Given by His
Holiness Pope Leo XIII
February 10, 1880
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 adultery."(8)
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 the sacrament.
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 communists.(22)
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
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
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 seems good.
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
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
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 the
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
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 private life.
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 intolerable.
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 favored divorce.(55)
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
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
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, pp. 386-393).
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,
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 (1818-1893).
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,
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 alibi.
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,
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,
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.