James Quayle Dealey.

The family in its sociological aspects online

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church. Slowly, however, from conflicting theor-
ies there was formulated a body of teachings
about the family : monogamy was sanctioned and
made the Christian type; marriage was declared
to be a sacrament and a holy bond; marriage
should be for life and no divorce granted except
from bed and board ; celibacy was strongly recom-
mended and finally required from the priesthood,
brotherhoods, and sisterhoods as an essential
condition for a highly sanctified life; and finally
a single sex standard was indorsed.

These ideals, admirable though they were and
are, were impossible of enforcement. Through-
out Christendom concubinage flourished along-
side of a family in form monogamous; the single
standard of chastity became virtually a dead
letter; there was nothing about the ordinary
marriage that would suggest to the onlooker
that marriage was either holy or sacramental
in nature ; celibacy was too often a cloak for sex-
ualism of every sort ; and the lifelong duration of
marriage depended very much on the wish of
the man and the am.ount of his wealth and influ-
ence. For no teaching of the church developed
in the Middle Ages more casuistry and chicanery
than ecclesiastical hair-splittings about divorce.


Yet no blame really can be attached to the
church for the vicious conditions of medieval
civilization. The trouble was that its ideals were
too far above a population emerging from Roman
degeneracy and Germanic barbarism. It was
good to have the ideals on record for future use,
especially as they inspired an elite to a higher
and purer life, even though they were, for a large
part of the population, "pearls cast before swine."
The real charge against the church should be that
it suppressed knowledge and intelligence that if
allowed to come to fruition would have made
those ideals much more real to men. The human
intellect is the agency for social progress, and the
suppression of it is high treason against society
and the only real heresy and atheism among

From the practical standpoint more Important
than the church's attitude toward sex idealism
was its actual working policy toward the con-
crete family life of society. In ancestor worship
there is a natural religious grouping of each
family around its ancestral shrine. Every family
in a sense is a local church, with a religion pecul-
iar to itself, yet in close sympathy with kindred
groups adjacent. But when ancestor worship
became a mere form or died out altogether, what
was there to take its place? Evidently there were
several possibilities ; a thoughtful man like Maf


cus Aurelius might think out a philosophy and
be well satisfied with his substitute. But the
average man and his wife and children have no
time to think out philosophies nor much appre-
ciation of those already thought out. Such per-
sons, therefore, may become indifferent to relig-
ion altogether, or they may slight family wor-
ship and devote themselves to the temples and
the worship of the national gods, or they may
become adherents of some new religion capable of
being used in the family circle. Christianity in
its beginnings showed its adaptability to human
conditions by reconciling several of these possi-
bilities. It lent itself readily for philosophizing
purposes, and throughout the centuries has
attracted much of the best intellect of every
generation to its world-problems. It also sup-
planted the great gods of the heathen world and
monopolized all the national temples with the
worship of the one God, and at the same time
took possession of the home by making it possi-
ble for a Christian family to maintain a worship
among its own members for their spiritual edi-

These last two forms, however, are hard to
reconcile. If a family devotes itself to temple
worship, it minimizes domestic worship, and by
contrast a vigorous family worship makes ex-
ternal worship seem to be of less importance.


Now, of these two possibilities the church has
steadily emphasized the temple idea as against
the family. Influenced by the glamour of a world-
empire it patterned itself after the Roman Em-
pire and sought to center the religious life of the
people in the church as an organization. Relig-
ion was to become identified with rites, cere-
monies, a consecrated building, and a priesthood
authorized to act not only for the church uni-
versal, but also for the hierarchy established on
earth. This policy, slowly worked out in detail
century after century, gradually wrought a revo-
lution in worship, since it transferred the em-
phasis from family worship to communal worship
in which an entire parish (or clan of former times)
grouped itself about a common altar with priestly
fathers as leaders in the religious services. If to
this theory of a centralized worship be added the
body of teaching or dogma already mentioned in
respect to marriage and the family, the accept-
ance in theory and practice of both of these by
the membership would complete the process of
the growth of ecclesiastical authority over the
family. So radical a change, however, was the
work of many centuries, and even by the end of
the fourteenth century the process was not fully
completed. Then came the Reformation and
broke down to a large extent the toil and labor
of a thousand years by substituting individual-


ism in religion in place of the social groups of the
CathoHc Church.

Again, in the life of an individual four events
mark the crises in his natural career; his birth,
puberty, marriage, and death. Through its
teachings and authority in respect to baptism,
confirmation, and extreme unction the church
soon acquired control over the individual in three
of these crises. The fourth, marriage, was a
matter of much more difficulty. It must be re-
membered that marriage at the beginnings of
Christianity was throughout Western civiliza-'/^
tion a private contract, regulated by family cus-
tom, and not controlled to any appreciable ex-
tent by either state or church. The task of bring-
ing so important an institution as marriage under
the control of the church was no easy one, but the
church slowly gained ground and by the time of
the Council of Trent (1545-1563 a.d.) it was
virtually in possession.

