Thursday, 24 October 2019 19:47

Marriage and the Spousal Meaning of the Body - part 3

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This article is the third of a series of five articles. The five articles together make up a thesis writing on marriage and the spousal meaning of the body. This third article covers the first half of the third chapter of the thesis, on how the Theology of the Body in in continuity with historical Magisterial teaching.


 Chapter 3: Theology of the Body in Continuity with Historical Magisterial Teaching

This chapter will review the key concepts of four Magisterial documents for the purpose of conveying historical Magisterial teaching on matters concerning marriage, and to illustrate the continuity of the Theology of the Body with the teaching.  The four documents to be examined are: Arcanum, Casti Connubii, Gaudium et Spes, and Humanae Vitae.


The papal encyclical Arcanum begins by teaching that marriage is the beginning and foundation of the family union, having its origins in God and in His creation of the first man and woman when calling them be the natural beginning of the human race. Arcanum also emphasizes that marriage chiefly manifests two most excellent properties, unity and perpetuity. This explanation grounds the foundations of marriage in the very beginning, in the creation of man and woman, and also as part of the Divine plan, not originating as some construct of man. From the very beginning “marriage was indissoluble as God instituted it in creating man and woman. Their covenantal martial union was to be brought about not only by their mutual self-giving but by God himself. For that reason, marriage was sacred – and, in a sense, was a sacrament – from the beginning.” The theology of the body reiterates this same reality, pointing to the Divine authorship of marriage from very beginning of the creation of man and woman.

The properties of unity and perpetuity are also of importance, and point to characteristics which are integral to marriage; the loss of either of these properties would be a departure from the Divine plan, resulting in a crippled and inadequate version of marriage. The property of union gives insight into the sanctifying nature of marriage for the spouses, as their call to communion is ordered towards the expression of self-gift for the good of the other. The characteristic of perpetuity gives insight into the call of the marriage to be fruitful; welcoming, nurturing, and teaching the children which come forth from the union of the spouses, but also the call for the life-giving charity of the spouses to extend to those outside of the immediate family. The gift of charity of the spouses beyond the immediate members of the family has the effect of drawing others into communion with the family, and so further building up this particular cell of the Church and society, making it one with the larger body. This same idea of marriage exhibiting the properties of unity and perpetuity will later be echoed by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. In Humanae Vitae these properties are described as the unitive and procreative dimensions of marital love when looking at the conjugal union of the spouses. The ideas of the communion of the spouses and the self-gift of the spouses are also echoed in the theology of the body, foundational for spousal meaning of the body.

Arcanum continues to describe how it is that marriage has suffered defilement under the sins and vices of man, and how in light of this, God sought to ennoble marriage early in the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ by performing the first of His miracles at the marriage of Cana. “For this reason, even from that day forth, it seemed as if the beginning of new holiness had been conferred on human marriages.” Christ raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament, that by grace, a couple might be given the power to attain holiness in the married state; marriage was made an example of the mystical union between Christ and the Church. Having renewed and lifted up the dignity of marriage, Christ entrusted the care of marriage to His Church. 

Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son; and therefore there abides in it something holy and religious; not extraneous, but innate; not derived from men, but implanted by nature … marriage is holy by its own power, in its own nature, and of itself, it ought not to be regulated and administered by the will of civil rulers, but by the divine authority of the Church, which alone in sacred matters professes the office of teaching.

​As stated in the above quote, marriage is most appropriately regulated and administered by the divine authority of the Church. As such, matters concerning the decreeing and ordaining of marriage, belong to and are a duty of the Church and its ecclesiastical judges; such was the will of Christ Himself. In an attempt to draw the regulation and administration of marriage into the secular and civil sphere, civil authorities must take care in the manner in which they make a distinction between the sacrament and the matrimonial contract. While the civil authority has a right and a responsibility to regulate the civil effects of marriage (such as cohabitation, property laws, inheritance laws, etc.), the civil authority does not have a place in the creating or dissolving of a marriage bond, whether natural or sacramental. Civil authorities must not pursue the distinction between the sacrament and matrimonial contract in such a way as to produce a severance between the two in order to take upon themselves an authority which is not proper to them. Such a distinction is a severance, “for Christ our Lord added to marriage the dignity of a sacrament; but marriage is the contract itself, whenever that contract is lawfully concluded.” As civil authorities pursue the implementation of the false distinction between the sacrament of marriage and marriage contract, an attempt is made to remove Christian religion from this sphere of civil society, and marriage is robbed of the protection and wisdom of the Church. Without the necessary protection and guidance of the Church, marriage becomes subject to the sins and passions of man. The evil which flows from this affects families, communities, and the state itself. Without religion and the grace of God to protect and bring refreshment to marriage, its toils seem unbearable, and society then seeks to loosen its bonds; allowing divorce. Arcanum teaches that increased accessibility to divorce will only worsen the state of marriage, bringing about a new host of evils;

Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men.

