Given by His
Holiness Pope Leo XIII
February 10, 1880
To the Patriarchs,
Primates, Archbishops, and Bishops of the Catholic World in Grace and Communion
with the Apostolic See.
The hidden design of the divine wisdom, which Jesus Christ the Saviour of
men came to carry out on earth, had this end in view, that, by Himself and
in Himself, He should divinely renew the world, which was sinking, as it
were, with length of years into decline. The Apostle Paul summed this up
in words of dignity and majesty when he wrote to the Ephesians, thus: "That
He might make known unto us the mystery of His will . . . to re-establish
all things in Christ that are in heaven and on earth."(1)
2. In truth, Christ our Lord, setting Himself to fulfill the commandment
which His Father had given Him, straightway imparted a new form and fresh
beauty to all things, taking away the effects of their time-worn age. For
He healed the wounds which the sin of our first father had inflicted on the
human race; He brought all men, by nature children of wrath, into favor with
God; He led to the light of truth men wearied out by longstanding errors;
He renewed to every virtue those who were weakened by lawlessness of every
kind; and, giving them again an inheritance of neverending bliss, He added
a sure hope that their mortal and perishable bodies should one day be partakers
of immortality and of the glory of heaven. In order that these unparalleled
benefits might last as long as men should be found on earth, He entrusted
to His Church the continuance of His work; and, looking to future times,
He commanded her to set in order whatever might have become deranged in human
society, and to restore whatever might have fallen into ruin.
3. Although the divine renewal we have spoken of chiefly and directly affected
men as constituted in the supernatural order of grace, nevertheless some
of its precious and salutary fruits were also bestowed abundantly in the
order of nature. Hence, not only individual men, but also the whole mass
of the human race, have in every respect received no small degree of worthiness.
For, so soon as Christian order was once established in the world, it became
possible for all men, one by one, to learn what God's fatherly providence
is, and to dwell in it habitually, thereby fostering that hope of heavenly
help which never confoundeth. From all this outflowed fortitude, self-control,
constancy, and the evenness of a peaceful mind, together with many high virtues
and noble deeds.
4. Wondrous, indeed, was the extent of dignity, steadfastness, and goodness
which thus accrued to the State as well as to the family. The authority of
rulers became more just and revered; the obedience of the people more ready
and unforced; the union of citizens closer; the rights of dominion more secure.
In very truth, the Christian religion thought of and provided for all things
which are held to be advantageous in a State; so much so, indeed, that, according
to St. Augustine, one cannot see how it could have offered greater help in
the matter of living well and happily, had it been instituted for the single
object of procuring or increasing those things which contributed to the
conveniences or advantages of this mortal life.
5. Still, the purpose We have set before Us is not to recount, in detail,
benefits of this kind; Our wish is rather to speak about that family union
of which marriage is the beginning and the foundation. The true origin of
marriage, venerable brothers, is well known to all. Though revilers of the
Christian faith refuse to acknowledge the never-interrupted doctrine of the
Church on this subject, and have long striven to destroy the testimony of
all nations and of all times, they have nevertheless failed not only to quench
the powerful light of truth, but even to lessen it. We record what is to
all known, and cannot be doubted by any, that God, on the sixth day of creation,
having made man from the slime of the earth, and having breathed into his
face the breath of life, gave him a companion, whom He miraculously took
from the side of Adam when he was locked in sleep. God thus, in His most
far-reaching foresight, decreed that this husband and wife should be the
natural beginning of the human race, from whom it might be propagated and
preserved by an unfailing fruitfulness throughout all futurity of time. And
this union of man and woman, that it might answer more fittingly to the infinite
wise counsels of God, even from the beginning manifested chiefly two most
excellent properties-deeply sealed, as it were, and signed upon it-namely,
unity and perpetuity. From the Gospel we see clearly that this doctrine was
declared and openly confirmed by the divine authority of Jesus Christ. He
bore witness to the Jews and to His Apostles that marriage, from its institution,
should exist between two only, that is, between one man and one woman; that
of two they are made, so to say, one flesh; and that the marriage bond is
by the will of God so closely and strongly made fast that no man may dissolve
it or render it asunder. "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother,
and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore
now they are not two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God bath joined together,
let no man put asunder."(2)
6. This form of marriage, however, so excellent and so pre-eminent, began
to be corrupted by degrees, and to disappear among the heathen; and became
even among the Jewish race clouded in a measure and obscured. For in their
midst a common custom was gradually introduced, by which it was accounted
as lawful for a man to have more than one wife; and eventually when "by reason
of the hardness of their heart,"(3) Moses indulgently permitted them to put
away their wives, the way was open to divorce.
7. But the corruption and change which fell on marriage among the Gentiles
seem almost incredible, inasmuch as it was exposed in every land to floods
of error and of the most shameful lusts. All nations seem, more or less,
to have forgotten the true notion and origin of marriage; and thus everywhere
laws were enacted with reference to marriage, prompted to all appearance
by State reasons, but not such as nature required. Solemn rites, invented
at will of the law-givers, brought about that women should, as might be,
bear either the honorable name of wife or the disgraceful name of concubine;
and things came to such a pitch that permission to marry, or the refusal
of the permission, depended on the will of the heads of the State, whose
laws were greatly against equity or even to the highest degree unjust. Moreover,
plurality of wives and husbands, as well as divorce, caused the nuptial bond
to be relaxed exceedingly. Hence, too, sprang up the greatest confusion as
to the mutual rights and duties of husbands and wives, inasmuch as a man
assumed right of dominion over his wife, ordering her to go about her business,
often without any just cause; while he was himself at liberty "to run headlong
with impunity into lust, unbridled and unrestrained, in houses of ill-fame
and amongst his female slaves, as if the dignity of the persons sinned with,
and not the will of the sinner, made the guilt."(4) When the licentiousness
of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife,
sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of
passion, or for the production of offspring. Without any feeling of shame,
marriageable girls were bought and sold, tike so much merchandise,(5) and
power was sometimes given to the father and to the husband to inflict capital
punishment on the wife. Of necessity, the offspring of such marriages as
these were either reckoned among the stock in trade of the common-wealth
or held to be the property of the father of the family;(6) and the law permitted
him to make and unmake the marriages of his children at his mere will, and
even to exercise against them the monstrous power of life and death.
