A Basic Theology of Marriage
Over two thirds of what the Catholic Church has ever said about marriage in her two thousand
year history has come from John Paul II’s pontificate.
The twentieth century witnessed significant developments in the Church's theology of marriage,
beginning with Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical Casti Connubii, passing through the Second
Vatican Council and Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, and culminating in the manifold
writings and original insights of Pope John Paul II. In fact, over two thirds of what the Catholic
Church has ever said about marriage in her two thousand year history has come from John Paul
The Second Vatican Council marked a shift from a merely "juridical" presentation of marriage,
typical of many previous Church pronouncements, to a more "personalist" approach. In other
words, rather than focusing merely on the objective "duties," "rights," and "ends" of marriage,
the Council Fathers emphasized how these same duties, rights, and ends are informed by the
intimate, interpersonal love of the spouses. "Such love, merging the human and the divine, leads
the spouses to a free and mutual gift of themselves, a gift providing itself by gentle affection, and
by deed; such love pervades the whole of their lives, growing better and growing greater by its
Explaining how conjugal love is a "merging of the human and the divine" is the task of a
theology of marriage. While much more can and should be said than this article allows,
at least present a basic marital theology. We'll start with a definition of marriage gleaned from
Vatican II and Canon Law, and then explain each of its points.
A Definition of Marriage
Marriage is the intimate, exclusive, indissoluble communion of life and love entered by man and
woman at the design of the Creator for the purpose of their own good and the procreation and
education of children; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord
to the dignity of a sacrament.
Intimate communion of life and love: Marriage is the closest and most intimate of human
friendships. It involves the sharing of the whole of a person's life with his/her spouse. Marriage
calls for a mutual self-surrender so intimate and complete that spouses — without losing their
individuality — become "one," not only in body, but in soul.
Exclusive communion of life and love: As a mutual gift of two persons to each other, this
intimate union excludes such union with anyone else. It demands the total fidelity of the spouses.
This exclusivity is essential for the good of the couple's children as well.
Indissoluble communion of life and love: Husband and wife are not joined by passing emotion or
mere erotic inclination which, selfishly pursued, fades quickly away.