WHOM GOD HATH
By Rev. J. Elliot Ross, C.SS.P.
CATHOLIC TRUTH SOCIETY of OREGON No. Do122 (1922).
THE very fact of sex necessitates some form of union between men and women if the human race is to be perpetuated. Unfortunately, there have been lower forms of union as well as higher ones. In fact, every conceivable kind of union, except entire promiscuity, has been tried somewhere at one time or another. There have been examples of monogamy, polygamy, polyandry, and even group marriage.
The Christian ideal of marriage is the union of one man and one woman for mutual helpfulness and the propagation of the race, in a bond broken only by the death of one or the other. This Christian ideal is taught clearly by Christ, and is strongly supported by the facts of nature itself:
Fortunately, we are passing out of that phase of scientific thought when the mere fact of a proposition being traditional was sufficient to condemn it in the eyes of so-called scientists. The nineteenth century witnessed a revolt against Christianity that was, in itself, a violation of the very principles of the science it professed to vindicate. In the twentieth century, on the contrary, many scientists, more loyal to the search for truth, are stoutly defending certain old-fashioned religious teachings.
On no other point is this more striking than on the question of marriage. It was the fashion of anthropologists, a generation ago, to ridicule the idea that monogamy is the primitive form of marriage. To them, man was a beast, and he could not originally have had any ideas of morality above the instincts of the beasts. As beasts practiced promiscuity, so man must originally have practiced it. Man’s passions were only fettered by clever priests playing on an innate superstitious fear. Today, however, we have leading sociologists frankly admitting that there is ‘no evidence for the practice of promiscuity among any tribe or nation of men’, no matter how degraded; whereas there is ample evidence that monogamy was the primitive form of union and the one intended by nature. They can see, too, that monogamy best subserves the interests of society, and of the individual.
Monogamy and Science.
Hence those who advocate ‘free love’, even though they disguise their ugly doctrine with ambiguous phrases, such as “the right to motherhood,” or the “immorality of marriage when love has departed,” and so on ad nauseam, are simply advocating lower forms that only inferior groups practice. Their proposals are not only anti-Christian, they are also un-scientific. Instead of being progressive, they are really retrogressive. Instead of calling to something higher, they are really degenerate.
Professor George Elliott Howard, for instance, is a recognized authority on the question of matrimonial customs and practices. His monumental work on the History of Matrimonial Institutions takes a deservedly high place among the scholarly contributions to the subject. He tells us that even among some of the very lowest peoples, (anthropologically speaking) as the Veddahs of Ceylon, there is free courtship, no divorce, no prostitution and no form of marriage but monogamous unions, and these characterized by great fidelity and lasting until death.” (Page 141, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1904)
The whole trend of present
sociological thought is well summed up by Dr. Edward C. Hayes in his Introduction
to the Study of Sociology. Dr. Hayes is professor of sociology in the
University of Illinois. [He died in 1928.] He has been president of the
American Sociological Society, and his book is praised by Giddings, Ross, and
Small — all eminent sociologists, and all former presidents of the Society. In
the preface to this textbook, Dr. Hayes professes to eschew originality and to
give rather, in a systematic way, a summary of sociological thought. We may,
therefore, accept his statements as really representing the current attitude of
sociologists on this important point.
says: “Mankind has experimented on a great scale and through long periods with
every possible form of domestic organization, and among all highly advanced
peoples, monogamy increasingly survives and prevails. Its predominance has been
assisted by social and religious sanction, due to the approval of the
influential, but this predominance has been essentially due to the natural
selection of the survival of the fittest. Nothing human is perfect, no domestic
arrangement makes ideals automatically fulfill themselves; but it would seem
that if anything can be said to have been demonstrated by experience, the
incomparable superiority of monogamy over other forms of the family seems
removed beyond argument.” (Page 536. New York: Appleton, 1918.) [This
book is among the many now available through the Internet.] Note: You can
access it at
End of Note.
We might quote
hosts of others in the same line. The movement for ‘free love’, for easier
divorce, for “the right to motherhood,” and so on, in spite of many glib
phrases and much pseudo-science, is really opposed to the best interests of
society and of the individual. Those tribes or races or nations that have practiced
these things in the past are no more or occupy an inferior position. History,
as Heinrich Pesch says, has only one way of arguing the ‘reductio ad absurdum’.
It has been amply proven that these forms will not stand the test of actual life
in competition with monogamy.
To the unprejudiced observer, in fact, nature proves conclusively that marriage ought to exist only between one man and one woman, until death releases. Neither polygamy nor polyandry could be practiced on any very large scale in a group, because the sexes are usually about equally balanced. It is only because of the operation of some exceptional cause, as during the late war, that the balance is disturbed. This, in itself, is an interference with nature.
Nature’s Mind on Divorce.
And while nature is
not so clear on the question of divorce, nevertheless there are ample
indications of her mind. The stronger form of monogamy that does not allow
divorce with the right to remarry, is the soundest kind of marriage from the
standpoint of national health and social well-being. Even though sociologists,
taken generally, have not come completely to the traditional Catholic view on
divorce, at least they are realizing the mistake of too easy divorce. They wish
to make divorce harder to obtain, rather than easier.
foremost consideration affecting their thought is the effect on the home.
