Morals and Marriage

Author: T.G. Wayne


The Catholic Background to Sex

by T. G. WAYNE

Inter virum et uxorem maxima amiatia esse videtur; adunantur enim non solum in actu carnalis copulae, quae etiam inter bestias quamdam suavem amicitiam facit, sed ad totius domesticae conversationis consortium.



Nihil obstat: EDOUARDUS CAN. MAHONEY, S.TH.D. Censor deputatus.

Imprimatur: JOSEPH BUTT, Vic. Gen.

Westmonasterii, die 27a JUNIS, 1936.

First Published, 1936

This edition is produced in full compliance with the Government's regulations for conserving paper and other essential materials.














THOSE who are engaged in the work of education, and who thus come into intimate contact with contemporary family life, are well aware that interest in sex is a characteristic of the modern outlook, and that, owing to the complications and false standards of much of our life as it is lived today, the right conduct of married life cannot be left to the guidance of unaided instinct. Undue secrecy about these matters is dangerous, especially to- day, because the atmosphere of the world in which we live often leads to the distortion of truth by isolating the idea of sex from its proper context in married love and all that the true companionship of marriage implies. Experience shows that many marriages, which might have been ideal, are damaged by lack of knowledge and especially by the failure to realize that sex instincts and powers are an integral part of the wider gift of that human love which is the true basis of marriage.

It is no longer possible, even if it were desirable, to keep sex questions shrouded in a veil of mystery; they are openly discussed and written about, often on no solid foundation of principle. For this reason alone it is imperative that sound Christian teaching should be made accessible to those who need it, whether for their own lives or for the successful guidance of others. It is with this object in view that "Morals and Marriage" has been written by a professor of theology and doctor of Catholic philosophy. Those who are best acquainted with the many problems which surround this difficult question will, I think, be in no doubt as to the success with which they have been tackled. The book appears under a pseudonym and the preface is anonymous solely in deference to the judgment of an authority, and not from fear of any irregularity of doctrine, for these pages have passed under this head the scrutiny of more than the usual number of theological revisers.


"HAVE you not heard that he who made man from the beginning made them male and female? For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh." So our Lord stated the primary force of sex.

This bodily and spiritual power is made by God in all its processes, expressions, duties, joys: so necessary a part of human nature that although conventions may complicate, sentimentality may cheapen and sin may spoil, this relationship of man and woman must always form, not indeed the whole of life, yet a principal human interest.

For various reasons, however, there is a natural aversion from discussing the subject in public, and sometimes custom conspires to suppress the subject. Undue secrecy enhances curiosity and allows unhealthy habits to develop and establish themselves unchecked by proper knowledge. The sex impulse is too deep and far-reaching and beset by such dangers that reticence should not be allowed to continue causing the ignorance from which has come much human suffering. Though premature knowledge is not desirable, information may come too late, and then the consequences may be really damaging. Instruction about the Christian conception of sex and the physical and psychological outlines is often a grave matter of justice.

The aim of this book is to give some prosaic general principles of moral theology as a setting for sex. They need to be made common property in English, and not kept to the Latin pages of the clerical text-books, since they intimately concern the lives of so many. In this brief exposition much of the religious background must to some extent be assumed; it is not a complete treatise on the sacrament of marriage, but an essay on the workings of the moral virtues in married life, and chiefly as regards the special actions of sex. Consequently the moral virtues, which apply a reasonable standard, are more explicitly considered than the higher theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, which are more notably supernatural because of the transcendence of their object and their more than human mode of action. The infused moral virtues are also part of the equipment of grace, and provide a supernatural motive and force. But their field overlaps that of the natural virtues, and the measure they impose is rather rational than mystical.

So much must be said lest the emphasis of these pages leaves the impression that human love is an ultimate. It is not. All the same, it is precisely this plane of human values that must be understood in order to be supernaturalized, and that is so treated theologically by St. Thomas in the pages of his "Summa." Grace goes beyond, but is based on and works in with the action of nature.

Sex cannot be confined to a special part of the body, nor to the body alone. Anatomy and physiology deal with essential elements of the subject, but psychology, which tries to discover and deal with what lies behind our bodily processes, must also be brought in, for sex sets up problems of mental health as well as of bodily health. The two aspects should not be widely separated. It is necessary to go further still, beyond material science and psychology, for an adequate knowledge of sex. Medical men may deal with certain immediate origins, needs and objects, and may promote present health; complete human welfare, however, is not for sixty or seventy years, but for eternity. Sex must be seen against the whole background of human life, as a human, that is, a religious question. Human beings are placed by God in the stream of sex he himself has made. "God created man to his own image, male and female he created them."

Consequently the theological approach to the subject is not less necessary than the medical and sociological, and it would be an unscientific to neglect what religion has to say as to pay no attention to the physical characteristics. Catholicism provides a map of life, and indicates the place of sex in the scheme of personal and social happiness: it does not suppress sex, as is sometimes imagined, but draws the frontiers.

Sex divides average human nature into two halves, male and female, each relative to the other. There are other sides to human nature, but in this regard man is made for woman and woman for man, and both for the race. This relationship is fulfilled when they join themselves together, not only by physical communion but in their whole lives, not only in an action but in a lasting companionship. This companionship when accepted by God is a true marriage; and when supernaturally blessed by him is the sacrament of marriage. Normally the family is the completion of marriage.


HUMAN beings are social by nature, they crave for human contacts, and live and grow by them. Even those who, following a special vocation, withdraw into enclosed religious orders, form themselves into groups and look for the companionship of the community. One of the deepest and the most common expressions of this natural sociable impulse is the decision of a man and woman to come together, share their lives, and form a family. "It is not good for man to be alone": there is a bodily and spiritual need in both which only the other can supply. This sex attraction is the basis of marriage, and is possessed and penetrated by the grace of the sacrament.

Love is a general word for many kinds of movement and action: the desire for health, knowledge, sleep, food; pleasure in sailing a boat, riding a horse, playing a game; attraction for another person, worship of God, and so on. Every motion of life is covered, and even as regards the love of another person, specific sex love is only one of its forms. The attention given to sex love in these pages must not convey an exaggerated impression of its importance in human living and loving.


Love of another can advance through three stages: desire, devotion, friendship.

Desire (amor concupiscentiae) is caused by a need in us, the love of another for our own sake. With sex this springs from a natural attraction of body and soul lying deeper than deliberate choice; a desire for the excitement and rest of coming close together, for the life that only the other can awaken and share; a need to hold and be held in love. The will must establish control over this impulse and guard its expression if dissipation into lust and waste is to be avoided. Passion should not have full control. Nevertheless, the desires of both will and passion are in themselves quite healthy and caused by God; the natural hunger of every creature to strengthen and comfort its life from outside. The mutual attraction between men and women is certainly not the result of the Fall.

Unruliness, not ardour, is the effect of original sin, through which man is deprived of supernatural life and disorganized in his natural life. Powers which should work in harmony tend to seek their own satisfaction to the detriment of the whole personality. This general disorder is not confined to the field of sex, though here its results are particularly evident. Maturity consists in establishing a central control over many and various desires, of being master of oneself: sexual disorders mark a certain childishness to the theologian as well as to the psychologist.

It must be remarked that sex desire is not merely bodily and animal, a blood-and-muscle movement pointing only to the sensuous satisfaction of male and female intercourse; a relief of tension; an effect of glands. Underlying this necessary stream in sex there should exist a complete love between two human persons which is more than an attraction between bodies, more than male and female desire. The chief quality of the union sought is that it represents the intimacy of two persons who are in love with one another. It is not just a man-woman relationship, but essentially the relationship of this man and this woman and no other.

