Chapter 4 - Love in marriage part III

Marriage and virginity

158.  “Many people who are unmarried are not only devoted to their own family but often render great service in their group of friends, in the Church community and in their professional lives. Sometimes their presence and contribu-tions are overlooked, causing in them a sense of isolation. Many put their talents at the service of the Christian community through charity and volunteer work. Others remain unmarried be-cause they consecrate their lives to the love of Christ and neighbour. Their dedication greatly enriches the family, the Church and society”.165

159.  Virginity is a form of love. As a sign, it speaks to us of the coming of the Kingdom and the need for complete devotion to the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 7:32). It is also a re-flection of the fullness of heaven, where “they neither marry not are given in marriage” (Mt 22:30). Saint Paul recommended virginity be-cause he expected Jesus’ imminent return and he wanted everyone to concentrate only on spread-ing the Gospel: “the appointed time has grown very short” (1 Cor 7:29). Nonetheless, he made it clear that this was his personal opinion and preference (cf. 1 Cor 7:6-9), not something demanded by Christ: “I have no command in the Lord” (1 Cor 7:25). All the same, he recognized the value of the different callings: “Each has his or her own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor 7:7). Reflecting on this, Saint John Paul II noted that the biblical texts “give no reason to assert the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, nor the ‘superiority’ of virginity or celibacy”166 based on sexual abstinence. Rather than speak absolutely of the superiority of virginity, it should be enough to point out that the different states of life complement one another, and con-sequently that some can be more perfect in one way and others in another. Alexander of Hales, for example, stated that in one sense marriage may be considered superior to the other sacraments, inasmuch as it symbolizes the great reality of “Christ’s union with the Church, or the union of his divine and human natures”.167

160.  Consequently, “it is not a matter of diminishing the value of matrimony in favour of continence”.168 “There is no basis for playing one off against the other… If, following a certain theological tradition, one speaks of a ‘state of perfection’ (status perfectionis), this has to do not with continence in itself, but with the entirety of a life based on the evangelical counsels”.169 A married person can experience the highest degree of charity and thus “reach the perfection which flows from charity, through fidelity to the spirit of those counsels. Such perfection is possible and accessible to every man and woman”.170

161.  The value of virginity lies in its symbolizing a love that has no need to possess the other; in this way it reflects the freedom of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity encourages married couples to live their own conjugal love against the backdrop of Christ’s definitive love, journeying together towards the fullness of the Kingdom. For its part, conjugal love symbolizes other values. On the one hand, it is a particular reflection of that full unity in distinction found in the Trinity. The family is also a sign of Christ. It manifests the closeness of God who is a part of every human life, since he became one with us through his incarnation, death and resurrection. Each spouse becomes “one flesh” with the other as a sign of willingness to share everything with him or her until death. Whereas virginity is an “eschatological” sign of the risen Christ, marriage is a “historical” sign for us living in this world, a sign of the earthly Christ who chose to become one with us and gave himself up for us even to shedding his blood. Virginity and marriage are, and must be, different ways of loving. For “man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him”.171

162.  Celibacy can risk becoming a comfortable single life that provides the freedom to be independent, to move from one residence, work or option to another, to spend money as one sees fit and to spend time with others as one wants. In such cases, the witness of married people becomes especially eloquent. Those called to virginity can encounter in some marriages a clear sign of God’s generous and steadfast fidelity to his covenant, and this can move them to a more concrete and generous availability to others. Many married couples remain faithful when one of them has become physically unattractive, or fails to satisfy the other’s needs, despite the voices in our society that might encourage them to be unfaithful or to leave the other. A wife can care for her sick husband and thus, in drawing near to the Cross, renew her commitment to love unto death. In such love, the dignity of the true lover shines forth, inasmuch as it is more proper to charity to love than to be loved.172 We could also point to the presence in many families of a capacity for selfless and loving service when children prove troublesome and even ungrateful. This makes those parents a sign of the free and selfless love of Jesus. Cases like these encourage celibate persons to live their commitment to the Kingdom with greater generosity and openness. Today, secularization has obscured the value of a life-long union and the beauty of the vocation to marriage. For this reason, it is “necessary to deepen an understanding of the positive aspects of conjugal love”.173

The transformation of love

163.  Longer life spans now mean that close and exclusive relationships must last for four, five or even six decades; consequently, the ini-tial decision has to be frequently renewed. While one of the spouses may no longer experience an intense sexual desire for the other, he or she may still experience the pleasure of mutual belonging and the knowledge that neither of them is alone but has a “partner” with whom everything in life is shared. He or she is a companion on life’s journey, one with whom to face life’s difficulties and enjoy its pleasures. This satisfaction is part of the affection proper to conjugal love. There is no guarantee that we will feel the same way all through life. Yet if a couple can come up with a shared and lasting life project, they can love one another and live as one until death do them part, enjoying an enriching intimacy. The love they pledge is greater than any emotion, feeling or state of mind, although it may include all of these. It is a deeper love, a lifelong decision of the heart. Even amid unresolved conflicts and confused emotional situations, they daily reaffirm their decision to love, to belong to one an-other, to share their lives and to continue loving and forgiving. Each progresses along the path of personal growth and development. On this journey, love rejoices at every step and in every new stage.


164.  In the course of every marriage physical appearances change, but this hardly means that love and attraction need fade. We love the other person for who they are, not simply for their body. Although the body ages, it still expresses that personal identity that first won our heart. Even if others can no longer see the beauty of that identity, a spouse continues to see it with the eyes of love and so his or her affection does not diminish. He or she reaffirms the decision to belong to the other and expresses that choice in faithful and loving closeness. The nobility of this decision, by its intensity and depth, gives rise to a new kind of emotion as they fulfil their marital mission. For “emotion, caused by an-other human being as a person… does not per se tend toward the conjugal act”. 174 It finds other sensible expressions. Indeed, love “is a single reality, but with different dimensions; at different times, one or other dimension may emerge more clearly”.175 The marriage bond finds new forms of expression and constantly seeks new ways to grow in strength. These both preserve and strengthen the bond. They call for daily effort. None of this, however, is possible without praying to the Holy Spirit for an outpouring of his grace, his supernatural strength and his spiritual fire, to confirm, direct and transform our love in every new situation.


104. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1641.

105. Cf. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 2: AAS 98 (2006), 218.

106. Spiritual Exercises, Contemplation to Attain Love (230).

107. Octavio Paz, La llama doble, Barcelona, 1993, 35.

108. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 114, art. 2, ad 1.

109. Catechesis (13 May 2005): L’Osservatore Romano, 14 May 2015, p. 8.

110. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1, ad 2.

111. Ibid., q. 27, art. 1.

112. Catechesis (13 May 2015): L’Osservatore Romano, 14 May 2015, p. 8.

113. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 21: AAS 74 (1982), 106.

114. Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, 17 November 1957.

115. Thomas Aquinas calls love a vis unitiva (Summa Theologiae I, q. 20, art. 1, ad 3), echoing a phrase of Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (De Divinis Nominibus, IV, 12: PG 3, 709).

116. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 27, art. 2.

117. Encyclical Letter Casti Connubii (31 December 1930): AAS 22 (1930), 547-548.

118. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981) 13: AAS 74 (1982), 94.

119. Catechesis (2 April 2014): L’Osservatore Romano, 3 April 2014, p. 8.

120. Ibid.

121. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 9: AAS 75 (1982), 90.

122. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, 123; cf. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 8, 12 (ed. Bywater, Oxford, 1984, 174).

123. Encyclical Letter Lumen Fidei (29 June 2013), 52: AAS 105 (2013), 590.

124. De sacramento matrimonii, I, 2; in Id., Disputationes, III, 5, 3 (ed. Giuliano, Naples, 1858), 778.

125. SecondVatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 50.

126. Ibid., 49.

127. Cf. Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 31, art. 3., ad 3.

128. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 48.

129. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 26, art. 3.

130. Ibid., q. 110, art. 1.

131. Augustine, Confessions, VIII, III, 7: PL 32, 752.

132. Address to the Pilgrimage of Families during the Year of Faith (26 October 2013): AAS 105 (2013), 980.

133. Angelus Message (29 December 2013): L’Osservatore Romano, 30-31 December 2013, p. 7.

134. Address to the Pilgrimage of Families during the Year of Faith (26 October 2013): AAS 105 (2013), 978. 135 Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 24, art. 7.

136. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 48.

137. Chilean Bishops’ Conference, La vida y la familia: regalos de Dios para cada uno de nosotros (21 July 2014).

138. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 49.

139. A. Sertillanges, L’Amour chrétien, Paris, 1920, 174.

140. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 24, art. 1.

141. Cf. ibid., q. 59, art. 5.

142. Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 3: AAS 98 (2006), 219-220.

143. Ibid., 4: AAS 98 (2006), 220.

144. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 32, art.7. 145 Cf. Id., Summa Theologiae II-II, q. 153, art. 2, ad 2: “Abundantia delectationis quae est in actu venereo secundum rationem ordinato, non contrariatur medio virtutis”.

146. John Paul II, Catechesis (22 October 1980), 5: Insegnamenti III/2 (1980), 951.

147. Ibid., 3.

148. Id., Catechesis, (24 September 1980), 4: Insegnamenti III/2 (1980), 719.

149. Catechesis (12 November 1980), 2: Insegnamenti III/2 (1980), 1133.

150. Ibid., 4.

151. Ibid., 5.

152. Ibid., 1: 1132.

153. Catechesis (16 January 1980), 1: Insegnamenti III/1 (1980), 151.

154. Josef Pieper, Über die Liebe, Munich, 2014, 174. English: On Love, in Faith, Hope, Love, San Francisco, 1997, p. 256.

155. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Evangelium Vitae (25 March 1995), 23: AAS 87 (1995), 427.
156. Paul VI, Encyclical Letter Humanae Vitae (25 July 1968), 13: AAS 60 (1968), 489.

157. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 49. 158 Catechesis (18 June 1980), 5: Insegnamenti III/1 (1980), 1778.

159. Ibid., 6.

160. Cf. Catechesis (30 July 1980), 1: Insegnamenti III/2 (1980), 311.

161. Catechesis (8 April 1981), 3: Insegnamenti IV/1 (1981), 904.

162. Catechesis (11 August 1982), 4: Insegnamenti V/3 (1982), 205-206.

163. Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 5: AAS 98 (2006), 221.

164. Ibid., 7.

165. Relatio Finalis 2015, 22.

166. Catechesis (14 April 1982), 1: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1176.

167. Glossa in quatuor libros sententiarum Petri Lombardi, IV, XXVI, 2 (Quaracchi, 1957, 446).

168. John Paul II, Catechesis (7 April 1982), 2: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1127.

169. Id., Catechesis (14 April 1982), 3: Insegnamenti V/1 (1982), 1177.

170. Ibid.

171. Id., Encyclical Letter Redemptor Hominis (4 March 1979), 10: AAS 71 (1979), 274.

172. Cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II-II, q. 27, art. 1.

173. Pontifical Council for the Family, Family, Marriage and “De Facto” Unions (26 July 2000), 40.

174. John Paul II, Catechesis (31 October 1984), 6: Insegnamenti VII/2 (1984), 1072.

175. Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Deus Caritas Est (25 December 2005), 8: AAS 98 (2006), 224.