Project Canterbury















Transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown
Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2008


THIS little book is an enlargement of papers which have appeared already in the Birmingham Diocesan Magazine, and deals with a problem which presses hard upon all of us to-day. The first chapter, on the law of the Church in England, in which my argument is fortified by Sir Lewis Dibdin's great authority, is not, I suppose, seriously open to doubt or question.

The second chapter is on my part a retractatio--a revision of arguments used and conclusions reached fifteen years ago in an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. At that time I was disposed to give the preference, among the versions of Our Lord's teaching on marriage given in the New Testament, to the versions given in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, which contain an exception, apparently making marriage dissoluble under certain circumstances. Now I feel bound to give the preference to the earlier versions given by St. Paul, St. Mark, and St. Luke, and to regard the exceptive clauses [v/vi] in the first Gospel as probably interpolated glosses which really misinterpret the original utterances. My reasons for this conclusion are given in the second of the following chapters.

But besides its bearing on the particular problem of marriage, this conclusion has also a bearing on the question of the authority and trustworthiness of the first Gospel, and indeed of the Gospels generally; and I have endeavoured to express my belief on this subject in a note appended to the second chapter.

The third chapter deals with the opinions held in the Church on the subject of the indissolubility of Christian marriage; and, being as short as it is, it can, of course, only present a summary of conclusions. The evidence is very fully given in Mr. Watkins' book on Holy Matrimony, to which I have frequently referred. I have felt bound occasionally to differ from his conclusions; but in all cases he supplies his readers with materials for forming their own judgment. [1] [(1) At the last moment I have had an opportunity of reading Mr. Cecil Chapman's Marriage and Divorce (Nutt, 1911). Mr. Chapman's experiences as a magistrate are interesting and important; but his treatment of early Christian belief about the marriage tie is quite singularly misleading and inaccurate: see. pp. 11-14, 59-61.]

The fourth chapter deals with the question of the policy of Churchmen at the present [vi/vii] juncture; and, as Churchmen are also citizens, I have to deal more or less with the question of the civil law of divorce as it stands at present, and with current proposals for altering it. If this is very briefly dealt with, my excuse is that the main purpose of this book is to define and secure the law and action of the Church. We Churchmen can hope to contribute something towards the settlement of the question of divorce by the nation only if first of all we can come to agreement about our own principles.

Lady Day, 1911




APPENDED NOTE: The Trustworthiness of the Gospel according to St. Matthew and of the Gospels generally 28



[1] THE



It is a question of the greatest practical importance what position precisely the Church of England holds, and again what position, it ought to hold, on the subject of marriage--whether marriage is, and is to be held, indissoluble, or whether it admits in any case of divorce in such sense as carries with it freedom to contract another marriage. There is hardly any matter on which it is of more importance that, if not the whole Anglican communion, then at least the Church in England should, by its authorities, speak to its members with a distinct and united voice. And that for two reasons.

1. It is a subject which touches the feelings of men and women where they are tenderest; and our chance of being listened to, and of having a common standard of discipline accepted by Churchmen in general, without needless resentment, depends on explicitness of statement and unity of action, at least throughout England. Moreover, the burning question [1/2] is not as to the ideal of Christian marriage, on which all are agreed, but as to what is at the last resort to be countenanced or tolerated.

2. It is a subject which concerns the state as really as it concerns the church. Whether the law of the state is to coincide with the law of the church or to diverge from it, there ought to be no doubt in the statesman's mind what the law of the church actually is or is to be made.

The questions then with which I propose to deal are these:

What is the existing law of the Church in England as touching marriage and divorce?

What ought it to be? That is to say, What is the intention or law of Christ for His church, disclosed in the New Testament?

What has been the mind of the church in history on this subject?

What then ought to be the action of the Church in England in the future on this matter, towards its own members and towards the state?

. . . . . . .

What is the existing law of the Church in England as regards divorce?

There is, I submit, no room for doubt that we have, in our documents of authority, a definite law, which is the law of the Western Church as it obtained before the Reformation, viz. that marriage is indissoluble; that it admits of "divorce" in the sense of separation a mensa et thoro in case of necessity, but does not admit of divorce at all in the modern sense--in such [2/3] sense as would leave either party in a divorce free to re-marry during the lifetime of the other.

