In Defense of Marriage against Divorce


The Roman Church is universal, or catholic, as to doctrine. Her doctrine is the same everywhere. What she teaches in one country, she also teaches in another.  Her doctrine in one place is her doctrine in another. There can be in the Roman Church no new doctrine, no local belief, no creed in which the whole Church has not been united–the Church uniting to condemn all variations from this belief. New discipline, new practices, new orders, new methods, may be adopted by the Church, according to the requirements of her work; but there can be no doctrine which has not existed from the beginning, as it was received from Christ and the apostles. A doctrine, to be truly Catholic, must have been believed in all places, at all times, and by all the faithful. By this test of catholicity, or universality, antiquity and consent, all questions of faith are tried and decided. Doctrines and articles of faith may be newly defined, as, for instance, that of the Immaculate Conception or of the Infallibility of the Pope, but there can be no new doctrine.  Novelty is a quality of heresy ; for, though some errors may be very old, yet they are new as compared with the truth. In every case, the truth must first appear before its corresponding error. The denial of any truth supposes its previous assertion. Like the divine Founder of the Roman Catholic Church, her doctrine is the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.

” Some years ago,” writes Mr. Marshal, a distinguished English convert, “I was present, officially, at the examination of an English primary school, in which the children displayed such unusual accuracy and intelligence, as long as the questions turned only upon secular subjects, that I was anxious to ascertain whether they could reason as well about the truths of the Catechism as they could about those of grammar and arithmetic. I communicated my desire to their clergyman, who kindly permitted me to have recourse to a test which I had employed on other occasions. I requested him to interrogate them on the Notes of the Church, and when they had explained in the usual manner the meaning of the word Catholic, I took up the examination, with the consent of the priest, and addressed the following question to the class : ‘You say the Church is Catholic because she is everywhere. Now, I have visited many countries, in all parts of the world,
and I never came to one in which I did not find heresy.  If, then, the Church is Catholic because she is everywhere, why is not heresy Catholic, since heresy is everywhere, also?’ ‘If you please, sir,’ answered a little girl, about twelve years of age, ‘the Church is everywhere, and everywhere the same; heresy may be every where too, but it is everywhere different.'”

The Church is unceasingly assailed by new errors, yet she always and everywhere is consistent with herself; she explains and develops her earlier definitions, without even the shadow of change appearing; she has declared, hundreds of times, that she can introduce no innovations, that she has no power to originate anything in matters of faith and morals, but that it is her right and office to maintain the divine doctrine as contained in Scripture and tradition. She has convoked nineteen General Councils, and in each pronounced a solemn anathema on all who in the least deviated from the faith. In all ages she has undergone the most cruel persecutions, because she maintains all truths, and for this very reason she will be persecuted to the end of the world. But rather than yield one iota of her doctrine, she is willing to make every sacrifice : she permits whole countries to leave her, her pastors to be murdered, her children to be imprisoned and exiled, rather than permit one tittle of the law to be abolished. See, for instance, what she has done and suffered in upholding the dignity of the sacrament of marriage, the corner-stone of society!

See the workings of Catholic and Protestant doctrines of marriage in society! Take the common instance of a man in whose heart there is a fearful struggle between conscience on the one hand, and blind, brutish passion on the other! His wife, that wife whom he once loved so dearly, has become hateful to him. Perhaps she has lost the charm of beauty which once fascinated his heart. Another stands before him she is young, she is beautiful. Protestantism, like the tempter of hell, whispers in his ear: “Sue for a divorce. The marriage bond can be broken. Youth and beauty may yet be yours. ” And the voice of conscience, the voice of God, is stifled. Brutish passion conquers. Divorce is sought and obtained, and the poor wife is cast away, and left heart-broken and companionless.  And the children of such a marriage, who shall care for them ? Who shall teach them the virtues of obedience and charity? How can they respect a divorced mother, an adulterous father ? No, these children become naturally the curse of society. They fill our prisons, our hospitals, the brothels.

On the contrary, if that man is a Catholic, the holy Church speaks to him in solemn warning : ” See ! ” she says, ” you took that wife in the day of her early joy and beauty. She gave you her young heart before the altar. You swore before God and his angels to be faithful to her until death. I declare to you, then, that, at the peril of your immortal soul, you must keep that union perpetual. That union shall end only when you have stood by her death-bed, when you have knelt at her grave.”

The Catholic Church has always regarded Christian marriage as the corner-stone of society ; and at that corner-stone have the pastors of the Church stood guard for eighteen centuries, insisting that Christian marriage is one, holy and indissoluble. Woman, weak and unprotected, has always found at Rome that guarantee which was refused her by him who had sworn at the altar of God to love her and to cherish her till death. Whilst in the nations which Protestantism tore from the bosom of the Church, the sacred laws of matrimony are trampled in the dust; whilst the statistics of these nations hold up to the world the sad spectacle of divorces almost as numerous as marriages, of separations of husband from wife, and wife from husband, for the most trivial causes, thus granting to lust the widest margin of license, and legalizing concubinage and adultery; whilst the nineteenth century records in its annals the existence of a community of licentious polygamists within the borders of one of the most civilized countries of the earth, we have yet to see the decree emanating from Rome that would permit even a beggar to repudiate his lawful wife, in order to give his affections to an adulteress.

The female portion of our race would always have sunk back into a new slavery, had not the popes entered the breach for the protection of the unity, the sanctity, the indissolubility of matrimony. In the midst of the barbarous ages, during which the conqueror and warrior swayed the sceptre of empire, and kings and petty tyrants acknowledged no other right but that of force, it was the popes that opposed their authority, like a wall of brass, to the sensuality and the passions of the mighty ones of the earth, and stood forth as the protectors of innocence and outraged virtue, as the champions of the rights of women, against the wanton excesses of tyrannical husbands, by enforcing, in their full severity, the laws of Christian marriage. If Christian Europe is not covered with harems; if polygamy has never gained a foothold in Europe; if, with the indissolubility and sanctity of matrimony, the palladium of European civilization has been saved from destruction, it
is all owing to the pastors of the Church. ” If the popes,” says the Protestant Yon Muller, “if the popes could hold up no other merit than that which they gained by protecting monogamy against the brutal lusts of those in power, notwithstanding bribes, threats, and persecutions, that fact alone would render them immortal for all future ages.”

And how had they to battle till they had gained this merit ? What sufferings had they to endure, what trials to undergo? When King Lothair, in the ninth century, repudiated his lawful wife, in order to live with a concubine, Pope Nicholas I at once took upon himself the defence of the rights and of the honor of the unhappy wife. All the arts of an intriguing policy were plied, but
Nicholas remained unshaken; threats were used, but Nicholas remained firm. At last the king’s brother, Louis II, appears with an army before the walls of Rome, in order to compel the pope to yield. It is useless Nicholas swerves not from the line of duty. Rome is besieged; the priests and people are maltreated and plundered  sanctuaries are desecrated; the cross is torn down and trampled under foot, and, in the midst of these scenes of blood and sacrilege, Nicholas flies to the Church of St. Peter. There he is besieged by the army of the emperor for two days and two nights ; left without food or drink, he is willing to die of starvation on the tomb of St. Peter, rather than yield to a brutal tyrant, and sacrifice the sanctity of Christian marriage, the law of life of Christian
society. And the perseverance of Nicholas I was crowned with victory. He had to contend against a licentious king, who was tired of restraint; against an emperor, who, with an army at his heels, came to enforce his brother’s unjust demands; against two councils of venal bishops: the one at Metz, the other at Aix-la-Chapelle, who had sanctioned the scandals of the adulterous monarch. Yet, with all this opposition, and the suffering it cost him, the pope succeeded in procuring the acknowledgment of the rights of an injured woman.  And during succeeding ages we find Gregory V carrying on a similar combat against King Robert, and Urban II against King Philip of France. In the thirteenth century, Philip Augustus, mightier than his predecessors, set to work all the levers of power, in order to move the pope to divorce him from his wife, Ingelburgis. Hear the noble answer of the great Innocent III :

“Since, by the grace of God, we have the firm and unshaken will never to separate ourselves from justice and truth, neither moved by petitions, nor bribed by presents, neither induced by love, nor intimidated by hate, we will continue to go on in the royal path, turning neither to the right nor to the left; and we judge without any respect to persons, since God himself does not respect

