Is Marriage for the Weak

The Vocation of Marriage

Is marriage only for the weak? Are only those called to marriage who don't have a strong enough will to give themselves totally to Christ and his Church in virginity or celibacy? It could certainly seem so from St. Paul: "If his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry — it is no sin…. he who refrains from marriage will do better" (1 Cor 7:37-38).

Following a classic procedure, I will first give arguments in favor of this position, then my response to the question.

The saints on marriage and celibacy

In the first place, it seems that the authority of the saints indicates that marriage is only for those who are too weak to persevere in continence for the kingdom of heaven, while virginity or celibacy is for all those who have the strength of will to take it.

Marriage is attributed to weakness

Those of us who have wives we advise, with all our power, that they dare not judge of those holy fathers after their own weakness (St. Augustine, On the Good of Marriage, n. 34)

Has the apostle, think you, both shown sufficiently to the strong what is highest, and permitted to the weaker what is next best? Not to touch a woman he shows is highest when he says, "I would that all men were even as I myself." But next to this highest is conjugal chastity, that man may not be the prey of fornication. (St. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, ch. 35)

If under the Gospel it is permitted to have children, it is one thing to make a concession to weakness, another to hold out rewards to virtue. (St. Jerome, Against Jovianius I, n. 37).

The one sins not if she marries; if the other does not marry, it is for eternity. In the former is seen the remedy for weakness, in the latter the glory of chastity. The former is not reproved, the latter is praised. (St. Ambrose, Concerning Virgins I, ch. 6)

"To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry" (1 Cor 7:8-9). You can see Paul's common sense here. He says that continence is better, but does not force a person who cannot attain it, fearing that defeat may result. "For it is better to marry than to be burn" (v. 9); here he shows how great a tyranny the passions exercise over us. What he means is something like this: if you suffer with violent, burning passion, then relieve your pain and sweat through marriage, before you utterly collapse. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 19 on 1 Cor.)
These are the two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaste, and to make us parents… The purpose of chastity takes precedence… If you desire children, you can get much better children now, a nobler childbirth and better help in your old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor. So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid fornication, and the remedy is offered for this purpose (St. John Chrysostom, Sermon on Marriage).

In order to avoid an unbalanced impression of St. John's Chrysostom view of marriage, I also quote another text of his describing a holy marriage:

Some wise man in the list of blessings sets many things, and also sets this in the list of blessing: "And a wife," he says, "in harmony with her husband." And again elsewhere he puts this among the blessings, "the wife being in agreement with her husband." And from the beginning God appears to have made providence for this union, and has spoken of the two as one… There is no relationship between men as great as that of a wife to her husband, if they are coupled as they ought to be… Indeed the household is a little Church. Thus by becoming good husbands and wives, it is possible to surpass all others. (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20 on Ephesians, PG 62, 135 & 143)Furnish your house neatly and soberly… Remove from your lives shameful, immodest, and Satanic music, and don't associate with people who enjoy such profligate entertainment… Pray together at home and go to Church… Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks. (Ibid.)

Alphonsus de Liguori is also quite as strong on this point as St. Jerome, Origen, or Tertullian.

The married state I cannot recommend to you, because St. Paul does not counsel it to any one, except there be a necessity for it, arising out of habitual incontinence, which necessity, I hold for certain, does not exist in your case. (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Reply to a youth considering which state he should choose)
… But if you resolve not to become a religious, I cannot advise you to enter the married state, for St. Paul does not counsel that state to any one, except in case of necessity, which I hope does not exist for you. (St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Advice to a woman in doubt as to what state she should choose)

Virginity or celibacy is for those of strong will

Many texts of the Fathers and saints also seem to show that virginity or celibacy is for those who have the strength of will to take it, which seems to imply, conversely, that marriage is for those who are weak-willed.