This is the plain implication of the marriage service. It is implied throughout that service that "God's ordinance" regulates "the holy estate of matrimony," and that it subsists "as long as they both (i.e. the man and woman who are to be married) shall live"--"till death them do part." "Those whom God hath joined together," it is declared, "let no man put asunder." God did teach "that it should never be lawful to put asunder those whom He, by matrimony, had made one." Matrimony represents the spiritual marriage between Christ and His church, and that again is certainly indissoluble. [1] [(1) It is represented in the "indelible character" of the baptism by which each individual is made a member of Christ, which no sin can obliterate.] The man and woman become "one flesh." All this language can describe only what Hooker [2] [(2) Eccl. Pol., V. lxxiii. 3.] calls "some strait and insoluble knot."

This language of the marriage service reflects what was undoubtedly the law administered by the ecclesiastical courts, which alone down to 1857 had jurisdiction in all cases of marriage. They had in fact no other law to administer than the western canon law affecting marriage, upon which their whole system was based. This law was set out at large in The Institution of a Christian Man (A.D. 1537) in a section on "the sacrament of matrimony," concluding with the words--"In marriages lawfully made, and according to the [3/4] ordinance of matrimony prescribed by God and Holy Church, the bond thereof can by no means be dissolved during the lives of the parties." [1] (1) Formularies of Faith (Oxford, 1825), pp. 91-2.] It is acknowledged again in The Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man (1543) in almost the same words, save that for "God and Holy Church" are substituted the words "God and the laws of every realm." [2] [(2) l.c. pp. 276-7.]

When the canons of 1597 were passed there was nothing contemplated as possible in respect of a supposed marriage except a sentence of separation from bed and board, or a declaration of nullity according to the old law; [3] [(3) Cardwell's Synodalia (Oxford, 1842), p. 154.] and the Canons of 1603, which simply repeat the language of the earlier set, in like manner assume the old law and take precautions for its observance.

The 105th Canon runs thus in the English version:

No sentence for divorce to be given upon the sole confession of the parties.

Forasmuch as matrimonial causes have been always reckoned and reputed among the weightiest, and therefore require the greater caution when they come to be handled and debated in judgment, especially in causes wherein matrimony, having been in the church duly solemnized, is required, upon any suggestion or pretext whatsoever, to be dissolved or annulled: we do straitly charge and enjoin, That in all proceedings to divorce, and nullifies of matrimony, good [4/5] circumspection and advice be used, and that the truth may (as far as is possible) be sifted out by the deposition of witnesses, and other lawful proofs and evictions; and that credit be not given to the sole confession of the parties themselves, howsoever taken upon oath, either within or without the court.

The 106th begins thus:

No sentence for divorce to be given but in open court.

No sentence shall be given either for separation a thoro et mensa, or for annulling of pretended matrimony, but in open court, and in the seat of justice.

The 107th is as follows:

In all sentences for divorce, bond to be taken for not marrying during each other's life.

In all sentences pronounced only for divorce [1] [(1) "Divorce" is used throughout these documents simply as the equivalent of separation a thoro et mensa; and in the phrase "sentences pronounced only for divorce, etc.," the word "only" contrasts such sentences with sentences of nullity--"for annulling of pretended matrimony"--to which the requirement of the canon would not apply.] and separation a thoro et mensa, there shall be a caution and restraint inserted in the act of the said sentence, that the parties so separated shall live chastely and continently; neither shall they, during each other's life, contract matrimony with and other person. And, for the better observation of this last clause, the said sentence of divorce shall not be pronounced until the [5/6] party or parties requiring the same have given good and sufficient caution and security into the court, that they will not any way break or, transgress the said restraint or prohibition.

In the first of these canons there is in the English version mention of marriages to be "dissolved" as well as of marriages to be "annulled." The Royal Commission on Divorce 1853 relies on this expression as proof that "marriage was not held by the church, and therefore was not held by the law, to be indissoluble." But the Commissioners ignore the Latin version, which is of equal authority with the English: and there the words are separari vel nullum pronunciari. And it is evident to any one reading the canons continuously that nothing is contemplated but separations from bed and board or declarations of nullity. There could be no rules made for dissolution of matrimony in the complete sense, for the church courts had no jurisdiction to grant such dissolutions.

