Giving Nature Its Due—Even in Sacramental Matrimony

One of the “hot” debates in Catholic circles this past decade has been the so-called “pure nature” debate. The basic question underlying the whole topic is: “How should we parse the interactions, so to speak, between nature and grace, the natural and the supernatural?” More traditional Thomistic thinkers are comfortable with distinguishing quite clearly nature and grace, emphasizing the fact that man could have been created in a state of “pure nature.” That is, they are comfortable with discussing how mankind could have been created without a supernatural vocation to the Beatific Vision (and, hence, also, without receiving all the means thereto).1 On the other hand, thinkers who—for lack of a better term (and it is a deficient classification)—can be deemed as the Communio school of thought who are much more comfortable emphasizing the close relations and interactions between these two orders in the human person.2 In any case, the position that one takes on such matters will have profound ramifications on many areas of one’s approach to philosophy and theology—including one’s approach to the sacraments. For example, this differentiation becomes quite marked when one approaches the sacrament of matrimony. Depending on where one’s inclinations lie in the aforementioned “debate,” one may have quite different vocabularies when discussing the nature of the sacrament.

In this article, I will be writing from a perspective that is generally accepting of the main lines of the traditional Dominican-Thomist view on these matters, a perspective that feels more comfortable discussing in the distinction of “natural finalities and notions” and “supernatural finalities and notions.” In general, my perspective is akin to that of Jacques Maritain, who regularly noted the ways that our supernatural vocation “opens up” or fulfills our own very natural inclinations—all the while not positing any positive inclination in our nature toward formally supernatural ends.3 In the opinion of this school of thought, clarity regarding nature helps to illuminate the grandeur of the supernatural. Nature has a true ontological density, and is not a mere vacuole waiting for grace. The supernatural order is an immensely exalted order; it is nothing other than the Deity in itself, God only known in his depths by himself, and participatively by the blessed who will see him face-to-face in heaven. However, this article is not meant to enter into the polemics of the nature-grace debate. It intends to communicate (in only a semi-technical manner)4 several truths concerning the notion of natural marriage and, therefore, should be read in that light.

When we reflect on the sacrament of matrimony, it is helpful to be good stewards of the distinction between what formally pertains to nature, and what formally pertains to grace. Grace flows through the sacraments as a higher causality flows through an instrument. When a painter is making his or her drawing, we say that the brush is the cause, and that the painter is the cause, though in different senses. The painter is the principal cause; the brush is the instrumental cause. So too, when two baptized Christians are wed,5 everything that pertains naturally to marriage, is taken up like an instrument by the sacrament of supernatural, sacramental marriage.6 Marriage becomes a natural instrument communicating a supernatural vitality.

Therefore, there are two distinctions we must make. First, we must make the critical distinction between the natural and the supernatural finalities of sacramental marriage. As a sacrament, marriage is a sign of Christ’s union with the Church. This is the lofty supernatural end that orients sacramental marriage. It is its Deity-oriented guiding star.7 Nothing in human nature, qua human nature, could ever have guessed that this would be possible for matrimony, yet, nevertheless, human nature is profound enough that it is open to this elevation.8 Dazzled by the brilliance of supernatural matrimony, let us not forget, however, that natural marriage also still exists. Because of what we are as human beings—i.e., not qua sons and daughters of God, called to the Beatific Vision but qua created rational animals—we by nature wed.9

But here in the natural order, we need to make our second set of distinctions. In so doing, I wish to tread lightly on ecclesiastical ground. Still, we need to acknowledge some shifts in emphasis so as to understand this point from the perspective of the Church’s own self-expression. Once upon a time, it was quite normal for the Church to speak in terms of “the ends of marriage,” giving these ends an explicit ordering. In reality, all this term (i.e., “end”) indicates is that marriage, as a unique, irreducible institution can provide its own unique response to the inquiry, “For the sake of what does this social bond exist?” And there is an order to how one answers this question.

For centuries, the standard manner of discussing these natural ends followed a threefold ordering, in descending order: (1) procreation and education of children, (2) the mutual aid of the spouses to one another, and (3) being a natural remedy for concupiscence.10 Thus formulated, the Roman Catechism (or, the Catechism of the Council of Trent) indicates all of the distinctions we have noted so far:

It should be taught that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union, since it was not invented by man but instituted by nature; or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature… As grace perfects nature, and as that was not first which was spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual (I Cor. 15:46), the order of our matter requires that we first treat of matrimony as it is a natural contract, imposing natural duties, and next consider what pertains to it as a Sacrament…

We have now to explain why man and woman should be joined in marriage. First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life, and the infirmities of old age … A second reason for marriage is the desire of family, not so much, however, with a view to leave after us heirs to inherit our property and fortune, as to bring up children in the true faith, and in the service of God…. A third reason has been added, as a consequence of the fall of our first parents … So much should be explained regarding Matrimony as a natural contract.11

This same outlook was clearly present in the schema on marriage prepared for the Second Vatican Council. Ultimately, like the other conciliar schemata, this one was set aside. Here, I am not worried about ecclesiastical authority so much as I am about an expression of the nature of the ends of marital relationship—and remember, “end” merely means “reasons why one does this activity.” A lengthy citation is needed to understand the full context. The reader should note that the schema was very careful to indicate the subordination of primary and secondary ends in the natural order:

Of itself, furthermore, and independently of the intentions of the contracting parties, marriage has its own divinely established objective ends. Among these, if careful consideration is given to the divine institution of marriage itself, and to nature itself as well as to the magisterium of the Church, the primary end of marriage is only the procreation and education of children, even if a particular marriage is not fruitful. By pursuing this end, man, by the dignity of fatherhood and motherhood, cooperates with God, creator and sanctifier of souls, in the propagation and sanctification of the human race. For this reason, the procreation of children, although it is not the object of the marriage consent, is, nonetheless, of itself so connatural to every marriage, indeed in this sense is essential, that in every valid consent is included a perpetual and exclusive right to acts of themselves naturally apt for the generation of children as the proper object to be handed over; in fact it is so primary and predominant that it does not depend on any other intended ends, even ones indicated by nature, indeed it cannot be made equivalent or confused with them.

