Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Marriage - Family - Children

by Pope Saint Paul VI


This is an address of Pope Paul to the members of the XIII National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center, February 12, 1966.

Larger Work

The American Ecclesiastical Review

Publisher & Date

The Catholic University of America Press, April 1966

1. It is a pleasure to greet this XIII National Congress of the Italian Feminine Center, and We gladly bestow Our praise and Our encouragement on all the wonderful people who are taking part in it. From the very beginning We have known the purpose, the activities and the merits of this federation. Its noble and sincere Christian inspiration, together with the broad and loyal openness of its member organizations, has won the well-deserved confidence of numerous groups of Italian women. We know the competent and practical activity of this federation. Besides its work of charity, it is forming women in the knowledge of and participation in public life.

Therefore We feel obliged to express Our recognition to all those who have supported these endeavors with their aid, their advice, their activity, and above all their persevering and faithful dedication. And We are especially referring here to the loyal officers. We wish once more to express the hope that all Italian women will sincerely want to adhere to the goals represented and promoted by the Italian Feminine Center. It is urgent for all Italian women to assert the effectiveness in modern life of the moral and spiritual values of Christianity and of the civil traditions of our country. It is likewise urgent to give to the presence of women in society an intelligent, positive and strong meaning.

2. The esteem and the hopes that We have expressed are confirmed by the program of your Congress. We wish it a happy success, certain as We are that its organizers and speakers, who are so well chosen and so competent, will give all the participants a sense of spirituality, seriousness and practicality.

Expectations Of The Council

3. With this certainty. We will not comment on your work. Instead, fixing Our attention on one point of the program—the family— let Us speak to you for a few moments on this subject, and let Us recall what the Ecumenical Council has succinctly stated on this matter. An exhaustive treatment of the subject was not possible in the Council, especially concerning the grave and complex problem of the norms relating to birth. It is still not possible to annul the reservation announced in Our Address of June 1964. But until We can give more precise teachings. We believe it is opportune for Us to say a few words of pastoral exhortation on the matter.

Our thoughts turn now in a particular way to the Christian couples and parents, who for the first time in the history of the Church were admitted to an active participation in an Ecumenical Council, as interpreters and representatives of all the married couples and parents in the Church, and indeed of all the families in the world.

4. Your presence at the Council, Our very dear children, means that the Church looks today in a particular way—with concern and love—at the family and its problems. Following the example of her divine Founder, she has always blessed the family and human love. But today more than ever she is aware that the physical and moral life of mankind, and even the effective spread of the kingdom of God, depend on the wholesomeness of the family and its fullness of spiritual life.

The Church also knows the dangers, which threaten and the difficulties, which attempt to undermine the stability of the family and its moral health. For this reason the Fathers of the Council have given particular attention to that chapter of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World which speaks of marriage and the family and of their problems.

5. As We were saying, the Council was not able to treat all the problems which Christian couples and parents face and wish to hear about. Some of these problems are so complex and delicate that they could not be easily discussed in a large assembly. Others required and still require deeper study. For this reason, as you know, a special pontifical commission has been established. It has been charged with making a thorough study of these problems in their various aspects—scientific, historical, sociological and doctrinal. The commission is also taking advantage of extensive consultations with Bishops and experts. We ask you to wait for the results of these studies and in the meantime to pray for them. The magisterium of the Church cannot propose moral norms until it is certain of interpreting the will of God. And to reach this certainty the Church is not dispensed from research and from examining the many questions proposed for her consideration from every part of the world. This is at times a long and not an easy task,

6. Meanwhile the Council has already approved a text, which We have promulgated in full agreement with the Council Fathers. It is the first chapter of the second part of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, dedicated precisely to the consideration of that great dignity which the Church attributes to marriage and to the family. Here We would like to remind you of some fundamental principles of the doctrine of the Church, which are able to illuminate the course to be taken for the good of the family and of all its members. It is like the message of the Council to the married couples and the families of the world, and in particular to Christian couples. We entrust you with the task of making this message known to all, and of being—through your word and the example of your life—its first faithful interpreters.

