Discussions of marriage and its purpose often start with this biblical quote from Genesis 1:28.
New International Version
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”
King James Version
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.
New American Bible
28 God blessed them, saying: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.
The two phrases that stand out are: “be fruitful” (fertile) and “multiply” (increase in number).
The mandate from this is taken to mean that marriages should produce children. For most of history, that mandate made sense, not only from a religious perspective, but from the realities of life on earth. Life spans were short; many children did not survive to adulthood. Children were an economic asset, a source of labor on farms and in shops, even in factories, early in the industrial revolution. From a religious view, it also meant producing more souls to give glory to God.
During the 20th century that situation changed. Advances in medicine, availability of food and protection of children from dangerous labor (not yet in all countries) has resulted in a rapid increase in world population. For the first time in history, there are enough of us humans to have a serious impact on use of available resources and quality of the global environment. In other words, perhaps it is time to consider that we have fulfilled the biblical mandate to “fill the earth and subdue it.” If that is the case, it is time to consider where we go from here.
The other phrase, “be fruitful” has most often been interpreted as a synonym for multiply, but it is different in its scope. “Multiply” suggests simply an increase in numbers. “Be fruitful” includes multiplying, but carries a richer meaning of creating good in a large number of ways. These can include the whole process of raising and educating children to be productive members of the Church and society and by passing along our Faith in God. It goes beyond children to civic involvement, working for the common good, actively participating in community organizations, both religious and secular.
Any person can and should lead a fruitful life, but we believe that marriage provides a unique way to live one’s life in very fruitful ways. It creates a community of two, in which the commitment to love and care for one another helps the spouses to become the best that they can be in all aspects of who they are, whether it is intellectual, spiritual, physical or emotional. Our marriage has brought about changes in each of us that make us better people. We have supported each other in the trials and joys of raising four children and continuing to support them and our grandchildren. It has further allowed us to enrich other couples in their marriages and to educate young people and adults in our roles as teachers. The Sacrament of Marriage calls all married couples to live their lives for the benefit of the local and world communities and the commitment to it helps us to be fruitful. Many couples don’t understand this and when they do are at a loss of how to live it on a daily, weekly or life time basis.
This all likely leads to more questions: Do individuals need to be married to multiply? Might the role and purpose of sex in marriage need more discussion? Can other individuals or combination of persons be fruitful in caring for children? Should the reasons for not multiplying be more important than the method/s used? What exactly is the call of fruitfulness in the Sacrament of Marriage? Can couples who have no children or those whose children are grown be fruitful in the Church and broader community? What kind of guidance do couples need in making decisions concerning fruitfulness?
We would like to see the Church recognize more explicitly this call to fruitfulness not only in the interpreted biblical sense of having children but in its broader meaning. It would help married couples to see their relationship’s value in the biblical mandate to be fruitful, whether they have several children, one child, or no children. Maybe it is time that the church begins to help couples, especially those preparing for marriage, to see that they are to be fruitful, not merely multipliers. What impact might that have on their Sacrament of Marriage and their relationship with the Church? Does the Church have to have all the answers? No. But perhaps it is time that the Church engages in a meaningful discussion with the medical, social and political communities on these issues. This will no doubt lead to better decision making by all and especially help couples to live marriage more fully in a spiritual and religious way.
Once again we have many questions. We would appreciate any thought you might have. Please leave a comment below.
Bob & Rita’s book: Forever and Day: An Invitation to Create a Marriage That Lasts a Lifetime is available on Amazon.com or by contacting us. Also available for Kindle and Nook. Make a retreat with your spouse, at home, on your time. Readings, relationship tips, questions for discussion.
Daily Readings, Reflection, and Prayer
A good way to start your day