Catholic Church Teaching on Marriage Has Changed Down the Centuries?

Wondering how folks respond to this article from The Irish Times (no surprise that this kind of thing is being published in Ireland right now, of course).

With a wish that the writers had actually done their research and a prayer for them to make the appropriate corrections.

I mean, where did they pull the 12th century date that the Church ‘supposedly’ ‘made’ marriage a sacrament? St Augustine in the 4th century referred to marriage as a sacrament, for heaven’s sake. If they can make a huge error like that right from the start, what does that say about the rest of their arguments?

Maybe she was relying on Wikipedia:

The medieval Christian church, taking the lead of Augustine, developed the sacramental understanding of matrimony. However, even at this stage the Catholic Church did not consider the sacraments equal in importance. Marriage has never been considered either to be one of the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) or of those that confer a character (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Orders).

With the development of sacramental theology, marriage was included in the select seven to which the term “sacrament” was applied. Explicit classification of marriage in this way came in reaction to the contrary teaching of Catharism that marriage and procreation are evil: the first official declaration that marriage is a sacrament was made at the 1184 Council of Verona as part of a condemnation of the Cathars. In 1208, Pope Innocent III required members of another religious movement, that of the Waldensians, to recognize that marriage is a sacrament as a condition for being received back into the Catholic Church. In 1254, Catholics accused Waldensians of condemning the sacrament of marriage, “saying that married persons sin mortally if they come together without the hope of offspring”. The Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 had already stated in response to the teaching of the Cathars: “For not only virgins and the continent but also married persons find favour with God by right faith and good actions and deserve to attain to eternal blessedness.” Marriage was also included in the list of the seven sacraments at the Second Council of Lyon in 1274 as part of the profession of faith required of Michael VIII Palaiologos. The sacraments of marriage and holy orders were distinguished as sacraments that aim at the “increase of the Church” from the other five sacraments, which are intended for the spiritual perfection of individuals. The Council of Florence in 1439 again recognised marriage as a sacrament.

The medieval view of the sacramentality of marriage has been described as follows: “Like the other sacraments, medieval writers argued, marriage was an instrument of sanctification, a channel of grace that caused God’s gracious gifts and blessings to be poured upon humanity. Marriage sanctified the Christian couple by allowing them to comply with God’s law for marriage and by providing them with an ideal model of marriage in Christ the bridegroom, who took the church as his bride and accorded it highest love, devotion, and sacrifice, even to the point of death.”

I attempted to find out about the author Patsy McGarry but could not find much. However, what I did find was a bias towards the Church. He published a lie which he did not take back but did stop pursuing. So it should not be a surprise that this article is full of inaccurate statements that he does not support.

Jesus established the sacraments. The Church did not codify them until Council of Trent 1545-1563. That is not the same as saying that they weren’t sacraments until then.
This is from the current Catechism

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."84


This is from the 1917 Encyclopedia

Whether as a state or as a contract whether from the viewpoint of religion and morals or from that of the social welfare, marriage appears in its highest form in the teaching and practice of the Catholic Church. The fact that the contract is a sacrament impresses the popular mind with the importance and sacredness of the relation thus begun. The fact the union is indissoluble and monogamous promotes in the highest degree the welfare of parents and children, and stimulates in the whole community the practice of those qualities of self-restraint and altruism which are essential to social well-being, physical, mental, and moral
His claim that the Church did a flip in the 1983 catechism is unwarranted.
What has been the consistent teaching of the Church?

It is obvious that the opinion piece is one to support homosexuality.
Did Jesus Heal a Centurion’s Same-Sex Partner?

Well, if the Irish Times says that Church teaching on marriage has changed then that pretty much settles it.


Not with God it doesn’t. Don’t these folks understand that they will have to answer to GOD one day??? God Bless, Memaw

1 Pet 1:3 says God has caused us to be Born again into
a LIVING HOPE thru the resurrection of Jesus from the
dead. By Living hope, it means that the Church’s teachings
are not STATIC, that is inflexible, lifeless, w/o concern for
the circumstances of the times. However, Jesus is also
God, and God doesn’t change like the shifting shadows
James 1:17, so we must come to the conclusion that
those aspects of the teaching of the Church on Marriage
which ARE NEGOTIABLE has been changed and those
that are, in God’s eyes INVIOLABLE have not changed!!!

OK. I think it would be worth going through this point by point. Here goes.

In 1917, the church’s code of canon law stated: “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of children; the secondary (end) is mutual support and a remedy for concupiscence.” … It went on: “matrimony . . . has not as a primary and intimate end the personal perfection of the married couple but the procreation and upbringing of a new life.

By 1983 the church had done a complete flip. Then, in its revised code of canon law, it said: “The marriage covenant . . . 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.”

Apart from the fact that these are not teaching documents of the Church, but rather legal codes (hence they do not intend to pronounce on faith or morals), there is no contradiction between the two. The 1983 says that marriage is ordered to the good of the couple, and the 1917 code does not deny it; the 1917 code says that the procreative end is primary, and the 1983 code (quoting Gaudium et Spes nearly verbatim) does not deny it.

More importantly:

It [the emphasis on the good of the spouses] is an emphasis it [the Church] shares with parties to same-sex marriage and their supporters.

Although proponents of same-sex unions presumably are arguing that such unions are good for the parties involved, in actual fact they are harmful, not only to society, but to the parties themselves. Moreover, they are harmful independently of the fact that they are closed to procreation.

Another matter not discussed in this campaign to date is a theological body of opinion that believes Jesus knowingly acknowledged and blessed a same-sex union.

Jesus never referred to homosexuality but some theologians believe he cured a gay man’s lover.

It concerns the Roman centurion that Jesus met in Capernaum. According to the gospels of Matthew and Luke the centurion asked Jesus to heal his “servant”, who was very ill.

Except the word the centurion used to describe his “servant” to Jesus was “pais”, a Greek word which theologians argue meant the younger partner in a same-sex relationship.

This position is absurd, since in Israel (unlike ancient Athens), homosexual relationships were unthinkable. Although in classical Greek pais could mean male lover, it is much more likely to mean “boy” (its normal meaning) or “servant” in this context.

We should also point out that this argument, if it were true, would prove too much: it would show that a homosexual relationship of an adult soldier with a young boy (pais) is moral. Nowadays, we call that action what it really is: “sexual abuse of minors.”

But in one case you had a primary and secondary end of marriage, whereas in the other case the ends of marriage are treated as equal?

I don’t think the later law treats the ends of marriage as equal. It just doesn’t comment on their respective values.

I think it would be like if I said one day that an elephant is a large creature with a long trunk and a short tail, and another day I just said an elephant has a trunk and a tail. In the second explanation I didn’t treat the two features as equal in size, I just didn’t comment on their size.

I hope that makes sense.

In the encyclical Humanae vitae #12, Pope Paul VI stated; “the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning……By safeguarding both these essential aspects, the unitive and the procreative, the conjugal act preserves in its fulness the sense of true mutual love and it ordination towards man’s most high calling to parenthood."

Casti Connubii:
24. This mutual molding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.

As other posters have pointed out (and I have noted in a different post), nothing in Gaudium et Spes or the 1983 Code of Canon Law contradicts what the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Even if it did, the Code of Canon Law is a legal document, not a teaching document, so it is possible that it took on a common opinion of the time without giving it an official Magisterial endorsement.

At the end of the day, whether procreation is the primary end of marriage or not does not change much regarding the morality of homosexual acts, or in general as regards the morality in marriage.

The Church has always held, and continues to hold, that openness to procreation is an essential characteristic of marriage, and that no action contrary to that end may be undertaken.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit