Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part II, Section Two, Chapter 3
ARTICLE 7 - THE SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY
1601 "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between
themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered
toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring;
this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord
to the dignity of a sacrament."
I. MARRIAGE IN GOD'S PLAN
1602 Sacred Scripture begins with the creation of man and woman in the
image and likeness of God and concludes with a vision of "the wedding-feast
of the Lamb." Scripture speaks throughout of marriage and its "mystery,"
its institution and the meaning God has given it, its origin and its end,
its various realizations throughout the history of salvation, the difficulties
arising from sin and its renewal "in the Lord" in the New Covenant of Christ
and the Church.
Marriage in the order of creation
1603 "The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married
state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own
proper laws.... God himself is the author of marriage." The vocation
to marriage is written in the very nature of man and woman as they came
from the hand of the Creator. Marriage is not a purely human institution
despite the many variations it may have undergone through the centuries
in different cultures, social structures, and spiritual attitudes. These
differences should not cause us to forget its common and permanent characteristics.
Although the dignity of this institution is not transparent everywhere
with the same clarity, some sense of the greatness of the matrimonial
union exists in all cultures. "The well-being of the individual person
and of both human and Christian society is closely bound up with the healthy
state of conjugal and family life."
1604 God who created man out of love also calls him to love the fundamental
and innate vocation of every human being. For man is created in the image
and likeness of God who is himself love. Since God created him man
and woman, their mutual love becomes an image of the absolute and unfailing
love with which God loves man. It is good, very good, in the Creator's
eyes. And this love which God blesses is intended to be fruitful and to
be realized in the common work of watching over creation: "And God blessed
them, and God said to them: 'Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth
and subdue it.'"
1605 Holy Scripture affirms that man and woman were created for one
another: "It is not good that the man should be alone." The woman,
"flesh of his flesh," i.e., his counterpart, his equal, his nearest in
all things, is given to him by God as a "helpmate"; she thus represents
God from whom comes our help. "Therefore a man leaves his father and
his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh." The
Lord himself shows that this signifies an unbreakable union of their two
lives by recalling what the plan of the Creator had been "in the beginning":
"So they are no longer two, but one flesh."
Marriage under the regime of sin
1606 Every man experiences evil around him and within himself. This experience
makes itself felt in the relationships between man and woman. Their union
has always been threatened by discord, a spirit of domination, infidelity,
jealousy, and conflicts that can escalate into hatred and separation. This
disorder can manifest itself more or less acutely, and can be more or less
overcome according to the circumstances of cultures, eras, and individuals,
but it does seem to have a universal character.
1607 According to faith the disorder we notice so painfully does not
stem from the nature of man and woman, nor from the nature of their relations,
but from sin. As a break with God, the first sin had for its first consequence
the rupture of the original communion between man and woman. Their relations
were distorted by mutual recriminations; their mutual attraction, the
Creator's own gift, changed into a relationship of domination and lust;
and the beautiful vocation of man and woman to be fruitful, multiply, and
subdue the earth was burdened by the pain of childbirth and the toil of
1608 Nevertheless, the order of creation persists, though seriously
disturbed. To heal the wounds of sin, man and woman need the help of the
grace that God in his infinite mercy never refuses them. Without his
help man and woman cannot achieve the union of their lives for which God
created them "in the beginning."
Marriage under the pedagogy of the Law
1609 In his mercy God has not forsaken sinful man. The punishments consequent
upon sin, "pain in childbearing" and toil "in the sweat of your brow,"
also embody remedies that limit the damaging effects of sin. After the
fall, marriage helps to overcome self-absorption, egoism, pursuit of one's
own pleasure, and to open oneself to the other, to mutual aid and to self-giving.
1610 Moral conscience concerning the unity and indissolubility of marriage
developed under the pedagogy of the old law. In the Old Testament the polygamy
of patriarchs and kings is not yet explicitly rejected. Nevertheless, the
law given to Moses aims at protecting the wife from arbitrary domination
by the husband, even though according to the Lord's words it still carries
traces of man's "hardness of heart" which was the reason Moses permitted
men to divorce their wives.
1611 Seeing God's covenant with Israel in the image of exclusive and
faithful married love, the prophets prepared the Chosen People's conscience
for a deepened understanding of the unity and indissolubility of marriage.
The books of Ruth and Tobit bear moving witness to an elevated sense of
marriage and to the fidelity and tenderness of spouses. Tradition has always
seen in the Song of Solomon a unique expression of human love, a pure reflection
of God's love - a love "strong as death" that "many waters cannot quench."
Marriage in the Lord
1612 The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared
the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by
becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain
way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for "the wedding-feast of
1613 On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign
- at his mother's request - during a wedding feast. The Church attaches
great importance to Jesus' presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in
it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that
thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.
