What is the purpose of marriage, according to the Catholic Catechism?
Well, it depends on the Catholic Catechism you care to consult.
Throughout the near-2,000 years of Church history, a few different catechisms have been published. For our purposes today, we will examine three: the Catechism of the Council of Trent, the Baltimore Catechism, and the Catholic Catechism currently circulating.
As you will see, each defines the purpose of marriage similarly, just in different terms.
Also, the meaning of marriage and the meaning of the conjugal act are inseparable. That is, they overlap and interwine. In fact, the Catholic Catechism of modern day says simply, “Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman” (2360).
THE CATECHISM OF THE COUNCIL OF TRENT (1566):
Widely considered the first Roman Cateshism, the Catechism of the Council of Trent identifies these three components as the ends (or purposes) for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony:
1. To satisfy the “instinct implanted in both sexes” by nature. In other words, we are all impelled or inclined by the Natural Law to live in community with others;
2. For the procreation and education of offspring; and
3. To curb concupiscence, or to serve as “an antidote by which to avoid sins of lust” as the Catechism of the Council of Trent states.
THE BALTIMORE CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (1884):
The Baltimore Catechism was the most recent Catechism before the current one. The Baltimore Catechism identifies the ends (or purposes) for the Sacrament of Matrimony (#1010) as these:
“(1) To enable the husband and wife to aid each other in securing the salvation of their souls;
“(2) To propagate or keep up the existence of the human race by bringing children into the world to serve God;
“(3) To prevent sins against the holy virtue of purity by faithfully obeying the laws of the marriage state” (emphasis added).
THE CURRENT CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (1992, REVISED IN 1997):
The current Catechism of the Catholic Church defines marriage as, “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; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament” (1601, emphasis added).
What does it mean by “the good of the spouses?” Elsewhere, I think we are given an answer.
The Catholic Catechism of modern times states, “Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses, is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of the human person as such” (2361, emphasis added).
Similarly to the prior to statements, the current Catechism repeats, “The spouses’ union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple’s spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of the family” (2363, emphasis added).
SO WHAT DID WE JUST READ?
As you just read for yourself, the Church has consistently taught the ends, or purposes for marriage.
Each Catechism pinpoints procreation as a purpose for Holy Matrimony. As well, they each state, in so many words, another purpose is for the good of the spouses.
This latter end for marriage is somewhat vague.
Interestingly, the Catechism of the Council of Trent placed a heavy emphasis on the Natural Law in this regard. It identified our natural inclinations for living in community and to be attracted to the opposite gender as both being key to defining marriage.
Elsewhere it even cites the Bible. That’s right, in Holy Writ, St. Paul recommends marriage for those battling against concupiscence (specifically, so as to preserve one’s sexual purity) (1 Corinthians 7:2-3).
The Baltimore Catechism states explicitly marriage is to enable each spouse to help the other get to heaven.
Yet, it too states an end for Holy Matrimony remains to help each spouse keep on the straight and narrow in the realm of sexual pureness.
And finally, the Catholic Catechism of present time, most certainly makes use of the vague term, “for the good of the spouses.” But it too implores the man and woman “give themselves to one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses.”
Thereby, the modern Catechism implies in agreement that one purpose for marriage is for the curbing of concupiscence.
Were you ever able to define the purpose(s) of marriage?
What do you make of teachings from the Catholic Catechism appraisal here?
Please share any thoughts you have below!