Marriage: a personalist or an institutional understanding? (Communio 19 (1992), 278-304)

Marriage: a personalist or an institutional understanding? (Communio 19 (1992), 278-304)

For a large part of this century, theologians, canonists and anthropologists have been engaged in a vigorous debate about the ends of marriage, and at times about its very nature. On the one hand was the traditional (often termed the "procreative" or "institutional") understanding, which presented the ends of matrimony in a clear hierarchical manner: a "primary" end (procreation) and two "secondary" ends (mutual help and the remedy for concupiscence). On the other hand, there had emerged a new view which, without necessarily denying the importance of procreation, wished at least equal standing to be given to other personalist values linking husband and wife: mutual love, the conjugal union in its spiritual and not just its physical aspect, etc.

As long as the traditional view held undisputed sway, which was right into the twentieth century, the practical consideration of marriage was left almost exclusively to moral theologians and canonists, the former principally centred on the ethical aspects of physical sexuality, the latter on the validity of "matrimonial consent (whose object was presented simply as the "ius in corpus"). Marriage was studied in virtue of its primary end, and its essential properties of unity and indissolubility understood and explained mainly in function of this end.

The secondary ends of marriage were given very summary treatment. The aspect of mutual help was seen as extending simply to the sustenance and comfort that the spouses could give one another, in the hardships of this life, and especially in old age. St. Thomas mentions a view (without necessarily making it his own) which would seem to reduce it even further: "woman is said to have been made as a help for man. But it can only have been to help him in procreation through intercourse, since for any other work a man could be more effectively helped by a man than by a woman" [1].

The "remedy for concupiscence" was generally considered by the medievals as another secondary end of matrimony added, after the Fall, in a sort of "second institution", to compensate for a powerful tendency to sin which had now entered man's state [2].

The past hundred years have seen a growing feeling that these views of the aims of marriage were too exclusively centered on its procreative function, relegating to the periphery aspects which most people (certainly most married couples themselves) would hold as being at the heart of the marital relationship: love between man and woman as the main motive of marriage, the promise of personal happiness or fulfillment that marriage seems to offer, the human values felt to underlie physical sexuality. No doubt modern romantic literature (as well as the developing science of psychology) influenced the evolution of ideas, but certainly by early in this century many minds were prepared for the task of highlighting these more personal values present in marriage.

Well-known among the early "personalist" writers are Dietrich von Hildebrand and Herbert Doms [3]. Von Hildebrand laid emphasis on the love-relation implied in marriage; Doms saw the essence of marriage in physical union, and its end as the fulfillment and realization of the spouses as persons.

While von Hildebrand insists that the conjugal act must remain open to life, he does affirm that the act "already has full meaning in itself" and is to be understood as the "full attraction of conjugal love" (Il Matrimonio, pp. 49-50). Doms went further, and maintained that "the conjugal act is full of meaning and carries its own justification in itself, independently of its orientation towards offspring" (H. Doms, "Conception personnaliste du mariage d'après S. Thomas", Revue Thomiste, 45 (1939), p. 763). B. Krempel, another personalist writer of the pre-war years, ignored offspring as an end of marriage; its end is the "life-union" of man and woman, the child being simply the expression of this union (cf. A. Perego, "Fine ed essenza della società coniugale", Divus Thomas, 56 (1953), pp. 357ss).

Many personalist writers tended to be hostile to, or at least critical of, the notion of a hierarchy of ends, on the grounds that it presented an excessively institutional view of marriage, which emphasized its procreative aspect or finality to the detriment if not the exclusion of the personal fulfillment which man and woman naturally look for in marrying.

It was this point of the hierarchy of the ends, or more accurately of the relationship between them, that provoked the strong though carefully nuanced official opposition which married personalism encountered during the pontificate of Pius XII.

Married Personalism and the Magisterium

In an Address to the Roman Rota, of Oct. 3, 1941, Pius insisted that the tendency must be avoided "which considers the secondary end as equally principal, freeing it from its essential subordination to the primary end", and he reproved "any undue dividing or separating of the conjugal act from the primary end..." (AAS 33 (1941) 423) This was followed by a Holy Office Decree about the Ends of Marriage, of April 1, 1944, which rejected the thesis that the "secondary" ends can be considered independent of the primary end, and not subordinate to it (AAS 36 (1944) 103). In a 1951 Address (to the Association of Italian Obstetricians), Pius XII clearly reemphasized the hierarchical notion of the ends of marriage, and made a point of recalling how the Holy See, in the 1944 Decree, had considered unacceptable the opinion of those who "taught that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but are of equal importance and independent of it" (AAS 43 (1951) 849).

It is very arguable (especially with hindsight) that this rejection of the "independence" or non-connection between the ends was the most significant aspect of the magisterium of Pius XII on the matter, the peculiar vigor of his stance being explained by the fact that certain presentations of the personalist thesis, which had emerged in the 1930s, appeared to be undercutting completely the procreative finality of marriage, suggesting that the act of conjugal love between the spouses can be fully significant in itself, even if one annuls its procreative orientation. One thus sees how the thinking of Pius XII is intimately linked with that of Paul VI in Humanae Vitae, when he teaches the natural and essential inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the conjugal act. The link with the thought of Gaudium et spes (n. 51, par. 2), is also to be noted. Throughout these decades the Magisterium has been firm in rejecting presentations of married personalism which tend to support the contraceptive philosophy.

In any case, despite the opposition which certain expressions of personalism encountered during the pontificate of Pius XII, the main thrust of the theories did not lose strength. The four years of the Second Vatican Council saw them not only reemerge in full force on the conciliar floors, but carry off what appears to many to have been a definitive victory.

Without any question the vision of marriage presented by the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World is strongly personalist. Gaudium et spes describes marriage as an "intimate partnership of life and love", presents married consent "as the mutual giving of two persons", and insists on how husband and wife, in helping and serving each other, "become conscious of their unity, and experience it more deeply from day to day" (n. 48).