Devotion (amor benevolentiae) marks a stage past desire. This disinterested affection wishes and works for and enjoys the happiness of another without much thought of self. Here is wonder and reverence and self-sacrifice.

Beyond desire and devotion, yet including them both, comes friendship (amor amicitiae), the love by which two people belong, as it were, to one another, sharing in something as equals. The foundation of friendship may be a common occupation or interest, but no foundation is so deep and lasting as a whole life shared in common, the life of marriage that gathers in the everyday joys and worries and humours as well as the greater concerns of love, birth, death, grace. Sex love at its best is such a friendship, including but also surpassing the primary bodily and biological relationship. Mutual desire, mutual devotion, and penetrating these the certainty that each is committed to the other. In their equal dignity as persons made to the image of God, a man and woman give themselves to one another, not for an incident, not for a period, but for a whole life; not only that their bodies may be stirred and satisfied and tended, not only that children may be born from them and cared for and trained, not only that they may interest and support one another, but that two persons, immortal souls animating bodies that will rise again after death, may draw close to one another and in their joys and sorrows shared may be alive and strong together in the eternal life of God. "Two in one flesh"; even more than that.

The purely physical side of sex may be more or less satisfied outside marriage, at least as regards the main bodily sex act, but complete and generous sex love demands the promise of a lasting bond of friendship and an exclusive intimacy; a companionship that will outlive the first passion of youth. In this matter the doctrinal teaching of Christianity is in accord with the instinct for giving oneself uniquely to one person, recognizing something rather imperfect in sexual promiscuity and temporary marriage; is in accord, too, with the sound psychology of organizing sex within a larger system of life.


Sex pleasure should be human pleasure, more than bodily gratification. The pleasure proper to human nature is neither merely animal nor exclusively spiritual. Following the complete activity of special powers through bodily organs capable of experiencing great and peculiar pleasure, the satisfaction of sex would yet be less than human were it restricted to them: not that these parts are shameful, but that they are only parts, less than the whole body, less than the person. Preoccupation with them is not a worthy expression of complete love between two persons; the happiness they should find in one another deserves to be greater than a localized excitement and ease. Sex activity moves on the human not the animal plane, and in its right exercise the entire person strives to express the strength and happiness of love. Consequently it is fitting that all the senses should be engaged and not only a particular part of the sense of touch.

The complete happiness of sex is not obtained merely by the physical intercourse of man and woman. The Bible speaks of a man knowing his wife. Indeed it is a close form of knowledge, a human experience in which the mind and will take part. This is fully guaranteed only when the man and woman are bound together in a friendship no power on earth can break, no other person may enter, and when they know their union is accepted and blessed by God. The very limitations set by God and applied by the Catholic Church are not devised for the suppression of joy, but as means to human happiness. The dearness and comparative rarity of full sex happiness is one indication of its value. Indulgence cheapens and even tends to destroy the bodily pleasure itself. Sex is too good to be an easy joy. Sin is really an attack on the very happiness it seeks.


The satisfaction should at the same time spring from and lead to the healthy activity of the whole person. Sex love, however ardent and passionate, should not be isolated from the general scheme of life. It is said that men are more prone to treat it as an incident than women are, for in women the sex powers are more deep-seated and their effects more extensive and enduring than in the case of men. In both, the sex action should be rooted in their companionship together, not for one kind of action, but for their lives. They take one another for better and for worse; their union, which above all depends on the quality of their characters to help and fit in with one another, makes gracious and human every physical element in their intercourse.

"The woman has no longer power over her own body, but the man; in like manner, the man no longer has power over his body, but the woman has." This must be accepted without evasion or pretence, without any attempt to frustrate the nature of the complete sex act for reasons of merely immediate advantage. Sex must be taken honestly and without reservation. Apart from the sterility which results from interference, the very fact that the spontaneous rhythm and devoted giving of the action are hindered provides grounds for suspicion.

Only through an ungrudging acceptance of its nature can sex love normally develop from desire to responsibility and maturity, through self-discipline and unselfish care of the other and the mutual acceptance of the duties of the marriage state.

These may include the birth and bringing up of children. The companionship of a man and a woman is completed by the child which comes from them both and forms their common care. Their love is not wrapped up in themselves but given to the new life they have formed. "God created man to his own image: he created them male and female. And blessed them and said: Be fruitful." It is not for the sake of the commonwealth alone that children are born in marriage, the sex love of the couple themselves demands to be life-giving.

Back in the early stages of desire there is an instinct for fatherhood and motherhood; their sex love is deepened and widened when this is fulfilled. In the responsibilities that follow they learn patience and justice, a love greater than its expression in the act of intercourse. That the woman is filled with new life by the man is a blessing on the sex action. This life-giving power is essential to the nature of the action. When this is thwarted, the practice tends to undermine the sex happiness of the couple themselves.

Sex leads to marriage, and in general marriage leads to a family. In marriage a man and woman engage themselves to something greater than themselves alone. It may even be said that they risk their immediate personal happiness by concentrating on it. Marriage is more than a free contract of association between a man and woman for their own personal joy; it is a special state of life instituted by God; it forms a group in society. Though they enter on marriage of their own free choice, they are not at liberty to change its nature, but must take it as they find it. They cannot bargain with the nature of things.

Despite the comfort and happiness given, they would find that marriage demanded too high an ideal to be lived up to were they not filled with grace through their sex love and given strength more than their own. They are so helped because God has taken this human contract and raised it to the dignity of a Christian sacrament.

Before considering the special action of sex in married life, which is the main subject of this essay, it will not be out of place to indicate in outline the laws which are, as it were, its frame of social justice.


A SACRAMENT is an outward sign ordained by Jesus Christ to give us grace and bring us to eternal life. The union of the sexes in marriage is blessed by God as a sacrament; the granting of intimate rights between a man and woman is made the sign and cause of divine grace to both. Thus marriage is a means not only to a fuller natural life, but to supernatural life as well. Through it grace acts on sex in every implication; the union of two in one flesh, the sharing of the happiness and trials of life, the formation of a family. The grace of the sacrament strengthens the love on which it is based, drawing man and woman together so that they symbolize the union of Christ with his church. The marriage act itself and every human detail of their life together are charged with grace. The first miracle wrought by Christ, the changing of water into wine at the marriage-feast, sets a divine approval on the very gaiety from which it starts.

An outward profession in the celebration of marriage is the sign of their union, and also the instrument by which God gives them the strength to master human weakness and inconstancy and to remain devoted to one another and faithful to the obligations of their state through all the ups and downs of life. It is strong love that makes vows.

Because God has chosen to give special grace through this means it follows that its administrations can be judged and determined only by his authority, and that the Catholic Church is the only official power on earth that can issue regulations governing the sacrament.

Of these regulations some establish the conditions necessary if marriage is to be a true or valid sacrament, while others determine whether it is a lawful or licit sacrament. An invalid sacrament is no sacrament at all, though it may look like one, for instance a bigamous marriage: an illicit sacrament is a true sacrament, but an element of illegality is present, for instance when banns have been omitted without good reason or permission.

The State may rightly decide as to the civil effects of matrimony and reasonably require certain conditions to be fulfilled for it to be regarded as a valid contract in the eyes of the law, but has no power to govern the inner sacramental reality, on which a man and woman minister grace to one another. This power belongs to the Church alone, the official guardian and dispenser of the sacraments.


