The Order of Marriage in Relation to Procreation


Last week I began writing about the right order of the family, as the foundation of all human social life. Following the lead of Jesus’ own words I highlighted the first two chapters of Genesis, the two ‘creation narratives’.

The first creation narrative (Genesis 1) reveals human marriage very objectively as serving God in the transmission, we could say, of the divine image from one generation to the next. The second creation narrative (Genesis 2) reveals the intimacy of love that should be found in marriage. Last week I pointed out how the subjective order of the intimacy of love must be subordinate to the objective order of the transmission of the divine image (and the life of grace), while at the same time the intimacy of love provides the optimum ‘cradle’ for the transmission of the divine image.

Today, I will turn my attention to the objective order of the transmission of human life, created in the divine image. We read: God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said: ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. (Gen 1:27-28)

To put the matter simply, the first ‘work’ of man in the order of created nature, is simply the multiplication of the divine image through marriage, procreation and education. The simple existence of a human being, a human person, in the image of God, is a great good. In the words of the Second Vatican Council: “Man … is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself.” (Gaudium et Spes 24) This good is brought to perfection through the growth and maturation of the human person, but achieves its fullness only through the order of grace by which the human person comes to share, here below, the life of God and, in eternity, the vision and embrace of the Holy Trinity.

Nevertheless, this fundamental work of man of transmitting the divine image is achieved through a twofold participation in that image. Male and female he created them.

The male begets a child in a woman, the woman obviously making her own contribution to the material and genetic makeup of the offspring. Pregnancy and motherhood weakens a woman for the sake of the child. In some measure this would be true even if sin had not entered the picture, but in a fallen world the capacity for motherhood is at once both the glory and burden of womanhood. The woman’s natural closeness to the child turns her inwards to the home and requires the support of her husband, who is left with the principle responsibility of subduing the earth in the service of human need.

Now both the man and the woman are created in God’s image. Both are to fulfill their role with intelligence as befits the dignity of that image. To say that a mother’s primary role is within the home does not mean that she has no role outside of the home; to say that the man’s primary role is outside the home in relation to the world, does not mean that he has no role within the home. Indeed, both father and mother are needed for the proper upbringing of a child.

Nevertheless, the mother’s instruction is more oriented to giving the child the fundamental security of belonging, while the father’s instruction is more oriented to calling the child out to meet the challenges of the world. This helps us perceive and understand the natural ‘headship’ of the husband, because it is his responsibility to represent and order the family with respect to the larger world. Together they share the care of the common good of the household, but the husband chiefly cares for the integration of the household into a larger whole.

The 3rd and 4th chapters of Genesis show us how the order of marriage and family was disrupted by sin. Through history, deformed by sin, the husband’s headship has often degenerated into an abusive lording it over the wife as a mere servant. We must observe also that throughout history, subject to sin, women have often sought to manipulate their husbands for the fulfillment of their own agendas, such as achieving higher social status.

The grace of Jesus Christ brings healing to sin, its inclinations and its effects. This is the context of the two famous passages of St. Paul’s Letters to the Ephesians and the Colossians (Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-21) that speak of the wife’s subordination to her husband. The larger context of Ephesians begins on this note: Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ love us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. (Eph 5:1-2) And Colossians: If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. (Col 3:1) When a Christian man and woman, living in grace, both strive to live in the manner set forth by St. Paul in these two letters, the order of man and woman in marriage becomes once again an ‘order of love’, a union of head and heart. (cf. Pius XI, Castii Connubii 26-29)

All this being said, it will be necessary to write something next week about the objective disorders that grace must overcome in order to establish in the family the order of love desired by God.



Fr. Joseph Levine graduated from Thomas Aquinas College and after a long journey was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Baker, Oregon. He currently serves as pastor of St. Peter Catholic Church in The Dalles on the Columbia River.

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