Moreover the history of this Western canon law concerning marriage shows that this law of indissoluble marriage was in the most precise sense church law. With the greatest difficulty, in obedience to great Christian teachers--especially St. Augustine and St. Jerome--the Western Church, unlike the Eastern, had maintained the strict Christian principle at the time of what is called "the conversion of the Empire"; and again when it was nearly breaking down under the pressure of the new races, reluctant to [6/7] submit to so severe a law. It is indeed, as constantly appears in history, a law singularly hard to flesh and blood. Only the most resolute determination of the church succeeded in maintaining it, so far as it was maintained. When firmly established it was constantly evaded by the process of declaring marriages on various pretexts to have been null and void from the beginning. But the law that a valid marriage once made is indissoluble was maintained in principle, and passed on from the pre-Reformation Church of England into the church of the seventeenth century in the face of much adverse opinion.

The Sixteenth Century Reformers on the Continent held an opinion opposed to the principle on which the canon law was based almost with unanimity, and doubtless their opinion was prevalent among the Reformers in England. It is expressed in the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum, a document which represented, apparently, what Cranmer, Peter Martyr, and others would have made to be the new canon law of the reformed Church of England. In this document separation a mensa et thoro is abolished altogether, [1] [(1) See Cardwell's Edition (Oxford, 1850), p. 58, de adulteriis et divortiis. Cap. 19.] and divorce (with liberty for the innocent party to re-marry) is allowed for adultery, and also for desertion, prolonged absence, mortal hatred, and cruelty. [2] [(2) Cap. 5, 8, 9, 10, 11.] But the Reformatio never took effect. Its lax opinions did not affect the law of the [7/8] Church in England as the canon of 1603 witnesses.

Sir Lewis Dibdin has, I learn, supplied in evidence before the Royal Commission on Divorce exact and full historical considerations on this subject. I believe that, when his memorandum is made public, it will be allowed to have made it finally certain that neither the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum nor any other expression of current opinion ever affected the law of the land, and that the ecclesiastical courts which alone presided over matrimonial cases never had any other law to administer than the old canon law of the Western Church.

What we may call Protestant opinion, mostly in its milder form, prevailed no less widely in the Church of England after the issue of the canons of 1603 than before. It sanctioned or tolerated the private Divorce Acts which from time to time after 1551, and with greater frequency in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, exempted particular individuals from the general law, and dissolved, as far as statute could dissolve them, particular marriages.

In 1857 the Divorce Act was passed by which jurisdiction in matrimonial causes was transferred from the old ecclesiastical court to a new civil court, and divorce was sanctioned, with permission to re-marry, for adultery on the part of the wife, and adultery accompanied by cruelty, desertion, or certain other vices on the part of the husband. In its passage through the House of Lords, the archbishop and nine bishops voted [8/9] for the second reading, and only five voted "not content," though they almost all tried in vain--in committee and subsequently--to restrict the right of re-marriage to the "innocent party." [1] [(1) Having failed to secure their object the majority of the bishops (7 to 5) voted against the Bill passing on the third reading.] The majority of the bishops held the Protestant opinion in its milder form, and were not at pains to distinguish between their own opinions and the law of the church. But this was at a time when the corporate action of the church had been long suspended, and was only just revived. When it was revived--when the Convocations met again in 1852--the Tractarian movement had already begun to rekindle among Churchmen the sense of the distinction between the law of the church and the law of the state. This recovered sense has by this time affected the whole church; and, coupled with a growing perception that the modern state cannot be assumed to be distinctively Christian, it has produced an intense consciousness among Churchmen that they stand, as a church, upon the unaltered law of the church as it was in 1603, and that Acts of Parliament have had no effect upon it--that they have but made the law of the state different from the law of the church. [2] [(2) See the Report of the Lower House of the York Convocation (National Society, 1896).] It is true that the Lambeth Conferences, both of 1888 and 1908, passed resolutions which refrain from condemning the re-marriage of the innocent party after [9/10] a divorce for adultery, and recommend that the clergy should not be instructed to refuse the sacraments or other privileges of the church to a person so re-married under civil sanction. [1] [(1) More will be said on these resolutions.] But the Lambeth Conference is a conference which includes a large proportion of American and other bishops belonging to churches which formally admit of such marriages; and these resolutions have, of course, no power of themselves to alter our law. Also we may safely say that no attempt to alter it at the present would succeed in the English Convocations or Houses of Laymen. The law of the Church in England is, and remains, the old law, which affirms the indissolubility of marriage.

