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cesses of subsequent purification can counteract
so fatal a pollution. The problem of the family
is, therefore, the most important of all social
problems. What is marriage ? What is the con-
stitution of the family as founded in and by
marriage ? For what causes may it be dissolved ?
These are questions more important than any
respecting the constitution of the state or the
divine order of the church ; for both church and
state depend upon the answer which social practice
gives to these questions.^ What answer eTesus

1 " I incline to think that the future of America is of greater
importance to Christendom at large than that of any other coun-
try ; that that future, in its highest features, vitally depends upon
the incidents of marriage, and that no country has ever been so
directly challenged as America now is, to choose its course defi-
nitively with reference to one, if not more than one, of the very
greatest of ^hose incidents. The solidity and health of the social


Christ gave to these questions it is the purpose of
this chapter to consider. For that purpose I wish,
first, to put clearly in contrast the two concep-
tions, — the pagan and the Christian, — and to
trace the processes by which the former has en-
tered into our modern life.

In the Middle Ages the Roman Catholic Church,
with unconscious sagacity, put itself at the door-
way of life. It maintained that marriage is a
sacrament, and can be entered into only with the
approbation and benediction of the church.^ It
maintained that the church alone can determine
who may marry, and under what circumstances.
It did not, indeed, deny the legality of pagan
marriages ; on the contrary, it affirmed their legal-
ity : but it declared " matrimony to be a sacrament
of the new law, instituted by Christ, whereby a
new dignity is added to the lawful compact of
marriage, and grace given to those who worthily
receive it." This grace can be bestowed only
upon those who enter into the marriage sacra-
body depend upon the soundness of its unit. That unit is the
family ; and the hinge of the family is to be found in the great
and profound institution of marriage." W. E. Gladstone, North
American Eevieiv, December, 1889, vol. cxlix. p. 641.

^ From Paul's words, " This is a great mystery," translated by
the Vulgate " Saeraraentum haec magnum est," the dogma that
marriage is a sacrament was gradually developed. Though this
dogma was fully recognized in the twelfth century, marriage was
nevertheless considered valid without ecclesiastical benediction
till the year 156.3, when the Council of Trent made it essentially
a religious ceremony. Westerraarck, History of Human Mar-
riage, p. 427.


mentally; that is, with the approval and bene-
diction of the church.^

Protestantism, revolting from the Koman Catho-
lic Church, and inclined instinctively to deny every
assumption of that church, denied that marriage
is a sacrament; denied that the benediction of the
church is necessary to marriage ; denied that the
church has anything to do in determining who may
marry and who may not. Luther held that mar-
riage was an affair of the state, not of the church.
The French Revolution carried out this doctrine
to its logical conclusion. " The law," said the
French Constitution, ^'considers marriage simply
as a civil contract." ^ In France to-day marriage
cannot be performed by the church. It can be
performed only before the civil authorities, though
the parties may, if they please, confirm it by a
religious ceremony of their own choosing. Thus,
after denying that marriage is a sacrament, and
affirming that it is simply a civil contract, the
next step was a natural if not a necessary one.
It was that the parties to this marriage are co-
equal partners in a common enterprise, who have
contracted to live together. Gradually laws have
been changed to conform to this conception, and
the legal rights of married women have been en-
larged in accordance with this theory. It is not
necessary here to trace the process, nor describe

1 Faith of Catholics, vol. iii. p. 239; Catholic Diet., art. "Mar-
riage," and authorities quoted in both volumes.

2 Westerraarek, History of Marriage, p. 428.


the extent to which these changes have been car-
ried, nor even to consider how far they are required
by justice and tend to promote the common wel-
fare. It is enough to note the fact that they often,
indirectly if not explicitly, assume that the law
recognizes in marriage only a partnership. What-
ever else it may be in the thought of the parties,
legally it is, according to this conception, nothing
more nor less than a partnership. And since hus-
band and wife are simply partners, — since mar-
riage is a civil contract, by which they entered
into this partnership, — it was natural to draw the
conclusion that this partnership may be dissolved
by the mutual agreement of the parties. As mar-
riage is formed by a civil contract, so marriage
may be annulled by the parties who formed it.
Thus we get the three steps in the development :
First, marriage a civil contract ; second, the hus-
band and wife coequal partners in a common
enterprise ; third, the partnership thus formed
dissolvable practically at the pleasure of the