The other objective ends of marriage, which arise from the nature of marriage itself, but are secondary, are the mutual help and solace of the spouses in the communion of domestic life, and what is called the remedy for concupiscence. For in a marriage, concupiscence is correctly directed by conjugal fidelity, and therefore, subject to reason, serves chastity, and is ennobled by it. Rightly understood, these ends establish rights, although subordinate ones, in a marriage, and therefore, although secondary in themselves, they are not to be despised or thought little of, but are to be promoted in the required way by true charity.12

Eventually, this topic was incorporated within the Pastoral Constitution, Gaudium et Spes. In substance, the latter does not change the fundamental doctrine; whatever changes of language and terminology one may note in the document, the traditional teaching obviously remains:

By their very nature, the institution of matrimony itself and conjugal love are ordained for the procreation and education of children, and find in them their ultimate crown. Thus, a man and a woman, who by their compact of conjugal love “are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19:ff), render mutual help and service to each other through an intimate union of their persons, and of their actions. Through this union, they experience the meaning of their oneness, and attain to it with growing perfection day by day. As a mutual gift of two persons, this intimate union, and the good of the children, impose total fidelity on the spouses, and argue for an unbreakable oneness between them…

Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage, and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18) and “Who made man from the beginning male and female” (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: “Increase and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready, with stout hearts, to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior. Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day….

Marriage, to be sure, is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when, despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.13

However, things are a little less clearly stated when one reads both the current Catechism and the Code of Canon Law, which the Catechism cites on this point. This does not mean that anything has doctrinally changed, but a fair reading must acknowledge that the expression of the subordination is not as clear. Lest one take this to be an unfair critique, I should add that the great strength of the current Catechism is its emphasis on the sacramental ends of marriage. This supernatural orientation is pivotally important to understanding the very nature of the sacrament as the supernatural reality it ultimately is—no small matter! Thus, the new Catechism spends a great deal of time discussing matrimony in salvation history,14 and much of its subsequent discussions are focused on the supernatural, sacramental ends of marriage, and its celebration. This is a great gain to add emphasis on the mystery of the sacrament, and the higher ends that become primary in every sacramental marriage wherein nature is taken up and perfected by grace, ultimately becoming a sacramental sign and reality. Here, in the contemporary Catechism, salvation history becomes the hermeneutic for bringing to light the supernatural riches of the sacrament. I suspect that this bright light—which is no other light than that of the Deity itself, shining through revelation—was permitted to bleach out some clarity of expression regarding the natural ends, which are here taken merely as presupposed to the great supernatural mystery present in the sacrament.

While the Catechism does cite the aforementioned passages from Gaudium et spes,15 it also cites the current Code of Canon Law, which, philosophically speaking, is a little less rigorous as regards to the subordination of ends, something that was emphasized in the earlier Code. The two texts are telling in comparison. The current Code reads:

The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses, and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a Sacrament between the baptized.16

Whereas the 1917 Code read:

The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary [end] is mutual support and a remedy for concupiscence.17

It might seem like a minor matter, but it is quite necessary to ask the basic question: “Can you have multiple ends at play at the same time, on the same level, though coordinated in some way?” To put the question another way, we can ask: “Can there be coordination of ends in an activity without a prior subordination of ends?” While this ultimately is a lofty metaphysical question,18 we must answer in the negative as regards marriage. To discern a subordination of ends, we merely need to ask: “Is this end for the sake of something else?” Or, to put it another way, “Why do this activity?”

Where there is a per se, or essential, distinction of ends, there is an essential distinction in activities. The end, or “final” cause, is the reason for all the other causes. It is because the organ is made for playing music (final cause and, in a way, formal cause) that it is made out of certain material (material cause) and can produce (efficient cause) the music. So too, when a group of people engage in an activity, the end answers the question, “Why are they doing what they are doing?” Or even, “Why are they what they are, qua this activity?” Philosophically speaking, the critical question is: “What is the end that gives meaning to this shared activity?” You cannot understand a baroque music group unless you understand their goals; you cannot understand a baseball team if you don’t understand the meaning of their game; you cannot begin to grasp the complex social roles of a monastery if you do not understand the life-rule set out in the regula of the monastery in question; you can’t have a society without a common good; you can’t understand the nature of family life if you don’t understand the natural procreative end that makes this society a unique sort of society.

Now, if we suppose that the “mutual support” of the spouses is a self-sufficing end of marriage, this would mean that it is of equal dignity with any other ends of marriage. It also would mean that we must say that those who consent to a union of persons for the sake of mutual support and affection are, ultimately, doing the same activity as anyone else who is married, whatever the reasons may be. Marriage is, on this view, and perhaps among other things, a promise of mutual support. We break our teeth on this little “is.” It is the cultural acceptance of this definition of marriage that has led us to the inability to make any claims societally against the claims of so-called homosexual marriage. Catholics would do well to realize that we are increasingly living in a world in which the word “marriage” is used to designate two different sorts of shared activities precisely because we and the culture, in fact, do not agree on the subordination of ends in natural marriage. We live in the cloudy haze of equivocation on the term “marriage.”

If the procreation and education of children is on “equal footing” with the mutual support of the spouses, we will then be able to say, “Well, yes, these other pairings, who come together to have children are married, too. That is a kind of marriage.” However, since the two share the “mutual support” of the spouses, this latter end will almost certainly become a common denominator that will function in our language as the general meaning of marriage. Indeed, as already noted, it has become such in our culture and law. If the reader disbelieves this claim, I merely invite you to ask someone if, simply speaking, marriage is for the sake of having children. My experience teaching is that almost everyone can only agree that it is for the sake of the mutual support of the spouses (or something akin to that)—and even here, it is more like “the mutual fulfillment of the spouses.”

Inevitably, we must confront the question: “Which end is more important?” Put another way: “Which is the ultimate raison d’être of this shared activity?” When stated with clarity, the Catholic position asserts, “The ultimate end, to which the others are subordinated, is the procreation and education of the children. By human nature, man is inclined to sexual activity, which forms a natural society between the two parents, and the children begotten of this sexual union. Marriage represents the social stabilization of this bond, bringing into union (2nd end) the parents for the sake of rearing (1st end) this offspring, with the added benefit that the rights and duties of this union also are a remedy for the human person’s obvious sexual promiscuity, which can be so incredibly personally and socially damaging, as well as for his or her rapacious selfishness for things and honors (3rd end).”

