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Venerable Brethren and Beloved Children, Health and Apostolic Benediction.
How great is the dignity of chaste wedlock, Venerable Brethren, may be judged best
from this that Christ Our Lord, Son of the Eternal Father, having assumed the nature of
fallen man, not only, with His loving desire of compassing the redemption of our race,
ordained it in an especial manner as the principle and foundation of domestic society
and therefore of all human intercourse, but also raised it to the rank of a truly and great
sacrament of the New Law, restored it to the original purity of its divine institution, and
accordingly entrusted all its discipline and care to His spouse the Church.
2. In order, however, that amongst men of every nation and every age the desired fruits
may be obtained from this renewal of matrimony, it is necessary, first of all, that men’s
minds be illuminated with the true doctrine of Christ regarding it; and secondly, that
Christian spouses, the weakness of their wills strengthened by the internal grace of
God, shape all their ways of thinking and of acting in conformity with that pure law of
Christ so as to obtain true peace and happiness for themselves and for their families.
3. Yet not only do We, looking with paternal eye on the universal world from this
Apostolic See as from a watch-tower, but you, also, Venerable Brethren, see, and
seeing deeply grieve with Us that a great number of men, forgetful of that divine work of
redemption, either entirely ignore or shamelessly deny the great sanctity of Christian
wedlock, or relying on the false principles of a new and utterly perverse morality, too
often trample it under foot. And since these most pernicious errors and depraved morals
have begun to spread even amongst the faithful and are gradually gaining ground, in
Our office as Christ’s Vicar upon earth and Supreme Shepherd and Teacher We
consider it Our duty to raise Our voice to keep the flock committed to Our care from
poisoned pastures and, as far as in Us lies, to preserve it from harm.
4. We have decided therefore to speak to you, Venerable Brethren, and through you to
the whole Church of Christ and indeed to the whole human race, on the nature and
dignity of Christian marriage, on the advantages and benefits which accrue from it to the
family and to human society itself, on the errors contrary to this most important point of
the Gospel teaching, on the vices opposed to conjugal union, and lastly on the principal
remedies to be applied. In so doing We follow the footsteps of Our predecessor, Leo
XIII, of happy memory, whose Encyclical Arcanum,1 published fifty years ago, We
hereby confirm and make Our own, and while We wish to expound more fully certain
points called for by the circumstances of our times, nevertheless We declare that, far
from being obsolete, it retains its full force at the present day.
5. And to begin with that same Encyclical, which is wholly concerned in vindicating the
divine institution of matrimony, its sacramental dignity, and its perpetual stability, let it be
repeated as an immutable and inviolable fundamental doctrine that matrimony was not
instituted or restored by man but by God; not by man were the laws made to strengthen
and confirm and elevate it but by God, the Author of nature, and by Christ Our Lord by
Whom nature was redeemed, and hence these laws cannot be subject to any human
decrees or to any contrary pact even of the spouses themselves. This is the doctrine of
Holy Scripture;2 this is the constant tradition of the Universal Church; this the solemn
definition of the sacred Council of Trent, which declares and establishes from the words
of Holy Writ itself that God is the Author of the perpetual stability of the marriage bond,
its unity and its firmness.3
6. Yet although matrimony is of its very nature of divine institution, the human will, too,
enters into it and performs a most noble part. For each individual marriage, inasmuch as
it is a conjugal union of a particular man and woman, arises only from the free consent
of each of the spouses; and this free act of the will, by which each party hands over and
accepts those rights proper to the state of marriage,4 is so necessary to constitute true
marriage that it cannot be supplied by any human power.5 This freedom, however,
regards only the question whether the contracting parties really wish to enter upon
matrimony or to marry this particular person; but the nature of matrimony is entirely
independent of the free will of man, so that if one has once contracted matrimony he is
thereby subject to its divinely made laws and its essential properties. For the Angelic
Doctor, writing on conjugal honor and on the offspring which is the fruit of marriage,
says: “These things are so contained in matrimony by the marriage pact itself that, if
anything to the contrary were expressed in the consent which makes the marriage, it
would not be a true marriage.”6
7. By matrimony, therefore, the souls of the contracting parties are joined and knit
together more directly and more intimately than are their bodies, and that not by any
passing affection of sense of spirit, but by a deliberate and firm act of the will; and from
this union of souls by God’s decree, a sacred and inviolable bond arises. Hence the
nature of this contract, which is proper and peculiar to it alone, makes it entirely different
both from the union of animals entered into by the blind instinct of nature alone in which
neither reason nor free will plays a part, and also from the haphazard unions of men,
which are far removed from all true and honorable unions of will and enjoy none of the
rights of family life.
8. From this it is clear that legitimately constituted authority has the right and therefore
the duty to restrict, to prevent, and to punish those base unions which are opposed to
reason and to nature; but since it is a matter which flows from human nature itself, no
less certain is the teaching of Our predecessor, Leo XIII of happy memory: 7 “In
choosing a state of life there is no doubt but that it is in the power and discretion of each
one to prefer one or the other: either to embrace the counsel of virginity given by Jesus
Christ, or to bind himself in the bonds of matrimony. To take away from man the natural
and primeval right of marriage, to circumscribe in any way the principal ends of
marriage laid down in the beginning by God Himself in the words ‘Increase and
multiply,’8 is beyond the power of any human law.”
9. Therefore the sacred partnership of true marriage is constituted both by the will of
God and the will of man. From God comes the very institution of marriage, the ends for
which it was instituted, the laws that govern it, the blessings that flow from it; while man,
through generous surrender of his own person made to another for the whole span of
life, becomes, with the help and cooperation of God, the author of each particular
marriage, with the duties and blessings annexed thereto from divine institution.
10. Now when We come to explain, Venerable Brethren, what are the blessings that
God has attached to true matrimony, and how great they are, there occur to Us the
words of that illustrious Doctor of the Church whom We commemorated recently in Our
Encyclical Ad Salutem on the occasion of the fifteenth centenary of his death:9 “These,”
says St. Augustine, “are all the blessings of matrimony on account of which matrimony
itself is a blessing; offspring, conjugal faith and the sacrament.”10 And how under these
three heads is contained a splendid summary of the whole doctrine of Christian