History sometimes repeats itself, and, in this
change whicli passed over the conception of the
marriage relation in the sixteenth to the eigh-
teenth centuries, history did repeat itself. In
ancient Kome, marriage was regarded as a sacred
institution. It was accompanied by religious cere-
monies, and was practically indissoluble.^ But,
with the social corruption which characterized

1 Da Coulang-er, The Ancient City, chap. ii.


the later history of Rome, came a change analo-
gous to the one I have already described. Mar-
riage was regarded as a civil contract ; the husband
and the wife were looked upon as equal partners
in a common enterprise ; and the partnership was
dissolvable at the pleasure of the partners. The
result is thus described by Mr. Lecky in his " His-
tory of European Morals :" —

" With the exception of her dowry, which passed into
the hands of her husband, she (the wife) held her prop-
erty in her own right ; she inherited her share of the
wealth of her father, and she retained it altogether
independent of her husband. A very considerable por-
tion of Roman wealth passed into the uncontrolled
possession of women. The private man of business of
the wife was a favorite character with the comedians,
and the tyranny exercised by rich wives over their hus-
bands — to whom it is said they sometimes lent money
at high interest — a continual theme of satirists. A
complete revolution had thus passed over the family.
Instead of being constructed on the principle of auto-
cracy, it was constructed on the principle of coequal
partnership. The legal position of the wife had become
one of comi)lete independence, while her social position
was one of great dignity."

This, at first sight, looks like a great reform,
but what was the result of this reform ?

" Being looked upon simply as a civil contract entered
into for the happiness of the contracting parties, the
continuance of marriage depended upon mutual consent.
Either party might dissolve it at will, and the dissolu-


tion gave both parties the right to remarry. There can
be no doubt that under this system the obligations of
marriage were treated with extreme levity. We find
Cicero repudiating his wife, Terentia, because he wanted
a new dowry ; Maecenas continually changing his wife ;
Semphronius Sophus repudiating his wife because she
had once been to the public games without his know-
ledge ; Paulus Emilius taking the same step witliout
assigning the reason, and defending himself by saying :
" My shoes are new and well made, but no one knows
where they pinch me." Nor did women show less
alacrity in repudiating their husbands. Seneca de-
nounced this evil with especial vehemence, declaring
that divorce in Rome no longer brought with it any
shame, and that there were women who reckoned their
years rather by their husbands than by the consuls.
Martial s])eaks of a woman who had already arrived
at her tenth husband ; Juvenal, of a woman having
eight husbands in five years. But the most extraor-
dinary recorded instance of this kind is related by St.
Jerome, who assures us that there existed in Rome a
wife who was married to her twenty-third husband, she
herself being his twenty-first wife."

Thus the experiment of regarding marriage as a
civil contract, and the parties to it as coequal part-
ners in a common enterprise, and the partnership
dissolvable at the will of the parties, that is, the
pagan conception, has had a fair trial on a great

Christ's instructions respecting marriage and
divorce are based on a very different theory and
involve a very different conception. " The Phari-


sees also came unto him, tempting him, and saying
unto him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his
wife for every cause?" Under the Roman law,
any man could put away his wife, and any woman
could put away her husband. In Palestine there
was one qualification : If a man put his wife away,
he was required to give a statement in writing of
the reason why he did so. There was that, and
only that, protection to the wife. In other words,
he had to do what most mistresses feel bound to
do when they dismiss a cook, — give her a letter.
" And he answered and said unto them. Have ye
not read that he which made them at the begin-
ing made them male and female, and said. For
this cause shall a man leave father and mother and
shall cleave to his wife ; and they twain shall be
one flesh? Wherefore the}^ are no more twain,
but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined
together let not man put asunder."

If we analyze this passage carefully, we shall see
that it contradicts the statement of paganism at
each one of the three crucial points. It denies
that marriage is a civil contract, and declares it
to be a divine ordinance; it denies that the parties
are partners in a common enterprise, and declares
that they are " one flesh ; " and it denies that the
contract entered into — the marriage contract — is
dissolvable at the pleasure of the parties. Let us
look at these three propositions separately.

In the first place, according to Christ's instruc-
tions, marriao^e is not a civil contract and is not


founded on a civil contract. The revived pagan-
ism which bases marriage on a civil contract, and
makes it a form of partnership, is as false as that
other analogous notion that government is founded
on a " social contract." ^ History, philosophy, and
religion combine to refute it. In Anglo-Saxon
communities the free agreement of the bride and
groom is the door through which they enter into
marriasfe. But this fact no more makes such con-
tract the foundation of marriage than does the fact
that the foreigner enters into citizenship in the
United States, by voluntarily applying for naturali-
zation, make contract the foundation of the State.
In truth, in many — probably in most — commu-
nities, free contract between bride and groom is not
even the door through which the}^ enter into the mar-
ried relation. In most Latin races, the contract is
generally made by the parents of the married pair.
In India the contract is often made before the
girl has reached an age in which she herself is
competent to make a contract. Among some sav-
age peoples, marriage is entered into by the pur-
chase of the bride ; among others, by her forcible
capture : in neither case has the girl anything
whatever to say upon the question to whom she
shall be married.^ But in the Latin races, in
India, and in these savage tribes, the parties are
married though they have made no contract.
Contract is essential to marriage only among a

^ See ante, eh. iv.

^ Westermarek, History of Human Marriage, eh. xvii.-xix.


portion — probably only a minority — of the human
race. While marriage never ought to take place
without the free consent of both parties, it often
does take place when one or both the j^arties are
under compulsion.

Marriage is not a human contrivance ; it is a
divine order. It was founded in the creation of
the human race. It dates from the beginning of
humanity. It is as old as man and woman on the
earth.-^ When God made man he made them male
and female, for he intended marriage from the very
inception of the race. " Male and female created
he them," that out of the very creation marriage
mio'ht o'row.

It is the one permanent, enduring social order.
All other forms of social life have changed. Lan-
guages once the common vehicle of speech are
dead. Books once palpitating with human life
are found only in the great libraries, — the cata^
combs of literature. Governments have passed
through successive stages — absolute monarchy,
oligarchy, aristocracy, universal democracy — to
our present representative republicanism. Re-
ligion has undergone revolutions as great. If a

1 " It is, indeed, older than the human race. It runs back into
the very beginning of creation. It is the law of life, — not only of
the animal but also of the vegetable orders. And, in general, the
higher life rises in the scale of being, the nearer its approach to
both monogamy and perpetuity. Promiscuous marriages, tempo-
rary relationships, easy separations, characterize the barbarous
tribes. The modern movement in this direction is a distinct
reversion to barbaric and even brutal conditions." JSee Wester-
marck, History of Marriage^ especially chs. iv., v., xx., xxii., xxiii.