I am permitted to strengthen the position here maintained by quoting the conclusion of Sir Lewis Dibdin's evidence before the Royal Commission on Divorce.

"I think, therefore, the answer to the question whether the Reformatio Legum was acted on in matrimonial causes during the latter half of the sixteenth century must be in the negative. I confess I should have supposed that a mere recital of the regulations and penalties laid down in the Reformatio with regard to this subject would be enough to convince any one that it never was and never could have been a practical working code. There is not so far as I know, either in judicial records or in history, any trace of its ever having been acted on. But further, I venture to think that the fair result of an examination of the materials collected in this memorandum is [10/11] that the law of the Church of England as to the indissolubility of marriage and the corresponding practice of the Church courts remained unchanged throughout the period under notice, that is, from before the Reformation until after the present Canons of 1603-4 came into operation. The leading writers on ecclesiastical practice, the records of the ecclesiastical courts so far as we can consult them, the references to the subject in civil proceedings, the writings of public men of the day like Coke and Andrewes, the Canons of 1603-4, and last but not least the intervention of Parliament in order to dissolve a marriage, when that was really intended, all agree and all point to the conclusion I have stated. Side by side with this adherence to the old standards of law and practice there was, as has already been said, a widespread relaxation of opinion with regard to divorce, a change which was largely confined to an admission of the right 'according to God's law' of a man, who had divorced his wife for adultery, to re-marry. But there would also appear to have been a general slipping away from old convictions which probably produced amongst all classes vaguely revolutionary notions as to the nature and permanence of the marriage tie, notions which in that licentious and unsettled age men were not slow to put in practice."

The law of the Church in England, then, is the old canon law. But the question now arises--Ought this law to be altered? and to this question we must now address ourselves.



THE existing law of our church regards marriage as indissoluble. The question now is, Ought this law to be maintained, or on the other hand modified by the admission that marriage is dissolved by adultery, and that at least the innocent party in a divorce for adultery should be allowed to re-marry?

This question cannot be answered by appeals to expediency merely, one way or the other; nor even by an examination of what particular parts of the church at different times have "bound" or "loosed." For the church generally has believed that this was not a matter within its competence to decide. It has believed that it started on its career under a law of its divine founder; that on this central matter Christ Himself legislated. Thus, to go at once to the beginning, St. Paul writes to the Corinthians as if on this particular point he had no discretion, no judgment of his own to pronounce. On various points connected with marriage he gave his own judgment: "This I say by way of permission, not of commandment"; "To the rest say I, not the Lord"; "I have no commandment of the [12/13] Lord, but I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful"; "And I think that I also have the Spirit of God." [1] [(1) I Cor. 7 6, 12, 25, 40.] But on the subject of the marriage bond he writes: [2] [(2) 1 Cor. 7 10.] "Unto the married I give charge, yea, not I, but the Lord, that the wife depart not from her husband (but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband); and that the husband leave not his wife." This definite command of the Lord can apparently in St. Paul's judgment only be rightly applied to those married "in the Lord," that is to a Christian husband and wife. Where one of a heathen couple has been converted and the other not, the maintenance of the relationship (which in this case was not Christian marriage) is voluntary, in St. Paul's judgment. "But to the rest say I, not the Lord: if any brother hath an unbelieving wife, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And the woman which hath an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband.,, Yet if the unbelieving departeth, let him depart: the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases." [3] [(3) 1 Cor. 7 12-15.] St. Paul does not speak explicitly, but he has been commonly understood by the church to mean that the Christian partner, when the "unbelieving" partner departs, would be free to marry again--only now in the Lord. [4] [(4) See Goudge in loc. (Westminster Commentaries, Methuen, 1902), p. 56; and O. D. Watkins' Holy Matrimony (Rivington, [13n/14n] 1895), pp. 44I ff. To this latter book I shall be making frequent references.] It has been frequently, [13/14] argued [1] [(1) Thus the Confession of Doctrine of the Saxon Churches offered to the Council of Trent in 1551 (see Sylloge Confessionum, Oxford, 1827, p. 295) interprets St. Paul as sanctioning divorce with liberty for re-marriage (liberatio non tantum nomine, sed re) in the case of desertion. The reference is to this passage, and the permission is extended to Christian marriage. This extension has been commonly accepted by Protestant writers: see a recent instance in the Church Quarterly, July 1910, pp. 170-1.] by Protestant commentators and divines that this "Pauline privilege" can be extended to sanction divorce and re-marriage in the case of parties to an originally Christian marriage. But this seems to me to be quite an unwarrantable extension. Our Lord is represented in the Gospels as teaching His disciples specially on the subject of marriage. "He said unto them," i.e. the disciples alone; [2] [(2) St. Mark 10 10, 11.] "It was said to them of old time . . . but I say unto you." [3] [(3) St. Matt. 5 32.] St. Paul seems to conclude, reasonably enough, that His absolute prohibition of divorce does not apply to those who married with only a Jewish or pagan understanding of what was implied in marriage, and who agree finally to separate on one of them becoming a Christian. The Christian Church generally has accepted this conclusion. But the point is that St. Paul holds that this license does not apply to a marriage contracted under the obedience of Christ; and he repeats his statement of principle at the end of the section of his letter which deals with marriage problems: [14/15] "A wife is bound for so long a time as her husband liveth; but if the husband be dead, she is free to be married to whom she will; only in, the Lord," [1] [(1) See next paragraph] i.e. only to one who accepts with her the allegiance to Christ.

