We enter a marriage with at least some intent to grow in our love for the other person. It is true that we generally already do love the other person (as a possible counter-example, take arranged marriages). Yet, the point of a marriage is not as the expression that we already love the person, but that we intend to grow to love him or her more deeply. In the teachings of the Church, marriage has the two-fold purpose of procreation and fostering intimacy. But there is a right way and a wrong way to do both (or either) or these things. Hence, for example, marriage is exclusive, because the ability to become more permanently intimate is impaired in the presence of a polygamous (or polyandrous) relationship.
As an example of this, take Mr Walker Percy's "Lost in the Cosmos." During one chapter entitled "A Space Odyssey, Part 2," Mr Percy suggests (in a tongue-in-cheek manner) that for a long-term space-flight, the ideal arrangement was one man and three women, because the man could pair with each woman in succession (and thus never grow bored), while the two "left-over" women could pair up. This was presented as the "trousered ape" approach to sexuality: what is expedient, self-satisfying? Yet, the reader can't help but notice the flaw in the argument: is the man only using each of the three women in succession (and they him)? How is the "rejected" or "left-over" woman to feel, especially once the man has had relations with her and then turned to another? After several "rotations" of the women, will any really love this man, or indeed each other?
I answer that they will not, that they will ultimately grow weary of him, bitter of his boredom and use, and that they will become jealous of each other to boot. And as for the man, how will he really love them if he can put each one away as soon as he grows bored with her, or upset? Such is not love, but use, and no intimacy may grow of such an arrangement save perhaps sexual intimacy, and this will ultimately be shallow too. In the words of Professor J Budziszewski, they will not so much be intimate with each other as using each other's bodies for mutual masturbation. This is not a condition which fosters a loving relationship between persons.
Thus, polygamy can be reduced to a sort of "serial monogamy," which hinders (if not prohibiting) love from growing between the spouses. This is the nature of the exclusivity of the marriage, but it also is of the permanence of the marriage. A dissolvable marriage will be dissolved, and we have seen in modern times that this is indeed what occurs. Some people may complain that they feel "trapped" in their marriage and "imprisoned" by their family, and ask how this can be the loving choice. Perhaps the answer is that in our fallen and sinful nature, a seeming trap is what may be needed for us to grow in love.
Consider, for example, your "first" family, that is, the one into which you were born and by which you were raised. If your childhood was anything like mine, you had two parents and some siblings. At the very least you had a guardian. Now, there were many times when this arrangement might feel like a "trap" to you, as one of the children: you are "stuck" living with these people for many years to come. You live with them, with all their imperfections, with all their annoying habits, with all their demands upon you and the grievances associated therewith. There will be quarrels and tantrums, hurt feelings and whatnot, but after so many years living together, do you not find that you love your siblings for all that? And your parents? I can certainly say that I love my brothers more for having lived with them for so long. If, then, the family is a sort of prison or trap, perhaps it is only to prevent one member from leaving at the first sign of unpleasantry, much to his or her own loss.
Indeed, the beauty of the family in general and marriage in particular is that these things force you to get to know the other people. They do, ideally, bring out the best parts of each member of the family. Indeed, the spouses especially are able to manifest their "good side" to each other. They also may at times manifest their "bad" sides, and in a way which is not known as well to even very close friends. Every person wants his good side to be known--however successful of unsuccessful he may be at showing it to the world--but very few want their bad side to be widely known. In marriage, these secrets become known to another--whatever private sins the husband may have, whatever the private vices of the wife may be, but also his tenderheartedness or her moral toughness--these are revealed to the spouse as a foreshadowing of their revelation during the particular and general judgments.
It is not difficult to see how love may grow between the spouses when they discover something "good" about each other. However, this is not always the case. Alas! We are fallen creatures all, filled with sins, we can be jealous or greedy, lustful or lazy or gluttonous, and filled with wrath, to say nothing of pride. Each of these things may contribute, in its own manner, to our downfall. The husband may develop a new hobby which brings him joy, much to the chagrin of the wife who is envious of the time she "loses" to this newfound activity. Or the wife's good humor may catch the husband in a bad mood and make it worse. The bad side of one spouse may be brought to light by the good side of another, if inadvertently.