1614 In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning
of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning
permission given by Moses to divorce one's wife was a concession to the
hardness of hearts. The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble:
God himself has determined it "what therefore God has joined together,
let no man put asunder."
1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage
bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible
to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible
to bear, or too heavy - heavier than the Law of Moses. By coming to
restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives
the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign
of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up
their crosses that spouses will be able to "receive" the original meaning
of marriage and live it with the help of Christ. This grace of Christian
marriage is a fruit of Christ's cross, the source of all Christian life.
1616 This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: "Husbands,
love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
that he might sanctify her," adding at once: "'For this reason a man shall
leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall
become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ
and the Church."
1617 The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of
Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God,
is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes
the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes
an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.
Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons
is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.
Virginity for the sake of the Kingdom
1618 Christ is the center of all Christian life. The bond with him takes
precedence over all other bonds, familial or social. From the very
beginning of the Church there have been men and women who have renounced
the great good of marriage to follow the Lamb wherever he goes, to be intent
on the things of the Lord, to seek to please him, and to go out to meet
the Bridegroom who is coming. Christ himself has invited certain persons
to follow him in this way of life, of which he remains the model:
"For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs
who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made
themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able
to receive this, let him receive it."
1619 Virginity for the sake of the kingdom of heaven is an unfolding
of baptismal grace, a powerful sign of the supremacy of the bond with Christ
and of the ardent expectation of his return, a sign which also recalls
that marriage is a reality of this present age which is passing away.
1620 Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of
God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants
them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity
with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom
and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable, and they reinforce
Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity.
Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What
appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The
most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be
II. THE CELEBRATION OF MARRIAGE
1621 In the Latin Rite the celebration of marriage between two Catholic
faithful normally takes place during Holy Mass, because of the connection
of all the sacraments with the Paschal mystery of Christ. In the Eucharist
the memorial of the New Covenant is realized, the New Covenant in which
Christ has united himself for ever to the Church, his beloved bride for
whom he gave himself up. It is therefore fitting that the spouses
should seal their consent to give themselves to each other through the
offering of their own lives by uniting it to the offering of Christ for
his Church made present in the Eucharistic sacrifice, and by receiving
the Eucharist so that, communicating in the same Body and the same Blood
of Christ, they may form but "one body" in Christ.
1622 "Inasmuch as it is a sacramental action of sanctification, the
liturgical celebration of marriage . . . must be, per se, valid, worthy,
and fruitful." It is therefore appropriate for the bride and groom
to prepare themselves for the celebration of their marriage by receiving
the sacrament of penance.
1623 In the Latin Church, it is ordinarily understood that the spouses,
as ministers of Christ's grace, mutually confer upon each other the sacrament
of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church. In the Eastern
liturgies the minister of this sacrament (which is called "Crowning") is
the priest or bishop who, after receiving the mutual consent of the spouses,
successively crowns the bridegroom and the bride as a sign of the marriage
1624 The various liturgies abound in prayers of blessing and epiclesis
asking God's grace and blessing on the new couple, especially the bride.
In the epiclesis of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit
as the communion of love of Christ and the Church. The Holy Spirit
is the seal of their covenant, the ever available source of their love
and the strength to renew their fidelity.
III. MATRIMONIAL CONSENT
1625 The parties to a marriage covenant are a baptized man and woman, free
to contract marriage, who freely express their consent; "to be free" means:
- not being under constraint;
- not impeded by any natural or ecclesiastical law.
1626 The Church holds the exchange of consent between the spouses to
be the indispensable element that "makes the marriage." If consent
is lacking there is no marriage.
1627 The consent consists in a "human act by which the partners mutually
give themselves to each other": "I take you to be my wife" - "I take you
to be my husband." This consent that binds the spouses to each other
finds its fulfillment in the two "becoming one flesh."
1628 The consent must be an act of the will of each of the contracting
parties, free of coercion or grave external fear. No human power can
substitute for this consent. If this freedom is lacking the marriage
1629 For this reason (or for other reasons that render the marriage
null and void) the Church, after an examination of the situation by the
competent ecclesiastical tribunal, can declare the nullity of a marriage,
i.e., that the marriage never existed. In this case the contracting
parties are free to marry, provided the natural obligations of a previous
union are discharged.
1630 The priest (or deacon) who assists at the celebration of a marriage
receives the consent of the spouses in the name of the Church and gives
the blessing of the Church. The presence of the Church's minister (and
also of the witnesses) visibly expresses the fact that marriage is an ecclesial
1631 This is the reason why the Church normally requires that the faithful
contract marriage according to the ecclesiastical form. Several reasons
converge to explain this requirement:
- Sacramental marriage is a liturgical act. It is therefore appropriate
that it should be celebrated in the public liturgy of the Church;
- Marriage introduces one into an ecclesial order, and creates rights
and duties in the Church between the spouses and towards their children;
- Since marriage is a state of life in the Church, certainty about it is
necessary (hence the obligation to have witnesses);
- The public character of the consent protects the "I do" once given
and helps the spouses remain faithful to it.