For two people to be married, some conditions are absolutely necessary and are matters of natural law that cannot be altered. They affect everybody, and though taught and applied by the Church are not instituted by the Church. Three conditions of this kind are that the parties concerned are not already bound in marriage, that they know the nature of the contract and freely undertake it, and that they are capable of having sex intercourse.

Other conditions are chiefly matters of positive law, enacted by the Church, and applying in principle and practice only to baptized persons.

A person belongs officially to the Church by the sacrament of baptism, which is necessary for the reception of the other six sacraments. Only people who are baptized, therefore, can receive the sacrament of marriage. In other cases marriage is a true and binding contract and a state of life set up by God, but it is not stamped with the seal of a Christian sacrament.

An outward sign denotes a sacrament. In marriage this is the mutual promise of a man and woman to give their bodies to one another in sex-intercourse when this is reasonably required. For the promise to be valid it must be honestly intended; it must be free and not forced; it must be mutual and not one-sided; it must be taken as binding from that time onwards; it must be expressed in a sufficient legal form; it must not withhold anything that belongs to the very nature of marriage, but must be an unconditional acceptance of the essential obligations of the state.

Because of defect regarding the necessary conditions of marriage, the Church may make a declaration of nullity. This is not a dissolution of marriage, for real marriage in such cases has never existed.

The ministers of this sacrament are the man and woman themselves, not the priest. Thus each gives divine life to the other. In the case of Christians in complete communion with the visible Church, their union requires to be blessed by a priest, save in those extraordinary cases where his presence is not possible and sacramental marriage may anticipate the liturgical ceremonies.

According to the Christian ideal, marriage is monogamous and life-long: these two characteristics of unity and indissolubility are essential, so that if conditions opposed to them are laid down at the outset the marriage is null and void.


Marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Societies are not unknown that allow one woman to have more than one husband at the same time, an undesirable custom because against the proper begetting and bringing up of children and a profound and civilized instinct of sex.

The position is not quite the same as regards one husband having more than one wife at the same time. It runs counter to a human feeling that sex relations at their best are between two exclusively. Men have this feeling despite the fact that their surface sex instincts are supposed to be more promiscuous than those of a woman. This polygamy, however, while it cannot foster the welfare of children or promote perfect family life so well as monogamy, does not theoretically attack the very nature of a family. It was permitted in Old Testament times.

Jesus Christ restored the original dignity of marriage as a unique companionship of two only in one flesh, and under the Christian dispensation polygamy is forbidden.


The companionship of marriage is designed to be life-long. No earthly power can loose the bond of consummated sacramental marriage: "whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder." The Catholic position with regard to divorce is uncompromising. This is not to deny the existence of real human difficulties and problems.

The problems are urgent at the present time when there is a feeling, caused by the fact that people are losing their hold on many principles yet have real sympathy with the suffering caused by the growing number of unhappy marriages, that people who cannot make a success of their married lives together should be allowed to break completely and try anew without any fuss. This general kindly feeling is partly responsible for the very evil it inveighs against; Catholics hold that permission for divorce is really against the eventual interests of married people themselves, that legislation should work on the principle that prevention is better than cure, and that the happiness of the married state demands an unwavering insistence on the indissolubility of the bond even to the extent of personal sacrifice.

To clear up some common confusion on the subject of divorce two distinctions must be drawn: first, between separation and divorce; and second, between divorce of marriage considered as a religious state and of marriage considered as a civil state.

As regards the first distinction. A divorced man and woman are considered to be no longer married to one another; they are free to marry again. Separation means that the couple live apart, the marriage tie itself remaining radically unchanged. The Catholic Church does not allow divorce in the case of a sacramental marriage lawfully contracted, performed, and completed by the sex intercourse of husband and wife. The tie of marriage is indestructible and ceases only with the death of one of the parties. Separation, however, is another matter: the marriage bond is not called in question, though unfortunately the couple must live apart. They themselves may agree on this course without reference to a higher authority.

As regards the second distinction. Marriage is both a religious and a civil engagement. As a religious engagement it is lifted above all earthly power, beyond the changing moods of husband and wife and beyond the control of the State. But as a civil engagement there are civil conditions and effects to be provided for; the control of the children, property rights, and so on. As such marriage justly falls partly under the regulation of the State, and to this extent may be declared by the proper authority no longer to possess the status of civil marriage previously accorded to it. Such a decision cannot claim to touch the inner integrity of sacramental marriage.

That the Christian refusal to admit divorce and consequent re- marriage sometimes occasions great suffering is undeniable. But it does not come from a cruel and legalist attitude of indifference to individual cases, but from the realization that an inflexible law is necessary for the happiness of the great majority of families; for the sake of husbands and wives who must be set an ideal of life-long loyalty and whose love must aspire to be stronger than passion; for the sake of the children who must be assured an enduring background of family life; for the sake of the community, the health of which is based on family homes.

Merely on temporal grounds the case against divorce is very strong, and is considered by some to be sufficient. Hard cases make bad law, it is said. Ultimately the reason for the Church's attitude is found in the principle that marriage is not an institution invented by men, but instituted by God. Individuals are left to embrace it of themselves, but once the choice has been made, they must take marriage as they find it and not alter its character to suit their convenience. They can contract relationships that can be terminated at will, but such relationships are not real marriages.

Marriage has been made indissoluble by God. That is the fact that the Church accepts, does not make. On temporal grounds such an arrangement promotes individual and social welfare on the whole, despite hard exceptions. If it appears to break down, then the cause may usually be found in the deficiencies of individuals or the unjust structure of society. On eternal grounds, it establishes the dignity of human love and responsibility.

Christian marriage is a grace-giving sacrament. If people set themselves to fulfil its obligations, the necessary help will not be wanting. No Christian may permit himself to think that grace is not sufficient to tackle its own demands and to master the most difficult problems that arise from the attempt to observe the divine laws of the universe. Marriage is greater than the two people who contract it, for God is a party to it. And it is not empty optimism, but common sense, to be confident that he will help to make a success of an undertaking that he has blessed, and that is directed of its nature to well-being now and hereafter. God makes laws, not to thwart our happiness, but to encourage it. But it is a happiness not always brought about by easy and agreeable means.


AT the outset it must be stressed that the bodily union of sex intercourse which is called the marriage act is only one part of marriage. Though it is the central physical event of married life, there are many other marriage actions in their ways quite as important. Marriage means a life lived in common, the whole business of eating, talking, thinking, loving, worrying, praying, enjoying, caring for the children, building up the home and all that implies. That the man and woman should go to sleep together is one of the facts, and a very important one; but marriage calls into activity not only what are called the primary sexual characteristics, namely, those powers immediately ordered to the generative act, but also a whole set of secondary sexual characteristics, the difference of voice, manner, movement, approach, general appearance, ways of mind and will; all those primitive, civilized sociable reasons which make a person seek the society of the opposite sex.

It is necessary to see things in proportion: considered in terms of the whole business of life, the so-called secondary sexual characteristics are probable more predominant than the primary sexual characteristics. These latter have their moments, but the others are always present, and a successful marriage chiefly depends on the character of the whole personality of the man and the woman.

On this point, goodwill, frankness, common sense, experience, and a love that seeks understanding are demanded for the successful living together of two such different creatures. Their differences make for difficulty, but also for love and happiness. Love is an art that must make this personal adjustment.

The following chapters deal with the reasonable activity and harmonious relation of the primary sexual characteristics, the specialized physical function of sex in men and women. Between husband and wife there should be no need too intimate for delicate and frank expression. Love needs knowledge. Ignorance can weaken and even destroy love. And where there is no love in married life there is usually aversion, though other interests may keep the marriage going fairly happily.

