Vatican II “Draft of a Dogmatic Constitution on Chastity, Marriage, the Family and Virginity”: a schema that should have never been rejected (Part I)

by Maria Madise

Addressing Voice of the Family’s Rome Life Forum, shortly before his death in 2017, Carlo Cardinal Caffarra, read from a letter he had received from the Sr Lúcia of Fatima: 

“Father, a time will come when the decisive battle between the kingdom of Christ and Satan will be over marriage and the family.” 

Commenting on the letter, Cardinal Caffarra said he felt what Sr Lucia wrote to him then “is being fulfilled in these days of ours”, with the battle in the Church over marriage and the family. 

This battle is decisive because the divinely established order of marriage reflects the union between Christ and His Church. Our salvation depends on this union, while the outcome of this spiritual battle will be decided by souls being won or lost. “Indeed,” observed Don Pietro Leone in his excellent book The Family Under Attack, “the bond of marriage is but a symbol of that union which God desires to contract with each human soul.”1

Whilst marriage and the family have been targeted by revolutionary forces throughout history, the disordering of the ends of marriage during the Second Vatican Council is crucial to the battle within the Church today. At the beginning of the Council, a schema “On Chastity, Marriage, the Family and Virginity” was rejected and, with it, a cornerstone of the moral law.

The Catholic Church has always been the beacon of Christian morality, orienting all people of goodwill to defend the principles of natural law as the foundation of civilised society. However, the rejection of an unambiguous pronouncement of perennial Church teaching marked a decisive step towards the abandonment of the same teaching, and opened up the Church to a barrage of attacks on marriage and the family, launched from within the Church herself.

The schema on chastity, marriage, the family and virginity 

Before the Council opened in 1962, Pope John XXIII formed a committee, headed by Cardinal Ottaviani, prefect of the Holy Office, to prepare schemata on which discussions could be based. According to Professor Roberto de Mattei, the renowned Church historian, these were substantial and articulate texts with “clear and persuasive language” containing “the best of what twentieth-century theology had produced”.2

Among them was the “Draft of a Dogmatic Constitution on Chastity, Marriage, the Family and Virginity”, which offers comprehensive exposition of the divinely established order: of its origin, nature and dignity, its rights, duties and virtues, as well as of the errors to be rejected. It calls on the Council to “extol and defend, in a single dogmatic constitution, the nobility both of chastity in the unmarried and its most beautiful fruit, sacred virginity, and of chaste marriage and its heavenly fruit, the Christian family”.3

Marriage is rooted in chastity, which bears still more wonderful fruit in consecrated virginity, especially priestly vocations: such a complete vision is largely lost in its post-conciliar presentation. Human marriage, by divine order, not only multiplies the human race, it also has the privilege of bearing children for the Church, so that she can truly flourish. 

The schema begins with explaining the nature of “man’s dominion over his body insofar as this serves the propagation of the human race” and the chastity of the unmarried. Sex is ordered to marriage and its spiritual and material goods. Consequently, evils, such as transgenderism, mutilation, sterilisation and IVF — all widespread today — are implicitly condemned with impressive foresight. It is emphasised that “although chastity is not the only, nor the first good of the moral life of men, an integral moral life cannot exist without it”. This is because impurity clouds our judgement. (cf Ti 1:15)

The second part of the schema, dedicated to marriage and the family, reaffirms the indissolubility of marriage and the true hierarchy of its ends. 

Because God ordained the propagation of the human race as its primary end, marriage is — by origin, purpose and function — good and holy: “male and female He created them. And God blessed them, saying: ‘Increase and multiply’”.(Gen 1:27–28) The secondary end of marriage is also given in the following chapter of Genesis: “It is not good for man to be alone: let us make him a help like unto himself.” (Gen 2:18) 

In his book, The Family Under Attack, Don Pietro Leone, explains that “the two ends of marriage, together with its two properties, (procreation and mutual assistance) were present from its institution, then — whereas, since the catechism states that marriage was instituted before the fall — we can conclude that its third end, the remedy for concupiscence, existed only some time subsequent to its institution, namely after the fall with the onset of concupiscence”.

The institution of marriage was raised by Christ to the dignity of a Sacrament for the baptised. “By this sacramental character,” the schema asserts, “the dignity, nobility and splendour of Christian spouses is so great that they themselves not only represent the most pure and most fruitful union of Christ with the Church (see Eph. 5:32-33), but they themselves, in the person of Christ and the Church, are made, through a valid consent mutually manifested and accepted externally in the rite, the ministers of this Sacrament.” 

