The Catechism of Trent 2700



Importance Of Instruction On This Sacrament

As it is the duty of the pastor to seek the holiness and perfection of the faithful, his earnest desires must be in full accordance with those expressed by the Apostle when writing to the Corinthians: I would that all men were even as myself, that is, that all should embrace the virtue of continence. No greater happiness can befall the faithful in this life than to have their souls distracted by no worldly cares, the unruly desires of the flesh tranquillised and restrained, and the mind fixed on the practice of piety and the contemplation of heavenly things.

But as, according to the same Apostle, every one hath his proper gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that; and as marriage is gifted with great and divine blessings, so much so as truly and properly to hold a place among the other Sacraments of the Catholic Church, and as its celebration was honoured by the presence of our Lord Himself, it is clear that this subject should be explained, particularly since we find that St. Paul and the Prince of the Apostles have in many places minutely described to us not only the dignity but also the duties of the married state. Filled with the Spirit of God (these Apostles) well understood the numerous and important advantages which must flow to Christian society from a knowledge, and an inviolable observance by the faithful of the sanctity of marriage; while they saw that from ignorance or disregard of (its holiness), many and serious calamities and losses must be brought upon the Church.

Nature and Meaning of Marriage

The nature and meaning of marriage are, therefore, to be first explained. Vice not infrequently assumes the semblance of virtue, and hence care must be taken that the faithful be not deceived by a false appearance of marriage, and thus stain their souls with turpitude and wicked lusts. To explain this subject, let us begin with the meaning of the word itself.

Names Of This Sacrament

The word matrimony is derived from the fact that the principal object which a female should propose to herself in marriage is to become a mother; or from the fact that to a mother it belongs to conceive, bring forth and train her offspring.

It is also called wedlock (conjugium) from joining together, because a lawful wife is united to her husband, as it were, by a common yoke.

It is called nuptials, because, as St. Ambrose observes, the bride veiled her face through modesty ­­ a custom which would also seem to imply that she was to be subject and obedient to her husband.

Definition Of Matrimony

Matrimony, according to the general opinion of theologians, is defined: The conjugal union of man and woman, contracted between two qualified persons, which obliges them to live together throughout life.

In order that the different parts of this definition may be better understood, it should be taught that, although a perfect marriage has all the following conditions, ­­ namely, internal consent, external compact expressed by words, the obligation and tie which arise from the contract, and the marriage debt by which it is consummated; yet the obligation and tie expressed by the word union alone have the force and nature of marriage.

The special character of this union is marked by the word conjugal. This word is added because other contracts, by which men and women bind themselves to help each other in consideration of money received or other reason, differ essentially from matrimony.

Next follow the words between qualified persons; for persons excluded by law cannot contract marriage, and if they do their marriage is invalid. Persons, for instance, within the fourth degree of kindred, a boy before his fourteenth year, and a female before her twelfth, the ages established by law, cannot contract marriage.

The words, which obliges them to live together throughout life, express the indissolubility of the tie which binds husband and wife.

Essence And Cause Of Marriage

Hence it is evident that marriage consists in the tie spoken of above. Some eminent theologians, it is true, say that it consists in the consent, as when they define it: The consent of the man and woman. But we are to understand them to mean that the consent is the efficient cause of marriage, which is the doctrine of the Fathers of the Council of Florence; because, without the consent and contract, the obligation and tie cannot possibly exist.

The Kind of Consent Required in Matrimony

It is most necessary that the consent be expressed in words denoting present time.


Marriage is not a mere donation, but a mutual agreement; and therefore the consent of one of the parties is insufficient for marriage, the consent of both being essential.


To declare this consent words are obviously necessary. If the internal consent alone, without any external indication, were sufficient for marriage, it would then seem to follow as a necessary consequence, that were two persons, living in the most separate and distant countries, to consent to marry, they would contract a true and indissoluble marriage, even before they had mutually signified to each other their consent by letter or messenger ­­ a consequence as repugnant to reason as it is opposed to the decrees and established usage of holy Church.


