Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and other Subjects

Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and other Subjects

Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and other Subjects

Saint Augustine: Treatises on Marriage and other Subjects

Excerpt

The pioneer and pattern-setting treatise De bono coniugali has been called the most complete patristic consideration of the duties of married persons.1 Theologians considered it most authoritative down to the time of St. Thomas Aquinas; as late as 1930, Pope Pius XI quoted from it in his encyclical, Casti Connubii.

St. Augustine wrote De bono coniugali in 401, as an answer to the false teaching of Jovinian which considered the married state equal to that of virginity. Pope Siricius and St. Ambrose had condemned this heresy before him, but it still was so rampant that many consecrated virgins were leaving their convents to marry. St. Jerome also had written his Adversus Jovinianum exalting virginity, but in doing so he seemed to have sacrificed the dignity and honor of married life. Therefore, St. Augustine felt that before he treated of virginity he should write on the good of marriage, both to prove false the charge of Manichaeism that was hurled against the Christian teaching and to refute Jovinian.

By calling marriage a good, St. Augustine immediately refuted the chief charge of Manichaeism. For him, the good of marriage was threefold: offspring (proles), fidelity (fides), sacrament (sacramentum). He used this terminology so often that these goods have been called pillars or columns that support his doctrine.

To have children who would people the kingdom of God is the primary purpose of marriage. However, when Augustine spoke of the procreation of children, he was thinking also of their moral or spiritual procreation and education.

The second good of the marriage contract is that of fidelity or faithfulness. This refers to the right that the spouse has over the body of his partner. St. Augustine noted that St. Paul called this right a power. The violation of this fidelity is adultery. Fidelity in general is such a good that in matters of little importance it is worthy of praise; even in evil contracts, if it is broken the violator is looked upon as more degraded because of this added malice.

St. Augustine used the term for the third good, sacramentum, with what De Ghellinck calls 'an incredible diversity of meanings. . . . It is not easy to determine the exact meaning that one ought to give to each of the examples that the ten large volumes of his works contain. The penchant of Augustine for symbolism and allegorical explanation predisposed him, moreover, to the frequent use of the word "sacramentum"'3—for example, when speaking of the marriages of Adam and Eve, the Jews, the pagans, Joseph and Mary, and the Christians. However, Pereira believes that in De bono coniugali St. Augustine attributes the word only to the marriage of Christians.4 This is easy to explain when we realize that the pagan world repudiated the idea of the indissolubility of marriage which is attendant on this teaching. Vasquez says that the saint never called marriage a sacra- . . .

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