Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the chief end of marriage is procreation?

What is the purpose of marriage? This question is on the minds of civil-rights activists, legislators, clergymen, and citizens alike. And their answer to that question will form their position in how they debate their point of view.

Is it for sexual gratification? companionship? procreation?

Today's legal battles concerning the acceptance of same-sex marriage are being fought on the same territory as those who battled the use of contraceptives in England during the 1940s. This Time article describes a case that went all the way up to the House of Lords. For ten years a wife refused to be sexually intimate with her husband unless he used a contraceptive. Perplexed and desiring to have children, he sought to have the marriage nulled. (Something I think they ought to have discussed before tying the knot.) The House of Lords turned down his request, deciding that procreation did not equate consummation of a marriage.

Newspapers were inundated with letters to the editor in regard to this legal decision, many quoting the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer.
"First, it [marriage] was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord and to the praise of His holy name."
The Catholic cardinal even chimed in with
"The primary purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary end, mutual support and the relief of concupiscence. . . . Contraceptive intercourse, whether with the aid of instruments or not, is not consummation of marriage [and is] against nature . . . shameful and intrinsically immoral."
In the midst of the ensuing heated debate, A. P. Herbert, M.P., perhaps caused the halls of Parliament to ring with chuckles only to be quickly silenced by contemplation when he stated that "if marriage-with-contraceptive isn't marriage; then adultery-with-contraceptive isn't adultery."

Today, those opposing gay marriage are using the very same arguments. Senior Director for the Center for Marriage and Family Studies Peter Sprigg made the following statement in his explanation of the public purpose of marriage:
"[M]arriage is a public institution because it brings together men and women for the purpose of reproducing the human race and keeping a mother and father together to cooperate in raising to maturity the children they produce."
Is marriage then only for couples who are willing and able to conceive? The Seattle Times reported in February that a group of gay-activists are recommending that an initiative be added to the November ballot advocating that very idea. The initiative would go even further in that marriage would be dissolved if the couple is still childless after three years of marriage.

The Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance is a parody of the acronym DOMA which stands for Defense of Marriage Act. The act passed the state Supreme Court last year 5-4 opposing same-sex marriage in part because they are not for the purpose of procreation. Gregory Gadow and his parody organization hope that their initiative will cause the Washington Supreme Court to re-evaluate its 2006 decision.
"We want people to think about the purpose of marriage," he said. "If it exists for the purpose of procreation, they must understand then that these are the consequences."
Many operate under the assumption that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation. Even the man who has lived with his girlfriend of ten years will thoughtfully suggest that when they are ready to have children that they will get married. But is this truly the purpose of marriage? Is multiplication God's intent for bringing a man and woman together for a lifetime? Is this a valid, logical, biblical argument against such hot issues as homosexual unions and contraception?

What is the purpose of marriage?

This is the topic for an ethics paper I am currently working on. As I work on the paper I would love any insights you have to share on this matter or any resources you might like to offer to aid my research. As you can see, this is an important question to tackle. I would be grateful for any specific sources you might like to share with me whether they are egalitarian, secular, complementarian, biblical, personal, or from the perspective of church fathers.


Tony Kummer said...

Great title for this post. It's very interesting to hear about that scandal in the 40s.

For research I would read older catechisms - both catholic and protestant. Those always make great quotes for papers.

Betsey said...

Hey there...Saw your post on Sojourn's site. My husband and I are Catholic and embrace the Church's teaching on contraception/marriage. Here is a link with some stuff about the Church and quotes from early Church Fathers and councils: http://www.catholic.com/library/Birth_Control.asp

Betsey said...

Here is a transcript of an important talk given by a well-respected Catholic ethicist:


You can learn more about her at:


mark said...

Why are we all so demanding that there has to be ONLY ONE chief end? Can't multiple co-exist in harmony, each overlapping to some extent?
And why are we always caught up on pragmatic definitions? Why not the chief end be to "image God"(Gen2/Eph5)?
And if we are to display God, then the trouble isn't so much that "only Christians display God's glory." I'd take it more on a gradient.. dare I say it: even homosexual unions display SOMETHING of God(nevermind however small), and in a similar way that they share in God's common grace now too.
Working from the central theme of imaging God, it's a matter a a 'clearer picture' than an 'all or nothing' matter. "In theory," those who have children have the potential to display "more of/better" God than those who do not have children. (Let theory be in it's place, and let pragmatism it's place: if God doesn't allow/direct a couple to have children, then that's His prerogative, and no shame ought ever be placed nor felt).

jeltzz said...

I thoroughly recommend you get hold of a book by Christopher Ash, "Marriage: Sex in the Service of God". It's not a quick read, but it's the best theological analysis of marriage I've *ever* encountered, and he definitely talks at length about the purpose(s) of marriage.

