Augustine, On the Good of Marriage

Summary Outline

This is a chapter by chapter summary structured outline of Augustine's treatise On the Good of Marriage, or De bono coniugali. The arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) follow the chapters of the work. Capital letters (A, B, C, etc.) and roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.) are employed to better manifest the structure and divisions of the treatise.

The Marriage Union is Good

  1. 1. Marital union is the first natural union of human society. Marriage is a union of friendship.
    1. 2. Different views regarding sexual intercourse and procreation before the fall: (a) Aman and Eve would have had children without intercourse; (b) they would have only had offspring spiritually; (c) Adam and Eve had bodies capable of death, and the intercourse ordered to the continuation of the species in spite of death.
  2. 3. Marital union is good, and indeed so good it cannot be abandoned.
    Reasons for goodness:
    1. Natural association (societas) between male and female: "The reason why marriage is good lies, I think, not merely in the procreation of children, but also in the natural companionship itself between the two sexes."
    2. (Fidelity): lust is moderated: "Marriages have a further good: carnal or youthful incontinence, which is admittedly bad, is applied to the honorable task of begetting children, and so the marital bond makes something good from the evil of lust."

Fidelity as a Good of Marriage

  1. 4. Good of fidelity: "In the very act in which married partners pay the debt they owe to each other, even if they demand this somewhat intemperately and without self-control, they owe equal fidelity to each other."
  2. 5. Marriage requires (1) permanence, and (2) openness to children.
    Status of marriages with various problems with sex
    Desire for sex without desire for children is made better by the fact of being married with the one with whom one desires sex
  3. 6. Fidelity extends not only to having intercourse for the sake of children, but to the spouse’s weakness. One shows fidelity, even if the request for sexual intercourse comes from weakness and incontinence. Venial fault is connected with marital intercourse for the sake of lust.
  4. 7. For Christians, fidelity must be kept even in the event of divorce. Remarriage is not possible, even for the sake of procreation. The strength of this bond is on account of the "sacramentum" of a greater reality. The Romans, however, do allow the woman to remarry. "The initial marriage covenant is so clearly bound up with a kind of sacrament that it is not made void even by the act of separation... the bond of fellowship between spouses is so strong that though they were bound together for the sake of begetting children, the marriage is not dissolved even in order to beget them" (ch. 6-7).

Comparison of Marriage and Continence: both are good, though continence is better

  1. 8. Marriage and continence are two goods—though continence is better, marriage remains good.
  2. 9. Marriage is good for the sake of something—the continuance of the human race in time. Since it is now not really necessary for an individual to marry in order to ensure the attainment of this end, it is better to not want marriage.
    1. 10. What if all abstained from marriage for such a holy motive? The City of God would be filled up even more quickly. Continence is, in fact, proposed by St. Paul to all capable of it.
    2. 11. Yet marriage even in the case of those who marry because they cannot control themselves is not a sin. Rather, the sexual union in such cases is a venial sin.
    3. 12. But unnatural sexual intercourse is a grave sin.
  3. 13. The chaste spouse is also holy in body and in spirit, only the unmarried woman thinks more about how to please the Lord.
    1. 14. There are exceptions of course, and holy married men and women who “ponder the things of the Lord, how they are to please the Lord”. But they are few, and nearly all of these became such after the fact—they did not enter into marriage with the intention of being devoted to the Lord.
    2. 15. The reason for this is that now those who are intent upon devotion to the Lord, choose rather to refrain from marriage than to enter into it. This was not formerly the case, and before even persons who would have been capable of continence for God’s sake entered into marriaged to beget children.
  4. 16. Marriage remains honorable, even if persons misuse it.

The Difference Between Marriage in the Old Testament and in the New Testament

    1. 17. Marriage in the City of God remains indissoluble, on account of "quoddam sacramentum", even if no children are possible in the marriage. In the past it was possible to have children by a second woman (with the permission of one's wife), or even several wives. But the latter is now certainly impossible, and the former questionable.
      The holy fathers did this out of duty, in order to procreate children.
    2. 18. Sexual intercourse is for the sake of the human race, and has its goodness from this. But even if it is sought in excess of this purpose, marriage and the fruit of marrige (children) remains good.
    3. 19. Yet for the fathers procreation was connected with a certain "sacrament" and thus still holier than today. Now it is better to seek children spiritually.
    4. 20. The ordination of marriage to children is the reason why a man was allowed to have several wives.
    5. 21. As a sign of the unity of the City of God, a man may only be married to one wife, and an ordained man must only have had one wife. The sacramental aspect of marriage itself is the greatest aspect of marriage.

The Holiness of the Holy Fathers Who Were Married

  1. 22. Therefore, those who marry only for procreation now—to perpetuate the human race—are not comparable to the holy fathers, who had children in a prophetic manner, for Christ’s sake, for the race from which he was to be born.
    1. 23. The requirement of ritual purification after intercourse does not show that it is a sin.
  2. 24. Indeed, even the continent are not comparable to the holy fathers.

The Fathers Excelled in the Virtue of Continence

    1. 25. The virtue of continence is properly in the mind and in habit, not in the body and in act.
    2. 26. This is evident in Christ, who possessed the virtue of abstinence, and yet came “eating and drinking.” So also Abraham had the virtue of continence, though he was married.
    3. 27. If asked if they compare themselves to Abraham, the continent should recall this point about the habit and virtue of continence.

And More Importantly, In The Virtue of Obedience

    1. 28. Chastity of continence is better than chastity of marriage. But that person is better who possess a greater good. One who has a greater virtue also has the lesser of that same kind.
    2. 29. But persons cannot be compared only on the basis of one particular good. A disobedient or drunken virgin is inferior to an obedient and sober married woman.
    3. 30. Moreover, the more obedient married person is preferable to the less obedient virgin.
    4. 31. The holy fathers were exemplary in obedience, and thus better than the continent persons today, who are inferior to them in obedience

Concluding Section

  1. 32. Summary of the goods of marriage: procreation and fidelty belong always and everywhere to the goods of marriage, and for Christians also the holiness of the sacrament, which makes the marriage entirely indissoluble. "Therefore the good of marriage in every nation and for all mankind lies in the purpose of procreation and in chaste fidelity; but for the people of God, it lies also in the holiness of the sacrament, by reason of which it is forbidden for a woman, for so long as her husband lives, to marry another, even if she has been put away by her husband, and not even in order to have children.... These, therefore, are the goods that make marriage good—offspring, fidelity, sacrament."
    Still, it is yet better now to forego marriage and to become spiritually subject to Christ as spouse, in the virtue of obedience.
    1. 33. This is thus a reply to the Manicheans and any others who accuse the fathers of the Old Testament of incontinence.
    2. 34. Both those who are now married and those who are now continent should esteem these holy fathers above themselves.
    3. 35. Virgins must exercise humility in proportion to the excellence of their state.

Full Text of On the Good of Marriage, and notes on a more recent translation of de bono conjugali, published by Oxford University Press.

Summary Outline of Familiaris Consortio by Pope John Paul II

Summary Outline of Casti Connubii by Pope Pius XI (1930) - Also the history of various events concerning divorce and contraception that lead up to the encyclical.