Much emphasis is placed on the role and dignity of conjugal love (not presented, of course, as an end). The Constitution extols its importance, describing it as "an eminently human love because it is an affection between two persons rooted in the will and it embraces the good of the whole person; it can enrich the sentiments of the spirit and their physical expression with a unique dignity and ennoble them as the special elements and signs of the friendship proper to marriage... [it] leads the spouses to a free and mutual giving of self, experienced in tenderness and action, and permeates their whole lives". The Constitution also stresses "the equal personal dignity of husband and wife", and says that this is "acknowledged by mutual and total love" (n. 49).

While marriage is stated to have been endowed by God "with various ends", what these ends are - besides procreation - is not specified, and no hierarchy between them is indicated (n. 48). More strikingly, while the natural and intrinsic ordination of matrimony and married love to procreation is twice expressed (nn. 48, 50), there is only a passing reference to the "mutuum adiutorium" (not clearly indicated as an end), while the "remedium concupiscentiae" is not mentioned at all.

The presentation just given would seem to lend support to the impression we have mentioned, and which is fairly common: that it was only after half a century, with the Second Vatican Council, that personalism prevailed over the institutional view of marriage and at last received official - though perhaps reluctant - recognition from the Magisterium.

Now this impression, however common, is not exact. It is incorrect to suggest that married personalism encountered nothing but opposition from magisterial teaching until Vatican II. If one goes back before Pius XII, one finds a first charter for the development of this personalist understanding granted in 1930 by papal magisterium itself, in Pius XI's Encyclical Casti connubii.

The statement (for whose introduction Vatican II is commonly credited) that conjugal consent and union involve the "generous surrender of one's own person", is in fact already to be found in this Encyclical (AAS 22 (1930) 553), and so antedates the Council by more than 30 years. Pius extols love between husband and wife, "which holds pride of place in Christian marriage", and in a momentous passage emphasizes how it should lead to their personal and spiritual growth: married love "must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life...; this mutual interior formation of husband and wife, this persevering endeavor to bring each other to the state of perfection, may in a true sense be called... the primary cause and reason of matrimony..." [4]. We will have occasion to return later to this passage.

The married personalism delineated by Vatican II had its precedent, therefore, in papal magisterium in Pius XI; and it is of course a dominant note of the teaching on marriage of John Paul II. Sexuality and marriage, interpreted in a strongly personalist light, were in fact the theme chosen by for a lengthy exposition in papal catechesis covering the first years of the present pontificate (1978-1981. cf. Uomo e Donna lo creò: catechesi sull'amore umano, Libr. Ed. Vaticana, 1987), and have frequently recurred since. Thus it now seems beyond question that a personalist view of marriage has become firmly established in magisterial teaching.

Married personalism and the Code of Canon Law

Moreover, it has made its way, not without resistance, into Canon Law, which many would classify as among the most conservative of ecclesiastical sciences. One of the most striking changes introduced by the new Code of Canon Law promulgated in 1983, is in the definition of the object of matrimonial consent. This is no longer held to consist (as it was in the 1917 Code) essentially in the exchange of the "right over the body", with its physicalist connotations, but in that "act of the will by which a man and a woman, through an irrevocable covenant, mutually give and accept each other in order to establish a marriage" (c. 1057). Here we have the basic personalist idea of marriage as self-gift - the "se tradere". We might add in passing that it is going to take jurisprudence some thought and time before it satisfactorily establishes the exact content and consequences - in juridic terms - of this personalist formula.

While the effect of personalist ideas can also be seen in several canons on matrimonial consent - deceit (c. 1098), for instance, or fear (c. 1103), not to mention c. 1095 - , it is specially noticeable in the very first canon in the title on marriage, which defines the nature and purpose of matrimony itself: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring" (c. 1055).

Here, in what Pope John Paul II has described as the "last document of the Second Vatican Council" (AAS 76 (1984) 644), we are offered a brief formula of the greatest importance, which marks not only a magisterial application, but a clear development, of the married personalism of Gaudium et spes. Particularly to be noted is the progress from the rather vague statement about matrimony being endowed with "various" or "other" ends, besides procreation (Gaudium et spes 48; 50), to the specific enunciation of two ends to marriage. [Pius XI, in Casti connubii, in some way also anticipated this expression of a double end: "... its purpose which is the begetting and educating of children for God, and the binding of man and wife to God through Christian love and mutual support" (AAS 22 (1930) 570)].

What is of special interest to us in this definition or description of marriage is the introduction of the highly personalist concept of the "good of the spouses" - the bonum coniugum - , presented now, along with procreation/education of offspring, as one of the ends of matrimony. We have examined elsewhere [5] the genesis of the term "bonum coniugum" and the history of its incorporation into the 1983 Code. It is important to bear in mind that we are dealing with a new term, which is only very exceptionally to be found in ecclesial writing before it was accepted in 1977 into the schemata for the new Code.

The acceptance of the term came at the end of a thorough debate - within the Pontifical Commission for drafting the Code - as to ways of juridically expressing the "personal[ist]" end or ends of matrimony (Communicationes 1977, 123). It should be noted that the Commission at first spoke of the "bonum coniugum" as a way of expressing the "finis personalis". Some commentators took this up to suggest that by the "bonum coniugum" the Commission wished to express the subjective ends of the spouses. In this interpretation the "bonum coniugum" comes to signify the "finis" or "fines operantis": love, security, happiness, personal satisfactions, etc. The Commission itself, some time later (precisely in defending the expression "bonum coniugum" against criticism), found it wise explicitly to reject such an interpretation. It made it quite clear that "finis personalis" is intended in an objective, not a subjective sense: "The ordination of matrimony to the "bonum coniugum" is truly an essential element of the matrimonial covenant, and not a subjective end of the person marrying" (Communicationes 1983, 221). It is important to bear this in mind: the expression "bonum coniugum" refers to the "finis operis" rather than to the "finis operantis"; that is, it relates to the intrinsic design of marriage, to the ends which it has of itself, and not to the ends of the concrete person(s) marrying [6].

The ends of marriage

We have noted that Gaudium et spes is not as clear as one might wish in specifying the ends of marriage. It is interesting, however, to look at the footnote references (in the document) which accompany its rather general statement that God himself has endowed marriage with "various goods and ends". The first reference is to St. Augustine's De bono coniugali, concretely to the passages where he expounds his doctrine of the three "goods" of marriage - "fides, proles, sacramentum" - ; this is followed by reference to Suppl. q. 49, art. 3 ad 1, where St. Thomas comments on the augustinian "bona".