8. So manifold being the vices and so great the ignominies with which marriage
was defiled, an alleviation and a remedy were at length bestowed from on
high. Jesus Christ, who restored our human dignity and who perfected the
Mosaic law, applied early in His ministry no little solicitude to the question
of marriage. He ennobled the marriage in Cana of Galilee by His presence,
and made it memorable by the first of the miracles which he wrought;(7) and
for this reason, even from that day forth, it seemed as if the beginning
of new holiness had been conferred on human marriages. Later on He brought
back matrimony to the nobility of its primeval origin by condemning the customs
of the Jews in their abuse of the plurality of wives and of the power of
giving bills of divorce; and still more by commanding most strictly that
no one should dare to dissolve that union which God Himself had sanctioned
by a bond perpetual. Hence, having set aside the difficulties which were
adduced from the law of Moses, He, in character of supreme Lawgiver, decreed
as follows concerning husbands and wives, "I say to you, that whosoever shall
put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another,
committeth adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth
9. But what was decreed and constituted in respect to marriage by the authority
of God has been more fully and more clearly handed down to us, by tradition
and the written Word, through the Apostles, those heralds of the laws of
God. To the Apostles, indeed, as our masters, are to be referred the doctrines
which "our holy Fathers, the Councils, and the Tradition of the Universal
Church have always taught,"(9) namely, that Christ our Lord raised marriage
to the dignity of a sacrament; that to husband and wife, guarded and strengthened
by the heavenly grace which His merits gained for them, He gave power to
attain holiness in the married state; and that, in a wondrous way, making
marriage an example of the mystical union between Himself and His Church,
He not only perfected that love which is according to nature,(10) but also
made the naturally indivisible union of one man with one woman far more perfect
through the bond of heavenly love. Paul says to the Ephesians: "Husbands,
love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church, and delivered Himself up
for it, that He might sanctify it. . . So also ought men to love their wives
as their own bodies. . . For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourisheth
and cherisheth it, as also Christ doth the Church; because we are members
of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. For this cause shall a man leave
his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two
in one flesh. This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the
Church."(11) In like manner from the teaching of the Apostles we learn that
the unity of marriage and its perpetual indissolubility, the indispensable
conditions of its very origin, must, according to the command of Christ,
be holy and inviolable without exception. Paul says again: "To them that
are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth that the wife depart not from
her husband; and if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled
to her husband."(12) And again: "A woman is bound by the law as long as her
husband liveth; but if her husband die, she is at liberty."(13) It is for
these reasons that marriage is "a great sacrament";(14) "honorable in all,"(15)
holy, pure, and to be reverenced as a type and symbol of most high mysteries.
10. Futhermore, the Christian perfection and completeness of marriage are
not comprised in those points only which have been mentioned. For, first,
there has been vouchsafed to the marriage union a higher and nobler purpose
than was ever previously given to it. By the command of Christ, it not only
looks to the propagation of the human race, but to the bringing forth of
children for the Church, "fellow citizens with the saints, and the domestics
of God";(16) so that "a people might be born and brought up for the worship
and religion of the true God and our Saviour Jesus Christ."(17)
11. Secondly, the mutual duties of husband and wife have been defined, and
their several rights accurately established. They are bound, namely, to have
such feelings for one another as to cherish always very great mutual love,
to be ever faithful to their marriage vow, and to give one another an unfailing
and unselfish help. The husband is the chief of the family and the head of
the wife. The woman, because she is flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone,
must be subject to her husband and obey him; not, indeed, as a servant, but
as a companion, so that her obedience shall be wanting in neither honor nor
dignity. Since the husband represents Christ, and since the wife represents
the Church, let there always be, both in him who commands and in her who
obeys, a heaven-born love guiding both in their respective duties. For "the
husband is the head of the wife; as Christ is the head of the Church. . .
