The Sacrament of
Fidelity and Procreation
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
Of all the seven
sacraments, Matrimony has been the most widely challenged in the
history of the Catholic Church. It has also been the main cause of
disunity in Christianity.
We know this
from the classic narrative described by St. Matthew when some
Pharisees came to test Jesus by asking, “‘Is it lawful for a man to
put away his wife for any cause?’ But He answered and said to them,
‘Have you not read that the Creator, from the beginning, made them
male and female, and said, “For this cause a man shall leave his
father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become
one flesh”? Therefore now they are no longer two, but one flesh.
What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.’
They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give a written
notice of dismissal, and to put her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because
Moses, by reason of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to put
away your wives; but it was not so from the beginning. And I say to
you, that whoever puts away his wife, except for immorality, and
marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman who has
been put away commits adultery’” (Mt 19:3-9).
In the Gospel of
St. Mark, Christ declares that the same law applies to women. Says
Jesus, “if the wife puts away her husband, and marries another, she
commits adultery” (Mk 10:12).
centuries, this has been the single principal cause of whole nations
breaking with the Catholic Church. In the thirteenth century, the
Orthodox Churches broke with Rome over this issue. In the sixteenth
century, it was the main reason for the rise of Protestantism.
That is why the
Council of Trent condemned the following proposition as heresy.
If anyone says
that the Church is in error for having taught and for still
teaching that in accordance with the evangelical and apostolic
doctrine, the marriage bond cannot be dissolved because of
adultery on the part of one of the spouses, and that neither of
the two, not even the innocent one who has given no cause for
infidelity, can contract another marriage during the lifetime of
the other; and that the husband who dismisses an adulterous wife
an marries again and the wife who dismisses and adulterous husband
and marries again are both guilty of adultery, let him be
even open adultery cannot justify divorce and remarriage, then no
other grounds for dissolving a Christian marriage are recognized by
the Catholic Church.
Christ Elevates Marriage
Until God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ, no religion
forbade divorce and remarriage. For that matter, every religion,
even Judaism, not only allowed married people to leave their spouse,
but even practiced polygamy. That is why, after Christ told the
Pharisees that remarriage was forbidden, the disciples told Him,
“‘If the case of a man with his wife is so, it is not expedient to
marry’” (Mt 19:10).
What did Jesus
Christ do when He told His followers they not only may not, they
cannot, divorce and remarry? He was restoring marriage to its
original state before the fall of our first parents.
We must say that
Christ had no choice. Having restored the state of marriage to its
condition before the fall of the human race, when husband and wife
are to be two, and only two, in one flesh, Jesus had to provide the
supernatural means necessary to live out this humanly impossible
command. He did so by instituting the Sacrament of Matrimony.
Church believes that when marriage is between two baptized persons,
it is always a sacrament. Christ Himself instituted this sacrament
during His visible stay on earth. Consequently, it was not merely
introduced into the Church by human authority. The preferred name
for the Sacrament of Marriage is Matrimony.
Matrimony is not only a contract between husband and wife. In other
contracts, two or more persons can agree on a course of action, and
there the matter may end. Not so with Christian marriage. The
marrying partners not only agree to take each other as husband and
wife, but also to continue taking each other until death, to begin
to live with one another in the most intimate union possible between
two people and to share their respective lives with one another. Nor
is that all. They also agree to accept whatever children God may
send them by forming a family.
institutions worthy of the name are established societies—especially
those of a public character, which affect the welfare of the
community—marriage is not only an institution. It is the basic
institution of human society on which all other societies finally
The marriage rite fulfills the provision that the sacramental grace
and duties of the marrying partners be clearly understood. There are
no less than five petitions to the heavenly Father, asking Him for
the graces which the husband and wife will need all the days of
their life here on earth.
graces of Matrimony: “Father, by your
power you have made everything out of nothing. In the beginning you
created the universe and mankind in your own likeness. You gave man
the constant help of woman so that man and woman should no longer be
two, but one flesh, and you teach us that what you have united may
never be divided.”
Christ’s union with the Church: “Father, you have made the union
of man and woman so holy a mystery that it symbolizes the marriage
of Christ and His Church.”
marriage: “Father, by your plan man and
woman are united, and marriage has been established as the one
blessing that was not forfeited by original sin or washed away in
Love for the
wife: “Look with love upon this woman,
your daughter, now joined to her husband in marriage. She asks your
blessing. Give her the grace of love and peace. May she always
follow the example of the holy woman whose praises are sung in
Love for the
husband: “May the husband put his trust in
her and recognize that she is his equal and the heir with him in the
life of grace. May he always honor her and love her as Christ loves
His bride, the Church.”
fidelity and children: “Father, keep them
always true to Your Commandments. Keep them faithful in marriage and
let them be living examples of Christian life. Give them the
strength which comes from the Gospel so that they may be witnesses
of Christ to others. Bless them with children and help them to be
good parents. May they live to see their children’s children. And,
after a happy old age, grant them fullness of life with the saints
in the kingdom of heaven.”
The Purpose of Marriage
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of selfless love in
marriage. This love is first of all to be unitive love. Unitive love
is so basic that without it there would be no valid marriage.