1632 So that the "I do" of the spouses may be a free and responsible
act and so that the marriage covenant may have solid and lasting human
and Christian foundations, preparation for marriage is of prime importance.
The example and teaching given by parents and families remain the special
form of this preparation.
The role of pastors and of the Christian community as the "family of
God" is indispensable for the transmission of the human and Christian values
of marriage and family, and much more so in our era when many young
people experience broken homes which no longer sufficiently assure this
It is imperative to give suitable and timely instruction to young people,
above all in the heart of their own families, about the dignity of married
love, its role and its exercise, so that, having learned the value of chastity,
they will be able at a suitable age to engage in honorable courtship and
enter upon a marriage of their own.
Mixed marriages and disparity of cult
1633 In many countries the situation of a mixed marriage (marriage between
a Catholic and a baptized non-Catholic) often arises. It requires particular
attention on the part of couples and their pastors. A case of marriage
with disparity of cult (between a Catholic and a nonbaptized person) requires
even greater circumspection.
1634 Difference of confession between the spouses does not constitute
an insurmountable obstacle for marriage, when they succeed in placing in
common what they have received from their respective communities, and learn
from each other the way in which each lives in fidelity to Christ. But
the difficulties of mixed marriages must not be underestimated. They arise
from the fact that the separation of Christians has not yet been overcome.
The spouses risk experiencing the tragedy of Christian disunity even in
the heart of their own home. Disparity of cult can further aggravate these
difficulties. Differences about faith and the very notion of marriage,
but also different religious mentalities, can become sources of tension
in marriage, especially as regards the education of children. The temptation
to religious indifference can then arise.
1635 According to the law in force in the Latin Church, a mixed marriage
needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority.
In case of disparity of cult an express dispensation from this impediment
is required for the validity of the marriage. This permission or dispensation
presupposes that both parties know and do not exclude the essential ends
and properties of marriage and the obligations assumed by the Catholic
party concerning the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic
1636 Through ecumenical dialogue Christian communities in many regions
have been able to put into effect a common pastoral practice for mixed
marriages. Its task is to help such couples live out their particular situation
in the light of faith, overcome the tensions between the couple's obligations
to each other and towards their ecclesial communities, and encourage the
flowering of what is common to them in faith and respect for what separates
1637 In marriages with disparity of cult the Catholic spouse has a particular
task: "For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and
the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband." It is a
great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this "consecration"
should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian
faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of the
family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing
spouse to accept the grace of conversion.
IV. THE EFFECTS OF THE SACRAMENT OF
1638 "From a valid marriage arises a bond between the spouses which by
its very nature is perpetual and exclusive; furthermore, in a Christian
marriage the spouses are strengthened and, as it were, consecrated for
the duties and the dignity of their state by a special sacrament."
The marriage bond
1639 The consent by which the spouses mutually give and receive one another
is sealed by God himself. From their covenant arises "an institution,
confirmed by the divine law, . . . even in the eyes of society." The
covenant between the spouses is integrated into God's covenant with man:
"Authentic married love is caught up into divine love."
1640 Thus the marriage bond has been established by God himself in such
a way that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptized persons
can never be dissolved. This bond, which results from the free human act
of the spouses and their consummation of the marriage, is a reality, henceforth
irrevocable, and gives rise to a covenant guaranteed by God's fidelity.
The Church does not have the power to contravene this disposition of divine
The grace of the sacrament of Matrimony
1641 "By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses]
have their own special gifts in the People of God." This grace proper
to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love
and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "help one
another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating
1642 Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered
his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse
of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of
Matrimony." Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take
up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen,
to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to
one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another
with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love
and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding
feast of the Lamb:
How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church,
strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels,
and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers,
now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service!
They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided
in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one
also is the spirit.
V. THE GOODS AND REQUIREMENTS OF CONJUGAL
1643 "Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the
person enter - appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity,
aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity,
a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and
soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual
giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the
normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance
which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent
of making them the expression of specifically Christian values."
The unity and indissolubility of marriage
1644 The love of the spouses requires, of its very nature, the unity and
indissolubility of the spouses' community of persons, which embraces their
entire life: "so they are no longer two, but one flesh." They "are
called to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity
to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving." This human
communion is confirmed, purified, and completed by communion in Jesus Christ,
given through the sacrament of Matrimony. It is deepened by lives of the
common faith and by the Eucharist received together.
1645 "The unity of marriage, distinctly recognized by our Lord, is made
clear in the equal personal dignity which must be accorded to man and wife
in mutual and unreserved affection." Polygamy is contrary to conjugal
love which is undivided and exclusive.
The fidelity of conjugal love
1646 By its very nature conjugal love requires the inviolable fidelity
of the spouses. This is the consequence of the gift of themselves which
they make to each other. Love seeks to be definitive; it cannot be an arrangement
"until further notice." The "intimate union of marriage, as a mutual giving
of two persons, and the good of the children, demand total fidelity from
the spouses and require an unbreakable union between them."
1647 The deepest reason is found in the fidelity of God to his covenant,
in that of Christ to his Church. Through the sacrament of Matrimony the
spouses are enabled to represent this fidelity and witness to it. Through
the sacrament, the indissolubility of marriage receives a new and deeper
1648 It can seem difficult, even impossible, to bind oneself for life
to another human being. This makes it all the more important to proclaim
the Good News that God loves us with a definitive and irrevocable love,
that married couples share in this love, that it supports and sustains
them, and that by their own faithfulness they can be witnesses to God's
faithful love. Spouses who with God's grace give this witness, often in
very difficult conditions, deserve the gratitude and support of the ecclesial
1649 Yet there are some situations in which living together becomes
practically impossible for a variety of reasons. In such cases the Church
permits the physical separation of the couple and their living apart. The
spouses do not cease to be husband and wife before God and so are not free
to contract a new union. In this difficult situation, the best solution
would be, if possible, reconciliation. The Christian community is called
to help these persons live out their situation in a Christian manner and
in fidelity to their marriage bond which remains indissoluble.
1650 Today there are numerous Catholics in many countries who have recourse
to civil divorce and contract new civil unions. In fidelity to the words
of Jesus Christ - "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits
adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery" the Church maintains that a new union cannot
be recognized as valid, if the first marriage was. If the divorced are
remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively
contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Eucharistic communion
as long as this situation persists. For the same reason, they cannot exercise
certain ecclesial responsibilities. Reconciliation through the sacrament
of Penance can be granted only to those who have repented for having violated
the sign of the covenant and of fidelity to Christ, and who are committed
to living in complete continence.
1651 Toward Christians who live in this situation, and who often keep
the faith and desire to bring up their children in a Christian manner,
priests and the whole community must manifest an attentive solicitude,
so that they do not consider themselves separated from the Church, in whose
life they can and must participate as baptized persons:
They should be encouraged to listen to the Word of God, to attend the
Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of
charity and to community efforts for justice, to bring up their children
in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance
and thus implore, day by day, God's grace.
The openness to fertility
1652 "By its very nature the institution of marriage and married love is
ordered to the procreation and education of the offspring and it is in
them that it finds its crowning glory."
Children are the supreme gift of marriage and contribute greatly to
the good of the parents themselves. God himself said: "It is not good that
man should be alone," and "from the beginning [he] made them male and female";
wishing to associate them in a special way in his own creative work, God
blessed man and woman with the words: "Be fruitful and multiply." Hence,
true married love and the whole structure of family life which results
from it, without diminishment of the other ends of marriage, are directed
to disposing the spouses to cooperate valiantly with the love of the Creator
and Savior, who through them will increase and enrich his family from day
1653 The fruitfulness of conjugal love extends to the fruits of the
moral, spiritual, and supernatural life that parents hand on to their children
by education. Parents are the principal and first educators of their children.
In this sense the fundamental task of marriage and family is to be at the
service of life.
1654 Spouses to whom God has not granted children can nevertheless have
a conjugal life full of meaning, in both human and Christian terms. Their
marriage can radiate a fruitfulness of charity, of hospitality, and of
VI. THE DOMESTIC CHURCH
1655 Christ chose to be born and grow up in the bosom of the holy family
of Joseph and Mary. The Church is nothing other than "the family of God."
From the beginning, the core of the Church was often constituted by those
who had become believers "together with all [their] household." When
they were converted, they desired that "their whole household" should also
be saved. These families who became believers were islands of Christian
life in an unbelieving world.
1656 In our own time, in a world often alien and even hostile to faith,
believing families are of primary importance as centers of living, radiant
faith. For this reason the Second Vatican Council, using an ancient expression,
calls the family the Ecclesia domestica. It is in the bosom of the
family that parents are "by word and example . . . the first heralds of
the faith with regard to their children. They should encourage them in
the vocation which is proper to each child, fostering with special care
any religious vocation."
1657 It is here that the father of the family, the mother, children,
and all members of the family exercise the priesthood of the baptized in
a privileged way "by the reception of the sacraments, prayer and thanksgiving,
the witness of a holy life, and self-denial and active charity." Thus
the home is the first school of Christian life and "a school for human
enrichment." Here one learns endurance and the joy of work, fraternal
love, generous - even repeated - forgiveness, and above all divine worship
in prayer and the offering of one's life.