Sociologists and practical social workers are agreed that the family is the
most important institution in the world. It is significant that many charitable
organizations have changed their names from United, or Federated, or Associated
Charities, to the Family Service Society, or some such title. This indicates
the importance modern thinkers attach to the family, and hence the maleficent
importance of anything that undermines the family.
shatters the individual home where it takes place, and when the number of
divorces, relatively to marriages, becomes very large, its evil influence can
hardly be exaggerated. Divorce is worse even than the death of a husband or
wife. For death leaves ideals intact and a united family sentiment clinging to
the memory of the departed. Divorce, on the contrary, kills love, separates the
family in fact and sentiment, and introduces an element of moral instability
that will bear evil fruit in every direction of social life. It raises the
level of psychological fear. It lowers the standard of self-control, and in
doing that, it undermines all individual happiness and all strong citizenship.
robs the children of the care of at least one parent, and this means defective
home training that frequently leads to delinquency. “The statistics of one
large city show that less than one-half of the neglected and delinquent
children had homes containing both father and mother. In the majority of cases,
one of the parents was dead or they had separated; step-parents had intervened;
desertions had occurred; or the parents were both dead. The absence of natural
home conditions is therefore an unmistakable cause of the vicious tendencies of
the child. . . . According to Drahms, ‘fifty per cent of the population of our
industrial schools [for delinquent youth] are either orphans or children of
divorced parents’.” (Mangold, Problems of Child Welfare, page 227.
New York: Macmillan, 1917.) [This book is also available on the Internet.]
Note: You can access it at
End of Note.
It is not
surprising, therefore, that many independent thinkers, who are not tied to any
churchly teaching, have come out strongly against divorce. Dr. Felix Adler, for
instance, of the Ethical Culture Society, says baldly: “This is my position:
separation, but never divorce.” (Marriage and Divorce, page 44. New
York: Appleton, 1915.) Note: You can access it at
End of Note.
People who advocate divorce grow sentimental over the suffering of women married to drunken husbands, or fathers bound to adulterous wives. And, of course, there is no denying that there is great suffering in many instances. But the remedy is not divorce. First of all, what is needed is more deliberation before marrying, and the impossibility of divorce will tend to compel this. If mistakes are made in spite of deliberation, then what is primarily needed is a reformation of the individuals, not a permission for them to wreck the lives of others. And where this is impossible, mere separation from bed and board will accomplish everything that divorce will, without many of the evil consequences of divorce.
God’s Revelation about Divorce.
Fortunately, however, we are
not dependent upon mere reason for guidance in this difficult field. We have
also God’s revelation, and this is absolutely clear.
In the first place, there is
Christ’s institution of matrimony as a sacrament, and His insisting upon its
unity and indissolubility. Saint Mark records in the tenth chapter of his
Gospel how Christ changed the law from that of Moses. He admits to the
questioning Pharisee that Moses permitted divorce. But he says that this was
because of the hardness of heart of Israel. “But from the beginning of the
creation,” Christ continues, “God made them male and female. For this cause, a
man shall leave his father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife. And they
shall be two in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What
therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The disciples were somewhat disturbed over this stringent doctrine, and questioned Christ further concerning it. Instead of mitigating it in the least, Christ expressed the law in even stronger terms. “He says to them: Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away the husband, and be married to another, she commits adultery.” (Saint Mark 10:9-12.)
In Saint Luke, we have an equally strong statement, though the full setting is not given. “Everyone that puts away his wife, and marries another, commits adultery: and he that marries her that is put away from her husband, commits adultery.” (Saint Luke 16:18.)
Writing a few years after
Christ uttered these words, and when the Church had spread somewhat among the
corrupt Greeks and Romans, Saint Paul interpreted them as absolutely
prohibiting divorce from the bond of matrimony. Saint Paul was willing enough
to forego circumcision because of the Gentile prejudice, he abandoned the
distinction between clean and unclean meats, but he knew that he could not
stretch Christ’s law of marriage to admit of divorce.
“But to them that are married,
not I, but the Lord commands,” he writes to the Corinthians, “that the wife
depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be
reconciled with her husband.” (1 Corinth 7:10-11.)
Here we have the authorization of separation from bed and board, but no hint that divorce from the bond of marriage is lawful for any reason other than death. In fact, a few verses further on, Saint Paul specifies clearly that only death can make a second marriage legitimate. “A woman is bound by the law,” he says, “as long as her husband lives, but if her husband die, she is at liberty; let her marry to whom she will, only in the Lord.” (1 Corinth 8:39.)
In his Epistle to the Romans, Saint
Paul again lays down the same law. “For the woman that has a husband, whilst
her husband lives, is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead, she is
loosed from the law of her husband. Therefore, whilst her husband lives, she
shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man; but if her husband
be dead, she is delivered from the law of her husband, so that she is not an
adulteress if she be with another man”. (Romans 7:2-3.)
Here, then, are four passages
of Scripture and three independent witnesses stating that only death releases
from the bond of marriage. What can those Christians who accept the Bible and
yet allow divorce allege in justification of themselves?
