"Divorce renders marriage contracts changeable; weakens the mutual love of the contracting parties; gives inducements to unfaithfulness; is injurious to the rearing and education of children ; breaks up the domestic relations; sows dissensions among families; lessens and degrades the dignity of woman, who is thus exposed to be cast off, after having been the slave of man's passions. And as nothing conduces more to the destruction of families, and the destruction of national power than corruption of morals, it is easily seen how hostile to the prosperity of the family and of the State are the divorces which spring from the corrupt morals of the people, and as experience teaches open the door and lead the way to greater public and private degradation."…Pope Leo XIII
Divorce and Remarriage: “Consecutive Polygamy” [i]
Cargoes of a polygamous sect, fierce, fanatical and aggressive, are annually dumped on our shores. They are gathered in the slums of England, Scotland, and other parts of Northern Europe, which rejoices to be freed from their baleful influence on public morals. They swarm in one of our largest Territories and are spreading through the States. The daily press of May 14th, 1883, records a public meeting held in Harford County, Maryland, one of a series, to propagate the principles of Mormonism. It was largely attended. The "apostles" of this sect publicly and privately announce their purpose of endeavoring to change the whole order of our domestic society. Monogamy, according to them, must go down, no matter how well established in the customs of our people and by our civil laws. They look on it as a mere prejudice, to be removed by the new light emanating from the Book of Mormon. Their propagandism is zealous. When pushed into a corner by the arguments of a champion of monogamy, they claim direct and personal inspiration for their belief; and although admitting the divinity of Jesus Christ and the inspiration of the New Testament, they say it has been supplemented by the new revelation. It is true that our civil laws either condemn or ignore their theories; but they do not act. Our government seems to be conducted in regard to this matter on the principle of letting the evil alone, with the hope that it will die of inherent rottenness. At any rate, we seem to be willing to let the deluge come after us, content to have this generation take care of itself.
But it is not likely that Mormonism will die from natural causes, for it appeals directly to the strongest passions of human nature, and gains recruits not only by emigration from without but also by accession from within the United States. The vastness of our territory prevents this evil, like that of Socialism, which also prevails among us, from obtruding itself too closely on our attention; but a hundred years hence, perhaps sooner, when a thicker population will have brought men into closer and consequently more offensive relations, in regard to these matters, our neglect or pusillanimity will be bitterly blamed by a posterity that will have to reap what we are sowing, and to destroy with difficulty what we could have uprooted with ease.
On the one hand, this organized sect assails the unity and sanctity of marriage by doctrinal and practical simultaneous polygamy; on the other, the frequency and facility of divorce among the people of the United States, by establishing a system of" consecutive" polygamy, sap the foundation of the whole social order, and are not less destructive of Christian morality than Mormonism itself. The difference is slight between a man, who has ten wives at the same time, in the same place, and him who has ten in the same or in different States of the Union, all living and all divorced but one. Yet the latter state of affairs is as possible as the former, as a glance at the statistics of divorce will show. In the New England States alone families are broken up at the rate of two thousand every year. And again note this that, while the laws protecting marriage have been thus gradually weakened, and facilities for divorce extended, crimes against chastity, morality and decency have been steadily increasing…
The Inability of Protestantism to Save Marriage
Human passion and loose laws are its [polygamy’s] chief champions, and the Protestant sects are inadequate to resist its onward progress. They see their creeds melting away in an ocean of doubt and unbelief, like icebergs drifting into southern latitudes; and they stand wringing their hands in hopeless despair, because Christian morality will not survive the loss of her sister Christian faith, whom they murdered in the sixteenth century. Every honest man sees the gulf into which the frequent disruption of the marital relation will eventually bring us. Better than anyone else could say it, the learned and saintly Pontiff, Leo XIII, has summed up the consequences of divorce in these words : " Divorce renders marriage contracts changeable; weakens the mutual love of the contracting parties; gives inducements to unfaithfulness; is injurious to the rearing and education of children ; breaks up the domestic relations; sows dissensions among families; lessens and degrades the dignity of woman, who is thus exposed to be cast off, after having been the slave of man's passions. And as nothing conduces more to the destruction of families, and the destruction of national power than corruption of morals, it is easily seen how hostile to the prosperity of the family and of the State are the divorces which spring from the corrupt morals of the people, and as experience teaches open the door and lead the way to greater public and private degradation."
