing;
    —Conjugium (wedlock), which indicates that the spouses are yoked together;
    —Nuptials, which indicates the chastity and modesty of the spouses, and the submission of wife to husband.
  5. Matrimony is defined as follows: the conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.
  6. Impediments to marriage (for example, age or consanguinity) render it invalid, regardless of the intention of the pair.
  7. An imperfect marriage, which has been properly contracted but not consummated, is still a true marriage.
  8. Marriage (including natural marriage) is lifelong and therefore indissoluble.
  9. The essence of marriage is the bond which ties husband and wife together for life.
  10. The internal consent and external expression of consent is the cause which brings about the marriage bond.
  11. Consent must be expressed in words denoting the present, not a future promise.
  12. Consent must be mutual; marriage is not a mere donation.
  13. Consent must be expressed outwardly, and not merely in the mind.
  14. By their consent, the two spouses each surrender dominion of their bodies to the other.
  15. The words by which consent may be expressed can be adjusted according to the needs of the situation.