First of all, a passage in Saint
Matthew that even by itself seems to forbid divorce. “But I say to you, that
whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, makes
her to commit adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, commits
adultery.” (Saint Matthew 5:32.) Certainly when this text is taken in
conjunction with Saint Luke, Saint Mark and Saint Paul, already quoted, it is
abundantly evident that it convicts of adultery the man who marries the wife of
another man, no matter for what cause she has been put away; and also the man
who puts her away and marries another. The clause, “excepting for the cause of
fornication,” clearly refers to the preceding phrase. Hence the meaning is: If
a man separate from his wife, he is subjecting her to the danger of taking up
with some other man, either through lust or the desire for a home; and he is
not justified in thus exposing her unless she has seriously sinned against her
marriage vows, as by fornication.
The other text alleged in
defence of divorce is also from Saint Matthew, and likewise affords no greater
evidence in favour of divorce. “And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away
his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits
adultery; and he that shall marry her that is put away, commits adultery.” (Saint
Surely, it is only the wish
that can prove father to an interpretation of this passage as allowing divorce
when the wife has been adulterous. As in the other passage of Saint Matthew,
the parenthesis, “except it be for fornication,” evidently refers to the
preceding idea, the putting away or separating from the wife; and not to the
succeeding idea, marrying another.
This interpretation has been
the steady and consistent one of the Western Church from the earliest days. The
Eastern Church, it is true, allows divorce for the cause of adultery; and now
and then a few ecclesiastics in the West, too subservient to the powerful of
this world, tried to justify it. But taking history as a whole, the
interpretation has always been that of the Catholic Church today. [A brilliant
more recent (1959) study can be found in Christ on Divorce by Rev
Herbert J. Richards, S.T.L., L.S.S. It is accessible at
It is a highly recommended read.]
Divorce for any reason?
However, the real controversy
is not over an interpretation of Scripture allowing divorce for one particular
cause, but as to whether or not divorce shall be granted for almost any
pretext. This is abundantly shown by the history of the movement. And whatever
may be the meaning of Matthew 19:9, certainly it is not that Christian
ministers may join in wedlock anyone who has been released by the State from a
previous marriage. The hypocrisy of the slogan, “the Bible and the Bible only,”
is shown with naked clarity every time a Protestant minister assists at the
marriage of some divorcee.
The Catholic Church has been
severely condemned for insisting upon an impossible standard, in not allowing
divorce. But in regard to the sanctity of marriage, as with many other moral
questions, it is wiser to be strict than to be lax. And the Catholic Church is
just as strict as Jesus Christ. His law is evidently the best law, for even the
possibility of divorce naturally breeds divorce. Persons marry more recklessly,
they are less considerate after marriage, and they seek refuge in divorce for
situations that time itself would heal did they but wait. One of our
professional funny papers several years ago published a joke in which one
sister said to the other: “Hurry up, Ethel, or we’ll be late for the wedding.”
“Never mind,” was the reply, “we’ll be in time for the divorce proceedings.”
Recently our daily papers carried the news items of a judge granting a divorce,
and immediately acting as witness to another marriage of one of the parties.
Unfortunately, these incidents
only too accurately reflect the attitude of many persons in America today.
Divorce on a supposed Scriptural ground soon leads to divorce for other causes.
And finally, we come to the situation of divorce by mutual consent. Unless the
movement is stopped, we shall have ‘free love’, and perhaps a revival of
The strong trend in this
direction is clearly shown by the alarming increase in the number of divorces.
Relatively to the population and to the number of marriages, the number of
divorces has been growing larger each year. At present, for the whole country
there are only about nine times as many marriages as divorces. That is to say,
an average of one marriage in every nine ends in a divorce. Moreover, the
proportion in many places is much higher than that. In Washington State, the
proportion of divorces to marriages is 1 to 4, in Montana 1 to 5.4, in Oregon 1
to 2.5, in Nevada 1 divorce to 1.5 marriages. Some counties actually have more
divorces than marriages. According to the report of the Census Bureau for 1916,
there were in Washoe County, Nevada, 347 marriages and 440 divorces; in
Rutherford County, Tennessee, 42 marriages and 48 divorces; in Mono County,
California, 2 marriages and 2 divorces; in Union County, Oregon, 57 marriages
and 65 divorces.
And this does not tell the whole story of domestic tragedy, because there are a great many divorce suits instituted without obtaining divorces, even under our lax laws and practice. In Franklin County, Ohio, for instance, there were, in 1916, 3,039 marriages and 674 divorces. From July, 1919, to July, 1920, there were 4,706 divorce suits before the courts, though for an almost identical twelve-month only 1,151 divorces were granted.
Surely, these figures call aloud for some tightening of the marriage bond. But that can best be done by adopting the thoroughgoing Catholic attitude — once married, always married, until released by death. For, as we have said, it is better to be very strict than to start to walk the path of laxity.
Annulment and Separation.