My point, in bringing this up, is that the "bad" side of each spouse is what makes him or her more difficult to love. The nature of a marriage--that it is lifelong--forces each spouse to try to love the other in spite of those bad habits, those sins and vices. In this way, too, marriage helps love to develop--indeed, becomes a sort of "proving ground" for love. It was G K Chesterton who once wrote that "Love means loving the unlovable - or it is no virtue at all." Thus, marriage helps us to better learn how to love by giving us the opportunity to develop a since of charity, of selfless love. This in turn is the root of agape, the love of God for every person; by better loving our spouses, we may in turn learn how to more completely love our neighbor.
If love is kindled by joy, it is also tempered by adversity. This is true of all loves, but most especially of charity, agape. As St Paul wrote to the Corinthians,
"My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing. But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)Love "is not provoked to anger." It "beareth all things." It does not deal perversely nor envy. That St Paul includes these points in his epistles implies that we will at times be tempted to them. Love overcomes these, but we must be willing to suffer them if we are to be strengthened in our love. The hardships are a result of sin, on the one hand; but on the other hand, God permits them to help build us up, in this case to help build up love between spouses, and ultimately between neighbors. Saint James says something similar in the opening to his epistle:
"My brethren, count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience.  And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing. But if any of you want wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men abundantly, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" James 1:2-5).Now come the question: how does this relate back to morality? I earlier argued against polygamy and polyandry in the case of a marriage--not to mention adultery--and have now argued for the longevity of marriage (indeed, it is a life-long commitment). These are, I believe, two big points in the Catholic moral teaching concerning marriage. I believe, moreover, that much of the moral teaching in marriage is centered around that fruit of the holy Spirit which is perhaps the least loved by people today. C.S. Lewis once wrote of chastity that
"Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. There is no getting away from it: the old Christian rule is, 'Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.' Now this is so difficult and so contrary to our instinct, that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct, as it now is, has gone wrong"
There are two sides, then, to Lewis' analysis of Chastity: one within and one without marriage. I've given arguments for what I believe are two of the three big points to "complete faithfulness to your partner," but none at all for chastity outside of marriage. Before I turn to chastity outside of marriage, I should take a moment to address the last major point involving chastity within marriage: contraception. Most Protestant denominations once taught, and the Catholic Church has always and still does teach, that contraception is immoral.
It was not until the middle of the last century that the Protestants really began to waver on this point, and slowly abandoned their teachings concerning contraception; indeed, many Catholics expected the Church to follow suit, and so preempted her in doing likewise. Much to their surprise and chagrin, the Church did not waver, and n 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his famous (or infamous) encyclical, Humanae Vitae. The Holy Father explained in his encyclical that contraception offended against chastity, against the unity between spouses, against God's command to "be fruitful and multiply" (see Genesis 1:28), and indeed against God's design for us.
"This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act. The reason is that the fundamental nature of the marriage act, while uniting husband and wife in the closest intimacy, also renders them capable of generating new life—and this as a result of laws written into the actual nature of man and of woman. And if each of these essential qualities, the unitive and the procreative, is preserved, the use of marriage fully retains its sense of true mutual love and its ordination to the supreme responsibility of parenthood to which man is called....Men rightly observe that a conjugal act imposed on one's partner without regard to his or her condition or personal and reasonable wishes in the matter, is no true act of love, and therefore offends the moral order in its particular application to the intimate relationship of husband and wife. If they further reflect, they must also recognize that an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will."
Eight years earlier, a then little-known Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla--the man who would become our beloved Pope John Paul the Great--had published a book of his own on the subject, entitled Love and Responsibility, which was the beginning of what would later become known as the Theology of the Body. He uses some of the same arguments as does Pope Paul VI, but focuses much of his attention to the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual intercourse, and of the procreative and intimacy aspects of marriage. Throughout the book, he opposes to love not hate, but rather use.