Virginity is something supernaturally great, wonderful, and glorious… Chastity with men is a very rare thing, and difficult of attainment, and in proportion to its supreme excellence and magnificence is thre greatness of its dangers.
For this reason, it requires strong and generous natures, such as, vaulting over the stream of pleasure, direct the chariot of the soul upwards from the earth, not turning aside from their aim, until having, by swiftness of thought, lightly bounded above the world, and taken their stand truly upon the vault of heaven, they purely contemplate immortality itself as it springs forth from the undefiled bosom of the Almighty. (Methodius, The Banquet of the Ten Virgins, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 6, discourse 1, p. 310)

The Master of the Christian race offers the reward, invites candidates to the course, holds in His hand the prize of virginity, points to the fountain of purity, and cries aloud "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." (Against Jovinianus, St. Jerome, in NPNF 2nd series, Volume VI, p. 355)

"He who can receive this, let him receive it." What is this? If natural ability is meant, no one is able, while if supernatural ability is meant, all are able. I say that 'can' includes the power of the will. For some have a firm will, while others do not. And it is manifest that he who has a firm will does not fear many impulses, while he who does not, falls by a slight impulse. Whence it is as though one were to say, he who is able by firmness of will, not from nature but from God, let him receive it. (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Matthew, Lecture 19, n. 1572).

This recommendation for which the Pope takes the whole responsibility is a very paternal word which is inspired solely by the good of religious communities. It is this: "Be rigorous."…
By these words his Holiness wished to allude not only to the severity of discipline in general, but above all and in a very special manner, to the severity which is necessary when accepting postulants. Someone may say that they are already too severe; the Pope authorizes the answer that it is he who wishes it to be so… If, in fact, we desire to preserve the splendor of religious life, we must be severe above all where vocations are concerned, because divine grace helps, but does not destroy human nature, and therefore it remains necessary to struggle, a necessity which is even more grace in religious life. It is for that reason that we cannot run the risk of unsuitable elements infiltrating a religious community, for these elements not only will not be useful for anything, they will be on the contrary so many obstacles, so many stumbling-blocks; they will constitute so much cockle among the wheat.
It is not exaggeration, but experience, which tells us that in human collectivities, even restricted ones, almost inevitably deficiencies are produced. A religious family need not, for all that, reduce the number of its members; on the contrary, they must be increased; but it must so act that all its members will be chosen souls, elite, soldiers. A difficult thing, a difficult task, but necessary. In fact, when many men gather together, the good qualities, especially the highest ones, do not add up to a sum total; each one keeps his own; on the contrary, the deficiencies, the bad qualities, join one another and fuse. (Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Friars Minor Capuchins, July 10, 1938)

To worldly gaze, which does not penetrate beneath the surface, religious life may appear more especially as a refuge from the tempest, a spiritual repose in a peaceful retreat, a desert where weaker souls seek a refuge far from the perils and worries of the world. But the world is blind. For a firm heart, intrepid before earthly trials, like that of your Blessed Mother Foundress, religious life is religion lived before God and man, and if it is a retreat, it is at the same time an arena of abnegation and prayer, of action and labor, from which one comes forth more firm and more eager, ready for greater sacrifices and for greater activity in the service of God and souls, totally under the sway of a charity more intense, bolder, even impassible in the face of death. (Pius XII, Allocution to the pilgrims at the beatification of Magdalene of Canossa, December 9, 1941, in States of Perfection, p. 326)

Superiority of celibacy

Secondly, it seems to follow, if virginity or celibacy is superior to marriage as a way of living and growing in love of God and neighbor, as the Church teaches, and if it is open to all, then the only reason for someone not to embrace virginity or celibacy would be that they are do weak to do so.
Now the Church does clearly teach that virginity or celibacy is superior to marriage as a way of expressing and growing in love of God.

"If anyone says that the married state is to be preferred to the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is not better and happier to remain in virginity or celibacy than to be joined in matrimony, let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Canons on the Sacrament of Matrimony, Can. 10).32. This doctrine of the excellence of virginity and of celibacy and of their superiority over the married state was, as We have already said, revealed by our Divine Redeemer and by the Apostle of the Gentiles; so too, it was solemnly defined as a dogma of divine faith by the holy council of Trent , and explained in the same way by all the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Finally, We and Our Predecessors have often expounded it and earnestly advocated it whenever occasion offered (Encyclical Letter Sacra Virginitas, Pius XII, March 25, 1954).

The second way to perfection, by which a man may be more free to devote himself to God, and to cling more perfectly to him, is the observance of perpetual chastity… The way of continence is most necessary for attaining perfection… Abraham had so great spiritual perfection in virtue, that his spirit did not fall short of perfect love for God on account either of temporal possessions or of married life. But if another man who does not have the same spiritual virtue, strives to attain perfection, while retaining riches and entering into marriage, his error in presuming to treat Our Lord's words as of small account will soon be demonstrated. (St. Thomas Aquinas, On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life, Ch. 9)

Again, the Church teaches that a person is free to decide for marriage or for celibacy.

