Moral Philosophy

Chapter VI. Of Marriage.

Section. I -- Of the Institution of Marriage.

1. MARRIAGE, is defined by the Canonists: the union of male and female, involving their living together in undivided intercourse. In the present order of Providence, the marriage contract between baptized persons is a sacrament, under the superintendence of the Church, the fertile theme of canonists and theologians. As philosophers, we deal with marriage as it would be, were there no sacraments, no Church, and no Incarnation, present or to come. This is marriage in the order of pure nature.

2. It is natural to all animals to propagate their kind, natural therefore also to man; and being natural, it is so far forth also a good thing, unless we are to say with the Manicheans, that the whole of corporeal nature is an evil creation. Nay, so urgent is the natural appetite here, that we must argue the existence, not of a mere permission, but of an exigency of nature, and consequent command of God (Ethics, c. vi., s. ii., nn. ii, 12, p. 122), for the propagation of the human species. Besides, there is in the individual the duty of self-preservation, therefore likewise in the race. Again, the old cannot subsist at all without the support of the young, nor lead a cheerful existence without their company. Imagine a world with no youth in it, a winter without a spring!

3. There is this difference between self-preservation and the preservation of the race, that if a man will not eat, none can eat for him; but if one man omit the propagation of his kind, another can take it up. There are many things necessary for the good of mankind, which are not to be done by every individual. Not all are to be soldiers, nor all builders, though houses are needful, and sometimes war. Nor is it desirable that the human race should be multiplied to its utmost capacity. It is enough here to mention without discussing the teaching of Malthus, how population presses on the means of subsistence, the latter increasing in an arithmetical, the former in a geometrical ratio. Without going the whole way with Malthus, modern economical writers are commonly a little Malthusian, and shrink from giving to all and each of their species the word to "increase and multiply."

4. But, it will be said, sickly and consumptive subjects, and still more those who have any tendency to madness, may well be excused from having children; so too may they be excused whose poverty cannot keep a family; excused too is the inveterate drunkard, and all habitual criminals, by the principle of heredity, lest they transmit to posterity an evil bodily predisposition; but the healthy and the virtuous, men sound of mind and limb, of life unspotted, and in circumstances easy, the flower of the race, -- none of these surely should omit to raise up others to wear his lineaments: we want such men multiplied. I answer, on natural grounds alone: You may counsel, but you cannot compel, either by positive law or ethical precept, any man or woman to seek to have children. You surely will not breed men by selection, like cattle, as Plato proposed. The union of the sexes, especially the married union, is an act to be of all others the most entirely free, spontaneous, uncommanded, and unconstrained. It should be a union of intense mutual love. But a man may not meet with any woman that he can love with passion; or, meeting such, he may not be able to win her. Nor, considering the indeterminateness of points of health, capacity, and character, could any certain list be drawn up of persons bound to have issue. Thus the utmost that can be argued is a counsel in this direction, a counsel that mankind ordinarily are ready enough to comply with. But if any one of seeming aptitude excuses himself on the score of finding no partner to his liking, or of a desire to travel, or of study, or still more, of devotion -- and why should not a man, even of natural piety, go out into solitude, like St. Antony, to hold communion with his Maker? -- all these excuses must be taken. It is lawful then in the state of mere nature, upon any one of many sufficient grounds, to stand aside and relinquish to your neighbour the privilege and responsibility of giving increase to the human family.

5. But if it is no one individual's duty to propagate his kind, how is it that we have laid down that there is such a duty? For the duty is incumbent upon them that alone can do it, and it can only be done by individuals. The answer rests on a distinction between proximate and remote duty. The propagation of the race is the remote duty of every individual, but at present the proximate duty of none. A remote duty is a duty not now pressing but which would have to be performed in a certain contingency, which contingency happening, the duty becomes proximate. If there appeared a danger of our race dying out, the survivors would be beholden, especially those in power, to take steps for its continuance. Rewards might then be held out, like the jus trium liberorum instituted at Rome by Augustus; and if necessary, penalties inflicted on celibacy. In this one extreme case the matrimonial union might be made matter of legal constraint. But when will such constraint become necessary?