One author describes this particular teaching of Arcanum, explaining that

While the proper regulation and administration of marriage belongs to the Church because it has been instituted by God for the preservation and increase of humanity, it has necessary relation to the circumstances of life and the civil order; thus the state is rightly involved. It is the will of God that the Church and state be distinct in power and sphere of operation, while each acting in harmony for the mutual betterment of man and society. For the part and responsibility of the Church, Arcanum guides that special care should be taken to ensure the good instruction of the people in the precepts of Christian wisdom. That by this instruction the faithful may acknowledge and remember that marriage was, from the beginning, instituted by God, and later raised by God to the dignity of a Sacrament so that the couple might be strengthened by the grace of God, and be provided a means of attaining holiness in their state of life.

Casti Connubii

The encyclical, Casti Connubii, makes reference to and builds upon the encyclical, Arcanum. Casti Connubii is describes the nature and dignity of Christian marriage, the advantages and benefits which follow for both the family and society, the errors and the vices opposed to conjugal union, and lastly describes the principal remedy.

Casti Connubii begins by reaffirming the foundational message of Arcanum, that marriage was instituted by God, and after being degraded by man, marriage was restored by God and elevated to the dignity of a Sacrament. Because of this, the laws which govern marriage cannot be made subject to human decree or to any contrary agreement of the couple themselves, but only to God and to the Church which God entrusted with the responsibility of safeguarding marriage. Arcanum taught that marriage exhibited the properties of unity and perpetuity, and the lacking or omission of either of these properties would result in an inadequate counterfeit to marriage. Casti Connubii joins to this explanation the wisdom of St. Augustine from his writing, De Bono Coniug. St. Augustine is quoted as saying that the many blessings of marriage can be divided into the three main blessings of: offspring, conjugal faith, and the Sacrament; and that the doctrine of marriage flows from the reality of these blessings. By offspring, children are begotten in love, and then raised, nurtured, and educated. By conjugal faith, husband and wife remain faithful to each other. Lastly, by the Sacrament, a bond is created which cannot be undone, providing a means for growth in holiness as the couple works to live out their marital vocation. These gifts flow from a marriage which is imbued with the properties of unity and perpetuity, as explained in the above section on Arcanum. Unity becomes a result of the one flesh reality of the spouses. Perpetuity, or indissolubility, is the result of a bond created by God which no man can undo. The combination of these properties are the reality which the blessing of offspring flows from, the circumstances within which conjugal faith can be fostered, and the foundation which can be elevated to the reality of a Sacrament to facilitate bringing about the purification and holiness of each of the spouses. Seen in this light, “marriage then is not just a means to have a family. The interpersonal encounter has its own unique experience of the moral good of marriage. The sharing of the semen in the conjugal action is the ratification of the interpersonal relationship already contracted by the parties in the order of providence.”

This model of marriage has been referred to as “procreative-union model.” It is a significant development in the theology of marriage as it has matured from the view of marriage as a physical-act-focused procreative institution, to include an understanding of how the graces and struggles of the Sacrament can effect the holiness of the spouses. In Casti Connubii, Pope Pius XI “makes a felicitous reference to the mutual inward moulding of the spouses, thereby stressing and promoting the importance of the aspect of love in marriage, an aspect which was hardly emphasized in most descriptions of marriage until then.” This focus on the importance of union of the spouses, and the mutual sanctification brought about through the circumstances and graces of marriage is recognizable also in the theology of the body. Once more, the proper understanding of the communion of the spouses, the language of the body, and the living out of the spousal meaning of the body through the gift of self are all in continuity with these teachings.

