Wing to Wing: Aquinas on the Benefit of Marriage

Well, I was hoping to read through this book as a regular series, but at long last I’m returning to it. However, my ability to stick to a schedule should be doubted enough that I will, this time, not attempt to assign such essays to a “day of the week”, but instead when I get time. But this means we can (finally) continue with reading Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar: Readings on Courting and Marrying. We’re just getting started, and as such, after last week’s overview (click the “courting” link in the sidebar for the collected essays as they develop). This book is an anthology, a collection of essays.

This weeks essay is from the section entitled “Why Marry.” This the second selection from this section is drawn from the writings of Thomas Aquinas. It makes for an interesting read, if nothing else, but for the dialectical methodology, which hearkens to a perhaps less busy more careful age. Aquinas argues or reasons in the following way:

  • A thesis is proposed
  • Then enumerated objections are raised. These objections are all the objections that might (or have) been raised against the thesis.
  • Next, he provides his answer
  • And finally he answers the objections each in turn.

We continue below the fold.Aquinas question he addresses (first) is whether the goods of marriage being “faith, offspring, and sacrament” are a complete list of the benefits of marriage. His answer (skipping the objections):

I answer that, Matrimony is instituted both as an office of nature and as a sacrament of the Church. As an office of nature it is directed by two things, like every other virtuous act. One of these is required on the part of the agent and is the intention of the due end, and thus the offspring is accounted a good of matrimony; the other is required on the part of the act, which is good gen­erically through being about a due matter; and thus we have faith, whereby a man has intercourse with his wife and with no other woman. Besides this it has certain goodness as a sacrament, and this is signified by the very word sacrament

In the objections and his counter, he defines more precisely what is meant by faith, offspring, and sacrament. Faith in the context of marriage, according to Aquinas, is not faith in the theological sense, but in more common sense of justice, fide, a keeping of promise. Offspring is not merely children and their education but “that entire communion of works that exists between man and wife as united in marriage.” As to sacrament, Aquinas includes both marriage as the sacrament in the context of church, but also as a office of nature.

The second question he addresses is whether the sacrament is the chief good of marriage. He answers this in a somewhat more complicated fashion, that is the sacrament is the chief good, but offspring and faith respectively are the more essential.

I answer that, This or that may be more important to a thing in two ways, either because it is more essential or because it is more excellent. If the reason is because it is more excellent, then sacrament is in every way the most impor­tant of the three marriage goods, since it belongs to marriage considered as a sacrament of grace; while the other two belong to it as an office of nature; and a perfection of grace is more excellent than a perfection of nature. If, how­ever, it is said to be more important because it is more essential, we must draw a distinction; for faith and offspring can be considered in two ways. First, in themselves, and thus they regard the use of matrimony in begetting children and observing the marriage compact; while inseparability, which is denoted by sacrament, regards the very sacrament considered in itself, since from the very fact that by the marriage compact man and wife give to one another power the one over the other in perpetuity, it follows that they cannot be put asunder. Hence there is no matrimony without inseparability, whereas there is matri­mony without faith and offspring, because the existence of a thing does not depend on its use; and in this sense sacrament is more essential to matrimony than faith and offspring. Secondly, faith and offspring may be considered as in their principles, so that offspring denote the intention of having children, and faith the duty of remaining faithful, and there can be no matrimony without these also, since they are caused in matrimony by the marriage compact it­self, so that if anything contrary to these were expressed in the consent which makes a marriage, the marriage would be invalid. Taking faith and offspring in this sense, it is clear that offspring is the most essential thing in marriage, sec­ondly faith, and thirdly sacrament; even as to man it is more essential to be in nature than to be in grace, although it is more excellent to be in grace.

In reviewing these questions in the context of “Why Marry” Kass and Kass suggest that this brings up questions like the following:

  • Should one marry for the sake of procreating?
  • Is a childless marriage less a marriage?
  • Can marriage be good if it is not lived under a promise faithfully kept?
  • Could it be an important good of human life to choose to live it under a promise of fidelity?
  • What does it mean to say that marriage is a sacra­ment, or that marriage reflects the mysterious union of Christ and the Church, or more generally, the union of the divine and the human?
  • How might marital union sanctify one’s life?

With the possible exception of the second to last question, all of these questions are valid for any of those who today might consider “Why Marry.” The importannce of these questions makes Aquinas thoughts on these of interest, whether or not you consider Aquinas an authority of not. On that question on marriage as sacrament, perhaps for that the audience might have to be restricted to the Christian audience or at least an audience that considers questions of “divine and human” a thing to ponder.

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  1. […] Mark Olson summarizes his post on Why Marry? this way: Wing to Wing is a wide ranging anthology of select readings mostly from the Western Canon […]

  2. […] Mark Olson summarizes his post on Why Marry? this way: Wing to Wing is a wide ranging anthology of select readings mostly from the Western Canon […]