1658 We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because
of the particular circumstances in which they have to live - often not
of their choosing - are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore
deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially
of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions
of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes,
serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the
"domestic churches," and of the great family which is the Church must be
open to all of them. "No one is without a family in this world: the Church
is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are
1659 St. Paul said: "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church....
This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church"
(Eph 5:25, 32).
1660 The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each
other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed
with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered
to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of
children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity
of a sacrament (cf. CIC, can. 1055 # 1; cf. GS 48 # 1).
1661 The sacrament of Matrimony signifies the union of Christ and the
Church. It gives spouses the grace to love each other with the love with
which Christ has loved his Church; the grace of the sacrament thus perfects
the human love of the spouses, strengthens their indissoluble unity, and
sanctifies them on the way to eternal life (cf. Council of Trent: DS 1799).
1662 Marriage is based on the consent of the contracting parties, that
is, on their will to give themselves, each to the other, mutually and definitively,
in order to live a covenant of faithful and fruitful love.
1663 Since marriage establishes the couple in a public state of life
in the Church, it is fitting that its celebration be public, in the framework
of a liturgical celebration, before the priest (or a witness authorized
by the Church), the witnesses, and the assembly of the faithful.
1664 Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential
to marriage. Polygamy is incompatible with the unity of marriage; divorce
separates what God has joined together; the refusal of fertility turns
married life away from its "supreme gift," the child (GS 50 # 1).
1665 The remarriage of persons divorced from a living, lawful spouse
contravenes the plan and law of God as taught by Christ. They are not separated
from the Church, but they cannot receive Eucharistic communion. They will
lead Christian lives especially by educating their children in the faith.
1666 The Christian home is the place where children receive the first
proclamation of the faith. For this reason the family home is rightly called
"the domestic church," a community of grace and prayer, a school of human
virtues and of Christian charity.
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part III, Section II, Chapter 2
ARTICLE 6 - THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT
You shall not commit adultery.
You have heard that it was said, "You shall not commit adultery."
But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already
committed adultery with her in his heart.
I. "MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM
. . ."
2331 "God is love and in himself he lives a mystery of personal loving
communion. Creating the human race in his own image . . .. God inscribed
in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and
responsibility, of love and communion."
"God created man in his own image . . . male and female he created them";
He blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and multiply"; "When God created
man, he made him in the likeness of God. Male and female he created them,
and he blessed them and named them Man when they were created."
2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity
of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity
to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming
bonds of communion with others.
2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual
identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity
are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family
life. The harmony of the couple and of society depends in part on the way
in which the complementarity, needs, and mutual support between the sexes
are lived out.
2334 "In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an
equal personal dignity." "Man is a person, man and woman equally so,
since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God."
2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of
God, with equal dignity though in a different way. The union of man and
woman in marriage is a way of imitating in the flesh the Creator's generosity
and fecundity: "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves
to his wife, and they become one flesh." All human generations proceed
from this union.
2336 Jesus came to restore creation to the purity of its origins. In
the Sermon on the Mount, he interprets God's plan strictly: "You have heard
that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that
every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery
with her in his heart." What God has joined together, let not man
The tradition of the Church has understood the sixth commandment as
encompassing the whole of human sexuality.
II. THE VOCATION TO CHASTITY
2337 Chastity means the successful integration of sexuality within the
person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.
Sexuality, in which man's belonging to the bodily and biological world
is expressed, becomes personal and truly human when it is integrated into
the relationship of one person to another, in the complete and lifelong
mutual gift of a man and a woman.
The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person
and the integrality of the gift.
The integrity of the person
2338 The chaste person maintains the integrity of the powers of life and
love placed in him. This integrity ensures the unity of the person; it
is opposed to any behavior that would impair it. It tolerates neither a
double life nor duplicity in speech.
2339 Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a
training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs
his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and
becomes unhappy. "Man's dignity therefore requires him to act out
of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from
within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint.
Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions,
he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by
his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited
to this end."
2340 Whoever wants to remain faithful to his baptismal promises and
resist temptations will want to adopt the means for doing so: self-knowledge,
practice of an ascesis adapted to the situations that confront him, obedience
to God's commandments, exercise of the moral virtues, and fidelity to prayer.
"Indeed it is through chastity that we are gathered together and led back
to the unity from which we were fragmented into multiplicity."
2341 The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance,
which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason.
2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider
it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages
of life. The effort required can be more intense in certain periods,
such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.
2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked
by imperfection and too often by sin. "Man . . . day by day builds himself
up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes
moral good by stages of growth."
2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves
a cultural effort, for there is "an interdependence between personal betterment
and the improvement of society." Chastity presupposes respect for
the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information
and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human
2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace,
a fruit of spiritual effort. The Holy Spirit enables one whom the
water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ.
The integrality of the gift of self
2346 Charity is the form of all the virtues. Under its influence, chastity
appears as a school of the gift of the person. Self-mastery is ordered
to the gift of self. Chastity leads him who practices it to become a witness
to his neighbor of God's fidelity and loving kindness.