Rightly was it said that the consent must be expressed in words which have reference to present time; for words which signify a future time, promise, but do not actually unite in marriage. Besides, it is evident that what is to be done has no present existence, and what has no present existence can have little or no firmness or stability. Hence a man who has only promised to marry a certain woman acquires by the promise no marriage rights, since his promise has not yet been fulfilled. Such promises are, it is true, obligatory, and their violation involves the offending party in a breach of faith. But he who has once entered into the matrimonial alliance, regret it as he afterwards may, cannot possibly change, or invalidate, or undo what has been done.

As, then, the marriage contract is not a mere promise, but a transfer of right, by which the man actually yields the dominion of his body to the woman, the woman the dominion of her body to the man, it must therefore be made in words which designate the present time, the force of which words abides with undiminished efficacy from the moment of their utterance, and binds the husband and wife by a tie that cannot be broken.

Instead of words, however, it may be sufficient for marriage to substitute a nod or other unequivocal sign of internal consent. Even silence, when the result of female modesty, may be sufficient, provided the parents answer for their daughter.

The Essence of Marriage Constituted by the Consent

Hence pastors should teach the faithful that the nature and force of marriage consists in the tie and obligation; and that, without consummation, the consent of the parties, expressed in the manner already explained, is sufficient to constitute a true marriage. It is certain that our first parents before their fall, when, according to the holy Fathers, no consummation took place, were really united in marriage. Hence the Fathers say that marriage consists not in its use but in the consent. This doctrine is repeated by St. Ambrose in his book On Virgins.

Twofold Consideration of Marriage

When these matters have been explained, it should be taught that matrimony is to be considered from two points of view, either as a natural union, since it was not invented by man but instituted by nature; or as a Sacrament, the efficacy of which transcends the order of nature.

Marriage As A Natural Contract

As grace perfects nature, and as that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; afterwards that which is spiritual, the order of our matter requires that we first treat of Matrimony as a natural contract, imposing natural duties, and next consider what pertains to it as a Sacrament.

Instituted By God

The faithful, therefore, are to be taught in the first place that marriage was instituted by God. We read in Genesis that God created them male and female, and blessed them, saying: "Increase and multiply"; and also: "It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.,' And a little further on: But for Adam there was not found a helper like himself. Then the Lord God cast a deep sleep upon Adam; and when he was fast asleep, he took one of his ribs, and filled up flesh for it. And the Lord God built a rib which he took from Adam. into a woman, and brought her to Adam; and Adam said: "This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called woman, because she was taken out of man: wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh," These words, according to the authority of our Lord Himself, as we read in St. Matthew, prove the divine institution. of Matrimony.

Marriage Is Indissoluble By Divine Law

Not only did God institute marriage; He also, as the Council of Trent declares, rendered it perpetual and indissoluble.' What God hath joined together, says our Lord, let not man separate.

Although it belongs to marriage as a natural contract to be indissoluble, yet its indissolubility arises principally from its nature as a Sacrament, as it is the sacramental character that, in all its natural relations, elevates marriage to the highest perfection. In any event, dissolubility is at once opposed to the proper education of children, and to the other advantages of marriage.

Marriage Not Obligatory On All

The words increase and multiply, which were uttered by the Lord, do not impose on every individual an obligation to marry, but only declare the purpose of the institution of marriage. Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness. For our Lord and Saviour taught as follows: He that can take it, let him take it; and the Apostle says: Concerning virgins I have no commandment from the Lord; but I give counsel as having obtained mercy from the Lord to be faithful.

The Motives And Ends Of Marriage

We have now to explain why man and woman should be joined in marriage. First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age.

