Creation of Eve, Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, c. 1510-1511
If we asked, “What are the four goods of marriage?” would you know the answer? Did you learn about them in your marriage preparation? Have you ever heard a homily on the topic? If you are curious to know what the Church teaches on the goods of marriage, please read on.
God is the author of all creation and of marriage
Before we describe the goods of marriage, let’s take a look at marriage as God created it. There are two creation accounts in Holy Scripture, Genesis 1 and 2. In the second of these, when Adam was alone in the Garden of Eden, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:18 emphasis added). God then created all the living creatures in the air, on the earth, and in the sea and gave them to Adam “but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him” (Gen 2:20). The story continues…
So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. Genesis 2:21-24
In Genesis 1, God creates for five days, proclaiming at the end of each day, “It is good.” On the sixth day, God created man and woman, giving them to each other in marriage. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 emphasis added).
In all of creation, God calls man and woman united in Holy Matrimony, “very good!” Marriage is elevated to such a high level that God uses husband and wife united in marriage as an image of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church (see Eph 5:25-32). The love of husband and wife in marriage is also an image of the Holy Trinity, where the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father produces a third Person, the Holy Spirit. In the conjugal embrace, the love of husband and wife shares in the creative power of God by producing another person.
Goods of marriage reflect God’s plan for marriage
So, what are the four goods of marriage? They are woven into the very vows of the Marriage Rite of the Catholic Church when the bride and groom are asked these questions:
“Have you come here freely and without reservation…”
“…to give yourself to each other in marriage?”
“Will you love and honor each other as man and wife for the rest of you lives?”
“Will you accept children lovingly from God?”
These questions address the four goods of marriage: partnership, permanence, fidelity, and fruitfulness. Saint Augustine was the first to formulate the goods of marriage in De bono coniugali (AD 401). These were further developed by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his classical work Summa Theologiae (Supplementum, Q. 49), written between 1265 and1274. Pope Pius XI further refined them in his encyclical Casti connubii (1930). They are summarized in the The Goods and Requirements of Conjugal Love, the foundation of the Church’s teaching on marital unity (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1643 – 1654).
Permanence — This is the key to a successful marriage. Husband and wife commit to stay in their relationship no matter what.
Partnership — Husband and wife make a sincere gift of self to each other in marriage, mind, body, and spirit. Scripture says that they are to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21).
Fidelity — Husband and wife promise to be faithful to each other every day of their lives.
Fruitfulness — The marriage covenant is fundamentally ordered to procreation and the education of children in the faith.
Next week, we will discuss how to live out the four goods in your marriage.