The steps taken by the church during these
earlier centuries may briefly be summarized as
follows: The church slowly assumed canonical
jurisdiction over legal questions in respect to
matrimony, at first only when such cases in-
volved questions of religious teaching, but later
it secured from the state the right to adjudicate
all sorts of cases in which conjugal and parental
rights were involved. Again, marriage was de-


clared to be a sacrament,^ a holy state meeting
with divine approval; being a sacrament, it
should be indissoluble, and hence there should
be no divorce. The final step was for the church
to dictate the ceremonial and to give its sanction
to the marriage contract. This process began
naturally in the early centuries of Christianity,
since Christians in marrying were desirous of
having from any elder or priest present a blessing
or benediction on the marriage. By the end of the
tenth century it had become usual for the bridal
couple after marriage to attend a bridal mass at
the church and there to receive the benediction.
During the next two hundred years a special
marriage ritual developed under the charge of
the priest, so that a religious form was placed
about the marriage contract, which, however,
still derived its sanction from the will of the con-
tracting parties and their parents. Meanwhile
the banns or formal announcement of the inten-
tion of marrying, and a registration of the mar-
riage itself on the records of the church, became
more and more customary. The final step came
by insisting that no marriage was valid in the
eyes of the church unless performed by a priest
after the ritual of the church, which alone should
give sanction to marriage. In other words, the
priest, after hearing the consent of the contract-
* Howard, vol. i, p. 332.


ing parties and their kin, joined them in marriage,
pronounced them man and wife, and by this
announcement the marriage became valid.

It must not be assumed, however, that from
this time forth all marriages were performed in
the church. The mass of the poorer part of the
population continued to marry as before by
private contract, shunning the expense of the
ecclesiastical marriage, and such marriages,
though not canonically valid, were yet legal by
custom. Meanwhile, the Renaissance had come,
the Reformation with its own theory of marriage
and divorce was impending, democracy was in
the air, and the rise of the modern state brought
to the front a rival candidate for power over
familial institutions.



Religion to many seems so important that
they speak of the Reformation of Luther's time
as though it were that movement which brought
about all modern progress. Yet it is well under-
stood that from the fifteenth to the eighteenth
century the entire social life of Western civiliza-
tion was in process of transformation, so that the
Reformation was simply the religious aspect of
the Renaissance. By the beginning of the six-
teenth century a European civilization had devel-
oped which was neither Roman nor Teutonic.
The long struggle between the Holy Roman Em-
pire and the Roman Catholic Church had become
a memory. National states, not world-empires,
occupied the thoughts of men. For a thousand
years Christianity had been in the saddle, and
yet the moral conditions of Christendom were not
unlike the degenerate days of the Roman Re-
public. Religious interests had become merged
into ecclesiasticism, which settled like an incubus
on the "modernism" of that time. For the re-


vival of classical learning had come, the art of
printing had been devised, spreading among men
the knowledge of once buried treasures of thought,
and science had begun to erect foundations for
the work of the nineteenth century. The geo-
graphical horizon of Europe broadened so as to
include the Far East, the African regions toward
the South, and the New World of the West.
Commerce leaped to the front, precious metals
began to pour into the depleted treasuries of
Europe, and inventive ingenuity turned itself
towards the development of manufactures. Sec-
ular statesmen supplanted ecclesiastical leaders
in government, indicating that political and
economic policies demanded a different type of
mind. Theories of education came into discus-
sion, and Utopias were devised showing that the
dreamers of the time were seeing visions of a so-
cial reorganization. It seemed like a new era to
many, for, as Campanella^ put it, "Oh, if you
knew what our astrologers say of the coming age,
and of our age, that has in it more history within
a hundred years than all the world had in four
thousand years before! Of the wonderful inven-
tion of printing and guns, and the use of the
magnet, and how it all comes of Mercury, Mars,
the Moon, and the Scorpion!" All these and

* The City of the Sun. Morley's Ideal Commonwealths,
p. 263.


many other similar movements were seething
during the three centuries of this transition from
the old to the new, and it is not strange, there-
fore, that marked changes took place in the in-
stitution of the family, involving readjustments
chiefly in respect to religion and the state.