2347 The virtue of chastity blossoms in friendship. It shows the disciple
how to follow and imitate him who has chosen us as his friends, who
has given himself totally to us and allows us to participate in his divine
estate. Chastity is a promise of immortality.
Chastity is expressed notably in friendship with one's neighbor. Whether
it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents
a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion.
The various forms of chastity
2348 All the baptized are called to chastity. The Christian has "put on
Christ," the model for all chastity. All Christ's faithful are called
to lead a chaste life in keeping with their particular states of life.
At the moment of his Baptism, the Christian is pledged to lead his affective
life in chastity.
2349 "People should cultivate [chastity] in the way that is suited to
their state of life. Some profess virginity or consecrated celibacy which
enables them to give themselves to God alone with an undivided heart in
a remarkable manner. Others live in the way prescribed for all by the moral
law, whether they are married or single." Married people are called
to live conjugal chastity; others practice chastity in continence: There
are three forms of the virtue of chastity: the first is that of spouses,
the second that of widows, and the third that of virgins. We do not praise
any one of them to the exclusion of the others.... This is what makes for
the richness of the discipline of the Church.
2350 Those who are engaged to marry are called to live chastity in continence.
They should see in this time of testing a discovery of mutual respect,
an apprenticeship in fidelity, and the hope of receiving one another from
God. They should reserve for marriage the expressions of affection that
belong to married love. They will help each other grow in chastity.
Offenses against chastity
2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure.
Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated
from its procreative and unitive purposes.
2352 By masturbation is to be understood the deliberate stimulation
of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure. "Both the Magisterium
of the Church, in the course of a constant tradition, and the moral sense
of the faithful have been in no doubt and have firmly maintained that masturbation
is an intrinsically and gravely disordered action." "The deliberate
use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage is
essentially contrary to its purpose." For here sexual pleasure is sought
outside of "the sexual relationship which is demanded by the moral order
and in which the total meaning of mutual self-giving and human procreation
in the context of true love is achieved."
To form an equitable judgment about the subjects' moral responsibility
and to guide pastoral action, one must take into account the affective
immaturity, force of acquired habit, conditions of anxiety, or other psychological
or social factors that lessen or even extenuate moral culpability.
2353 Fornication is carnal union between an unmarried man and an unmarried
woman. It is gravely contrary to the dignity of persons and of human sexuality
which is naturally ordered to the good of spouses and the generation and
education of children. Moreover, it is a grave scandal when there is corruption
of the young.
2354 Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts
from the intimacy of the partners, in order to display them deliberately
to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal
act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury
to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since
each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others.
It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It
is a grave offense. Civil authorities should prevent the production and
distribution of pornographic materials.
2355 Prostitution does injury to the dignity of the person who engages
in it, reducing the person to an instrument of sexual pleasure. The one
who pays sins gravely against himself: he violates the chastity to which
his Baptism pledged him and defiles his body, the temple of the Holy Spirit.
Prostitution is a social scourge. It usually involves women, but also men,
children, and adolescents (The latter two cases involve the added sin of
scandal.). While it is always gravely sinful to engage in prostitution,
the imputability of the offense can be attenuated by destitution, blackmail,
or social pressure.
2356 Rape is the forcible violation of the sexual intimacy of another
person. It does injury to justice and charity. Rape deeply wounds the respect,
freedom, and physical and moral integrity to which every person has a right.
It causes grave damage that can mark the victim for life. It is always
an intrinsically evil act. Graver still is the rape of children committed
by parents (incest) or those responsible for the education of the children
entrusted to them.
Chastity and homosexuality
2357 Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who
experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons
of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries
and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained.
Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts
of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual
acts are intrinsically disordered." They are contrary to the natural
law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed
from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances
can they be approved.
2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies
is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most
of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion,
and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should
be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives
and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross
the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
2359 Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery
that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested
friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually
and resolutely approach Christian perfection.
III. THE LOVE OF HUSBAND AND WIFE
2360 Sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of man and woman. In marriage
the physical intimacy of the spouses becomes a sign and pledge of spiritual
communion. Marriage bonds between baptized persons are sanctified by the
2361 "Sexuality, by means of which man and woman give themselves to
one another through the acts which are proper and exclusive to spouses,
is not something simply biological, but concerns the innermost being of
the human person as such. It is realized in a truly human way only if it
is an integral part of the love by which a man and woman commit themselves
totally to one another until death."
Tobias got out of bed and said to Sarah, "Sister, get up, and let us
pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and safety." So she got
up, and they began to pray and implore that they might be kept safe. Tobias
began by saying, "Blessed are you, O God of our fathers.... You made Adam,
and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two
of them the race of mankind has sprung. You said, 'It is not good that
the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.' I
now am taking this kinswoman of mine, not because of lust, but with sincerity.