- Seumas

Sean said...

I agree with Betsey(my wife). On becoming Catholic(we used to go to sojourn) I kind of let my fists down(I used to be very involved in apologetics, etc. trying to argue the truth in every issue)and realized that the Catholic church does speak the truth. Truth is exclusive. There really is only one way.

Anyway, I get kind of exhausted with these issues with protestants, unless they really want to have a dialogue. Which I think you do, having directed us toward your blog in lieu of sojourn's discussion board (where they don't really like what we have to say). Betsey has pointed to really good resources. I suggest checking them out.

I do believe the chief end of man and marriage is to glorify God. That means knowing what God wants of us as a married couple and how to obey it. This truth is only expressed one way. Through love comes growth. If God wills, and if we are open to his will, then by his grace we shall all (in a loving marriage) be obedient to one of the firsts commandments to humanity.

Go forth and multiply!

Chris said...

I don't have any citations, but in my KCW class we talked about marriage as the imitation of God's community, supposed to be one of two images of God to the world (the other being the church). Maybe Rob Bell's 'SexGod' could be useful here ... I liked it, anyway.

I too think that it's rediculous to say "it only has one end" too, when often there really ARE many overlapping "primary" reasons for something, just as there is never one specific CAUSE for something.

Jason said...

I would have to say that it isn't just for procreation it is also for becoming one flesh and as a couple getting to know each other. Also I would say marriage is about pleasure and enjoying each other in all aspects whether physical emotional or spiritually. If it was just about procreation it would be more of the mind set of Wed. are the only days for intercourse and it can only last 20min and so on and so on and all you end up with is a bunch of legalistic rules that govern your physical relationship. I believe that like in Song of Solomon that it is completely Biblical to express your love and affection for your spouse and not have it solely governed by the act of procreation. Not everyone is called to be a parent in the sense of procreation and some just can't. Does that mean they should not marry or divorce cause they can't have kids or don't want kids? If they don't want kids it should be examined what the reason is and most reasons do not justify not having kids. So I would say that they are not approaching the marriage properly if kids is nowhere in future sight. If they can't have kids adoption is a great way to still have a child.

Jeremy Perrine said...

Ephesians 5:32 "This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church."

As God so love us that he makes us more lovelier. As he calls into the church the end purpose is to make us more holy.

Therefore, in light of Ephesians 5:32, the goal of marriage is to produce holiness.

Making babies is only secondary to this.

ckhnat said...

This is what my worship pastor, Mike Cosper, has to say on the issue:

"Homosexuality is clearly addressed in the scriptures. Directly. By name. Many, many, many, many times. Whereas contraception is not. Certainly it is an issue that needs to be carefully prayed and thought through - I don't think that it's an easy issue to come down on 100% either way. Certainly the scriptures make it clear that children are a blessing, and that the Lord brings them. The pharmaceutical issues are also pretty hairy and need to be researched carefully. Different meds do different things. But the route you've chosen is logically absurd. Additionally, it mistakingly makes the fact that sex is procreative into the idea the sex is only for procreation. Sex is about one-flesh. One-flesh dynamics in marriage (as Ephesians 5 describes) have a depth of meanings - chief of which is not procreation, but the Gospel. We become one flesh in marriage as a great metaphor for the unity of Christ and his Church. THis is what marriage is about fundamentally. As Paul says, this is a great mystery. A solely procreative view of married sexuality misses the boat on this very important passage of scripture completely. Please understand if I sound fired up here, it's not because I'm passionate about contraception. It's because I'm passionately convicted that marriage is first and foremost about the gospel."

Jeremy: I remember you and Kristin reading Sacred Marriage by the pool last May ... ;)

Sean said...

Again, how can we best fulfill God's command to be fruitful and multiply?

Sean said...

I think this is a given but I'll say it anyway.

Just because God has created us in such a way to have enjoyable sexual and emotional relationships within marriage does not negate the fact that he wants us to be open to procreation.

Also another obvious point... just because the bible is explicitly against something does not leave anything its not explicitly against up to our interpretation.

The root of any argument is this...by what authority do you stake your claim?

The bible is not a sufficient answer because the bible itself never makes that claim. Just look at all the supposed "biblical" interpretations on any given subject within protestantism.

You either need the author of a book to explain with his authority what that book means or have some one explain it with that author's authority. Otherwise we can all take any text an make it mean whatever we want.

So...by what authority are these particular protestants staking their claims. I can find other protestants that are the opposite, who is right? How do you arrive at any given truth? ie. the purpose of marriage

mike said...

Two things.

A number of interpretations of the Bible doesn't imply that understanding the Bible correctly isn't possible.

The Bible is clear where it needs to be clear. Making the Bible clear in places where it isn't by adding to it is the trap the pharisees fell into.