For valid Christian consummated
marriage, the Catholic Church knows no release except death. However, if the marriage
has not been consummated, it may be dissolved by the Pope or by the solemn
religious profession of both parties. And if the marriage is not Christian,
that is, has taken place between unbaptized persons, and one becomes a Catholic
while the unbeliever refuses to live peaceably with him or her, the marriage
may be dissolved by the proper ecclesiastical authority. This is based on Saint
Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, where he says: “If any brother have a
wife that believes not, and she consent to dwell with him, let him not put her
away. And if any woman has a husband that believes not, and he consent to dwell
with her, let her not put away her husband. . . . But if the unbeliever depart,
let him depart. For a brother or sister is not under servitude in such cases.” (1
Corinthians 7:13-15.) Naturally, however, such cases do not often arise.
In addition to this, the Church
may grant a decree of nullity, that is, she may decide that a marriage never
existed because of some impediment. And while there have undoubtedly been some
abuses in this connection, the position of the Church is perfectly sound. It is
adopted by every civilized government under the sun. For instance, one of the
impediments recognized by both the State and the Church is a previously
existing marriage. Suppose, then, that a sailor does not return from a voyage.
The ship has been lost, and presumably the whole crew. His wife marries again,
as in Tennyson’s famous poem of “Enoch Arden.” Later he appears. To whom
would she be married? Civil law as well as ecclesiastical would answer: to the
first man, since the second marriage would be invalid because of the impediment
of a previous bond.
The Church declares that
certain other impediments invalidate a marriage. Some of the impediments are
from natural law, as certain degrees of kindred, some merely from
ecclesiastical law. From her own impediments she can dispense, but from those
of the natural law she cannot. It is impossible to go into all these
impediments in a pamphlet such as this. But it is sufficient to say that they
all have a sound reason back of them. Some, indeed, are recognized by the civil
law in various countries, and others are being urged by progressives now as
But though the Church does not
grant a divorce from validly contracted, consummated Christian marriage, she
does allow separation. If two parties to a marriage have a grave reason for
separating, the Church will sanction this. Drunkenness, adultery, danger to
life, and so on, would all be sufficient grounds. The reason, however, must be
serious, and it should be judged so by the proper ecclesiastical authorities.
Persons who separate for any little whim are committing a serious sin. This is
because the temptations of life may prove too strong for them. Besides, where
there are children, these must be considered. Neither party to the marriage,
therefore, is justified in leaving the other without a grave reason.
We defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman for the propagation of the race and mutual helpfulness, lasting until the death of one party. Marriage, then, is intended primarily for the propagation of the human race.
Any agreement, therefore, to limit the number of children by unlawful means, or to have no children at all — except by remaining virgins — would nullify the contract. It would be an element inconsistent with the essence of the Sacrament.
This does not mean, however,
that married persons must have as many children as possible. It is physically
possible to have thirty-five children by one wife — perhaps even more. The
United States Census Bureau records one case of quadruplets, several cases of
triplets, and many cases of the same mother having several sets of twins.
We must admit that it is
morally lawful, and, perhaps, in some circumstances, socially desirable, to
limit the family by abstinence, either temporary or permanent. But it is
evident that any misuse of nature is ‘ipso facto’ unlawful. This, however, is a
delicate and dangerous topic. Those Catholics who have doubts on the matter,
should consult frankly with their confessors.
The large family undoubtedly
gives a better training to the child from the standpoint of society. Recently a
big executive stated in The American Magazine, that in employing men he
always gave the preference to the one from a large family. He had found by experience,
that the man who was an only child was not easily fitted to battle with the
world. Such a man was spoiled, and he was likely to create trouble with other
employees because he had never learned the give and take of life.
From the standpoint of the individual,
too, it handicaps him. A large family is society in miniature. The hardy
virtues learned in it are the virtues necessary for success in later life. Even
though the child of a large family is deprived of many comforts, even though he
does not have the same start in life, he frequently out-distances others. For
he has learned real life from his cradle, whereas the other youngster has been
too much shielded and coddled.
Moreover, a reasonably large
family acts as a healthy stimulus to ambition on the part of both parents and
children. The man who has the responsibility of a large family will “hustle” to
a greater extent, and the “hustler” is more important socially than the loafer.
Children of large families, too, knowing that their future depends upon
themselves, will work harder. If a boy realizes that his father will leave him
money enough for all reasonable needs, he does not have the same ambition to
earn for himself.
When young people marry,
therefore, they ought to look forward to having children. If they intend never
to have children — unless they mutually consent to practice virginity — they
are really not married.
In such a case, their marriage relationship involves repeated sin. Could one party to the marriage prove in an ecclesiastical court that the other had had, at the time of the marriage ceremony, the firm intention of having no children, and had actually put the intention into effective practice afterwards, the marriage would be declared null, and either party would have the right to marry elsewhere.
Marriage, however, is intended not only for the propagation of the human race. It should also minister to the mutual happiness of the married parties through their congenial companionship. That should be one of the chief considerations in selecting a partner. Mutual happiness will depend upon many things, but mostly upon congeniality.
In addition, marriage is intended — considering human beings as they are — as a satisfaction of certain natural desires that can be lawfully satisfied only in marriage. However, marriage does not justify anything and everything. Mutual happiness and the propagation of the human race should be the chief aims of matrimony, not mere animal passion. Persons considering marriage, should look well into their own motives and the motives of the other party. For more marital unhappiness comes from uncongeniality on this score of passion than on any other.