Grant that she and I may find mercy and that we may grow old together."
And they both said, "Amen, Amen." Then they went to sleep for the night.
2362 "The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of
the spouses takes place are noble and honorable; the truly human performance
of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses
in joy and gratitude." Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure:
The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function,
spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore,
the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment. They
accept what the Creator has intended for them. At the same time, spouses
should know how to keep themselves within the limits of just moderation.
2363 The spouses' union achieves the twofold end of marriage: the good
of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life. These two meanings
or values of marriage cannot be separated without altering the couple's
spiritual life and compromising the goods of marriage and the future of
The conjugal love of man and woman thus stands under the twofold obligation
of fidelity and fecundity.
2364 The married couple forms "the intimate partnership of life and love
established by the Creator and governed by his laws; it is rooted in the
conjugal covenant, that is, in their irrevocable personal consent."
Both give themselves definitively and totally to one another. They are
no longer two; from now on they form one flesh. The covenant they freely
contracted imposes on the spouses the obligation to preserve it as unique
and indissoluble. "What therefore God has joined together, let not
man put asunder."
2365 Fidelity expresses constancy in keeping one's given word. God is
faithful. The Sacrament of Matrimony enables man and woman to enter into
Christ's fidelity for his Church. Through conjugal chastity, they bear
witness to this mystery before the world.
St. John Chrysostom suggests that young husbands should say to their
wives: I have taken you in my arms, and I love you, and I prefer you to
my life itself. For the present life is nothing, and my most ardent dream
is to spend it with you in such a way that we may be assured of not being
separated in the life reserved for us.... I place your love above all things,
and nothing would be more bitter or painful to me than to be of a different
mind than you.
The fecundity of marriage
2366 Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally
tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added
on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of
that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which
"is on the side of life" teaches that "each and every marriage act
must remain open 'per se' to the transmission of life." "This particular
doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, 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."
2367 Called to give life, spouses share in the creative power and fatherhood
of God. "Married couples should regard it as their proper mission
to transmit human life and to educate their children; they should realize
that they are thereby cooperating with the love of God the Creator and
are, in a certain sense, its interpreters. They will fulfill this duty
with a sense of human and Christian responsibility."
2368 A particular aspect of this responsibility concerns the regulation
of procreation. For just reasons, spouses may wish to space the births
of their children. It is their duty to make certain that their desire is
not motivated by selfishness but is in conformity with the generosity appropriate
to responsible parenthood. Moreover, they should conform their behavior
to the objective criteria of morality:
When it is a question of harmonizing married love with the responsible
transmission of life, the morality of the behavior does not depend on sincere
intention and evaluation of motives alone; but it must be determined by
objective criteria, criteria drawn from the nature of the person and his
acts criteria that respect the total meaning of mutual self-giving and
human procreation in the context of true love; this is possible only if
the virtue of married chastity is practiced with sincerity of heart.
2369 "By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and
the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fullness the sense of
true mutual love and its orientation toward man's exalted vocation to parenthood."
2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based
on self- observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity
with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the
bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the
education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether
in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the
development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or
as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving
of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively
contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the
other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but
also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called
upon to give itself in personal totality.... The difference, both anthropological
and moral, between contraception and recourse to the rhythm of the cycle
. . . involves in the final analysis two irreconcilable concepts of the
human person and of human sexuality.
2371 "Let all be convinced that human life and the duty of transmitting
it are not limited by the horizons of this life only: their true evaluation
and full significance can be understood only in reference to man's eternal
2372 The state has a responsibility for its citizens' well-being. In
this capacity it is legitimate for it to intervene to orient the demography
of the population. This can be done by means of objective and respectful
information, but certainly not by authoritarian, coercive measures. The
state may not legitimately usurp the initiative of spouses, who have the
primary responsibility for the procreation and education of their children.
It is not authorized to intervene in this area with means contrary to the
The gift of a child
2373 Sacred Scripture and the Church's traditional practice see in large
families a sign of God's blessing and the parents' generosity.
2374 Couples who discover that they are sterile suffer greatly. "What
will you give me," asks Abraham of God, "for I continue childless?"
And Rachel cries to her husband Jacob, "Give me children, or I shall die!"
2375 Research aimed at reducing human sterility is to be encouraged,
on condition that it is placed "at the service of the human person, of
his inalienable rights, and his true and integral good according to the
design and will of God."
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by
the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum,
surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous
artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to
be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by
marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother
only through each other."
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial
insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain
morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative
act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act
by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts
the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists
and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny
of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary
to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children."
"Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection
when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say,
of the specific act of the spouses' union .... Only respect for the link
between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the
human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. The "supreme
gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece
of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead.
In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be
the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and
"the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."
