30 October 2015

Understanding the Nature of Marriage (2) – Marriage as a Natural Union

Today I continue my exposition of the Roman Catechism's chapter on the Sacrament of Matrimony.  The previous installment is here.  As before, 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.
When these matters have been explained, it should be taught that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union, since it was not invented by man but instituted by nature; or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature.
[Matrimony can be considered under two different aspects. Matrimony as natural union is an exercise of a function of human nature and sociability; Matrimony as a Sacrament transcends the capacities of human nature and is an operation of grace.  Furthermore, it is important to note that natural matrimony is not a human invention but a natural institution, i.e. a mode of activity which follows from the very nature of the human species, and was established for us by the author of nature, God.]
As grace perfects nature, and as that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual, the order of our matter requires that we first treat of Matrimony as a natural contract, imposing natural duties, and next consider what pertains to it as a Sacrament.
[Grace perfects, and does not destroy, nature.  To properly understand the work of grace, one ought to understand the natural order which it perfects.  If one does not understand what it means to anoint, the sacramental anointing in Confirmation will have less meaning.  If one does not understand the natural idea of sacrifice, the Eucharistic sacrifice will make little sense.  Likewise in the order of exposition, natural matrimony ought to precede sacramental matrimony, as the ground on which the house is erected.]
The faithful, therefore, are to be taught in the first place that marriage was instituted by God. We read in Genesis that God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying: "Increase and multiply"; and also: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself." And a little further on: But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam; and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built a rib which he took from Adam. into a woman, and brought her to Adam; and Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man: wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh," These words, according to the authority of our Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew, prove the divine institution. of Matrimony.
[The the account in Genesis which unites the creation of man by God with the institution of marriage, together with the words of Christ in St. Matthew's Gospel prove that marriage is a divine institution, and not merely a human convention.]
Not only did God institute marriage; He also, as the Council of Trent declares, rendered it perpetual and indissoluble.' What God hath joined together, says our Lord, let not man separate.  Although it belongs to marriage as a natural contract to be indissoluble, yet its indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a Sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection. In any event, dissolubility is at once opposed to the proper education of children, and to the other advantages of marriage.
[By nature all marriages are indissoluble, including natural marriages.  There are two reasons for this:
  1. Dissolubility is opposed to the natural goods for which marriage was instituted: mainly the primary good of begetting and rearing children, but also the secondary goods of mutual aid and friendship.  If marriage were not the sort of thing that cannot be dissolved, these goods would no longer be safeguarded by its guarantee of lifelong care and fidelity.
  2. Sacramental marriage is essentially indissoluble, as will be discussed later, and because natural marriage is ordered to the perfection of sacramental marriage, it naturally participates to an extent in the perfection of the higher form of the bond.]
The words increase and multiply, which were uttered by the Lord, do not impose on every individual an obligation to marry, but only declare the purpose of the institution of marriage. Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness. For our Lord and Saviour taught as follows: He that can take it, let him take it; and the Apostle says: Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord; but I give counsel as having obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful.
[The text adds a clarification: the text in Genesis, "increase and multiply", indicates what marriage as a natural institution is for (procreation), and does not make it binding on all mankind.  Again it is emphasized that virginity is superior to marriage, as a state of life which invites greater perfection and holiness.  Christ and St. Paul both attest to this fact in Scripture.]
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.
[There are three reasons why people should join in the natural union of marriage. These reasons are not given in order of priority, since the second is the primary reason (as will be explained shortly). The first reason people should join in natural marriage is that marriage fulfills a natural instinct for companionship between men and woman, whereby each is aided by the other in the difficulties of life and 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. That such was the principal object of the holy Patriarchs when they married is clear from Scripture. Hence the Angel, when informing Tobias of the means of repelling the violent assaults of the evil demon, says: I will show thee who they are over whom the devil can prevail; for they who in such manner receive matrimony as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. He then adds: Thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayest obtain a blessing in children. It was also for this reason that God instituted marriage from the beginning; and therefore married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime ­­ nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder.
[The second reason people should join in natural marriage is for the sake of family and to rear children in the service of God. This was the reason God established the natural institution of marriage. The text offers several warnings along with this reason for marriage:
  • First, that the desire for family should not be based primarily on a desire for heirs to whom we can pass on our material possessions.
  • Second, it gives an arresting quotation from the book of Tobit, in which the angel warns Tobias against marrying in order to indulge his lusts, and says that those who do are easy victims for the devil.
  • Third, it warns that those who employ medicines (or medical procedures) for contraception or abortion are guilty of "nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder".]
A third reason has been added, as a consequence of the fall of our first parents. On account of the loss of original innocence the passions began to rise in rebellion against right reason; and man, conscious of his own frailty and unwilling to fight the battles of the flesh, is supplied by marriage with an antidote by which to avoid sins of lust. For fear of fornication, says the Apostle, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband; and a little after, having recommended to married persons a temporary abstinence from the marriage debt, to give themselves to prayer, he adds: Return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.
[The third reason people should join in natural marriage is that it serves as a remedy for the unruliness of the passions (concupiscence) which accompanies the fallen state of human nature.  The text cites St. Paul's advice that married couples should refrain from relations to give themselves up to prayer, but not to the point where their passions drive them to incontinence.]
These are ends, some one of which, those who desire to contract marriage piously and religiously, as becomes the children of the Saints, should propose to themselves. If to these we add other causes which induce to contract marriage, and, in choosing a wife, to prefer one person to another, such as the desire of leaving an heir, wealth, beauty, illustrious descent, congeniality of disposition such motives, because not inconsistent with the holiness of marriage, are not to be condemned. We do not find that the Sacred Scriptures condemn the Patriarch Jacob for having chosen Rachel for her beauty, in preference to Lia.
[Finally, the text notes that, given the three motives for entering into marriage listed above, it is not wrong for people to have additional, more worldly motives, including the preference of a particular person on account of wealth, beauty, personality, or descent, or the desire to beget an heir.]
So much should be explained regarding Matrimony as a natural contract.

Summary of Today's Catechesis

  1. Marriage can be considered from two points of view: as a natural union, and as a sacrament.
  2. Natural marriage was established by God at the creation of mankind, and is not a human convention.
  3. Sacramental marriage builds on and supernaturally perfects natural marriage.  Therefore the proper understanding of sacramental marriage depends on a clear understanding of natural marriage.
  4. All marriage is naturally indissoluble, first because indissolubility is necessary to protect the goods for which marriage is contracted; second, because all marriage is ordered to the essential indissolubility of sacramental marriage.
  5. Virginity is preferable to marriage, as being more conducive to perfection and growth in sanctity.
  6. Not everyone is bound to marry.
  7. There are three principle reasons why people should enter into the natural union of marriage:
    —First, to fulfill the natural human inclination for mutual aid and companionship from those of the opposite sex.
    —Second, to rear children in faith and service to God.  This is the primary reason for marriage, the reason for which it was instituted by God.
    —Third, as an alternative to fornication, for the unruly passions of fallen humanity.
  8. It is wrong to desire marriage principally as a way to beget an heir.
  9. It is likewise wrong to desire marriage merely in order to give oneself over to lust.
  10. Contraception and abortion are grave evils, equivalent in gravity to murder.
  11. It is not wrong to add to the principle reasons for marrying other accessory motivations, such as beauty, congeniality, descent, wealth, or the desire for an heir, though these ought not to be the principle reason for marrying.