In choosing a state of life there is no doubt but that it is in the power and discretion of each one to prefer one or the other: either to embrace the counsel of virginity given by Jesus Christ, or to bind himself in the bonds of matrimony. (Pope Pius XI, Casti Connubii. The pope is here quoting Rerum Novarum.)4… no one may prevent those who are canonically suitable from entering religion, since the religious state by its very nature lies open to all the faithful and is to be held in honor by all. "Let no one, who is unwilling, be driven to this kind of consecrated life; but, if one wishes it, let there be no one who will dissuade him, much less prevent him from undertaking it." (The General Statutes annexed to the Apostolic Constitution Sedes Sapientiae, The Sacred Congregation of Religious, 1957, Art. 32)

Young people, entering into themselves and at the same time entering into conversation with Christ in prayer, desire as it were to read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father has in their regard. They then become convinced that the task assigned to them by God is left completely to their own freedom. (Pope John Paul II, Dilecti Amici, n. 10)

Response

The fundamental vocation of all is the vocation to love. "Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being" (Familiaris Consortio, n. 11; also cited in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1604). The vocation to a particular way of life is a determination of this common vocation to love. "The word 'vocation' indicates that there exists for every person a proper direction of his development through commitment of his entire life in the service of certain values… And therefore a vocation always means some principal direction of love that a particular person has" (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility).

The choice of the concrete way in which to fulfill, live out, and grow in the vocation to love is generally left up to the choice of the individual person (though in some cases God intervenes to call someone in a particularly special way, as he did with Abraham). Nevertheless the way in which one may best live out the vocation to love depends on both external and interior factors. Pope John Paul II says:

Young people, entering into themselves and at the same time entering into conversation with Christ in prayer, desire as it were to read the eternal thought which God the Creator and Father has in their regard. They then become convinced that the task assigned to them by God is left completely to their own freedom, and at the same time is determined by various circumstances of an interior and exterior nature. Examining these circumstances, the young person, boy or girl, constructs his or her plan of life and at the same time recognizes this plan as the vocation to which God is calling him or her. (Dilecti Amici, n. 9)

Generally, however, the primacy belongs to the interior factors, to the capacity, readiness, and commitment to pursue a particular path as an expression of and means to love. The devotion with which one pursues a particular way of life (supposing that it is a good and holy way of life) is more important than its mere objective superiority, or lack thereof. The Pope states:

According to the consistent teaching and practice of the Church, virginity realized as a deliberately chosen life-vocation, based on a vow of chastity, and in combination with the two other vows of poverty and obedience, creates particularly favorable conditions for attaining evangelical perfection. The combination of conditions that results from applying the evangelical counsels in the lives of particular men, and especially in communal life, is called the state of perfection. The "state of perfection," however, is not the same as perfection itself, which is realized by every man through striving in the manner proper to his vocation to fulfill the commandment to love God and one’s neighbor. It may happen that a a man who is outside the "state of perfection," is, by observing this greatest commandment, effectively more perfect than someone who chose that state. In the light of the Gospel, every man solves the problem of his vocation in practice above all by adopting a conscious personal attitude towards the supreme demand contained in the commandment of love. This attitude is above all a function of a person, the state (marriage, celibacy, even virginity understood only as the "state" or an element of the state) plays in it a secondary role. (Love and Responsibility)

A person who chooses celibacy without a strong inner commitment to it as a way of love (which realistically can be absent in someone who chooses it simply because it is the "higher state"), which generally goes along with an inner peace, may not in fact really attain the proper goal of celibacy, may be himself troubled by the dividedness of heart that St. Paul ascribes to married persons in general. St. Thomas Aquinas says that "[the evangelical] counsels, considered in themselves, are advantageous for all; but due to some people being poorly disposed, it happens that some of them are not advantageous, because their heart [affectus] is not inclined to them" (ST I-II 108:4). And Pope John Paul II explains:

Paul observes that the man who is bound by the marriage bond "finds himself divided" (1 Cor 7:34) because of his family duties (see 1 Cor 7:34). From this observation, it seems thus to follow that the unmarried person should be characterized by an inner integration, by a unification that would allow him to devote himself completely to the service of the kingdom of God in all its dimensions. This attitude presupposes abstention from marriage, exclusively "for the kingdom of God," and a life directed uniquely to this goal. Otherwise "division" can secretly enter also the life of an unmarried person, who, being deprived, on the one hand, of married life and, on the other hand, of a clear goal for which he should renounce marriage, could find himself faced with a certain emptiness. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, July 7, 1982)

Understanding of celibacy

This single-heartedness, this strong commitment to celibacy as a way of love, presupposes on the one hand a particular light and understanding, which is a gift of grace (though it certainly need not be experienced as a inspiration, in contrast to so-called ordinary Christian faith and prudence).

Christ speaks about an understanding ("Not all can understand it, but only those to whom it has been granted," Mt 19:11); and it is not a question of an "understanding" in the abstract, but an understanding that influences the decision, the personal choice in which the "gift," that is, the grace, must find an adequate resonance in the human will. (Pope John Paul II, General Audience of March 31, 1982)

Jesus calls attention to the gift of divine light necessary to "understand" the way of voluntary celibacy. Not all can understand it, in the sense that not all are "able" to grasp its meaning, to accept it, to put it into practice. This gift of light and decision is only granted to some. It is a privilege granted them for the sake of a greater love. We should not be surprised then if many, not understanding the value of consecrated celibacy, are not attracted to it, and often are not even able to appreciate it. This means that there is a diversity of ways, charisms, and functions, as Saint Paul recognized, who spontaneously wished to share his ideal of virginal life with all. Indeed he wrote: "I wish that all were as I myself am. But each," he adds, "has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another" (1 Cor 7:7). (Pope John Paul II, General Audience, November 16, 1994)

Love of celibacy

The firm choice of celibacy presupposes also a certain love of celibacy, deriving from a love of Christ, a desire for a greater freedom for service of others, or similar causes. This does not mean that a person feels no desire for marriage, but that the love of celibacy outweighs it, so to speak, so that the person is capable of devoting themselves wholeheartedly to the love of God and neighbor in celibacy.

Since it is a question of comparison of one desire with another, the sufficiency of a person's will or desire for celibacy depends both upon that will, and upon the desire for marriage. The fact that a person's love seeks expression in marriage rather than in celibacy could be attributed to a "lack" of or "less" appreciation of celibacy as a concrete possibility for onself, arising either from neglect, ignorance, or from God's not giving that "charism"; but it could also be attributed to a "greater" desire for a holy marriage, to raise children for Christ.

The determination of the direction a particular person's love takes depends partly upon natural factors, which make a person more inclined to one way of life than another. This natural difference in a certain way redounds to charity itself, inasmuch as "charity is firmer when it is founded on nature" (St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, ch. 4, lec. 2). The determination of love depends also upon divine providence (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, ch. 134, and Contra Impugnantes II, ch. 4, ad 1), and simply upon the will of God, of which charity is a participation. We do not possess charity as something totally of our own; it is essentially a share in God's own love, and God is the one to direct it. From charity springs a connatural judgment of what is in accordance with God's will, a judgment that is not altogether reducible to human reasoning, though human reasoning may be somehow involved in it. St. Francis de Sales describes this autonomy of charity in his Treatise on the Love of God:

When charity draws some to poverty and withdraws others from it, when she impels some to marriage and others to continence, when she shuts one up in a cloister and makes another leave it, she has no need to give an account to any one: for she has the plenitude of power in the Christian law, as it is written: charity can do all things (Cf. 1 Cor 13:7); she has the fullness of prudence, as it is said: charity does nothing in vain. And if any would contest, and demand of her why she does so, she will boldly answer: The Lord has need of it. All is made for charity, and charity for God. (Treatise on the Love of God, book 8, ch. 6)

This focus on the direction of love as an inner principle does not exclude other motives for marriage: St. Francis also gives the example of one who is required to marry for the sake of the common good: "You are perhaps a prince, by whose posterity the subjects of your crown are to be preserved in peace, and assured against tyranny, sedition, civil wars: the effecting, therefore, of so great a good, obliges you to beget lawful successors in a holy marriage." (Ibid.) But in most cases, such external considerations are not of themselves sufficient for a choice.

In answer to the original question, then, it should be said that the vocation of marriage is not only for those who are too weak to embrace the vocation of celibacy, but for those who, according to circumstances of natural disposition, providence, and the interior movement of charity, find marriage the fullest way of expressing and growing in this charity.