Jason said...

Since I'm the "logically absurd" one to whome Mike Cosper referred, perhaps this is a perfect place to comment :) (No hard feelings towards Mike, of course.)

Since beginning to learn more about John Paul II's "theology of the body," this topic of what love and marriage are really about has fascinated me.

During my search for Truth -- saying that makes me think, isn't it funny how everyone seeks Truth, yet ends up in different places? I think that's because people are really searching for Love and we perceive Love with far more subjectivity than Truth, which is our first mistake. If we could only embrace that Truth and Love are one in the same: God and His Holy Bride, the Church.

Okay, back on track :) During my search for Truth, after wrestling with Five Point Calvinism (if I were to be Calvinist, there wouldn't be any of this Three Point or Four Points for me :) ), I then danced between Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism. It was this very issue of contraception and the Catholic Church's clearly defined and consistent definition of marriage and the theology supporting it that made it the clear "winner."

Going back to Jeremy's point: Therefore, in light of Ephesians 5:32, the goal of marriage is to produce holiness, I have to ask, why then can't a homosexual couple be married if they believe they are producing holiness?

In other words: Why does marriage produce holiness?

Holiness is a very abstract concept that we, a fallen race disordered toward depravity, find difficult to grasp. Individual consciences might consider anything holy, but there is only one God, one Truth, and one Love.

Also, Mike and others above warned against the error of believing marriage is only about procreation. I agree, that's absurd! :)

There is a delicate balance is that is often missing in debates like these, such as "faith vs. works," "predestination vs. free will," and "procreation vs. holiness/unity/reflecting Christ and Church." What I love about being Catholic is the Church finds a way to say "both" to all of these petty theological skirmishes :)

If we stray too far towards the unifying/companionship purpose of marriage, the beauty of sharing in God's work of Creation becomes secondary, at best. If we stray too far towards procreation, we miss out on the reason a man and woman fell in love in the first place. It's not like flirting ends with making vows.

A.P. Herbert's witty comment hints at the problem: while adultery is mostly about having sex, the beauty of marriage is that sex is more like a means to greater ends. One of those ends is procreation. Through childbearing, a married couple best imitates and shares in the Trinity's creative power. Just as God named Adam and Adam named all creatures (that God created out of love), so a husband and wife literally names the new life brought forth through their mutual love.

In other words, love is inherently life-giving.

The Catholic stance can be summarized in one simple mandate: any sexual activity outside of marriage and/or closed to procreation is sinful.

Why? Because otherwise we tend towards selfishness, taking instead of giving. Maybe not at extremes, but subtle acts of selfishness can be as dangerous to a marriage as anything. That simple rule covers all areas of sexual sin and explains why things like homosexual relations and masturbation are inherently sinful.

The Vatican document Gaudium et spes (that is, "Joy and Hope") published in 1965 reiterates Cardinal Griffin's words above: "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in them that it finds its crowning glory." (from the Catechism)

At any rate, that's this layperson's perspective on theology of the body, at least what I know so far about it.

GloryandGrace said...

Who do you have for ethics? I'm currently writing my paper as well, and the topic is IVF/assisted reproduction. I'll trade you source recommendations for source recommendations, hehe :)

GloryandGrace said...

Oh! I just noticed that you set up the Solo Femininity link wrong - I think the web address is misspelled?

Sean said...

Amen Jason. You are doing an excellent job of defending the Catholic position. A lot better than my own impatience allows.

Kelli B said...

::personal statement:: i am married to a man i know cannot have children. cancer ruined his chances of that, and it is what it is. my question to the great world then is was it all a waste? should I not be married?

I do not agree. There is far more to marriage than just reproduction. Though a major purpose, I do not believe it to be end-all.

That's just me.

mike said...

Thanks for being brave enough to share Kelli.

Sean said...

Of course, Kelli, your situation is an exception.

As married couples we are to glorify God in every way possible. I believe a big part of that is (if it is possible) to be open to life.

The chief end of marriage is to glorify God by reflecting his love the best way we possibly can.

GloryandGrace said...


I have a book from the library by Dr. Cutrer you may be interested in. I picked it up in a hurry as it discusses family planning, but it wasn't until I got home when I realized that he doesn't cover assisted reproduction. However, he DOES cover marriage and the question of whether or not the purpose of marriage is procreation.

Do you want to take a look, or are you already done with your paper? Just let me know and I'd be happy to hand it over!

Grace and peace~

ckhnat said...

Kelli B, a big hug for you, girl!

Jennifer, i actually picked up the book i believe you're referring to at the beginning of the semester bcs i knew NOTHING about contraceptives except that they scared me (or that whole debate) ... and i'm getting married. got to read up on these things.

Anonymous said...