Getting these ends correct means almost everything with regard to the debate. When I dare broach the topic of homosexual marriage in class, I normally present my students with the “opposite side” of the argument by using Michael Sandel’s remarks in his popular text, Justice: What’s the Right Thing To Do? As I tell my students, his argument is one of the few respectable, non-superficial arguments in support of homosexual unions, precisely because he refuses to use the vapid language of “equality.” Sandel is unafraid to ask the very Aristotelian question, “What are the ends that are honored in marriage?” Although he only suggests his own position, he is quite clear that the terrain of the argument is not the superficial domain of nondiscrimination, equality, and freedom of choice. Thus, he states, “in order to decide who should qualify for marriage, we have to think through the purpose of marriage and the virtues it honors.”19Citing Massachusetts Supreme Court chief justice in a seemingly positive manner, he records the idea that:

Civil marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being, and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family… While many, perhaps most, married couples have children together (assisted or unassisted) … it is the exclusive and permanent commitment of the marriage partners to one another, not the begetting of children, that is the sine qua non of civil marriage.20

One could not get much clearer on the point that separates the surrounding culture from the Catholic position. The ends of marriage are indeed not merely reversed here. The secondary end has become primary, and the primary end has become optional. Perhaps, children help fulfill the desires of some “spouses”—procreation is thus viewed as being for the sake of the parents’ bond and desires. The latter are thus the ultimate end of the activity, the ultimate final cause. If we consider our social customs, this is not a passing de facto observation; we live in the midst of a pervasive social equivocation on the term “marriage,” and, truth be told, the end—the culture (and law) no longer define it in relation to any end other than some form of “self-fulfillment,” or hazily defined “commitment.” When I then present the natural law position on marriage21—a position that could nearly be called the “Catholic” view, given the fact that the Church is rather alone in defending the notion that procreation is the ultimate guiding end in natural marriage—this difference is my foil for trying to make very clear the stakes of the question.22

This is why it is centrally important to ask ourselves: “Is the union of the spouses for the sake of familial (i.e. procreative and educative) unity or vice-versa?” Everywhere you see a “for the sake of” there is some relation of means and ends, or at least of one end that is subordinate to some other end. Our cultural-political ends are subordinate to our salvation, even though the former, strictly speaking, are not means of the same order as the latter ends.23 Human nature was made to bud forth in our cultural-political advancement as a kind of intra-temporal final end of human nature, but we know that this must be subordinated to our supernatural ends.24 In marriage, the secondary and tertiary natural ends are subordinate to the primary end, which defines the essence of marriage. The bond between the spouses gets its orientation from the fact that we are not merely asexual spirits, but are incarnate and spiritual beings who can undertake the profound task of procreation and education. Marriage is not a mere friendship—it is more than a friendship, something that, formally and eminently, contains friendship while exceeding it.

Despite our culture’s flippancy, there really is an awesome human task attached to the human sexual act. Although it may seem cute, it is a trivializing use of language to call one’s pets one’s “children.” No!—the female body can produce a true child, whom the parents then are obligated to rear to be a free agent, inheriting the many benefits of human history. And all of this is so merely because of the unique sort of natural social activity that is formed in view of nature’s inclination to procreate. A union of friendship is a marvelous thing, but two people are spouses for the sake of explicitly ensuring the future of humanity. This is a unique task—a lofty one, one that is arguably objectively more elevated than natural friendships.25 To repeat the point again, marriage formally and eminently contains the notion of friendship—it contains it in a loftier reality, just as the Deity contains within itself, formally and eminently, all of the divine names.

Nature has its rights. One of the sublime beauties of Catholicism is that it acknowledges that grace gives nature all its due, all while elevating it infinitely above itself. It is true that the so-called “Pauline Privilege” can be invoked to dissolve a legitimate, natural marriage for the sake of the supernatural ends of matrimony—e.g., as when two non-believers marry, one converts, and the continued marriage, for some reason, presents a danger to the salvation of the soul of the believer. However, even in such cases, the Church is careful in her jurisprudential language, laying out in some detail the conditions for invoking said “Privilege.”26 This care is taken because marriage, even natural marriage, is intrinsically indissoluble, though natural marriage can be subjected to “extrinsic” conditions (i.e., those that come into play in the so-called Pauline Privilege) that render it potentially dissoluble.27

Of itself, natural marriage is indissoluble. This indissolubility is only “shored up” by becoming sacramental: “The essential properties of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage obtain a special firmness by reason of the sacrament.”28 And as the Roman Catechism directly states the matter: Although it belongs to marriage as a natural contract to be indissoluble, yet its indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection. In any event, dissolubility is at once opposed to the proper education of children, and to the other advantages of marriage” (emphasis added).29

And while, as noted above, the current Catechism parses these matters in a slightly different language, it too affirms the point, indeed more emphatically one may argue: “The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant, in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony, the spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity, and witness to it. Through the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper meaning (emphasis added).30

As Edward Peters rightly opines, the verbiage of “intrinisic and extrinsic dissolubility” is a little awkward, but the point is clear: nature has its rights. The natural society formed by matrimony—a society that has as its primary end the fostering of new life and, hence, the continuance of humanity both biologically and, just as much, culturally—really and truly is of such importance that it must be indissoluble. Marriage derives its weight and its grandeur from the fact that nature herself speaks through the natural ends appointed to this human institution:

You, O man, and you, O woman, are to steward the future; to be the fertile soil, not merely of biological seed, but of the very moral-cultural-religious patrimony of humanity.

How noble a goal—one that is even more elevated when we think of the supernatural ends of man! Nature says, “You will give life to these children—prepare them for a truly human life, and not refuse anything that may be fitting to man from a higher order of being.”31 And the sacramental grace that flows through the actual marriages of believers takes up this dictate of our nature and adds: “Yes, prepare them for what alone can truly bring them beatitude and rest in the Good; lead them through the Divine Life of grace to the glorious vision of God.”

It is perhaps understandable that a pastorally focused document like Amoris Laetitia would comment that the Church “often {presents} marriage in such a way that its unitive meaning, its call to grow in love, and its ideal of mutual assistance, are overshadowed by an almost exclusive insistence on the duty of procreation.”32 But we should not read this as meaning that the document repudiates a previous magisterium regarding the centrality of procreation in marriage.33 To read it in continuity with the tradition, it is necessary that we:

(1) remember that sacramental marriage has a lofty supernatural finality that presupposes but infinitely elevates the natural institution of marriage, and,

(2) remember also that marriage actually is presupposed as a natural social bond to be sacramentally elevated, a bond having its unique, naturally given ends that have an order among them.

Nature has its rights!

