Understanding the Purpose of Marriage, Part II

Once it has been demonstrated that the primary purpose of the sexual act is the procreation of children, the rest falls into place.  The reason that marriage exists is that children can be raised by both their parents.  Marriage has been part of every human society, because it is that deeply ingrained in human nature.  But now it is very little understood, due to faulty thinking patterns that have been ingrained in society for decades, and must be newly evaluated.

            For example, another common objection to traditional marriage today is, Marriage isn’t essentially about procreation.  Marriage is for love.This is used to justify contraception and, more famously, homosexual activity, even homosexual marriage. This objection is based on inverted priorities.  It is true that erotic love is an undeniable phenomenon.  It is true that, when two people make a decision to marry each other, they typically make that decision based on a strong personal attraction, which has hopefully developed into true personal love.  (Indeed, the concept of love itself is constantly abused and little understood- a topic that will be discussed in a future post.) 

But, what this objection fails to consider is the reason why erotic love and attraction exist, why it is typical for men and women to fall in love with each other.  And the natural law makes the answer obvious- this is the way the human race survives.  If men and women did not have a strong mutual attraction to each other, they would not be inclined to marry or perform the sexual act, and then there would be no procreation.  Hence, it is clear that, just as procreation is the primary purpose of the sexual act, the purpose of sexual attraction is to lead to procreation.

To understand this concept, it is necessary to recognize the concept of absolute morality, which many today are unwilling to.  It is also important to understand that there can be a difference between individuals’ intentions and the inherent nature of something.  Individual young couples may or may not have children on their minds when they first fall in love; having children may or may not be their primary interest or top priority when they get engaged and married.  They may simply be acting on their desire to spend the rest of their lives together. 

And this is all right.  Granted, it would be a more perfect intention if they are eager to have and raise children, but any desire that does eventually spawn them to do so can be considered sufficient.  In the Catholic understanding, the only intention that actually prohibits a valid marriage is if the couple are deliberately and specifically excluding the possibility of children, because only then is the nature and purpose of marriage being violated.

Lastly, it is important to understand the integrated whole that our human nature is, according to God’s design.  There is no reason that two goods must be mutually exclusive of each other or must contradict each other.  The Church does clearly teach that married love and the joy of sexual intimacy within marriage are gifts from God.  Everything that God has created is good.  The Church also teaches that spouses are called to provide mutual help and support to each other, and to help each other achieve holiness.  Human nature is designed to desire marriage and find fulfillment in the perfect companionship of marriage. 

This actually makes perfect sense.  Why would God design a plan for marriage and the family that was not meant to be mutually agreeable to all parties involved?  Why would God call spouses to commit to living together and raising children together, without also intending them to find fulfillment and happiness in each other? Essentially, then, it is important to understand that the primary end of marriage does not equal the only end.  The fact that children are the primary purpose of marriage does not mean that the close, faithful companionship between spouses was not intended by God as well, and is not meant to be a great blessing in itself. 

Hence, Canon 1063 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, cited in the previous post, actually reads in full, “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; its secondary end is mutual help and the allaying of concupiscence.” (emphasis added)  So we can see that God designed the procreation and education of children to go hand-in-hand with the good of the spouses, that the two were not meant in any way to conflict with each other.  And this reinforces the more sound understanding that right reason is meant to bring us to.

The next post will further discuss how the issues of infertility, contraception, and homosexuality play into the nature and purpose of marriage.

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