Therefore, as the Church is subject to Christ, so also let wives be to their
husbands in all things."(18)
12. As regards children, they ought to submit to the parents and obey them,
and give them honor for conscience' sake; while, on the other hand, parents
are bound to give all care and watchful thought to the education of their
offspring and their virtuous bringing up: "Fathers, . . . bring them up"
[that is, your children] "in the discipline and correction of the Lord."(19)
From this we see clearly that the duties of husbands and wives are neither
few nor light; although to married people who are good these burdens become
not only bearable but agreeable, owing to the strength which they gain through
13. Christ, therefore, having renewed marriage to such and so great excellence,
commended and entrusted all the discipline bearing upon these matters to
His Church. The Church, always and everywhere, has so used her power with
reference to the marriages of Christians that men have seen clearly how it
belongs to her as of native right; not being made hers by any human grant,
but given divinely to her by the will of her Founder. Her constant and watchful
care in guarding marriage, by the preservation of its sanctity, is so well
understood as to not need proof. That the judgment of the Council of Jerusalem
reprobated licentious and free love,(20) we all know; as also that the incestuous
Corinthian was condemned by the authority of blessed Paul.(21) Again, in
the very beginning of the Christian Church were repulsed and defeated, with
the like unremitting determination, the efforts of many who aimed at the
destruction of Christian marriage, such as the Gnostics, Manichaeans, and
Montanists; and in our own time Mormons, St. Simonians, phalansterians, and
14. In like manner, moreover, a law of marriage just to all, and the same
for all, was enacted by the abolition of the old distinction between slaves
and free-born men and women; ' and thus the rights of husbands and wives
were made equal: for, as St. Jerome says, "with us that which is unlawful
for women is unlawful for men also, and the same restraint is imposed on
equal conditions."(23) The self-same rights also were firmly established
for reciprocal affection and for the interchange of duties; the dignity of
the woman was asserted and assured; and it was forbidden to the man to inflict
capital punishment for adultery,(25) or lustfully and shamelessly to violate
his plighted faith.
15. It is also a great blessing that the Church has limited, so far as is
needful, the power of fathers of families, so that sons and daughters, wishing
to marry, are not in any way deprived of their rightful freedom; (26) that,
for the purpose of spreading more widely the supernatural love of husbands
and wives, she has decreed marriages within certain degrees of consanguinity
or affinity to be null and void;(27) that she has taken the greatest pains
to safeguard marriage, as much as is possible, from error and violence and
deceit; (28) that she has always wished to preserve the holy chasteness of
the marriage bed, the security of persons,(29) the honor of husband and wife,(30)
and the sanctity of religion.(31) Lastly, with such foresight of legislation
has the Church guarded its divine institution that no one who thinks rightfully
of these matters can fail to see how, with regard to marriage, she is the
best guardian and defender of the human race; and how, withal, her wisdom
has come forth victorious from the lapse of years, from the assaults of men,
and from the countless changes of public events.
16. Yet, owing to the efforts of the archenemy of mankind, there are persons
who, thanklessly casting away so many other blessings of redemption, despise
also or utterly ignore the restoration of marriage to its original perfection.
It is a reproach to some of the ancients that they showed themselves the
enemies of marriage in many ways; but in our own age, much more pernicious
is the sin of those who would fain pervert utterly the nature of marriage,
perfect though it is, and complete in all its details and parts. The chief
reason why they act in this way is because very many, imbued with the maxims
of a false philosophy and corrupted in morals, judge nothing so unbearable
as submission and obedience; and strive with all their might to bring about
that not only individual men, but families, also-indeed, human society itself-may
in haughty pride despise the sovereignty of God.
17. Now, since the family and human society at large spring from marriage,
these men will on no account allow matrimony to be the subject of the
jurisdiction of the Church. Nay, they endeavor to deprive it of all holiness,
and so bring it within the contracted sphere of those rights which, having
been instituted by man, are ruled and administered by the civil jurisprudence
of the community. Wherefore it necessarily follows that they attribute all
power over marriage to civil rulers, and allow none whatever to the Church;
and, when the Church exercises any such power, they think that she acts either
by favor of the civil authority or to its injury. Now is the time, they say,
for the heads of the State to vindicate their rights unflinchingly, and to
do their best to settle all that relates to marriage according as to them
18. Hence are owing civil marriages, commonly so called; 'hence laws are
framed which impose impediments to marriage; hence arise judicial sentences
affecting the marriage contract, as to whether or not it have been rightly
made. Lastly, all power of prescribing and passing judgment in this class
of cases is, as we see, of set purpose denied to the Catholic Church, so
that no regard is paid either to her divine power or to her prudent laws.
Yet, under these, for so many centuries, have the nations lived on whom the
light of civilization shone bright with the wisdom of Christ Jesus.
19. Nevertheless, the naturalists,(32) as well as all who profess that they
worship above all things the divinity of the State, and strive to disturb
whole communities with such wicked doctrines, cannot escape the charge of
delusion. Marriage has God for its Author, and was from the very beginning
a kind of foreshadowing of the Incarnation of His Son; and therefore there
abides in it a something holy and religious; not extraneous, but innate;
not derived from men, but implanted by nature. Innocent III, therefore, and
Honorius III, our predecessors, affirmed not falsely nor rashly that a sacrament
of marriage existed ever amongst the faithful and unbelievers.(33) We call
to witness the monuments of antiquity, as also the manners and customs of
those people who, being the most civilized, had the greatest knowledge of
law and equity. In the minds of all of them it was a fixed and foregone
conclusion that, when marriage was thought of, it was thought of as conjoined
with religion and holiness. Hence, among those, marriages were commonly
celebrated with religious ceremonies, under the authority of pontiffs, and
with the ministry of priests. So mighty, even in the souls ignorant of heavenly
doctrine, was the force of nature, of the remembrance of their origin, and
of the conscience of the human race. As, then, marriage is holy by its own
power, in its own nature, and of itself, it ought not to be regulated and
administered by the will of civil rulers, but by the divine authority of
the Church, which alone in sacred matters professes the office of teaching.
20. Next, the dignity of the sacrament must be considered, for through addition
of the sacrament the marriages of Christians have become far the noblest
of all matrimonial unions. But to decree and ordain concerning the sacrament
is, by the will of Christ Himself, so much a part of the power and duty of
the Church that it is plainly absurd to maintain that even the very smallest
fraction of such power has been transferred to the civil ruler.