Philosophically speaking, I would argue that the real issue that is felt in qualifications, such as those found in Amoris Laetitia, is that “procreation” is seen merely in a kind of “simply-biological” light by many. Instead of downplaying the subordination of ends in marriage—which, I repeat, is central to the Catholic position regarding the nature of marriage as a unique, natural society—what is needed is a better articulation of the way that matrimonial friendship buds forth from the primary end. Husband and wife become uniquely what they are meant to be when they take on the shared task of stewarding the future as the heads of the household.34 What is needed is not a downplaying of the procreative end of marriage. Instead, what is needed is an ennobling proclamation of its profound promise. In hearing “procreation and education of children,” one needs to hear, “Be ye stewards of souls and of human history.” And how much more does this become elevated when we consider matters in light of the sacramental ends of marriage, and the supernatural vocation of the human person: “As a result, with their parents leading the way by example, and family prayer, children, and, indeed, everyone, gathered around the family hearth will find a readier path to human maturity, salvation, and holiness.”35

Reflection upon the duties of parents to their children vis-à-vis education should give pause here. At first glance, our culture leads us to think of education as a task to be undertaken by outside experts. But, instead, all the authority in this matter is derived from that profound duty that is laid upon the parent. Here, Amoris Laetitia states the matter well:

At the same time, I feel it important to reiterate that the overall education of children is a “most serious duty” and at the same time a “primary right” of parents. This is not just a task or a burden, but an essential and inalienable right that parents are called to defend, and of which no one may claim to deprive them. The State offers educational programs in a subsidiary way, supporting the parents in their indeclinable role; parents themselves enjoy the right to choose freely the kind of education – accessible and of good quality – which they wish to give their children in accordance with their convictions. Schools do not replace parents, but complement them. This is a basic principle: “all other participants in the process of education are only able to carry out their responsibilities in the name of the parents, with their consent and, to a certain degree, with their authorization.” 36

It is unique to the human person to be historical and cultural in nature.37 Unlike other animals, whose powers of estimation come much more “primed” to be ready to execute on their specific goods, the human person requires a lengthy education to prepare himself or herself to bud forth above time in communion with being itself. To be an intellectual animal is to soar above the vicissitudes of matter and time—all the while accomplishing this conquest in time. And parents steward this—they orient their children to what is true, and to what is good; they enable them to take up the past, and to set forth to the future, as beings who, at their root, are free, intellectually face-to-face with being, and volitionally face-to-face with the good. This is a quite majestic duty—not a burdensome one, but one that shows the very nobility of the shared common good of the primary end of marriage. Reorienting our account of procreation to emphasize this aspect of its nature would go far in rehabilitating our language. It would also help to serve as a counterweight to the emphasis on mutual self-fulfillment that the wider culture implicitly (and, in some ways, explicitly…) claims to be the primary end of marriage—a mutual self-fulfillment that, in truth, is an ego-centric pursuit of comfort, or a sexually focused sort of friendship.38

In any case, the issue remains, at its core, a matter of the subordination of ends. It is the genuine Catholic position to see in sacramental marriage an initial division of ends that must be respected: (1) the supernatural ends of the sacrament and (2) the natural ends of marriage as an institution of human nature. Furthermore, the latter is only intelligible as a unique communion of persons, distinct from every other kind of common enterprise, if it has a unique common good, a unique end given it by nature. This end is the procreative end of human sexuality, a procreative end that has vast implications both for the “grammar” of the sexes, and for the very future of human moral and intellectual culture. This end provides the entire meaning for the shared activity of the spouses, even though natural marriage has other unique ends, namely, the mutual aid and love of the spouses, as well as the provision of a suitable channel for our fallen desires. And these latter ends are true ends—but they are subordinate. Their coordination is only understandable if we view them in light of that subordination.39

In several future articles, I intend to reflect on some implications of what we have discussed here. As a matter of central importance, I intend to stress the urgency of recognizing the family as a natural society that is independent of the civic order. This latter point plays a crucial role in some important aspects of our understanding of justice, human rights, and the nature of the political community itself.

In summary, then, we can say the following. The Catholic account of matrimony implies two orders of subordination of ends. First, there is the subordination of natural ends to supernatural ends in sacramental marriage. The supernatural ends of matrimony pertain to the couple being a sign of Christ and the Church. This provides the primary orientation of matrimony and is, strictly speaking, a matter held on faith. All that is natural in marriage is taken up into this sacramental union, which gives the primary orientation to supernatural matrimony. Because I have so focused on the need to remember the natural finalities involved in marriage, I must stress this point so that the reader does not lose sight of the grandeur of sacramental marriage. Although his manner of expression is slightly different than mine as a Thomist, I think this has been well expressed by David Cloutier recently:

Properly understood, the entire reality of marriage and family—including sexual intercourse—is understood in terms of a sacramental, and not simply natural, telos. Marriage does not have two natural ends plus an additional sacramental end. Rather, marriage’s natural ends are transformed from within, and given their genuine telos by being taken up within the larger story of communion with God.40

The natural ends of marriage are presupposed for sacramental marriage, but can exist outside of the sacramental order (whether in an order of pure nature, or in the case of marriage between two non-Christians). As an office of nature that establishes a unique common good, marriage has three ends of unequal weight: (1) the procreation and educating of children naturally begotten, (2) the mutual aid of the spouses in the domestic society established by (1), and (3) providing a remedy for concupiscence through the activities associated with (1) and (2). When presenting these matters, it is critically important, if one is going to be heard at all, that one provide a lofty enough view of procreation and education as a kind of “stewardship of culture and history.” Above all else, however, the Catholic must always desire to place these natural ends in light of the supernatural elevation sacramentally granted to matrimony, for it should be our desire that all marriages be sacramental marriages, truly living by the divine life through sacramental grace. Nonetheless, part of a mature articulation of this desire does indeed require the careful parsing of the ends pertaining to nature, those pertaining to grace, and the relationships found among these various ends.