The woman, in these cases, is
usually the chief sufferer. She goes into marriage with high ideals, with
dreams of companionship and mother-love, only to find too often that she has
married a man whose propensities are beastly, and whose desires are insatiable.
What should be a sacred union, a sharing in God’s creative power, as it were,
is turned into something ignoble.
Those who marry, indeed, make a contract to yield themselves to each other. But the contract is not unlimited. There is such a thing as excess. And no person is bound to yield to excessive demands made by another. It is difficult to be specific in such a matter, but both parties ought to remember that the ideal is moderation and self-control. It would be well for married folk voluntarily to practice occasional abstinence. A happy marriage can only be based on self-control. A man who has not learned self-control in this direction, is not likely to practice it in the other ways necessary for two people to live happily under the same roof.
And not only does lack of self-control in this sphere breed disaster in other relations; it really defeats its own purpose of pleasure. Every man who is married, or who contemplates marriage, ought “to understand and appreciate the sex nature within him as a great creative force which pervades his whole life, which has great capacities for giving power, satisfaction, richness and beauty; that its satisfaction may be derived on various levels, low and high, and that the kind and degree of satisfaction will depend on the level on which it is to be found. He may derive from it direct, crude, immediate, unsocial or antisocial satisfaction; or he may derive from it satisfaction much richer and more permanent on higher levels, enhanced by the aesthetic, emotional and spiritual qualities of his whole affectional nature. . . . But (and this must be made clear) he cannot have both the lower and the higher satisfactions; he must choose between them at the outset.” (Preliminary Synthesis and Integration of the Returns of the Sex Education Conference, held under the auspices of the International Committee of Young Men’s Christian Associations, 1921, New York, page 40.)
Preparing for a Happy Marriage.
The mere fact, however, that the Church holds up a high ideal of marriage, does not mean that it will be automatically attained by all Catholics. The Church allows separation, and by that very fact admits that some of her children at least will be unhappy and make mistakes. It will be well for us, therefore, to consider some of the bases for a happy marriage.
And while it may seem rash for a mere celibate to give advice on such a question, yet his advice should not be treated too lightly. For priests sometimes know more about marriage than lay folk do. Cardinal Manning once preached on matrimony, and as two old women came out of church after the services, one was heard to say to the other: “And what did you think of the sermon?”
“Sure,” was the reply, “I kept thinking to myself: ‘I wish to God I knew as little about marriage as he does’.”
As a matter of fact, however, Cardinal Manning was a widower. And even a priest who has received only five sacraments may know a great deal more of marriage than the callow youths and maidens who so blithely put their heads in the noose. For he has had the opportunity of observing hundreds of married couples at a very close range through the confessional and his pastoral duties.
Before marriage, the parties should first of all know the nature of the contract they are making. Not often, but yet sometimes, women enter into marriage without realizing the fleshly part of the contract. Browning’s “Ring and the Book” brings this out beautifully in regard to Pompilia’s marriage to Guido.
“Wherein my husband blamed me. . . .
I was dull, too. . . .
I am blamed that I forwent
A way to make my husband’s favor come.
That is true: I was firm, withstood, refused. . . .
I felt there was just one thing Guido claimed
I had no right to give nor he to take. . . .
After the first, my husband, for hate’s sake,
Said one eve. . . .
‘Go this night to my chamber, not your own!’
At which word, I did rush — most true the charge
And gain the Archbishop’s house — he stands for God
And fall upon my knees and clasp his feet,
Praying him hinder what my estranged soul
Refused to bear, though patient of the rest:
‘Place me within a convent,’ I implored —
‘Let me henceforward lead the virgin life
praise in Her you bid me imitate!’
What did he answer?”
And even in these blasé and
enlightened days, there are women equally innocent and ignorant.
Such ignorance is likely to
lead to unhappiness in marriage. Certainly, it is a crime against the woman and
an injustice to the man. The parents or others who were responsible for the
woman’s education, sinned seriously in not enlightening her on these questions.
They did an injustice to her and to the man she married.
Next to knowledge of the nature of the contract, should come knowledge of the person to be married.
Men and women sometimes rush into matrimony without sufficient reflection and without sufficient knowledge of the life partner they are choosing. They actually enter into this most sacred and solemn and intimate relationship with less concern that they would exercise in selecting a business partner. As someone has said, men choose their wives with less care than they do their golf sticks.
Eugenics literally means "good
breeding". It is defined as the study of agencies under social control
that may improve or impair the qualities of future generations either
physically or mentally. Both the word and the definition were fixed by Sir
Francis Galton, the founder of the movement which he insisted should be
regarded as a science, and to date  has been accepted as such. The
science has two chief divisions, namely, heredity and environment. Galton
believed that heredity was by far the more important. He derived his main idea from
the breeding of the race-horse. Just as we can breed horses for points, so
also, it is contended, can we breed men for points. The eugenics movement,
however, consists of more than study. It includes public action in the way of
legislation, administration, and the influencing of human conduct.
