Unity, Good of the Spouses, and Strawberries
- Posted by Mary's Advocates
- On November 26, 2023
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A recurring topic in Mary’s Advocates’ e-mail discussion group is the notion of essential properties of marriage because participants are often defendants in Catholic marriage nullity cases (a.k.a annulment). When Catholics are given conflicting explanations for words like unity or good of the spouses, virtually every marriage is susceptible of being assumed invalid.
Properly defining that which is essential to make a relationship be a marriage is very important to those defending the validity of their marriage. Their marriage will typically be accused of being invalid on the grounds that someone could not freely choose the essential matrimonial rights and obligations because of some psychological factor (cf. canon 1095 §2). Or one will be accused of not being able to fulfill the essential obligations (c. 1095 §3). Or invalidity will be alleged on the grounds that someone lied (defrauded) about an essential element/property of marriage when making the marriage promises (cf. canon 1101). It is also important to properly understand how the ends/purpose of marriage affect validity.
If you like analogies, consider the meaning of essential properties in my discussion of strawberries. We intuitively understand that the underripe strawberry and the moldy strawberry are still strawberries. How do you know that a strawberry is a strawberry? By its essential properties! One of the essential properties of a strawberry is that it has seeds on the outside.
If you have a tomato in your hand, one reason you know it is not a strawberry is because it has no seeds on the outside.
Follow some analogies between strawberries and marriage. An essential property of marriage is permanence. If you enter a trial relationship with no intention of permanence, you are not married. Another essential property of marriage is sexual fidelity (understood as sharing in the conjugal act with no one other than one’s spouse). If you enter a relationship with the intention of having multiple sex partners, you are not married.
Another way to understand strawberries is to discuss the ends of strawberries. What can they achieve; what is their essential purpose? To what are they pointing by their very nature? When I discuss the nature of strawberries, these ends cannot vary by culture, time, or location. We can’t say the ends of strawberries are different in 2023 Ohio, than they were in fifth century Kenya. One of the commonly understood ends of strawberries is to provide sweet, tasty food to eat. However, just because the bitter green strawberry does not taste sweet, it does not cease to be a strawberry. If the green strawberry is bulldozed, it still was a strawberry, though it never becomes a tasty, sweet snack.
Marriage has ends also. To what is marriage pointing by its very nature? The longstanding primary end finis of marriage is the procreation and upbringing of children. However, parties entering marriage cannot promise to have children; they can only promise to be oriented toward having children. One is not required to consent to achieving an essential end of marriage, but only required to consent to being oriented toward it.
Just as a strawberry is still a strawberry when it is overripe and rotting, a marriage is still a marriage when one or both spouses are mean, selfish, sinful, failing, or even eventually committed adultery. One opportune difference between a rotten strawberry and a failing/sinful spouse is that the strawberry cannot improve itself and become ripe and sweet, but a person can improve himself or herself.
Essentials of Marriage
On Mary’s Advocates’ website, we share writings of respected authors like Cardinal Raymond Burke who was the Defender of the Bond at the Signatura, its Prefect, and currently serves as a judge. We publicize authors he endorses and books for which Cardinal Burke wrote the foreword. We publicize the writings of Cardinal Edward Egan, who was one of the six editors who advised Saint Pope John Paul II during the drafting of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, was a judge at the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, was a professor of canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University and taught the exclusive course for Roman Rota advocates.
From these authors, I find that unity is the refusal to engage in sexual intercourse with third persons (i.e. engage in those acts that are in and of themselves suited to the procreation of children). Unity is one of the three longstanding elements of marriage and used interchangeably with the terms bónum fídea and fidelity.
Additionally, I find that good of the spouses is mutual help and remedy for concupiscence which is specifically shown as the secondary end (secundarius finis) of marriage listed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law, canon 1013. Mutual help can only refer in the context of nullity to the minimal and essential requirements of mutual help. Being a secondary end of marriage, mutual help has authoritatively been defined as subordinate to the primary end (procreation and upbringing of children).
Furthermore, these essential minimal requirements for mutual help must be timeless, such that they are the same today as 1000 years ago. In other words, what kind of mutual help is required of both husband and wife who were 1890’s Oklahoma settlers, 8th century Frankish aristocrats, and present day rural Guinea Africans? It is obvious that the kinds of help each offered the other varied greatly. Modern westerners would likely judge that these couples didn’t have equal partnership or total giving of one’s soul to the other (whatever that means). This critique, however, would have no impact on validity of the various marriages.
Catholics are confused who think that unity required for validity of marraige means parties must have established a measurably equal partnership, satisfactory community of life and love, the total handing over of the other’s body, the total giving of the other’s soul, and the full acceptance of the other.
Cardinal Edward Egan explains the text of Vatican II, “on more than one occasion referred to marriage as a mutual gift of self by the married; and lest perchance anyone fail to appreciate the patently non-legal character of these references., the Fathers of the Council reminded one another over and again” […] “that they were not in their Pastoral Constitution speaking in ‘juridical terms or categories’.”
 Bianchi, Paolo. When Is Marriage Null? Guide to the Grounds of Matrimonial Nullity for Pastors, Counselors, and Lay Faithful. First English edition published by Ignatius Press, 2015. Second edition publisher: Mary’s Advocates, Rocky River OH, 2023. See pages 123-125.
Banares, Juan Ignacio. “Title VII Marriage.” Exegetical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. Instituto Martin de Azpilcueta. Ed. Angel Marzoa, Jorge Miras, Rafael Rodriguez-Ocana. Woodridge, IL: Midwest Theological Forum, 2004. See pg. 1058-1060.
Bachofen, Charles Augustine. A Commentary on the New Code of the Canon Law. Book III. Volume V. Second Revised Edition. St. Louis: B. Herber Book Co. 1920. See page 17-19 on 1917 CIC c. 1013 §2.
 Burke, Raymond. “So Called New Grounds of Nullity.” Presented August 10, 2011. Canon Law Conference, August 9 and August 10, 2011, Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe La Cross, Wisconsin. 3 min. 21 sec.
O’Farrell, Michael (Bishop of Trenton). “Christian Marriage.” Memorial Volume of the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore. Baltimore: Baltimore Publishing Company, 1885. 120-131. See page 127-131.
 Salvatori: At the canon law conference supported by Cardinal Raymond Burke on 7 August 2019, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadelupe, speaker and Rota judge, Msgr. Davide Salvatori told me that good of the spouse is mutual help from the 1917 Code’s secondary ends of marriage.
1917 Code of Canon Law, can. 1013. § 1. Matrimonii finis primarius est procreatio atque educatio prolis; secundarius mutuum adiutorium et remedium concupiscentiae.
Burke. “So Called New Grounds.” 7 min. 30 sec.
 Egan, Edward M. “The Nullity of Marriage for Reason of Incapacity to Fulfill the Essential Obligations of Marriage.” Ephemerides Iuris Canonici. Vol. 40. No. 1-4 (1984): p 9-34. Citation pages 22-23.