All sincere Protestants subscribe to these words of the Holy Father. They know and admit that the Catholic Church is not responsible for raising the sluices of divorce, but that its possibility arises from the looseness of Protestant teaching and practice. They destroyed the sanctity of marriage when they denied its sacramental character. "It is hardly necessary to remind the reader of the obsequiousness of Cranmer in the matter of the divorce of Henry VIII; of the conduct of Luther and Melanchthon in the case of the Landgrave of Hesse; of the abortive Reformatio legum ecclesiasticarum in the reign of Edward VI; and of John Milton's tractate addressed to Parliament on the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce." [ii] "From the total of marriages registered in the several States those contracted and solemnized by Roman Catholics must be deducted; for they, all honors to them, allow no divorce a vinculo, following literally the command of our Lord Jesus Christ." [iii]
The Protestant bishop of Maine says : " Laxity of opinion and teaching on the sacredness of the marriage bond and on the question of divorce, originated among the Protestants of Continental Europe in the sixteenth century. It soon began to appear in the legislation of Protestant States on that continent, and nearly at the same time to affect the laws of New England. And from that time to the present it has proceeded from one degree to another in this country, until, especially in New England, and in States most directly affected by New England opinions and usages, the Christian conception of the nature and obligations of the marriage bond find scarcely any recognition in legislation, or must thence be inferred, in the prevailing sentiment of the community.” [iv]
In contrast to the looseness and weakness of the Protestant reformers regarding marriage, how grandly the Roman Pontiffs loom up in history as the champions of its sanctity and indissolubility! We remember Nicholas I, defending its sanctity against the Emperor Lothair; Urban II and Paschal II, against Philip I, of France; Celestine III and Innocent III, against Philip the Fair, forcing him to reinstate Ingelburga in her position as his wife; Clement VII and Paul III, against Henry VIII; and Pius VII, against the powerful Napoleon I; and then we look with contempt upon Luther and Melanchthon truckling to the brutal passions of a petty German prince, sanctioning bigamy for the sake of a little political assistance given to their revolt against the old Church.
But, although Protestants and infidels know in a general way that the Catholic Church does not tolerate divorce, their information in regard to the Catholic doctrine on marriage is not very clear nor very full. Many of them do not take the trouble to study her teaching on this or any other subject, and yet there is among some a desire for more information regarding it. The observer must have recently remarked from time to time inquiries made in the daily press, showing that knowledge in this matter is sought for. It might be found with ease from the nearest Catholic priest or in the usual text-books of theology; but the average Protestant does not wish to consult a priest, and the text-book of theology is in an unknown tongue.
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The Catholic Teaching on Marriage
It may be well, therefore, to give a short statement of Catholic teaching on the chief points of marriage, especially on those that will most interest the Protestant or the infidel inquirer.
Marriage, under the law of nature, was a mere contract, seldom, however, divested of a religious character. It is even in the law of nature intentionally indissoluble; for it is a union of two hearts, pledging to each other undying love. In this union children are to be brought up to maturity by their parents; and these parents, in old age, are to be supported by their grateful children. The unity of the family is thus preserved intact…
The consent of the parties to this contract should be internal and external, mutual, free, and deliberate. This natural contract was elevated to the dignity of a sacrament by Christ…
It is an article of Catholic faith, defined in the 7th canon of the 24th session of the Council of Trent, that the consummated marriage of Christians can never be dissolved as to the vinculum, or bond, save by the death of either party. There is no exception to this rule. The Pope himself cannot make one, for he has no right to dispense with the divine law. Where there has been mutual consent, and no impediment nor informality, the married person is married for life. This doctrine was denied by Calvin, who permit ted divorce, a vinculo, for cause of adultery; by Luther, who permitted it even for theft or any sin, or frequent quarrelling, or if one of the parties remained too long absent; while Bucer taught that a man could divorce his wife as often as he found her disagreeable; and she could divorce him for a similar reason.’ No matter what crime a Christian man or woman commits, it does not break the matrimonial chain, according to the teaching of Catholic faith. There is, indeed, in the Catholic Church a partial divorce permitted. It is from bed and board only, and is granted in the case of adultery, or for other grave causes. The Church considers the marriage contract as indissoluble by its very nature, but especially since its elevation to the dignity of a sacrament which represents the union of Christ with his Church; which union is indissoluble, for the Divine Word will never lay aside the humanity which He assumed. Even Protestant jurists, with a higher instinct than Protestant theologians, although denying the sacramental character of marriage, recognize it as "something more than a mere contract. It is rather to be deemed an institution of society founded upon the consent and contract of the parties.” The whole of Catholic tradition is in favor of the indissolubility of marriage. The testimony of the Fathers on the subject is too long to quote, and it may be readily found in any text-book of Catholic theology. The voice of universal Catholic tradition on this matter is heard in the decree of Pope Eugene IV., approving the Council of Florence, which gave expression to the faith of the United Greek and Latin Churches in the fifteenth century: " Although for cause of fornication, separation from bed and board is allowed, yet it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a marriage law fully contracted is perpetual."
Refutation of the Protestant View of Marriage
Now it so happens that there are two texts relating to marriage; both in the gospel of St. Matthew, which have given rise to contention ; and human passion, rather than the light of faith and authority, has made the sects, in spite of the clear texts above quoted, choose the sinister rather than the universal Catholic explanation of them.
The first of these texts is Matth. v., verses 3 and 32: "And it hath been said whosoever shall put away his wife let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife excepting for the cause of fornication make her to commit adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.”
…If divorce a vinculo be allowed by Christ, has he not left the Mosaic law in this matter unchanged? In that case Christians would have the same indulgence as was accorded to the ancient Jews on account "of the hardness of their hearts;" and our Lord's words would imply no modification of the Mosaic laws regarding marriage, and would have no sense; a supposition which would be absurd and blasphemous.
…The full text of Matth. xix., v. 8 and 9, gives new light to this interpretation. It reads: "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.” Our Lord is now going to correct the Mosaic laxity and assert the dignity of the sacrament: "And I say to you that whosoever shall put away his wife except it be for fornication,"-and then a partial divorce is allowed, not a total one as Moses permitted, - "and shall marry another, committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery." Even after putting her away the man is not free to marry, else why say that even then if he remarries he commits adultery, just as she would? For that which is crime for one is crime for the other according to the text. The husband is not bound to put her away; he may condone the offence; but he has the privilege of dismissing her forever, although he cannot marry again while she lives. That this severe interpretation of the text is the only right one is shown by the context that follows. The Apostles, understanding and realizing that Christ taught that a man once married, to a leper, or a scold, or even to an adulteress, could never be loosed from the sacramental knot save by the death of his wife, said v. 10: "If the case of a man with his wife be so, it is not expedient to marry.” If they had understood him as granting license to remarry when a wife was unfaithful, they would not have spoken in this way. If these Christian Hebrews, as the Apostles were, had not understood our Lord as abridging and abolishing the Mosaic privilege of divorce, their words would not be what they were. And our Lord in reply to them, instead of softening his doctrine, tells them in the subsequent verses, that it is better and more conducive to spiritual perfection not to marry than to marry. His religion is a restraint on human passions, an abridgment of the liberty of the flesh, the perfection and purification of the Hebrew creed. And although his teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage may be a "hard" doctrine, as was said of his doctrine regarding Transubstantiation, [v] He can make no concession. He came to purify morals, not to break down the dykes that hold passions in check.
The Disastrous Consequences of the Protestant View of Marriage
How unfortunate for public morals it is then that the Protestant sects should have permitted passion to lead them to interpret the words "except the case of fornication," as legitimizing divorce a vinculo, whereas they mean only a permission for divorce a mensa et thoro, from bed and board. Speaking of sectarian looseness in this matter, Dr. Dix appropriately writes : "This is a heresy born and bred of free thought as applied to religion; it is the outcome of the habit of interpreting the Bible according to a man's private judgment, rejecting ecclesiastical authority and Catholic tradition, and asserting our freedom to believe what we choose, and to select what religion pleases us best." [vi] This is very orthodox writing and has the ring of the old Church about it. Dr. Dix is an Anglican. He belongs, we believe, to the High Church party. Now the Anglican Church is one of the most respectable of the sects, and clings still with tenacity to many of the old doctrines and customs of the Catholic Church. The odor of the old faith and of the old piety hangs around Anglicanism, even after the sacred vase of Catholic unity and orthodoxy has been shattered. Dr. Dix is one of the best types of the New York Anglican clergy. Many of them are pious, passably learned, and would make good Catholic priests if God would give them the grace of conversion to the true faith ; and if they were not impeded by what the venerable and learned Benedictine, Dr. Bernard Smith,' once said in Rome was the chief argument against the Catholic Church, "hanging on their arms." [vii] And so Dr. Dix, “orthodox" and well-intentioned gentleman as he is, inveighs against divorce. We follow his song with pleasure. The tones are clear and true, but just when he reaches the " top note" he fails; and the ear is offended by a fiat and unnatural discord. “Marriage is not a mere civil contract," he writes, “it is a divine institution." He even calls it a sacrament, quoting Ephes. v. 32, in a footnote, "sacramental hoc magnum est," with the gloss "the English word 'mystery,' the Latin 'sacramental,' alike indicate the presence and work of supernatural power and divine grace.” [viii] Discussing the clause "except the case of fornication,'' he says: " It is not absolutely clear what that word ‘fornication’ means. It may possibly mean infidelity after marriage, or it may mean impurity before marriage. I cannot discuss the question here. But mark, that is the sole exception; and it is a mere peradventure that it includes post-nuptial sin."