Casti Connubii continues to explain how true marriage forms an indissoluble bond by nature, even outside of the Sacrament, but how Christian marriage cannot be true unless it is a Sacrament. Looking first at non-Christian, non-Sacramental marriage, because of its being instituted by God, it is a perpetual and indissoluble bond which cannot be dissolved by any civil law. One author explains that this is due to the reality that 

All marriages as intended by God in the beginning of creation were covenantal: it is an essential aspect which was not introduced into the reality of marriage only in recent times, though obviously its clear perception and better understanding is an unquestioned achievement of the present day theological and canonical reflection.

Thus, in the case of non-Christians, in so far as they enter into a marriage as God intends, form a valid marriage not subject to any civil power. However, when considering Christian marriage, because Christ is the institutor and perfector of the holy Sacraments, and sign of grace, “the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons ‘without it being by that very fact a Sacrament.’” A couple cannot at one and the same time profess themselves to be Christian, incorporated into the Body of Christ, while wishing to form a union which is at the same time outside the sphere of the Sacramental graces which come to His Body through Him.

Casti Connubii next focuses on how the sanctity of marriage is being trampled upon shamelessly by society. Society puts forward divorce, adultery, and the basest vices in such a way so as to support them or depict them as acceptable and without consequence. This is seen in many writings, movies, radio, and all avenues of media. The encyclical cites that the lie at the source of the degradation of marriage is that man, and not God, is the author of marriage. This lie leads to many evil consequences as it propagates the notion that marriage is subject entirely to man and the shifting whims and circumstances of the times. This has led to evils against marriage which strike at its intended blessings of offspring, conjugal faith, and Sacrament. Such as: those which deliberately frustrate its natural power to generate life, taking the life of children in the womb, the destruction of mutual fidelity, the overturning of the place of husband as head of his household, the enslavement of women to the lusts of men, divorce, the breakdown of families, and the lack of moral formation of children.

​In response to this degradation of marriage Casti Connubii boldly proclaims that for marriage to be restored, there must be a return to God’s plan for marriage. To guide the faithful and recover marriage from the debasement of secular society, the Church sees with sound philosophy and sacred theology that “whatever things have deviated from their right order, cannot be brought back to that original state which is in harmony with their nature except by a return to the divine plan.” The main obstacle is lust, as it is the primary cause of sin against marriage, and for the passions of lust to be controlled, man must humble himself in reverence to God that he might be granted the graces to overcome his passions. The emphasis on the need for the interior conversion and purification of man is also emphasized by the Theology of the Body in John Paul II’s reflection on Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount (Mat 5:27-28). Where John Paul explains that to lust is to desire in such a way that the “experience of the value of the body in [where] its spousal meaning ceases to be spousal … [man] experiences more or less explicitly the detachment from that meaning of the body which stands at the basis of the communion of persons.” Men must then seek to re-associate the spousal meaning of the body with the value of the body, with the value of the person, in order to overcome the temptation of lust and pursue the divine plan for marriage and all relations between persons.

Casti Connubii next provides guidance for achieving theaim of the universal restoration of marriage, stating that the instruction of the faithful in the law of God, and diligent preparation for marriage are paramount. This preparation begins with the youth and adolescents, and is experienced through the example of holy marriages. Being that the most intimate opportunity for this formation and example can be found in the home, a great emphasis is placed on the role of parents. Parents are the primary formators of their children, and their marriage will likely become the example of marriage most familiar to their children. This responsibility is placed on the parents in addition to their responsibility to ensure the health and well-being of their children, calling them to provide for both the physical and spiritual needs of their children.

Public authorities are able to play a critical role in coming alongside parents in their mission of providing for the physical and spiritual well being of their children, thereby supporting the families of their community for the good of the community. Where the ability of the family and community does not suffice for the care of family, it is the responsibility of the public authority to support them; not only temporally, but with policy which protects and encourages the growth of chastity, reciprocal conjugal aid, and similar purposes. For as it has been observed throughout history “the prosperity of the state and the temporal happiness of its citizens cannot remain safe and sound where the foundation on which they are established, which is the moral order, is weakened and where the very fountainhead from which the state draws its life, namely, wedlock and the family, is obstructed by the vices of its citizens.”


Chris FernandezChris Fernandez was born and raised in south Florida. Chris studied at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, FL where he obtained a bachelors degree in aerospace engineering. In 2013, Chris received a certification in spiritual direction from Our Lady of Divine Providece, School of Spiritual Direction, in Clearwater, FL. Then in 2019 he received a masters degree in theology, with a concentration in spiritual theology, from Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, CT. Chris is a lay member of the Home of the Mother, currently living in Jacksonville, FL with his wife and three children.