Matrimony is not only a natural contract between husband and wife, but it has been elevated for Christians, by Jesus Christ, to the dignity of a Sacrament: "Husbands," says the Apostle, "love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church and delivered Himself up for it, ...so also ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. ... For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall adhere to his wife and they shall be one flesh. This is a great sacrament: but I speak in Christ and in the Church."[Ephes. v. 25-32.]
In these words the Apostle declares that the union of Christ with His Church is the type or model of the bond subsisting between man and wife. Now the union between Christ and His Church is supernatural and sealed by Divine grace. Hence, also, is the fellowship of a Christian husband and wife cemented by the grace of God. The wedded couple are bound to love one another during their whole lives, as Christ has loved His Church, and to discharge the virtues proper to the married state. In order to fulfil these duties special graces of our Savior are required.
The Fathers, Councils and Liturgies of the Western and the Oriental Churches, including the Coptic, Jacobite, Syriac, Nestorian and other schismatic bodies, which for upwards of fourteen centuries have been separated from the Catholic communion, all agree in recognizing Christian marriage as a Sacrament.
Hence the Council of Trent, speaking of Matrimony, says: "Christ Himself, the Institutor and Perfector of the venerable sacraments, merited for us by His passion the grace which might perfect that natural love, and confirm that indissoluble union, and sanctify the married; as the Apostle Paul intimates, saying: 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself for it;' adding shortly after: 'This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church.' (Ephes. v.) Whereas, therefore matrimony, in the evangelical law, excels in grace, through Christ, the ancient marriages; with reason have our holy Fathers and Councils and the tradition of the universal Church always taught that it is to be numbered among the sacraments of the new law."[Sess. xxiv.]
The Gospel forbids a man to have more than one wife, and a wife to have more than one husband. "Have you not read," says our Savior, "that He who made man in the beginning made them male and female? And He said, for this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Wherefore they are no more two, but one flesh."[Matt. xix. 4-6.] Our Lord recalls marriage to its primitive institution as it was ordained by Almighty God. (Gen. ii.) Now, marriage in its primitive ordinance was the union of one man with one woman, for Jehovah created but one helpmate to Adam. He would have created more, if His design had been to establish polygamy. The Scripture says that "man shall adhere to his wife"--not his wives. It does not declare that they shall be three or more, but that "they shall be two in one flesh."
Hence Mormonism, unhappily so prevalent in the United States, is at variance with the plain teachings of the Gospel, and is consequently condemned by the Catholic Church. Polygamy, wherever it exists, cannot fail to be a perpetual source of family discord and feuds. It fosters deadly jealousy and hate among the wives of the same household; it deranges the laws of succession and primogeniture and breeds rivalry among the children, each endeavoring to supplant the other in the affections and the inheritance of their common father.
Marriage is the most inviolable and irrevocable of all contracts that were ever formed. Every human compact may be lawfully dissolved but this. Nations may be justified in abrogating treaties with each other; merchants may dissolve partnerships; brothers will eventually leave the paternal roof, and, like Jacob and Esau, separate from one another. Friends, like Abraham and Lot, may be obliged to part company. But by the law of God the bond uniting husband and wife can be dissolved only by death. No earthly sword can sever the nuptial knot which the Lord has tied; for, "what God hath joined together, let no man put asunder."
It is worthy of remark that three of the Evangelists, as well as the Apostle of the Gentiles, proclaim the indissolubility of marriage and forbid a wedded person to engage in second wedlock during the life of this spouse. There is, indeed, scarcely a moral precept more strongly enforced in the Gospel than the indissoluble character of marriage validly contracted.
"The Pharisees came to Jesus, tempting Him and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? Who, answering, said to them: Have ye not read that He who made man from the beginning made them male and female? And He said: For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together let no man put asunder. They say to Him: Why, then, did Moses command to give a bill of divorce and to put away? He said to them: Because Moses, by reason of the hardness of your heart, permitted you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another committeth adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery."[Matt. xix. 3-9.] Our Savior here emphatically declares that the nuptial bond is ratified by God Himself, and hence that no man, nor any legislation framed by men, can validly dissolve the contract.
To the Pharisees interposing this objection, if marriage is not to be dissolved, why then did Moses command to give a divorce, our Lord replies that Moses did not command, but simply permitted the separation, and that in tolerating this indulgence the great lawgiver had regard to the violent passion of the Jewish people, who would fall into a greater excess if their desire to be divorced and to form a new alliance were refused. But our Savior reminded them that in the primitive times no such license was granted.
He then plainly affirms that such a privilege would not be conceded in the New Dispensation, for He adds: "I say to you: whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another committeth adultery." Protestant commentators erroneously assert that the text justifies an injured husband in separating from his adulterous wife and in marrying again. But the Catholic Church explains the Gospel in the sense that, while the offending consort may obtain a divorce from bed and board from his unfaithful wife, he is not allowed a divorce a vinculo matrimonii, so as to have the privilege of marrying another.
This interpretation is confirmed by the concurrent testimony of the Evangelists Mark and Luke and by St. Paul, all of whom prohibit a divorce a vinculo without any qualification whatever.
In St. Mark we read: "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband and be married to another she committeth adultery."[Mark x. 11, 12.]
The same unqualified declaration is made by St. Luke: "Every one that putteth away his wife and marrieth another committeth adultery; and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."[Luke xvi. 18.] Both of these Evangelists forbid either husband or wife to enter into second wedlock, how aggravating soever may be the cause of their separation. And surely, if the case of adultery authorized the aggrieved husband to marry another wife, those inspired penmen would not have failed to mention that qualifying circumstance.
Passing from the Gospels to the Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians, we find there also an absolute prohibition of divorce. The Apostle is writing to a city newly converted to the Christian religion. Among other topics he inculcates the doctrine of the Church respecting Matrimony. We must suppose that as an inspired writer and a faithful minister of the Word he discharges his duty conscientiously, without suppressing or extenuating one iota of the law. He addresses the Corinthians as follows: "To them that are married not I, but the Lord, commandeth that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife."[I. Cor. vii. 10, 11.] Here we find the Apostle, in his Master's name, commanding the separated couple to remain unmarried, without any reference to the case of adultery. If so important an exception existed, St. Paul would not have omitted to mention it; otherwise he would have rendered the Gospel yoke more grievous than its Founder intended.
We must, therefore, admit that, according to the religion of Jesus Christ, conjugal infidelity does not warrant either party to marry again, or we are forced to the conclusion that the vast number of Christians whose knowledge of Christianity was derived solely from the teachings of Saints Mark, Luke and Paul were imperfectly instructed in their faith.
Nor can we suppose that St. Matthew gave to the married Christians of Palestine a privilege which St. Paul withheld from the Corinthians; for then the early Christian Church might have witnessed the disedifying spectacle of aggrieved husbands seeking in Judea for a divorce from their adulterous wives which they could not obtain in Corinth just as discontented spouses, in our times, sue in a neighboring State for a legal separation which is denied them in their own. Christ is not divided, nor do the Apostles contradict one another.
The Catholic Church, following the light of the Gospel, forbids a divorced man to enter into second espousals during the life of his former partner. This is the inflexible law she first proclaimed in the face of Pagan Emperors and people and which she has ever upheld, in spite of the passions and voluptuousness of her own rebellious children.
Henry VIII, once an obedient son and defender of the Church, conceived in an evil hour, a criminal attachment for Anne Boleyn, a lady of the queen's household, whom he desired to marry after being divorced from his lawful consort, Catherine of Arragon. But Pope Clement VII, whose sanction he solicited, sternly refused to ratify the separation, though the Pontiff could have easily forseen that his determined action would involve the Church in persecution, and a whole nation in the unhappy schism of its ruler. Had the Pope acquiesced in the repudiation of Catherine, and in the marriage of Anne Boleyn, England would, indeed, have been spared to the Church, but the Church herself would have surrendered her peerless title of Mistress of Truth.
When Napoleon I repudiated his devoted wife, Josephine, and married Marie Louise, of Austria, so well assured was he of the fruitlessness of his attempt to obtain from the Holy See the sanction of his divorce and subsequent marriage that he did not even consult the Holy Father on the subject.
A few years previously Napoleon appealed to Pius VII to annul the marriage which his brother Jerome had contracted with Miss Patterson of Baltimore. The Pope sent the following reply to the Emperor: "Your majesty will understand that upon the information thus far received by us it is not in our power to pronounce a sentence of nullity. We cannot utter a judgment in opposition to the rules of the Church, and we could not, without laying aside those rules, decree the invalidity of a union which, according to the Word of God, no human power can sunder."