Some general theological principles concerning sex intercourse must here be considered; first, as regards the morality of the marriage act; second, its obligation; third, its abuse.


The apparent purposes of the physical union of men and women are to release their energy, to satisfy their mutual desire for the utmost human closeness and communion, to express their love and grow in it, to form a family together, and to perpetuate the human race. All of them are so elemental and ordinary that it is difficult not to feel that the glamour and secrecy and fulminations that surround the subject are largely fantastic. The act, which is accompanied by a peculiar and intense bodily pleasure, is instinctively guarded from the common gaze, though between man and woman, in the privacy of their love, there is no genuinely human desire and movement that should not be shared.

Not infrequently a streak in people makes them think that pleasure is somehow wrong just because it is pleasure; an attitude which causes pleasure to be not exactly denied, but taken guiltily. This puritan sentiment may be innate to human nature, or it may be the result of tradition and training, but there it is, with results sometimes stuffy and absurd, sometimes austere and admirable.

In addition, the ethical ideal of duty for duty's sake, quite independent of other considerations in human life, of the categoric command of what is right isolated from all other claims of human nature, has helped to form the feeling that anything which is extremely pleasant must be suspected as indicating selfishness. This uneasiness is increased by a misunderstanding of the negative commands of religion and its counsels of mortification.

Furthermore, there is the religious stress on the needs of the soul, the cultivation of what is called the spiritual life, with the consequent temptation to detach this from the rest of life, to treat it as a special cell that thrives best when it is enclosed from the rest of the world. Anything full-blooded and high-spirited is looked at askance as a hindrance to the life of the spirit. The sharp edge of Christian theory and practice of sacrifice and mortification is sometimes treated as a very blunt instrument indeed.

Thus a kind of religion shrinking from sex intercourse in itself is not unknown, because it is both bodily and pleasurable. An extreme form of this attitude holds that the marriage act is evil in itself. This view has been condemned by the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, a feeling remains that there is something rather shameful and sordid about the action, that it needs to be excused, and is excused only by the fact that it prevents greater evils and the human race from dying out.

There is a false theory behind this attitude, a theory that treats pleasure as somehow immoral, an exaggerated austerity that identifies the good with the difficult, a programme that lays an exclusive emphasis on disembodied values.

In point of fact pleasure itself is neither right nor wrong. It all depends on whether the antecedent action is right or wrong. That an action is pleasurable is, if anything, an indication that the action is sound and in accordance with human nature. Pleasure is congenial to good action. It is true that our nature is ill and our desires disorganized by original sin, and that consequently we can enjoy things out of place. Yet pleasure is not a luxury, but a necessity; the sign and stimulus of healthy activity.

In theory the good is the pleasant; in practice, pleasant things in excess are bad for us. Desires must be toned and intensified by opposition; self-denial and discipline, apart from the imitation of Christ, are necessary for health, otherwise even the zest for life will be lost. An Epicurean practises abstinence, realizing that few things destroy pleasure so surely as unrestricted indulgence.

Aversion from sex intercourse on the score of the needs of the spiritual life must be checked by the doctrine that man is not a spirit, and is not designed by God to be a spirit. Soul and body fuse in him to form one personality. Perfection implies his complete development. Spirit should master matter, the soul dominate the body, but this is no detriment to the body, as is shown by its state when the soul loses hold.

Bodily high-spirits may indeed flourish at the expense of the soul; they need to be trained and disciplined by the will, but not suppressed or enfeebled. The soul must be a hard taskmaster but not a savage one, and the body is not made abject, but dignified by its rule. Bodily powers gain grace and strength and bodily pleasures lose nothing of their intensity.

The attempt to live a purely soul-life is wrongheaded to start with and can never succeed. It works from the idea that man is an angel, mistakes the senses for hindrances instead of helps, and misses the point of the Incarnation. Man must work through the nature of things, God has composed his nature of body and soul, and sex is older than original sin.

As a further corrective to the aversion from sex is the recognition that the marriage act is not merely pleasurable, but is full of love and implies the highest human responsibilities; that it is not merely bodily but livened with the noblest activity of the soul; and that it is filled with the grace of the sacrament. Furthermore it should be realized that a reasonable sex action is an act of the virtue of purity, for purity, far from being the repression, is the right ordering of passionate love.

The complete pleasure of human sex intercourse is not morally shady; the action in itself is natural and rational when it fits in with the divine plan of the world. Taking into account the great power of the impulse and its profound effects on the individual and on society and the dangers of its excess and abuse, it is not surprising that the right exercise of sex is limited to certain situations. As a matter of fact restricting conditions surround every desire, for ruin would result if immediate satisfaction were open and granted to every one of them.

In the scheme of the universe established by the will of God, marriage is the appropriate situation for the complete activity of sex. The only proper complete sex act is the marriage act. Consequently sex desires must be disciplined to the purpose of proper sex love, which implies the devotion of husband and wife, the blessing of family life, and the welfare of society.

The fact that complete sex enjoyment is reserved to the state of marriage is a sign, not of its worthlessness, but of its dignity. Dear, not cheap. By complete sex enjoyment is here meant the use of the primary sexual functions. The pleasure normally taken in the company and conversation of the opposite sex is clearly not meant to be restricted to marriage.

Complete sex activity springs from the virtue of purity when it expresses the devoted love of husband and wife and is done in the right way, that is, when the inherent direction of the act towards generation is not tampered with and when it is endowed with the three blessings of marriage, namely, faithfulness, fruitfulness, and the sacramental bond (bonum sacramenti).

Faithfulness (bonum fidei) implies a love, ardent and humble, intimate and reverent, which each reserves for the other, serving to draw them ever closer to one another, strengthening a tie that must take the strain of adversity, worry, sickness, unhappy moods.

Fruitfulness (bonum prolis) implies the natural conjunction of the bodies of man and woman unhampered by artifice, a family and social action of its nature since it is of the kind from which a child can be born. Whether or not birth actually follows depends on other factors as well, but these do not affect the intrinsic direction of the act towards generation, its movement to new life.

A not uncommon difficulty here crops up. Is sex intercourse lawful according to Catholic morality only when a child may possibly result from it? And must Christian people use their sex powers fully only when they intend to have a baby? Most people will rightly feel that a command or counsel to that effect would be quite unreal, out of touch with the actual facts and needs and desires of human love, and anyhow practically impossible of fulfilment. Should men and women have intercourse with the sense of a solemn social duty? It is known that the Church has no objection to people marrying at an age when child-bearing is impossible or to intercourse under conditions when conception is impossible. Yet how reconcile all this with the doctrine that the begetting of a child is the primary and essential purpose of sex- action?

To arrive at the exact position it must be noted that three elements must be taken into account in judging the character of a human action: first, the objective nature of the action considered in itself, or the deed; second, the personal reasons for performing it, or the motives; third, the surrounding situation, or the circumstances. Any deficiency in one of these factors spoils the action, as when a good deed is done for bad motives or a well-intentioned action is performed out of place. All three factors must join to make a morally sound action.

This test applies to the human act of sex intercourse. Accordingly three aspects must be considered in it, respectively the general nature of the action, the personal motives inspiring it, and the attendant circumstances.


For the action to be sound in its general nature it is required that the parties to it are a man and woman married to one another and that their natural bodies are joined in life-giving intercourse. Here a distinction must be drawn between the human action considered in itself and the whole set of complicated and lengthy natural processes which precede and follow it. (See Fig. 1.)

