The "Good of the Spouses" and Marriage as a Vocation to Holiness

Posted: March 31, 2009
Printer-friendly version
william_e_may.jpgIntroduction
Long ago St. Augustine distinguished three cardinal goods of marriage: the good of offspring (bonum prolis) who are to be begotten lovingly, nurtured humanely, and educated religiously; the good of steadfast fidelity (bonum fidei) between husband and wife; and the good of the sacrament (bonum sacramenti),  which entails both the holy bond of indissoluble unity (sacrum vinculum) and sacramental sign (sacramentum signum), the good of the sacrament in the strict sense as the good pointing to and inwardly participating in Christ’s bridal union with his spouse, the Church (St. Augustine developed his teaching on the threefold good of marriage principally in On the Good of Marriage (De bono coniugali),On Marriage and Concupiscence ( De nuptiis et concupiscentia),and The Literal Meaning of Genesis ( De genesi ad litteram). Subsequent Catholic tradition made these goods its own, constantly affirming them; in fact, Pope Pius XI structured his 1930 encyclical On Chaste Marriage (Casti connubii) around these three Augustinian goods..

Among these goods we do not find the “good of the spouses” (the bonum coniugum). Nonetheless, the very first canon on marriage in the 1983 Code of Canon Law declares: “the matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership for the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (Code of Canon Law, canon 1055, par. 1). and the Catechism of the Catholic Church  reaffirms this in its opening number devoted to the sacrament of matrimony (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1601).. Thus the Church today identifies as the principal ends of marriage both the procreation and education of children and what she calls the “good of the spouses,” the bonum coniugum, and in fact the Church puts this end first.


The expression “good of the spouses” was first used to designate an end of marriage in the revised Code of Canon  Law in 1983. It was not explicitly identified as such either by Vatican Council II. or by Pope John Paul II in his 1981 apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, which he himself has described as a “summa” of Church teaching on marriage and the family.. Nor have theologians given much thought to the meaning of this good (In fact, the expression “good of the spouses” (bonum coniugum) is not even mentioned in the following very good works on marriage, faithful to the Magisterium,  published after the publication of the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law: Peter Elliott, What God Has Joined: The Sacramentality of Marriage (New York: Alba House, 1989); Agostino Sarmiento, El Matrimonio (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1998), Francisco Gil Hellin, El Matrimonio y la Vida Conyugal (Valencia: Edicep C.B., 1995); Germain Grisez, Chapter 8. “Marriage and Sexual Acts,” in his Living a Christian  Life, a book-length treatment of marriage in vol. 2 of his The Way of the Lord Jesus (Quincy, IL: Franciscan Press, 1993), pp. 553-751; Ramón García de Haro, Marriage and Family in the Documents of the Magisterium. Some theologians, e.g., Antonio Miralles, identify the “good of the spouses” with the old good of “mutual assistance” and discuss it only very briefly. See Miralles’ El Matrimonio (Pamplona: EUNSA, 1993), p. 102. This view is not correct in my judgment and that of others). But canon lawyers have debated its meaning to considerable extent. In fact, a doctoral study in canon law by Dominic Kimengich of Kenya offers a helpful summary, analysis, and critique of the positions taken by canon lawyers regarding the nature of the “good of the spouses” (See his The Bonum Coniugum: A Canonical Appraisal. Romae: Pontificium Athenaeum Sanctae Crucis, 1997).  Kimengich offers a tentative formulation of the essential content of this good. According to him it consists in the growth and maturing of the spouses as persons, through the aids, comforts, and consolations, but also through the demands and hardships, of conjugal life, when lived according to God’s plan. The full view of the scope and content of the “good of the spouses” emerges when we recall that the spouses are called to eternal life, which is the one definitive good or bonum of the spouses (ibid. p.204).

Kimengich suggests that the “good of the spouses” or bonum coniugum is, in the last analysis,
found in the sanctification of the spouses. I believe that this is true, and thus I will try to show that the "good of the spouses" ultimately consists in the holiness that husbands and wives are meant to attain precisely in and through their married life, and that the teaching of Pope Pius XI in his 1930 encyclical Casti connubii is central in understanding this..

The Vocation to Holiness and the “Good of the Spouses”
To show the intimate, indeed essential bond between the “good of the spouses” and the vocation of husband and wife to holiness precisely insofar as they are husband and wife, it is imperative to consult the “sources” for canon 1055, where the “good of the spouses” was first identified as an essential end of marriage. The Pontifical Commission for the Interpretation of the Code in its annotated version of the new Code in 1989 enumerated these sources; in my opinion the most central of these, is the teaching of Pius XI in Casti connubii (Pontificia Commissio per Interpretationem Codicis Juris, Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1989).  But before looking at the thought of Pius XI, however, let us see the other sources the Commission identified. Three are passages from Vatican Council II, and these passages are also very important in showing that the “good of the spouses” ultimately consists in their sanctification. The first is the chapter of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium) devoted to the theme, “The Universal Call to Holiness” (chapter 5, nos. 39-42);. the second is from the same Constitution identifying marriage as a specific vocation to holiness (ibid);. and the third is found in the Council’s presentation of the dignity  of marriage and the family in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), where it declared that husbands and wives “increasingly further their own perfection and their mutual sanctification” by fulfilling their conjugal and family roles (no. 48)..
     
Another source is a passage from Pope Pius XII’s 1951 Address to the Italian Union of Midwives in which he spoke of the “personal perfecting of the spouses” as a “secondary end” of marriage. Finally, the Commission referred to the passage in Pius XI’s Casti connubii, where he declared that married love “demands not only mutual aid but must have its primary purpose (emphasis added) that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life (emphasis in original), so that through their partnership in life they may advance ever more and more in virtue, and above all that they may grow in true love toward God and their neighbor (Casti connubii, in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22, 1930, 548)”.I believe that this statement of Pius XI, together with one immediately following it, is the major source
of the teaching that the "good of the spouses" is an essential end of marriage.


Surprisingly, the Pontifical Commission did not call attention to the paragraph in Casti connubii immediately following this citation. This is surprising because this text is of utmost importance  in my opinion in understanding the “good of the spouses” or bonum coniugum as an end of marriage and how this end is intrinsically related to the spouses' vocation to holiness precisely as spouses. In it Pope Pius XI declared: “[t]his inward molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but  more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual  interchange and sharing thereof (Ibid, no. 24. In the official English text of Casti connubii no reference to the Roman Catechism is given. The Latin text, however, refers to Catechismus Romanus, Part II, chap. VIII, 13; Acta Apostolicae Sedis, Vol. 22, 1930, 548. It is surprising that the Vatican website does not offer the Latin definitive text of Casti connubii).

The text of the Roman Catechism (popularly known as The Catechism of the Council of Trent) to which Pius refers reads as follows: “the first reason to marry is the instinctive mutual attraction of the two sexes to form a stable companionship of the two persons, as a basis for mutual happiness and help amid the trials of life extending even to sickness and old age” (Casti Connubii, 24).
    
Comparing this text with Pius's statement, we can see that the pope has in reality provided us with a gloss, and a most important one, on this text. I think that from what has been said thus far we can conclude that Pius XI is here, in effect, speaking of what the 1983 Code will call the ”good of the spouses," and that he identifies it as an  end of marriage. Pius XI clearly shows that this end consists in the endeavor of the spouses, rooted in their unique and exclusive love for one another, to help each other perfect themselves and grow in holiness. In short, a married person's path to the holiness God wants him to have has a name: his or her spouse.

(c) Culture of Life Foundation 2009.  Reproduction granted with attribution required.