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Pope Leo XIII - On Christian Marriage

January 08, 2017

EXTRACTS FROM ARCANUM: ENCYCLICAL OF POPE LEO XIII ON CHRISTIAN MARRIAGE

A good antidote to the dangerous doctrines we hear noised abroad in our own times.

To the Patriarchs, Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic World in Grace and Communion with the Apostolic See.

Mission of Jesus: Instaurare omnia in Christo

Jesus Christ the Saviour of men came "That He might make known unto us the mystery of His will... to re-establish all things in Christ that are in heaven and on earth."(Eph 1:9-10)

For He healed the wounds which the sin of our first father had inflicted on the human race; He brought all men, by nature children of wrath, into favour with God;

He entrusted to His Church the continuance of His work; and, looking to future times, He commanded her to set in order whatever might have become deranged in human society, and to restore whatever might have fallen into ruin in the supernatural order of grace, in the order of nature.

Restoration of marriage

God thus, in His most far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife [Adam and Eve] should be the natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time. From the beginning {this union} manifested chiefly two most excellent properties - deeply sealed, as it were, and signed upon it-namely, unity and perpetuity.  "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore, now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God bath joined together, let no man put asunder."(Mt 19:5-6)

Evidence of Scripture

Jesus Christ, who restored our human dignity and who perfected the Mosaic law, applied early in His ministry no little solicitude to the question of marriage.

  • He ennobled the marriage in Cana of Galilee by His presence, and made it memorable by the first of the miracles which he wrought.
  • Later on He brought back matrimony to the nobility of its primeval origin by condemning the customs of the Jews in their abuse of the plurality of wives and of the power of giving bills of divorce; and still more by commanding most strictly that no one should dare to dissolve that union which God Himself had sanctioned.

Evidence of Tradition

"Our holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Tradition of the Universal Church have always taught," namely,

  • that Christ our Lord raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament;
  • that to husband and wife, guarded and strengthened by the heavenly grace which His merits gained for them, He gave power to attain holiness in the married state;
  • and that, in a wondrous way, making marriage an example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church, He not only perfected that love which is according to nature, but also made the naturally indivisible union of one man with one woman far more perfect through the bond of heavenly love.

Ends of Marriage

By the command of Christ, it not only looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of children for the Church, "fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics of God";(Eph 2:9) so that "a people might be born and brought up for the worship and religion of the true God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." (RC Chp8)

Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For "the husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church. . . Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their husbands in all things."(Eph 5:23-24)

As regards children, they ought to submit to the parents and obey them, and give them honour for conscience' sake.

Enemies of the Family

It is a reproach to some of the ancients that they showed themselves the enemies of marriage in many ways; but in our own age, much more pernicious is the sin of those who would fain pervert utterly the nature of marriage, perfect though it is, and complete in all its details and parts. The chief reason why they act in this way is because very many, imbued with the maxims of a false philosophy and corrupted in morals, judge nothing so unbearable as submission and obedience; and strive with all their might to bring about that not only individual men, but families, also-indeed, human society itself-may in haughty pride despise the sovereignty of God.

Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son; and therefore there abides in it a something holy and religious; not extraneous, but innate; not derived from men, but implanted by nature.

Their errors

Now, those who deny that marriage is holy, and who relegate it, striped of all holiness, among the class of common secular things, uproot thereby the foundations of nature, not only resisting the designs of Providence, but, so far as they can, destroying the order that God has ordained. No one, therefore, should wonder if from such insane and impious attempts there spring up a crop of evils pernicious in the highest degree both to the salvation of souls and to the safety of the commonwealth.

When the Christian religion is rejected and repudiated, marriage sinks of necessity into the slavery of man's vicious nature and vile passions, and finds but little protection in the help of natural goodness. A very torrent of evil has flowed from this source, not only into private families, but also into States.

Their fruits

Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce.

  • Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable;
  • mutual kindness is weakened;
  • deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied;
  • harm is done to the education and training of children;
  • occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes;
  • the seeds of dissension are sown among families;
  • the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men.

Response of the Church

It must consequently be acknowledged that the Church has served exceedingly well all nations by her ever watchful care in guarding the sanctity and the indissolubility of marriage. Again, no small amount of gratitude is owing to her for having, during the last hundred years,

  • openly denounced the wicked laws which have grievously offended on this particular subject;
  • as well as for her having branded with anathema the baneful heresy obtaining among Protestants touching divorce and separation;
  • also, for having in many ways condemned the habitual dissolution of marriage among the Greeks

Counsel to Pastors

With every effort and with all authority, strive, as much as you are able, to preserve whole and undefiled among the people committed to your charge

  • the doctrine which Christ our Lord taught us;
  • which the Apostles, the interpreters of the will of God, have handed down;
  • and which the Catholic Church has herself scrupulously guarded, and commanded to be believed in all ages by the faithful of Christ.

In the great confusion of opinions, however, which day by day is spreading more and more widely, it should further be known that no power can dissolve the bond of Christian marriage whenever this has been ratified and consummated; and that, of a consequence, those husbands and wives are guilty of a manifest crime who plan, for whatever reason, to be united in a second marriage before the first one has been ended by death.

To sum up all in a few words, there would be a calm and quiet constancy in marriage if married people would gather strength and life from the virtue of religion alone,

Against Mixed Marriages

Care also must be taken that they do not easily enter into marriage with those who are not Catholics;

  • for, when minds do not agree as to the observances of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things. Other reasons also proving that persons should turn with dread from such marriages are chiefly these:
  • that they give occasion to forbidden association and communion in religious matters;
  • endanger the faith of the Catholic partner;
  • are a hindrance to the proper education of the children;
  • and often lead to a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions are equally good.

Conclusion

You will at once see, venerable brothers, that the doctrine and precepts in relation to Christian marriage, which We have thought good to communicate to you in this letter, tend no less to the preservation of civil society than to the everlasting salvation of souls. May God grant that, by reason of their gravity and importance, minds may everywhere be found docile and ready to obey them!

For this end let us all suppliantly, with humble prayer, implore the help of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary, that, our hearts being quickened to the obedience of faith, she may show herself our mother and our helper.

With equal earnestness let us ask the princes of the Apostles, Peter and Paul, the destroyers of heresies, the sowers of the seed of truth, to save the human race by their powerful patronage from the deluge of errors that is surging afresh.

In the meantime, as an earnest of heavenly gifts, and a testimony of Our special benevolence, We grant to you all, venerable brothers, and to the people confided to your charge, from the depths of Our heart, the apostolic benediction.

Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the tenth day of February, 1880, the third year of Our pontificate.