Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Philosophy (School of Philosophy and Theology)

Schools and Centres

Philosophy and Theology

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Adam Cooper

Second Supervisor

Doctor Kevin Wagner


It is estimated that between 4.0% and 11.2% of married Catholic couples remain undesirably childless after exhausting licit medical treatments for their infertility. Yet, a critical appraisal of the documents of the Magisterium highlights an absence of substantial and constructive dialogue about fruitfulness for sterile Catholic couples. This thesis draws upon the insights of Hans Urs von Balthasar in order to construct a preliminary theology of marital fruitfulness that is specifically applicable to Christian couples unable to have biological children. Following the aforementioned appraisal of relevant Magisterial documents, this thesis is divided into two further sections. In the first section, the ordinarily Trinitarian distinction between opera ad intra and opera ad extra is appropriated to articulate the “fruitfulness ad intra” and “fruitfulness ad extra” of the Trinity, man and woman in God’s original plan, and the union of Christ and the Church according to Balthasar’s theology. In light of what emerges, the second section sets forth a preliminary theology of marital fruitfulness for sterile Christian couples. It is argued that our understanding must be informed and transformed by the meanings of fruitfulness and suffering as fully revealed in Christ. Under the New Covenant, all Christians are able to share in the fruitfulness of the cross, and this has specific implications for understanding marital fruitfulness ad intra and ad extra for sterile couples. Moreover, since Christ has appropriated suffering and death as a form of divine vitality, the experience of sterility itself can be embraced as an opportunity to share in and give expression to the fruitfulness of marital love in a unique way. The thesis concludes by considering the significance of this research for the teaching of the Magisterium and the pastoral care of sterile Christian couples as well as those preparing for marriage.

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