God's Work

7. 1. Marriage and the family are not only the work of man. They are not a human institution, produced and dominated in their intimate being by historical and environmental conditions, and changeable as these are. Marriage and the family come from God. They are God's work and correspond to an essential design, which He Himself has drawn. God's design stands above the changeable conditions of the times and remains unchanged through all these conditions. It is God who, by means of marriage and the family, wishes to make man a participant in His highest prerogatives: that of His love for men and of His capacity to create life. For this reason marriage and the family have a transcendental relationship with God. They come from Him and they are ordered to Him. Families are founded and live initially on earth, but they are meant to be reunited in heaven.

8. Any conception or doctrine whatsoever, which does not take into sufficient consideration this essential relation of marriage and the family to its divine origin and to a destiny which transcends human experience, will not understand the deepest reality of marriage and will be unable to find the correct way to solve its problems.

9. II. Through marriage and the family God has wisely united two of the greatest human realities: the mission of transmitting life, and the mutual and legitimate love between man and woman, by which they are called to complement each other in a reciprocal giving of themselves which is not only physical but above all spiritual. Or, even better, God has wished to make the spouses partakers of His love, of the personal love which He has for each one of them and by which He calls them to help each other and give themselves to each other in order to attain the fullness of their personal lives. He makes them partakers of the love, which He has for mankind and for all His children, and by which He wants to multiply the children of men in order to make them participate in His life and in His eternal happiness.

10. Born from God's creative and fatherly love, marriage finds the fundamental law of its moral value in the human love which corresponds to the design and the wishes of God; in the mutual love of the partners, by which each one pledges himself or herself entirely to help the other be what God wishes that partner to be; in the common desire of faithfully interpreting the love of God) creator and father, by generating new life.

11. "Married couples should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. Let them realize that they are thereby cooperators in the love of God the Creator and are, so to speak, interpreters of that love" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 50).

12. In this light, the couples find the laws of unity, indissolubility and mutual fidelity normal and necessary. Where love is lacking they could seem to be only a burden. And in this light they will find unsuspected sources of generosity, wisdom and strength to give life to others.

Consciousness Of Their Responsibility

13. III. The mission received from God of interpreting His creative and fatherly love demands of married couples today a greater consciousness of their human and Christian responsibility in the transmission of life.

14. The conditions of present-day life, different in many respects from those in the past and differing from one country to another, certainly do not justify egoism or fear—devoid of trust in God—in the fulfillment of this primary mission of the spouses. But these conditions require a mature decision, which takes into account all the aspects for seeking the greater good, and particularly their responsibility in regards to education.

15. God, the author of marriage and the family, has indeed willed that this question be regulated by laws made by Him and written in nature itself and in the manifold purposes of this divine institution. Christian couples will find in the duty of charity the light to solve their personal problems. In the observance of the divine law, God has in fact made the task and the joy of transmitting life their responsible decision, and no one can substitute them nor constrain their will. But the spouses should aim at a charity that is truly complete and universal. In the first place, they should aim at charity towards God, whose glory and the extension of whose kingdom they should desire. In the second place, they should aim at charity towards the children, putting into practice the principle that "Charity is not self-seeking" (I Cor. 13: 5). Then, to mutual charity, by which each one seeks the good of the other and anticipates his or her good desires, rather than imposing one's own will. Illuminated by the law of God, this attitude of charity will facilitate the way to the truth, namely to the correct solution of their problems: that which corresponds to the will of God concerning them, that about which they will have no remorse at the end of their lives, that whose fruits they will enjoy for all eternity.

16. Let the Second Vatican Council, which just closed inspire in Christian couples this spirit of generosity to increase the new people of God. Let it also arouse in them the desire of having children to offer to God in the priestly and religious life, for the salvation and service of their brothers and for their greater glory. May they always keep this in mind: the growth of the kingdom of God and the possibility for the Church to permeate mankind for its eternal and temporal salvation is also entrusted to their generosity.

Way To Sanctification

17. IV. The law of charity towards God, towards the partner and towards the children—with its consequent responsibilities—clearly indicates that Christian marriage and the Christian family demand a moral commitment. They are not an easy way of Christian life, even though the most common, the one which the majority of the children of God are called to travel. Rather, it is a long path toward sanctification which—when it is guided by the law of God and pervaded by love—is sustained by the daily joys and sacrifices, by the life that is outwardly most ordinary.