The great effect of marriage being elevated to the sacramental representation of the union of Christ and His Church is that, although a marriage bond is formed by mutual consent of husband and wife, it cannot be dissolved by human will, just as Christ never separates from His Church.

Similarly, the ends of marriage do not depend on the intentions of the contracting parties. “[T]he primary purpose is only the procreation and education of the offspring, even if a particular marriage was not fruitful.” 

The absolute primacy of this end, given to man in Genesis, is easily understood when marriage is considered in light of its supernatural model. The purpose of the union between Christ and His Church is to populate heaven with souls. The first end of human marriage, “by the dignity of fatherhood and motherhood, cooperates with God, creator and sanctifier of souls, in the propagation and sanctification of the human race”. 

Other ends of marriage, the mutual help and solace of the spouses and the remedy for concupiscence, arise from its nature but are only ever secondary. The authors of the schema forcefully reject “the errors and theories by which is denied the immutable divine order with regard to the properties and purposes of marriage” and “by which, in an inversion of the right order of values, the primary purpose of marriage is esteemed less than biological, and personal values and conjugal love, in the objective order itself, is proclaimed to be the primary purpose”.

The schema also deals with the Christian family which — inseparable from marriage in its origin, nature, and goal — is sacred for Christians. Due to its divine order, “the family is a true society, of itself preceding the other natural societies”. The parents’ “serious and divinely sanctioned duty…to educate their children” is especially true concerning “supernatural and eternal matters”:

“For marriage itself and the family also have the goal of increasing the body of the Church and augmenting the number of the elect. In educating their children, parents should give attention to natural and earthly matters, but maintain a correct assessment and degree of values.”

The rights and duties of civil society towards the family are also discussed but the Church is the only institution with legitimate authority over the family: 

“By divine law the family is entrusted to the Church not only because marriage, from which it legitimately arises, first of all and in itself belongs to the Church; but also because the Church has from God the most serious right, one that is independent and inviolable by any human power, to impart Christian education, by its teachers and schools, not only to children but also to parents, especially instructing them so that they are able to fulfil the obligations of their proper states in a Christian manner.”

This right belongs to the Church “because of its universal teaching authority and also because of its spiritual motherhood towards children and parents … For only the Church, through the administration of the sacraments, has access, in the name of Christ, to the sanctuary of the conscience of both parents and children”.

In the schema, therefore, all theories are condemned that “deny the rights of the Church and of the family with regard to the education of children, or which assign primary rights in this area to civil authority”, as well as “those who directly support or formally cooperate in the passage of wicked laws about marriage and the family”.

Naturally, abortion, including therapeutic abortion, and all forms of contraception are also condemned as intrinsically evil since “they corrupt the whole social order”. 

The third part of the schema deals with sacred virginity. Strong and healthy families foster vocations for a strong and healthy Church. And correspondingly, attacks on the family constitute attacks on religious vocations, especially the priesthood.  

The conclusion laments that “a state so singularly loved by God is diminishing”. It refers to “a worldly spirit, penetrating more easily today than before even into Catholic families” and also to “errors spread and propagated concerning the character of marriage and of sacred virginity”. Finally, it exhorts Christian parents by prayer, purity of life, and veneration for the priestly and religious state, to foster sacred vocations, knowing that chaste marriage is then most greatly honoured when from it flow the flowers of sacred virginity. 

To sum up, the schema is a systematic and accessible document explaining Catholic teaching on the family and a manual on which families can draw for guidance. Consequently, its rejection continues to damage the understanding of the true order of marriage and the family with all its inevitable implications.

This article will be continued next week by looking at what happened with the schema at the Council and how it influenced the Church’s teaching on the family after that.

  1. Don Pietro Leone, The Family Under Attack, Loreto Publications, Fitzwilliam (2005), p. 154.
  2. Roberto de Mattei, “Il Conciliatore”, Il Foglio, 12 July 2014.
  3. This and all subsequent quotes are taken from “A Draft Dogmatic Constitution on Chastity, Marriage, the Family and Virginity”, translated by Fr. Joseph A. Komonchak, https://jakomonchak.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/on-the-sexual-order.pdf