That is one
reason why so-called mixed marriages are hazardous to marital unity.
If there is one thing that husband and wife should share in common,
it is their mutual Catholic faith.
look casually upon mixed marriages, and it is increasingly rare to
find more than a few pieces of literature on the subject. Yet, no
other phenomenon is more common in Europe and the Americas, and none
has more lasting implications for the welfare, not only of the
Church, but of Western society. All the learned books on
Christianity, and within Christianity on Catholicism, are so much
vapid theory unless those who write these books take stock of what
is happening in real life, which means especially in the institution
and practice of marriage.
At the heart of
Protestantism is the denial that Christ instituted the Sacrament of
Matrimony. Moreover, no Protestant denomination in the world
believes that marriage cannot be dissolved with a right to
“remarry,” not once, but as often as a nominally married husband and
wife want to. Judaism has not changed since the Pharisees challenged
Christ on the right of the man to divorce and remarry. Islam not
only believes in divorce and remarriage, but universally believes in
It is impossible
to overstate the importance of husband and wife sharing the same
Catholic faith and practicing this faith throughout their married
love between the spouses is possible only through the grace of God.
This grace is assured by the Sacrament of Matrimony. But it must be
sustained through the practice of fervent, daily prayer and the
reception of the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance.
purpose of marriage is also to foster procreative love. This means
that marriage is divinely intended to animate the selfless love of
husband and wife to want to have children. Unlike unitive love,
which provides for their mutual affection for each other;
procreative love makes them desire to cooperate with each other in
bringing offspring into the world and caring for and educating their
children in what the Church calls spiritual procreation.
people believe this, they are called upon to practice nothing less
than heroic charity to reproduce themselves. This reproduction is
not only to procreate children in body for this world but reproduce
themselves in spirit for reunion with their families in a heavenly
I asked the Lord
for light as to whether I should include something about
contraception in this conference on Matrimony. What I have to say
will not be lengthy, but most important.
This year is the thirtieth anniversary of the publication by Pope
Paul VI of the encyclical Humanae Vitae which forbids
contraception as a grave sin. No single document in modern papal
history has provoked more controversy and opposition than Humanae
Vitae. In one country after another, Catholic bishops’
conferences met in solemn session to pass judgment on this papal
teaching. Thank God, many of these conferences fully approved what
the Vicar of Christ declared. But not a few episcopal associations
rejected this infallible doctrine of Christian morality. Among
these, was the national conference of bishops in the United States.
Let me quote the two essential
paragraphs of Humanae Vitae.
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian view
of marriage, we must again declare that the direct interruption of
the generative process already begun and, above all, directly
willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are
to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.
Equally to be excluded, as the
teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is
direct sterilization, whether permanent or temporary, whether of
the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which,
either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its
accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences,
proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation
Every form of contraception is
simply forbidden. Given the mind-set of so many members of the
hierarchy, it is no wonder that millions of Catholics are deeply
confused. “Whom are we to obey,” they ask themselves, “the bishops
or the pope?” Pope Paul VI anticipated this dilemma of conscience.
Shortly after Humanae Vitae, he said, “How many times we have
trembled before the alternatives of an easy condescension to current
opinions.” No wonder Paul VI never published another encyclical for
the next ten years until his death in 1978. In God’s providence, one
of the strongest bishop defenders of Humanae Vitae, Cardinal
Wojtyla, was elected (after the short reign of John Paul I) as the
successor pope, John Paul II.
Christian Marriage, the
Foundation of the Family
Most people do not realize that until the dawn of Christianity, the
family did not exist in the pagan world. In the Roman Empire, into
which Christ was born, contraception was universal. There were no
laws prohibiting abortion. Infanticide was commonplace. Marriage was
No single word in the Western
world took on a more changed meaning than the Latin term familia,
which in English is the family. Among the Romans, familia
was a household of servants, headed by a man with his wives and
What the family now means among
believing Christians who are loyal to Jesus Christ is a group of
persons who are related by marriage and who typically include a
father, mother, and children. In the mind of the Church, “The family
is the foundation of society.”
It is no exaggeration to say
that the family is the seed-bed of hope. It is the seed-bed of hope
in eternal life, for which families here on earth are the
pre-condition and necessary preparation. Parents can see their
children now in time to teach them there is a heavenly eternity to
hope for, and train them to pay the price of reaching heaven in the
world to come.
Families Are Made For Heaven
We are so accustomed to speaking of families in terrestrial terms
that we may have to do some violence to our thinking to say that
families are really made for heaven. This is the clear teaching of
divine revelation and should be the towering goal of our earthly
We are destined to be re-united
as families in that heavenly Jerusalem which the voice of God told
St. John, “You see this city? Here God lives among men. He will make
His home with them; they shall be His people, and He will be their
God” (Rev 21:3).
Home on earth is where families
begin and grow. But home in heaven is where families are meant
finally to arrive, where God will wipe away all tears from our eyes;
where there will be no more death or family bereavement, and no more
mourning or sadness. The world of the past will have gone, and what
we now call the future will be an everlasting present in the company
of those whom we have loved on earth, never again to be separated
from them for all eternity.