Selection implies rejection. Thus, the science is divided into positive eugenics and negative. The one encourages parenthood of the fit or worthy, whilst the other discourages parenthood of the unfit or unworthy. Thus, eugenics concerns itself largely with selection in marriage and with the exercise of the marital function. Negative eugenics also seeks to eradicate the human race’s defects of alcohol, venereal disease, lead poisoning, feeble-mindedness, and consumption. But the Church, too, has a doctrine concerning marriage and its use, and also a doctrine and a method of dealing with the defects of the human race. The Church therefore has no fault to find with race culture as such. Rather does she encourage it. But she wishes it carried out on right lines.
The root difference between Catholic teaching
and that of modern eugenics is that the one places the final end of man in
eternal life, whilst the other places it in civic worth. The effectual
difference is that the Church makes bodily and mental culture subservient to
morality, whilst modern eugenics makes morality subservient to bodily and
mental culture. But we must admit that modern eugenics shows a growing tendency
to acknowledge the claims of religion. Dr. Saleeby is an advance on Galton, and
Professor Whetham is an advance on Saleeby.
In dealing with poisons to the human race, the Church provides the most radical remedies. Against alcohol, she sets the virtue of temperance, against white-lead poisoning, the virtue of justice, against venereal disease the virtue of purity. She provides for proper selection in marriage by setting impediments against unworthy marriages. The spirit life of the married pair and of the children is protected by the prohibition and discouragement of mixed marriages. The proclamation of banns protects the parties against possible fraud or mistake. The requirement of consent of parents for the young tends to promote prudent marriages. The impediment of a previous engagement unreleased is a safeguard against rash promises and heartless breach of promise. The impediments of consanguinity and affinity are universally acknowledged to have a great eugenic value. Moreover, since the most necessary and most difficult eugenic reforms consist in the control of the sex appetite, the practice of celibacy is an important factor in race culture. It is the standing example of a Divinely aided will holding the sensual passion in check.
The crux of the eugenic question is in the
proposals for segregation and sterilization. Both may be either voluntary or
compulsory. The aim is to prevent defectives from propagating their kind.
Segregation means not only the separation of defectives from the rest of the
community but also separation of the sexes from each other amongst the
defectives themselves. Sterilization is a surgical operation by which the
subjects are made incapable of procreation. Formerly it consisted of castration
in men, and excision of the ovaries in women, or alternatively, vasectomy for
men and ligature of the Fallopian tubes for women. They are not grave when
considered as dangerous operations, but they are grave as regards their moral
effects. Herein lies the difficulty of judging them. Vasectomy or ligature of
the Fallopian tubes is no remedy against concupiscence; and even if it were,
mutilation could not be permitted as a means of avoiding temptation.
The operation opens the door to immoral practices which constitute a worse evil than the one allegedly avoided. If the principle is admitted, it only encourages the abuse of matrimonial relations. Therefore, the operation is not permissible, except as a necessary means to bodily health, and consequently except for this necessity may not be performed even with the patient's consent. The Church has never regarded the marriage of degenerates as unlawful in itself: they cannot be deprived of their right without a grave reason. Even eugenists like Dr. Saleeby and Dr. Havelock Ellis disapprove of compulsory surgery. As for compulsory segregation it seems to be both right and good, provided that all due safeguards are taken in respect of the grades of feebleness. The spirit of the Church is to extend rather than curtail the freedom of the individual. The Catholic conscience guards against the State being unduly exalted at the expense of the family.
It was one of the noteworthy facts of the Second International Congress of Eugenics held in 1921, that some of the foremost eugenists, scientists of considerable standing amongst their peers, declared themselves against divorce.
Eugenics — as was admitted in the 1921 International Eugenics Congress held in New York—has not yet developed sufficiently to be able to lay down any very certain prescriptions as to who should and should not marry.
Know your Prospective Spouse.
Nevertheless, it is well to know all one can about the future spouse and his or her family. Delicate health, strains of insanity, social diseases, may easily wreck the fragile matrimonial bark. Some States have passed laws requiring a health certificate before marriage. But while the object is good — to enlighten the other party as to any communicable diseases that may affect them or the children — it is doubtful whether some of the laws enacted are wise and whether the machinery of administration has been sufficiently developed to make them effective. However, it would be well for all who may marry to read some books, such as Dr. Morrow’s Social Diseases and Marriage, in order to form an idea as to the dangers of entering into this union with a comparative stranger.
It is unquestionably true that those persons have the best chance of happiness in marriage who have been purest before marriage. Moreover, there should not be a double standard. Because a man can sin and conceal the fact, is no reason for society to sanction this. Men, perhaps, find it more difficult to be pure than women, but it is not by any means impossible. When women demand from men the same standard that men demand from them, then they will get it.
But apart from any demand of society or of women generally, it is a law of nature that we pay for what we get. And the men and women who indulge their passions before marriage, can never have that pure and sweet enjoyment of matrimony that comes to the innocent. As Patmore says, wisely and beautifully:
They safest walk in darkest ways,
Whose youth is lighted from above,
Where through the senses’ silvery haze,
Dawns the veiled moon of nuptial love.
Who is the happy husband? He,
Who scanning his unwedded life,
Thanks Heaven with a conscience free,
‘Twas faithful to his future wife.
(Coventry Patmore, “The Angel in the House.”)