For a long time there had been a growing dis-
satisfaction with the church's theory of sexual-
ity. The theory seemed plainly to imply that
the feeling of sexual passion was evil in itself,
thus failing to distinguish between a right pas-
sion designed for racial continuance, and the
occasional perversion of it. It signified little that
marriage was declared sacramental, if at the
same time celibacy was exalted as a condition
for high spirituality. The implication seemed to
be the Pauline teaching that marriage was a
lesser evil so as to avoid the greater evil of for-
nication. Nor, in fact, had the demand for celi-
bacy worked well in practice, as the conditions
of the times clearly showed. Conscientious and
high-minded men and women, under the spur
of idealism or mysticism, might seem to justify
that ascetic demand, but the average person
devoted to a holy life found great difficulty in
complying with the requirement and wasted a
large part of his working energy in fighting what
after all is a natural feeling, sinful only in excess
and when exerted to the detriment of individual


or social life. Then, too, the many failures to
maintain vows of celibacy not simply ruined
lives of possible usefulness, but reacted injuri-
ously on religion itself and proved also to be
dangerous centers of social contagion. One of
the early teachings of the religious reformation,
therefore, was a denial of the efficacy of celibacy
as an aid to holiness, and an insistence on the
essential rightness of an unperverted sexuality.
As a result of this teaching, the requirement for
celibacy on the part of the Protestant clergy
slowly died out, and, through their disuse of the
confessional, clerical control over matters involv-
ing sex morals disappeared and questions of that
sort reverted to the domain of the individual and
the social conscience.

Moreover, society had never taken kindly to
the notion that marriage is essentially a religious
institution. Throughout human history mar-
riage had been regulated by the individuals and
families concerned, aided by the consensus of
public opinion, in which of course religion had
its part. But the doctrine of the sacramental
nature of marriage, with its implication of eccle-
siastical regulation, and its corollary of an indis-
soluble union, as well as the publicity involved
in the banns and the marriage ceremony, seemed
to many like a usurpation on the part of the
church. It was held that while marriage rightly


should be esteemed a holy relationship and be
subject to some publicity and regulation for the
sake of social well-being, yet that this control
should originate from social opinion and from
the state, rather than from a celibate priesthood.
For such reasons the reformers rejected the sac-
ramental nature of marriage and admitted the
possibility of divorce, but preferred to transfer
authority and control over these matters from
the church to the state, though emphasizing the
advisability of a religious ceremony in connec-
tion with marriage as a relationship approved
by religion. Radical reformers, however, went
farther than this and preferred to have even
the ceremony civil in character, and performed
before a magistrate, as under the Protectorate
of Cromwell and in some of the early New Eng-
land colonies. The Friends or Quakers, on the
other hand, returned to the old free contract
marriage of Germanic-Saxon times, making this
a matter of conscience, and arguing that neither
church nor state should exercise control over an
institution essentially private in nature. It is
obvious that when these several teachings of
religious reformers, modified more or less at dif-
ferent times and under varying conditions, had
become current among Protestant nations, a dis-
tinct change had come about in the relations of
church and family. The change is essentially


similar to that connoted by the term, "separa-
tion of church and state." There was a separa-
tion of church and family, since the church no
longer had the legal right to dictate to the family
in marriage and divorce, nor to regulate the
rights of kinship, nor to define the prohibited
degrees within which marriage should not take
place, nor, in short, to interfere legally in any
matter whatsoever with the family in any of its
aspects. In modern times churches, of course,
have their teachings in respect to these matters,
and may instruct their members in their duty
before God in questions of marriage, divorce,
and sex morals, but these teachings are binding
on the conscience and involve no legal obligation
whatsoever. Nor, as a matter of fact, has this
substitution of moral suasion for legal compulsion
worked badly in practice. Family standards and
morals in Catholic and Protestant countries
when compared are not unfavorable to the latter,
and it would be hard to justify a claim for ec-
clesiastical supremacy over the family on the
ground that any other possibility spells degrada-
tion in domestic morals. The medieval experi-
ment of subjugating family to church is settled
adversely, and society is now experimenting by
substituting the state as the controlling agent
over the family.

This change from ecclesiastical to civil con-


trol is fundamentally important, so that a brief
statement of the growth of the state's jurisdic-
tion may prove of interest. The family in its
early history protected the lives and property of
its own kindred by force of arms and punished
at its discretion its wayward members. Slowly,
however, this power of protection and the main-
tenance of peace was transferred to the state,
though its exercise of power was carefully cir-
cumscribed by custom. If only the family or
groups of families would furnish men for war, and
pay needed taxes for the support of government,
the state was well satisfied to protect life and
property through its war power and to refrain
from interference in aught else. But the history
of the state is the history of a steady increase in
power and function, all derived by implication
from its right to protect life and property. It
became interested in the age of maturity for
young men, when they might be enrolled for war
purposes; in kinship, so as to trace the descent of
property rights; in marriage, so as to know what
mutual rights and obligations existed between
the adult males and females subject to it; and in
children, as heirs of their kin and as a guaranty
of national existence through another generation.
Regulations in regard to such matters were com-
mon enough in ancient times, especially when
property rights were involved. Rome before ft