The Family, the Foundation of
St. Paul again tells us that faith comes from hearing. Someone who
already believes, professes the faith in word or action, and others
receive the faith—from God, of course, but through the one who
This is the ordinary course of
Divine Providence. Only believers reproduce other believers.
We see, therefore, that the
family is certainly the source of our natural generation and
education as human beings. But it is also—and especially—the source
and support of our supernatural life and well-being. For it is
mainly through the family that we receive and grow in the true faith
without which the supernatural life would not even be possible.
This is why the faith of each
member of the family is so necessary to provide the sustenance in
faith that the other members of the family so desperately need.
First in this law of dependence
are the father and mother. The strength of their own Catholic faith
will determine the strength of their children’s faith. In the
designs of God, they are the principal channels of grace of faith to
What is true in the course of
nature, is even more true in the order of grace. Like reproduces
like. In today’s world of widespread unbelief, this will mean
nothing less than heroic faith in the parents if they hope to
reproduce and preserve this faith in their offspring.
It is here that we must at least
briefly explain what I have come to call the four pillars of the
Catholic family. They are fidelity, indissolubility, children, and
The first pillar of the Catholic family is the obligation that the
husband and wife assumed when they received the Sacrament of
Matrimony. They promised God that they would remain faithful to each
other in a world that has canonized infidelity and makes a mockery
of the marriage vows.
Remember that parents are to be
channels of grace to their children, here of the grace of faith in
the unchangeable teaching of Christ on marital fidelity. This is far
deeper than merely giving a good example. Father and mother are to
be conduits of supernatural light for the sons and daughters they
have brought into the world.
If there is one truth of the Catholic faith that parents must
teach their children it is the indissolubility of Christian
marriage. The Catholic Church will survive only where Christ’s
difficult doctrine on marital indissolubility is still believed and
Not every marriage, we know, is fruitful in children. One of the
heaviest sacrifices that childless couples have to make is to accept
God’s will in their lives. They must learn the secret of spiritual
parenthood and devote their zeal to teaching the faith to other
But where the husband and wife
can have offspring, their generosity in reproducing themselves is
the single most effective way of propagating the faith to their
children. All the orthodoxy of their Catholicism will be lost on
deaf ears unless the children see their parents living what they
profess to believe. Contraception is lethal for the preservation of
the true faith, in any age, and with thunderous emphasis in our age,
when infertility has been reduced to an exact science and children
have become a liability in the Western world.
In the Catholic philosophy of life, a family of father, mother and
children is not a mere group of persons who happen to be related by
blood. A family is not just a society of individuals who co-habit
with one another.
In the mind of Christ, a family
is to be a loving community. This implies some remarkable things.
• It implies there is someone
in authority in the family, someone who with kindly patience makes
the decisions for the family.
• It implies there is mutual trust among the members of the
family. They share with one another their hopes and desires, and
are sure that their confidence will not be betrayed.
• It implies that the members of a family, in a true sense, live
together. They are in each other’s company, not grudgingly but
willingly, and together form an unmistakable unity. Already on
Pentecost Sunday, St. Luke tells us in the Acts of the Apostles,
the first Christians began to form a community—beginning with the
community of each Christian family. What united these first
families was their common faith. They were united by their common
allegiance “to the teaching of the Apostles.”
Catholic Instruction of the
As faithful sons and daughters of Mother Church, we know what
follows when families are not taught, as the Holy Father says, that
“freedom is a capacity for realizing the truth of God’s plan for
marriage and the family.”
Instead of knowing that God’s
plan is to lead families to heaven by doing His will, people are
being taught to do their own will. The result has been pandemonium,
which literally means “all demonic.” Pandemonium is the literary
term for the abode of demons. In the English language, it is a
center of vice, a place of lawlessness and anarchy. Is it too much
to say that where self-will has replaced the divine will as the
purpose of human freedom, the consequence has been pandemonium?
The conclusion from all this is
obvious. Families must, the word is must, be taught that we
have a free will in order to do God’s will on earth and thereby
reach a heavenly eternity.
Here is the gravest
responsibility we have before God. As bishops and priests, religious
and laity, single and married, we must become active apostles of
religious instruction to families.
Parents and children are being
exposed to so much erroneous thinking, it is no wonder that family
life in once flourishing Christian countries is disintegrating.
Ideas have consequences. True ideas have good consequences. False
ideas have bad consequences.
We who have the true faith,
which is the only foundation for real hope, have the obligation to
teach this faith to the myriads of families that are literally
walking in darkness and sitting in the shadow of death.
There is a cosmic war going on
in the world today. It is nothing less than a war between Christ,
who is revealed Truth, and Satan, the father of lies.
The center of this conflict is
over the family. The heart of this conflict is over the truth. The
good of this conflict is eternity. The victory in this conflict is
assured, on one condition, that we are ready to die for Christ who
died on the Cross to save us from hell and for heaven as the hope of
—A conference by Father
Hardon in 1998.
© Copyright 2002 Inter Mirifica
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