The good of the spouses as the purpose of marriage

Fr Wojciech Goralski

The reflection of Vatican Council II concerning marriage let the Council Fathers realise that apart from the procreational-educational dimension (procreation and education of offspring) marriage has also a personalistic dimension, serving the spouses themselves. Seeing marriage according to the doctrine, which found its expression in the counciliar constitution ‘Gaudium et spes’ (no 48-49) they showed marital love as mutual personal giving each other; at the same time they stress the solemnity of this love and the very act of marriage through which love is especially expressed. Despite such a view of marriage the Fathers of Vaticanum II did not work out any appropriate formula that would express the personalistic understanding of this relationship. This lack was only completed by canon 1055, paragraph 1 of the new Code of Canon Law (1983). This canon directly shows two goals of marriage: the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, without any differentiation as for the importance as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (cf. no 2363). Thus the personal dimension of this unique and indissoluble covenant between man and woman was recognised as being of equal rank to procreation and education of offspring. It was also meaningful that canon 1067 par. 2 of the Code has the statement that ‘Matrimonial consent is an act of the will by which a man and a woman mutually give and accept each other’. That allowed stating that the essence of the good of the spouses was mutual giving (As far as the direct definition of the good of the spouses is concerned it should be first of all connected with what God planned when he said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone’ (Genesis 2:18)). Facing God’s plan for the institution of marriage the real good of the spouses means their maturing, which is done through the whole matrimonial life, so that they could reach the goal for which they were created (giving glory to God and achieving eternal salvation). In the Christian optics the good of the spouses is their real human and supernatural maturing in Christ. Such an understanding of this good remains in accordance with the spirit of Pius XI’ s encyclical ‘Casti connubii’ (1930), ‘its primary purpose that man and wife help each other day by day in forming and perfecting themselves in the interior life, 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 neighbour.’ In turn the constitution ‘Gaudium et spes’ teaches that the spouses ‘fulfil their conjugal and family obligation... increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification’ (no 48). The real purpose of the good of the spouses was undoubtedly shown in the words of the formula accepted by the Pontifical Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law ‘so that the spouses help each other to reach perfection and sanctification as well as accepting and educating offspring.’ Relating to this vision of the good of the spouses it was commonly thought that this good should not be seen in the static understanding but a dynamic one, assuming constant advance of mutual perfection of the spouses. Their mutual gift, offered by man and woman at the moment of expressing the matrimonial consent, being the essence of the good of the spouses, simultaneously reveals the essence of this consent, the good of the spouses should bear – as the obligation of justice – the sum of the rights-obligations to be realised through their whole lives. Entering into a marriage the parties become spouses and establish a marriage so they are entitled to have rights and obligations of their own status. The legislator of the Code defines these rights-obligations, resulting also from other sources, as essential obligations of marriage (cf. canon 1095ff., 2-3 The Code of Canon Law). Generally speaking, one should state that the essential obligation of marriage, resulting from directing marriage towards the good of the spouses, is establishing proper inter-personal relationships by the spouses, relationships embracing – according to the definition of the marriage as a partnership of the whole of life (cf. canon 1055, par. 1) – all fields of the community of the spouses, from the sphere of their intimate life to spiritual growth. Therefore, we mean the spouses’ obligation to assume all kinds of behaviours, naturally necessary and responding to the social-cultural circumstances, that can be realised in the context of equal personal dignity as well as spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, economic and social perfection of both spouses. Most generally, it would be the obligation of constant and enduring determination to become involved for their mutual good of marriage.
In the light of the above-mentioned statements one can ask: how is the good of the spouses – as one of the goals of marriage – understood by those who have entered into a sacramental matrimonial relationship? How do they realise the obligation-right of mutual support in every field of life, which results from this good, and the obligation-right to build a real community? What do their inter-personal relationships look like? How can they give themselves to each other?…

"Niedziela" 8/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: