Catholic History


Continued from February

The Nature of the Sacramental Grace, etc. _ Marriage, then, is a sacrament of the new law, and as such confers grace. The sacrament can only be received by those who have already received. baptism, the gate of all the other sacraments; and marriage is not, like baptism and penance, instituted for the cleansing of sin, so that grace is conferred on those, and those only, who are at peace with God. Christians who are in mortal sin may contract a valid marriage, but they receive no grace, though they do receive the sacrament and therefore have a claim and title to the sacramental grace when they have amended their lives by sincere repentance. Christians, on the other hand, who contract marriage with due dispositions receive an increase of sanctifying grace, and, besides, special graces which enable them to live in mutual and enduring affection, to bear with each other's infirmities, to be faithful to each other in every thought, and to bring up the children whom God may give them in His fear and love. They may go confidently to God for every help they need in that holy state to which He has deigned to call them, for He Himself has sealed their, union by a great sacrament of the Gospel. Theologians are not agreed about the time when Christ instituted the sacrament. Some say at the wedding in Cana; others when He abrogated the liberty of divorce (Matt. xix.); others in the great Forty Days after Easter.

If we ask, further, how this grace is conferred, or in other words who are the Ministers of the Sacrament, what are the words and other signs through which it is given, the answer is far from easy. It is evident that there must be a real consent to the marriage on both sides, otherwise there can be no contract and therefore no sacrament. But is the expression of mutual consent enough? The great majority of mediæval theologians, though William of Paris is quoted on the other side, answered yes. They held that wherever baptized persons contracted marriage they necessarily received the sacrament of marriage also. On this theory, the parties themselves are the ministers of the sacrament; the matter consists in the words or other signs by which each gives him or herself over to the other; the form, which gives a determinate character to the matter, consists in the acceptation of this surrender by each of the contracting parties. Hence (apart from the positive enactments of Trent, for which see Clandestinity, under IMPEDIMENTS OF MARRIAGE), wherever Christians bind themselves by outward signs to live as man and wife, they receive the sacrament of marriage. No priest or religious ceremony of any kind is needed. A very different view was put forward in the sixteenth century by Melchior Canus ("Loci Theol." viii. 5). He held that the priest was the minister of the sacrament; the expressed consent to live as man and wife, the matter; the words of the priest, "I join you in marriage," or the like, the necessary form. A marriage not contracted in the face of the Church would, on this theory, be a true and valid marriage, but not a sacrament. Theologians and scholars of the greatest learning and highest reputation, Sylvius, Estius, Tournely, Juenin, Renaudot, etc., (see Billuart, "De Matrim." diss. i. a. 6) embraced this opinion. In its defense an appeal might be made with great plausibility to the constant usage of Christians from the earliest times, for they have always been required to celebrate marriage before the priest: But it is to be observed that Tertullian ("De Pudic." 4), strong as his language is against marriages not contracted before the Church, says that such unions "are in danger" (periclitantur) of being regarded as no better than concubinage, which implies that they were not really so. Nor does he make any distinction between the contract of marriage in Christians and the sacrament, though it would have been much to his purpose could he have done so. Besides, the language of the Fathers quoted above points to a belief that Christ elevated the contract of marriage to a sacrament, not that He superadded the sacrament to marriage. Moreover Denzinger ("Ritus Orientales," tom. i. p. 152 seq.) shows that the Nestorians, who have retained the nuptial benediction from the Church and believe in the obligation of securing it, still consider that marriage, even as a sacred rite, may be performed by the parties themselves if the priest cannot be had; and he quotes from Gregorius Datheviensis this dictum, "Marriage is effected through consent expressed in words, but perfected and consummated by the priest's blessing and by cohabitation." Now, at all events, the former of the two opinions given is the only tenable one in the Church. Pius IX in an allocution. September 27, 1852, laid down the principle that there "can be no marriage among the faithful which is not at one and the same time a sacrament;" and among the condemned propositions of the Syllabus appended to the Encyclical "Quanta Cura" of 1864, the sixtyfourth runs thus: "The sacrament of marriage is something accessory to and separable from the contract, and the sacrament itself depends simply on the nuptial benediction." Whether, supposing a Christian (having obtained a dispensation to that effect) were to marry a person who is not baptized, the Christian party would receive the sacrament as well as enter into the contract of marriage, is a matter on which theologians differ. Analogy seems to favor the affirmative opinion.

The Conditions for the Validity of Marriage are mostly identical with the conditions which determine the validity of contracts in general. The consent to the union must be mutual, voluntary, deliberate, and manifested by external signs. The signs of consent need not be verbal in order to make the marriage valid, though the rubric of the Ritual requires the content to be expressed in that manner. The consent must be to actual marriage then and there, not at some future time; for in the latter case we should have engagement to marry, or betrothal, not marriage itself. Consent to marry if a certain condition in the past or present be realized (e.g. "I take you N. for my wife, if you are the daughter of M. and N.") suffices, supposing that the condition be fulfilled. Nay, it is generally held that if a condition be added dependent on future contingencies (e.g. "I take you N. for my wife, if your father will give you such and such a dowry") the marriage becomes a valid one without any renewal of the contract, whenever the condition becomes a reality. The condition appended, however, must not be contrary to the essence of marriage _ i.e. a man cannot take a woman for his wife to have and hold just as long as he pleases. (See Gury, "Theol. Moral." De Matrimon. cap, iii.)

III. Indissolubility of Marriage. _ The law of Israel (Deut. xxiv. I) allowed a man to divorce his wife if she did not find grace in his eyes, because he found her in some shameful thing ( * * *, literally the "nakedness or shame of a thing;" LXX, aschemon pragma ; Vulg. aliquam fædiatem), and the woman was free at once to marry another man. The school of Shammai kept to the simple meaning of the text. Hillel thought any cause of offense sufficient for divorce _ e.g. "if a woman let the broth burn;" while R. Akiva held that a man might divorce his wife if he found another woman handsomer. (See the quotation from "Arbah Turim Nilchoth Gittin," i. in McCaul, "Old Paths," p. 189.) The Pharisees tried to entangle Christ in these Rabbinical disputes when they asked Him if a man might put away his wife "for any cause." In Athens and in Rome under the Empire the liberty of divorce reached the furthest limits of Rabbinical license. (For details see Döllinger, "Gentile and Jew," Engl. Transl. vol. ii. p. 236 seq. p. 254 seq.) Our Lord, as we have already seen, condemned the Pharisaic immorality, annulled the, Mosaic dispensation, and declared, "Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery, and he who marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery" (Matt. xix. 9). The Catholic understands our Lord to mean that the bond of marriage is always, even when one of the wedded parties has proved unfaithful, indissoluble, and from the first Christ's declaration made the practice of Christians with regard to divorce essentially and conspicuously different from those of their heathen and Jewish neighbors. Still it was only by degrees that the strict practice, or even the strict theory just stated, was accepted in the Church. And before we enter on the interpretation of Christ's words, we will give a sketch of the history of practice and opinion on the matter.

Christian princes had of course to deal with the subject of divorce, but they did not at once recast the old laws on Christian principles. Constantine, Theodosius the Younger, and Valentinian III., forbade divorce except on certain specified grounds; other emperors, like Anastasius (in 497) and Justin (whose law was in force till 900), permitted divorce by mutual consent, but no one emperor limited divorce to the single case of adultery. Chardon says that divorce (of course a vinculo) was allowed among the Ostrogoths in Spain till the thirteenth century, in France under the first and second dynasties, in Germany till the seventh century, in Britain till the tenth. (Chardon, "Hist. des Sacrements," tom. v. Mariage, ch. v.)

It would be waste of labour to accumulate quotations from the Fathers in proof of their belief that divorce was unlawful except in the case of adultery. But it is very important to notice that the oldest tradition, both of the Greek and Latin churches, regarded marriage as absolutely indissoluble. Thus the "Pastor Hermæ" (lib. ii. Mand. iv. c. I), Athenagoras, "Legat." 33 (whose testimony, however, does not count for much, since he objected to second marriages altogether), and Tertullian ("De Monog." 9), who speaks in this place, as the context shows, for the Catholic Church, teach this clearly and unequivocally. The principle is recognized in the Apostolic Canons (Canon 48, al 47), by the Council of Elvira, held at the beginning of the fourth century, Canon 9 (which, however, only speaks of a woman who has left an unfaithful husband), and by other early authorities.

However, the Eastern Christians, though not, as we have seen, in the earliest times, came to understand our Lord's words as permitting a second marriage in the case of adultery, which was supposed to dissolve the marriage bond altogether. Such is the view and practice of the Greeks and Oriental sects at the present day. And even in certain parts of the West similar views prevailed for a time. Many French synods (e.g. those of Vannes' in 465 and of Compiegne in 756) allow the husband of a wife who has been unfaithful to marry again in her lifetime. Nay, the latter council permitted remarriage in other cases; if a woman had a husband struck by leprosy and got leave from him to marry another or if a man had given his wife leave to go into a convent (Canons 16 and 19). Pope Gregory II., in a letter to St. Boniface in the year 726, recommended that the husband of a wife seized by sickness which prevented cohabitation should not marry again, but left him free to do so provided he maintained his first wife. (Quoted by Hefele, "Beiträge," vol. ii. P. 376.) At Florence the question of divorce was discussed between the Latins and Greeks, but after the Decree of Union; and we do not know what answers the Greeks gave on the matter. The Council of Trent confirmed the present doctrine and discipline which had long prevailed in the West in the following words: "If any man say that the Church is in error because it has taught and teaches, following the doctrine of the Gospels and the Apostles, that the bond of marriage cannot be dissolved because of the adultery of one or both parties, let him be anathema." (Sess. xxiv. De Matrim. can. 5.) The studious moderation of language here is obvious, for the canon does not directly require any doctrine to be accepted; it only anathematizes those who condemn a certain doctrine, and implies that this doctrine is taught by the Church and derived from Christ. It was the Venetian ambassadors who prevailed on the Fathers to draw up the canon in this indirect form, so as to avoid needless offense to the Greek subjects of Venice in Cyprus, Candia Corfu Zante, and Cephalonia. The canon was no doubt chiefly meant to stem the erroneous views of Lutherans and Calvinists on divorce.

Our Lord's utterances on the subject of divorce present some difficulty. In Mark x. 11, 12; Luke xvi. 18, He absolutely prohibits divorce: "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her; and if a woman put away her husband and be married to another, she committeth adultery." But in Matt. xix. 9, 10, there is a marked difference: "Whosoever shall put away his wife except for fornication, and marry another, committeth adultery; and he who marrieth a woman put away committeth adultery." So also Matt. v. 32. Protestant commentators understand our Lord to prohibit divorce except in the case of adultery, when the innocent party at least may marry again. Maldonatus, who acknowledges the difficulty of the text, takes the sense to be _ "Whoever puts away his wife except for infidelity commits adultery, because of the danger of falling into licentiousness to which he unjustly exposes her, and so does he who in any case, even if his wife has proved unfaithful, marries another." He takes St. Mark and St. Luke as explanatory of the obscure passage in St. Matthew. Subsequent scholars, we venture to think, have by no means improved on Maldonatus. Hug, who is never to be mentioned without respect, suggested that Christ first (in Matt. V. 32) forbade divorce _ except in case of adultery; then (Matt. xix. 9, 10) forbade it altogether, the words "except for fornication" in the latter place being an interpolation _ a suggestion perfectly arbitrary and followed by nobody. A wellknown Catholic commentator, Schegg, interprets the words "for fornication" (epi porneiai) to mean, because the man has found his marriage to be null because of some impediment, and so no marriage at all, but mere concubinage." In this event there would be no occasion for or possibility of divorce. On Matt. v. 32 (parektos logou porneias, save where fornication is the motive reason of the divorce) he thinks Christ took for granted that the adulteress would be put to death (according to Levit. xx. 10) and so leave her husband free, an hypothesis which is contradicted by the "pericope of the adulteress." (John viii. 3 seq.). Döllinger's elaborate theory given in the Appendix to his "First Age of the Church" is less ingenious than that of Hug, but scarcely less arbitrary. He urges that porneuein can only refer to "fornication," and cannot be used of sin committed after marriage; but porneia and porneuein are used of adultery (I Cor. v. I; Amos vii. 17; Sir. xxiii. 33), so that we need not linger over Döllinger's contention (which has no historical basis, and is objectionable in every way) that antenuptial sin on the woman's part annulled the union and left the man free, if he was unaware of it when he meant to contract marriage.5

The IV. 7he Unity of Marriage. _ The unlawfulness of polygamy in the common sense of the word follows from the declaration of Christ Himself, and there was no room for further question on the matter. With regard to reiteration of marriage, St. Paul (I Cor. vii. 39, 40) distinctly asserts that a woman is free to marry on her husband's death. Still there is a natural feeling against a second marriage, which Virgil expresses in the beautiful words he puts into Dido's mouth

Ille meos, primus qui me sibi junxit, amores

Abstulit; ille habeat secum servetque sepulcro.

And this feeling, of which there are many traces among the heathen, was yet more natural in Christians, who might well look to a continuance in a better world of the love which had begun and grown stronger year by year on earth. Moreover, the Apostle puts those who had married again at a certain disadvantage, for he excludes them (I Tim. iii. 2 ; Titus i. 6) from the episcopate and priesthood. And the Church, though she held fast the lawfulness of second marriage and condemned the error of the Montanists (see Tertullian "De Monog." _ "Exhortat. Castitatis") and of some Novatians (Concil. Nic. i. Canon 8), treated such unions with a certain disfavor. This aversion was much more strongly manifested in the East than in the West.