St. Thomas (in the article of the Supplement referred to) affirms that "offspring is the end of matrimony" (proles est matrimonii finis). Gaudium et spes, in line with the whole tradition of the Church, takes this up, twice stating that marriage and married love are naturally ordered to procreation (as to their end). What is striking is that the Constitution nowhere clearly expresses the personal[-ist] end to which marriage is ordered. Despite the personalist note dominant in nos. 48-49 of the Constitution, there is in fact no phrase or formula which could be said to express the personalist end with the clarity with which the procreative end is stated. There is a brief phrase (which recalls, and is no doubt meant in some way to express, the former "secondary end" of the "mutuum adiutorium"): "man and woman... help and serve each other by their married partnership..."; but we are not told what is the content or final purpose of this mutual help. It certainly seems to me that a main clue to the nature of the personalist end has already been given in the statement that the "various" ends of marriage are of the greatest importance for "the personal development and eternal destiny of every member of the family"; and to this we will return later. Meanwhile however I think we have to say that a simple reading of Gaudium et spes does not make the content of the personalist end clear. The fact is that the concise formula of c. 1055 - that marriage is ordered to the good of the spouses - is nowhere to be found in the conciliar documents; nor is it easy to draw from them alone a clear notion of its precise meaning.

This lack of desirable clarity perhaps makes it understandable that some (arguing also from the principle that there can be only one main end) maintain that the Council has not in fact introduced any real modification in the previous doctrine about the distinction and hierarchy of primary and secondary ends. This however seems a difficult thesis to sustain, for it fails to give any explanation for the deliberate avoidance by the Council of the terminology formerly used. The more common view is that the doctrine of a hierarchy of ends has been replaced by one in which we have two ends of equal standing: the procreative-institutional and the personalist.

Others, no doubt feeling that the prolonged debate of the past decades has created an unjustified and regrettable tension or opposition between the various ends or aspects of marriage, see the mind of the Council as wishing to overcome such sense of opposition and to show the essential unity between these aspects. We are told, for instance: "Vatican II sought to remake the unity between the two aspects - the personal and the institutional - so that conjugal love would not be separated from procreation" [7].

Two interconnected institutional ends

My own feeling is that the debate about the hierarchy of the ends of marriage is a potential deadend, and that it is rather the interrelation and inseparability between these ends which is important and needs emphasizing. We will go into this in a moment, but first there is a very important point that calls for clarification - a major misunderstanding which seems to have constantly accompanied the debate on this subject, and which will continue to create confusion unless it is highlighted and corrected.

Both those who insist on the equal dignity of the ends of marriage, and those who continue to defend the idea of a hierarchical subordination (as well as those who would like to underline the unity between the ends: as in the quotation just given), tend to contrast, or simply distinguish, the ends involved, as if one (the procreative) was the institutional end, and the other (the "bonum coniugum"), the personalist.

To my mind, such a contrast is to be firmly rejected. BOTH ends - procreative and personalist - ARE INSTITUTIONAL! Both, that is (and it is vital to see this [8], derive from the very institution of marriage. Marriage, in other words, has two institutional ends.

By the institutional ends of marriage is obviously meant those ends established in its very institution, i.e. those with which marriage was endowed by its "Institutor" or Creator, that is by God himself. God's plan as originally revealed to us has to ground our analysis of the ends for which marriage was instituted.

It seems to me that little importance has been attached in this debate to something that, to say the least, is intriguing for those who seek a key in Scripture to God's designs: the fact of the two distinct accounts that the Book of Genesis, in its first and its second chapters, offers of the creation of man - male and female - and of the institution of marriage. One account expresses a clearly procreative finality, while the other can fairly be described as personalist. The first, the so-called "elohist" text, reads: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply"..." (Gen 1, 27-28). The other, the "jahwist" text (considered the earlier in date of composition), says: "The Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him [adiutorium simile sibi]"..." (so God created woman... and, the narration continues) "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen. 2, 18-24).

The two scriptural accounts of the institution

We do not have to be scripture scholars to suggest that this dual narration is no "accident", nor a slip of the pen on the part of the Holy Spirit. The presence of the two accounts is scarcely to be dismissed as purely casual, or the connection between them as merely extrinsic. Surely we rather have to deal with something deliberate, with two complementary narratives, connected in a way that corresponds to the logic of God's plans, a logic within which the institutional purpose of marriage appears as both procreative and personalist.

In the elohist text, man's relative perfection is underlined. He is made in the image of God, and is the highest visible expression of the goodness of creation. The distinction of sexes ("male and female he created him") appears as a key to man's mission to carry on the work of creation by procreation. The idea of the goodness of this assigned mission characterizes the passage.

In the jahwist version, it is rather man's incompleteness which is stressed. Man (male or female) is incomplete, if he remains on his own; and this is not a good thing: "non est bonum". The normal plan of God is that he will find the goodness he lacks in union with a member of the other sex; and this union should lead to the good of each and of both: to the "bonum coniugum".

As appears from Scripture, then, God's purpose in instituting marriage is also personalist. Marriage is institutionally directed not only to the increase of the human race through ordered procreation in a family setting, but also to the "increase" of the persons who marry, to their development or perfecting in regard to the personal destiny of each one.

If it is not good for man or woman to be without a partner, what is the good, the real "bonum coniugum" which God had in mind, in instituting the plan of sexual partnership and cooperation within marriage? What sort of "adiutorium" - help or helpmate - did he intend each spouse to be for the other? Was he thinking just of a "solacium" for this life alone, concerned simply about man's temporal good? It seems reasonable to suggest that the divine perspective went farther than that.

The nature of the "bonum coniugum"

The nature and ultimate purpose of the "help" that the spouses are meant to provide for one another is directed to the integral perfecting of each as a person called to eternal life. In this consists the genuine "bonum coniugum". Recent magisterium gives strong support to this view.