Contraception prevent a person from making a free and unreserved gift of himself to--or receiving the same full and unreserved gift from--his spouse. This wounds against not only the procreative purpose of the marital act, but also therefore against the unitive purpose. In contracepting, each spouse is in effect saying to the other, "I make of myself a gift to you, but not my whole self. I will go a great distance for you, but only so far. I love you, but only so much." That this is antithetical to married love should be obvious to anyone who has recited the marriage, forswearing all others for her lover, for his beloved. If even this love is to be deliberately limited by the choice of the spouses, if they cannot, by choice, love each other unreservedly, then whom can they love?
The purpose of chastity, then, is to fight off that sin which reduces another person into an object for use: lust. Chastity is to order us to love the other person, and to subdue our own appetites so that we will be free to love. Morality, in the context of marriage, is the aide to chastity; the moral precepts regarding sex are the guidelines to being chaste. Morality, then, is an aspect of the truth concerning marriage, and helps to reveal the purpose of marriage. In a sense, then, morality reveals to us the truth about marriage, and in turn about ourselves. "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).
Finally, I should say a word about chastity and morality as they relate to people who are not yet married. The moral precepts regarding sex outside of marriage may be summarized as "complete abstinence until married." They demand abstinence from sexual intercourse (fornication), from masturbation (self-abuse), from pornography (fornication in the heart). Chastity goes further by insisting that we should not only not do these things, but also that we should enjoy the blessings which come from being single while anticipating the joys which come from marriage. By this, I mean that while abstinence is well and good, it is only the commandment--the precept, an item on the "do not" list--and not the fullness of chastity.
Rather, chastity demands that we find another outlet for love. It involves developing filios ("brotherly" love) and estorge (affection), and especially agape (charity, total and unlimited), not merely eros (sexual love). We are to form friendships and develop the other aspects of intimacy (e.g. emotional, spiritual, etc), both within marriage and before it. We are to form romantic relationships only to help us discern marriage, and not merely as a "status symbol," a "social thing," or to help us "fill in a hole" in our lives (be it sexual or otherwise). Indeed, one of the first questions asked by the priest of each person who is in preparation for marriage is, "Could you see yourself being happy [and stable] outside of a marriage?" If the answer is no, some counseling is generally needed before the couple is "fit" for marriage.
As to the moral precepts themselves, these are all set against separating the pleasures of sex from the purposes--procreative, unitive--to the detriment of all. Sin is habit-forming. meaning that once a certain habit of sin is begun, it is difficult to break free of this. Begin to have sex outside of marriage, and there is already a tendency to separate pleasure from union and procreation, physical intimacy from love, and sex from commitment. How much harder is it for a person who has begun to have sex without commitment to treat marriage as a commitment? How much harder is it to make a true--and total--gift of oneself in the marital act after marriage if one has practice in doing the opposite by having sexual relations before marriage? Practice tends to make one consistent: if a person "practices" sexual intercourse while unmarried, and thus practices "meaningless" sex before marriage, will the intercourse suddenly take on new meaning for him once married? I answer that it will not.
By the very nature of non-marital sex, it cannot be a full giving of the self to the other. True, a person may give a sort of gift of himself to his partner, and may even mean it. But so long as there is no commitment, he will hold back, and especially the woman will hold back a part of herself for fear of becoming an unwed (and too often, abandoned) mother. This holding back will become a habit, each person will associate this little bit of "self-reserve" with the act of sex, and so he will have greater difficulty in making a total and unreserved gift of himself after marriage. In my previous post about morality, I stated that
We each owe to God our whole selves. That means our spirit--mind, soul, will, intellect--and our bodies. Our bodies are a part of us, they are a part of our selves; this is a doctrine of the Faith, held over against the Gnostic claims that we are merely spirits which are trapped in (or which use) our bodies. Our bodies are us, the are the physical manifestation of our selves; or as St Thomas Aquinas puts it, "the body is the form of the soul."
Originally Published on the Catholic America Today blogs.