Christian wives and mothers, what gratitude you owe to the Catholic Church for the honorable position you now hold in society! If you are no longer regarded as the slave, but the equal of your husband; if you are no longer the toy of his caprice and liable to be discarded at any moment, like the women of Turkey and the Mormon wives of Utah; but if you are recognized as the mistress and queen of your household, you owe your emancipation to the Church. You are especially indebted for your liberty to the Popes who rose up in all the majesty of their spiritual power to vindicate the rights on injured wives against the lustful tyranny of their husbands.
How opposite is the conduct of the fathers of the so-called Reformation, who, with the cry of religious reform on their lips, deformed religion and society by sanctioning divorce.
Henry VIII was divorced from his wife, Catherine, by Cranmer, the first Reformed Primate of England.
Luther and his colleagues, Melanchthon and Bucer, permitted Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, to have two wives at the same time.[Bossuet, Variations, Vol. 1.] Karlstadt, another German Reformer, justified polygamy.[Audin, p. 339.]
Modern Prussia is now reaping the bitter fruits of the seeds that were then sown within its borders. Seventy-five per cent of the marriages now contracted outside of the Catholic Church in Berlin are performed without any religious ceremony whatever. A union not bound by the strong ties of religion is easily dissolved.
This subject excites a painful interest in our own country, in consequence of the facility with which divorce from the marriage bond is obtained in many of our States. We have here another exemplification of the dangerous consequences attending a private interpretation of the sacred test. When Luther and Calvin proclaimed to the world that "it was not wise to prohibit the divorced adulterer from marrying again,"[American Cyclop., art Divorce. Our Savior declares that he who marrieth an adulteress committeth adultery. Yet Luther and Calvin declare that it is unwise to oppose such a marriage. But "the foolishness of God is wiser than men." And Wisdom has said: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise." (I. Cor. I.)] they little dreamed of the fruitful progeny which was destined before long to spring from this isolated monster of their creation. There are already about thirty causes which allow the conjugal tie to be broken, some of which are of so trifling a nature as to provoke merriment were it not for the gravity of the subject, which is well calculated to excite alarm for the moral and social welfare of our country.
Persons are divorced by the courts not only for infidelity, but also without even the shadow of Scripture authority--for alleged cruelty, intemperance, desertion, prolonged absence, mental incapacity, sentence to the penitentiary, incompatibility of temper and such other causes as the court, in its discretion, may deem sufficient.
For the year ending June, 1874, seventeen hundred and forty-two applications for divorce were presented in the State of Ohio. If such is Ohio's record, what must be the matrimonial condition of Indiana, which is called the paradise of discontented spouses.
In Connecticut there were, in 1875, four thousand three hundred and eighty-five marriages, and four hundred and sixty-six divorces from the marriage bond. The number of divorces obtained in the same State during the last fifteen years has reached five thousand three hundred and ninety-one. This is the record of a State whose public school system is considered the most thorough and perfect in the country. The statistics given of Ohio and Connecticut will enable us to form some idea of the fearful catalogue of divorces annually obtained in the United States.
There are some who regard the Catholic Church as too severe in proclaiming the absolute indissolubility of marriage. But it should be borne in mind that it is not the Church, but the Divine Founder of the Christian religion, that have given us the law. She merely enforces its observance.
The law, how rigorous soever, is mercy itself, when compared with the cruel consequences which follow from the easy concession of divorce.
The facility with which marriage is annulled is most injurious to the morals of individuals, of the family and of society. It leads to ill-assorted and hasty marriages, because persons are less circumspect in making a compact which may be afterwards dissolved almost at will. It stimulates a discontented and unprincipled husband or wife to lawlessness, quarrels and even adultery, well knowing that the very crime will afford a pretext and legal grounds for a separation. It engenders between husband and wife fierce litigations about the custody of their offspring. It deprives the children of the protecting arm of a father, or of the gentle care of a mother, and too frequently consigns them to the cold charity of the world; for the married couple who are wanting in conjugal love for one another are too often destitute also of parental affection. In a word, it brings into the household a blight and desolation which neither wealth nor luxury can repair.
There is but one remedy to this social distemper, and that is an absolute prohibition of divorce a vinculo, in accordance with the inflexible rule of the Gospel and of the ancient Church. In Catholic countries divorces are exceedingly rare, and are obtained only by such as have thrown off the yoke of the Church. If the sacred laws of Matrimony are still happily observed by so large a portion of the Protestant community, the purity of morals is in no small measure due to the presence among them of the Catholic religion, which exercises a beneficial influence even over those who are outside the pale of her communion, like the sun, whose benignant light and heat are felt even in those secluded spots which his rays can but obliquely and dimly penetrate.