21. Lastly should be borne in mind the great weight and crucial test of history,
by which it is plainly proved that the legislative and judicial authority
of which We are speaking has been freely and constantly used by the Church,
even in times when some foolishly suppose the head of the State either to
have consented to it or connived at it. It would, for instance, be incredible
and altogether absurd to assume that Christ our Lord condemned the long-standing
practice of polygamy and divorce by authority delegated to Him by the procurator
of the province, or the principal ruler of the Jews. And it would be equally
extravagant to think that, when the Apostle Paul taught that divorces and
incestuous marriages were not lawful, it was because Tiberius, Caligula,
and Nero agreed with him or secretly commanded him so to teach. No man in
his senses could ever be persuaded that the Church made so many laws about
the holiness and indissolubility of marriage,(34) and the marriages of slaves
with the free-born,(35) by power received from Roman emperors, most hostile
to the Christian name, whose strongest desire was to destroy by violence
and murder the rising Church of Christ. Still less could anyone believe this
to be the case, when the law of the Church was sometimes so divergent from
the civil law that Ignatius the Martyr,(36) Justin,(37) Athenagoras,(38)
and Tertullian(39) publicly denounced as unjust and adulterous certain marriages
which had been sanctioned by imperial law.
22. Futhermore, after all power had devolved upon the Christian emperors,
the supreme pontiffs and bishops assembled in council persisted with the
same independence and consciousness of their right in commanding or forbidding
in regard to marriage whatever they judged to be profitable or expedient
for the time being, however much it might seem to be at variance with the
laws of the State. It is well known that, with respect to the impediments
arising from the marriage bond, through vow, disparity of worship, blood
relationship, certain forms of crime, and from previously plighted troth,
many decrees were issued by the rulers of the Church at the Councils of
Granada,(40) Arles,(41) Chalcedon,(42) the second of Milevum,(43) and others,
which were often widely different from the decrees sanctioned by the laws
of the empire. Futhermore, so far were Christian princes from arrogating
any power in the matter of Christian marriage that they on the contrary
acknowledged and declared that it belonged exclusively in all its fullness
to the Church. In fact, Honorius, the younger Theodosius, and Justinian,(44)
also, hesitated not to confess that the only power belonging to them in relation
to marriage was that of acting as guardians and defenders of the holy canons.
If at any time they enacted anything by their edicts concerning impediments
of marriage, they voluntarily explained the reason, affirming that they took
it upon themslves so to act, by leave and authority of the Church,(45) whose
judgment they were wont to appeal to and reverently to accept in all questions
that concerned legitimacy(46) and divorce;(47) as also in all those points
which in any way have a necessary connection with the marriage bond.(48)
The Council of Trent, therefore, had the clearest right to define that it
is in the Church's power "to establish diriment impediments of matrimony,"(49)
and that "matrimonial causes pertain to ecclesiastical judges."(50)
23. Let no one, then, be deceived by the distinction which some civil jurists
have so strongly insisted upon-the distinction, namely, by virtue of which
they sever the matrimonial contract from the sacrament, with intent to hand
over the contract to the power and will of the rulers of the State, while
reserving questions concerning the sacrament of the Church. A distinction,
or rather severance, of this kind cannot be approved; for certain it is that
in Christian marriage the contract is inseparable from the sacrament, and
that, for this reason, the contract cannot be true and legitimate without
being a sacrament as well. For Christ our Lord added to marriage the dignity
of a sacrament; but marriage is the contract itself, whenever that contract
is lawfully concluded.
24. Marriage, moreover, is a sacrament, because it is a holy sign which gives
grace, showing forth an image of the mystical nuptials of Christ with the
Church. But the form and image of these nuptials is shown precisely by the
very bond of that most close union in which man and woman are bound together
in one; which bond is nothing else but the marriage itself. Hence it is clear
that among Christians every true marriage is, in itself and by itself, a
sacrament; and that nothing can be further from the truth than to say that
the sacrament is a certain added ornament, or outward endowment, which can
be separated and torn away from the contract at the caprice of man. Neither,
therefore, by reasoning can it be shown, nor by any testimony of history
be proved, that power over the marriages of Christians has ever lawfully
been handed over to the rulers of the State. If, in this matter, the right
of anyone else has ever been violated, no one can truly say that it has been
violated by the Church. Would that the teaching of the naturalists, besides
being full of falsehood and injustice, were not also the fertile source of
much detriment and calamity! But it is easy to see at a glance the greatness
of the evil which unhallowed marriages have brought, and ever will bring,
on the whole of human society.
25. From the beginning of the world, indeed, it was divinely ordained that
things instituted by God and by nature should be proved by us to be the more
profitable and salutary the more they remain unchanged in their full integrity.
For God, the Maker of all things, well knowing what was good for the institution
and preservation of each of His creatures, so ordered them by His will and
mind that each might adequately attain the end for which it was made. If
the rashness or the wickedness of human agency venture to change or disturb
that order of things which has been constituted with fullest foresight, then
the designs of infinite wisdom and usefulness begin either to be hurtful
or cease to be profitable, partly because through the change undergone they
have lost their power of benefiting, and partly because God chooses to inflict
punishment on the pride and audacity of man. Now, those who deny that marriage
is holy, and who relegate it, striped of all holiness, among the class of
common secular things, uproot thereby the foundations of nature, not only
resisting the designs of Providence, but, so far as they can, destroying
the order that God has ordained. No one, therefore, should wonder if from
such insane and impious attempts there spring up a crop of evils pernicious
in the highest degree both to the salvation of souls and to the safety of
26. If, then, we consider the end of the divine institution of marriage,
we shall see very clearly that God intended it to be a most fruitful source
of individual benefit and of public welfare, Not only, in strict truth, was
marriage instituted for the propagation of the human race, but also that
the lives of husbands and wives might be made better and happier. This comes
about in many ways: by their lightening each other's burdens through mutual
help; by constant and faithful love; by having all their possessions in common;
and by the heavenly grace which flows from the sacrament. Marriage also can
do much for the good of families, for, so long as it is conformable to nature
and in accordance with the counsels of God, it has power to strengthen union
of heart in the parents; to secure the holy education of children; to temper
the authority of the father by the example of the divine authority; to render
children obedient to their parents and servants obedient to their masters.