6. The continuance of the human race must be wrought out by man and woman standing in that abiding and exclusive relation to one another, which, constitutes the state of marriage. Nature abhors promiscuity, or free love. It is the delight of writers who use, perhaps abuse, Darwin's name, to picture primitive mankind as all living in this infrabestial state. But "the state supposed is suicidal, and instead of allowing the expansion of the human race, would have produced infertility, and probably disease, and at best only allowed the existing numbers to maintain, under the most favourable circumstances, a precarious existence. To suppose, therefore, that the whole human race for any considerable time were without regular marriage, is physiologically impossible. They could never have survived it." (Devas, Studies of Family Life, # 101.)

7. Even if the alleged promiscuity ever did prevail -- and it may have obtained to some extent in certain degraded portions of humanity -- its prevalence was not its justification. The practice cannot have been befitting in any stage of the evolution of human society. As in all things we suppose our readers to have understanding, we leave it to them to think out this matter for themselves. Suffice it here to put forward two grand advantages gained and ends achieved, which are called by theologians "the goods of marriage."

8. The first good of marriage is the offspring that is born of it. Nature wills, not only the being, but the well-being of this offspring, and that both in the physical and in the moral order. Very important for the physical health of the child it is, that it be born of parents whose animal propensities are under some restraint; such restraint the bond of marriage implies. Then, in the moral order, the child requires to be educated with love, a love that shall be guided by wisdom, and supported by firmness. Love, wisdom, and firmness, they are the attributes of both parents; but love is especially looked for from the mother, wisdom and firmness from the father. And, what is important, both have an interest in the child such as no other human being can take. We are speaking of the normal father or mother, not of many worthless parents that actually are; for, as Aristotle often lays it down, we must not judge of a thing from its bad specimens. No doubt, the State could establish public nurseries and infant schools, and provide a staff of nurses and governesses, more scientific educators than even the normal parent; but who, that has not been most unhappy in his origin, would wish his own infancy to have been reared in such a place? What certificated stranger can supply for a mother's love?

9. The second good of marriage is the mutual faith of the partners. Plato never made a greater mistake than when he wrote that "the female sex differs from the male in mankind only in this, that the one bears children, while the other begets them;" and consequently that "no occupation of social life belongs to a woman because she is a woman, or to a man because he is a man, but capacities are equally distributed in both sexes, and woman naturally bears her share in all occupations, and man his share, only that in all woman is weaker than man." (Republic, 454 D; 455 D.) Over against this we must set Aristotle's correction: "Cohabitation among human kind is not for the mere raising of children, but also for the purposes of a partnership in life: for from the first the offices of man and woman are distinct and different: thus they mutually supply for one another, putting their several advantages into the common stock." (Ar., Eth., VIII., xii. 7.) Elsewhere he sets forth these several offices in detail: "The nature of both partners, man and woman, has been pre-arranged by a divine dispensation in view of their partnership: for they differ by not having their faculties available all to the same effect, but some even to opposite effects, though combining to a common end: for God made the one sex stronger and the other weaker, that the one for fear may be the more careful, and the other for courage the more capable of self-defence; and that the one may forage abroad, while the other keeps house: and for work the one is made competent for sedentary employments, but too delicate for an out-door life, while the other makes a poor figure at keeping still, but is vigorous and robust in movement; and touching children, the generation is special, but the improvement of the children is the joint labour of both parents, for it belongs to the one to nurture, to the other to chastise." (Ar., Econ., i. 3.)

These passages are enough to suggest more than they actually contain, of two orders of qualities arranged antithetically one over against another in man and woman, so that the one existence becomes complementary to the other, and the two conjoined form one perfect human life. This life-communion, called by divines fides, or mutual faith, is then the second good fruit of marriage. Indeed it is the more: characteristically human good, offspring being rather, related to the animal side of our nature. But as animal and rational elements make one human being, so do offspring and mutual faith constitute the adequate good of that human union of the sexes, which we call marriage.

10. Whatever good there is in marriage, connections formed by either party beyond the marriage-bed, are agents of confusion to the undoing of all that good and the practical dissolution of the marriage.

Readings. -- Contra Gentes, iii., 122; ib., iii., 126; ib., iii., 136; Devas, Studies of Family Life, ## 90-101, where he disposes of the proof of primitive promiscuity, drawn from the fact that in early societies kinship is traced and property claimed only through the mother.

Section II. -- Of the Unity of Marriage.

1. Both man and woman are by nature incapable of a second marriage, while their former marriage endures. No woman can have two husbands at the same time, which is polyandry; and no man can have two wives at the same time, which is polygamy. The second marriage attempted is not only illicit, but invalid: it is no contract, no marriage at all, and all cohabitation with the second partner is sheer adultery. This is a great deal more than saying that polyandry and polygamy are unlawful.

