The Goods and Goals of Marriage
John Witte Jr.
Emory University School of Law
Notre Dame Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 3, 2001
New research has demonstrated that marriage is a good institution. It is healthier to be married or remarried than to be single, widowed, or divorced. Two parents raising a child is better than one, and marital cohabitation is better than non-marital cohabitation. This is general data that does not teach us about specifics. The aim of this article is to compare new social science data with some of the traditional Western legal and theological formulation of the goods and goals of marriage and to explore the roles of law in defining and defending these marital goods and goals.
Classical formulations of marriage viewed marriage as the foundation of the republic for political, social, and moral reasons. The Romans introduced the idea of the paterfamilias, who provided gentle leadership to the household. The idea of lifelong union also entered classical Roman law. In the early Christian formulation, marriage is created and ordered by God; thus, married couples have duties to God. Augustine viewed marriage as the seedbed of the city. To Augustine, marriage offered three goods: procreation, fidelity, and sacramental covenant.
During the Papal Revolution, the Catholic Church developed a systematic theology and law of marriage. Aquinas defended Augustine’s account of marriage and expanded the argument by claiming that procreation is a primary good if marriage is viewed as a natural institution that involves rearing children and providing an education. If marriage is viewed as a contractual institution, faith is the primary good. If marriage is a spiritual institution, the sacrament is the primary good of an indissoluble union. The balance between the three goods of marriage was lost by the late 19th century, with a focus on offspring. However, the Second Vatican Council restored the balance of the goods and goals of marriage.
The Protestant approach to marriage placed an emphasis on love and companionship from the beginning of their theological system. Protestants posited three goals: mutual love and support of husband and wife; mutual procreation and nurture of children; and mutual protection of both spouses from sexual sin. Protestants saw no difference between the goods and goals of marriage, and remarriage was encouraged because marriage was not considered a sacrament. The Protestant marriage contains a teleological concept; it is a means to love, children, and protection.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 54
Keywords: law, religion, marriage, cohabitation, marital goods, WesternAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: May 27, 2011
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