The official volume annotating the "sources" of the new Code (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989) gives Casti connubii, as a main source of c. 1055. In that same momentous passage of the Encyclical to which we referred earlier, we find words which to my mind describe the essence of the "bonum coniugum". Pius XI insists that married love "demands not only mutual aid ["mutuum auxilium"] but must go further; it must have as its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love towards God and their neighbor" (AAS 22 (1930) 548). Pius seems to say here that interpretations, however traditional, which make the "mutuum adiutorium" consist in mere physical or psychological support for earthly affairs, are insufficient. It is for their ultimate "bonum" - growth in virtue and sanctity - that the spouses are meant to help each other.

Confirmation of this can, I think, be drawn from other indicated sources of c. 1055 which (interestingly enough) include the 1951 Address of Pius XII, where the Pope spoke of the "personal perfecting of the spouses" as a secondary end of marriage (AAS 43 (1951) 848-849). Gaudium et spes (n. 48) is also indicated, as well as nos. 11 and 41 of Lumen Gentium and no. 11 of Apostolicam Actuositatem. Gaudium et spes speaks in terms of the human and supernatural growth of the spouses: "Husband and wife ... help and serve each other by their married partnership; they become conscious of their unity and experience it more deeply from day to day ... Fulfilling their conjugal and family role... they increasingly further their own perfection and their mutual sanctification". The supernatural aspect of this is particularly drawn out in the pertinent paragraphs of Lumen Gentium, especially in no. 11: "Christian spouses help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in the accepting and rearing of their children". Similarly the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People insists: "Christian spouses are for each other... cooperators of grace and witnesses of the faith".

That marriage is essentially directed to the sanctification of the spouses is a conclusion that would seem to flow necessarily from the fact of its sacramentality. In this sense the personalism of Casti connubii was simply developing the teaching of Trent, that grace [in marriage] is directed to "perfecting love and sanctifying the spouses" [9]. In other words, the sacramental grace of marriage leads spouses to sanctity by perfecting (in the truest sense) their conjugal love [10].

Mutual help: mutual perfecting?

It must be admitted that not much support for a personalist understanding of marriage can be drawn from classical theological tradition. We have already mentioned the limited attention given to (and the limited content read into) the idea of "mutuum adiutorium". The theologians of the 12th century, for instance, scarcely mention the concept; and when they do, it is largely with unexpanded reference to Augustine's "humanitatis solacium" [11]. It remains a striking fact that, although the expression "mutuum adiutorium" is so clearly rooted in scripture [12], it has been the object of such slight consideration on the part of theologians over the centuries.

St. Thomas's position merits a particular word. If we ask a peculiarly twentieth century question - whether he saw in sexuality as such a role for the "realization" of the human person - no doubt the answer is that, in common with the rest of the middle ages, he did not (cf. M.-J. Nicolas: "Remarques sur le sens et la fin du mariage, Revue Thomiste 45 (1939), p. 792). Does it follow from this that he gives no thought whatever to the mutually enriching role, outside the purely procreative sphere, of the complementary relationship between husband and wife, in the development of human maturity?

No. In justice to the germinal richness of St. Thomas's thought, mention must be made of basic texts of his which show clear elements of a "personalist" understanding.

With specific reference to the jahwist text of Genesis, he speaks of the special friendship that exists between man and wife: "The friendship between man and woman is unique, for they are united not only in sexual intercourse which even among animals creates a closeness of companionship, but also in their life together which covers the whole of their domestic relations. As a sign of this therefore, as we are told in Gen. 2, 24, a man will leave his father and mother for the sake of his wife" [13]. He quotes and approves Aristotle: "according to the Philosopher, in VIII Ethic., the friendship which exists between man and wife is natural, and comprises what is virtuous, useful and enjoyable" [14]. He says, "The form of matrimony is an inseparable union of souls, by which husband and wife are pledged irrevocably to maintain faith toward one another" [15], and elsewhere insists that "in marriage there is not just a corporal, but also a spiritual union" [16].

Aquinas teaches that man is naturally inclined to marriage, not only because of offspring, but also because of the "the mutual help given to each other by the spouses in the home". He presents the difference between the sexes as a special expression of man's need of help from others: "just as natural reason tells us that men should live together, because each one alone cannot be self-sufficient in all the aspects of life (and so man is said to be naturally social), so of those things that are necessary for human life, some fall naturally to the competence of men, others to that of women". And so, he concludes: "hence nature brings it about that there be a definite association of man and woman which consists in matrimony" [17].

A passage in the "Supplement" makes it clear that, in his conception, woman's role as man's helper does not place her on an inferior level, for she remains his equal partner: "as regards the second end, which is the running of the family and their mutual sharing together, the wife is joined to the husband as a partner" [18]. He takes up the point that marriage is not just for the sake of procreation, but has other - more personalist - ends: "marriage exists among men, not only for the begetting and nurturing of offspring, but also for the partnership of common life through mutual sharing". Hence he considers the question whether this "operum communicatio", this mutual sharing between man and woman, should not be described as a "bonum matrimonii" on a par with the "bonum prolis": "therefore, as offspring is considered a good of matrimony, so [it seems] should mutual sharing" [19].

It is important neither to overvalue nor to overlook these texts. They offer a basis on which a deeper understanding of the "mutual help" could have been developed (although, in fact, it was not). I particularly wished to recall them, not to contest that the dominant consideration of marriage down the centuries has been procreative, but simply to suggest that certain notes of married personalism are also to be found in the writings of major ecclesial thinkers of the past [20]; and therefore that modern personalism can rightfully claim to have a tradition behind it of which it is indeed a development.

Nevertheless I think we have to admit that St. Thomas's (and in general his successors') concept of the "mutuum adiutorium" moves on a basically natural and markedly earth-bound level, with little or no suggestion that the mutual help has a supernatural purpose - personal sanctification - as its ultimate goal. Thomas, along with others before him including Augustine, and especially along with those who followed right down to our days, seems to interpret the divine purpose, in giving a helpmate to man or woman, as simply that of assisting them in the hopes and vicissitudes just of this life. And it can well be contended that this view is inadequate.

Such an earth-bound consideration can only stem from a general and prolonged tendency to consider marriage exclusively as an "officium" or "munus", and a failure to see it also as a means of personal and christian perfection (cf. Nicolas: op. cit., p. 779). The importance of the formulation of c. 1055 is precisely that it overcomes this narrow perspective, and points up the fact that marriage is meant not only for procreation, but also for the true good of husband and wife, understood as God understands it.