  1. See Lawrence Feingold, The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas and His Interpreters, 2nd ed. (Naples, FL: Sapientia Press, 2010). One should also read Steven A. Long, Natura Pura: On the Recovery of Nature in the Doctrine of Grace (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010).
  2. Classically, this position is expressed in Henri de Lubac, Augustinianism and Modern Theology, trans. Lancelot Sheppard (New York: Crossroad, 2000) and The Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Crossroad, 2012). One finds it also, for instance, in the work of David L. Schindler and those indebted to him, as well as thinkers who are variously indebted to John Milbank and the so-called “Radical Orthodoxy” movement. In general, this seems to be the leaning of Tracy Rowland as well, whose works can help to give one the lay of the land, though she is perhaps a bit harsh on the traditional Thomistic position. Of her most recent work, see Tracey Rowland, Catholic Theology (London: Bloomsbury, 2017). Of course, there are other viewpoints, not only among the scholae of old, but also in thinkers who are harder to situate. Merely to cite one, the argument has been made of late that a middle way can be found in the works of Mattias Scheeben. See Andrew Dean Swafford, Nature and Grace: A New Approach to Thomistic Ressourcement (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2014).
  3. The theme is standard throughout Maritain’s corpus. A clear and accessible formulation can be found in Jacques Maritain, On the Philosophy of History, ed. Joseph W. Evans (New York: Scribner, 1957), especially 119-163.
  4. And, indeed, in a manner that still draws on magisterial documents a bit more explicitly than would a more purely philosophical treatment of natural marriage as such.
  5. Note here the comment of Charles Journet, The Church of the Word Incarnate: An Essay in Speculative Theology, vol.1, trans. A.H.C. Downes (London: Sheed and Ward, 1955), 37n3: “The marriage of Protestants is not a sacrament in the eyes of the Protestant Church, but it is so in those of the Roman, Codex iuris canonici, can. 1099, 2. The two sacraments really retained by traditional Protestantism are not, as they themselves hold, Baptism and the Last Supper but Baptism and Matrimony.”
  6. On the sacraments as instrumental causes of grace, see Aquinas, ST III q.62 a.1.
  7. In technical theological vocabulary, the Deity refers not merely to God in a general way, but to God “considered in His most intimate essence, or according to what makes God to be God and distinguishes him from all creatures.” See, at length, Emmanuel Doronzo, Introduction to Theology (Middleburg, VA: Notre Dame Institute Press, 1973), 48. Also, for a more technical treatment, see Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Le sens du mystère et le clair-obsur intellectuel (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1934), 206-233 (pt.2, ch.3). This volume is scheduled to be published in translation by Emmaus Academic Press later this year.
  8. This is the profound meaning of the traditional position of the Thomist school stating that it is non-repugnant to nature that it be elevated to a higher (i.e. supernatural) order.
  9. Ultimately, this fact underlies the arguments made by thinkers who are in various ways in the sway of the Natural Law tradition associated with Robert George et al. For example, see Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert George, What is Marriage?: Man and Woman: A Defense (New York: Encounter Books, 2012).
  10. Though, as a supernatural Sacrament, it is also a grace-filled remedy for concupiscence as well.
  11. Catechism of the Council of Trent, trans. John A. McHugh and Charles J. Callen (Rockford, IL: TAN, 1982), 366-370.
  12. “Draft of a Dogmatic Constitution on Chastity, Marriage, the Family, and Virginity,” trans. Joseph Komonchak, (accessed 7 July 2017), n.11.
  13. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 48 and 50.
  14. See CCC, 1602-1620.
  15. See CCC 1652.
  16. CIC, 1055 §1
  17. The 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law, ed. and trans. Edward N. Peters (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001), 1013 §1 (p.352). Footnote 62 has a range of sources to be considered as well.
  18. One may reflect on this topic by considering the brief but insightful thoughts found in Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Le realism du principe de finalité (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1932), 130-133. A translation of this volume is scheduled to be published in 2018 by Emmaus Academic.
  19. Michael Sandel, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? (New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2009), 260.
  20. Ibid., 258-259. The text is from Hillary Goodridge vs. Department of Public Health, Supreme Court of Massachusetts, 440 Mass. 309 (2003).
  21. Here, I take natural law in the sense that there are universally true moral precepts that are distinguishable through the particular insight that Thomists call synderesis, which is an analogue in the practical order to the intellectual habitus of understanding. Here, it is natural and discursive reasoning that are contrasted. In the practical order, reasoning is brought to its perfect term by prudence, which is at once a moral and intellectual virtue. For a clear account see Leonard Lehu, La raison: règle de la moralité d’apres Saint Thomas (Paris: Lecoffre, 1930), 132-211 (especially, as regards synderesis, 144-152).
  22. Indeed, one must be careful here not to generalize, but it is good to be aware that non-Catholic Christian ceremonials can emphasize the second end without duly enunciating its ultimate subordination to the first.
  23. This is among the profound implications of the Thomist position regarding the distinction between the acquired moral virtues and the infused moral virtues, a position forever dear to the Thomist school against the many attacks to which it was subjected soon after Thomas’s death. For an edifying overview, see Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life: Prelude of Eternal Life, vol. 1, trans. M. Timothea Doyle (St. Louis: Herder, 1947), 57-66
  24. In the end, this is the meaning of Maritain’s philosophy of culture, politics, and history. This topic will be treated in a forthcoming article in the English language edition of Nova et Vetera.
  25. However, it is not objectively superior to those unions that directly subordinate the human person to God. Although we tend to think of this generally in terms of religious vows (as we should), it is arguable that there could even be a natural analogate to religious vows, directly subordinating the natural agent, in a natural manner, to natural order’s Creator. However, in the present state, such vows must be directed to God, the Author and End of order of supernatural life. On the objective superiority of the consecrated state to the lay state, see John Paul II, Vita consecrata, 18, 32, 105.
  26. See CIC, 1143-1147.
  27. Since this does not hold for sacramental marriages, they are said to be “extrinsically indissoluble.” On this, see the lucid remarks in Edward Peters, “A couple of thoughts on a couple of comments,” September 28, 2015, (accessed 15 June 2017).
  28. CIC, 1056.
  29. RC, p.368.
  30. CCC 1647. See also CCC 1641: “‘By reason of their state in life and of their order, {Christian spouses} have their own special gifts in the People of God.’ This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they ‘help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.’”
  31. This last, open phrase expresses man’s negative obediential potency for grace—something that is actually quite fruitful, as the next sentences point out.
  32. Francis, Amoris Laetitia, n.36.
  33. For instance, see ibid., n.80, 82, 215 283.
  34. And this fact underlies the correlative fact that even marriages that are not physically fertile are thus called upon to live the mystery of marriage, though looking for their own ways to fulfill the familial task in their own circumstances. Though such situations (which are exceptions and not the rule) come with their own difficulties, they summon the couple to give virtuously of themselves in unique ways, always eschewing the comfortable self-indulgence that our culture offers as the “ideal” of the two-income, unencumbered household.
  35. Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, 48.
  36. Amoris Laetitia, n.84.
  37. See the profound reflections on this topic in Anton Pegis, At the Origins of the Thomistic Notion of Man (New York: MacMillan, 1963).
  38. To this end, Fr. Schall saw quite clearly the latter aspect soon after the Obergefell v. Hodges case. See James V. Schall, “On Court-Imposed ‘Liberty’,” The Catholic World Report, June 30, 2015, (accessed June 16 2017).
  39. A similar issue arises when one considers the coordination among speculative per se nota principles, which are not deductively connected with one another even though they have a true subordination among one another. On this, see Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Le sens commun: la philosophie de l’être et les formules dogmatiques, 4th ed. (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer & Cie, 1936), 157-191. Also, see Garrigou-Lagrange, Réalisme, 206-207n1 and 270n1. A translation of Le sens commun is scheduled to be published in 2018 by Emmaus Academic.
  40. David Cloutier, The Vice of Luxury: Economic Excess in a Consumer Age (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2015), 122.
Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. About Matthew Minerd, Ph.D.