From such marriages as these the State may rightly expect a race of citizens
animated by a good spirit and filled with reverence and love for God, recognizing
it their duty to obey those who rule justly and lawfully, to love all, and
to injure no one.
27. These many and glorious fruits were ever the product of marriage, so
long as it retained those gifts of holiness, unity, and indissolubility from
which proceeded all its fertile and saving power; nor can anyone doubt but
that it would always have brought forth such fruits, at all times and in
all places, had it been under the power and guardianship of the Church, the
trustworthy preserver and protector of these gifts. But, now, there is a
spreading wish to supplant natural and divine law by human law; and hence
has begun a gradual extinction of that most excellent ideal of marriage which
nature herself had impressed on the soul of man, and sealed, as it were,
with her own seal; nay, more, even in Christian marriages this power, productive
of so great good, has been weakened by the sinfulness of man. Of what advantage
is it if a state can institute nuptials estranged from the Christian religion,
which is the mother of all good, cherishing all sublime virtues, quickening
and urging us to everything that is the glory of a lofty and generous soul?
When the Christian religion is reflected and repudiated, marriage sinks of
necessity into the slavery of man's vicious nature and vile passions, and
finds but little protection in the help of natural goodness. A very torrent
of evil has flowed from this source, not only into private families, but
also into States. For, the salutary fear of God being removed, and there
being no longer that refreshment in toil which is nowhere more abounding
than in the Christian religion, it very often happens, as indeed is natural,
that the mutual services and duties of marriage seem almost unbearable; and
thus very many yearn for the loosening of the tie which they believe to be
woven by human law and of their own will, whenever incompatibility of temper,
or quarrels, or the violation of the mariage vow, or mutual consent, or other
reasons induce them to think that it would be well to be set free. Then,
if they are hindered by law from carrying out this shameless desire, they
contend that the laws are iniquitous, inhuman, and at variance with the rights
of free citizens; adding that every effort should be made to repeal such
enactments, and to introduce a more humane code sanctioning divorce.
28. Now, however much the legislators of these our days may wish to guard
themselves against the impiety of men such as we have been speaking of, they
are unable to do so, seeing that they profess to hold and defend the very
same principles of jurisprudence; and hence they have to go with times, and
render divorce easily obtainable. History itself shows this; for, to pass
over other instances, we find that, at the close of the last century, divorces
were sanctioned by law in that upheaval or, rather, as it might be called,
conflagration in France, when society was wholly degraded by the abandoning
of God. Many at the present time would fain have those laws reenacted, because
they wish God and His Church to be altogether exiled and excluded from the
midst of human society, madly thinking that in such laws a final remedy must
be sought for that moral corruption which is advancing with rapid strides.
29. Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that
flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual
kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied;
harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded
for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families;
the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk
of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since,
then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay
of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces
are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States,
springing as they do from the depraved morals of the people, and, as experience
shows us, opening out a way to every kind of evil-doing in public and in
30. Further still, if the matter be duly pondered, we shall clearly see these
evils to be the more especially dangerous, because, divorce once being tolerated,
there will be no restraint powerful enough to keep it within the bounds marked
out or presurmised. Great indeed is the force of example, and even greater
still the might of passion. With such incitements it must needs follow that
the eagerness for divorce, daily spreading by devious ways, will seize upon
the minds of many like a virulent contagious disease, or like a flood of
water bursting through every barrier. These are truths that doubtlessly are
all clear in themselves, but they will become clearer yet if we call to mind
the teachings of experience. So soon as the road to divorce began to be made
smooth by law, at once quarrels, jealousies, and judicial separations largely
increased; and such shamelessness of life followed that men who had been
in favor of these divorces repented of what they had done, and feared that,
if they did not carefully seek a remedy by repealing the law, the State itself
might come to ruin. The Romans of old are said to have shrunk with horror
from the first example of divorce, but ere long all sense of decency was
blunted in their soul; the meager restraint of passion died out, and the
marriage vow was so often broken that what some writers have affirmed would
seem to be true-namely, women used to reckon years not by the change of consuls,
but of their husbands. In like manner, at the beginning, Protestants allowed
legalized divorces in certain although but few cases, and yet from the affinity
of circumstances of like kind, the number of divorces increased to such extent
in Germany, America, and elsewhere that all wise thinkers deplored the boundless
corruption of morals, and judged the recklessness of the laws to be simply
31. Even in Catholic States the evil existed. For whenever at any time divorce
was introduced, the abundance of misery that followed far exceeded all that
the framers of the law could have foreseen. In fact, many lent their minds
to contrive all kinds of fraud and device, and by accusations of cruelty,
violence, and adultery to feign grounds for the dissolution of the matrimonial
bond of which they had grown weary; and all this with so great havoc to morals
that an amendment of the laws was deemed to be urgently needed.