2. That is by nature no marriage, which is Inconsistent with the natural ends of marriage, offspring and mutual faith. But polyandry is thus inconsistent with the good of offspring, and polygamy with mutual faith. It is not meant that polyandry makes the birth of children impossible. But nature is solicitous, not for the mere birth, but for the rearing and good estate of the child born. Now a child born fatherless is in an ill plight for its future education. Posthumous children in lawful wedlock are born fatherless: that is a calamity: but what shall we think of an institution which makes that calamity to the child sure always to occur? Such an institution is polyandry. For in it no man can ever know his own child, except by likeness, and likeness in a baby face is largely as you choose to fancy it. Again, is the polyandrous wife to be, or not to be, the head of the family ? If not, the family -- for it ought to be one family, where there is one mother -- will have as many heads as she has husbands, a pretty specimen of a house divided against itself. If she is to be the head, that is a perversion of the natural order of predominance between the sexes. In any case, polyandry is little better than promiscuity: it is fatal to the family and fatal to the race; and children born of it are born out of marriage.

3. Against polygamy the case in natural law is not quite so strong as against polyandry. Still it is a strong case enough in the interest of the wife. The words spoken by the bride to the bridegroom in the marriage rite of ancient Rome, Ubi tu Caius, ego Caia, "Where you are master, I am mistress," declare the relation of mutual faith as it should be, namely, a relation of equality, with some advantage, preference, and pre-eminence allowed to the husband, yet not so great advantage as to leave him free where she is straitly bound, and reduce her to the servile level of one in a row of minions to his passion and sharers of his divided affections. Polygamy in all ages has meant the lowering of womankind:

He will hold thee Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.

At its strongest, the love of man for woman, where polygamy obtains, is a flame of passion, that quickly spends itself on one object, and then passes to another; not a rational, enduring, human affection. It is also a fact, that the increase of the race is not greater in polygamy than in monogamy. Thus, as a practice that runs strongly counter to one of the great purposes of marriage, and is, to say the least, no help to the other, and carries with it the humiliation of the female sex, polygamy is justly argued to be abhorrent to nature.

4. It is beside the purpose of this work to enter, into the questions of morality that arise out of Holy Scripture, considered as an inspired record of the actions of the Saints. But the polygamy of the patriarchs of old so readily occurs to mind, that it is worth while to mention four conceivable explanations, if only to indicate which is and which is not reconcilable with our philosophy. The first explanation would be, that polygamy is not against the natural law, but only against the positive divine law, which was derogated from in this instance. We have made it out to be against the natural law. The second explanation would be that God gave the patriarchs a dispensation, strictly so called, from this point of the natural law. We have maintained that God cannot, strictly speaking, dispense from one jot or tittle of natural law. (Ethics, c. viii., s. iii., nn. 1-3, p. 147.) A third explanation would be founded on the words of St. Paul to the Athenians (Acts xvii. 30), about "God overlooking the times of this ignorance." This would suppose that mankind, beginning in monogamy, from passion and ignorance lapsed quickly into polygamy: that the patriarchs in good faith conformed to the practice of their time; and that God, in their case as with the rest of mankind, awaited His own destined hour for the light of better knowledge to break upon the earth. A fourth explanation would be this. God by His supreme dominion can dissolve any marriage, By the same dominative power He can infringe and partially make void any marriage contract without entirely undoing it. The marriage contract, existing in its fulness and integrity, is a bar to any second similar contract, as we have proved. But what, on this theory, the Lord God did with the marriages of the patriarchs was this: He partially unravelled and undid the contract, so as to leave room for a second contract, and a third, each having the bare essentials of a marriage, but none of them the full integrity.

The explanation however most in accordance with our views (see Appendix) would be, that the prohibition of polygamy, being a secondary precept of the natural law, failed in its application in that age of lapsed humanity, when a woman was better one of many wives, all protected by one husband, than exposed to promiscuous violence and lust. (Cf. Genesis xx.; Isaias iv. 1.)

Readings. -- Contra Gent., iii., 124; Suarez, De Legibus, II., xv., 28.

Section III. -- Of the Indissolubility of Marriage.