became Christianized had begun the process of
regulating kinship, declaring what marriages
should be considered legal, and even sought
under the Empire to stipulate conditions under
which a divorce should take place ^ and to legis-
late so as to encourage larger families .^ After
the downfall of the Empire the church began to
assume jurisdiction over the family and by the
fifteenth century had become able to dictate
domestic standards, as already described. After
the Reformation the state in Protestant coun-
tries began to assert control over the family: in
place of the banns came a license and registration
publicly announced or placed on record for gen-
eral inspection; in place of a religious sanction
the state authorized clergymen to perform the
ceremony or else substituted for those its magis-
trates. Prohibited degrees, kinship, wardship
over minors, and divorce all came under the juris-
diction of the state, which even undertook to set
up standards in sex morals, as, for example, in
the prohibition or regulation of prostitution. In
assuming these powers it often took over bodily
the standards already worked out by the church,
but it never hesitated to change these whenever
it seemed necessary. Its jurisdiction in divorce
and in remarriage after divorce is an excellent

* In the presence of witnesses, for example.
' By tax exemption and bonuses.


illustration of the drift away from the ecclesias-
tical teaching of the indissolubility of the^ mar-
riage tie. There is consequently often a real con-
flict of standards, since the state may authorize
a marriage or announce a divorce, contrary to
the teachings of the church. The church, how-
ever, can in no way interfere with the decision
made by the state nor inflict any but spiritual
penalties on its members who ignore its teach-
ings. At first thought it may be said that the
institution of the family has merely changed one
master for another, but this is not quite true.
This governmental control has gone farthest in
the more democratic nations, so that the com-
mand of the state is based on public opinion,
which may enlarge or decrease at will govern-
mental control over the family. The state, in
other words, has become or is becoming the
mouthpiece of its citizens, and in so far as the
family is concerned has become a sort of enlarged
family council acting as a unit for the formu-
lation of a code in respect to matters affecting
marriage and the family.

This change from ecclesiastical to civil domi-
nance over the family, though civil and political
in its nature, is at the same time a social and a
democratic movement. It is a movement away
from " paternalism " toward a return to a familial
and social regulation of marriage and relation-


ship. It is a drift toward a democratic theory of
family as part of the larger democratic trend of
the times. For democracy is not simply political ;
it is really social, since it is a demand that every
adult be allowed to determine his own life, as
far as personal determination is possible, and
that he have a voice in whatever regulation is
placed on his actions. Democracy, therefore,
may be religious, as in freedom of worship; or
economic, as in freedom in economic contracts;
or familial, as in freedom to contract marriage by
mutual consent; or ethical, as in freedom to
decide on one's line of action in the light of his
conscience; or educational, as in freedom to
acquire an education. All of these rights are and
ought to be subject to reasonable regulation, but
they unitedly are best guaranteed to the individ-
ual when he has a ballot in his hand and thereby
can aid In determining the amount and the kind
of regulation to which he is to be subjected. In
one sense, therefore, the teachings of the religious
leaders in the Reformation were partial steps to-
ward a larger end than any of them had in mind,
and hence their teachings were temporary pol-
icies, good for their generation but by no means
binding for all time. Under the conditions of
those days a social revolution was bound to come,
and it took at first a religious form because, if a
rebellion were raised at all, it had to be against


the hierarchical ecclesiastical organization which
ruled Western civilization with despotic sway.
But an analysis of this revolt shows that it was
not merely a struggle for religious liberty, since
most men were somewhat indifferent about that,
but it was rather a protest against an ecclesias-
tical system of economic exploitation, against an
asserted supremacy over political and intellec-
tual life, and against an autocratic dictation in
respect to marriage and the family. The revolt
was successful and ushered in the age of modern



The sweep of modern democracy has deeply
affected the family as well as the relations of
church and state, though its influence on the
several nations of Western civilization has been
widely different, because of the slow progress of
democracy in some parts of Europe, owing to
numerous variations in the factors underlying
their development. It is obvious that there can
be no one type of family in all Western nations,
since their economic systems are far from uniform
and ecclesiastical dominance is still an important
factor in many states. In Russia, the mir or vil-
lage organization of peasants and the powerful
organization of the Russian state church de-
termine a family of complex type uniting pa-
triarchal and Christian forms. In England by
contrast urban conditions determine the type,
though this is somewhat modified by the influ-
ence of the national church. In other nations
there may be found a peasant population semi-


feudal in character, often illiterate, always poor,
and with a type of family suited to such condi-
tions ; or by contrast there may be a free farming
population on one side and an urban population
on the other with its extremes of a privileged
leisure class and a compacted mass of proletariat
population living or barely existing in closely
packed tenements and slums.

In the south of Europe the Roman Catholic
Church is a powerful influence affecting the fam-

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Online LibraryJames Quayle DealeyThe family in its sociological aspects → online text (page 4 of 8)