A second reason for marriage is the desire of family, not so much, however, with a view to leave after us heirs to inherit our property and fortune, as to bring up children in the true faith and in the service of God. That such was the principal object of the holy Patriarchs when they married is clear from Scripture. Hence the Angel, when informing Tobias of the means of repelling the violent assaults of the evil demon, says: I will show thee who they are over whom the devil can prevail; for they who in such manner receive matrimony as to shut out God from themselves and from their mind, and to give themselves to their lust, as the horse and mule which have not understanding, over them the devil hath power. He then adds: Thou shalt take the virgin with the fear of the Lord, moved rather for love of children than for lust, that in the seed of Abraham thou mayest obtain a blessing in children. It was also for this reason that God instituted marriage from the beginning; and therefore married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime ­­ nothing less than wicked conspiracy to commit murder.

A third reason has been added, as a consequence of the fall of our first parents. On account of the loss of original innocence the passions began to rise in rebellion against right reason; and man, conscious of his own frailty and unwilling to fight the battles of the flesh, is supplied by marriage with an antidote by which to avoid sins of lust. For fear of fornication, says the Apostle, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband; and a little after, having recommended to married persons a temporary abstinence from the marriage debt, to give themselves to prayer, he adds: Return together again, lest Satan tempt you for your incontinency.

These are ends, some one of which, those who desire to contract marriage piously and religiously, as becomes the children of the Saints, should propose to themselves. If to these we add other causes which induce to contract marriage, and, in choosing a wife, to prefer one person to another, such as the desire of leaving an heir, wealth, beauty, illustrious descent, congeniality of disposition ­­ such motives, because not inconsistent with the holiness of marriage, are not to be condemned. We do not find that the Sacred Scriptures condemn the Patriarch Jacob for having chosen Rachel for her beauty, in preference to Lia.

So much should be explained regarding Matrimony as a natural contract.

Marriage Considered as a Sacrament

It will now be necessary to explain that Matrimony is far superior in its sacramental aspect and aims at an incomparably higher end. For as marriage, as a natural union, was instituted from the beginning to propagate the human race; so was the sacramental dignity subsequently conferred upon it in order that a people might be begotten and brought up for the service and worship of the true God and of Christ our Saviour.

Thus when Christ our Lord wished to give a sign of the intimate union that exists between Him and His Church and of His immense love for us, He chose especially the sacred union of man and wife. That this sign was a most appropriate one will readily appear from the fact that of all human relations there is none that binds so closely as the marriage­tie, and from the fact that husband and wife are bound to one another by the bonds of the greatest affection and love. Hence it is that Holy Writ so frequently represents to us the divine union of Christ and the Church under the figure of marriage.

Marriage Is A Sacrament

That Matrimony is a Sacrament the Church, following the authority of the Apostle, has always held to be certain and incontestable. In his Epistle to the Ephesians he writes: Men should love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the church; for we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall adhere to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the church. Now his expression, this is a great sacrament, undoubtedly refers to Matrimony, and must be taken to mean that the union of man and wife, which has God for its Author, is a Sacrament, that is, a sacred sign of that most holy union that binds Christ our Lord to His Church.

That this is the true and proper meaning of the Apostle's words is shown by the ancient holy Fathers who have interpreted them, and by the explanation furnished by the Council of Trent. It is indubitable, therefore, that the Apostle compares the husband to Christ, and the wife to the Church; that the husband is head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; and that for this very reason the husband should love his wife and the wife love and respect her husband. For Christ loved his church, and gave himself for her; while as the same Apostle teaches, the church is subject to Christ.

That grace is also signified and conferred by this Sacrament, which are two properties that constitute the principal characteristics of each Sacrament, is declared by the Council as follows: By his passion Christ, the Author and Perfecter of the venerable Sacraments, merited for us the grace that perfects the natural love (of husband and wife), confirms their indissoluble union, and sanctifies them. It should, therefore, be shown that by the grace of this Sacrament husband and wife are joined in the bonds of mutual love, cherish affection one towards the other, avoid illicit attachments and passions, and so keep their marriage honourable in all things, . . . and their bed undefiled.