32. Can anyone, therefore, doubt that laws in favor of divorce would have
a result equally baneful and calamitous were they to be passed in these our
days? There exists not, indeed, in the projects and enactments of men any
power to change the character and tendency with things have received from
nature. Those men, therefore, show but little wisdom in the idea they have
formed of the well-being of the commonwealth who think that the inherent
character of marriage can be perverted with impunity; and who, disregarding
the sanctity of religion and of the sacrament, seem to wish to degrade and
dishonor marriage more basely than was done even by heathen laws. Indeed,
if they do not change their views, not only private families, but all public
society, will have unceasing cause to fear lest they should be miserably
driven into that general confusion and overthrow of order which is even now
the wicked aim of socialists and communists. Thus we see most clearly how
foolish and senseless it is to expect any public good from divorce, when,
on the contrary, it tends to the certain destruction of society.
33. It must consequently be acknowledged that the Church has deserved exceedingly
well of all nations by her ever watchful care in guarding the sanctity and
the indissolubility of marriage. Again, no small amount of gratitude is owing
to her for having, during the last hundred years, openly denounced the wicked
laws which have grievously offended on this particular subject; (51) as well
as for her having branded with anathema the baneful heresy obtaining among
Protestants touching divorce and separation;(52) also, for having in many
ways condemned the habitual dissolution of marriage among the Greeks;(53)
for having declared invalid all marriages contracted upon the understanding
that they may be at some future time dissolved;(54) and, lastly, for having,
from the earliest times, repudiated the imperial laws which disastrously
34. As often, indeed, as the supreme pontifFs have resisted the most powerful
among rulers, in their threatening demands that divorces carried out by them
should be confirmed by the Church, so often must we account them to have
been contending for the safety, not only of religion, but also of the human
race. For this reason all generations of men will admire the proofs of unbending
courage which are to be found in the decrees of Nicholas I against Lothair;
of Urban II and Paschal II against Philip I of France; of Celestine III and
Innocent III against Alphonsus of Leon and Philip II of France; of Clement
VII and Paul III against Henry VIII; and, lastly, of Pius VII, that holy
and courageous pontiff, against Napoleon I, when at the height of his prosperity
and in the fulness of his power. This being so, all rulers and administrators
of the State who are desirous of following the dictates of reason and wisdom,
and anxious for the good of their people, ought to make up their minds to
keep the holy laws of marriage intact, and to make use of the proffered aid
of the Church for securing the safety of morals and the happiness of families,
rather than suspect her of hostile intention and falsely and wickedly accuse
her of violating the civil law.
35. They should do this the more readily because the Catholic Church, though
powerless in any way to abandon the duties of her office or the defence of
her authority, still very greatly inclines to kindness and indulgence whenever
they are consistent with the safety of her rights and the sanctity of her
duties. Wherefore she makes no decrees in relation to marriage without having
regard to the state of the body politic and the condition of the general
public; and has besides more than once mitigated, as far as possible, the
enactments of her own laws when there were just and weighty reasons. Moreover,
she is not unaware, and never calls in doubt, that the sacrament of marriage,
being instituted for the preservation and increase of the human race, has
a necessary relation to circumstances of life which, though connected with
marriage, belong to the civil order, and about which the State rightly makes
strict inquiry and justly promulgates decrees.
36. Yet, no one doubts that Jesus Christ, the Founder of the Church, willed
her sacred power to be distinct from the civil power, and each power to be
free and unshackled in its own sphere: with this condition, however-a condition
good for both, and of advantage to all men-that union and concord should
be maintained between them; and that on those questions which are, though
in different ways, of common right and authority, the power to which secular
matters have been entrusted should happily and becomingly depend on the other
power which has in its charge the interests of heaven. In such arrangement
and harmony is found not only the best line of action for each power, but
also the most opportune and efficacious method of helping men in all that
pertains to their life here, and to their hope of salvation hereafter. For,
as We have shown in former encyclical letters,(56) the intellect of man is
greatly ennobled by the Christian faith, and made better able to shun and
banish all error, while faith borrows in turn no little help from the intellect;
and in like manner, when the civil power is on friendly terms with the sacred
authority of the Church, there accrues to both a great increase of usefulness.
The dignity of the one is exalted, and so long as religion is its guide it
will never rule unjustly; while the other receives help of protection and
defence for the public good of the faithful.
37. Being moved, therefore, by these considerations, as We have exhorted
rulers at other times, so still more earnestly We exhort them now, to concord
and friendly feeling; and we are the first to stretch out Our hand to them
with fatherly benevolence, and to offer to them the help of Our supreme
authority, a help which is the more necessary at this time when, in public
opinion, the authority of rulers is wounded and enfeebled. Now that the minds
of so many are inflamed with a reckless spirit of liberty, and men are wickedly
endeavoring to get rid of every restraint of authority, however legitimate
it may be, the public safety demands that both powers should unite their
strength to avert the evils which are hanging, not only over the Church,
but also over civil society.
38. But, while earnestly exhorting all to a friendly union of will, and
beseeching God, the Prince of peace, to infuse a love of concord into all
hearts, We cannot, venerable brothers, refrain from urging you more and more
to fresh earnestness, and zeal, and watchfulness, though we know that these
are already very great. With every effort and with all authority, strive,
as much as you are able, to preserve whole and undefiled among the people
committed to your charge the doctrine which Christ our Lord taught us; which
the Apostles, the interpreters of the will of God, have handed down; and
which the Catholic Church has herself scrupulously guarded, and commanded
to be believed in all ages by the faithful of Christ.