Sex intercourse is the responsible human action of a man and woman in bodily communion; a moral fact as well as a physical fact. This action must be of that kind from which generation can follow, the male seed being left in the proper female organ, the vagina. If this be done in the natural manner and there be no attempt to impede or frustrate its consequences, then in itself the action possesses an inherent direction towards the blessing of fruitfulness, and is a life-giving, or more precisely a life- offering action, whether actual generation takes place or not. On the contrary, if the seed is not sown in the vagina but in a pseudo-vagina or is sterilized in the vagina or is prevented from entering the womb within the period of the action, then the action is altered in its very nature and cannot be called a generative kind of act.

Actual generation depends on many other factors besides sex intercourse. The human action is part of a wider and more secret process, a series of natural activities that are not in themselves under the power of the mind and will directly to control. The generative act of human intercourse lasts a relatively short time, while the process of generation is a matter of months, if it is confined to the period starting with the fusion of the male seed and the female ovum and ending with the birth of the child; or a matter of years, if it is rightly considered from the gradual preparation of the bodies of the parents until the time when the child no longer needs their care and can stand by itself in the world.

The set of natural processes which for nine months prepares the body of the child in the mother's womb is distinct from the marriage-act which starts it going. The line must be drawn somewhere, and the human act must be considered to end when the couple have rested after the climax of their love, and their action is sound in itself if during this period nothing has been done to change its nature. The rest belongs to the workings of nature, though other human actions may be inserted subsequently into the process of forming and bearing and feeding and tending the baby. Yet whether or no conception actually comes about, or whether or no conception is impossible owing to the state of the woman, the proper performance of the human deed of intercourse remains unaffected in its nature. The action is generative of its kind even though a baby cannot be born from it because of other conditions, as when the woman is sterile or already pregnant.


The morality of a human act is not only determined by a consideration of its general nature. The abstract must be made concrete. Consequently the personal motives for a particular action must also be taken into account. In this connection it may be asked: should husband and wife seriously intend to have a child whenever they have intercourse and should they try to restrict intercourse to those times when the conception of a child is possible?

The answer is negative. There are other valid reasons for intercourse besides procreation. These are the healthy expression of passion, the fostering of mutual love, the strengthening of the sacramental bond of marriage. These are worthy motives, implying the human love and devotion of marriage, including more than the mere appetite for pleasure, which is not a sufficient motive for any action. The intention of trying to have a child is not necessary as a regular motive.

All healthy married people who are capable of bearing and rearing children are under some obligation in the matter, but the command applies more directly to their married state than to each and every act of intercourse. There may be good reasons for intercourse, the bodily and spiritual welfare of them both, at times when conception is impossible or unlikely or undesirable. Of course they must reserve their impulses, for marriage does not legitimize sex indulgence in any form, but rather requires the exercise of purity as much as does a single life. On this supposition, however, the satisfaction of sex without the intention of procreating is according to the divinely-appointed nature of marriage, so long as the act is life-offering, serving to strengthen the sacramental bond and to assure the stability of family life on which the welfare of children in general depends.


Before touching on the circumstances surrounding sex intercourse, the following principles and conclusions of Catholic morals can be laid down with regard to the action and its motives.

In general, sex intercourse is good and holy when its manner is natural, when it expresses the marriage love of man and woman, and when it promotes their bodily and spiritual well-being. That is the first guiding principle.

With respect to the nature of the act, this is spoilt only when its character is vitiated by the sin of onanism, which is treated of in a later chapter. Intercourse is lawful between couples who are sterile, whether one or both, as is the case with a woman whose ovaries or womb have been removed by surgical operation: a child cannot be conceived, but the generative act can be performed. It is lawful at those periods of the month or at those times of life when conception is unlikely or even impossible: thus the incidence of the so-called "safe period" or of old age does not affect the essential character of the act. It is lawful during pregnancy, so long as it is not hurtful to the woman or to the child in her womb.

With respect to the motives, there is evil if they can be reduced to the mere desire of pleasure; if the action is merely sensual indulgence; if the attempt is to snatch as much satisfaction while at the same time evading the care and responsibility that is implicit in intercourse. Husband and wife will be quick to discern whether their actions be sub-human, selfish, unworthy of the love they should bear one another, as when a man uses his wife as a convenience without regard to her feelings; when, as St. Thomas says, he treats her just as a woman, not as his wife, his special and separate friend. The relationship is not merely between man and woman; this is included, but the dignity of friendship between equal persons is added. The action must be taken at this level. Sinful motives are also present in their state of mind if a couple who are in a position to have a child selfishly decide to the contrary and avoid intercourse without the virtue of virginity or deliberately restrict it to certain times in order to avoid conception.

Intercourse is good when it supports and expresses the blessings of marriage. In summary the motives may be one, or two, or three of the following: the making of a family by the birth and bringing up of children; the intense and intimate friendship of a man and woman; the healthy and human satisfaction of physical passion. The special happiness of marriage calls for the presence of the second, since the chief purpose of every marriage considered in the particular is the happiness of husband and wife themselves. Under this aspect its character as a sacramental companionship is more important than its social function of propagating the race or its hygienic function of remedying lust. Children should come from parents who are companions; a bodily passion should be satisfied not as a principal preoccupation, but as part of a wider and more human situation, the intimacy of the greatest human friendship.


The rightness of a human act is coloured by the surrounding in which it is performed; attendant circumstances must be considered in addition to the two main determining moral factors of nature of deed and motive.

Sex intercourse is supposed to be a complete human situation, an entire expression of love and delight between a man and woman. It should not be the securing of a local stimulus and satisfaction or just a physical action to be performed, a duty to be endured, but should be deeper and wider in its cause and effect, enjoyable to persons, not pleasurable merely to sexual organs.

Rightly should the man delight in the whole person of the woman, and the woman likewise in that of the man. Often the climax of passion is reached and passed more quickly in the man than in the woman; he should therefore prepare her in ways that their frankly shared instincts will suggest, so that both may reach their happiness together and at the same time. He should not turn from her immediately afterwards, for mere bodily passion should no more hold sway in the after-effects than in the human action. Relapse into personal satisfaction brings about the very loneliness that the impulse seeks to break down. It must be repeated that the union is human, not physiological, and should be endowed with the gracious virtues, including art. Love-making is the proper preparation for intercourse, according to both medical and theological science. It is right and healthy, serving to keep the relationship at the human level of mutual and devoted affection and enjoyment, preventing an undesirable preoccupation with the merely genital side of the action.

The details of these circumstances need not be entered into; enough to note that discipline and restraint are not the same as awkwardness, brusqueness, and coldness, and that they will not break the rhythm of the action. The warmest and most tender love need never be beastly or maudlin. The general principle here is that a couple may seek as much closeness and intimacy as possible so long as the situation remains human, that is, does not deteriorate into animality and does not seek the culmination of pleasure outside the natural act. For the rest, while they know they are two in one flesh and love one another and do not desire to use one another for purely selfish and private gratification, they will come to no harm if they follow their natural promptings and take the greatest and widest joys together in their love.

Love-making should never grow stale; there is variety and freshness within the limits of what is right. The art of courtship, though it may change and develop with the years, should never die out. What has been said above about the importance of the secondary sex characteristics may here be recalled: special sex intercourse is only one part of the general intercourse of married life.

