THE SANCTITY OF MARRIAGE
[continued from yesterday]
...Then there is another kind of separation which is frequently believed to be a divorce and which is a source of much perplexity to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
It is called a declaration of nullity. It means that that which has appeared to be a marriage is declared never to have been a marriage from the beginning. The parties have gone through the ceremony, but there has been some obstruction in the way which has prevented the knot from being tied and so the supposed marriage must be declared null and void.
Let us take an instance. A Jew married to a baptized Christian wife seeks for a divorce in the law courts. He is successful in his suit. Then he becomes a Catholic, falls in love with a Catholic girl, and wishes to be married to her in the Catholic Church. There is no difficulty, the Church approves of the marriage.
What has happened? The undlscerning public think that the Church has approved of divorce and of the remarriage of a divorced person. And if the man happens to have been a wealthy Jew the undiscerning public is not slow to attribute unworthy motives to the Church.
But again, what has really happened? The Jew's first marriage was really no marriage at all In the sight of the Church.
Baptism is the first Sacrament and the door of the other Sacrament. The Jew had not received the Sacrament of baptism and so was incapable of receiving the Sacrament of marriage. And being unbaptized he was furthermore incapable of making the contract of making the contract of marriage, for the Sacrament is the contract.
Therefore, the marriage which, by the law of the land, was declared to be dissolved was by the law of the Church declared never to have existed, to have been null and void from the beginning.
Consequently, when the Jew became a Catholic and received the Sacrament of baptism he was quite free and capable of uniting himself with the partner of his choice.
There are three exceptions to the law of indissolubility.
The first two concern marriages ratified but not consummated. Such may be dissolved either by papal dispensation for some grave reason, or by the solemn, religious profession of one of the parties. The third is known as the Pauline privilege. It may happen only in a marriage between unbelievers, and this even when consummated.
If one of the parties is converted to the Christian faith, and the other refuses to live peaceably, or shows contempt for God and religion, or tries to pervert the faithful partner, then the faithful one has a right to a real divorce (I Cor. vll, 15).
Within these limitations the Church is absolutely inexorable against any attempt at separation from the bond. She has suffered the loss of whole nations from the faith rather than sacrifice one jot or tittle of her principle. The care of the Sacrament has been committed to her keeping, and to have condoned a denial of the sacramental nature of the matrimonial bond, even in one case, would have been to renounce the divine charge given to her.
For the English-speaking world the Pope's firmness, in refusing to grant a divorce to Henry VIII, must ever be a monument of the fidelity of the Church to the sanctity of the marriage state.
And the famous Encyclical of the late Sovereign Pontiff, Leo XIII, must ever remain the character of woman's dignity and safety as to her marriage right.
"The great evils of which divorce is the spring can hardly be enumerated.[continued tomorrow]
"When the conjugal bond loses its immutability we may expect to see benevolence and affection destroyed between husband and wife; an encouragement given to infidelity; the protection and education of children rendered more difficult; the germs of discord sown between families; woman's dignity disowned; the danger for her of seeing herself forsaken, after having served as the instrument of man's passions.
"And as nothing ruins families and destroys the most powerful kingdoms like the corruption of manners, it is easy to see that divorce, which is only begotten of the depraved manners of a people, is the worst enemy of families and of States, and that it opens the door, as experience attests, to the most vicious habits, both in private and in public life."...
From Marriage and Parenthood, The Catholic Ideal
By the Rev. Thomas J. Gerrard
Author of "Cords of Adam," "The Wayfarer's Vision," ETC.
Copyright, 1911, by Joseph F. Wagner, New York.