Yet on that peradventure, and because of that shadow of doubt, the benefit of the doubt is given by the Anglican Church permitting divorce. "It is the rule of our own branch of the Church, and we must follow it. Divorce, with the privilege to remarry, may be granted, but for one only cause: when adultery has been proved.” [ix] A strange Church that cannot give an authoritative interpretation of an important text of Scripture, but leaves the matter to a mere "peradventure," and on that "peradventure" tolerates divorce! Yet Dr. Dix does not approve of the practice of his branch of the Church in this case. He is a true Protestant still, and although we have already quoted his words condemning private interpretation and free thought, he uses both against his own "branch.” Hear him : "The stringent rule is this, that though the married may be separated so as to live apart when they cannot live together in peace, yet are they still man and wife; and no new matrimonial relation can be formed. They may come back to each other; to strange flesh they cannot go.” This is the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church. "And I think that must have been what the Lord meant, and that it ought to be the rule of the Church.” Here is an opinion by an Anglican clergyman condemning the teaching and practice of his own "branch" of the Church, yet asserting that we must follow it for all that. Why not follow the lead of the Holy Ghost instead, and leave a sect which you believe to teach error? Is not that a plain duty of conscience? Is not that what logic would dictate? But alas! Logic and Anglicanism were divorced long ago. We pray that it may be only a mensa et thoro!
The Anglican branch of Protestantism having allowed absolute divorce for cause of adultery, in fact owing its very existence to an English king who divorced his wife and the Catholic Church at the same time, the other "branches" could not be expected to do better. The consequence is that absolute divorces are now common for various causes, and partial divorces from bed and board are hardly understood out of the Catholic Church. The United States, where so many Protestant " branches " exist, and where being in the majority they control civil legislation on the subject, are now morally degraded on account of the facility with which divorces are granted…Thus in most of our States a man may run away from his wife when he is tired of her, remain away from her for a few years and then marry another, or he may enjoy this privilege as a reward of misbehavior for six months. To this degree of degradation has the teaching of the Protestant reformation brought the holy institution of Christian marriage? When will the conservative thinkers in the sects and out of them do justice to the Catholic Church on this important matter? Do they not see that she alone, by her unflinching and unyielding position in regard to the sanctity and indissolubility of the marriage relation, is the only breakwater to the advancing tides of social immorality in our country? We therefore invite them all to come into the ark out of the deluge; to come on to the Catholic platform, which never breaks down, for its planks were laid and its props fashioned by the omnipotent hand of the Divine Workman... There is no remedy for this perturbation of the moral order but a return to the doctrine of the Holy Catholic Church.
Rev. Henry A. Bran, D.D.
[i]The bold-faced section headings are my own and did not appear in the original article.
[ii] "The Calling of a Christian Woman" (page 135), Rev. Morgan Dix, S.T.D. Published by D. Appleton & Co., New York. 1883.
[iii] Idem, p. 123.
[iv] Idem (quoted by Dr. Dix).
[v] John vi., v. 61. "Many therefore of his disciples hearing it said: This saying is hard and who can hear it?"
[vi] "The Calling of a Christian Woman," p. 135
[vii] "Here," said the Doctor, "comes the Rev. Mr. So-and-So with the chief argument against the Catholic Church hanging on his arm." It was an Episcopalian minister with his wife.
[viii] "The Calling,'' etc., p. 137.
[ix] "The Calling," p. 141.