Monday, August 21, 2006

The Primary End of Marriage, Part 1: Church Documents

Here is a list of Church documents and Early Church Fathers I compiled that shows procreation to be the primary end of marriage. This list is probably not entirely exhaustive, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. I haven't seen a compilation like this on the internet, so this will be a helpful post to prove that the procreative principle of the marriage act should never be neglected for the sake of the unitive principle or to regulate the sexual urge.

Rerum Novarum (On Capital and Labor) : May 15, 1891
Pope Leo XIII
  • 12. The rights here spoken of, belonging to each individual man, are seen in much stronger light when considered in relation to man's social and domestic obligations. In choosing a state of life, it is indisputable that all are at full liberty to follow the counsel of Jesus Christ as to observing virginity, or to bind themselves by the marriage tie. No human law can abolish the natural and original right of marriage, nor in any way limit the chief and principal purpose of marriage ordained by God's authority from the beginning: "Increase and multiply."[3] Hence we have the family, the "society" of a man's house—a society very small, one must admit, but none the less a true society, and one older than any State. Consequently, it has rights and duties peculiar to itself which are quite independent of the State.

    3. Gen. 1:28.

Arcanum (On Christian Marriage) : February 10, 1893
Pope Leo XIII
  • 10. Furthermore, the Christian perfection and completeness of marriage are not comprised in those points only which have been mentioned. For, first, there has been vouchsafed to the marriage union a higher and nobler purpose than was ever previously given to it. By the command of Christ, it not only looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of children for the Church, "fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God";[16] so that "a people might be born and brought up for the worship and religion of the true God and our Savior Jesus Christ."[17]

    16. Eph. 2:19.
    17. "Catech. Rom.," ch. 8.

Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage) : December 31, 1930
Pope Pius XI
  • 11. Thus amongst the blessings of marriage, the child holds the first place. And indeed the Creator of the human race Himself, Who in His goodness wishes to use men as His helpers in the propagation of life, taught this when, instituting marriage in Paradise, He said to our first parents, and through them to all future spouses: "Increase and multiply, and fill the earth."[12] As St. Augustine admirably deduces from the words of the holy Apostle Saint Paul to Timothy[13] when he says: "The Apostle himself is therefore a witness that marriage is for the sake of generation: 'I wish,' he says, 'young girls to marry.' And, as if someone said to him, 'Why?,' he immediately adds: 'To bear children, to be mothers of families'."[14]

    12. How great a boon of God this is, and how great a blessing of matrimony is clear from a consideration of man's dignity and of his sublime end. For man surpasses all other visible creatures by the superiority of his rational nature alone. Besides, God wishes men to be born not only that they should live and fill the earth, but much more that they may be worshippers of God, that they may know Him and love Him and finally enjoy Him for ever in heaven; and this end, since man is raised by God in a marvelous way to the supernatural order, surpasses all that eye hath seen, and ear heard, and all that hath entered into the heart of man.[15] From which it is easily seen how great a gift of divine goodness and how remarkable a fruit of marriage are children born by the omnipotent power of God through the cooperation of those bound in wedlock.

    12. Gen., 1, 28.
    13. I Tim., V, 14.
    14. St. August., De bono coniug., cap. 24 n. 32.
    15. I Cor., II 9

Allocution to Midwives : October 29, 1951
Pope Pius XII
  • The primary end of marriage

    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, iasmuch as they are intended by nature, are not equally primary, much less superior to the primary end, but are essentially subordinated to it. This is true of every marriage, even if no offspring result, just as of every eye it can be said that it is destined and formed to see, even if, in abnormal cases arising from special internal or external conditions, it will never be possible to achieve visual perception.
note: all the paragraphs in this section of the pope's address affirm procreation as the primary end of marriage.

Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World) : December 7, 1965
Second Vatican Council
  • 48. The intimate partnership of married life and love has been established by the Creator and qualified by His laws, and is rooted in the jugal 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. For the good of the spouses and their off-springs as well as of society, the existence of the sacred bond no longer depends on human decisions alone. For, God Himself is the author of matrimony, endowed as it is with various benefits and purposes.[1] All of these have a very decisive bearing on the continuation of the human race, on the personal development and eternal destiny of the individual members of a family, and on the dignity, stability, peace and prosperity of the family itself and of human society as a whole. 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. Thus a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love "are no longer two, but one flesh" (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons and of their actions. Through this union they experience the meaning of their oneness and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union and the good of the children impose total fidelity on the spouses and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them.[2] [. . .]

    50. Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) and "Who made man from the beginning male and female" (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: "Increase and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.

    Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. [. . .]

    1. Cf. John XXIII, encyclical letter, Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961: AAS 53 (1961), pp. 401-464, and encyclical letter Pacem in Terris, April 11, 1963: AAS 55 (1963), pp. 257-304; Paul VI encyclical letter Ecclesiam Suam, Aug. 6, 1964: AAS 54 (1864) pp. 609-659.
    2. Cf. Luke 17:33.

Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth) : July 25, 1968
Pope Paul VI
  • 9. [. . .] And finally this love is fecund for it is not exhausted by the communion between husband and wife, but is destined to continue, raising up new lives. "Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents."[8]

    12. That teaching, often set forth by the magisterium, is founded upon the inseparable connection, willed by God and unable to be broken by man on his own initiative, between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning. Indeed, by its intimate structure, the conjugal act, while most closely uniting husband and wife, capacitates them for the generation of new lives, according to laws inscribed in the very being of man and of woman. By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of true mutual love and its ordination towards man's most high calling to parenthood. We believe that the men of our day are particularly capable of seeing the deeply reasonable and human character of this fundamental principle.

    8. Cf. II Vat. Council, Pastoral const. Gaudium et Spes, No. 50.

Jennaya Arias' article On the Primary Purpose of Marriage is helpful. In it she writes:
  • "Traditionally speaking, the primary purpose of marriage is the generation and nurturing of offspring; the second purpose is the mutual help of spouses, and the third is the remedy for concupiscence."1
This first footnote is helpful as well. It reads as follows:
  • 1 Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Rockford, IL: Tan Books, 1974), p. 462. Here Ott references the 1944 decision of the Holy Office, which clearly reaffirmed that the primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and upbringing of children. Even though many (if not all) of the documents of the Magisterium on this topic since Vatican II have not explicitily organized the ends of marriage in terms of primary and secondary, nonetheless, none of these documents teach anything which cannot be interpreted in terms of the 1944 decision of the Holy Office. That in the Pope's mind, at least, no change has been made on this matter of Church teaching, can be seen in the Holy Father's work, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1981), pp. 66-69. Therein, the Holy Father lays out, in no equivocal terms, the traditional teaching of the Church on this matter both as unchanged and as unchangeable. Although this work is non-magisterial in character, it is nonetheless quite significant insofar as it expresses the mind of the Holy Father. In the same section of the work, the Pope also makes the important point that the second end of marriage, namely, "mutual help," should not be translated as "mutual love," as it sometimes has been. This would be a mistake since it would seem to limit love between spouses to the second end of marriage, as if it were somehow separable from the first and third ends. Rather, the Holy Father teaches that love must be the indispensable moral environment in which the three ends of marriage are pursued. This present essay should be read as in complete agreement with what the Holy Father says on these matters.

Here are the sections from Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and from Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility that are referenced in the footnote:
  • Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma
    Section 2. Purpose and Properties of Marriage
    1. Purpose
    The primary purpose of Marriage is the generation and bringing-up of offspring. The secondary purpose is mutual help and the morally regulated satisfaction of the sex urge. (Sent. certa.) CIC 1013, Par 1.
    In their efforts to evaluate marriage as something more than a personal contract, many modern theologians, as against the traditional teaching of the purpose of marriage, whose principal exponent is St. Thomas, have submitted that the primary prupose of marriage is the mutual completion and personal perfection of the marriage partners, or their mutual love and unity. The Holy Office, in the year 1944, in answer to an enquiry, re-asserted the traditional teaching, according to which the primary purpose of marriage is the generation and bringing up of children, and according to which the secondary pruposes of marriage are essentially subordinate to the primary one. Denzinger 2295.

  • Love and Responsibility
    As we come to the end of this part of the discussion, which was intended to give a correct interpretation of the sexual urge, in part by eliminating incorrect interpretation, some conclusions connected with the traditional teaching on the ends of marriage ask to be drawn. The Church, as has been mentioned previously, teaches, and has always taught, that the primary end of marriage is procreatio, but that it has a secondary end, defined in Latin terminology as mutuum adiutorium. Apart from these, a tertiary aim is mentioned -- remedium concupiscentiae. Marriage, objectively considered, must provide first of all the means of continuing existence, secondly a conjugal life for man and woman, and thirdly a legitimate orientation for desire. The ends of marriage in the order mentioned are incompatible with any subjectivist interpretation of the sexual urge, and therefore demand from man, as a person, objectivity in his thinking on sexual matters, and above all in his behavior. This objectivity is the foundation of conjugal morality.

Now, some claim that Vatican II lifted up the other ends of marriage so that they are on the same playing field as the procreative end. "Era Might" from Phatmass explains why this in fact has not been done:
  • Primary End of Marriage: Parts One and Two
In my next post I will provide the testimony from the Early Church Fathers.

Pax Christi,

PS: I realize that I do not have the proper citation for the sections from Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma and Love and Responsibility that I have provided here. I will find these citations as soon as possible.


  1. Why are you citing CIC 1917 and not CIC 1983 with respect to marriage definition?
    ( - Can. 1013
    ( - Can. 1055

  2. Where did I cite the 1917 Code? I don't see that source listed in my post.


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