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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 4

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

Chapter 4: End to be kept in View by those entering the Married StateEdit

"IT is no harm to wish marriage," says Suarez ; and he adds : " I confess, however, that the desire for marriage is not good merely for its object ; we must, besides, look to the end for which we wish it ; we must consider the motives that give rise to that desire."[1]

It would be criminal to enter that state while putting aside its essential end, or with the intention not to respect its serious duties and its sacred laws. Now, marriage, St. Liguori tells us, has two essential and intrinsic ends, which are : the reciprocal right over themselves which the spouses give to each other, and the indissolubility of the bond that unites them. Whoever, then, on getting married, would exclude positively both these ends, would not only sin grievously, but also render his marriage invalid. This is the common teaching of theologians.[2]

" The first motive that ought to actuate persons entering the married state is, therefore, the bond of a society in conformity with natural inclinations, which gives to each of the contracting parties the hope of mutual help in bearing the hardships of life, and the infirmities of old age."[3]

Marriage has, furthermore, two intrinsic, but accidental ends, continues St. Liguori, which are : children, and protection against sin. These two ends, to be good and praiseworthy, must be referred to God, if not actually, at least virtually and habitually.[4]

This teaching of St. Liguori is, likewise, that of the catechism of the Council of Trent, which develops it thus : The second motive (that should actuate people in getting married) is the desire to have children ; less, to leave heirs for their wealth and fortunes, than to bring them up in the practice of the Christian religion. This was the special object of the patriarchs ; hence, the angel, when teaching Tobias how to repel the attacks of the Evil Spirit, said to him : "Hear me, and I will show thee who they are, over whom the devil can prevail. For they who in such manner receive matrimony as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust . . . over them the devil hath power." (Chap, vi, 16, 17). And he added: "Thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children." (Ibid. 22.) The third motive that may be had, has been added to the others since the fall of our first parents. He who has experience of his weakness, and does not wish always to struggle against his temptations, may have recourse to marriage as a safeguard against sin.

These are the virtuous ends, some one of which is to be willed by him who seeks to contract marriage religiously and piously, as children of saints ought to do.

If, to these reasons, others are superadded, leading men to marry, or to prefer one spouse to another, for instance, to have an heir, wealth, beauty, birth, harmony of character, they cannot be condemned, since they are not at variance with the holiness of marriage. The Scripture addresses no reproach to Jacob for preferring Rachel to Lia on account of her beauty.[5] Yet, as St. Liguori remarks, it would be disorderly to enter marriage chiefly for ends accidental and extrinsic to that state, and not good in themselves. Hence, it would not be right to marry from vainglory, from avarice, or any view of that kind.[6]

Nowadays, unhappily, marriages are too often inspired, above all, by similar motives ; virtue is not taken into account, and perishable interests alone guide the calculations of a prudence reprobated alike by reason and by faith! Philip, Prefect of Egypt, pressed Saint Eugenia, his daughter, to give her hand to the son of a consul named Aquilius, whose nobility he extolled. Eugenia was, at that time, only fifteen, and she answered : "In a husband one must consider virtue, and not birth ; for he, and not his parents, is accepted in marriage." It is related that a father one day asked Themistocles, whether it were better to give one's daughter in marriage to a poor man with virtue, or to a rich man without virtue. "Were I in your place," replied Themistocles, "I would prefer a man with money to money without a man."[7] Christians, to-day, do not always rise to the same heights as pagan wisdom.

How long, O children of men ! will you love vanity, and seek after lying ? What blindness prompts you to pursue what flatters your self-love or your avarice, rather than what would make you happy ? Are you, then, ignorant that virtue alone holds the promises of the life that now is, and of the life to come ? It constitutes the bliss of marriage, and it is it that married persons should seek before all things. "A virtuous woman rejoiceth her husband, and shall fulfil the years of his life in peace. A good wife is a good portion: she shall be given, in the portion of them that fear God, to man for his good deeds." (Ecclus. xxvi, 2, 3.) And we can subjoin, that a young woman may look forward to a happy future only in so far forth as she chooses for her husband one who is a Christian, devoted to the faith of the Church, and to the practice of the duties which she prescribes.

Tertullian has drawn a picture of the sufferings of Christian women who, in his day, married unbelieving husbands. His words have a literal application to many who now marry the indifferent Christians in whom our age abounds: "Who can doubt that faith daily grows dim in the company of an unbeliever ? How can the wife keep God's law who has constantly at her side a companion of devils ? If there is question of going to the assemblies of the faithful, her husband seeks to draw her to profane places. When there should be fast, he commands a feast for the same day. Will that husband allow his wife to go around visiting the huts of the poor? Can you, O woman ! hide from him the sign of the cross which you make on your bed and on yourself? Can you, at night, without his notice, rise for prayer? Will he not consider your pious practices as sheer superstitions? What will he say to you? Will he speak of or read the Scriptures with you ? Where, then, will you find solace for your soul ? How bless the Lord with him, since there is no bond of union between you ?"[8]


  1. Suar., De statu perf., lib. I, c. ix, n. 28.
  2. St. Lig., Theol. Mor., lib. 6, tr. 6, n. 882.
  3. Catech, Cone. Trid. de matrim., n. 15.
  4. St. Lig., Theol Mor. t lib. 6, tr. 6, n. 882.
  5. Catech. Cone, Trid. de ma trim., n. 15.
  6. St. Lig., Theol. Mot., lib. 6, tr. 6, n. 883.
  7. Valer. Max. in auri fodina, voc. conjugium.
  8. Tertull., Ad tixor., lib. 2, c. ii, etc. Ed. Migne.