18. Christian couples know that they are never alone. The Council reminds them that, "The Saviour of men and the Spouse of the Church comes into the lives of married Christians through the sacrament of matrimony. He remains with them so that, just as He has loved the Church and has given Himself for Her, the spouses may love each other with a perpetual fidelity. Legitimate married love is caught up into divine love. It is governed and enriched by Christ's redeeming power and by the saving activity of the Church, so that the spouses may be effectively drawn to God and be helped and strengthened in their sublime mission of being a father or a mother" (Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, n. 48).

19. We entrust to you, Christian couples and parents, and to the many initiatives which today promote the spirituality of married life in the Church, the task of studying in an ever deeper way the richness of the sacrament of matrimony, its effects on the life of the spouses, the family and society. We entrust to you the task of helping all Christian couples to understand the gift they have received.

Parents And Children

20. V. In the framework of this dutiful moral commitment and of the greatness of the sacramental gift of matrimony, the Council reminds married Christians of another virtue, which they should cultivate. It is the virtue of conjugal chastity, strongly described by His Holiness Pius XI and again called to mind by Pius XII.

21. This law is neither new nor inhuman. It is a doctrine of honesty and wisdom, which the Church, enlightened by God, has always taught. With indissoluble ties it binds the legitimate expressions of married love to the service of God in the mission—which comes from Him—of transmitting life. It is a doctrine, which has ennobled and sanctified Christian married love. It has purified it from the selfishness of the flesh and from the selfishness of the spirit. It has purified it from the superficial search for the ephemeral reality of this world—a search, which prevents the giving of oneself to what is eternal. It is the doctrine and the virtue, which, throughout the centuries, has redeemed woman from the slavery of a duty endured by force and with humiliation. It has refined the sense of mutual respect and esteem among spouses. Let spouses understand that the virtue of purity in married life faithfully observed according to the law of God stimulates moral strength and brings spiritual riches: serenity, peace, greatness of soul, freshness of spirit. May they understand in a particular way the inestimable value, which this virtue possesses to prepare them for their task as educators. The following is true today as yesterday and always. In the life of their parents, children find the deepest formation for learning fidelity to God. In their obedience to God, parents find the assurance of the grace they need for their task as Christian educators—a difficult task today.

Sustained by Grace

22. Let them not become discouraged by the difficulties they find. Let them not abandon their fidelity to the Church. Instead, let them confidently trust in the power of divine grace, which they should insistently ask for in prayer. Rather than reducing the divine law to the standards of their own will, let them rise to the heights of the divine ideal. And through the daily renewal of their good will, let them start again on that way whose end is an eternity of life with God and whose reward on earth is a love which is deeper and which is a pledge of greater blessings. "Blessed are the clean of heart for they shall see God" (Matt. 5:8).

23. During these last years the whole People of God have insistently asked in prayer for a new Pentecost of the Church. We hope that God's mercy will grant His Church this request. This Pentecost cannot be a time of moral smugness. It has to be, instead, a time for greater commitment for all, including Christian couples. "Enter by the narrow gate … narrow is the gate and close the way that leads to life" (Matt. 7:13-14).

24. VI. These words of Ours are directed in the first place to Christian couples. But We want to extend them to all couples. And We hope that all the children of the Church will listen to the voice of their mother. We hope that with their generosity they will merit for all the people of God, for all men, the light necessary to fully understand the laws of God in regard to marriage. Then they will also obtain for the Church the light necessary to solve in accord with God's will the difficulties and the problems which are still under study.

25. Therefore, We ask Christian couples for a spirit of faith, for trust in God, for true charity towards God, towards one another and towards their children. Then, they will become for the world a "sign" of the sanctity of the Church, the faithful and glorious Spouse of Christ the Lord— a Spouse "not having spot or wrinkle . . . but holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:27).

26. We say these things before this wonderful assembly of the Italian Feminine Center, one of whose activities, one of whose merits, is that of honoring, assisting, instructing and defending the family and especially the woman of the family. For in the family, together with new cares and concerns, she finds her most natural and loving mission, her most recognized dignity, her surest guarantee of salvation and of reward. As St. Paul says: "Yet women will be saved by child-bearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with modesty" (I Timothy 2:15).

27. It is for you, then, Our dear daughters of the Italian Feminine Center, and for your assistants and teachers, to ponder these things and to spread them, with Our Apostolic Blessing.

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