39. Let special care be taken that the people be well instructed in the precepts
of Christian wisdom, so that they may always remember that marriage was not
instituted by the will of man, but, from the very beginning, by the authority
and command of God; that it does not admit of plurality of wives or husbands;
that Christ, the Author of the New Covenant, raised it from a rite of nature
to be a sacrament, and gave to His Church legislative and judicial power
with regard to the bond of union. On this point the very greatest care must
be taken to instruct them, lest their minds should be led into error by the
unsound conclusions of adversaries who desire that the Church should be deprived
of that power.
40. In like manner, all ought to understand clearly that, if there be any
union of a man and a woman among the faithful of Christ which is not a sacrament,
such union has not the force and nature of a proper marriage; that, although
contracted in accordance with the laws of the State, it cannot be more than
a rite or custom introduced by the civil law. Further, the civil law can
deal with and decide those matters alone which in the civil order spring
from marriage, and which cannot possibly exist, as is evident, unless there
be a true and lawful cause of them, that is to say, the nuptial bond. It
is of the greatest consequence to husband and wife that all these things
should be known and well understood by them, in order that they may conform
to the laws of the State, if there be no objection on the part of the Church;
for the Church wishes the effects of marriage to be guarded in all possible
ways, and that no harm may come to the children.
41. In the great confusion of opinions, however, which day by day is spreading
more and more widely, it should further be known that no power can dissolve
the bond of Christian marriage whenever this has been ratified and consummated;
and that, of a consequence, those husbands and wives are guilty of a manifest
crime who plan, for whatever reason, to be united in a second marriage before
the first one has been ended by death. When, indeed, matters have come to
such a pitch that it seems impossible for them to live together any longer,
then the Church allows them to live apart, and strives at the same time to
soften the evils of this separation by such remedies and helps as are suited
to their condition; yet she never ceases to endeavor to bring about a
reconciliation, and never despairs of doing so. But these are extreme cases;
and they would seldom exist if men and women entered into the married state
with proper dispositions, not influenced by passion, but entertaining right
ideas of the duties of marriage and of its noble purpose; neither would they
anticipate their marriage by a series of sins drawing down upon them the
wrath of God.
42. To sum up all in a few words, there would be a calm and quiet constancy
in marriage if married people would gather strength and life from the virtue
of religion alone, which imparts to us resolution and fortitude; for religion
would enable them to bear tranquilly and even gladly the trials of their
state, such as, for instance, the faults that they discover in one another,
the difference of temper and character, the weight of a mother's cares, the
wearing anxiety about the education of children, reverses of fortune, and
the sorrows of life.
43. Care also must be taken that they do not easily enter into marriage with
those who are not Catholics; for, when minds do not agree as to the observances
of religion, it is scarcely possible to hope for agreement in other things.
Other reasons also proving that persons should turn with dread from such
marriages are chiefly these: that they give occasion to forbidden association
and communion in religious matters; endanger the faith of the Catholic partner;
are a hindrance to the proper education of the children; and often lead to
a mixing up of truth and falsehood, and to the belief that all religions
are equally good.
44. Lastly, since We well know that none should be excluded from Our charity,
We commend, venerable brothers, to your fidelity and piety those unhappy
persons who, carried away by the heat of passion, and being utterly indif
ferent to their salvation, live wickedly together without the bond of lawful
marriage. Let your utmost care be exercised in bringing such persons back
to their duty; and, both by your own efforts and by those of good men who
will consent to help you, strive by every means that they may see how wrongly
they have acted; that they may do penance; and that they may be induced to
enter into a lawful marriage according to the Catholic rite.
45. You will at once see, venerable brothers, that the doctrine and precepts
in relation to Christian marriage, which We have thought good to communicate
to you in this letter, tend no less to the preservation of civil society
than to the everlasting salvation of souls. May God grant that, by reason
of their gravity and importance, minds may everywhere be found docile and
ready to obey them! For this end let us all suppliantly, with humble prayer,
implore the help of the Blessed and Immaculate Virgin Mary, that, our hearts
being quickened to the obedience of faith, she may show herself our mother
and our helper. With equal earnestness let us ask the princes of the Apostles,
Peter and Paul, the destroyers of heresies, the sowers of the seed of truth,
to save the human race by their powerful patronage from the deluge of errors
that is surging afresh. In the meantime, as an earnest of heavenly gifts,
and a testimony of Our special benevolence, We grant to you all, venerable
brothers, and to the people confided to your charge, from the depths of Our
heart, the apostolic benedition.
Given at St. Peter's in Rome, the tenth day of February, 1880, the third
year of Our pontificate.
1. Eph. 1:9-10.
2. Matt 19:5-6.
4. Jerome Epist. 77, 3 (PL 22, 691).
5. Arnobius, Adversus Gentes, 4 (sic, perhaps l, 64).
6. Dionysius Halicarnassus, lib. Il, chs. 26-27 (see Roman Antiquities, tr.
E. Cary, Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, 1948, Vol. I,
7. John 2.
8. Matt. 19:9.
9. Trid., sess. xxiv, in principio (that is, Council of Trent, Canones et
decreta; the text is divided into sessions, chapters, and canons, i.e., decrees).
10. Trid., sess. xxiv, cap. 1, De reformatione matrimonii.
12. I Cor. 7:10-11.
13. 1 Cor. 7:39.
14. Eph. 5:32.
15. Heb. 13:4.
16. Eph. 2:19.
17. Catech. Rom., ch. 8.
19. Eph. 6:4.
20. Acts 15:29.
21. 1 Cor. 5:5.