The "bonum coniugum": broader than the "mutuum adiutorium"

It is natural to ask what is the relationship between the "mutuum adiutorium" and the "bonum coniugum". Are they to be simply identified; and if so, may we say that the former secondary end has been raised to the rank of an equal co-principal end? While this might seem a logical thesis, it has against it the fact that Gaudium et spes does not anywhere refer to "mutuum adiutorium" as an end (It simply says spouses 'mutuum sibi adiutorium... praestant" (n. 48)). Moreover, the Consultors for the new Code ignored the rather obvious option of choosing "mutual help" to express the personalist (institutional) end of marriage, and chose instead the new term, "bonum coniugum" [21].

My own feeling is that, while the "bonum coniugum" embraces the traditional content of the "mutuum adiutorium" (which must now therefore be regarded as absorbed into it), it is actually much broader. This is of great interest for, while canon law has been the first discipline to receive and give official status to the "bonum coniugum", the term is of such potential richness that it is capable of provoking very fruitful reflection over wide areas of theology.

However innovative an expression the "bonum coniugum" may appear to be, its scriptural credentials are arguably at least as valid as those of "mutuum adiutorium", being drawn from the very same passage in Genesis. It was precisely because it was not good for man or woman to be alone, that a helpmate was given to them: "non est bonum esse hominem solum; faciemus ei adiutorium..." The helpmate, therefore, was given for the sake of their good: their "bonum". God wished the woman, as wife, to be a help towards the good of the man, her husband; and the man, as husband, to be a help towards that of the woman, his wife. The "mutuum adiutorium" appears clearly as ordered to the "bonum coniugum".

It is interesting here to recall a passage from St. Augustine. He writes that God, after creating man, "He made the woman to be a helpmate for the man... that the man might at once have glory from the woman in so far as he went before her to God, and present in himself an example to her for imitation in holiness and piety" [22]. Thus considered, the mutual help consists especially in being an inspiration for an advance toward God, "in holiness and piety". These early writers do not extend their insights to the reciprocal aspect of the male-female relationship divinely instituted. But we can so extend them, and affirm that as man is to woman, so is woman to man: a help and an inspiration in the conjoint effort to advance towards God in that fundamental "bonum" (that ultimate "self-realization") which is represented by personal holiness.

What should be said about the "remedium concupiscentiae" which used to be classified, along with "mutuum adiutorium", as one of the secondary ends of matrimony? F. Bersini is of the opinion that it, along with the "mutuum adiutorium", is now included in the "bonum coniugum" (Il Nuovo Diritto Canonico Matrimoniale, Turin, 1985, p. 18). I would prefer to believe that the concept of "remedy for concupiscence" has now been definitively abandoned by Catholic thought.

While there is no denying the strength of the theological tradition which would regard matrimony as a "remedial" sacrament, instituted, at least in part, to be a cure for sin rather than a help towards virtue [23], one can question the merit of this tradition, which has been marked by an unwarranted (however longstanding) tendency to speak of concupiscence as if it were simply synonymous with sexual appetite. The sexual appetite, as such, is totally good and does not need a "remedy". It is the disordered aspect of this appetite, present since original sin, that is properly termed concupiscence. If concupiscence is neither sexual pleasure nor sexual passion, but a disorder in both, then it is not marriage, but chastity (including conjugal chastity) that provides a true remedy for this disorder (cf. the author's "St. Augustine and Conjugal Sexuality": Communio 17 (Winter 1990) 545-565). Sexuality as such does not need a remedy; concupiscence, its disorder, does. Marriage is the legitimate channel for sexuality, but not for concupiscence, which needs to be purified, not legitimized; this purification is precisely the task of the virtue of chastity.

The use of the term "remedium concupiscentiae" would seem to have had highly negative effects, and to merit the oblivion into which it is now rapidly falling [24]. Even before the Council, some writers already tended to substitute other expressions for that of the "remedium" [25]. It can be noted in passing that neither the Council nor the Code mentions it.

The demands of married personalism

Some commentators make the "bonum coniugum" consist in the psychic, affective, physical or sexual "integration" of the spouses. The suggested criterion seems inadequate from a christian standpoint, not only because it fails to look at the spouses' "good" supernaturally, but also because it tends to resolve the "bonum coniugum" into a question of natural "compatibility". One can then be easily led into holding that seeming incompatibility is an enemy of the good of the spouses, whereas pastoral experience shows that many highly "integrated" marriages are of couples whose characters are extremely diverse and even apparently opposed, and who could well have ended up "incompatible" unless they had resolved (in an evidently maturing effort) not to do so.

Similarly, to make the "bonum coniugum" consist in the achieving of a comfortable or untroubled life, is scarcely in harmony with a christian understanding of the real good of the human person. In fact it does not seem possible to understand the "good of the spouses" in a christian way, unless it is seen as resulting from the commitment aspect of the married covenant.

That is why we cannot accept certain analyses which would see married personalism as involving simply a new acknowledgment of the dignity of conjugal love. This interpretation can easily remain at the surface of the matter, especially if it dwells on the "rights" or expectations of love and not, at least in equal measure, on its "duties" and demands. True personalism looks to the maturing of the person; and it is, we repeat, the commitment of marriage - with the demands of a faithful and sacrificed love - that brings spouses to the fullness of personal development: their sanctification, in which lies their true and definitive "good".

We have written elsewhere (see the author's Covenanted Happiness, Ignatius Press, 1990, pp. 42ss) on the modern tendency to see the augustinian "bona" not principally as "values" or "benefits" of the married state, but rather as burdensome obligations which it imposes. This applies particularly to the "bonum sacramenti" (indissolubility) and the "bonum prolis" (offspring). It is true that the wholehearted acceptance of these "goods" takes a sustained effort; but it also true that this effort, besides being a source of happiness, has a deep maturing effect on the persons who face up to it.