Reply to objections:

To the first set of objections, that marriage is a concession to weakness, for those who cannot otherwise be chaste, it should be said that the saints are addressing their own situation, and that in fact practically all persons marrying were not doing so from a rightly based conviction that marriage was the best means for living the divine love, but out of a desire for offspring, for economic reasons, for convenience, pleasure, or other such motives. For a long time there was a kind of self-reinforcing cycle in this matter. To the degree that little emphasis was put on marriage as a means to holiness, persons tended not to choose marriage in order to become holy–those who were intent on holiness tended to seek to remain single. The result of this was that persons had few examples of marriage as a means to holiness, which led to their not seeing marriage as a means to holiness, which led to persons seeking holiness not getting married, etc. St. Augustine points out: "[There are some marriages in which the spouses are not divided in heart, but completely devoted to God.] But they are very rare: who denies this? And being rare, nearly all the persons who are such, were not joined together in order to be such, but being already joined together became such (On the Good of Marriage, n. 14). That is, where there are few examples of holy marriages, people will not enter marriage seeking or expecting to become holy.

The second set of objections, that celibacy is for those with a strong will, should be granted inasmuch as Christian celibacy, in order to be Christian celibacy, more strictly requires a firm intention of living for God alone than marriage does, which is also a natural way of life. Yet we should note that the strength required is the strength spoken of by St. Paul: "I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me… for when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:9-10); "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (Phil 4:13). It is the strength of those who recognize their complete weakness, and rely on God alone.

To the objection based on the superiority of celibacy over marriage, the reply is clear from what was said. The choice of marriage as a vocation normally presupposes a relative inability to choose or live celibacy with a whole-heartedness as a divine calling and way of love, but this formal comparison does not necessarily imply an absolute weakness.

16 thoughts on “Is Marriage for the Weak”

  1. Thanks for this post! Like you said in a comment on my blog ten days ago, it can be hard to hold two things in the mind at once… There's a lot here to absorb, but anyway I especially appreciated the review of what Fathers and popes have said in different ages of the Church. I also liked how you summed it up: "the vocation of marriage is not only for those who are too weak to embrace the vocation of celibacy, but for those who, according to circumstances of natural disposition, providence, and the interior movement of charity, find marriage the fullest way of expressing and growing in this charity."

  2. Thanks. This question came up in class, or actually after class, but it's a question worth reflecting on, so I figured I'd post it here.

    Another comment was made that even now almost all persons marrying are not doing so out of an honest conviction that marriage is the best means for living the divine love. I grant the truth of this; however, it's not clear that it indicates much other than that most people in general don't make God the single determining rule of their life, and so of course also in marriage. But it is substantially less true if one looks only at committed Catholics. A much higher percentage of them would make the decision to marry from a conviction that it was the best way for them to live a life of Christian love.

  3. I think warning labels ought to be put on several of our saints on this topic who were saints indeed but who perhaps carried inside themselves what Aquinas called "the remnants of sin" that God can leave within the converted person which are strong dispositions to the same sin of their youth. If a good think tank were to analyze Catholic speak in this area, it would note that we do not distinguish those saints who experienced sinful sex in their youth… Augustine and Jerome… from those who did not. Aquinas is a different problem because he shows a great dependency on Augustine in sexual matters which led him into Augustine's error on the IC…i.e. that where ever pleasure took place
    (Mary's parents) original sin had to be passed on and then cleansed from Mary prior to birth…a position which proved false once Rome infallibly spoke on same.

  4. Bill,

    Thanks for your comment. But, um, just what are you saying? Are saints who have sinned and repented unable to judge rightly about the matter in which they sinned?

    You say that "we do not distinguish those saints etc.?" To whom do you refer? Many Catholic theologians and historians who write at length about the life and teaching of a saint do reflect on how the saint's life experience shows itself in his or her theology. But since you state this in the context of my blogpost and quotations from the Fathers and saints of the Church–concretely, do you see a general difference between the teaching of St. Augustine or St. Jerome on sexuality and marriage, and the teaching of, say, St. Anselm, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, who did not have the same sexual history as St. Augustine did?

