The modern world is full of broken marriages and families. Unfortunately, this lamentable trend includes many Christians. Instead of opposing family breakdown, many favor making it easier with divorce and living together arrangements. As a result, such concessions have become accepted and even commonplace. The confusion reigning in civil society now extends even to the Church. The very essence of marriage and the family are now being debated.
In face of all of this, we must not forget Our Lord’s words: “What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Mark 10 : 9) These are not empty words. Besides the divine authority sustaining this command, logic and nature clearly show that marriage is permanent and insoluble.
Understanding the perennial truth on marriage is an important first step to helping society get back on track on this crucial issue. Saint Thomas Aquinas is eminently qualified to explain these truths. Eight hundred years have transpired since he wrote these truths. Yet they read as though he had written them yesterday. They address the present problems concerning marriage and family.1
Marriage is Natural
Saint Thomas: A thing is said to be natural in two ways. First, as resulting of necessity from the principles of nature; thus upward movement is natural to fire. In this way matrimony is not natural, nor are any of those things that come to pass at the intervention or motion of the free-will. Secondly, that is said to be natural to which nature inclines although it comes to pass through the intervention of the free-will; thus acts of virtue and the virtues themselves are called natural; and in this way matrimony is natural, because natural reason inclines thereto in two ways. (Supplement, Q 41. A1)
Commentary: To those that would argue that the permanent nature of the bond of marriage is an artificial human invention, Saint Thomas counters that it is, in fact, a natural union. Matrimony, he states, is natural not in the sense that a marriage falls into place on its own, but rather natural in the sense that any man beginning a family naturally desires and seeks out a permanent union between him and his wife.
The Ends of Marriage
Saint Thomas: [T]he principal end of matrimony, [is] the good of the offspring. For nature intends not only the begetting of offspring, but also its education and development until it reach the perfect state of man as man, and that is the state of virtue. Hence, […] we derive three things from our parents, namely “existence,” “nourishment,” and “education.” (Ibid.)
Commentary: Contrary to the modern concept of marriage, which sees the love between spouses as the most important aspect, the truly central purpose is the procreation and education of children. The union of marriage seeks above all else to supply new members of the Church and to prepare them for union with God in Heaven.
Our Lord’s words from the beginning “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1 : 28) were not without cause. Any means which destroys, manipulates or deliberately hinders the purpose of marriage are contrary to Divine and natural law.
Among other things, homosexual “marriage” stands contrary to true marriage, as homosexual unions are intrinsically barren, the goal being nothing more than an emotional and unnatural attachment to an individual based solely on carnal lust.
Saint Thomas: [T]he secondary end of matrimony, […] is the mutual services which married persons render one another in household matters. For just as natural reason dictates that men should live together [in society], […] so too among those works that are necessary for human life some are becoming to men, others to women. Wherefore nature inculcates that society of man and woman which consists in matrimony. (Ibid.)
Commentary: This is the second purpose for marriage: the mutual support of the spouses. And it is not merely the emotional attachment spouses have to another. Among many important factors, it necessitates financial stability, physical capabilities for labor, an environment suitable to a family and, above all else, solid virtue.
Living and working in close proximity with another will necessarily bring petty annoyances which can culminate into great suffering, at times making life seem unbearable. Thus, charity and patience will also be required for both to co-operate in a household to ensure that the needs of the family are sustained.
The Permanence of Marriage
Indissoluble by Nature:
Saint Thomas: By the intention of nature, marriage is directed to the rearing of the offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life. Hence it is of natural law that parents should lay up for their children, and that children should be their parents’ heirs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Therefore, since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter to live together forever inseparably: and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law. (Supplement Q. 67 A. 1)
Commentary: Marriage is founded on the primary end of marriage, whence comes a naturally inseparable union. Such permanence brings about the happy result of a stable family.
A Further Aid to the Primary End of Marriage:
Saint Thomas: Now a child cannot be brought up and instructed unless it have certain and definite parents, and this would not be the case unless there were a tie between the man and a definite woman and it is in this that matrimony consists. (Supplement, Q 41. A1)
Commentary: Indissolubility is the natural result of the primary end. It is also a strong guarantee of a sense of stability in the child’s life, providing the child with identity, support, care and initiative. All such benefits pave the way to form a well-ordered, productive citizen and faithful Catholic.
Indissolubility a Reflection of Christ and His Church:
Saint Thomas: Indissolubility belongs to marriage […] is a sign of the perpetual union of Christ with the Church, and in so far as it fulfills an office of nature that is directed to the good of the offspring, as stated above. […] [T]he indissolubility of marriage is implied in the good of the sacrament rather than in the good of the offspring, although it may be connected with both. And in so far as it is connected with the good of the offspring, it is of the natural law, but not as connected with the good of the sacrament. (Supplement, Q. 65, A. 1)
Commentary: Here Saint Thomas answers those that would question the permanent state of marriage after children grow up and leave the house.
In this very beautiful reply, he points out that the husband and wife are meant to reflect the eternal union of Christ with His Church (cf. Ephesians 5 : 22-23), bound by an unbreakable fidelity.
Marriage is Monogamous
For the Upbringing of Children and Support of Spouses:
Saint Thomas: [P]lurality of wives neither wholly destroys nor in any way hinders the first end of marriage [procreation and education of children] … But though it does not wholly destroy the second end [support of spouses], it hinders it considerably for there cannot easily be peace in a family where several wives are joined to one husband, since one husband cannot suffice to satisfy the requisitions of several wives, and again because the sharing of several in one occupation is a cause of strife. (Supplement, Q. 65, A. 1)
Commentary: Saint Thomas observes that the begetting of children and perhaps even the support of more than one woman is physically possible. However, he notes that this is wholly counter-intuitive, as the suffering that accompanies marriage will be intensified by the presence of a community that will compete to gain favor. This is anything but the peace that Christ intended for a Christian family.
Although Saint Thomas does not say it directly, one can easily infer that the discord permeating a polygamous “family” would ruin a child’s moral compass and psychological development. Thus, indirectly, at least, it is contrary to the proper upbringing of offspring (i.e. the primary end of marriage).
Re-iteration of the Christ’s Fidelity to Church:
Saint Thomas: Furthermore [marriage] has another end, as regards marriage between believers, namely the signification of Christ and the Church […] [A]s Christ is one, so also is the Church one. (Ibid.)
Commentary: If the natural reasons against polygamy seem minor, Saint Tomas really hits home by showing that it is wholly contrary to Christ’s intention of creating marriage to mirror His fidelity with the Church. This, above all else, is what makes polygamy a grave evil and an offense against God.
1. The text provided in this article is from the Supplement of the Saint Tomas; though it is uncertain that he wrote the entire text, what is here recorded is the thought of the saint “gleaned from his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and his Contra Gentiles.”(Robert Slavin, O.P.; “St. Thomas and His Teaching on the Family.”)