Marriage before Christ

It Was Not A Sacrament

How much the Sacrament of Matrimony is superior to the marriages made both previous to and under the (Mosaic) Law may be judged from the fact that though the Gentiles themselves were convinced there was something divine in marriage, and for that reason regarded promiscuous intercourse as contrary to the law of nature, while they also considered fornication, adultery and other kinds of impurity to be punishable offences; yet their marriages never had any sacramental value.

Among the Jews the laws of marriage were observed far more religiously, and it cannot be doubted that their unions were endowed with more holiness. As they had received from God the promise that in the seed of Abraham all nations should be blessed," it was justly considered by them to be a very pious duty to bring forth children, and thus contribute to the propagation of the chosen people from whom Christ the Lord and Saviour was to derive His birth in His human nature. Still their unions also fell short of the real nature of a Sacrament.

Before Christ Marriage Had Fallen From Its Primitive Unity And Indissolubility

It should be added that if we consider the law of nature after the fall and the Law of Moses we shall easily see that­marriage had fallen from its original honour and purity. Thus under the law of nature we read of many of the ancient Patriarchs that they had several wives at the same time; while under the Law of Moses it was permissible, should cause exist, to repudiate one's wife by giving her a bill of divorce. Both these (concessions) have been suppressed by the law of the Gospel, and marriage has been restored to its original state.

Christ Restored to Marriage its Primitive Qualities

Unity Of Marriage

Though some of the ancient Patriarchs are not to be blamed for having married several wives, since they did not act thus without divine dispensation, yet Christ our Lord has clearly shown that polygamy is not in keeping with the nature of Matrimony. These are His words: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh; and He adds: wherefore they are no more two but one flesh. In these words He makes it clear that God instituted marriage to be the union of two, and only two persons. The same truth He has taught very distinctly in another passage, wherein He says: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her; and if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. For if it were lawful for a man to have several wives, there is no reason why he who takes to himself a second wife, along with the wife he already has, should be regarded as more guilty of adultery than if he had dismissed his first wife and taken a second.

Hence it is that when an infidel who, following the customs of his country has married several wives, happens to be converted to the true religion, the Church orders him to dismiss all but the first, and regard her alone as his true and lawful wife.

Indissolubility Of Marriage

The self­same testimony of Christ our Lord easily proves that the marriage­tie cannot be broken by any sort of divorce. For if by a bill of divorce a woman were freed from the law that binds her to her husband, she might marry another husband without being in the least guilty of adultery. Yet our Lord says clearly: Whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another committeth adultery. Hence it is plain that the bond of marriage can be dissolved by death alone, as is confirmed by the Apostle when he says: A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband die she is at liberty; let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord; and again: To them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband; and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. To the wife, then, who for a just cause has left her husband, the Apostle offers this alternative: Let her either remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. Nor does holy Church permit husband and wife to separate without weighty reasons.

Advantages Of Indissolubility

Lest, however, the law of Matrimony should seem too severe on account of its absolute indissolubility, the advantages of this indissolubility should be pointed out.

The first (beneficial consequence) is that men are given to understand that in entering Matrimony virtue and congeniality of disposition are to be preferred to wealth or beauty ­­ a circumstance that cannot but prove of the very highest advantage to the interests of society at large.

In the second place, if marriage could be dissolved by divorce, married persons would hardly ever be without causes of disunion, which would be daily supplied by the old enemy of peace and purity; while, on the contrary, now that the faithful must remember that even though separated as to bed and board, they remain none the less bound by the bond of marriage with no hope of marrying another, they are by this very fact rendered less prone to strife and discord. And even if it sometimes happens that husband and wife become separated, and are unable to bear the want of their partnership any longer, they are easily reconciled by friends and return to their common life.