    The reason for St. Thomas's error regarding the Immaculate Conception was certainly not his understanding of sexuality, nor of original sin. His argument is as follows:

    The sanctification of the Blessed Virgin cannot be understood to have taken place before her body was animated by a soul. There are two reasons for this: first, the sanctification about which we are speaking is nothing other than a cleansing from original sin, since sanctity is perfect cleanness, as Dionysius says in On the Divine Names XII, and guilt cannot be cleansed except through grace, the sole subject of which is a rational creature. And therefore the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified before the infusion of the rational soul. Secondly, since only the rational creature can be a subject of guilt, offspring conceived is not the subject of guilt before the infusion of the rational soul. Thus, in whatever way we suppose the Blessed Virgin to have been sanctified, she would never have incurred the stain of original sin, and so would not have needed the redemption and salvation which is through Christ, about which it is said in Matthew 1, "He shall save his people from their sins." But we may not deny that Christ is the savior of all men, as is said in 1 Timothy 4:10. Hence the other position follows, that the sanctification of the Blessed Virgin took place after animation. (Summa Theologiae III, 27:3)

    Basically there are two arguments, the first philosophical, the other theological. The first argument is that it was impossible for Mary to be made clean of sin at conception, since she did not have a rational soul. The second argument is that if Mary never had sin, than she did not need to be redeemer by Christ, which is false.

    In fact, as the Dogmatic definition states, Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin, "by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ." It was not merely that somehow by chance original sin was not passed on in this case, but she was preserved from the original sin that would in the normal course have been passed on from her parents.

  5. Bill,

    Sorry, I mistyped the number of the article I quoted. It was not article 3, but 2. That is the same article as the article you cite. The difference, however, is that I quote the body of the article, where St. Thomas gives his reasons why Mary's being freed from sin could not have happened before animation (and thus must have happened some time after conception). You quote the reply to an objection, where his intention is to explain why Mary's parents being cleansed of sin would not make her clean of sin. His point is that original sin is passed on not by the fact that one's parents have original sin, but through the generation of human nature (which is the teaching of the Church, not merely St. Augustine's!) to which original sin comes.

    You didn't answer the question about whether you see a difference between the teaching of Augustine and that of St. Anselm, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Alphonsus Liguori. Instead you rail against Augustine's real or supposed errors. And why do you mention how (allegedly) Thomas follows Augustine's errors? I don't see the connection.

    Nonetheless, since Thomas Aquinas is a particular strong point of mine, I want to clarify his position. It seems you are reading Aquinas out of context, and that in several senses. First, you are apparently reading (since you quote) from the "Supplement", which is composed mainly of excerpts from the Commentary on the Sentences. You thereby risk skipping important points. Secondly, this text comes from the Commentary on the Sentences, which has a particular character, being written as a Commentary on Peter Lombard, and staying in a certain traditional language. The essential meaning of the text you cite from Thomas could be paraphrased: "two married person come together without sin only when they do so for the sake of children, or for the sake of their mutual relationship." If they do so for the sake of pleasure, disregarding the good of the relationship or the other person, it is a venial sin, or even a mortal sin–if one seriously disregards the good of the other.

    The fact is that according to St. Thomas's teaching, a spouse is obliged not only to render the debt, but also to ask for it, not only for the sake of children, but also for the sake of the spouse's relationship. See In IV Sent., d. 32, q. 1, a. 4, ad 3. You can find the text at the site Corpus Thomisticum. I suggest you read all of distinctions 31 and 32.

  6. No…what we are doing as a group is making it look like change never happened at all below the level of the universal ordinary magisterium and it is precisely there that there were changes even at the supreme ordinary magisterium level of Councils….Third Lateran gave slavery of pirates as a reward to privateers who captured pirates…Vatican II condemned slavery (supreme ordinary) as did "Splendor of the Truth" (ordinary magisterium).

    You wrote: "You didn't answer the question about whether you see a difference between the teaching of Augustine and that of St. Anselm, St. John Chrysostom, and St. Alphonsus Liguori Joseph…"
    Answer: We all pick and choose which comments of the other we will address….you just did it yourself….you didn't touch the idea in Augustine and Aquinas of woman as good for mainly procreation….and I don't pin you down to it. Otherwise, we'd be writing all night since an asked question or a point expressed is short and takes no time to type but writing the answer can take a hundred times as long as writing the question. I know no writer who answers every point.
    Ligouri I remember to be much better than Augustine but he needed Aquinas' citing of Aristotle to get there if I remember rightly… but I'm not going back to those notes. Anselm I do not read. I am sure there are people whom you do not read.