After the death of his first wife, Isabella, Philip Augustus wished to gain the favor of Denmark by marrying Ingelburgis. The union had hardly been solemnized, when he wished to be divorced from her. A council of venal bishops assembled at Compiegne, and annulled his lawful marriage. The queen, poor woman, was summoned before her judges, and the sentence was read and translated to her. She could not speak the language of France, so her only cry was, ” Rome ! ” And Rome heard her cry of distress, and came to her rescue. Innocent III needed the alliance of France in the troubles in which he was engaged with Germany ; Innocent III needed the assistance of France for the Crusade; yet Innocent III sent Peter of Capua as legate to France. A council is convoked by the legate of the Pope ; Philip refuses to appear, in spite of the summons, and his whole kingdom is placed under interdict. Philip’s rage knows no bounds; bishops are banished, his lawful wife is imprisoned, and the king vents his rage on the clergy of France. The barons, at last, appeal to the sword. The king complains to the pope of the harshness of the legate; and when Innocent only confirms the sentence of the legate, the king exclaims, “Happy Saladin! he had no pope!” Yet the king was forced to obey. When he asked the barons assembled in council, “What must I do ?” their answer was, “Obey the pope ; put away Agnes, and restore Ingelburgis.” And, thanks to the severity of Innocent III, Philip repudiated the concubine, and restored Ingelburgis to her rights, as wife and queen.

Hear what the Protestant Hurter says in his Life of Innocent : “If Christianity has not been thrown aside, as a worthless creed, into some isolated corner of the world; if it has not, like the sects of India, been reduced to a mere theory; if its European vitality has outlived the voluptuous effeminacy of the East, it is due to the watchful severity of the Roman Pontiffs to their increasing care to maintain the principles of authority in the Church.”

As often as we look toward England, we are reminded of the words of Innocent III to Philip Augustus. We see Clement using them as his principles in his conduct toward the royal brute, Henry VIII. Catharine of Aragon, the lawful wife of Henry, had been repudiated by her disgraceful husband, and it was again to Rome she appealed for protection. Clement remonstrated with
Henry. The monarch calls the pope hard names. Clement repeats, “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” Henry threatens to tear England from the Church he does it; still Clement insists, “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” The blood of Fisher and Moore is shed at Tyburn ; still the pope repeats, “Thou shalt not commit adultery!” The firmness of the pope cost England’s loss to the Church.
It cost the pope bitter tears, and he prayed to heaven not to visit on the people of England the crimes of the despot; he prayed for the conversion of the nation; but to sacrifice the sanctity, the indissolubility of matrimony, that he could never do; to abandon helpless woman to the brutality of men who were tired of the restraints of morality, no, that the pope could never permit. If the
court, if the palace, if the domestic hearth, refused a shelter, Rome was always open, a refuge to injured and down-trodden innocence.

” One must obey God more than man.” This has ever been the language of the Church, whenever there was question of defending the laws of God against the powers of the earth; and in thus defending the laws of God, she has always shown herself Catholic.

Oh, how sad would be the state of society were the popes, the bishops, and priests to be banished from the earth! The bonds that unite the husband and wife, the child and the parent, the friend and the friend, would be broken. Peace and justice would flee from the earth. Robbery, murder, hatred, lust, and all the other crimes condemned by the Gospel, would prevail. Faith would
no longer elevate the souls of men to heaven. Hope, the sweet consoler of the afflicted, of the widow and the orphan, would flee away, and in her stead would reign black despair, terror, and suicide. Where would we find the sweet virtue of charity, if the popes, the bishops, and priests were to disappear forever? Where would we find that charity which consoles the poor and forsaken, which lovingly dries the tears of the widow and the orphan, that charity which soothes the sick man in his sufferings, and binds up the wounds of the bleeding defender of his country! Where would we find that charity which casts a spark of divine fire into the hearts of so many religious, bidding them abandon home, friends, and everything that is near and dear to them in this world, to go among strangers, among savage tribes, and gain there, in return for their heroism, nothing but outrage, suffering, and death? Where, I ask, would we find this charity, if the popes, the bishops, and priests were to disappear forever?

Let a parish be for many years without a priest, and the people thereof will become the blind victims of error, of superstition, and of all kinds of vices. Show me an age, a country, a nation, without priests, and I will show you an age, a country, a nation, without morals, without virtue. Yes, if ” religion and science, liberty and justice, principle and right,” are not empty sounds if they have a
meaning, they owe their energetic existence in the world to the “salt of the earth,” to the popes, bishops, and priests of the Catholic Church.

 Excerpt taken from The Church and Her Enemies

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