Gaudium et spes (following Casti connubii) teaches that it is "for the good of the spouses, of the children, and of society" that the marriage bond has been made unbreakable (n. 48; cf. Casti connubii AAS 22 (1930) 553). Indissolubility therefore positively favors the "bonum coniugum". The point is surely that all the effort and sacrifice involved in fidelity to the unbreakable character of the bond - in good times and in bad, etc. - serve to develop and perfect the personalities of the spouses. A similar reading is no doubt to be made of that passage in n. 50 of Gaudium et spes which states that "children greatly contribute to the good of their parents". Children enrich their parents' lives in many human ways, and not least in virtue of the generous dedication they tend to evoke in them.

The fact is that it is not easy for two people to live together for life, in a faithful and fruitful union. It is "easier" for each to live apart, or to unite casually or for a short time; or to avoid having children. It is easier; but it is not happier, nor does it contribute to their growth as persons. "Non est bonum homini esse solus": it is not good for man to live alone, or in successive temporary associations that tend to leave him more and more trapped in selfish isolation. Married commitment is not an easy endeavor; but, apart from normally being a happy one, it is one that matures. There is no true married personalism which ignores or fails to understand and stress the goodness - for the spouses - of the conjugal commitment.

Pope John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio, speaks of indissolubility in terms of something joyful that Christians should announce to the world: "It is necessary", he says, "to reconfirm the good news of the definitive nature of conjugal love" (Familiaris Consortio, no. 20 (AAS 74 (1982) 103). If this comes as a surprising statement to many people today, it is a sign of how far contemporary society is from understanding the divine plan for man's authentic good.

Undeniably there are many marital situations where a purely human judgment can conclude that the good of the spouses has not been or cannot be achieved: the cases, for instance, where one of the spouses, reneging on his or her conjugal commitment, walks out on the other. Does it make any sense to talk of the "bonum coniugum" as applying to such situations?

As regards the reneging spouse, certainly the marriage would scarcely seem capable of working any longer toward his or her "good". Yet it can still work powerfully for the good of the other, if he or she remains true to the marriage bond. If that fidelity is maintained, moreover, it may in God's providence act as a call to repentance, as a force of salvation, for the unfaithful spouse, perhaps in his or her very last moment on earth - when one's definitive "bonum" is about to be decided.

That the positive potential of such situations can be grasped only in the light of the christian challenge of the Cross, does not in any way weaken the analysis. If it is true that the positive potential may never be actually realized, that simply reflects the risk and mystery of human freedom.

The personalism of the human procreative power and relationship

It is bad not to see the institutional character of the personalist end of marriage. It is worse not to recognize the personalist character of conjugal procreativity. To speak disparagingly about "biologism", whenever stress is laid on the procreative aspect of marriage, betrays a fundamental lack of understanding of married personalism. Nothing can so uniquely express the marital relationship and the desire for marital union, as conjugal intercourse - when it is open to its procreative potential. Why after all should sexual intercourse between husband and wife be called "the conjugal act"? What makes it, among all the possible expressions of love between the spouses, so singular, so uniquely capable of expressing their desire for union? Nothing else, in last analysis, than the fact that it is the gift and acceptance of the seed of life. Married couples uniquely express their love for one another and are uniquely united in intercourse, because each in effect says to the other: "By this act I am prepared to share with you, and with you alone, this most singular power God has given us: the power to fuse together a part of the life of each of us [26], so that, in uniting, they become a new life: our child, the living expression and fruit of our union and love". The union of the spouses' two selves, "in one flesh", tends to become incarnated in a new self - mirror and expression of their married community and love (cf. Covenanted Happiness, pp. 36-37).

True union between free persons always involves donation. In the case of the conjugal act, intercourse is unitive because of the absolutely unique nature of the donation involved: the gift of procreativity. Hence derives the intrinsic inseparability of the unitive and the procreative aspects of the marital act (see Humanae Vitae, n. 12).

Contraceptive intercourse is fundamentally anti-personalist. Inasmuch as it deliberately destroys that unique aspect of the conjugal act which alone renders it truly unitive, it marks a rejection of the sexuality of the other, a rejection therefore of his or her integrity as husband or wife (cf. Covenanted Happiness, pp. 37-38; 41; 51-52).

Another personalist aspect of open-to-life conjugal intercourse is that it tends in a legitimate way to self-realization [27] and self-perpetuation (both personalist values), but raises them, by the very donative and generous nature of the act, to a higher level (cf. Covenanted Happiness, pp. 45-46). When open to life, the act tends to no assertion or perpetuation of each spousal self in egoistic isolation, but precisely to the perpetuation of something common to both and most intimate to them: the love binding them together.

It is precisely this awareness of the deep personalist meaning of procreativity that renders conjugal intercourse so uniquely capable of contributing to the "bonum" of each spouse, maturing and "realizing" each one and linking them together. Further, each child that they have becomes a visible incarnated link strengthening the conjugal bond, the maintenance of which is so essential to their own personal realization and authentic good [28].

Conjugality and procreativity are thus seen to have a natural complementarity. Conjugality means that man is destined to become a spouse: to unite himself to another, in an act that is unitive precisely because it is oriented to procreativity. And procreativity means that he is destined to become a parent: the union of the spouses tends of it nature to fruitfulness. Conjugality and procreativity taken together draw man out of his original solitude - which limits him as a person and is an enemy of his "self-realization", of his bonum [29].


Modern personalism, therefore, encouraged especially by Vatican II and subsequent magisterium, offers a renewed vision of marriage and its institutional ends. The major points of this vision, as I understand them, could be presented synthetically as follows:

a) the natural ordering of marriage to given ends is emphasized;

b) the hierarchy between the ends is not emphasized [30];

c) both the "bonum coniugum" and the procreation/education of children are institutional ends;

d) both the "bonum coniugum" and the procreation/education of children have personalist value;

e) the ends are naturally (institutionally) inseparable;

f) their inseparability is more important than any hierarchy between them;

g) inseparability means an inter-ordering - rather than a sub-ordination - between the ends.


We should now deal with the last three points: the inseparability between the two ends of marriage, as they are presented to us in canon 1055.