Athenagoras ("Legat." 33) says Christians marry not at all, or only once, since they look on second marriage as a "specious adultery" (eupretes esti moicheia). Clement of Alexandria ("Strom." iii. I, p. 551, ed. Potter) simply repeats the Apostolic injunction, "But as to the second marriage, if thou art on fire, says the Apostle, marry." (In iii. 12, p. 551, he is referring to simultaneous bigamy.) Early in the fourth century we find Eastern councils showing strong disapproval of second marriage. Thus the Council of Neocæsarea (Canon 7) forbids priests to take part in the feasts of those who married a second time, and assumes that the latter must do penance. The Council of Ancyra (Canon 19) also takes this for granted, and the Council of Laodicea (Canon 1) only admits those who have married again to communion after prayer and fasting. Basil treats this branch of Church discipline in great detail. For those who married a second time he prescribes, following ancient precedent, a penance for one year, and of several years for those who marry more than once. (See the references in Hefele, "Concil." i. p. 339; "Beiträge," i. P. 50 seq.) Basil's rigorism had a decided influence on the later Greek church. A Council of Constantinople, in 920, discouraged second, imposed penance for third, and excommunication for fourth, marriage. Such is the discipline of the modern Greek church. At a second marriage the "benediction of the crowns" is omitted, and, propitiatory prayers" are said; and although some concessions have been made with regard to the former ceremony Leo Allatius testifies that it was still omitted in some parts of the Greek church as late as the seventeenth century. A fourth marriage is still absolutely prohibited.6

The Latin Church has always been milder and more consistent. The "Pastor Hermæ" (lib. ii. Mandat. iv. 4) emphatically maintains that there is no sin in second marriage. St. Ambrose ("De Viduis," c. 11) contents himself with saying, "We do not prohibit second marriages, but we do not approve marriages frequently reiterated." Jerome's words are, "I do not condemn those who marry twice, three times, nay, if such a thing can be said, eight times (non damno digamos, imo et trigamos, et, si dici potest octogamos)," but he shows his dislike for repeated marriage (Ep. lxvii "Apol. pro libris adv. Jovin."). Gregory III. advises Boniface, the Apostle of Germany, to prevent, if he can, people marrying more than twice, but he does not call such unions sinful. Nor did the Latin Church impose any penance for reiterated marriage. We do, indeed, find penance imposed on those who marry again in the penitential books of Theodore who became archbishop of Canterbury in 668. But Theodore's view came from his Greek nationality; and if Herardus, archbishop of Tours, speaks of third marriage, etc., as "adultery," this is probably to be explained by the Greek influence which had spread from England to France. Anyhow, this is the earliest trace of such rigorism in the West.

The Latin Church, however, did exhibit one definite mark of disfavor for reiterated marriage. The "Corpus Juris" contains two decretals of Alexander III. and Urban III., forbidding priests to give the nuptial benediction in such cases. Durandus (died 1296) speaks of the custom in his time as different in different places. The "Rituale Romanum." of Paul V. (16051621) forbids the nuptial benediction, only tolerating the custom of giving it, when it already existed, if it was the man only who was being married again. The present Rubric permits the nuptial benediction except when the woman has been married before.

V. Ceremonies of Marriage._ From the earliest times and in all times Christians have been wont to celebrate their marriages in church, and to have them blessed by the priest; nor can they celebrate them otherwise without sin, except in case of necessity. "It is fitting," Ignatius writes ("Ad Polycarp." 5), "for men and women who marry to form this union with the approval of the bishop, that their union may be according to God." "What words can suffice," Tertullian says ("Ad Uxor." ii. 9), to tell the happiness of that marriage which the church unites, the oblation confirms, and the blessing seals, the angels announce, the Father acknowledges!"


5 Döllinger objects to the instance from I Cor. v. i. because he says there is no Greek word for "Incest," so that the Apostle was obliged to use porneia. Why porneia rather than moicheia? As to Amos vii. 17, "Thy wife will commit fornication In the city," he urges that this defilement was not to be voluntary on the woman's part, and therefore was not adultery. This argument proves too much. If it was not adultery because not willful, no more was it "fornication."

6 The Oriental sects (Copts, Jacobites, Armenians) are even stricter than the Greeks. The Nestorians, however, are, as might have been expected, free from any spirit of strictness on this point. Denzinger, Rit. Orient. i. p. 180.

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