2379 The Gospel shows that physical sterility is not an absolute evil.
Spouses who still suffer from infertility after exhausting legitimate medical
procedures should unite themselves with the Lord's Cross, the source of
all spiritual fecundity. They can give expression to their generosity by
adopting abandoned children or performing demanding services for others.
IV. OFFENSES AGAINST THE DIGNITY OF
2380 Adultery refers to marital infidelity. When two partners, of whom
at least one is married to another party, have sexual relations - even
transient ones - they commit adultery. Christ condemns even adultery of
mere desire. The sixth commandment and the New Testament forbid adultery
absolutely. The prophets denounce the gravity of adultery; they see
it as an image of the sin of idolatry.
2381 Adultery is an injustice. He who commits adultery fails in his
commitment. He does injury to the sign of the covenant which the marriage
bond is, transgresses the rights of the other spouse, and undermines the
institution of marriage by breaking the contract on which it is based.
He compromises the good of human generation and the welfare of children
who need their parents' stable union.
2382 The Lord Jesus insisted on the original intention of the Creator who
willed that marriage be indissoluble. He abrogates the accommodations
that had slipped into the old Law.
Between the baptized, "a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be
dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death."
2383 The separation of spouses while maintaining the marriage bond can
be legitimate in certain cases provided for by canon law.
If civil divorce remains the only possible way of ensuring certain
legal rights, the care of the children, or the protection of inheritance,
it can be tolerated and does not constitute a moral offense.
2384 Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to
break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with
each other till death. Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation,
of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even
if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the
remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery:
If a husband, separated from his wife, approaches another woman, he
is an adulterer because he makes that woman commit adultery, and the woman
who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has drawn another's husband
2385 Divorce is immoral also because it introduces disorder into the
family and into society. This disorder brings grave harm to the deserted
spouse, to children traumatized by the separation of their parents and
often torn between them, and because of its contagious effect which makes
it truly a plague on society.
2386 It can happen that one of the spouses is the innocent victim of
a divorce decreed by civil law; this spouse therefore has not contravened
the moral law. There is a considerable difference between a spouse who
has sincerely tried to be faithful to the sacrament of marriage and is
unjustly abandoned, and one who through his own grave fault destroys a
canonically valid marriage.
Other offenses against the dignity of marriage
2387 The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is
obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of
conjugal life, is understandable. However polygamy is not in accord with
the moral law." [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy;
this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from
the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of
men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total
and therefore unique and exclusive." The Christian who has previously
lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the obligations
contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.
2388 Incest designates intimate relations between relatives or in-laws
within a degree that prohibits marriage between them. St. Paul stigmatizes
this especially grave offense: "It is actually reported that there is immorality
among you . . . for a man is living with his father's wife.... In the name
of the Lord Jesus ... you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction
of the flesh...." Incest corrupts family relationships and marks a
regression toward animality.
2389 Connected to incest is any sexual abuse perpetrated by adults on
children or adolescents entrusted to their care. The offense is compounded
by the scandalous harm done to the physical and moral integrity of the
young, who will remain scarred by it all their lives; and the violation
of responsibility for their upbringing.
2390 In a so-called free union, a man and a woman refuse to give juridical
and public form to a liaison involving sexual intimacy.
The expression "free union" is fallacious: what can "union" mean when
the partners make no commitment to one another, each exhibiting a lack
of trust in the other, in himself, or in the future?
The expression covers a number of different situations: concubinage,
rejection of marriage as such, or inability to make long-term commitments.
All these situations offend against the dignity of marriage; they destroy
the very idea of the family; they weaken the sense of fidelity. They are
contrary to the moral law. The sexual act must take place exclusively within
marriage. Outside of marriage it always constitutes a grave sin and excludes
one from sacramental communion.
2391 Some today claim a "right to a trial marriage" where there is an
intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who
engage in premature sexual relations may be, "the fact is that such liaisons
can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between
a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy
of desires or whim." Carnal union is morally legitimate only when
a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established.
Human love does not tolerate "trial marriages." It demands a total and
definitive gift of persons to one another.
2392 "Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being"
2393 By creating the human being man and woman, God gives personal dignity
equally to the one and the other. Each of them, man and woman, should acknowledge
and accept his sexual identity.
2394 Christ is the model of chastity. Every baptized person is called
to lead a chaste life, each according to his particular state of life.
2395 Chastity means the integration of sexuality within the person.
It includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery.
2396 Among the sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication,
pornography, and homosexual practices.
2397 The covenant which spouses have freely entered into entails faithful
love. It imposes on them the obligation to keep their marriage indissoluble.
2398 Fecundity is a good, a gift and an end of marriage. By giving life,
spouses participate in God's fatherhood.
2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible
fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses
do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct
sterilization or contraception).
2400 Adultery, divorce, polygamy, and free union are grave offenses
against the dignity of marriage.