Is it possible to separate these two ends? Conceptually, yes. In reality, no; not at least without undermining the understanding and the very vital structure of matrimony. Marriage was instituted for the maturing of the spouses, particularly through having a family and dedicating themselves to it. And it was instituted for the procreation/education of children, to be achieved through the passing physical union and through the abiding and growing existential and organic unity between husband and wife. The institution was one, although it is described in Genesis in two distinct versions. It is God who has put these ends together in one institution, and man should resist the tendency to separate them.

A procreative marriage - with many children - in which neither of the spouses has a sense of family life, or of how dedication to it contributes to their own maturing or happiness as persons, has lost its distinctive human dimension, and will with difficulty contribute to the good of the spouses or of the children. A marriage "à deux", from which children (or more than one or two children) are excluded - because they are regarded as potential enemies to the couple's happiness - is not likely to make the couple happy for long, is too unexacting to contribute to their authentic good, and will probably not last.

That is why there seems little point in centering attention on the possible hierarchy between these two institutional ends of marriage. The procreative aspect is not better defended because it is said to stand higher in importance than the good of the spouses [31]. It is better defended when married couples see that their own mutual love, their happiness together, and the personal growth of each, are furthered by the enterprise of building a family according to God's plans. The good of the spouses is only understood in all its personalist potential when it is seen to depend on the unique human enrichment that comes in each child. Only then is it saved from partial or reductive tendencies which, while perhaps speaking of the good "of the spouses" (conjointly), actually mean the "good" of each one individually, thus leading to those common existential situations where the "good" of one comes in the end to be seen as rival and enemy to that of the other, and the stage is set for the collapse and dissolution of a common venture of happiness.

Inseparability gives a better idea of the mutual relation between these ends. It passes over the question of hierarchy, and looks rather to the essential inter-ordering of the ends. Each relates vitally and existentially to the other. Each depends on the other. They stand or fall together.

It in fact seems as idle to debate whether the ends are of equal dignity or whether there is a subordination between them, as it is to debate the same points regarding the relationship between man and woman. It is the complementarity, the inseparability, which needs underlining.

In considering the conjugal act by which the spouses become "one flesh", we have tried make a deeper analysis of the fundamental truth stated by Paul VI - that the unitive and the procreative aspects of the act cannot be separated (see, in greater development, the author's study, "Marriage and Contraception", in L'Osservatore Romano (English Edition), October 10, 1988; Covenanted Happiness, Chapter Two). True christian personalism leads us to much the same conclusion regarding the institutional ends of marriage: the good of the spouses and the procreation/education of children. There is a natural and intrinsic connection between these two ends also. They are intimately linked, and the pursuit of each end should help the other, at the same time as it is conditioned and helped by it.


Further perspectives

We have outlined some considerations inspired by the presentation of the ends of marriage given in c. 1055 of the revised Code of Canon Law. It seems to us that this new formula opens up broad and important perspectives for investigation, not only in the juridic field, but also in those of scripture, theology, morals and anthropology, as well as in the pastoral area.

The moment is ripe, and momentous consequences could derive from a reappraisal:

a) of the concept of marriage, based on a more comprehensive understanding of its original - institutional - purpose and dignity; overcoming in particular the suggested opposition between the procreative and the personalist aspects;

b) of conjugal sexuality, which is in danger of being cut down to a meaningless exercise of self-seeking, where any vestige of donation of self is submerged in a growing instrumentalization of the other spouse, reduced to level of a sex-object;

c) of the three augustinian "bona", in particular of the "bonum prolis", rehabilitated and integrated into true christian married personalism;

d) of the family: particularly by preventing the true concepts of fatherhood and motherhood - in all their human reality, content and dignity - from being lost;

e) of the pastoral pre- and post-wedding ministry, to help people deepen their understanding of marriage as a way of christian dedication and sanctification.


[1] [Sed contra] "dicitur mulier esse facta in adiutorium viri. Sed non ad aliud nisi ad generationem quae fit per coitum: quia ad quodlibet aliud opus, convenientius adiuvari posset vir per virum quam per feminam" (I, q. 98, art. 2).

[2] St. Bonaventure, for instance, takes up the thesis from Hugo de S. Victor: "duplex fuit eius institutio, una ante lapsum in officium, et alia post lapsum in remedium": Sent. Lib. IV d. 26, art. 1, q. 1 (Ed. Quaracchi, vol IV, p. 662); cf. Hugo de S. Victor: De sac. coniugii (PL 176, 481). St. Thomas goes along with this: cf. Suppl. q. 42, art. 2.

[3] D. von Hildebrand: Die Ehe, München, 1929; Il Matrimonio, Brescia, 1931. H. Doms: Vom Sinn und Zweck der Ehe, Breslau, 1935.

[4] ib. 547-548. So strong is the encouragement which this passage appears to give to a personalist understanding of marriage that some vernacular editions (e.g. the U.S. DSP text), more papist than the Pope himself, actually omitted it from their version of the Encyclical, apparently in the conviction that it could only be explained as a curial lapsus.

[5] C. Burke: "The Bonum Coniugum and the Bonum Prolis; Ends or Properties of Marriage?": The Jurist, 49 (1989): 2, pp. 704-713.

[6] It could be remarked that the Commission would have avoided confusion if, in 1977, instead of "finis personalis" (and with apologies, if necessary, to Latin purists), it had used "finis personalisticus".

[7] A. Favale: in "Fini e Valori del Sacramento del Matrimonio", Rome 1978, p. 203. P. Barberi describes the text of Gaudium et spes (48) as a "synthesis of the two views: juridico-institutional and human-personalist" (La celebrazione del matrimonio cristiano, Rome 1982, p. 119).

[8] Just as it is vital to see that both are, in the proper sense, personalist.

[9] "amorem perficere..., coniugesque sanctificare" Denz. 969; cf. Robert Bellarmine: matrimony "est unio sacrans, et sanctificans animas" De Sacramento Matrimonii, cap. 5.

[10] "la grâce sacramentelle du mariage chrétien... par laquelle l'amour naturel entre les époux est mené à sa perfection en vue de la sanctification des conjoints": Paul Anciaux, Le Sacrement du Mariage, Louvain 1961, p. 249.