Matthew K. Minerd, Ph.D., .,is an instructor in philosophy at Mount St. Mary’s University and at Ss. Cyril and Methodius Byzantine Seminary. He is a translator of works from French and Latin. His translation of Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange’s Le sens du mystère et le clair-obscur intellectual is scheduled to be translated in Fall 2017, followed by several additional translations in 2018. His writing has appeared in Homiletic and Pastoral Review, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, and the proceedings of the American Maritain Association.


  1. Thank you for this article, which is much needed. May I suggest a way of articulating the ends of marriage which while faithful, I think, to the Thomistic and traditional formulation, may be helpful for our understanding? This is to regard procreation as the “basic” end of marriage, i.e., the end that can never be interfered with or prevented on our part. Thus, so long as that basic end is respected, we are free to look to the other ends, especially mutual help and comfort, as much as we like. Obviously marriage and sex would not exist if the human race did not need them for reproduction and the subsequent education of offspring. Thus procreation as the controlling and basic purpose.

    I think that my formulation may make it easier to see why marriages of sterile men and women are valid, provided they do nothing on their part to interfere with the course of nature, or while reasonable use of periodic abstinence is proper, while on the other hand same-sex unions or contraceptive unions, however much they may be motivated by a desire for mutual support, could never meet the moral demands created by natural union, since they violate the basic end for which sex and marriage exist.

    I would appreciate any reactions, favorable or otherwise, on your part to these thoughts.

    Thank you.

    • Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. says:

      Glory to Jesus Christ!
      Dear Thomas,
      Thank you for your thoughtful response to the article! Apologies for the slight delay in responding; Monday’s are a wretchedly busy in my corner of the world. I think you are right in putting your finger on a place where I do, so to speak, play the note a little louder than some. You’re absolutely right to note that as long as the primary ends are not interfered with, the secondary ends can be pursued. However, I am trying to work out how to articulate the way that even those other ends are “colored” by their subordination to the primary end of the institution. Thus, in the case of the infertile couple (or, to take an even stronger, if rarer, case – a Josephite marriage), even the mutual assistance and affection is in some how “obliquely” colored by the orientation to procreation. I would say that the couple cannot live those ends as though they were not in the context of their subordination to the primary end of their union. Thus, they would not become mere friends; but neither would they become the same as religiously vowed persons (even in periods of abstinence). The character of their vocation together would be “colored by the domestic”. Think, perhaps, of the Maritains, who welcomed so many into their household over the years. I think it takes a very careful tact (and a good spiritual director) to keep discern the particular ways that this would come about.

      In any case, that’s a wind-bag way for me to say that I do not fundamentally disagree with your formulation. My only attempt is, however, to try to tease out how the subordinate ends are indeed subordinate – not parallel options; and as subordinate, “colored” by that subordination.

      When it comes to validity, of course, we then are on the plane of the act of will that ratifies the marriage contract publicly. The continuing institution, in a way, lives out that initial consent. (I don’t know the history well, but the jurists / theologians of the Middle Ages solidified the notion of making consent central for valid marriage.) Thus, the case of the infertile couple is more like “How are they living out their already-valid marriage?” The Church is quite merciful in giving broad allowance to infertile couples; but, of course, absolute impotence makes marriage impossible. (The law primarily concerns itself with the external state of affairs; and in this one case, it’s too obvious that they can’t in any way accomplish the primary end.)

      If I recall correctly, there are some germane reflections on “marriage as an institution” and “marriage as a contract” in Jacques Leclerq’s textbook on the philosophy / sociology of marriage.

      As I said, however, I am aware that I am pressing a little hard on the piano key, so to speak. (There is also a slightly “unromantic” streak in this, perhaps. My wife may be able to analyze that! ;-))

      Thanks again. I am glad to continue the conversation!


  2. Francis Etheredge says:

    To begin with what you say: ‘Therefore, there are two distinctions we must make. First, we must make the critical distinction between the natural and the supernatural finalities of sacramental marriage. As a sacrament, marriage is a sign of Christ’s union with the Church. This is the lofty supernatural end that orients sacramental marriage. It is its Deity-oriented guiding star.7 Nothing in human nature, qua human nature, could ever have guessed that this would be possible for matrimony, yet, nevertheless, human nature is profound enough that it is open to this elevation.8 Dazzled by the brilliance of supernatural matrimony, let us not forget, however, that natural marriage also still exists. Because of what we are as human beings—i.e., not qua sons and daughters of God, called to the Beatific Vision but qua created rational animals—we by nature wed.9’

    First of all, there seems to be a problem in considering that marriage can be viewed “as if” it can be separated from the original “vision” of the Creator. If, on the one hand, God created man male and female, did He not envisage two things: a relationship to Himself and an “image” and “likeness” in anticipation of Christ and His Church? Thus the original intention of the Creator, embodied in both human reality and the history of salvation, is actually part of the progressive revelation of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity as the “Archetype” of creation and, in particular, the creation of all relationships.

    Secondly, while it is true that it is possible to examine the nature of marriage philosophically, as if it was not a part of a progressive revelation of the mystery of God, it is still necessary to remember that, even within this type of starting point, that there are real points of contact with revelation. Thus, in actual fact, the very nature of the conception of a human being transcends the natural power of human beings to transmit human personhood. In other words, there is an “intrinsic” relationship to God in the very procreative act; and, therefore, this indicates that marriage is an “interrelationship” between the human and the divine: a kind of communication about the dependence of man, male and female, on God and His action.