22. Gnostics: common name for several early sects claiming a Christian knowledge
(gnosis) higher than faith. Manichaeans: disciples of the Persian Mani (or
Manes, c.216-276) who taught that everything goes back to two first principles,
light and darkness, or good and evil. Montanises: disciples of Montanus (in
Phrygia, last third of the second century), condemned marriage as a sinful
institution. Mormons: sect founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, which favored
polygamy. Saint-Simonians: disciples of the French philosopher Saint-Simon
( 1760-1825) founder of a "new Christianity" based upon science instead of
faith. Phalansterians: members of a phalanstery, that is, of a socialist
community after the principles of Charles Fourier (1772-1837). Communists:
supporters of a regime in which property belongs to the body politic, each
member being supposed to work according to his capacity and to receive according
to his wants; communism is usually associated with the name of Karl Marx
23. Cap. l, De conjug. serv. Corpus juris canonici, ed. Friedberg (Leipzig,
1884), Part 2, cols. 691-692.
24. Jerome, Epist. 77 (PL 22, 691).
25. Can. Interfectores and Canon Admonere, quaest. 2 Corpus juris canonici
(Leipzig, 1879), Part 1, eols. 1152-1154.
26. Saus. 30, quaest. 3, cap. 3, De cognac. spirit. (op. cit., Part 1, col.
27. Cap. 8, De consang. et affin. (op. cit., Part 2, col. 703); cap 1, De
cognac. Iegali (col. 696).
28. Cap. 26, De spousal. (op. cit., Part 2, col. 670); cap. 13 (col. 665);
cap. 15 (col. 666); cap. 29 (col. 671); De spon salibus et matrimonio et
29. Cap. 1, De convers. infid. (op. cit., Part 2, col. 587); cap. 5, 6, De
eo qui duxit in marrim. (cols. 688-689).
30. Cap. 3, 5, 8, De spousal. et matr. (op. cit., Part 2, cols. 661, 663).
Trid., sess. xxiv, cap. De reformatione matrimonii.
31. Cap. 7, De divort. (op. cit., Part 2, col. 722).
32. Maintain the self-sufficiency of the natural order.
33. Concerning Innocent III, see Corpus juris canonici, cap. 8, De divort.,
ed. cit., Part 2, col. 723. Innocent III refers to 1 Cor. 7:13. Concerning
Honorius III, see cap. ii, De transact., (op. cit., Part 2 col. 210).
34. Canones Apostolorum, 16 17, 18, ed. Fr. Lauchert, J. C. B. Mohr (Leipzig,
1896) p. 3.
35. Philosophumena (Oxford, 1851), i.e., Hippolytus, Refutation of All Heresies,
9, 12 (PG 16 3386D-3387A).
36. Epistola ad Polycarpum, cap. 5 (PG 5, 723-724).
37. Apolog. Maj., 15 (PG 6, 349A, B).
38. Legal. pro Christian., 32, 33 (PG 6, 963-968).
39. De coron. milit., 13 (PL 2, 116).
40. De Aguirre, Conc. Hispan., Vol. 1, can. 11.
41. Harduin, Act. Conch., Vol. 1, can. 11.
42. Ibid., can. 16.
43. Ibid., can. 17.
44. Novel., 137 (]ustinianus, Novellae, ed. C. E. Z. Lingenthal, Leipzig,
1881, Vol. 2, p. 206).
45. Fejer, Matrim. ex instit. Chris. (Pest, 1835).
46. Cap. 3, De ord. cogn. (Corpus juris canonici, ed. cit., Part 2, col.
47. Cap. 3, De divort. (ed. cit., Part 2, col. 720).
48. Cap. 13, Qui filii sint legit. (ed. cit., Part 2, col. 716).
49. Trid., sess. xxiv, can. 4.
50. Ibid., can. 12.
51. Pius VI, Epist. ad episc. Lucion., May 20, 1793; Pius VII, encycl. letter,
Feb. 17, 1809, and constitution given July 19, 1817; Pius VIII, encycl. letter,
May 29, 1829; Gregory XVI, constitution given August 15, 1832; Pius IX, address,
Sept. 22, 1852.
52. Trid., less. xxiv, can. 5 7.
53. Council of Florence and instructions of Eugene IV to the Armenians Benedict
XIV, constitution Etsi Pastoralis, May 6, 1742.
54. Cap. 7, De condit. appos. (Corpus juru canonici, ed. cit., Part 2, col.
55. ]erome, Epist. 69, ad Oceanum (PL 22, 657); Ambrose, Lib. 8 in cap. 16
Lucae, n. 5 (PL 15, 1857); Augustine, De nuptiis, 1, 10 11 (PL 44, 420).
Fifty years after the publication of Arcanum, Pope Pius Xl published his
own encyclical Casti Connubii (December 31 1930), which may be found translated,
with notes and bibliography, in J. Husslein, S. J., Social Wellsprings, Vol.
II, pp. 122-173; also in pamphlet form, translated by Canon G. D. Smith,
Catholic Truth Society of London; Paulist Press, New York; with a discussion
club outline by Gerald C. Treacey, S. J.; National Catholic Welfare Conference,
Washington, 1939. These pontifical acts should be completed by two addresses
given by Pope Pius XII (October 29, 1951, and November 26, 1951),English
translation published in pamphlet form by the National Catholic Welfare
Conference under the title, Moral Questions Affecting Married Life, with
a discussion outline by Edgar Schmiedeler, O. S. B.
56. Aeterni Patris, above, pp. 38-39.