The Incarnation expresses an infinitely fertile virginity. The Virgin Mother is herself the pure image of the Incarnation in this respect: she who “never knew man” is the mother of Him who is Man in fullness. As virgin, she images the utterly simple divinity of her Son, who, as God, is “unmixed” with creation, infinitely superior to it; as mother, she images the total self-giving of her Son, who is “the first-born of all creation” (Col 1:15) and “first-born among many brethren” (Rom 8:29). Jesus can give Himself to all because He is given to no one, just as His mother can give herself to the All who is God, she can “generate” the Word, because she is given to no man for generation.
The married man and woman can generate the Word only insofar as they are spiritual virgins, that is, not clinging to the world but living for God and for His Kingdom. Marriage is fertile—in every sense, not just the physical, but especially the moral, psychological, spiritual senses—to the extent that it is consecrated to the one Spouse who endows all things with being, life, and generative power. Indeed, the couple who conceive a child not for love of this Spouse but for anything lower have already become tainted, in that they view one another as the cause and end of the generation, and their offspring as their own product, to be handled, disposed of, or brought up as they see fit. They have made themselves into God, repeating the crime of Adam and Eve. They want to be the measure of the good and evil of their destinies and of the life of their child, whereas “no one is good but God alone” (Lk 18:19). He alone is the measure of good and evil destiny, he alone the giver of life and its goal.
Man was created in a loving relationship with God. This relationship was necessarily meant to be fruitful spiritually and physically, since all true love, which is interior, in the heart, bears fruit that magnifies and expresses that love in the world. All love is bound up with conception, the generation of new life of some kind which incarnates the love. Even the mind’s act of “conceiving” is the result of being fertilized from the world without: the mind is like a womb that receives the seeds of essences, of things whose varied splendors shine into the soul and allows the soul to engender a conceptus by which each nature takes up its home within.
We could therefore say that when Adam and Eve cut off their relationship to God, they performed the first act of contraception: they refused to be fertilized by the love and grace of God, they wanted rather to be the measure of how much love they would give and receive; they wanted to be “in charge” of the conceiving all by themselves. It’s as though they had thought in their hearts: “God is always wanting to bear more children inside our souls, He is perpetually engendering His offspring in us; should we not take control of this situation and decide when we want to have His children? Why should He have this rather intrusive privilege, which makes us vulnerable to His seed, to His life-giving (and sacrifice-demanding) words which impregnate our souls? Indeed, He has demanded that we not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, as though we should sacrifice our autonomy and freedom to choose when and what we shall eat, and receive only what He wants to give us. Let us take charge of our reproductive freedom, and receive His seed when it is convenient for us, on our terms. Maybe we will allow a few offspring to be born in us, but only if it will not require too much sacrifice of the heart. In any case, we should start by eating of that ‘forbidden’ fruit, since when we do, we will know all His secrets of good and evil, and can take care of ourselves, can freeze our knowledge and inseminate ourselves whenever we wish.”
And the serpent used just this tactic: “If you eat this fruit, you will be as gods, you will be able to conceive on your own terms.” In saying this, he blasphemed the ecstatic generosity of God, of whose eternal and infinite giving and receiving our entire universe is but the shadow and echo. When the couple ate of the fruit, they were suddenly ashamed of their nakedness, that is, the sudden deprivation of their spiritual fertility, the loss of the spiritual children God had given them and was going to give them.
The original sin of spiritual contraception is repeated in most modern marriages, where spouses want to decide what is sexually right and wrong, instead of obeying the divine law inscribed in their hearts, written into the very structure of their bodies (for the body itself is a revelation of God, a messenger of divine purpose), stamped upon their souls. Yes, their souls, too, because we see that in all healthy societies throughout history people love and delight in large families, and children as they grow up long for this, and barrenness is felt as a bitter disappointment. Wherever nature has not been perverted by evil custom, propaganda, public “education,” etc., men’s and women’s souls impel them to the natural good of children and extended families. Folk songs, age-old prayers, poems, all bear witness to this fundamental love of and delight in offspring.
As Pope Pius XI taught with outstanding clarity in Casti Connubii, man and woman are not the ones who decide what wedded love is or how it ought to be used. God is the sole author of human nature, of natural marriage, and of marriage’s interwoven purposes. He is no less the author of the sacramental dignity of marriage between Christians, in whom the momentous truths inscribed into our bodies and souls are supernaturally elevated and fecundated for eternity. If each Christian can say, through baptism, “I bear the marks of the Lord Jesus in my body” (Gal 6:17), and if a new identity is given to the soul in the sacrament of marriage—the identity of a spouse in relation to the other—then how reverently ought husband and wife to embrace one another, with fear and trembling (cf. Phil 2:12)! He who partakes unworthily partakes of his own damnation, not discerning the body of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 11:29), for your spouse is a member of His Body (1 Cor 12:27), and sins against him or her are sins against Christ (cf. Mt 25:45). In receiving the spouse unworthily, one receives Christ unworthily: whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me (Mt 25:40). One eats and drinks, i.e., uses and enjoys, one’s damnation. Corruptio optimi pessima.
The contrary, however, is also true: since, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, the right use of the nuptial act causes an increase of sanctifying grace in the soul, and since Christ is the author of grace and the goal for which it is given—that is, the very purpose of grace is to join us to Him—it therefore follows that by communing worthily with one’s spouse, one is spiritually joined to Christ, to whom the beloved belongs as a member of His Body.
Such are the great and beautiful truths by which Christian spouses live in fellowship, seeking, in their own little corner of the universe, the common good of one and all: first in their mutual gift of self, then in the family that arises from it, and outward from there, circle by circle, reflecting the passionate, integral, superabundant love of Christ for His Bride, the Church.Peter Kwasniewski, Ph.D. is a founding professor of Wyoming Catholic College and a widely-published author on liturgy, sacred music, Thomistic theology, and Catholic social teaching. His most recent books are Sacred Choral Works (Corpus Christi Watershed, 2014) and Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis: Sacred Liturgy, the Traditional Latin Mass, and Renewal in the Church (Angelico Press, 2014). He lives with his wife and children in Lander, Wyoming.
- Nietzsche’s Self-Conqueror and Procreative Self-Sacrifice
- The Personalist and Sacramental Meaning of “Paying the Debt”
- The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of Openness to Life, Part II
- The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of Openness to Life, Part I
- Love for Life and Contempt for Children