Objection 1. It would seem that husband and wife are not mutually bound, under the obligation of a precept, to the payment of the marriage debt. For no one is forbidden to receive the Eucharist on account of fulfilling a precept. Yet he who has had intercourse with his wife cannot partake of the flesh of the Lamb according to Jerome [Serm. de Esu Agni viii] quoted in the text (Sent. iv, D, 32). Therefore the payment of the debt does not come under the obligation of a precept.
Objection 2. Further, it is lawful to everyone to abstain from what is hurtful to his person. But it is sometimes harmful to a person to pay the debt when asked, whether on account of sickness, or because they have already paid it. Therefore it would seem allowable to refuse the one who asks.
Objection 3. Further, it is a sin to render oneself unfit to fulfill an obligation of precept. If, therefore, the payment of the debt comes under the obligation of a precept, it would seem sinful to render oneself unfit for paying the debt, by fasting or otherwise weakening the body: but apparently this is untrue.
Objection 4. Further, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12), marriage is directed to the begetting and rearing of children, as well as to the community of life. Now leprosy is opposed to both these ends of marriage, for since it is a contagious disease, the wife is not bound to cohabit with a leprous husband; and besides this disease is often transmitted to the offspring. Therefore it would seem that a wife is not bound to pay the debt to a leprous husband.
On the contrary, As the slave is in the power of his master, so is one spouse in the power of the other (1 Corinthians 7:4). But a slave is bound by an obligation of precept to pay his master the debt of his service according to Romans 13:7, "Render . . . to all men their dues, tribute to whom tribute is due," etc. Therefore husband and wife are mutually bound to the payment of the marriage debt.
Further, marriage is directed to the avoiding of fornication (1 Corinthians 7:2). But this could not be the effect of marriage, if the one were not bound to pay the debt to the other when the latter is troubled with concupiscence. Therefore the payment of the debt is an obligation of precept.
I answer that, Marriage was instituted especially as fulfilling an office of nature. Wherefore in its act the movement of nature must be observed according to which the nutritive power administers to the generative power that alone which is in excess of what is required for the preservation of the individual: for the natural order requires that a thing should be first perfected in itself, and that afterwards it should communicate of its perfection to others: and this is also the order of charity which perfects nature. And therefore, since the wife has power over her husband only in relation to the generative power and not in relation to things directed to the preservation of the individual, the husband is bound to pay the debt to his wife, in matters pertaining to the begetting of children, with due regard however to his own welfare.
Reply to Objection 1. It is possible through fulfilling a precept to render oneself unfit for the exercise of a sacred duty: thus a judge becomes irregular by sentencing a man to death. In like manner he who pays the marriage debt, in fulfillment of the precept, becomes unfit for the exercise of divine offices, not because the act in question is sinful, but on account of its carnal nature. And so, according to the Master (Sent. iv, D, 32), Jerome is speaking only of the ministers of the Church, and not of others who should be left to use their own discretion, because without sin they may either abstain out of reverence or receive Christ's body out of devotion.
Reply to Objection 2. The wife has no power over her husband's body, except as is consistent with the welfare of his person, as stated above. Wherefore if she go beyond this in her demands, it is not a request for the debt, but an unjust exaction; and for this reason the husband is not bound to satisfy her.
Reply to Objection 3. If the husband be rendered incapable of paying the debt through a cause consequent upon marriage, for instance through having already paid the debt and being unable to pay it, the wife has no right to ask again, and in doing so she behaves as a harlot rather than as a wife. But if he be rendered incapable through some other cause, then if this be a lawful cause, he is not bound, and she cannot ask, but if it be an unlawful cause, then he sins, and his wife's sin, should she fall into fornication on this account, is somewhat imputable to him. Hence he should endeavor to do his best that his wife may remain continent.
Reply to Objection 4. Leprosy voids a betrothal but not a marriage. Wherefore a wife is bound to pay the debt even to a leprous husband. But she is not bound to cohabit with him, because she is not so liable to infection from marital intercourse as from continual cohabitation. And though the child begotten of them be diseased, it is better to be thus than not at all.
Objection 1. It would seem that the husband is not bound to pay the marriage debt if his wife does not ask for it. For an affirmative precept is binding only at a certain time. But the time fixed for the payment of the debt can only be when it is asked for. Therefore he is not bound to payment otherwise.
Objection 2. Further, we ought to presume the better things of everyone. Now even for married people it is better to be continent than to make use of marriage. Therefore unless she ask expressly for the debt, the husband should presume that it pleases her to be continent, and so he is not bound to pay her the debt.
Objection 3. Further, as the wife has power over her husband, so has a master over his slave. Now a slave is not bound to serve his master save when the latter commands him. Therefore neither is a husband bound to pay the debt to his wife except when she demands it.
Objection 4. Further, the husband can sometimes request his wife not to exact the debt when she asks for it. Much more therefore may he not pay it when he is not asked.
On the contrary, By the payment of the debt a remedy is afforded against the wife's concupiscence. Now a physician who has the care of a sick person is bound to remedy the disease without being asked. Therefore the husband is bound to pay the debt to his wife although she ask not for it. Further, a superior is bound to apply a remedy for the sins of his subjects even though they rebel against it. But the payment of the debt on the husband's part is directed against the sins of his wife. Therefore sometimes the husband is bound to pay the debt to his wife even though she ask it not of him.
I answer that, The debt may be demanded in two ways. First, explicitly, as when they ask one another by words; secondly, implicitly, when namely the husband knows by certain signs that the wife would wish him to pay the debt, but is silent through shame. And so even though she does not ask for the debt explicitly in words, the husband is bound to pay it, whenever his wife shows signs of wishing him to do so.
Reply to Objection 1. The appointed time is not only when it is demanded but also when on account of certain signs there is fear of danger (to avoid which is the purpose of the payment of the debt) unless it be paid then.
Reply to Objection 2. The husband may presume this of his wife when he perceives in her no signs of the contrary; but it would be foolish of him to admit this presumption if he does see such signs.
Reply to Objection 3. The master is not ashamed to demand of his slave the duty of his service, as a wife is to ask the marriage debt of her husband. Yet if the master were not to demand it, either through ignorance or some other cause, the slave would nevertheless be bound to fulfill his duty, if some danger were threatening. For this is what is meant by "not serving to the eye" (Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22) which is the Apostle's command to servants.
Reply to Objection 4. A husband should not dissuade his wife from asking for the debt, except for a reasonable cause; and even then he should not be too insistent, on account of the besetting danger.
[This and the Fourth Article are omitted in the Leonine edition.]
Objection 1. It would seem lawful for a menstruous wife to ask for the marriage debt. For in the Law a man who had an issue of seed was unclean, even as a menstruous woman. Yet a man who has an issue of seed may ask for the debt. Therefore a menstruous wife may also.
Objection 2. Further, leprosy is a worse complaint than suffering from monthly periods, and would seem to cause a greater corruption in the offspring. Yet a leper can ask for the debt. Therefore, etc.
Objection 3. Further, if a menstruous wife is not allowed to ask for the debt, this can only be because it is feared this may be detrimental to the offspring. Yet if the wife be unfruitful there is no such fear. Therefore, seemingly, at least an unfruitful wife may ask for the debt during her menses.
On the contrary, "Thou shalt not approach to a woman having her flowers" (Leviticus 18:19) where Augustine observes: "Although he has already sufficiently forbidden this he repeats the prohibition here lest he seem to have spoken figuratively."
Further, "All our justices" are become "as the rag of a menstruous woman" (Isaiah 64:6) where Jerome observes: "Men ought then to keep away from their wives because thus is a deformed blind lame leprous offspring conceived: so that those parents who are not ashamed to come together in sexual intercourse have their sin made obvious to all": and thus the same conclusion follows.
