Last week’s article briefly described the Church’s teachings on procreation and family planning, especially as describe in Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae and St. John Paul II’s series of talks entitled Theology of the Body. This article will outline more generally the theology of what marriage is and why it is important.
People intuitively know about the importance of marriage, for almost all societies recognize marriage as central, and we surround marriage with glorious ceremonies. But few ask what is essential to marriage such that we celebrate it more than other relationships such as those between friends, brothers and sisters, neighbors or working partners. The Church responds that four things above all set aside marriage as central to humanity and to society: (1) the complementarity of masculinity and femininity; (2) a partnership of life and love in which the man and woman give themselves totally and faithfully to each other; (3) permanence and fidelity as long as life endures; and (4) openness to life.
To begin with, as harmony and melody complement each other to produce music, as pastel and primary colors join together in art, as rhyme and meter come together for poetry and nouns and verbs in prose, as there is such complementarity in all of creation, so man and woman complement each other to create marriage and family. Second, marriage joins a couple together in the fullness of life. Other loves generally involve partial unions, which is natural to them. Friends and partners join interests together, but are independent of each other; likewise, brothers and sisters should love each other, but generally live independently of each other as adults. By contrast, married couples join their entire lives together, which means that express this complete love only to each other. Third, marriage is a commitment of a total life together until death. We would like for friendships and partnerships to last for life; but we understand if they do not. Marriage by contrast is a more adventurous calling, promising love in all circumstances for as long as live endures.
Finally, because love is naturally expansive, marriage should be open to new life in children. If, due to age or other reasons, a married couple cannot have children (as was the case with George and Martha Washington for example), they can express to creative goodness in many other ways. But if a married couple is able to have children, they are called to continue their faith and love into the future into future generations. In this complementary, complete, permanent, and fruitful love, true marriage shows the beneficence of God on this earth and becomes and image of the love between Jesus and His bride the Church