QUESTION 41: OF THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY AS DIRECTED TO AN OFFICE OF NATURE
In the next place we must consider matrimony. We must treat of it (1) as
directed to an office of nature; (2) as a sacrament; (3) as considered
absolutely and in itself. Under the first head there are four points of
(1) Whether it is of natural law?
(2) Whether it is a matter of precept?
(3) Whether its act is lawful?
(4) Whether its act can be meritorious?
Article 1: Whether matrimony is of natural law?
Objection 1: It would seem that matrimony is not natural. Because "the natural
law is what nature has taught all animals" [*Digest. I, i, de justitia et
jure, 1]. But in other animals the sexes are united without matrimony.
Therefore matrimony is not of natural law.
Objection 1: Further, that which is of natural law is found in all men with
regard to their every state. But matrimony was not in every state of man,
for as Tully says (De Inv. Rhet.), "at the beginning men were savages and
then no man knew his own children, nor was he bound by any marriage tie,"
wherein matrimony consists. Therefore it is not natural.
Objection 3: Further, natural things are the same among all. But matrimony is
not in the same way among all, since its practice varies according to
the various laws. Therefore it is not natural.
Objection 4: Further, those things without which the intention of nature can
be maintained would seem not to be natural. But nature intends the
preservation of the species by generation which is possible without
matrimony, as in the case of fornicators. Therefore matrimony is not
On the contrary, At the commencement of the Digests it is stated: "The
union of male and female, which we call matrimony, is of natural law."
Further, the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12) says that "man is an animal
more inclined by nature to connubial than political society." But "man is
naturally a political and gregarious animal," as the same author asserts
(Polit. i, 2). Therefore he is naturally inclined to connubial union, and
thus the conjugal union or matrimony is natural.
I answer that, A thing is said to be natural in two ways. First, as
resulting of necessity from the principles of nature; thus upward
movement is natural to fire. In this way matrimony is not natural, nor
are any of those things that come to pass at the intervention or motion
of the free-will. Secondly, that is said to be natural to which nature
inclines although it comes to pass through the intervention of the
free-will; thus acts of virtue and the virtues themselves are called
natural; and in this way matrimony is natural, because natural reason
inclines thereto in two ways. First, in relation to the principal end of
matrimony, namely the good of the offspring. For nature intends not only
the begetting of offspring, but also its education and development until
it reach the perfect state of man as man, and that is the state of
virtue. Hence, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 11,12), we
derive three things from our parents, namely "existence," "nourishment,"
and "education." Now a child cannot be brought up and instructed unless
it have certain and definite parents, and this would not be the case
unless there were a tie between the man and a definite woman and it is in
this that matrimony consists. Secondly, in relation to the secondary end
of matrimony, which is the mutual services which married persons render
one another in household matters. For just as natural reason dictates
that men should live together, since one is not self-sufficient in all
things concerning life, for which reason man is described as being
naturally inclined to political society, so too among those works that
are necessary for human life some are becoming to men, others to women.
Wherefore nature inculcates that society of man and woman which consists
in matrimony. These two reasons are given by the Philosopher (Ethic.
Reply to Objection 1: Man's nature inclines to a thing in two ways. In one way,
because that thing is becoming to the generic nature, and this is common
to all animals; in another way because it is becoming to the nature of
the difference, whereby the human species in so far as it is rational
overflows the genus; such is an act of prudence or temperance. And just
as the generic nature, though one in all animals, yet is not in all in
the same way, so neither does it incline in the same way in all, but in a
way befitting each one. Accordingly man's nature inclines to matrimony on
the part of the difference, as regards the second reason given above;
wherefore the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 11,12; Polit. i) gives this
reason in men over other animals; but as regards the first reason it
inclines on the part of the genus; wherefore he says that the begetting
of offspring is common to all animals. Yet nature does not incline
thereto in the same way in all animals; since there are animals whose
offspring are able to seek food immediately after birth, or are
sufficiently fed by their mother; and in these there is no tie between
male and female; whereas in those whose offspring needs the support of
both parents, although for a short time, there is a certain tie, as may
be seen in certain birds. In man, however, since the child needs the
parents' care for a long time, there is a very great tie between male and
female, to which tie even the generic nature inclines.