    But Joseph, you are cleansing Aquinas and updating him by way of paraphrase. He said that Mary "contracted" original sin and the Church says that God preserved her from contracting it. You keep missing that difference between Aquinas and the Church on the IC…a difference I think even your pastor knows of even if he does not know the details.

    And Aquinas said there were only two ways to have intercourse sinlessly and asking for the debt sans childbirth willing was not one of them; and you revamped it to make it look as though he were agreeing with the modern Popes and he was not. He and Augustine are two reasons some in the clergy resisted the new permission for the natural methods beginning in the 1800's when it passed from being folklore into being science. Arthur Vermeesch went back and forth on whether to approve it….but then again he still supported the just titles of the decretals for slavery until at least 1904 and after Leo XIII's encyclical on that matter.
    And I love him…Aquinas…. (read the whole Summa) and I love Augustine (read most of him…a greater feat than the former) but loving them means also seeing wherein they were incorrect.
    St. John Chrysostom also gave what I consider an awful accounting of Cana and was perhaps the other reason countless writers Protestant and Catholic… saw nothing untoward in our awful sense for sense…not word for word…translations of the account.
    What if the Catholic writer, Miguens, M. { Mary “The Servant of the Lord”. Boston, MA.: Daughters of St. Paul, 1978}, was simply correct: Christ was not referring to the wine problem at all but to the fear within Mary that doing this miracle would bring death…"my hour"… on Christ immediately…that month…. and thus the sword which Simeon had predicted would cut Mary's soul. That would perfectly explain why Mary took His words for a yes…I'll help with the wine problem… rather than the no that Augustine and Chrysostom mistakenly saw.

    Jerome is cited by John Paul II without ever mentioning that Jerome loved Seneca on marriage matters and Seneca approved of infanticide. No one says boo…. yet if a modern Pope quoted an pro abortion philosopher, we'd all faint. Warning label: Jerome was no virgin and he loved Seneca at one point calling him "our Seneca". In the future of the Church, this area must be cleaned up and presented with its problems since Asia has an awful lot of high IQ people who are going to catch our people on these things. Better we catch ourselves first.

  7. Please stick to the original topic of the blogpost. This post is not about the development of doctrine, and we will not discuss it here.

    I asked the question about a difference of teaching between the saints I quote, and insisted on an answer, because without an answer to that question, your original point about Augustine is unsubstantiated… in other words, making an attempt to stay on topic.

    I do not change or overlook the doctrine of Thomas concerning the Immaculate Conception. Rather, I stick to the point at issue. You said, "he shows a great dependency on Augustine in sexual matters which led him into Augustine's error on the IC." (Emphasis added). You give a dependency on Augustine as the reason for his understanding that Mary had original sin. I cited a text of Thomas that contained his reasons for his understanding, and Augustine's understanding of sexual matters was not among them.

  8. There is a difference between not addressing a comment, and not responding to a question. If a person asks a question, it is polite to make some kind of response. I generally respond to all questions, if only to say that I consider the question irrelevant to the point at issue, and therefore do not want to answer in at that time; but if someone makes a long diatribe, jumping from one point to another, of course I feel no obligation to address every point.

  9. Joseph
    No. Asking about a comparison of a series of saints that you hand picked is simply an intellectual debating tactic that allows you to hold the ace. Suppose I asked you the same question about 5 other saint authors. You'd then have to spend a month reading them because they were not previously the authors you consulted.

    Any neutral readers of the above posts have seen how I showed Aquinas to be actually simply paraphrasing or imitating Augustine on sexual matters and this is crystal clear e.g. on both saying women are of little use outside the role of bearing children:

    Augustine:
    “ I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman is not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and woman cohabitate.” De Genesi ad litteram 9,5-9 Augustine.
    ______________________________

    Aquinas, ST, Pt. I. Q.98, art.2 "Moreover, we are told that woman was made to be a help to man. But she was not fitted to be a help to man except in generation, because another man would have proved a more effective help in anything else. (On the contrary..section)."
    _______________________________

    That is the attitude of an ex womanizer and then unfortunately, a virgin, Aquinas, proceeds to simply imitate his words. I showed with reference to Augustine where Aquinas was likewise getting his only two ways of having sex without venial sin:if all desire is concupiscence, then of course asking is at least venial sin. But all desire is not concupiscence as we know since love was allowed to enter the act well after these men who never mention it as being within the act itself. Both men thus burdened Catholic men for centuries with thinking that desiring sex without willing children and asking for it was venial sin which the modern Popes rejected when they accepted the use of the infertile periods. Thus Haring in modern times pointed out that the New Testament commanded married men to so ask for sex to avoid fornication and along comes Augustine (then Aquinas) with his left over guilt telling them it was wrong venially to so ask and yet Corinthians told them to ask.
    I'm done sir. Neutral readers can decide what just happened here for themselves.