    Finally, the whole notion of man as a ‘rational animal’, while it has an original sense of a rationally animated being, needs to be “modernised” and “personalised”. Thus it is not so much that man is a rationally animated being as that he or she is a being-in-relationship; and, as such, his or her whole being is intrinsically personal: the external manifesting, as it were, the internal and together “they” express the profound reality of each person being ‘“from” relationship, “in” relationship and “for” relationship’ (The Human Person: A Bioethical Word).

    • Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. says:

      Glory to Jesus Christ!

      Dear Francis,

      Thank you for such thoughtful observations / challenges. I suspect from your wording that you and I are going to come at this from a pretty different school of thought than I do. For that reason we are likely to remain somewhat at variance. Nonetheless, let me thank you explicitly for helping me to express my thought with more precision. In what follows, I’m going to try to be direct. Please do not read this as anything brusque. I’m just running out of time to get tasks done today but want to give you a fair reading and response.

      Point One: Concerning a consideration of nature as such
      I concede that nature qua nature is fulfilled by grace. That is, I concede that nature is perfected in its own line by grace. In a cutesy way of speaking, “nature” is most “naturey” in the context of grace. (On this, see this wonderful text and diagram by Maritain.) Likewise, I concede that the existential reality of all action either is or is not ordered to our supernatural end (either explicitly or in a vague manner). Finally, I concede that can see in supernatural truth itself an analogically similar (yet even more different than similarity) perfection of the natural order. Thus, in the Deity all the simply simple divine attributes are formally and eminently one. All proportionality preserved, “being”, “love”, “truth”, “intellect”, and so forth are all at their highest pitch when united without distinction in the Deity as such, which no naturally created intellect can know directly in itself. Similarly, in supernatural matrimony, the notion of “marriage” is maintained in a proper but proportional sense. Thus, marriage—even considered as natural marriage—is fully revealed by the supernatural order.

      What I do not hold is that this natural order, which is not indifferent to the supernatural, is positively ordered as nature (note the reduplication) in a positive manner to the supernatural order. On this, I think that Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s critique of the Suarezian notion of a positive obediential potency (as well as the same critique registered, for example by John of St. Thomas and the Carmelites of Salamanca, as well as many other Thomistic thinkers in the Dominican school) holds good.

      Because nature can be considered as such, one can consider properties of natural institutions per se loquendo. Thus, there are properties of natural marriage as such that do not accrue from supernatural finalities. Even without grace, a natural marriage between two staunch atheists can have all the properties, rights, and duties of a natural marriage. These are recognized, for instance, in canon law. Edward Peters has meditated on some of these topics with great depth.

      Thus, as stated above, natural marriage itself is fully revealed by the supernatural life. Nonetheless, all the properties that per se pertain to natural marriage accrue to it as natural truths. When revealed, such natural truths are only supernatural according to the mode of their revelation (quoad modum), not according to their essence (quoad substantiam seu essentiam) (The classic example of this distinction is the resurrection of Lazarus. A supernatural agent gave what no natural agent could give—life. However, this effect is natural in itself, unlike a supernatural “effect” such as the theological virtues, the gifts, the light of glory, or the Beatific Vision itself. The resurrection of Lazarus is supernatural, indeed, but only quoad modum; the theological virtues, etc. are supernatural quoad substantiam seu essentiam.)

      Point Two: Concerning the points of contact with revelation

      To this, I grant points of contact with supernatural revelation so long as we note that the truths mentioned in your second comment are not formally (or, essentially) supernatural. Thus, in the example given, the parents have a true concourse with God in the birth of the child, for the spiritual soul cannot be drawn from the matter-bound potencies of sperm and egg. In their union (and ultimate splitting in the case of twinning), they are at best the final proximate matter demanding the spiritual soul for the completion of the child’s nature. This comes from God, and in this part of the procreative action, eternity “kisses” time as an immortal soul comes into the existence. But, all of this remains natural on the side of the humans. In procreation, they are ordered to God, who certainly is supernatural in Himself. Nonetheless, their activity is formally natural. (I speak loosely and metaphorically in saying that every conception is a miracle of sorts, given that God infuses what no material agent could infuse—the spiritual soul as the form of the child.)

      However, all of this remains formally natural. One could tell this whole story from the perspective of rationally knowable truths and by means of the methods of reason alone. Revelation certainly helps with this, and for that we bend the knee to Him who gives us our nature along with our supernatural vocation. Nonetheless, we remain on the plane of truths that are, of themselves, natural.

      Point Three: On man as rational animal

      I concede that the expression is a stumbling block. However, I do not believe that it need be wholly discarded. I think that John Deely, may he rest in peace, has done much to show how the old tradition can acknowledge the role of relation throughout all of reality. I would argue that all to-be is to-be-in-relation (properly parsing the sense of “relation”, though).

      Thus, it is not unique to man that he be a relational being. Instead, what is unique to the human person is that man, so to speak, walks within the halls of being as such. Pieper’s The Truth of All Things articulates this so very well, though one finds it in the best exponents of the traditional Thomistic school as well.

      The intellectual orientation to being explains for all the other attributes and “powers” that we have. From the Thomist school’s perspective—and here, I am going to need to be very careful with my words—what is essential to the person is knowledge, but what brings it to full fruition, like a property flowing from an essence, is love (whether in the desire for the good not yet achieved or in resting in the good achieved).

      That only personal agents are knowing agents is an important fact. For this reason, I concede that deeper meditation on this is necessary. My personal bent, nonetheless, is to do it without losing the sense of the older definition. Instead, I would prefer unfolding it.


      In closing, I merely want to thank you and want to emphasize the broad swaths on which we do, in fact, agree. Nonetheless, I suspect that our perspectives differ enough that my answers will not be fully satisfying. In such matters, the various theological schools have freedom.

      Gods blessings on you and yours!

      • Francis Etheredge says:

        Dear Matthew,

        The Peace of Christ.

        Thank you for a very full reply.

        Perhaps it is more of an observation that a direct disagreement or argument with what you propose; but, in view of what you have said, let us consider the “existential situation” of being married and asking “purely” philosophical questions.