Some practical principles with regard to the circumstances of the action may be set down here. Since it may be full of grace, there is no obligation to forego intercourse on the night before Holy Communion. If both have been contented in a human manner and excess has been avoided, there is nothing unworthy in the action or its after-effects; the mind is left clear and content and prepared for prayer. We are speaking of an ideal that can be realized given good-will, good health, and the use of grace. Still, there is a sound Catholic tradition of sacrifice and the best things make the best sacrifices. As offering a blessing to God, not avoiding an evil, married people on occasion abstain from intercourse for religious reasons. Generosity and common sense are here necessary, to prevent religiosity and spiritual finickiness interfering with the proper relations of husband and wife.

Circumstance may spoil the action when it is so frequent that it saps the strength of body and soul. Hard and fast rules cannot be laid down on this point; how often the act may take place depends entirely on the reasonable judgment of the couple themselves. Sinfulness may also be present through selfishness, levity, roughness, cruelty, meanness, indecency, lack of control and consideration, and if the act, supposed to be mutual, is forced by one and suffered by the other. It is wrong, also, when it is harmful to the health of one or both or a child not yet born or weaned, and when it would be a cause of reasonable distress. Spiritual adultery is committed if one indulges in private imaginings that the action is taking place with somebody other than the married partner.


BY marriage a man and woman grant to one another certain rights over their bodies for the begetting of children, the increasing of love, the healthy ordering of passion. The fulfilment of this concession is a matter of justice, its denial an injustice, though a couple who are still newly in love may smile at such terms. Justice, however, is a living virtue and not confined to cold legal forms.

The principle is this: whenever either the husband or the wife seriously and reasonably asks for the marriage due the other is bound to render it. Reasonably asks: no one in marriage engages to become a convenience for another's passion; neither must force their every wish on the other; they are equal and, particularly as regards the marriage act, have the same rights. It is most desirable that the action should be mutual. This will not be too difficult if the two love one another in a human way and are ready to be considerate and make sacrifices, if each tries to serve the other, and if it is realized that for their happiness together the act should be the comfort and content of both.

There are exceptions to the obligation of rendering the marriage due. A married person is not strictly bound to grant it if the other has been unfaithful to the extent of adultery. Normal relations are only re-established by the generous forgiveness of the injured party. There is no obligation if there is a danger of the infection of disease. Or if the request is unreasonable, if it be under conditions that are genuinely harmful and distressing, then it may be refused. This particularly affects the woman; she has not promised to be the man's slave, but the sharer of his human life, of his control as well as of his ease. It is commonly held that a woman to whom pregnancy would be fatal or highly dangerous is not bound to render the due; the request for it would be unreasonable. Finally, there is no obligation of granting it, rather the reverse, if it is going to be abused by the sin of onanism.

There is no obligation of asking for the due except when harm would be done by abstinence, a weakening of love, a risk of impurity. In this connection, husband and wife will learn to interpret and anticipate the wishes of each other.

By mutual consent married couples may abstain from intercourse either for a time or for ever, not as evading the obligations of their state, but as an offering and sacrifice to God. They must not deny the existence of the right, but may forgo the exercise of it.


A MAN and woman should enjoy one another's bodies in an action of purity, the virtue governing the desires of sex. Purity does not destroy sex love but depends on it, controlling the impulse for the sake of the whole welfare of the person and society.

Purity extends to thoughts as well as to deeds. Impurity committed by married people is made worse by the fact that it lowers the sacramental dignity of their state. If the impure action be mutual, then the man and woman, instead of causing grace to one another, are the occasions of sin to the person they should most care for and protect from harm.

The principal sin of impurity in married people is called onanism, after Onan, an Old Testament character who spilt his seed rather than risk having a child. The sin is very old, though in recent years scientific men have developed its technique and commercial firms have pushed its appeal. This sin covers all methods of contraception that affect the actual act of intercourse. It would be out of place to describe the various methods here, some are less harmful than others, but all are wrong, and for the same reason.

Contraception is commonly called birth-control; an unfortunate term, since birth-control as such obviously is a reasonable and necessary thing. Catholics would be the last to deny that the human reason should control as far as possible such an important matter as the coming of new life into the world, with its added responsibilities to the parents. In point of fact, the very institution of marriage is a method of birth-control, since it limits procreation to those conditions in which a child will be cared for.

Married people are called upon to be unselfish and generous, sometimes even heroic. A child must be regarded as more important than the refinements and luxuries of a social class. But they are not bound to have a child, or children, if reasonable chances of proper education and upbringing are lacking. The health and reasonable comfort of the mother require the spacing of births at intervals to be sanely and sensibly decided, though for the sake of the children themselves there should not be too great a difference between their ages. Clearly procreation cannot be undertaken without thought and control; trust in Providence does not mean banking on a very doubtful future.

Let this be made quite clear. The Catholic Church is not opposed to rational birth-control as an end. Catholics, of course, do not agree with the propaganda for birth-control based on the difficulties of present social and economic conditions. Blessings should not be surrendered when the causes making them difficult can be changed. It should be intolerable that in a world of plenty many parents are unable to have as many children as they would like and could have, were the social structure not so unjust. Nor can Catholics admit the disinclination to have children because they are tiresome and worrying. Marriage is not a perpetual honeymoon, but a serious responsibility, and none the less happy for that.

The Catholic Church's condemnation is directed at the means employed for birth-control. What is opposed is not birth-control or the regulation of births, but certain methods of ensuring this. They are generally without qualification called birth control, but more accurately they should be classed under the term of contraception. They consist in altering or interfering with the natural character of sex-intercourse, or its antecedent or consequent processes. They are species of injustice or of impurity: of injustice when the family and social quality of sex is affected; of impurity when the sex impulse itself is disorganized. All wrongful methods of birth-control fall under these heads. Unjust methods may be reduced to sterilization and abortion, impure methods to onanism. (See Fig. 2.)


Our bodies are not our own to do with just as we will, they belong completely to God alone who made them; we must take reasonable care of them and administer them according to their nature. As we may not destroy our bodies by suicide, so we may not mutilate them or deprive them of an essential function, unless it be for the health of the body itself, when the part must be removed for the sake of the whole. Leaving aside the question of punitive and curative operations, the Catholic Church teaches that it is unlawful directly to deprive oneself of a bodily power. Thus all methods of eugenic sterilization are ruled out. They include surgical operations on the male or female designed primarily to prevent their having fruitful intercourse; also all mechanical or chemical methods of sterilizing the female for a period.

Birth may be prevented after conception by chemical or mechanical or surgical methods, all of which come under the head of injustice when the taking of life is directly intended. Either they go so far as to murder the child in the womb (and without baptism) or they destroy a living thing that is becoming a human being. The unlawfulness of the operation is intensified by the fact that, for all we know, an immortal soul may be present from the moment of conception or soon after. The direct destruction of a fetus is the sin of abortion.


Impure methods of birth-control, or those that alter the nature of the sex act itself, are classed under the sin of onanism. Before considering this attempt to secure sex satisfaction without proper intercourse, let us return to the distinction of deed and motive.

Two aspects must be separately considered, sex intercourse itself, which is the means, and the generation of a child, which is an end. Two aspects in the action of the married couple correspond to this distinction, namely their deed and their motives respectively.

First as regards motives. If a couple decide against the birth of a child at a given time, the rightness or wrongness of their decision must be tested by the question: ought they to try to have a child then? If their decision springs from timidity, selfishness, love of ease and so on, then it is wrong, whatever the means they adopt in carrying it into effect. If the reasons against the birth of a child outweigh those in favour, if they are prudent in a Christian sense, then their decision is just.

