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Last Reviewed on March 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 437

Casti Connubii was written as a papal encyclical—a letter sent to all the bishops of the Roman Catholic church—by Pope Pius XI, born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, at the end of 1930. Its title, Casti Connubii, means "of chaste wedlock" in Latin, and this encyclical was written in response to the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican church, a conference held every ten years in order for Anglican church leaders to discuss topical issues and make pronouncements of spiritual, though not legal, authority. The Anglican church had recently relaxed its stance on birth control, and Casti Connubii reaffirms the unchanged position of the Catholic church on birth control: namely, that it is absolutely prohibited in any and all situations.

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Pius explains that the primary reason for wedlock is the production of children. He describes the "principal end of marriage" as having been set down by "God Himself" in the beginning of time, and it is contained in the words "increase and multiply." Anything that would impede the production and proper Catholic education of these children is considered to be negligent at best, and sinful at worst. Therefore, not only is birth control absolutely forbidden, but so is abortion, even in cases when the mother's life could be in danger. Pius argues that, while the church is sympathetic to families in which such a danger exists, murder is murder, and abortion is murder; birth control comes very near to it. Both are sins, and both disrupt the purpose for which God sanctified marriage in the first place.

Pius explains that people are not supposed to get married so that they can have sex as much as they want. People are supposed to get married in order to produce offspring, though, if a person learns that they are infertile, for whatever reason, this does not justify divorce. Divorce, he says, is still unrecognized by the Catholic church, and any person who takes another spouse while their first was still alive—even if they are legally divorced—is guilty of polygamy and adultery in the church's eyes.

Pius also discusses the Catholic church's stance that civil government must provide financial assistance to any family that has trouble supporting itself, and he stresses that men must be paid fairly for their labor so that they can support their families. Women must continue to adopt a faithful obedience to their husbands, as the men are the heads of the household and the women are the hearts. Together, spouses are responsible for multiplying the number of Catholics in order to glorify God, educating those children to love and grow up in the church.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 865

In 1930, Pope Pius XI wrote the encyclical letter Casti Connubii, addressed to Catholic bishops throughout the world, to resolve questions of marriage and marital relations raised by new developments of the twentieth century. The immediate impetus for the encyclical was probably the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church in 1930. At this conference, the Anglican Church declared newly refined methods of artificial contraception as permissible for Christian couples—making it perhaps the first major Christian church to do so. Pius XI was also reacting to the relaxation of divorce laws throughout the Western world. In Casti Connubii, Pius presented a comprehensive summary and reaffirmation of Catholic teaching on Christian marriage.

Pius XI begins the encyclical by restating the classic Christian teaching that matrimony was not instituted by humankind but by God. Therefore, the fundamental doctrines of marriage, found in Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Church, are immutable and inviolable. However, matrimonial union also relies on human will because it results from the free consent of the spouses. As a consequence, although governments can forbid “base” unions, they cannot alter the basic laws of marriage.

Quoting Saint Augustine, Pius summarizes the three blessings of marriage: children, conjugal faith, and the grace of a Christian sacrament. The first blessing of marriage is offspring, as Adam and Eve are commanded to “increase and multiply, and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). This blessing is taken to mean that the duty of parents is not only to bear children but also to educate them. Thus the 1917 code of canon law of the Catholic Church (c. 1013.7) states that “the primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children.” Also implied in this command is the restriction of the goods of marriage—the conjugal act and procreation—to the married state.

The second blessing is conjugal fidelity, as the Gospel declares that in marriage the spouses are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, the spouses are forbidden to engage in any form of polygamy or polyandry, any form of adultery, and any unchaste acts. In addition, a husband and wife are called to a holy and pure love for each other, “as Christ loved the Church” (Ephesians 5:25). In fact, exalting the spiritual over the physical realm, Pius declares that this blessing is so important that the mutual growth of husband and wife in holiness, fostered by the birth and education of children, is the chief reason and purpose of matrimony. The husband is the head of the family, and the wife is not a servant but a companion who is the true heart of the family.

The third blessing of marriage is as a Christian sacrament, conveying grace to the spouses. As a sacrament it is indissoluble, and this character as a perpetual and nonbreakable bond extends even to non-Christian marriages. “What God hath joined together let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). The public order, the spouses, and children all benefit from the stability borne by the indissolubility of marriage. Responding to the rise of divorce, effected in both law and in practice, Pius insists on the traditional teaching on the indissolubility of marriage; this thought informs the most extended and emphatic sections of the encyclical.

After summarizing these three blessings of marriage, Pius condemns novel ideas that degrade marriage. Foremost among these is the belief that marriage was neither instituted by God nor raised by Jesus Christ to the dignity of a sacrament but is a mere human invention. Likewise mistaken is any proposal for temporary or experimental marriage or cohabitation. The chief error arising from the modern era is to render marriage a purely civil act, under the complete jurisdiction of the state, which is free to sanction divorce. Even in the case of adultery, dissolution of the marriage is not permitted, although the parties may be separated, and the civil authorities may legitimately enact laws for the custody of the children and the good of the family.

Pius also condemns any deliberate frustration of the fruitfulness of the marital act, such as by contraception. Pius emphasizes that this represents the unbroken tradition of the Church. However, he also clarifies and makes explicit an important point in the theology of marital relations: A married couple is entitled to make use of the rhythms of the wife’s menstrual cycle in maintaining the bond of marital intimacy and union. Pius condemns abortion for any reason. He also condemns any eugenic legislation or act that sterilizes or forbids marriage to people deemed “defective.”

Pius concludes this encyclical with exhortations intended to foster the ends and security of matrimony in the modern age. Married couples should cultivate reverence to God for the blessings of marriage. Young people should be prepared in adolescence and courtship for a lifetime of marriage. Although the state is not the master of the institution of marriage, it is responsible for enacting laws that safeguard its dignity and stability. The state should adopt economic and social methods to allow the head of the family to earn a wage sufficient for the rearing of children. In its laws and disposal of public funds, the state must assist families who lack what they need for their well-being.

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