        While marriage goes back to the beginning and exists, we believe, in the context of the fall, thus “situating” marriage in God’s act of saving redemption, let us nevertheless consider the “existential moment” of being married and wondering about the existence and nature of this social relationship: a social relationship that is as outwardly ordered to communication as it is inwardly ordered to that communication being a fruitful, personal dialogue.

        Given that the whole universe exists “in relationship” there emerges the possibility of marriage being, as it were, a kind of personal expression of what, in fact, is universally present: a dynamic, even “polarised”, unity of opposites, that are interactively creative. The philosophical couple, then, are poised to consider that the universe as a whole “bears” a word in its very being, a word on structure, relationship and creativity which, by implication, invites them to see their own being and action as embodying a word: a “making-explicit” word of communication. Thus man, male and female, make explicit what is implicit in their very existence and relationship to one another. In this process it is possible that just as an object embodies the “word” of its maker, so it could occur to the couple that their marriage “embodies” the love between them and, in so doing, “echoes” a word which resounds in us all: what makes it possible that this is so?

        Finally, then, while there are natural and supernatural truths, the “word-bearing reality” of the universe already speaks a language that “reads us” towards God.

        God bless and thank you for your stimulating work,


      • Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. Matthew Minerd, Ph.D. says:

        Glory to Jesus Christ,
        Dear Francis,
        Thank you much for the follow up! Yes, I think we agree substantially. The Dominican school’s insistence on obediential potency being negative tends to back us into a corner in our vocabulary if we’re not careful. I think it is still the right way to formulate it, but it can make us miss exactly what you say. At one place, Maritain in Degrees of Knowledge cites some texts of John of St. Thomas to show the (loosely speaking) “positive” side of this negative obediential potency. I need to read those texts!

        Yes, I agree that it “reads us” toward him. Indeed, what is most amazing is when one “turns around” from the supernatural perspective and realizes that the nature was oriented this way, though it could in no way “speak that final word” that would take it across the threshold.

        Last night, I was reading Journet’s The Mass: The Presence of the Sacrifice of the Cross. The first chapter made me explicitly think of you. It is a beautiful reflection. Journet is generally of the same outlook as RGL and Maritain on the nature/grace question. Nonetheless, let me cite some striking passages that show the other side of this tradition as well – a place where you and I certainly meet! (Note that RGL and especially Maritian get this same point – just a comment, not proselytizing, of course!) Journet: “We do not live existentially in a universe of nature; we live existentially in a universe of redemption.” “Every vision of the world which presents the concrete and existential condition of humanity as natural and normal is radically aberrant. It is, on the contrary, the concrete and existential condition of a being who has shattered in himself a wonderful gift.” “The universe of redemption depends from its birth, and throughout and even until the end of its history, on the Cross of Christ. It is dominated by the bloody Passion of a God made man who died for man.”

        Also, just as another thought – there are two sorts of echoes. I would argue – and I suspect you will totally agree – that silently in every marriage there is at work a stirring of grace moving that person toward full sacramental matrimony (for God wills antecedently that all be saved). This does not come from the order of nature but from that of grace; it fulfills nature and brings something signifying the truly eternal.

        I will include after my signature several beautiful quote from Maritain that I have at hand in a document. Without denying the standard Dominican-Thomist position on these matters, he beautifully states some profound things.

        In any case, I think that your points are all spot on. I just tend to fuss more about the natural and supernatural elements involved therein. This is not the only “mode” in which one should think, of course! Just my connatural way of approaching questions.

        Thanks for such a thoughtful and edifying reflection on this matter!
        (In Untrammeled Approaches)
        “I know too that human nature will not reach the fullness of its perfection except in those who have been raised up and will see God….I know that it is our nature to aspire toward what is naturally impossible….St. Thomas teaches that human nature—I repeat human nature—will come to its perfection only in the world of eternity, in other words once it has arrived at the height of the supernatural.”

        (In another place)
        “And if we consider human nature as such, and only human nature, we have to say that of its very self it envelopes, essentially, a natural aspiration toward something which is infinitely above it and about which it knows nothing (what we do know we know only through faith), a natural aspiration toward a state that it can in absolutely no way attain by its own powers, nor by any conceivable progress in the world of becoming.”

        (And, with regard to our fallen state of nature, in Neuf leçons…)
        “Consider the various forms of religious life in humanity, of asceticism, contemplation, and sanctity; consider the thirst for the infinite which traverses, excites, unhinges, exasperates human love and the games of love and death, or the creative activity of the artist and poet, or the human vices, the human vainglory and ambition; everywhere you see the aspiration to a superhuman condition, all of these things bears witness to the existence of a desire for an absolute happiness, which would make us like unto gods. I do not pretend that these would be demonstrative proofs of the fact that we are ordained to a supernatural end, but these are powerful indications having value as signs. . . . ”
        “In reality, between the Christian and non Christian worlds, it is chiefly by the profundity and the intensity, as by modalities more or less pure, the forms of realization, the concluding points, that the signs of the existence of aspirations in man to a divine and blessed in condition differ among themselves. If human nature had been irremediably and in an ultimate manner had been infinitized by Christian grace, it had been first infinitized, by the grace in which the first man had been created. . . . ”

        “Even in a humanity which lived in the state of innocence and which lost Adamic grace, even in a humanity which had been Christian and from which faith has departed, and with faith properly supernatural desires, even then, in the two cases, the transnatural desires remain stimulated and sharpened.”

        “In order to treat the question in a more precise manner, I will say that faith has two effects upon the [transnatural] desire: On the one hand, it gives birth in the soul to the supernatural desire of this supernatural object—to see the God of faith in his essence; on the other hand, and by the mere fact that it gives us the assurance that beatitude is actually attainable (an assurance not only theological faith, but a prophetic light or the faith of the demons would also be able to give), it fixes our natural desire for happiness (we would desire happiness, and perfect if it were possible; we now desire happiness, and nothing other than perfect happiness), and it fixes our natural desire (now rendered unconditional) for this transnatural object: God whom we know by his effects, God of reason, to know Him in His essence. If faith departs, the effect which formally depends upon it, the supernatural desire to see God, departs as well; however, the effect which depends upon an efficient action produced by faith—the fixation or stimulation of the transnatural desire for beatitude, and the transnatural desire to see the first Cause—still lingers in nature.”


  1. […] vocation to the Beatific Vision (and, hence, also, without receiving all the means thereto).1 On the other hand, thinkers who—for lack of a better term (and it is a […]

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