The pastor should not here omit the salutary admonition of St. Augustine who, to convince the faithful that they should not consider it a hardship to receive back the wife they have put away for adultery, provided she repents of her crime, observes: Why should not the Christian husband receive back his wife when the Church receives her? And why should not the wife pardon her adulterous but penitent husband when Christ has already pardoned him? True it is that Scripture calls him foolish who keepeth an adulteress ; but the meaning refers to her who refuses to repent of her crime and quit the disgraceful course she has entered on.

From all this it will be clear that Christian marriage is far superior in dignity and perfection to that of Gentiles and Jews.

The Three Blessings of Marriage

The faithful should also be shown that there are three blessings of marriage: children, fidelity and the Sacrament. These are blessings which to some degree compensate for the inconveniences referred to by the Apostle in the words: Such shall have tribulation of the flesh, and they lead to this other result that sexual intercourse, which is sinful outside of marriage, is rendered right and honourable.


The first blessing, then, is a family, that is to say, children born of a true and lawful wife. So highly did the Apostle esteem this blessing that he says: The woman shall be saved by bearing children.' These words are to be understood not only of bearing children, but also of bringing them up and training them to the practice of piety; for the Apostle immediately subjoins: If she continue in faith. Scripture says: Hast thou children? Instruct them and bow down their necks from childhood. The same is taught by the Apostle; while Tobias, Job and other holy Patriarchs in Sacred Scripture furnish us with beautiful examples of such training. The duties of both parents and children will, however, be set forth in detail when we come to speak of the fourth Commandment.


The second advantage of marriage is faith, not indeed that virtue which we receive in Baptism; but the fidelity which binds wife to husband and husband to wife in such a way that they mutually deliver to each other power over their bodies, promising at the same time never to violate the holy bond of Matrimony. This is easily inferred from the words pronounced by Adam when taking Eve as his wife, and which were afterwards confirmed by Christ our Lord in the Gospel: Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh. It is also inferred from the words of the Apostle: The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and in like manner, the husband hath not power of his own body but the wife. Justly, then, did the Lord in the Old Law ordain the most severe penalties against adulterers who violated this conjugal fidelity.

Matrimonial fidelity also demands that they love one another with a special, holy and pure love; not as adulterers love one another but as Christ loves His Church. This is the rule laid down by the Apostle when he says: Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the church. And surely (Christ's) love for His Church was immense; it was a love inspired not by His own advantage, but only by the advantage of His spouse.


The third advantage is called the Sacrament, that is to say, the indissoluble bond of marriage. As the Apostle has it: The Lord commanded that the wife depart not from the husband, and if she depart that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to' her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife. And truly, if marriage as a Sacrament represents the union of Christ with His Church, it also necessarily follows that just as Christ never separates Himself from His Church, so in like manner the wife can never be separated from her husband in so far as regards the marriage­tie.

The Duties of Married People

The more easily to preserve the holy state (of marriage) from dissensions, the duties of husband and wife as inculcated by St. Paul and by the Prince of the Apostles must be explained.

Duties Of A Husband

It is the duty of the husband to treat his wife generously and honourably. It should not be forgotten that Eve was called by Adam his companion. The woman, he says, whom thou gavest me as a companion. Hence it was, according to the opinion of some of the holy Fathers, that she was formed not from the feet but from the side of man; as, on the other hand, she was not formed from his head, in order to give her to understand that it was not hers to command but to obey her husband.

The husband should also be constantly occupied in some honest pursuit with a view to provide necessaries for the support of his family and to avoid idleness, the root of almost every vice.

He is also to keep all his family in order, to correct their morals, and see that they faithfully discharge their duties.

Duties Of A Wife

On the other hand, the duties of a wife are thus summed up by the Prince of the Apostles: Let wives be subject to their husbands. that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word by the conversation of the wives, considering your chaste conversation with fear. Let not their adorning be the outward plaiting of the hair, or the wearing of gold, or the putting on of apparel: but the hidden man of the heart in the incorruptibility of a quiet and meek spirit, which is rich in the sight of God. For after this manner heretofore the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling hint lord.

