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States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church/Part 1/Section 1/Article 1/Chapter 2

< States of Christian Life and Vocation, According to the Doctors and Theologians of the Church‎ | Part 1/Section 1‎ | Article 1

Chapter 2: Is Marriage ObligatoryEdit

ACCORDING to Suarez, marriage was, by natural right, binding on our first parents after their fall ; but this obligation held good only for the case of necessity to propagate and sustain the human race, as the precept of almsgiving urges only when the needs of some individuals demand it.[1] " It is difficult for me to admit," continues this great theologian, " that, after the days of our first parents, there ever was a time when this law was imperative for all men, or even for any one of them in particular. For, as soon as the need ceased, the obligation must also have come to an end ; or, if it lasted beyond that, it could not do so for a long time. I have, therefore, demonstrated, from Scripture and the fathers, that in the Old Law there was, with regard to marriage, no command binding all men ; and I have shown that many holy persons led a single life : which is proof that celibacy was not forbidden. It is very likely that among the heathens many, even before the Mosaic dispensation, abstained from marriage, and were never blamed for so doing by the philosophers and historians of best repute. In those times, therefore, marriage was not considered obligatory ; and if, then, there existed no obligation in regard to it, we have now far greater evidence that it does not bind under the law of grace."[2]

" At present," says the catechism of the Council of Trent, " since the human race is sufficiently multiplied, not only there is no command ordaining marriage, but virginity is highly recommended and counselled to every one in Holy Writ."[3]

Suarez confesses that marriage is necessary in the Church of Christ for the preservation of the human race.[4] But it does not follow that any individual, taken separately, is bound to enter that state; otherwise, as St. Thomas observes, we should say, for a like reason, that an individual man is bound to engage in agriculture, to be a mason, or to follow some other of the various trades which are indispensable for society.[5]

" Human nature," adds the same great doctor, "inclines one man to one employment, and an other to a different one, according to the diversities of individual character. Through this diversity, combined with the providence of God, which moderates all things, one man embraces this condition of life, agriculture, for instance, while another follows something quite different. In precisely the same way, some adopt marriage, and others devote themselves to a contemplative life, without any danger to society."

" Some rare cases may present themselves," says Suarez, " in which, for the sake of peace, the conversion of a country to the faith, or some other similar public good, a person may, from charity, have a duty to get married."[6] Mark well, that there is question here of the temporal or spiritual good of an entire country ; not merely of the good of a single individual. According to Sanchez, whom St. Liguori styles very wise and pious, and according to St. Liguori himself, a man who has dishonored a young woman under promise of marriage, is bound to marry her.[7]

"I cannot admit," says Suarez, " that a man can be in such a moral danger of falling into sins against chastity as to be obliged to matrimony in order to avoid them ; for, to shun occasions and overcome temptations, he always has the means supplied by prayer, fasting, and other remedies of that nature."[8] On this point St. Liguori professes the same doctrine as Suarez. In his mind, the man who, from frequent falls, has had experience of his own weakness, would be obliged to get married, in case he would not take other means to avoid a relapse; but there is no one, provided he wills sincerely, that cannot use salutary remedies for his cure. For, who is there that has not, under his hands, the powerful arm of prayer, with which every passion can be conquered ?[9]

This doctrine of the great saint condemns such as make no effort to throw off their sinful habits, expose themselves thoughtlessly to every kind of danger, neglect to ask God through the sacraments and prayer, the assistance of which is in dispensable for them, and still keep away from marriage, so as to lead, with greater freedom, a disorderly life.

This is the place for the question which St. Liguori puts : "Is a child bound to obey his parents who order him or her to marry ?" The holy doctor answers : " The common opinion is that the child is not obliged." He then quotes another theologian, whose teaching he prefers : "All that a parent is allowed to do here is to request his child to marry for some just cause, such as the preservation of the family." In the same place, the saint brings forward another authority that says : "A parent can in nowise force his child to marry who has a desire to enter a better state ; that is to say, religious life or celibacy. "[10]

With the exception, then, of rare cases, no one is bound to marry. "He that giveth her not" (his daughter in marriage), "doth better," says the apostle (i Cor. vii, 38), "than he that giveth." These last words are St. Thomas commentary, who adds : " No one has a right to a reward for transgressing a precept." Now, a special reward, namely, the aureola, or halo, is due to virgins: therefore, marriage is not compulsory.


  1. Suarez, De voto castitatis, c. i, n. 6.
  2. Suar., De voto castitatis, lib. 9, c. i, n. 7.
  3. Catech. Cone. Trid. de ma trim., 14.
  4. Suar., De statu perfectionis, lib. I, c. ii, n. 14.
  5. St. Th., Supplem., q. 41, a. 2.
  6. Suar., De voto castitatis, lib. 9, c. ii, n. 7.
  7. St. Lig., Theol. Mor., lib. 3, tr. 2, n. 209, ed. Taurin. Sanch., De y. matrim., lib. I, Disp. 4.
  8. Suarez, ibid., c. ii, n. 8.
  9. St. Lig., Theol. Mor., lib. 3, tr. 2, n. 209.
  10. Ibid., lib. 6 ; tr. 6, n. 850.