    1. I'd just like to note that the position in any given "On the Contrary" in the Summa. is not necessarily St. Thomas's own. Some of the time it is [e.g., I.85.2]; some of the time it is not.

  10. My intention was to pick the saints whom I quoted in the original blogpost (though I again mistyped Anselm instead of Ambrose), since it was suggested that there was a difference between Augustine's teaching and theirs. It is helpful for everyone to try and stay on the same topic as the original post; it is otherwise simply confusing for all.

    Another quote from Aquinas, from the section of the Commentary on the Sentences I suggested you read (if you can read Latin–as one might assume from the assertions you make about Bible translation issues): when nature moves a person to the matrimonial act, it is not entirely without sin, unless the movement of nature is further ordered either in act or in habit to offspring as the good of the sacrament. (In IV Sent. d. 31, q. 2, a. 2, ad 1; emphasis added) That is to say, the marriage must be ordered to building up the body of Christ through one#'s children, but one need not actually intend that in every marital act (though of course one cannot contradict it).

  11. No, I am not a theologian, philosopher or priest. Recently widowed after nearly 39 years of marriage, I am here to say that a true sacramental, covenantal marriage is not for the weak. Marriage is so much more than the conjugal relationship.

    St. John is quoted above "There is no relationship between men as great as that of a wife to her husband, if they are coupled as they ought to be…" In the marriage we lived, we were coupled " as they ought to be" by the presence of Christ Jesus among us. Without His presence in our relationship there simply would have been no relationship.

    As an interloper, I could go on for a long time but will jump out here. I do have a short dissertation on "Marriage as a Christian Vocation". I would be willing to share it if any one requests it in a subsequent post.

    Thank you for the interesting read.

  12. To whoever wrote this article congratulations on being so diplomatic on the issue of marriage vs celibacy. Full credit to you for being completely impartial and fair on the issue of discussion and for neither being for or against at either of the subjects of the topic. Ok as regards as to the Church saying celibacy is superior to marriage doesn't that hint at something strange. I mean kindly picture this scenario in your thoughts what if every single person currently existing and newly born in this world followed celibacy and nobody ever got married and engaged in sexual intercourse what would be the situation on earth in about 150 years from now. How many people out of 7 billion would be present on earth after the end of those 150 years.If you people guessed correctly the amount will be zero.

    As regards to celibacy the only problem created towards marriage is by the Pope and the Roman catholic church. These people of that church preach to bachelors and spinsters to follow celibacy and tell married people not top use contraceptives and disuse abortion, even if the mother could die because of pregnancy related complications just like the recent case in Ireland. What I mean to say is can't a married man himself worship God along with his wife and his children teach them to do the same while also being helpful to society and people in one way or the other I mean isn't that what God wants us to do help other people, save the one's who are dying, help the weak, feed the poor, employ the unemployed and correct the people those who are walking on the wrong path in life, i.e criminals and terrorists, and help them also lead a righteous life. Seems like the Pope and the Roman Catholic church wants to quickly push earth towards the impending doomsday or judgement day as they call it. Seems like they are working under the command and orders of Satan and not God.

    1. The argument that celibacy is not particularly worthy of choice because it would not be good for everyone to be celibate is an invalid argument. It would not be good for everyone to be a doctor; that does not make the profession of a doctor any less important or valuable. It would not be good for everyone to be a teacher; that does not make the profession of a teacher any less valuable.

      Similarly, it would not be good for everyone to be married, but that does not detract from the vocation of marriage. It would not be good for everyone to be celibate, but that does not make the vocation of celibacy any less good and praiseworthy.

      Only someone quite removed from the reality of human life would imagine that everyone is going to be celibate. The Church is not so remote from the realities of human life, and neither desires nor expects its commendation of celibacy to make everyone celibate.

    2. The article is for both marriage and for celibacy, and against neither. You appear to assume that to be for one means to be against the other, but it does not.

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