I answer that, It was forbidden in the Law to approach to a menstruous woman, for two reasons both on account of her uncleanness, and on account of the harm that frequently resulted to the offspring from such intercourse. With regard to the first reason, it was a ceremonial precept, but with regard to the second it was a moral precept. For since marriage is chiefly directed to the good of the offspring, all use of marriage which is intended for the good of the offspring is in order. Consequently this precept is binding even in the New Law on account of the second reason, although not on account of the first. Now, the menstrual issue may be natural or unnatural. The natural issue is that to which women are subject at stated periods when they are in good health; and it is unnatural when they suffer from an issue of blood through some disorder resulting from sickness. Accordingly if the menstrual flow be unnatural it is not forbidden in the New Law to approach to a menstruous woman both on account of her infirmity since a woman in that state cannot conceive, and because an issue of this kind is lasting and continuous, so that the husband would have to abstain for always. When however the woman is subject to a natural issue of the menstruum, she can conceive; moreover, the said issue lasts only a short time, wherefore it is forbidden to approach to her. In like manner a woman is forbidden to ask for the debt during the period of that issue.
Reply to Objection 1. The issue of seed in a man is the result of infirmity, nor is the seed in this case apt for generation. Moreover a complaint of this kind is continual or lasting like leprosy: wherefore the comparison falls.
This suffices for the Reply to the Second Objection.
Reply to Objection 3. As long as a woman is subject to the menses it cannot be certain that she is sterile. For some are sterile in youth, and in course of time become fruitful, and "vice versa," as the Philosopher observes (De Gener. Anim. xvi).
[This and the previous article are omitted in the Leonine edition.]
Objection 1. It would seem that a menstruous wife may not pay the marriage debt to her husband at his asking. For it is written (Leviticus 20:18) that if any man approach to a menstruous woman both shall be put to death. Therefore it would seem that both he who asks and she who grants are guilty of mortal sin.
Objection 2. Further, "Not only they that do them but they also that consent to them are worthy of death" (Romans 1:32). Now he who knowingly asks for the debt from a menstruous woman sins mortally. Therefore she also sins mortally by consenting to pay the debt.
Objection 3. Further, a madman must not be given back his sword lest he kill himself or another. Therefore in like manner neither should a wife give her body to her husband during her menses, lest he be guilty of spiritual murder.
On the contrary, "The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband" (1 Corinthians 7:4). Therefore at his asking his wife must pay the debt even during her menses.
Further, the menstruous wife should not be an occasion of sin to her husband. But she would give her husband an occasion of sin, if she paid him not the debt at his asking; since he might commit fornication. Therefore, etc.
I answer that, In this regard some have asserted that a menstruous woman may not pay the debt even as she may not ask for it. For just as she would not be bound to pay it if she had some personal ailment so as to make it dangerous for herself, so is she not bound to pay for fear of danger to the offspring. But this opinion would seem to derogate from marriage, by which the husband is given entire power of his wife's body with regard to the marriage act. Nor is there any parallel between bodily affliction of the offspring and the danger to her own body: since, if the wife be ailing, it is quite certain that she would be endangered by the carnal act, whereas this is by no means so certain with regard to the offspring which perhaps would not be forthcoming.
Wherefore others say that a menstruous woman is never allowed to ask for the debt; and that if her husband ask, he does so either knowingly or in ignorance. If knowingly, she ought to dissuade him by her prayers and admonitions; yet not so insistently as possibly to afford him an occasion of falling into other, and those sinful, practices, if he be deemed that way inclined. If however, he ask in ignorance, the wife may put forward some motive, or allege sickness as a reason for not paying the debt, unless there be fear of danger to her husband. If, however, the husband ultimately persists in his request, she must yield to his demand. But it would not be safe for her to make known ["Indicare," as in the commentary on the Sentences; the Leonine edition reads "judicare."] her disaffection, lest this make her husband entertain a repulsion towards her, unless his prudence may be taken for granted.
Reply to Objection 1. This refers to the case when both willingly consent, but not when the woman pays the debt by force as it were.
Reply to Objection 2. Since there is no consent without the concurrence of the will, the woman is not deemed to consent in her husband's sin unless she pay the debt willingly. For when she is unwilling she is passive rather than consenting.
Reply to Objection 3. A madman should be given back his sword if a greater danger were feared from its not being returned to him: and thus it is in the case in point.
