Our modern era has seen no small amount of controversy and debate concerning the issues of contraception and homosexuality. In these two categories alone, a plethora of arguments have been made and remade with some for and others against the Catholic Church’s view of marriage and sexuality. If we disentangle ourselves from these arguments for a moment, we are immediately able to perceive an intriguing reality. One which lies at that core of the debate itself; namely, that it hinges upon our contemporary understanding of what marriage is.
From this expansive and often heated debate, there have seemingly emerged two contradictory and opposing views of marriage, each with its own resultant worldview and argumentation. These two existent understandings of marriage have been coined by Sherif Girgis as The Conjugal View and the Revisionist View.
According to Girgis, the conjugal view represents marriage as it has been traditionally defined for thousands of years. Specifically, he writes that, “It is a view of marriage as a bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond, distinguished thus by its comprehensiveness, which is, like all love, effusive: flowing out into the wide sharing of family life and ahead to lifelong fidelity.”
Afterward, Girgis describes the revisionist view of marriage in terms of how it is viewed by many people today. To that end, he writes that, “It is a vision of marriage as, in essence, a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity—a bond that needn’t point beyond the partners, in which fidelity is ultimately subject to one’s own desire.”
It is not difficult to discern which view has become more widely accepted in Western society today. From the revisionist view of marriage, ultimately proceed many of the consequent practices to which the Catholic Church is strongly opposed. These practices include no-fault divorce, the widespread use of artificial contraception, and the legalization of homosexual unions, just to name a few. Turning our attention to these three consequent practices of the revisionist view, we must now attempt to unravel the hidden truth behind the Church’s teaching on these issues.
Perhaps no aspect of the conjugal view is more frequently dismissed than the Church’s teaching that marriage is a permanent and indissoluble union. In the mind of the average person, marriage is merely a contractual agreement between two parties the continuance of which is entirely subject to their own will. If this were true, then indeed marriage could hardly be described as an indissoluble union. So where does the Church get this idea?
It is not enough simply to say that the Church follows the instructions handed down to it by Christ in this regard, for the average person may not accept the validity of such instruction. Rather, a deeper reflection upon the nature of marriage itself is required here. To this end, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains that:
"Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter—appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving."
What the Church is intending to suggest here is what Girgis defines as “a comprehensive union.” That is to say, marriage is a union which necessarily involves the entire gift of oneself to the other in every possible sense. It goes much deeper than mere physical connection, which the Church does highlight as crucially significant. It involves the totality of the person, body, mind, heart, everything. Such depth of union is necessarily accompanied by an equally deep sense of commitment to the person to whom one has given oneself in such an intimate and absolute way.
In the conjugal view therefore, marriage is seen as a real, effective bond between two persons yet as something distinct from them. If merely a personal or civil contract, then marriage can be dissolved at any time, but if indeed a comprehensive bond of persons, then marriage is necessarily a life-long commitment. This idea is reinforced in light of the ultimate purpose of marriage, which is scientifically demonstrated to be the procreation and consequent rearing of children.
From this natural consequence of marriage, it can be deduced that homosexual unions cannot be properly referred to as marriage since they lack the potential to fulfill the ultimate end of marriage. In this regard, Gergis clarifies that, “Relationships of two men, two women, or more than two, whatever their moral status, cannot be marriages because they lack this inherent link to procreation; so they will not embody a commitment ordered to family life: a marital commitment.” Thus, the reason that the Church does not accept homosexual unions as marriages has to do with the inability to achieve procreation, which is ultimately bound up within the inability of such unions to effect a comprehensive union of persons. In this vein, Pope John Paul II writes that:
"The human body, with its sex … is not only a source of fruitfulness and procreation, as in the whole natural order, but contains ‘from the beginning’ the ‘spousal’ attribute, that is, the power to express love: precisely that love in which the human person becomes a gift and—through this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence.”
Since the fulfillment of man’s being can only be achieved when making a gift of himself, it follows that homosexual unions cannot effect this fulfillment as they do not offer man the power communicate himself fully. The extension and offering of oneself to another for the common goal of producing new life is simply an impossibility for a homosexual union. Since the gift of self is not fully present, and since the union is powerless to effect the purpose of marriage, it can be seen that homosexual unions cannot properly be called marriage nor do they represent an expression of marital, self-donating love.