Up to the present it all hinges on the motives of the man and woman. In the first case, the motives are unworthy; in the second case, they are worthy. The question now narrows down to the nature of the means adopted.

The couple may decide to abstain from intercourse. This means is not bad in itself; the moral colouring comes from the motives; bad in the first case, good in the second case.

But complete abstinence from intercourse is not easy, nor is it honestly desirable in some cases from a Christian point of view. It is natural that a man and woman living together should strongly desire one another's bodies, and though grace is always sufficient for proper self-control it does not blanket lawful desire, and the marriage act may be necessary for the real happiness of their lives together.

Here is the real problem of contraception. How is it possible to combine the reasonable avoidance of pregnancy with the reasonable exercise of sex relations? The case of really selfish married people may be dismissed. We are concerned with those who decided against a child, not for unworthy motives, but because they feel they are not in a position to have one, for such reasons as ill- health or poverty. Quite decently they feel the need of intercourse. The rightness or wrongness of what they do turns on the means they adopt.

If they commit onanism, then the Church judges that they do something wrong in itself, a bad kind of action, leaving aside the question of motives. It may be an act of self-indulgence, it may be an attempt to express human love. In either case, the means is wrong. The noblest end does not justify a bad means.

Onanism is that action between the bodies of a man and woman which goes as closely as it can to proper sex union while at the same time attempting to prevent the joining of the male seed and the female ovum from which new human life begins. In old- fashioned onanism the act starts properly, but the man withdraws before his seed can enter the woman's body. Modern research has invented methods by which the man can remain united to the woman, but his seed is either sterilized or prevented from joining the ovum.

By this fact, the natural union of man and woman is not secured, and the climax of sex pleasure is reached without the appropriate act. They do not delight in one another as they really are, they do not commit themselves in confidence and happiness to sex as God has made it. The intercourse is bogus. They are not joined together immediately as man and woman, for an instrument or chemical interposes and destroys the life-giving character of the action. They have contrived to alter the situation and so use their sex powers in an act which is not the generative act of sex intercourse, but the reverse.

The attempt to secure sex satisfaction without the complete sex act disorganizes the rational and natural arrangement of powers to their proper ends, the proper purpose of sex powers being the life-offering action of intercourse. With respect to the deed, there is little essential difference between contraceptive intercourse and mutual masturbation, though admittedly the surrounding psychological circumstances make for a different situation.

Married people who use contraceptives may love one another decently and humanly apart from this, but whether they use them with an easy or uneasy conscience, the nature of the action in itself is not altered. According to Catholic teaching, moral standards do not entirely depend on individual judgement, and motives need not be considered for a kind of action to be condemned. Contraception is wrong in itself, and no motive can justify it; and it is gravely wrong, because of the importance of the action which is spoilt.

It is worth noting that this attitude is not based principally on Revelation or on the supernatural authority of the Church. It is a matter of natural law. An instinctive repugnance to contraception which still exists is an echo of the case against it which can be worked out on purely rational grounds without appealing to doctrinal authority.

There are also secondary, though considerable, arguments against contraception. It offers the occasion of sexual indiscipline; it can be responsible for serious bodily and mental disorders; it makes acquiescence easier in unjust social conditions; it is prejudicial to national life.

Yet the problem remains unsolved of what is to be done when at the same time there are true and good reasons both against pregnancy and for sex-intercourse.

We must go back and stress the necessity of making marriage a relationship of human friendship depending chiefly on the characters of the two persons, who enter the state to share their human lives together, to strengthen one another, to build up their characters together. Their lore is supported by the sacrament, which gives grace to all who try to live up to the ideal it sets. The couple, whether they are in a position to have a numerous family or whether they are not, must love one another with a love stronger and deeper than passion.

But it is easier to preach than to practise. There are not a few cases when children cannot be welcomed and at the same time mutual love must be expressed through intercourse. It is possible that recent research has discovered a partial remedy, a providential arrangement existing for the benefit of such cases.


The writer is not qualified to judge medical matters, he is concerned only with the moral aspect of intercourse during the sterile period of a woman's life.

It has long been known that conception is less likely to occur at certain times than at others. A woman's body goes through a monthly process in her organs of generation, and for a period in the month, it is said, is less ready to conceive than at other times. Some scientific men now say that she cannot conceive at such times. Though it is impossible to lay down hard and fast rules governing each and every case, they claim to be able to determine this monthly period of sterility with a fair amount of precision. It may be mentioned that this period lasts more than a few days, that during it a woman is not physically averse from intercourse and that it differs importantly as regards dates from the idea previously held that a woman is less likely to conceive about midway between two menstruations. The reader must be referred elsewhere for an account of these investigations. The present question turns only on the point of morals: may a married couple restrict intercourse to such periods?

The answer is affirmative, with two qualifications. First, there must be no desire of evading an obligation to have children, when such exists; in other words, the reasons against pregnancy at that time must be valid. Secondly, intercourse must be really and genuinely desirable for good reasons at such times (though clearly the need may not be so solemn as this language suggests) and must serve to express and strengthen the sacramental love of the man and woman. The habit of restricting intercourse to such periods may become mixed with meanness and impurity, a selfish prudence on one hand, mere indulgence on the other. But given healthy motives, the action itself is sound and life-offering in the sense described above, and intercourse at such periods is not wrong.

From what has been said in the course of the foregoing chapters it will be realized that sex-passion is the field of the virtue of purity, and that such questions as the childless marriage or the numerous family are more directly the concern of the virtue of justice. A healthy sex life and the family, though bound together, are two issues that should not be confused.


THE life-long relation of a man and woman in marriage is profound and complex. The sex-union of their bodies has more in it than the temporary satisfaction of sense-needs or the beginning of new life; the whole organism is modified, and stresses and processes are set up in the soul. The action, too, is a social one, serving to preserve and propagate the race. We must guard against oversimplification of a relationship that includes the intimate and extensive rights and privileges of a life shared by a man and woman, each of whom is an unique person, bringing to it a whole set of particular needs and powers.

Nevertheless, in broad outline, a threefold blessing in marriage may be indicated under the headings of fruitfulness (bonum prolis), devotion or faithfulness (bonum fidei), and the sacramental bond (bonum sacramenti). These three blessings, appreciated by the theologians of the Church since the days of St. Augustine, are present in every perfect marriage. They contain the three purposes of marriage commonly enumerated, namely, procreation, solace, and the remedy against sin. The blessing of fruitfulness includes what is called the primary end of marriage, the begetting of children; whilst the blessing of faithfulness includes what are called the secondary ends, the increase of love and the remedying of lust.

In one respect men or women living by themselves are incomplete; they are made for the society of one another. Even if they love and live together, a fuller life still awaits them, for together may they make children and form a family. Their mutual love is fruitful in new life. A happy family is among the greatest achievements of human love.

One of the greatnesses of men and women is to be good fathers and mothers; in their desire there is an instinct for fatherhood and motherhood. The coming of children, quite apart from the needs of the nation, brings a new value to the personal love of the couple and establishes it with fresh strength. Their love is blessed when God's creative action works with it, and may still spend itself generously in tending and forming the new life they have made.

But for this fruitfulness of human love the race would die out. Hence children are said to be the primary purpose of marriage considered from the social point of view. The birth of a child cannot be regarded as a by-product of sex love; but as, in this sense, its culmination.

This purpose of marriage is not just the birth, but also the proper up-bringing of a child; not procreation alone, but education. Both processes are part of the same situation. In preaching the value of the numerous family, the Church by no means favours the idea of unrestricted propagation, without regard for the welfare of the children. The act from which they are born is a human act, and should not be done irresponsibly and without some preceding consideration of its consequences.