Jew of the time of Solomon were to come into a
modern church he would not think he was in a
worshiping assembly. He would ask, Where is
the altar ? where are the priests ? where is the
ritual ? where are the resplendent robes ? where
is the blood that flows in torrents ? where are the
sacrifices? He would understand our creed as
little as our ritual. He knew nothing of the
Trinity, the divinity of Christ, atonement, the in-
spiration of the Bible. The one thing that has
remained from the day of Eden down to the pres-
ent day, and will remain as long as the human race
lives on the earth, is the marriage of one man to
one woman. God made marriage when he made
man, — when " male and female created he them."
In the second place, Christ denies that the par-
ties to marriage are coequal partners in a com-
mon enterprise. In a partnership, two persons,
maintaining their separate interests and their sepa-
rate individuality, combine for certain definite
purposes. If those purposes cannot be well ac-
complished by the combination, they may separate
again. If their combination has involved any
other interests, those interests must be provided
for ; that is all which the law requires. But when
a man and woman join in wedlock, they are no
more twain. A new person is created. They are
henceforth one flesh, that is, one earthly individu-
ality. They are henceforth a unit, and on the
maintenance of this unit the unity of society, the
unity of government, the unity of the church,


depend. The famrly is not a partnership ; it is an
autocracy. This view is not in accordance with
the current popular conception, though there are
indications of a reaction against the sentiment
which has been popular for the last twenty or
twenty-five years. The autocratic conception of
the family is clearly expressed by Paul, though, in
his instructions on this subject, he is not looked
upon altogether with favor, even in orthodox circles.
It is said that he was a bachelor and did not know.
" Wives, submit yourselves unto your own hus-
bands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the
head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the
church ; and he is the saviour of the body. There-
fore, as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the
wives be to their own husbands in everything.^
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also
loved the church, and gave himself for it." The
household is a unit, and the husband is the head
of the household.

Every organization must have a head. Is this
organization a church ? The head may be a poj^e
in Rome ruling over all ; it may be a general
assembly to which all presbyteries and all local
churches are subordinate ; it may be the majority
in the local congregation, to which the minister
and church officers are alike subject. But some-
where there is a final authority, or there is no
organization. The final authority in the normal

^ Ephes. V. 22-25. " In everything- '' is limited by the family ;
i. e. in *' everything in the body " of which they are members.


family is the husband ; he is thfe head of the house-
hold. What is the alternative ? Either there is a
rift in the family, in one department the wife
supreme, in the other department the husband
supreme, neither entering into the other's depart-
ment, — then there is not a unit, not these twain
one flesh, not a single person with one life, one
will, one heart ; but a divided household, divided
at the very foundation : or there is a perpetual
struggle going on between the husband and the
wife ; she endeavoring to get control by cunning,
he endeavoring to get control by force ; she gen-
erally getting the better of it, for cunning habitu-
rWj gets the better of force, — then the family
is a perpetual battle-field. Or else the divine
order is reversed, and the wife is the head of the
household, — a condition which does not need any
comment. The husband and wife may wisely
divide between them, by a common consent, the
responsibilities of the household ; that does not
affect the autocracy. In some families, through
invalidism, intellectual or physical or moral, or all
three combined, the husband cannot be the head
and the wife must be, usually to the discomfort of
both. But that is not a normal household. The
normal, the divine order, is the order in which the
husband is the head of the household, and the
household is an autocracy.

This is not to affirm that man is superior to
woman. That has often been affirmed ; I repu-
diate it with indignation. It is not to affirm that


the husband is superior to the wife. That has
been affirmed ; I repudiate it no less indignantly.
There is no question of superiority or inferiority.
The question is of headship, not of superiority.
An inferior individual may be a superior officer.
During the Vicksburg campaign Grant was the
greater general, but Halleck was the superior
officer. The President of the United States is
the head of the nation, but he is not necessarily
the greatest man in the nation. I understand,
then, that Christ's law of the household, as inter-
preted and applied by Paul, involves these two
laws : First, Wives, submit to your husbands ;
second. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved
you and gave himself for you. In the poems and
stories and sermons, the women are eulogized as
cross-bearers. It is small credit to husbands that
literature always puts the crosses on the wives.
It is the men who ought to be the cross-bearers.

