The Goals of Marriage

“Thou hast ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight" (Wisdom 11:21). Whenever there is a multiplicity of purposes in something God made, there is always an order between these various purposes, one purpose will be more important than the other, and the second will depend on the first.  To invert that order can have disastrous consequences.

A perfect example of this is marriage which does have many purposes, or ends. There is the mutual love between the spouses, there is procreation, there is education, there is the remedy to concupiscence. What is first, what is second?  The traditional teaching of the Church is very clear: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary end is mutual support and a remedy for concupiscence”(CIC 1917, c.1013,1)

As we have seen in last week’s Bulletin, “God created man to his own image.. male and female He created them” (Gen 1:27).  And God said to them: “Increase and multiply”. Thus the first goal of marriage is clearly to transmit life, to bring new lives into this world in order to make them go to heaven.  That will essentially require education, as we know too well. Parents do not perform their duty completely just by having children; the children will need many years of solid education in order to be able to face life as adults and fulfill all their responsibilities in view to getting to heaven.  

The first goal is therefore double: procreation and the education of children. It is through this double first goal that the second goal will be obtained: a solid mutual love between the spouses. Children are truly the bond between husband and wife, it is the children that is the main reason for the indissolubility of marriage, since the children need their parents for more than 20 years, and then even when they become adults themselves, they still need the advice of their parents for many more years. We all know this!

This being said, what happens if one changes this order of the ends of marriage, if one puts the mutual love of the spouses before procreation and education? Many things: if the most important thing in marriage, if the first end were that love between husband and wife then, logically, the children would become a secondary end, and could even become an obstacle to that apparent love. Then, it would not be wrong to avoid having children, as long as there would be the mutual love between the spouses, because the purpose of marriage would still be fulfilled. For example, a young couple would then be entitled to avoid having children in the first years of their marriage in order to travel around the world, or to finish some studies.

During Vatican II, there were violent debates on this very point of the order of the ends of marriage. The liberal fathers were pushing for putting the mutual love first, while the conservative ones fought tooth and nail to maintain the traditional order. Sadly enough the liberals won that battle, and it is now inscribed in the new Code of Canon Law (1983), in its Canon 1055: “The marriage covenant… is ordered to the well-being of the spouses and to the procreation and upbringing of the children…”

(To be continued)