On Christian Marriage by Pope Pius XI: Reflections
The Comstock laws (1873) were passed by essentially Protestant legislatures and lasted until 1930 Lambeth Conference. This was legislation designed to outlaw obscene literature in the mails, including contraceptives, abortifacients and sexually explicit literature. Anglicans were the first Christians to approve of contraception under some circumstances. In the United States, Margaret Sanger founded the National Birth Control League in 1914. She generated pressures that were influential in removing the legal, religious and social barriers to contraception and then, abortion. Other churches and society in general came to embrace contraception and even abortion, in some cases, over time. Pope Pius XI wrote his encyclical to uphold moral truths about chaste wedlock.
Even the Washington Post newspaper was reacted negatively to the news of the Lambeth conference in one editorial which stated: Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee's report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalized contraceptives would be 'careful and restrained' is preposterous (Washington Post Commentary, 1931).
In the light of current American contraceptive marriage with its 50% divorce rate, it is profitable to reflect upon some of the truths reiterated in this encyclical letter. It is also important to note that Pope Paul VI reaffirmed the teaching of Casti Connubii in Humanae vitae (On Human Life) in 1968. Before we do that, a quiz question for you: •"What theologian declared in the 1500’s that birth control was the murder of future persons?" "What priest in the 1700’s declared that taking 'preventative measures' was unnatural and would destroy the souls of those who practiced it?" "Who declared that birth control was sodomy?“ The answers are respectively, John Calvin, John Wesley, and Martin Luther. On the other hand, these same Protestant leaders sought to remove the sacramental status of the institution of marriage.
Pius XI wrote: “. . . a great number of men, forgetful of that divine work of redemption, either entirely ignore or shamelessly deny the great sanctity of Christian wedlock, or relying on the false principles of a new and utterly perverse morality, too often trample it under foot.” He sought to vindicate the divine institution of marriage, its sacramental dignity and its perpetual stability as a lifelong union of a man and a woman. This was, in fact, restored by Christ and cannot be subject to any human decrees. When questioned by the Pharisees about divorce, Jesus answered:
Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?i 6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mt. 19:3-6)
As Pius XI wrote: “From God comes the very institution of marriage, the ends for which it was instituted, the laws that govern it, the blessings that flow from it; through generous surrender of his own person made to another for the whole span of life . . .” (para. 9)
He quotes St. Augustine: “are all the blessings of matrimony on account of which matrimony itself is a blessing; (1) offspring [children]; (2) conjugal faith; (3) sacrament.”
By conjugal faith it is provided that there should be no carnal intercourse outside the marriage bond with another man or woman; with regard to offspring, that children should be begotten of love, tenderly cared for and educated in a religious atmosphere; finally, in its sacramental aspect that the marriage bond should not be broken and that a husband or wife, if separated, should not be joined to another even for the sake of offspring. This we regard as the law of marriage” (para. 10)
Conjugal faith, called by St. Augustine, “faith of chastity” blooms more freely, beautifully and nobly when it is rooted in the soil of the love of husband and wife, which pervades all the duties of married life and holds pride of place in Christian marriage.
There should be a mutual molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony (not restricting it to the conception and education of children), but more widely as a blessing of life as a whole & the mutual interchange and sharing thereof (para. 24).
St. Augustine refers to “the order of love.” This order includes both the primacy of the husband with regard to the wife and children, the ready subjection of the wife and her willing obedience, which St. Paul puts in these words, “Let women be subject to their husbands as to the Lord, because the husband is the head of the wife, and Christ is the head of the Church” (Ephesians 5: 23-24).
This does not imply domination, but rather self-donation because we remember that Christ gave His very life for love of us. St. Pope John Paul II emphasizes in his great work on Theology of the Body, that St. Paul does not intend to say that the husband is the “master” of the wife and that the interpersonal covenant proper to marriage is a contract of domination by the husband over the wife. (TOB 89:3, p. 473). St. Paul underscored the challenging role of the husband noting:
Husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word . . . (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Husband and wife are in fact, “subject to one another,” mutually subordinated to one another. The source of this reciprocal submission lies in Christian pietas (fear of God) and its expression is love. (TOB 89:3, p. 473, Waldstein translation).
“If the husband is the head of the domestic body, then the wife is the heart; and as the first holds the primacy of authority, so the second can and ought to claim the primacy of love” (Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubi, para. 27 [On Christian Marriage]).
St. Augustine calls Christian marriage the sacrament by which is denoted the indissolubility of the bond and the raising and hallowing of the contract by Christ himself, whereby He made it an efficacious sign of grace” (para. 31)
Both husband and wife possess a guarantee of the endurance of this stability in marriage [indissolubility], seen in the generous yielding of their person & the intimate fellowship of their hearts since true love never falls away. A strong bulwark is in defense of a loyal chastity against incitements to infidelity, should any be encountered from within or without (such as illness or adversity of old age, etc.)
Importantly, he noted: "Since matrimonial consent among the faithful was constituted by Christ as a sign of grace, the sacramental nature is so intimately bound up with Christian wedlock that there can be no true marriage between baptized persons “without it being by that very fact a sacrament.” (para. 39).
Moreover, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: "The well-being of the individual person and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy state of conjugal and family life.“ (CCC 1603)
However, men and women do not reap the full fruit of the Sacrament unless they cooperate with grace; otherwise the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field unless they develop the seeds of grace they have received (para 41).
Our culture glorifies sex [not genuine love] and thereby tramples upon the beauty and virtues of married love, which can be extra-ordinarily grace-filled. The sanctity of marriage is trampled upon and derided; divorce, adultery, all the basest vices either are extolled or are at least depicted in such colors as they appear to be free of all reproach and infamy. Sinful ideas are coated with the veneer of science in books claiming to emancipate modern society from the old-fashioned and immature “opinions” of the ancients, relegating Christian marriage to garbage heap.
Armed with these false ideas, sinners concoct new forms of union from temporary or experimental marriage, to more modern sins such as same-sex marriage (legalized by the Supreme Court in the U.S.), reducing us to standards held by pagans in ancient times (para. 52). As the Catechism notes: "Homosexual unions contradict nature. They imitate but they do not complement and that is key. The same sex inclination is objectively disordered" (CCC #2358).
That does not mean that persons with a homosexual orientation cannot be outstanding citizens or saintly persons. Every human being regardless of orientation is called to live a life of personal holiness. While the inclination is disordered, only the activity itself is sinful.
“The conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious” (para54).
St. Augustine wrote, “Intercourse even with one’s legitimate wife is unlawful and wicked where the conception of the offspring is prevented.” Remember Onan being struck dead by God--see Genesis 38?
The Catholic Church, by the grace of God, is “standing erect in the midst of moral ruin which surrounds her,” upholds God’s moral law with regard to marriage. God forbids all acts which are intrinsically evil. God’s laws with regard to marriage should be kept. But remember, “God does not ask the impossible, but by His commands, instructs you to do what you are able, to pray for what you are not able that He may help you” (para. 61).
Frequent the Sacraments and pray constantly for God’s graces to help you overcome sinful tendencies and temptations! You will find much more richness and truth in this encyclical online if you desire to read it, Click Here
May the Lord richly bless you. The answers are respectively John Calvin, John Wesley, and Martin Luther