Reply to Objection 2: The assertion of Tully may be true of some particular
nation, provided we understand it as referring to the proximate beginning
of that nation when it became a nation distinct from others; for that to
which natural reason inclines is not realized in all things, and this
statement is not universally true, since Holy Writ states that there has
been matrimony from the beginning of the human race.
Reply to Objection 3: According to the Philosopher (Ethic. vii) "human nature is
not unchangeable as the Divine nature is." Hence things that are of
natural law vary according to the various states and conditions of men;
although those which naturally pertain to things Divine nowise vary.
Reply to Objection 4: Nature intends not only being in the offspring, but also
perfect being, for which matrimony is necessary, as shown above.
Article 2: Whether matrimony still comes under a precept?
Objection 1: It would seem that matrimony still comes under a precept. For a
precept is binding so long as it is not recalled. But the primary
institution of matrimony came under a precept, as stated in the text
(Sent. iv, D, 26); nor do we read anywhere that this precept was
recalled, but rather that it was confirmed (Mt. 19:6): "What . . . God
hath joined together let no man put asunder." Therefore matrimony still
comes under a precept.
Objection 2: Further, the precepts of natural law are binding in respect of
all time. Now matrimony is of natural law, as stated above (Article ).
Objection 3: Further, the good of the species is better than the good of the
individual, "for the good of the State is more Godlike than the good of
one man" (Ethic. i, 2). Now the precept given to the first man concerning
the preservation of the good of the individual by the act of the
nutritive power is still in force. Much more therefore does the precept
concerning matrimony still hold, since it refers to the preservation of
Objection 4: Further, where the reason of an obligation remains the same, the
obligation must remain the same. Now the reason why men were bound to
marry in olden times was lest the human race should cease to multiply.
Since then the result would be the same, if each one were free to abstain
from marriage, it would seem that matrimony comes under a precept.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Cor. 7:38): "He that giveth not his
virgin in marriage doth better [*Vulg.: 'He that giveth his virgin in
marriage doth well, and he that giveth her not doth better']," namely
than he that giveth her in marriage. Therefore the contract of marriage
is not now a matter of precept.
Further, no one deserves a reward for breaking a precept. Now a special
reward, namely the aureole, is due to virgins [*Cf. Question , Article ].
Therefore matrimony does not come under a precept.
I answer that, Nature inclines to a thing in two ways. In one way as to
that which is necessary for the perfection of the individual, and such an
obligation is binding on each one, since natural perfections are common
to all. In another way it inclines to that which is necessary for the
perfection of the community; and since there are many things of this
kind, one of which hinders another, such an inclination does not bind
each man by way of precept; else each man would be bound to husbandry and
building and to such offices as are necessary to the human community; but
the inclination of nature is satisfied by the accomplishment of those
various offices by various individuals. Accordingly, since the perfection
of the human community requires that some should devote themselves to the
contemplative life to which marriage is a very great obstacle, the
natural inclination to marriage is not binding by way of precept even
according to the philosophers. Hence Theophrastus proves that it is not
advisable for a wise man to marry, as Jerome relates (Contra Jovin. i).
Reply to Objection 1: This precept has not been recalled, and yet it is not
binding on each individual, for the reason given above, except at that
time when the paucity of men required each one to betake himself to the
begetting of children.
The Replies to objections 2 and 3 are clear from what has been said.
Reply to Objection 4: Human nature has a general inclination to various offices
and acts, as already stated. But since it is variously in various
subjects, as individualized in this or that one, it inclines one subject
more to one of those offices, and another subject more to another,
according to the difference of temperament of various individuals. And
it is owing to this difference, as well as to Divine providence which
governs all, that one person chooses one office such as husbandry, and
another person another. And so it is too that some choose the married
life and some the contemplative. Wherefore no danger threatens.