To train their children in the practice of virtue and to pay particular attention to their domestic concerns should also be especial objects of their attention. The wife should love to remain at home, unless compelled by necessity to go out; and she should never presume to leave home without her husband's consent.

Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let wives never forget that next to God they are to love their husbands, to esteem them above all others, yielding to them in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, a willing and ready obedience.

The Law of the Church on Marriage

The Rite To Be Observed

Having explained these matters, pastors should next teach what rites are to be observed in contracting marriage. There is no need, however, that we dwell on these questions here. The Council of Trent has laid down fully and accurately what must be chiefly observed; and this decree will not be unknown to pastors. It will suffice, then, to admonish them­to study to make themselves acquainted, from the doctrine of the Council, with what regards this subject, and to explain it carefully to the faithful.

But above all, lest young persons, whose period of life is marked by extreme indiscretion, should be deceived by a merely nominal marriage and foolishly rush into sinful love­unions, the pastor cannot too frequently remind them that there can be no true and valid marriage unless it be contracted in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest commissioned by him, or by the Ordinary, and that of a certain number of witnesses.

The Impediments Of Marriage

The impediments of marriage are also to be explained, a subject so minutely and accurately treated by many grave and learned writers on the virtues and vices as to render it an easy task to draw upon their labours, particularly as the pastor has occasion to have such works continually in his hands. The instructions, therefore, which such books contain, and also the decrees of the Council with regard to the impediments arising from spiritual relationship, from public honesty, and from fornication, the pastor should peruse with attention and expound with care.

The Recipient of Matrimony

Dispositions With Which The Sacrament Is To Be Approached

From the above may be learned the dispositions with which the faithful should contract matrimony. They should consider that they are about to enter upon a work that is not human but divine. The example of the Fathers of the Old Law, who esteemed marriage as a most holy and religious rite, although it had not then been raised to the dignity of a Sacrament, shows the singular purity of soul and piety (with which Christians should approach marriage).

Consent Of Parents

Among other things, children should be exhorted earnestly that they owe as a tribute of respect to their parents, or to those under whose guardianship and authority they are placed, not to contract marriage without their knowledge, still less in defiance of their express wishes. It should be observed that in the Old Law children were always given in marriage by their fathers; and that the will of the parent is always to have very great influence on the choice of the child, is clear from these words of the Apostle He that giveth his virgin in marriage doth well; and he that giveth her not, doth better.

The Use Of Marriage

Finally, the use of marriage is a subject which pastors should so treat as to avoid any expression that may be unfit to meet the ears of the faithful, that may be calculated to offend the piety of some, or excite the laughter of. others. The words of the Lord are chaste words; and the teacher of a Christian people should make use of the same kind of language, one that is characterised by singular gravity and purity of soul. Two lessons of instruction to the faithful are, then, to be specially insisted upon.

The first is that marriage is not to be used for purposes of lust or sensuality, but that its use is to be restrained within those limits which, as we have already shown, have been fixed by the Lord. It should be remembered that the Apostle admonishes: They that have wives, let them be as though they had them not, and that St. Jerome says: The love which a wise man cherishes towards his wife is the result of judgment, not the impulse of passion; he governs the impetuosity of desire, and is not hurried into indulgence. There is nothing more shameful than that a husband should love his wife as an adulteress.

But as every blessing is to be obtained from God by holy prayer, the faithful are also to be taught sometimes to abstain from the marriage debt, in order to devote themselves to prayer. Let the faithful understand that (this religious continence), according to the proper and holy injunction of our predecessors, is particularly to be observed for at least three days before Communion, and oftener during the solemn fast of Lent.

Thus will they find the blessings of marriage to be daily increased by an abundance of divine grace; and living in the pursuit of piety, they will not only spend this life in peace and tranquillity, but will also repose in the true and firm hope, which confoundeth not, of arriving, through the divine goodness, at the possession of that life which is eternal.

The Catechism of Trent 2700