(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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...

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

Fabrègues, Jean de. Christian Marriage. Translated by Rosemary Haughton. Vol. 54 in Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism. New York: Hawthorn Books, 1959. This volume is a thoughtful exposition of the Church’s teachings on marriage through 1960, drawing deeply from Casti Connubii.

Kellmeyer, Steven. Sex and the Sacred City. Peoria, Ill.: Bridegroom Press, 2003. A series of reflections on Pope John Paul II’s theory of married love, now known as the “Theology of the Body,” drawing on a range of papal writings beginning with Casti Connubii.

Lawler, Michael. Marriage and the Catholic Church: Disputed Questions. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2002. In addressing contemporary issues in Catholic teaching about marriage, Lawler finds Casti Connubii to have shifted church teaching from a procreative to a more personal model of marital love and intimacy.