Article 3: Whether the marriage act is always sinful?
Objection 1: It would seem that the marriage act is always sinful. For it is
written (1 Cor. 7:29): "That they . . . who have wives, be as if they had
none." But those who are not married do not perform the marriage act.
Therefore even those who are married sin in that act.
Objection 2: Further, "Your iniquities have divided between you and your God."
Now the marriage act divides man from God wherefore the people who were
to see God (Ex. 19:11) were commanded not to go near their wives (Ex. 19:20); and Jerome says (Ep. ad Ageruch.: Contra Jovini, 18) that in the
marriage act "the Holy Ghost touches not the hearts of the prophets."
Therefore it is sinful.
Objection 3: Further, that which is shameful in itself can by no means be well
done. Now the marriage act is always connected with concupiscence, which
is always shameful. Therefore it is always sinful.
Objection 4: Further, nothing is the object of excuse save sin. Now the
marriage act needs to be excused by the marriage blessings, as the Master
says (Sent. iv, D, 26). Therefore it is a sin.
Objection 5: Further, things alike in species are judged alike. But marriage
intercourse is of the same species as the act of adultery, since its end
is the same, namely the human species. Therefore since the act of
adultery is a sin, the marriage act is likewise.
Objection 6: Further, excess in the passions corrupts virtue. Now there is
always excess of pleasure in the marriage act, so much so that it absorbs
the reason which is man's principal good, wherefore the Philosopher says
(Ethic. vii, 11) that "in that act it is impossible to understand
anything." Therefore the marriage act is always a sin.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Cor. 7:28): "If a virgin marry she
hath not sinned," and (1 Tim. 5:14): "I will . . . that the younger
should marry," and "bear children." But there can be no bearing of
children without carnal union. Therefore the marriage act is not a sin;
else the Apostle would not have approved of it.
Further, no sin is a matter of precept. But the marriage act is a matter
of precept (1 Cor. 7:3): "Let the husband render the debt to his life."
Therefore it is not a sin.
I answer that, If we suppose the corporeal nature to be created by the
good God we cannot hold that those things which pertain to the
preservation of the corporeal nature and to which nature inclines, are
altogether evil; wherefore, since the inclination to beget an offspring
whereby the specific nature is preserved is from nature, it is impossible
to maintain that the act of begetting children is altogether unlawful, so
that it be impossible to find the mean of virtue therein; unless we
suppose, as some are mad enough to assert, that corruptible things were
created by an evil god, whence perhaps the opinion mentioned in the text
is derived (Sent. iv, D, 26); wherefore this is a most wicked heresy.
Reply to Objection 1: By these words the Apostle did not forbid the marriage act,
as neither did he forbid the possession of things when he said (1 Cor. 7:31): "They that use this world" (let them be) "as if they used it not."
In each case he forbade enjoyment [*"Fruitionem," i.e. enjoyment of a
thing sought as one's last end]; which is clear from the way in which he
expresses himself; for he did not say "let them not use it," or "let them
not have them," but let them be "as if they used it not" and "as if they
Reply to Objection 2: We are united to God by the habit of grace and by the act
of contemplation and love. Therefore whatever severs the former of these
unions is always a sin, but not always that which severs the latter,
since a lawful occupation about lower things distracts the mind so that
it is not fit for actual union with God; and this is especially the case
in carnal intercourse wherein the mind is withheld by the intensity of
pleasure. For this reason those who have to contemplate Divine things or
handle sacred things are enjoined not to have to do with their wives for
that particular time; and it is in this sense that the Holy Ghost, as
regards the actual revelation of hidden things, did not touch the hearts
of the prophets at the time of the marriage act.