Objection 1. It would seem that husband and wife are not equal in the marriage act. For according to Augustine (Gen. ad lit. xii) the agent is more noble than the patient. But in the marriage act the husband is as agent and the wife as patient. Therefore they are not equal in that act.
Objection 2. Further, the wife is not bound to pay her husband the debt without being asked; whereas he is so bound, as stated above (1,2). Therefore they are not equal in the marriage act.
Objection 3. Further, the woman was made on the man's account in reference to marriage according to Genesis 2:18, "Let us make him a help like unto himself." But that on account of which another thing is, is always the principal. Therefore, etc.
Objection 4. Further, marriage is chiefly directed to the marriage act. But in marriage "the husband is the head of the wife" (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore they are not equal in the aforesaid act.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Corinthians 7:4): "The husband . . . hath not power of his own body," and the same is said of the wife. Therefore they are equal in the marriage act.
Further, Marriage is a relation of equiparence, since it is a kind of union, as stated above (44, 1,3). Therefore husband and wife are equal in the marriage act.
I answer that, Equality is twofold, of quantity and of proportion. Equality of quantity is that which is observed between two quantities of the same measure, for instance a thing two cubits long and another two cubits in length. But equality of proportion is that which is observed between two proportions of the same kind as double to double. Accordingly, speaking of the first equality, husband and wife are not equal in marriage; neither as regards the marriage act, wherein the more noble part is due to the husband, nor as regards the household management, wherein the wife is ruled and the husband rules. But with reference to the second kind of equality, they are equal in both matters, because just as in both the marriage act and in the management of the household the husband is bound to the wife in all things pertaining to the husband, so is the wife bound to the husband in all things pertaining to the wife. It is in this sense that it is stated in the text (Sent. iv, D, 32) that they are equal in paying and demanding the debt.
Reply to Objection 1. Although it is more noble to be active than passive, there is the same proportion between patient and passivity as between agent and activity; and accordingly there is equality of proportion between them.
Reply to Objection 2. This is accidental. For the husband having the more noble part in the marriage act, it is natural that he should be less ashamed than the wife to ask for the debt. Hence it is that the wife is not bound to pay the debt to her husband without being asked, whereas the husband is bound to pay it to the wife.
Reply to Objection 3. This proves that they are not equal absolutely, but not that they are not equal in proportion.
Reply to Objection 4. Although the head is the principal member, yet just as the members are bound to the head in their own respective capacities, so is the head in its own capacity bound to the members: and thus there is equality of proportion between them.
Objection 1. It would seem that husband and wife may take a vow contrary to the marriage debt without their mutual consent. For husband and wife are equally bound to pay the debt, as stated above (Article 5). Now it is lawful for the husband, even if his wife be unwilling, to take the cross in defense of the Holy Land: and consequently this is also lawful to the wife. Therefore, since this prevents the payment of the debt, either husband or wife may without the other's consent take the aforesaid vow.
Objection 2. Further, in taking a vow one should not await the consent of another who cannot dissent without sin. Now the husband or wife cannot, without sin, refuse their consent to the other's taking a vow of continence whether absolutely or for a time; because to prevent a person's spiritual progress is a sin against the Holy Ghost. Therefore the one can take a vow of continence either absolutely or for a time, without the other's consent.
Objection 3. Further, in the marriage act, the debt has to be demanded just as it has to be paid. Now the one can, without the other's consent, vow not to demand the debt, since in this he is within his own rights. Therefore he can equally take a vow not to pay the debt.
Objection 4. Further, no one can be bound by the command of a superior to do what he cannot lawfully vow or do simply, since one must not obey in what is unlawful. Now the superior authority might command the husband not to pay the debt to his wife for a time, by occupying him in some service. Therefore he might, of his own accord, do or vow that which would hinder him from paying the debt.
Further, no one can vow that which belongs to another. Now "the husband . . . hath not power of his own body, but the wife" (1 Corinthians 7:4). Therefore, without her consent, the husband cannot take a vow of continence whether absolutely or for a time.