This of course, it not to say that infertile couples are somehow incapable of giving themselves comprehensively to one another, for the Church has never implied such a thing. Infertility points to the power of procreation which should be present but is lacking for some psychical defect, whereas homosexual acts never possessed the power of procreation to begin with. The two situations are altogether distinct from each other.
The connection between marriage and procreation is ultimately what informs the Church’s teaching on the use of artificial contraception. Accordingly, the Church opposes its use on the basis of disrupting man’s bodily power to procreate, thereby disconnecting marriage itself from the purpose for which it exists. This disconnection results in the couple’s inability to self-donate in the fullest possible sense, for though they participate in the marital act, they are unwilling to participate in the natural consequence of the act, namely parenthood. What results from the use of contraception therefore is the unintentional objectification of the other, in which the martial act becomes more about personal pleasure and less about a mutual, life-giving donation of self to the other. The ensuing breakdown of the family and of society is the only logical outcome of contraception in the long run.
Confirming this fact, Mary Eberstadt writes that, “Equally eyebrow raising, at least in secular circles, is his [Lionel Tiger] linking of contraception to the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, trouble in the relationship between the sexes, and single motherhood.”
Drawing upon the sociological data of Tiger, Eberstadt further explains how the papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, was prophetic in its predictions for the future of a society that has almost entirely embraced the contraceptive mentality. Specifically, Humanae Vita affirms that:
Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based, if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificial birth control. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelit and the general lowering of morality. Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men -- especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point -- have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.
A growing number of secular scientists are now coming to the conclusion that Pope Paul VI was correct in his assertion that artificial contraception is ultimately harmful to society in the long term. This reality has been playing itself out in Western culture for the past several decades and it seems now that something must be done to steer the culture of the family back to its proper course.
Pope Pius XI suggests that the government ought to play a role in the regulation of marriage and procreation, not according to its own subjective standards, but according to the definition of what marriage is in the conjugal view. This idea is specified in his encyclical, Casti Connubii, where he says that, “Governments can assist the Church greatly in the execution of its important office, if, in laying down their ordinances, they take account of what is prescribed by divine and ecclesiastical law, and if penalties are fixed for offenders.”
Pope John Paul II further clarifies the role of government in the regulation of marriage when he writes that:
"It is therefore morally unacceptable to encourage, let alone impose, the use of methods such as contraception, sterilization and abortion in order to regulate births. The ways of solving the population problem are quite different. Governments and the various international agencies must above all strive to create economic, social, public health and cultural conditions which will enable married couples to make their choices about procreation in full freedom and with genuine responsibility.
Governments therefore have not only a right but a moral obligation to regulate marriage according to the standard set by the natural law and which is confirmed by divine law as entrusted to the Church.
As stated previously, the Church’s law with regard to marriage and procreation is not arbitrary but is based on the idea that marriage is a real, substantial bond the definition of which is fixed according to its operation in reality. That is to say, when observed scientifically and naturally, marriage is known to be a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bond between a man and a woman which results in the two “becoming one flesh,”thereby generating new life which forms the basis of a new family community.
The preservation of this delicate community is what the Church predominantly concerns itself with in opposing the practices of no-fault divorce, homosexual unions, artificial contraception, and any similar practice which disrupts the community of the family or reduces a couple to mere instruments of pleasure in each other’s hands.
The Church does not intend to attack or degrade those who may disagree with its teaching, but only to uphold the dignity of marriage and the sacredness of the family so that couples might experience the fullest possible relationship with one another and so that the integrity and stability of their children might be safeguarded from the destructive consequences which the revisionist view of marriage holds. Contrary to what many revisionists might say, the Church’s teaching on marriage and sexuality therefore is not meant to restrict personal freedom but rather to enrich freedom by directing it toward its natural and proper end.
This end, according to the plan of God, exists for man’s greater and continued happiness. Happiness therefore is what the Church’s teaching on marriage is ultimately directed.
 Gergis, Sherif, What is Marriage, 1-2.
 Matthew 19:3-12
 The Catechism of the Catholic Church , 1643
 Gergis, Sherif, What is Marriage, 23-36
 Gergis, Sherif, What is Marriage, 30
 John Paul II, Man & Woman He Created Them, 185-186
 Eberstadt, Mary, Adam & Eve After the Pill, 141
 Paul VI, Humanae Vita, 17
 Pius XI, Casti Connubii, 125
 John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 91
 Genesis 2:24