Understanding the Purpose of Marriage

As promised, here is the first follow-up to my first post on this blog, A Natural Law Argument for Premarital Chastity, Marital Fidelity, and Traditional Marriage.  It is no secret that marriage is widely under attack today.  We live in an age where fornication, adultery, divorce, contraception, and homosexual activity are paramount and viewed as normal by so much of society, even though the natural law makes it clear that these are unnatural and wrong.  Hence, it is important to consider carefully exactly what the nature of marriage is, and the specific ways that these things violate it.

To recap, my argument is that the very concept of marriage grew out of a universal recognition that any two people who wish to perform the sexual act, whereby children are conceived, must be fully committed to living together and maintaining an exclusive relationship with each other, for the rest of their lives.  This is in order to enable the couple to raise their mutual children together, because the good of the children requires that both parents be present in their upbringing.  Seen this way, it becomes apparent that, as the 1917 Code of Canon Law explained, “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children.” (See Canon 1063)

But this does not resonate with many people today, who are unable to recognize the basic tenet that the primary purpose of the sexual act is fact procreation.  After all, it is argued, very few acts actually result in the conception of child, whereas all acts bring about pleasure and intimacy (or at least are intended to).  Why would a result that only occurs a small fraction of the time be the primary purpose of something?  And furthermore, people typically perform the sexual act looking for pleasure, intimacy, and bonding more so than hoping to procreate.

There are two basic ways to answer this objection.  The first is that there are other cases where the primary purpose of something is not occurring as frequently as is some secondary benefit.  The same rationale could be used to argue that the primary purpose of a quiet country road or residential road is not actually for cars to drive on, but merely to separate the one side from the other (e.g. to separate the farmer’s field from the houses).  After all, many quiet roads have cars driving on them only sporadically, but their continuous presence serves as a clear boundary between spaces that is always present. 

But this argument is ridiculous.  It is recognized that, however infrequently cars may be coming through, they do need a road to drive on when they are there, and it was for that purpose that the road was paved.  If separating the field from the houses was the only thing to be accomplished, that would probably be done by building a wall or a fence instead of paving a road.  Likewise, God had to devise a means for bringing new children into the world, and it is for that purpose that He created men and women with a natural ability and desire to be sexually intimate with each other.  And as Pope Pius XII explained in his famous 1951 Allocution to Midwives:

If nature had aimed exclusively, or at least in the first place, at a reciprocal gift and possession of the married couple in joy and delight, and if it had ordered that act only to make happy in the highest possible degree their personal experience, and not to stimulate them to the service of life, then the Creator would have adopted another plan in forming and constituting the natural act.

The second answer to the objection about pleasure and bonding is to understand the important role these things play in the nature of marriage and family.  It makes sense (even from what secular scientists call an ‘evolutionary advantage,’) that the sexual act should bring about pleasure because it is what gives the incentive to perform the act, and therefore allow the human race to survive.  Also, as seen above, the purpose of marriage is not merely to procreate children (which could just as easily be accomplished by sleeping around, as many species of animals do) but to provide a proper environment in which to raise them, by keeping both parents together and involved in the children’s upbringing.  It is for this reason that the sexual act also forms a deep personal bond between the spouses- it helps to keeps them together, in order to keep their family together.

Hence, we can see that God’s plan for sexuality, marriage, and family are all interconnected and well designed.  Feel free to add any comments or suggestions!

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