Reply to Objection 3: The shamefulness of concupiscence that always accompanies
the marriage act is a shamefulness not of guilt, but of punishment
inflicted for the first sin, inasmuch as the lower powers and the members
do not obey reason. Hence the argument does not prove.
Reply to Objection 4: Properly speaking, a thing is said to be excused when it
has some appearance of evil, and yet is not evil, or not as evil as it
seems, because some things excuse wholly, others in part. And since the
marriage act, by reason of the corruption of concupiscence, has the
appearance of an inordinate act, it is wholly excused by the marriage
blessing, so as not to be a sin.
Reply to Objection 5: Although they are the same as to their natural species,
they differ as to their moral species, which differs in respect of one
circumstance, namely intercourse with one's wife and with another than
one's wife; just as to kill a man by assault or by justice differentiates
the moral species, although the natural species is the same; and yet the
one is lawful and the other unlawful.
Reply to Objection 6: The excess of passions that corrupts virtue not only
hinders the act of reason, but also destroys the order of reason. The
intensity of pleasure in the marriage act does not do this, since,
although for the moment man is not being directed, he was previously
directed by his reason.
Article 4: Whether the marriage act is meritorious?
Objection 1: It would seem that the marriage act is not meritorious. For
Chrysostom [*Hom. i in the Opus Imperfectum, falsely ascribed to St. John
Chrysostom] says in his commentary on Matthew: "Although marriage brings
no punishment to those who use it, it affords them no meed." Now merit
bears a relation to meed. Therefore the marriage act is not meritorious.
Objection 2: Further, to refrain from what is meritorious deserves not praise.
Yet virginity whereby one refrains from marriage is praiseworthy.
Therefore the marriage act is not meritorious.
Objection 3: Further, he who avails himself of an indulgence granted him,
avails himself of a favor received. But a man does not merit by receiving
a favor. Therefore the marriage act is not meritorious.
Objection 4: Further, merit like virtue, consists in difficulty. But the
marriage act affords not difficulty but pleasure. Therefore it is not
Objection 5: Further, that which cannot be done without venial sin is never
meritorious, for a man cannot both merit and demerit at the same time.
Now there is always a venial sin in the marriage act, since even the
first movement in such like pleasures is a venial sin. Therefore the
aforesaid act cannot be meritorious.
On the contrary, Every act whereby a precept is fulfilled is meritorious
if it be done from charity. Now such is the marriage act, for it is said
(1 Cor. 7:3): "Let the husband render the debt to his wife." Therefore,
Further, every act of virtue is meritorious. Now the aforesaid act is an
act of justice, for it is called the rendering of a debt. Therefore it is
I answer that, Since no act proceeding from a deliberate will is
indifferent, as stated in the Second Book (Sent. ii, D, 40, Question , Article ; FS, Question , Article ), the marriage act is always either sinful or meritorious
in one who is in a state of grace. For if the motive for the marriage act
be a virtue, whether of justice that they may render the debt, or of
religion, that they may beget children for the worship of God, it is
meritorious. But if the motive be lust, yet not excluding the marriage
blessings, namely that he would by no means be willing to go to another
woman, it is a venial sin; while if he exclude the marriage blessings, so
as to be disposed to act in like manner with any woman, it is a mortal
sin. And nature cannot move without being either directed by reason, and
thus it will be an act of virtue, or not so directed, and then it will be
an act of lust.
Reply to Objection 1: The root of merit, as regards the essential reward, is
charity itself; but as regards an accidental reward, the reason for merit
consists in the difficulty of an act; and thus the marriage act is not
meritorious except in the first way.
Reply to Objection 2: The difficulty required for merit of the accidental reward
is a difficulty of labor, but the difficulty required for the essential
reward is the difficulty of observing the mean, and this is the
difficulty in the marriage act.
Reply to Objection 3: First movements in so far as they are venial sins are
movements of the appetite to some inordinate object of pleasure. This is
not the case in the marriage act, and consequently the argument does not