1. This section is pointed not so much against a separation -- which may take place by mutual consent, or without that, by grievous infidelity or cruelty of one party -- as against a divorce a vinculo, which is a dissolution of a marriage in the lifetime of the parties, enabling each of them validly and lawfully to contract with some other. The unity of marriage is more essential than its indissolubility. Nature is more against polygamy than against divorce. Even Henry VIII. stuck at polygamy. In the present arrangement, a divorce a vinculo is obtainable in three cases. First, when of two unbaptized persons, man and wife, the one is converted, and the unconverted party refuses to live peaceably in wedlock, the convert may marry again, and thereupon also the other party. So the Church understands St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 13, 15. Again, the Pope can grant a divorce a vinculo in the marriage of baptized persons before cohabitation. Such a marriage in that stage is also dissolved by the profession of one of the parties in a religious order. Beyond these three cases, the Catholic Church allows neither the lawfulness nor the validity of any divorce a vinculo by whomsoever given to whatsoever parties.

2. It is ours to investigate the lie of the law of nature, having due regard to the points marked, antecedently to our search, by the definition of infallible authority. Nothing can be done in the Church against the law of nature: since therefore divorce a vinculo is sometimes recognized in the Church, it may be contended that marriage is not by nature absolutely indissoluble. On the other hand, it is a proposition censured by Pius IX. in the Syllabus, n. 67: "By the law of nature the bond of marriage is not indissoluble." Thus it appears we must teach that marriage is naturally indissoluble, still not absolutely so, just as a safe is justly advertised as fire-proof, when it will resist any conflagration that is likely to occur, though it would be consumed in a blast-furnace or in a volcano. So marriage is indissoluble, if it holds good for all ordinary contingencies, for all difficulties that may be fairly reckoned with and regarded as not quite improbable, for every posture of affairs that the contracting parties before their union need at all consider. Or, if the three cases of divorce actually allowed are to be traced to the dominative power of God (Ethics, c. vii., n. 2, p. 129), We may teach that marriage is by nature absolutely indissoluble, and that divorce is as much against the law of nature as the killing of an innocent man, excepting in the case of God's dominion being employed to quash the contract or the right to life. But against this latter view is to be set the consideration, that God is manifestly averse to using His dominative power to overturn natural ordinances. He does not hand the innocent over to death except in the due course of physical nature: why then should He ever put forth His power against the marriage-tie, unless it be that nature herself in certain cases postulates its severance? But if such is ever nature's petition, the universal and unconditional permanence of the marriage-tie cannot be a requisition of nature, nor is divorce absolutely excluded by natural law.

3. Thomas Sanchez, than whom there is no greater authority on this subject, records his opinion that "a certain inseparability is of the nature of marriage," but that "absolute indissolubility does not attach to marriage by the law of nature." He adds: "if we consider marriage as it is an office of nature for the propagation of the race, it is hard to render a reason why for the wife's barrenness the husband should not be allowed to put her away, or marry another." (De Matrimonio, 1. ii., d. 13, n. 7.) We proceed to prove that "a certain inseparability is of the nature of marriage," so that marriage may truly be said to be indissoluble by the law of nature. Whether this natural indissolubility is absolute, and holds for every conceivable contingency, the student must judge by the proofs.

4. If a divorce a vinculo were a visible object on the matrimonial horizon, the parties would be strongly encouraged thereby to form illicit connections, in the expectation of shortly having any one of them they chose ratified and sanctified by marriage. Marriage would be entered upon lightly, as a thing easily done and readily undone, a state of things not very far in advance of promiscuity. Between married persons little wounds would fester, trifling sores would be angered into ulcers: any petty strife might lead to a fresh contract, made in haste and repented of with speed: then fond, vain regrets for the former partnership. Affinity would be a loose bond of friendship between families; and after divorce it would turn to enmity. The fair but weaker sex would suffer the more by this as by all other matrimonial perversions: for the man has not so much difficulty in lighting upon another love, but the woman -- she illustrates the Greek proverb of a fallen estate:

Mighty was Miletus in the bygone days of yore

The divorced wife offers fewer attractions than the widow.

5. It is well to bear in mind that, at least by the positive ordinance of God in the present order of His Providence, the marriage of baptized persons, after cohabitation, is absolutely indissoluble; and no marriage can be dissolved except in the three cases specified. (n. i.)

Readings. -- Leo XIII., Encyclical on Christian Marriage, Arcanum divinae sapientiae; St. Thomas, Contra Gent., iii., 123.

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