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The Characteristics of Matrimony

According to the ordinance of Christ, Christian marriage is strictly a union of two persons only, and it is indissoluble.

Matrimony was raised by Our Lord to the dignity of a state of evangelical perfection, to which weightier responsibilities and more laborious duties were attached than in the ages preceding His advent. He therefore granted greater graces to those who should enter into wedlock.

1. Christian marriage consists of the union of one man and one woman only.

By creating only one man and one woman, God manifested it to be His will that marriage should be the union of two persons only. Our Lord pointed out that in the beginning this was so (Matt. xix. 4). The marriage that does not answer to this description cannot possibly be a true and lasting partnership; domestic strife must in fallibly ensue. Yet in the earliest times God permitted polygamy, to prevent greater evils. A plurality of wives is forbidden by Our Lord (Luke xvi. 18), consequently it is prohibited most strictly by the law of the Church. Polygamy is unlawful, and a violation of the natural law (Council of Trent, 23, 2). It continues, however, to exist among Mohammedans, and among Jews in the East; but in the West ever since the Middle Ages the Jews have given it up, in deference to the code of morality observed by European nations.

2. Christian marriage is indissoluble; that is to say, neither husband nor wife can contract a second marriage during the life time of the other.

The principal object of matrimony is to provide for the proper bringing up of children, an object which could not be attained if the nuptial tie were dissoluble. What would become of the children if the parents were free to separate at their pleasure? Our Lord strictly forbids any one to marry again as long as the partner of his or her first marriage is living (Matt. v. 32; Mark x. 11). Under the law of Moses, the Jews were, it is true, permitted under exceptional circumstances to put away their wives; but this was only by reason of the hardness of their hearts, and to prevent worse evils (Matt. xix. 8). Christ withdrew this permission; He says expressly: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matt. xix. 4-9). Hence the Popes have never allowed one of two lawfully married persons to contract a second marriage during the lifetime of the other party. Not even for the sake of averting the most serious calamities could they consent to such a thing. It is well known that King Henry VIII. of England could not wring from the Holy See per mission to divorce his rightful wife, and marry another. That even in consideration of the services he had rendered to the cause of religion, and of the fearful consequences which would ensue upon the introduction of the Lutheran heresy into England could Clement VII. be prevailed upon to give any other reply than this: “Non possumus; I have no authority to set aside the divine law.” “Matrimony,” says St. Augustine, “is an iron chain.” A man can sell a house which he has bought if it does not suit him; but once married, he cannot get rid of his wife. The soul can separate from the body sooner than the husband from the wife. And if either party should contract a second marriage while the other is still alive, he or she commits a mortal sin, and the marriage is invalid. It is, however, possible for a married couple to be separated, provided there are sufficient grounds for separation. If either party is guilty of adultery, the separation may be for life, since by the violation of a contract the rights conferred by that contract are lost; yet neither can enter upon fresh espousals (Matt. v. 32). Dissolute conduct, or cruelty on either side, would afford a reason for a temporary separation, which must be judicial. And if the parties agree to cohabit again they can do so at will.


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