This does no dishonor to woman. It is honor-
ing her. It does not deprive her of her rights.
It confers upon her the rights which paganism
takes away. For, in the order of nature, man is
the soldier. It is man who is to shoulder the
musket and go forth to battle to protect the wife.
If bread is to be got by hard toil, it is the man
who is to subdue nature, and get the bread for his
wife. It is not a woman's right to harness herself
with the ox and plow in the fields, as women do
in some countries. It is man who is to do the
work and take the responsibilities, that woman


may minister to love and life. Responsibility
and authority are always commensurate. An un-
defined autliority means an undefined responsiblity,
of all responsibilities the hardest to bear. The
conception that marriage is a partnership puts an
undefined responsibility on the wife. A divided
authority involves a divided responsibility, of all
divisions the most prolific of controversy. It is
a conception of marriage that divides the respon-
sibility between the husband and the wife, and
creates controversy. The wife has a right to have
the responsibility of the family borne by her
husband, that she may be free for the cares and
ministries of maternity. Man should be the de-
fender, and man should be the burden-bearer. I
cannot look with enthusiasm upon the new era
in which women are rushing into every kind of
employment, and lowering the wages of men by
doing men's work. I would not close the door
against them, nor shut them out from any vo-
cation ; 1 would give them the largest libert}^
But men, with their strong arms, ought to fight
life's battles and win life's bread, and leave the
women free from the burden of bread- winning and
battling, that they may minister to the higher life
of faith and hope and love. Nor will our indus-
trial situation be what it ought to be, until every
faithful husband and father can earn enough for
his wife and children, without calling them to
labor by his side in the mine, the mill, the shop,
or the office.


In the third place, since marriage is not a civil
contract, and the husband and wife are not co-
equal partners in a common enterprise, marriage
is not dissolvable at the pleasure of the parties to
it. The common argument for such dissolution is
very simple and easily stated. That it is specious
may be conceded. " Why should those remain
bound together by law whose hearts are not bound
together by love ? Why should a woman remain
in marital bondage to a man when she does
not love and perhaps cannot even respect him?
Marriage is the union of souls ; if the souls are
not united, the marriage is dissolved." Such is
the argument for freedom of divorce. Such is
not Christ's view of either marriage or divorce.
Marriage is not a union of souls : it is the mating
of two persons in one flesh. Two souls may be
joined, and yet there be no marriage ; marriage
there may be, and yet no union of souls. Mar-
riage is the creation of a new earthly relation.
For the highest happiness, where the life is one
the souls should be one ; but it is the unity of the
lives, not of the souls, which constitutes marriage.
Hence marriage ceases at death, though spiritual
union does not. Hence, too, marriage is not dis-
soluble because love is dead. The mere cessation
of sympathy no more annuls marriage than it
annuls any other family relation. It is very de-
sirable that the son should reverence the father,
and that the father should sympathize with the
son. But the son does not cease to be a son


because the father is unworthy of reverence, nor
does the father cease to be father because he is
unable to sympathize with his son. So it is of
the utmost moment that husband and wife love
and honor each other, but they do not cease to
be husband and wife because they cannot love and
honor. Love and honor make the result of the
marriage blessed, but they do not constitute the

And as Christ does not accept the definition
of marriage as a " union of souls," so neither does
he accept incompatibility of temper as a ground of
divorce. His words on this subject are as explicit
as any in his teachings : " Whosoever shall put
away his wife, except it be for fornication, and
shall marry another, committeth adultery; and
whoso marrieth her which is put away committeth
adultery." ^

It is always to be remembered that we are not
to interpret Christ's commands as statutes. They
are the enunciations of great general principles,
not the issuance of special edicts. We must re-
member that, when Christ lived, a man could put
away his wife of his own volition, that, even in

^ Matthew xix, 9. The original, rendered " fornication," signi-
fies, not merely adultery, but, in strictness of speech, harlotry ;
and, though I would not press this distinction, it indicates, so far
as it indicates anything, that Christ would recognize no divorce
except for persistent, continuous, and habitual crime against the

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Online LibraryLyman AbbottChristianaity and social problems → online text (page 10 of 25)