AT the beginning of the Tractarian Movement questions about marriage were far less prominent than they have since become. There was no doubt among Church people in general that divorce was not recognized in the Church of England. It was acknowledged that the Form of Solemnization of Matrimony did not contemplate the possibility of either husband or wife marrying again in the lifetime of the other. The prohibition in the canons of 1603, preventing one who had been separated from contracting matrimony while the other remained alive, was regarded as in accordance with the law of Christ. The Table of Prohibited Degrees printed at the end of the Prayer Book and sanctioned by canon 99 of 1603 was viewed as a summary of the teaching of Holy Scripture and as binding on Church people. The Divorce Act of 1857 and the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act of 1907 were still far off. The distinction by which before 1835 marriages contracted in disobedience to the Table of Prohibited Degrees, though voidable, were not necessarily void by the law of the State, and the allowance by the State of a divorce for which an Act of Parliament was obtained, were not sufficiently utilized to make practical difficulty frequent. The general teaching of the early Tractarians did something to emphasize the high regard in which marriage was held, and the spiritual importance of the marriage rite. A poem in The Christian Year, published in 1827, six years before the beginning of the Oxford Movement, laid stress on the personal action of our Lord in the administration of Matrimony:
"Tis He who clasps the marriage band,
And fits the spousal ring,
Then leaves ye kneeling, hand in hand,
Out of His stores to bring His Father's dearest blessing."
But any distinct recognition of the sacramental character of Holy Matrimony came slowly.
When attempts were made to legalize by the sanction of the State marriage with a deceased wife's sister, these attempts were resisted by the Tractarians. [See e.g., E. B. Pusey, Marriage with a Deceased Wife's Sister prohibited by Holy Scripture as understood by the Church for 1500 years (1849).] As the question of divorce became more prominent, there was some difference of opinion among them. Mr. Keble maintained the absolute indissolubility of valid Christian marriage f arguments used by Dr. Pusey tended towards the opinion that, while apart from one exception marriage is indissoluble, yet one exception exists, and that a husband may put away an adulterous wife and marry again. [See his note to the translation of Tertullian in the Library of the Fathers (second edition, 1854), pp. 443-449.]
On these particular subjects Anglo-Catholics are not all agreed. All of them would unhesitatingly say that the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act of 1907 has made no difference in the law of the Church, and, that the prohibition which the Act removed still exists for Church people. They would unanimously repudiate a theory that the law of the Church can be altered by any action of the State. But, apart from this general agreement, there are differences of opinion. It is held by some that the prohibition of this particular marriage is so necessitated by the teaching of Holy Scripture and the law of the Church, and so bound up with the principle of affinity, that there can be no exceptions to it; and that the dispensations for it, which are given in certain cases by the Roman Catholic Church, in history resulted from a weak yielding to the pressure of great men, and are now due not to any sound principle but to moral compromise. On the other hand, there are those who hold that there is no absolute bar in principle to such marriages, and that for sufficient reasons they may well be allowed by special permission, as by the Roman Catholic dispensations. [The present writer's agreement with the former of these opinions may be seen in his The Law of Christian Marriage especially in relation to the Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act (1907).]
There is probably less difference of opinion among Anglo-Catholics in regard to the indissolubility of marriage. With very rare exceptions they hold that any valid and consummated marriage is absolutely indissoluble, and that the re-marriage of either husband or wife while the other lives is both unlawful and invalid. They therefore refuse to publish banns for, or officiate at, or lend their churches for, such ceremonies. Any other course would be intolerable to them, since they believe that the probibition of remarriage after divorce in the Church of England is based on a right interpretation of Holy Scripture and of the tradition of the Church. [The writer believes that Anglo-Catholics in general agree with the main position taken up in his Divorce and Re-marriage (1913).]
The essence of marriage is in the contract of man and woman. In making this contract those who are being married ought, if they are Christians, to receive the blessing of the Church. They receive this blessing as they make their contract in church in the presence of a priest, and receive through him the divine ratification. A valid marriage of baptized persons places them in a sacramental relation, even if they do not receive the Church's blessing, and is indissoluble. [This is the ordinary Western teaching, which the writer understands is accepted by Anglo-Catholics in general. The teaching of the Eastern Church makes the minister to be a bishop or priest. As a matter of discipline, the Roman Catholic Church, by a decree of the Council of Trent and a regulation of Pope Pius X, has required the presence of a priest and two witnesses at all marriages of Roman Catholics.]
It has already been said that the number of the sacraments is largely a matter of terminology. It would be easy to formulate reasons for a number greater than seven or less. But tradition in the Church since the twelfth century, and the practice of the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches at the present time, concur with obvious convenience and reasonableness in supporting a terminology which makes the number to be seven, and includes Holy Matrimony in the list. In His ministry our Lord showed His sanction for the institution of marriage, which already existed, and reaffirmed the sacred character of the marriage bond; as far back as evidence goes, Christian marriage has received the blessing of the Church; in it there are the inward grace which God gives and the outward part in the contract between man and wife. If, in an age of many dangers to married and family life, Anglo-Catholics do something to maintain the solemnity and sanctity of marriage itself, to preserve a due sense of its privileges and responsibilities, to help the married to fulfil their obligations to one another and to their families in the true Christian spirit, they will deserve well of society in general no less than of the Church.
The writer has quoted before in another book a passage as powerful as it is eloquent by a great Christian layman, who was an adherent of the Tractarians. It is not inappropriate to quote it here again: "Beyond all things else marriage derives its essential and specific character from restraint: restraint from the choice of more than a single wife; restraint from choosing her among near relatives by blood or affinity; restraint from the carnal use of woman in any relation inferior to marriage; restraint from forming any temporary or any other than a lifelong contract. By the prohibition of polygamy it concentrates the affections which its first tendency is to diffuse; by the prohibition of incest it secures the union of families as well as individuals, and keeps the scenes of dawning life and early intimacy free from the smallest taint of appetite; by the prohibition of concubinage it guards the dignity of woman and chastens whatever might be dangerous as a temptation in marriage through the weight of domestic cares and responsibilities; by the prohibition of divorce, above all, it makes the conjugal union not a mere indulgence of taste and provision for enjoyment, but a powerful instrument of discipline and self-subjugation, worthy to take rank in that subtle and wonderful system of appointed means by which the life of man on earth becomes his school for heaven." [W. B. Gladstone in Quarterly Review, July, 1857, pp. 285, 286, reprinted in Gleanings of Past Years, vi, 101, 102.]