I answer that, A vow is a voluntary act, as its very name implies: and consequently a vow can only be about those goods which are subject to our will, and those in which one person is bound to another do not come under this head. Therefore in matters of this kind one person cannot take a vow without the consent of the one to whom he is bound. Consequently, since husband and wife are mutually bound as regards the payment of the debt which is an obstacle to continence, the one cannot vow continence without the other's consent; and if he take the vow he sins, and must not keep the vow, but must do penance for an ill-taken vow [Cf. 53, 1,4; 61, 1].
Reply to Objection 1. It is sufficiently probable that the wife ought to be willing to remain continent for a time, in order to succor the need of the universal Church. Hence in favor of the business for which the cross is given to him, it is laid down that the husband may take the cross without his wife's consent, even as he might go fighting without the consent of his landlord whose land he has leased. And yet the wife is not entirely deprived of her right, since she can follow him. Nor is there a parallel between wife and husband: because, since the husband has to rule the wife and not "vice versa," the wife is bound to follow her husband rather than the husband the wife. Moreover there would be more danger to the wife's chastity as a result of wandering from country to country, than to the husband's, and less profit to the Church. Wherefore the wife cannot take this vow without her husband's consent.
Reply to Objection 2. The one spouse, by refusing to consent to the other's vow of continence, does not sin, because the object of his dissent is to hinder not the other's good, but the harm to himself.
Reply to Objection 3. There are two opinions on this point. For some say that one can without the other's consent vow not to demand the debt, not however not to pay it, because in the former case they are both within their own rights, but not in the second. Seeing, however, that if one were never to ask for the debt, marriage would become too burdensome to the other who would always have to undergo the shame of asking for the debt, others assert with greater probability that neither vow can be lawfully taken by one spouse without the other's consent.
Reply to Objection 4. Just as the wife receives power over her husband's body, without prejudice to the husband's duty to his own body, so also is it without prejudice to his duty to his master. Hence just as a wife cannot ask her husband for the debt to the detriment of his bodily health, so neither can she do this so as to hinder him in his duty to his master. And yet the master cannot for this reason prevent her from paying the debt.
Objection 1. It would seem that a person ought not to be forbidden to ask for the debt on holy days. For the remedy should be applied when the disease gains strength. Now concupiscence may possibly gain strength on a feast day. Therefore the remedy should be applied then by asking for the debt.
Objection 2. Further, the only reason why the debt should not be demanded on feast days is because they are devoted to prayer. Yet on those days certain hours are appointed for prayer. Therefore one may ask for the debt at some other time.
On the contrary, Just as certain places are holy because they are devoted to holy things, so are certain times holy for the same reason. But it is not lawful to demand the debt in a holy place. Therefore neither is it lawful at a holy time.
I answer that, Although the marriage act is void of sin, nevertheless since it oppresses the reason on account of the carnal pleasure, it renders man unfit for spiritual things. Therefore, on those days when one ought especially to give one's time to spiritual things, it is not lawful to ask for the debt.
Reply to Objection 1. At such a time other means may be employed for the repression of concupiscence; for instance, prayer and many similar things, to which even those who observe perpetual continence have recourse.
Objection 1. It would seem that it is a mortal sin to ask for the debt at a holy time. For Gregory says (Dial. i) that the devil took possession of a woman who had intercourse with her husband at night and came in the morning to the procession. But this would not have happened had she not sinned mortally. Therefore, etc.
Objection 2. Further, whoever disobeys a Divine command commits a mortal sin. Now the Lord commanded (Exodus 19:15): "Come not near your wives," when namely they were about to receive the Law. Much more therefore do husbands sin mortally if they have intercourse with their wives at a time when they should be intent on the sacred observances of the New Law.
I answer that, To ask for the debt on a feast day is not a circumstance drawing a sin into another species; wherefore it cannot aggravate infinitely. Consequently a wife or husband does not sin mortally by asking for the debt on a feast day. It is however a more grievous sin to ask for the sake of mere pleasure, than through fear of the weakness of the flesh.
Reply to Objection 2. The authority quoted shows not that it is a mortal sin but that it is unbecoming. For under the Old Law which was given to a carnal people many things were required under an obligation of precept, for the sake of bodily cleanness, which are not required in the New Law which is the law of the spirit.