In applying the test of the children's welfare, undue importance must not be attached to their chances of being brought up with the same social amenities that their parents have enjoyed. The main thing is their chance of having a decent human existence, and of being fitted to love and serve God in this life and to be happy with him for ever. If economic conditions make it well nigh impossible for healthy husbands and wives to have children, then the social organizations supporting such a state of affairs is gravely unjust, for there is wealth enough in the world for them, and they must be given the opportunity of obtaining it.

The character and religious training of the children is a matter for the parents in the first place, the office of the State is to assist and implement their education.

Sex love of its nature is directed to children, not as to its only purpose, but as to its main purpose if sex is seen as part of the social scheme. This fruitfulness is essential to the very nature of marriage, so much so that if a man and woman come together and go through the ceremony of marriage yet at the same time intend positively to prevent the blessing of children by denying their right to the proper sex act then they are not married.

Two difficulties occur here. First it may be asked: are marriages perfect and complete only when they are fruitful? And secondly: must people actually intend to have children when they come to be married? What if they are too old, or poor, or prevented either permanently by reason of some physical disability or for the time being because of economy or health?

Two distinctions must be drawn. First, between marriage in general and marriage in each particular case. Second, between actually having children and doing nothing to prevent their coming.

As regards the first distinction, children are the primary purpose of marriage, the happiness of the man and woman is the principal object of marriages. These two reasons are distinct, and should not conflict in thought, for the former belong directly to the institution of marriage, while the latter belongs directly to the two lives shared as one in marriage.

The double purpose is given in the Book of Genesis. First: God created man to his own image. Male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the birds of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. Second: "And the Lord God said: It is not good for man to be alone; let us make him a help like unto himself. And he brought her to Adam. And Adam said: This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. Wherefore shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh."

Considering, therefore, the biological nature of sex and the divine command of fruitfulness, there is a general obligation on married people to have as many children as they reasonably can. Few married couples will want to deny themselves the blessing of children when they are in a position to have them, except for what they will admit to be unworthy or selfish reasons. As we have already noted, the real problem is when there are serious objections to a child, either on the score of health or of financial means. Must every married couple in this case still try to have children if their marriage is to keep its direction to the primary end?

When it is said that the birth and education of children is the primary end of marriage, marriage is taken in general, as the natural means and divine institution for increasing the human race. Considered so, the formation of a family is the main object of marriage. But it is one thing to consider marriages collectively and "en bloc" in this way, another thing to consider them in each particular case.

Here the second distinction must be introduced, in order to safeguard the fruitfulness of intercourse and marriage in cases where children do not come.

Sometimes conception may not be possible, because of age, or physical disability, either permanent or temporary. Sometimes a child, though really wanted for its own sake, is yet regretfully decided against, at least for the time being, because of adverse health or economic position. In all these cases the essential blessing of marriage which is fruitfulness and the essential direction of marriage towards procreation is not opposed, so long as the couple do nothing to exclude them positively. They are so excluded in the latter case when intercourse loses its fruitfulness and generative nature by being abused in the ways touched on in a preceding chapter.

Proper intercourse is that kind of mutual action from which, considered in itself, a new life may be born; that living act in which a man and woman know one another without concealment. If this action can be performed and is not denied, then the direction of marriage towards children is not opposed at its beginning, and in those cases where the birth of a child is physically or morally impossible and intercourse is sterile, marriage is intact as regards the blessing of fruitfulness and its order to the primary end of procreation.

In point of fact, no couple can entirely determine whether they shall be parents or not. All that immediately falls under their control is the human act of sex-union, the generative act. Processes of nature follow this act, and though they be interrupted they are outside the positive control of the couple. These processes may or may not lead to the birth of a child, but in themselves they do not affect the fruitfulness of the human act.

To parents able to bear and support and train them, children are blessings difficult to prize too highly, bestowed by God, working through processes that are still very mysterious to us. Their actual arrival is a completion of marriage love, but not a necessary condition.

Yet though they carefully define the essential fruitfulness of sex intercourse and credit it to cases where the consequences are barren, Catholics cannot share in the feeling that marriage is almost entirely for the private happiness of the couple concerned; that children may be a consequence, but are scarcely a purpose; a charge rather than a joy; whose education is more the affair of the State than of the parents. On the contrary, the begetting of children should not be separated from the union of man and woman, for in children is their love perpetuated and blessed.


THE instinct for private possession, for an exclusive and unique relationship, is deeply engrained in human nature. The desire to be devoted to one person above all and for that person to be so devoted in return is human and healthy. It is promised in marriage. Husband and wife are called to share a love and life that surpasses other earthly relationships and may on occasion exclude them. "For this reason shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife."

The intimate giving of their bodies to one another should be a sign of the union of their souls. Mutual knowledge and confidence and support, an exclusive regard that is good unless spoilt by jealousy or vanity.

This relationship of body and soul is an object of justice, vowed in marriage, and any breach of it is a violation; is an injustice. "Thou hast heard what was said of old: thou shalt not commit adultery. And I say to you, that anyone who looks at a woman with lust, has already committed adultery in his heart."

The positive side of the companionship of husband and wife covered by the blessing of faithfulness is that they should love and grow together in mutual love, serving each other with their bodies and souls, for comfort and happiness and strength. The negative side is that through marriage both may avoid sins of impurity.

The sex impulse is one of the strongest passions in human nature. Though quite healthy in origin, it may develop in a way that is unhealthy, dangerous for body and soul. It is important to realize that the passion is not just tolerated in marriage, condoned as rather unworthy yet all the same necessary. It leads up to and is present in sacramental marriage, and there finds its complete and gracious expression. Sex intercourse enjoyed rightly and in a human way is an act of the virtue of purity. It is none the colder for that. Purity is not the absence or denial of passion, but is passion justly ordered. In this matter a married couple will help one another. Their bodies are granted, their passions satisfied, not by indulgence, for that defeats its own end, but by a human act full of grace, that does not diminish but rather increases the ardour, even the passion, of love.


THE marriage vows, the bodily closeness, the human life lived together in friendship, these things signify a deeper reality than themselves alone. They are grace-giving symbols of a supernatural union what looks beyond time to eternity. This joining of two in one flesh is a sign of "the Word made flesh," who "dwelt among us," a sign of the union of Christ with his Church.

Love through marriage becomes more than an incident, an action, it becomes a life, and an enduring life. Emotion is included, but transcended. For this love to persist through the varieties of experience and hold and possess them, it must be strengthened from a source outside the will and affections of the individual. Divine strength is given in the grace of the sacrament, which the man ministers to the woman and the woman to the man in the offering of their bodies and lives to one another. "Heirs together of the grace of life."

This is the blessing of the sacrament which can and should infuse every detail of their life and actions together. Perhaps we think of it chiefly in connection with the trials of marriage. Yet the joys too deserve this supernatural quality, and all of them, without priggishness or lack of spontaneity, can be quickened by it. "The Song of Songs" is quite naturally taken by Christian tradition to illustrate the devotion of marriage love. A sacrament of grace, that is of life, of the true life of men and women, bodies and souls, made by God to be completely happy. For sufferings now are preparations for that perfect joy, and present joys anticipations of it. Creation is one of a piece and the earth is the threshold of heaven.

"Husbands love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered himself up for it: that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the laver of water in the word of life: that he might present it to himself, a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hateth his own flesh, but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church; because we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave father and mother: and shall cleave to his wife. And they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the Church."