[11] "Nuptiarum igitur bonum semper est quidem bonum; sed in populo dei fuit aliquando legis obsequium, nunc est infirmitatis remedium, in quibusdam vero humanitatis solacium" De bono vid., c. 8, n. 11 (CSEL 41, 317); cf. P. M. Abellán, El fin y la significación sacramental del matrimonio desde S. Anselmo hasta Guillermo de Auxerre (Granada 1939), p. 168.

[12] faciamus ei adiutorium simile sibi: Gen 2, 18.

[13] Inter virum autem et mulierem maxima amicitia esse videtur: adunantur enim non solum in actu carnalis copulae, quae etiam inter bestias quamdam suavem societatem facit, sed etiam ad totius domesticae conversationis consortium; unde in signum huius, homo propter uxorem etiam patrem et matrem dimittit, ut dicitur Gen 2, 24 (Summa c. Gent. III, c. 123).

[14] secundum Philosophum, in VIII Ethic, amicitia quae est inter virum et uxorem est naturalis, et claudit in se honestum, utile et delectabile (Suppl. q. 49, art. 1).

[15] Forma matrimonii consistit in quadam indivisibili coniunctione animorum, per quam unus coniugum indivisibili alteri fidem servare tenetur" (III, q. 29, a. 2).

[16] in matrimonio non est tantum coniunctio corporalis, sed etiam spiritualis" (Suppl., q. 56, art. 1 ad 3).

[17] "... mutuum obsequium sibi a coniugibus in rebus domesticis impensum. Sicut enim naturalis ratio dictat ut homines simul cohabitent, quia unus homo non sufficit sibi in omnibus quae ad vitam pertinent, ratione cuius dicitur homo naturaliter politicus; ita etiam eorum quibus indigetur ad humanam vitam, quaedam opera sunt competentia viris quaedam mulieribus; unde natura movet ut sit quaedam associatio viri ad mulierem, in qua est matrimonium" (In IV Sent. d. 26, q. 1, art. 1; cf. Suppl. q. 41, art. 1).

[18] quantum ad secundum finem, qui est dispensatio familiae et communicatio operum, uxor coniungitur viro ut socia (q. 65, art. 5).

[19] "Ergo, sicut ponitur proles bonum matrimonii, ita debet poni communicatio operum" (ib. q. 49, art. 2). He answers the question in the negative. Here we might note that, despite some efforts to interpret the "bonum coniugum" as a fourth "bonum", to be added to the three traditional augustinian ones, c. 1055 unequivocally presents the "bonum coniugum" as being, along with procreation, in the line of finality, not of property. cf. C. Burke: "The Bonum Coniugum and the Bonum Prolis; Ends or Properties of Marriage?": The Jurist 49 (1989):2, pp. 704-713.

[20] Hugo of S. Victor (+1140) is of course noted for certain ideas that may be considered personalist.

[21] Hervada distinguishes between "mutuum adiutorium" and the personal fulfillment of the spouses. For him the mutual help is a specific end of marriage, while personal fulfillment is a generic end, common to all Christians and not specific to married persons. No doubt "personal[ist] end" can be understood in the sense in which he criticizes it: autonomous, non-transcendent self-fulfillment; and then it is not christian (cf. J. Hervada: Diálogos sobre el amor y el matrimonio, Pamplona 1987, pp. 72ss). But to my mind c. 1055 is now asking us to develop a proper understanding of the "bonum coniugum" - the christian personal development and "realization" of the spouses. It is in this perspective that I disagree with his statement: "it is not correct to include personal fulfilment among the ends of marriage" (ib. 70).

[22] "Fecit illi etiam adiutorium feminam:... ut haberet et vir gloriam de femina, cum ei praeiret ad Deum, seque illi praeberet imitandum in sanctitate atque pietate" De catech. rud., c. 18, n. 29 (PL 40, 332).

[23] Bellarmine, for instance, commenting P. Lombard and Aquinas, says that, in contrast to Eucharist, Confirmation and Order, which were instituted "principaliter ad iuvandum in bono", matrimony was instituted mainly "ad peccata vitanda" (De Sacramento Matrimonii, cap. 5).

[24] One could note, if only by way of anecdote, that as late as 1959, a defender of the traditional hierarchy of ends, obviously uncomfortable with Pius XI's presentation of marriage designed to achieve the spouses' personal perfection, concedes that in the "remedium concupiscentiae" one could see "una specie di perfezionamento negativo della natura medesima", as compensating a defect of fallen nature (A. Perego: "Discussione teoretica sulla gerarchia dei fini matrimoniali" La Civiltà Cattolica, 110 (1959/IV), p. 139). The times clearly called for an understanding of a purpose of marriage (however secondary) which went beyond that of "negative" perfection!

[25] P. Anciaux (Le Sacrement du Mariage, Louvain 1961, pp. 51-54) prefers to say "education or regulation of sexual activity", while more recent authors such as Viladrich express this better still as the "rational use of sexuality".

[26] "parentes diligunt filios eo quod sunt aliquid ipsorum. Ex semine enim parentum filii procreantur. Unde filius est quodammodo pars patris ab eo separata" In VIII Ethic., lect. 12.

[27] What is more singular as a form of self-realization than the begetting of one's own child - another person, in all its irrepeatability - fruit of the gift of self that each of the spouses gives to the other? Here we see the radical defectiveness of the personalism of H. Doms, who reduced the child to a simply physical complement to conjugal community.

[28] "causa stabilis et firma coniunctionis [inter virum et uxorem] videntur esse filii. Et inde est quod steriles, qui scilicet carent prole, citius ab invicem separantur... Et huiusmodi ratio est quia filii sunt commune bonum amborum, scilicet viri et uxoris... Illud autem quod est commune continet et conservat amicitiam" In VIII Ethic., lect. 12.

[29] John Paul II reflects on how sexuality holds out the promise of the overcoming of this original loneliness. Cf. Uomo e Donna lo creò, pp. 44ss.

[30] Pope John Paul II indeed makes a reference to the hierarchy of ends in an Address of October 10, 1984. This one reference does not seem to me to take from the fact that the matter is now viewed with different emphasis.

[31] To defend this may only serve to acerbate a sense of opposition between the ends, and incidentally to buttress the pseudo-argument of those who say that the Church is interested only in numerical offspring, and not in married people's legitimate aspirations of happiness.