Objection 1. It would seem that neither are they bound to pay the debt at a festal time. For those who commit a sin as well as those who consent thereto are equally punished (Romans 1:32). But the one who pays the debt consents with the one that asks, who sins. Therefore he sins also.
Objection 2. Further, it is an affirmative precept that binds us to pray, and therefore we are bound to do so at a fixed time. Therefore one ought not to pay the debt at a time when one is bound to pray, as neither ought one at a time when one is bound to fulfill a special duty towards a temporal master.
On the contrary, It is written (1 Corinthians 7:5): "Defraud not one another, except by consent, for a time," etc. Therefore when one spouse asks the other must pay.
I answer that, Since the wife has power of her husband's body, and "vice versa," with regard to the act of procreation, the one is bound to pay the debt to the other, at any season or hour, with due regard to the decorum required in such matters, for this must not be done at once openly.
Reply to Objection 1. As far as he is concerned he does not consent, but grants unwillingly and with grief that which is exacted of him; and consequently he does not sin. For it is ordained by God, on account of the weakness of the flesh, that the debt must always be paid to the one who asks lest he be afforded an occasion of sin.
Reply to Objection 2. No hour is fixed for praying, but that compensation can be made at some other hour; wherefore the argument is not cogent.
Objection 1. It would seem that weddings ought not to be forbidden at certain times. For marriage is a sacrament: and the celebration of the others sacraments is not forbidden at those times. Therefore neither should the celebration of marriage be forbidden then.
Objection 2. Further, asking for the marriage debt is more unbecoming on feast days than the celebration of marriage. Yet the debt may be asked for on those days. Therefore also marriages may be solemnized.
Objection 3. Further, marriages that are contracted in despite of the law of the Church ought to be dissolved. Yet marriages are not dissolved if they be contracted at those times. Therefore it should not be forbidden by a commandment of the Church.
On the contrary, It is written (Ecclesiastes 3:5): "A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces."
I answer that, When the newly married spouse is given to her husband, the minds of husband and wife are taken up with carnal preoccupations by reason of the very newness of things, wherefore weddings are wont to be signalized by much unrestrained rejoicing. On this account it is forbidden to celebrate marriages at those times when men ought especially to arise to spiritual things. Those times are from Advent until the Epiphany because of the Communion which, according to the ancient Canons, is wont to be made at Christmas (as was observed in its proper place, III, 30), from Septuagesima until the octave day of Easter, on account of the Easter Communion, and from the three days before the Ascension until the octave day of Pentecost, on account of the preparation for Communion to be received at that time.
Reply to Objection 1. The celebration of marriage has a certain worldly and carnal rejoicing connected with it, which does not apply to the other sacraments. Hence the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 2. There is not such a distraction of minds caused by the payment of a request for the debt as by the celebration of a marriage; and consequently the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 3. Since time is not essential to a marriage contracted within the forbidden seasons, the marriage is nevertheless a true sacrament. Nor is the marriage dissolved absolutely, but for a time, that they may do penance for having disobeyed the commandment of the Church. It is thus that we are to understand the statement of the Master (Sent. iv, D, 33), namely that should a marriage have been contracted or a wedding celebrated at the aforesaid times, those who have done so "ought to be separated." Nor does he say this on his own authority, but in reference to some canonical ordinance, such as that of the Council of Lerida, which decision is quoted by the Decretals.
The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas
Second and Revised Edition, 1920
Literally translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province
Online Edition Copyright © 2008 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat. F. Innocentius Apap, O.P., S.T.M., Censor. Theol.
Imprimatur. Edus. Canonicus Surmont, Vicarius Generalis. Westmonasterii.
Nihil Obstat. F. Raphael Moss, O.P., S.T.L. and F. Leo Moore, O.P., S.T.L.
Imprimatur. F. Beda Jarrett, O.P., S.T.L., A.M., Prior Provincialis Angliæ
MARIÆ IMMACULATÆ - SEDI SAPIENTIÆ