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Theology

Q. What is the primary purpose of marriage? In your book, Sex and the Marriage Covenant, you start your section on the purposes of marriage with this sentence: "The overriding purpose of marriage is the mutual holiness of husband and wife" (p. 54, Ignatius edition). Yet Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii quoted Canon Law to state that "The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children." Vatican II stated that "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children." How do you reconcile your statement with these others?
-PM

R. The answers to your questions are complex. There is no question that from the perspective of society the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children. If children are not born in sufficient numbers, the human race will become extinct. We see the mini-version of this in Europe where the birth rates of the traditional nationals of almost every country are well below the replacement level. Further, if children are not educated in the ways of the Lord, civilization is extinguished. We see the mini-version of this in some American cities where a self-perpetuating underclass of boys and girls in fatherless families has produced a level of crime and violence that creates an atmosphere of fear far beyond the ghetto. On the other hand, it was Pope Pius XI who also wrote as follows in Casti Connubii:

This mutual inward molding 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 (para 24).

Perhaps we can look at it this way. The overriding purpose of life is to grow in faith and holiness in this life so that we can be with God in heaven for all eternity. That purpose of life should color all our relationships, and it certainly defines the chief purpose of matrimony.

Within marriage and with that understanding of the overriding purpose of life and marriage, we can ask ourselves about the relationship between two other purposes of marriage-1) the development of married love or spousal bonding and 2) the procreation and education of children. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a simple question and answer.

338. For what ends has God instituted Matrimony?
The marital union of man and woman, which is founded and endowed with its own proper laws by the Creator, is by its very nature ordered to the communion and good of the couple and to the generation and education of children. According to the original divine plan this conjugal union is indissoluble, as Jesus Christ affirmed: "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mark 10:9).

In that answer, there was no talk about primary and secondary purposes of marriage and the marriage act, but that does not rule out such discussion. As indicated above, it seems to me that we still need to emphasize that the primary purpose of both marriage and the marriage act is the procreation of children and their education in the ways of the Lord. That purpose is essential for the continuation of the Church, civilization, and humanity itself. That does not denigrate the purpose expressed above as "the communion and the good of the couple." After all, the bonding of the spouses is of utmost importance for themselves, for the good of their children, and for the good of society. The problem at present, however, is that a cultural emphasis on marital bonding has led too many married couples in the West to pursue the bonding purpose of marriage with a narrow vision that excludes God's wider plan for them. The vast majority have used contraceptive and abortifacient methods of birth control in their pursuit of spousal happiness. Collectively they are failing to continue their families, and that is having serious negative demographic consequences for their countries. Further, their focus on pleasure without progeny has led to a tragically high rate of marital and family unhappiness as reflected in high rates of separation and divorce.

There's more on this and related topics in Chapter Three of Sex and the Marriage Covenant: A Basis for Morality. -JFK