As another wife in a marriage where we have been told we have 1% chance of conceiving b/c of medical issues, I feel sad that someone would insinuate that marriage is only for procreation. My husband and I have grown closer to each other and to God through this whole experience. Infertility is a hard road, but it definitely gives you a broader outlook on what life is about and Who is in charge.

Jason said...

In light of the last comment and considering it's a common misconception, I'd say it's just as wrong to say that procreation is the "chief" end of marriage as saying that any other purpose of marriage is the "chief" end. Marriage does not have just one purpose, but many purposes. The beauty of it is that by embracing (as far as we are capable) all the purposes of marriage, we most fully celebrate each individual purpose of marriage.

Anyway, I hope there will be more discussion here... as of 4:23pm today, my access to Sojourn's discussion board is officially disabled. :)

Miss Halfway said...

what a thing to talk about!! I think marriage is a bit more than just having kids and stuff... it's a union of the souls... a way to make it even more important and sacred, after all, you are getting married because you love that special person, because he/she is the most important thing that happened to you, and also, yes, because it is tradition.

i am in favour of gay ppl getting married as well... after all, why not?? i mean, who are we to say that some people just can't get married?? especially if we say ((at least i do)) that it's a way to symbolize the union of the souls??

and i dont want to be rude or anything... but, if God created us all the way we are... why couldn't he have created gay people.. well.. gay? and if God forgives everyone and everything... why wouldn't He forgive them for getting married, for being gay, or whatever it is that everyone talks about??

if I can fall in love with a man and trully mean it, why can't a man fall in love with another man, or a woman fall in love with another woman, for what it's worth, and trully mean it too??

now, that said... let's recapitulate... ur australian, right?? and ur engaged to be married to a german man?? nice!! when is the wedding going to take place?? and where will you two live??

I think it is really important in these cases, that the children speak both, the mother's and the father's language because they are both just as important. they are part of who you are and who your parents are.

the other day in class we were talking about a very interesting thing! children, at the age of four DAYS, already start picking up language and can diferentiate between the language they are supposed to learn because of where they live and a foreign language:S weird, huh?? and also, they can learn any language by just being exposed to it; they don't need to take lessons or anything, so you may have a really good chance at getting ur kids know both english and german!!

Jason said...

i am in favour of gay ppl getting married as well... after all, why not?? i mean, who are we to say that some people just can't get married?? especially if we say ((at least i do)) that it's a way to symbolize the union of the souls??

I tried to make this point on the Sojourn discussion and it apparently just wasn't getting across. Contraception makes the procreative purpose of marriage/sex secondary to the unitive purpose. Hence, society is left with asking a legitimate question, which I just quoted above. Why not?

And what exactly is love anyway?

G. F. McDowell said...

totally off topic here, BUT looks like some craziness is goin' down in yo' hometown, CK.


G. F. McDowell said...

Pregnant Cow goes on a rampage in Hannover

That should be more accessible

Ruth said...

Great post Christine. I'm wondering what your conclusions are?

Sadly, many Christians I know use the argument that marriage is not about having children, to decide deliberately not to have any.* It seems rather perverse to me - like they are ignoring that God says clearly that children are a blessing.

However, I agree, there is a whole lot more to marriage than procreation, and a marriage where there are no children is still something God has joined together - and to be celebrated and enjoyed.

As to the gay marriage question - God ordained and set up marriage - He is clear about it being one man and one woman. Anything else is not marriage, whether the government calls it that or not.

*I'm referring to deliberate choice, not when the choice is taken out of your hands, due to medical circumstances etc.

Jason said...

As to the gay marriage question - God ordained and set up marriage - He is clear about it being one man and one woman. Anything else is not marriage, whether the government calls it that or not.

Why is that?

I believe answering that question helps us understand what exactly marriage is to begin with.

mike said...

We don't need to be Catholic to say that Gay marriage is wrong.

Jason said...

Hmm... some people seem to have trouble reading past the big C-word.

Okay, to answer all these specific questions about the purpose of marriage, sex, and whether things like homosexuality, contraception, masturbation, in-vitro fertilization, etc. are right or wrong, you cannot look to Scripture to address the specifics. Homosexuality is the only issue that is addressed specifically.

However, we do know that marriage models the relationship of Christ and the Church.

So if we start with a "big picture" view of the nature of our Trinitarian God and how love between men and women models Divine Love, we can then find clear answers to all these specific questions.

See, the Catholic position is primarily concerned with remaining faithful to what Love is (hence my previous question, two posts ago). From there, everything else comes into focus.

I only share what Catholics believe about marriage and sex because I happen to think it's the best way to apply Scripture to Christine's question. You don't have to be Catholic to say gay marriage is wrong. It is, after all, in Scripture. The fundamental question is why Scripture teaches against it? That's where we get into how the teaching reflects God's nature.