But even when love comes and can be followed at once by marriage, it should not be allowed to fill the whole soul. Back of the creature should be the Creator. To quote again the greatest of the poets who have eulogized conjugal love:
Lest sacred love your soul ensnare,
With pious fancy still infer,
How lovely and how lovely fair
He be Who has fashioned her.
A man should have his passions
so well in hand that he could say
I loved her in the name of God
And for the ray she was of Him.
We have said that marriage is a union for the mutual happiness of the married parties resulting from a strong congeniality. And congeniality in religion is as necessary as any other. The Church forbids her children to marry those not of the household of the Faith, though she dispenses from the law to prevent greater harm. Oftentimes young people look upon this as harsh and narrow-minded. But in reality, it is simply the wisdom born of experience. The ecclesiastical authorities know that there is not only danger to the faith of the Catholic party and of the children, but that there is grave danger of unhappiness because of a difference of religion. And while the legislation of the Church is primarily for the Catholic party, nevertheless it is also a safeguard for the non-Catholic, too. For marriage is a mutual affair. One party to it cannot be happy if the other is unhappy.
Young people tend to marry at an early age when religion does not loom so large to them as it will later. Usually it takes the cares and responsibilities of life to bring an appreciation of religion. When those sorrows come, as inevitably they will to married folk, they will need the consolation that proceeds from a united attitude towards the fundamentals of life. Nothing will be a greater support in the trials of marriage than union in religion. No one should rashly disregard this fact. Some, indeed, will be happy in spite of lacking it. I suppose we all know of mixed marriages that have turned out well. But, in general, it is true that the chances for happiness are not so great as if both parties had the same faith. And marriage at best is such a complicated matter that ordinarily we should not complicate it further by a difference of religion.
All this is true, though in a lesser degree, of social position and race. Ordinarily one should marry in his own class. And while we have no aristocracy in this country recognized by law, yet there are classes. If a professional man steps outside his circle to marry a seamstress, or a banker's daughter marries her chauffeur, neither is likely to be happy. The first glamour of the honeymoon may pass successfully, but in the years to come there will probably be bitter regret. Happiness in marriage is based, to a certain degree, on congeniality, and that congeniality is likely to be lacking where the social backgrounds are so different.
Where a difference in race or culture means a different outlook on marital questions, this, too, is likely to breed disaster. Certain races and cultures, for instance, consider their women folk chiefly as servants. Others think that they are susceptible tinder that must be carefully secluded from contact with the fire of man's propinquity. Men and women with such ideas marrying those who look at life differently are courting unhappiness. They are compromising their chances of success in the lottery of marriage.
Another thing that should be carefully considered before marriage is the question of money. Money is necessary for living, and none should marry without reasonable prospect of being able to get sufficient for the upkeep of a home. And since marriage is intended primarily for the propagation of the human race and the rearing of children, it means that the mother should be supported while she performs these duties. She cannot bear children and rear them while working outside the home, without injury to her health and neglect of the children. If a man cannot support a wife, then he ought to wait before he marries.
But, on the other hand, where there is ample money for legitimate needs, it is also necessary to consider this important question of money. Marriage is a partnership. The wife is not a mere housekeeper. The distribution of the money should be on the basis of a partnership. Because the man receives the money as salary or wages, he should not think that it belongs entirely to him. His wife is contributing to the making of the home, and she should have her share in the family income. That is simply elemental justice.
Should the woman have money before she marries, then she ought to make a proper disposition of it beforehand. She should not trust a husband with all of her money. It would be wise to keep her property in her own name. And before she marries, she ought to inquire carefully just what are the laws of her State regarding a married woman's property. Also, after marriage, it is safer if moving to another State to find out what the laws are there. Many a woman has lost all her property because she was too much in love to exercise reasonable prudence.
After marriage, there should be frankness between man and wife regarding money matters, and absolute honour. Agreements should be sacredly kept. A man is a coward who will misuse the power he has acquired over a woman. But, unfortunately, there are many cowards.
However, all the faults are not on the side of the husbands. Wives are frequently unreasonable. They sometimes marry for a life of ease and expect their husbands to pay all the bills. Women are more given, perhaps, than men to putting up a false front by living beyond their means. Because some acquaintance of theirs has furs or an automobile or two servants, they must do likewise. Often this comes from faulty education. They have never been taught the value of money, never had to work to earn it. Congeniality on the question of money is almost essential for marital happiness. Either party to the partnership can spoil it by being too extravagant or too miserly.
In regard to the training of children, it is necessary that the parents should agree on a policy. It is fatal to discipline if the children recognize that one parent does not back up the other. And children are very quick to sense a disagreement between parents. They soon become experts in playing one against the other. Finally, there should be a mutual give and take between married persons. No human beings are perfect. And there are very few “unique” people in this world, in either the direction of goodness or badness. Most people are simply average. Don’t expect perfection, and don’t expect that your John or Mary is going to be the one exception. Your married life will be very much like the married life of other people, with ups and downs. It can only be made tolerable by a sense of humor and the recognition of one’s own failings. And, principally, happiness in marriage can only be made sure and permanent by the grace of the Sacrament, and by living constantly in the atmosphere of religion.
