On Conjugal Duties

1. Among the adventitious states, or those in which a man is placed by some previous act of man, the first place belongs to marriage. In itself it is also the first example, we may say, of the social life, and at the same time the nursery of the human race.

2. This much is certain to begin with, that the ardent and mutual propensity of the sexes was ordained by an all-wise Creator, not for the satisfaction of an empty pleasure (for this, if it were the only aim, would have occasioned the greatest filthiness and confusion in the human race), but in order that the life of married persons might be the more agreeable, and that mankind might the more willingly devote itself to the propagation of offspring, and endure the annoyances which attend the begetting and rearing of the same. From which it follows that every use of the genital organs which departs from these purposes is repugnant to the natural law. On this account lust after another species, or the same sex, is forbidden; also any filthy pollutions, and finally all intercourse outside of wedlock, whether by mutual consent, or forced upon the unwilling woman.

3. The obligation to contract marriage can be considered either in respect to the whole human race, or in respect to individuals. The former obligation consists in this, that the propagation of the human species is by no means to be carried on by promiscuous and unregulated intercourse, but must be bounded certainly by conjugal laws, and so conducted by marriage only. For without the latter, a seemly and well-ordered society of men, and the practice of the civil life are unintelligible. As for the individuals, they are bound to enter matrimony when a convenient opportunity therefor offers. This, however, consists not only in age and generative power, but that there be also the possibility of a suitable match, and the means to support a wife and the children to be born, and then that the man be suited to play the role of a paterfamilias. Unless, however, a man has the temperament for a chaste single life, and feels that as a celibate he can accomplish more good for the race or the state, than if he had a wife; especially when no dearth of offspring is to be feared.

4. Between those who are about to enter matrimony there should be, and usually is, an agreement, which in its regular and perfect form consists of these heads: First, because the man (for it is in harmony with the nature of both sexes that the contract begin with him) intends to seek offspring of his very own, not supposititious nor spurious, therefore the woman must give the man her promise that she will give none but himself the use of her person. And in like manner the woman in turn requires the same stipulation of the husband. Next, as nothing is more out of keeping with the nature of the social and civil life, than a wandering and unsettled life, without a definite home and abiding-place for the property; and as the bringing-up of the common offspring is most conveniently carried on when both parents unite their efforts; and since continuous cohabitation involves the greatest amount of pleasure to the well-mated, and thereby the husband can also have more certain knowledge of his wife's chastity; therefore the wife gives the husband the further promise, that she will dwell with him continuously, and in fact unite with him in closest society of life, and in the same family. And in this we understand that there is contained a mutual promise of such a life together, as the nature of that alliance requires. But it agrees best with the natural condition of both sexes, not only that in marriage the condition of the man should be the better, but also that the husband be the head of the household which he has himself established. From this it follows that in matters relating to marriage and the household the wife is subject to the husband's direction. Hence also it belongs to the husband to determine the home, and the wife cannot against his will go abroad, or sleep alone. But it does not seem necessary to the essence of matrimony to have such authority as includes the power of life and death, and severe punishment, also the full power of disposing of any property of the wife. This, however, is in some places established by special contracts between the couple, or by the civil laws.

5. Moreover, though it is manifestly repugnant to the natural law that one woman should cohabit with several men at the same time, still, for one man to have two or more wives has been customary in many nations, and formerly even in the Jewish people. Nevertheless, even disregarding the primitive institution of marriage as related in the Holy Scriptures, it is, however, established by right reason alone, that it is far more seemly and advantageous for one man to be content with one woman. And this is what the experience of all the Christian nations that we know of has approved these many centuries.

6. And no less does the nature of so close a union show that marriage ought to be perpetual, and not to be terminated, except by the death of one or the other of the couple; unless the clauses of the original marriage contract have been violated by adultery and base desertion. But for incompatibility of character, not having the same effect as base desertion, a separation merely as regards bed and board has been admitted among Christians, without permission to proceed to a second matrimonial engagement. Among the other reasons therefor is this, that facility of divorce may not foster perversity of character; but rather that despair of another match may encourage husbands and wives to an obliging disposition and mutual tolerance. But for violation of the clauses of the marriage contract the injured party only is released from the tie, which is continued in the case of the other, if indeed the injured party shall so wish, and shall deign to be reconciled.

7. Marriage can be contracted lawfully, where the civil law does not prohibit, by any man with any woman, if they have the age and physical condition suitable for marriage, unless some moral impediment prohibits. Morally one is prevented from taking another partner, if one is already joined to a husband or wife.

8. But also a moral impediment to legal matrimony is found in a too close relationship of blood or affinity. On this account, even under the natural law, marriage between ascendants and descendants indefinitely is judged sinful. And other marriages on the transverse line, for instance, with a father's or mother's sister, or with a sister, and likewise among relations by marriage, with a step-mother, mother-in-law, step-daughter, — all these are viewed with aversion not only by the divine law, but also by the laws of civilized nations, and the consensus of Christians. For that matter, the civil laws of many peoples have forbidden some remoter degrees, to hedge about, as it were, the more sacred degrees above mentioned, that men may not readily rush in to desecrate them.

9. But, as the civil laws are accustomed to add to other contracts and affairs certain requisites, and if these have not been observed, those are not held valid in the civil court, so it is also with marriage, so long as certain solemnities are anywhere required by the civil laws in the interest of seemliness and good order. Although these are outside of the natural law, still, without them, those who are subject to the civil laws will not contract a legal marriage; or at least such a union will not have the effect of a proper marriage in the state.

10. The duty of the husband is to love the wife, to support, rule, and defend her; of the wife, to love and honor her husband, to be a help to him, not only in the generation and education of children, but also in assuming a part of the domestic cares. On both sides the character of so close a union requires that both be sharers as well in prosperity as in adversity, and that, if any misfortune befalls one of them, this partner be sustained by the other; and not less that they wisely adapt their ways to maintain mutual harmony. Yet in this matter it is rather the part of the wife to yield.

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