As I stated at the end of my last column on the Extraordinary Synod on Marriage, I believe we are currently reaping the fruit of 50 to 60 years of inadequate and failed efforts to form and catechize ourselves as to the true nature, purpose and meaning of marriage. I intend with this column to begin a formal teaching on this matter. This seems like a good time as we prepare for next year’s Ordinary Synod on Marriage and as we prepare for the World Meeting of Families to take place in Philadelphia next year.

Where to begin? Well let’s talk about the “nature” of marriage. I emphasize the word “nature” because we must begin with the fact that marriage is something natural to the human person. We will see that the Church recognizes two essential kinds of marriage. Although we recognize that the marriage between two baptized persons is regarded as a “sacramental marriage,” the Church also recognizes the “natural bond” of marriage that takes place between two people, at least one of whom is not baptized.

I emphasize this point because this is a very common misunderstanding among people. We will often see two extremes to this misunderstanding. On the one end, some people think that because a marriage is not “sacramental” (i.e. between two baptized persons) then it is dissolvable, meaning that it is not a permanent bond. On the other extreme are those who are surprised to learn that a marriage involving a baptized Catholic with an unbaptized spouse is not a sacramental bond but a natural bond. That may include you now as you read this!

This seems like a good place to start. Marriage, as a natural institution rooted in the very nature of the human person, is something that comes from the hand of the Creator as he has made us male and female. Long before there were the sacraments of the New Covenant in Christ, God created man and woman in his own image and likeness, blessed them and commanded them to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:28).

We read also in the account of creation that, after God had created the first man, he decreed that “it is not good that the man should be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) What a beautiful teaching of Sacred Scripture, that God created a helper, a mate for the man because he did not want the man to be alone! From the beginning the communal aspect of the marital bond would be emphasized. Marriage exists for the communion of life and love between the spouses and for the procreation of children, as we have just seen above.

After the creation of the first woman to be a helper and a mate for the man, Adam proclaims, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The scriptures go on to say, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:23-24) The beautiful imagery of man and woman united in one flesh and bringing forth from that union children into the world, cooperating with God’s power to create, will forever be the essential image and reality of what marriage is in its very essence.

We already see in this so-called “natural bond” of marriage those properties and elements that are essential to marriage itself, even between persons who are not baptized. We see the communal bond which is for the good of the spouses (“it is not good that the man should be alone” — or the woman to be alone). A community of life and love is established between spouses for their own natural good.

Second, we see that this bond of marriage is ordered by its very nature to the procreation and education of children, their offspring. The very complementarity of the sexes (man and woman) is ordered to this. The union of husband and wife in one flesh in the conjugal act within marriage is naturally directed to procreation. It’s about love, but it’s also about children.

Third we see that this unique relationship must be exclusive, namely between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. Whatever other relationships in life a man or a woman may have, within family and with very deep friendships, they have no other relationship like marriage with anyone else. This is for both the good of the spouses themselves and for the security and stability of the family unit when children come into the picture. Spouses and children all need the security and trust that fidelity to the marital bond requires.

Finally, the bond, by its very nature, must be permanent. The man and a woman joined in marriage and bringing children into the world must remain intact for the mutual benefit of the spouses and the proper growth and development of the children arising from the union. This stability is necessary for the good of the spouses who nourish and help one another with the security of knowing that they will always be there for each other. The children also need this stability and security for the best of human development.

All of this without even speaking of the sacramental character of marriages between the baptized. All of this applies to any marriage anywhere in the world simply as arising from the very nature of the human person as created by God, male and female.

In the next installment of this catechesis, we will see how Christ has raised this natural bond of marriage to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized. I should warn you, that this teaching will cover many columns, and will need to be read in continuity to fully grasp the Church’s teaching. God bless you!