In conclusion, let us say that
those who contemplate marriage should go to a priest at least a month or two
before the day of their intended union. The marriage legislation of the Church
is a complicated affair. Only an expert can know the law thoroughly. There is
an old saying that he who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client. And this
is true regarding Church law as well as civil law.
For instance, between
Catholics, there must be the reading of the banns for three Sundays or holy
days of obligation. This is a wise law that reformers are now urging the State
to adopt. They want the license published in the paper where the marriage is to
take place, and in the home of each of the parties three times three
consecutive weeks before the marriage is to come off, and they wish to make the
license invalid until three months after issue. All this is to prevent hasty
marriages and hastier divorces. [Since 1983, the obligation to read out banns
of marriage has been reduced. The Catholic Church abolished the requirement in
1983, as greater mobility had limited its usefulness as a means of determining
whether there were impediments to marriage. However, many parishes still
publish such notices in church bulletins.]
Again, there are other Church laws regarding the person who must assist at the marriage. Not any priest may lawfully do so. To pack up and go to another town expecting to get married immediately, may complicate matters very seriously.
Pray before coming to a
decision. Ask God’s direction in this most serious step. And then enter into it
with His full blessing. It is disgraceful that Catholics who might kneel
together at a nuptial Mass to receive Holy Communion and the special nuptial
blessing, prefer an evening wedding for merely social reasons. [In 1922, the
Eucharistic fast was from midnight onwards. It is now only one hour, so there
is even less reason for Catholics not having a full Nuptial Mass.] When Mammon
is preferred to God as a wedding guest, wedded happiness need not be expected.
A PRAYER FOR LIGHT ON THE QUESTION OF MARRIAGE.
O ALL-KNOWING and all-loving Jesus, grant me the light wisely to decide the problems of my life. I stand at the beginning of two paths: I may either aim to follow in Your virgin footsteps, embracing a life of celibacy in order that I may more completely devote myself to certain works of Yours; or I may choose to serve You rather by sharing Your creative power, by bringing into this world other human beings made in Your image who one day will give glory to You in Heaven.
Either course is good in itself
— but for me only one will be wise. Without Your help, I cannot determine which
it will be. Vouchsafe to enlighten me that I may wisely and unselfishly choose.
If I am to lead a virgin life,
let it be from the purest motives, because I wish to serve You, and not for
fear of the responsibilities of marriage and parenthood. If I am to marry, let
it be wisely and prudently, led by Your grace instead of by the impulses of the
I put myself completely in Your
hands, O my Savior and my Creator. Do with me what You will. Choose for me,
provided only You do give me the grace to follow the indications of Your will.
THE PRAYER OF A MAN JUST MARRIED.
(Choix de Prieres, by Leon Gautier, page 467; Brussels, 1878.)
WE come before You, God all-powerful, good God, God of love, bearing upon our countenances the recent traces of Your Sacrament. I present to You in all the splendor of her innocence her, whom the effusion of Your grace has this morning made the companion of my life. See how our two hands are raised to You, united for the first time, but less intertwined, less united than our two souls, and this union will last forever. Heretofore, each of us served You in the solitude of an easy devotion that had no responsibility; but now it is necessary that we serve You together; today our love for You must be doubled without being divided, and each must be responsible for the salvation of the other.
This is not all, O Lord: We
shall be responsible for all the other souls that it may please You to create
through us, in giving to us something of Your creative power. We know that
marriage was instituted especially to people Heaven, and we are in part, by our
sins, responsible for its depopulation. With Your grace, enable us to aid its
repopulation. However, such an equal mission does not discourage us; such a
solidarity does not affright us; for we count upon Your sustaining grace. Ah,
do not refuse it to these poor travelers who see stretching before them the
long road of life, and who, without You, ask themselves with fear if their feet
will carry them so far. Protect especially this child of Yours who has received
for her portion a gracious weakness that my strength will be insufficient to fully
I place her especially under your
protection, Queen of Virgins, immortal model whom she proposes to imitate. And
in this august hour that communicates to all my words, and to all hers, a
touching and indelible gravity, I come to your feet to make a solemn promise,
beseeching you to cast me out from your face if ever I violate it. I promise you
to make this child of yours happy who leans upon me, and especially I promise
to respect this vessel of modesty. I promise you to love and to die for her, to
accept for love of her all that Christ has accepted for love of the Church, all
to the very letter, even to the thorns and the cross.
We promise You, O Lord, to walk together, hand in hand, and soul in soul, in the light of Your faith, our eyes fixed upon Your divine essence, opening wide the mysterious entry of our hearts unto the True, the Good, and the Beautiful, succoring the poor, consoling the afflicted, instructing the ignorant, visiting the imprisoned, converting the unbelieving. And especially, if it shall please You to crown our union with a happy fertility, making of our sons men in the deepest meaning of the word, and of our daughters like unto angels. So that after having, without fear and without reproach, traversed this difficult road of life, we may arrive at last at the heavenly portals, always inseparable, and that these gates may open before us to let us enter together into the regions of transcendent glory those who, with an equal step, have walked together in the world of grace, encouraged, sustained, and blessed by You!
Thanks to the Paulist Press.