[1] [Footnote above: (1) 1 Cor. 7 39. It is true that in Rom. 7 3, when St. Paul is talking about a general principle of human law--viz. that it is concerned only with living people--and is illustrating his meaning by the marriage law, he uses similar language. He writes: "The woman that hath a husband is bound by law to the husband while he liveth; but if the husband die, she is discharged from the law of the husband. So then if, while the husband liveth, she be joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress." But the marriage laws, both of the Jews and of other nations, admitted exceptions to this obligation of the marriage tie. Why then, it is asked, may not St. Paul's language, in 1 Cor, 7 39, admit of exceptions, without specifying them? I should answer that the statement in 1 Cor. 7 39, might perhaps admit of exceptions, like the statement in the Romans, if it stood alone; and it does not touch the husband. But the earlier statement in 1 Cor. 7 10, 11 is so explicit that it cannot reasonably be held to admit of any exception.]

St. Paul then declares that a marriage contracted by Christians is contracted under an express "commandment" of Christ, which admits (St. Paul holds) of separation in case of necessity, but not of divorce and re-marriage during the lifetime of the parties.

Such an express commandment is recorded in all its strictness in two places in the Gospels.

1. (St. Mark 10 2-12):--

And there came unto Him Pharisees, and asked Him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting Him. And He answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And [15/16] they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. But Jesus said unto them, For your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, Male and female made he them. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh; so that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. And in the house the disciples asked Him again of this matter. And He saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her: and if she herself shall put away her husband, and marry another, she committeth adultery.

This passage is remarkably explicit. The law of, Deut. 24 1-4, restricting the existing custom of divorce but still allowing the husband to divorce his wife by formal and public act--by giving her a writing of divorcement--"because he hath found some indecent thing in her," had been interpreted in different senses. In the time of Herod the Great Shammai interpreted the permission to apply only to unchastity, while Hillel and his school gave it a very much larger scope. But our Lord treats this permission of divorce, however interpreted, as a temporary concession to the hardness of men's hearts, which he proceeds to abolish altogether. He recalls and confirms the fundamental idea and law of marriage as making the man and woman one flesh by a divine act which men must not attempt to [16/17] undo. And when the perplexed disciples ask Him again of the matter, He again lays down the strict law of marriage with the greatest explicitness.

2. St. Luke's Gospel contains the record of a similar saying of the Lord of the utmost explicitness (16 18):

Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth one that is put away from a husband committeth adultery.

These passages would precisely justify St. Paul's reference to the Lord's "commandment" of indissoluble marriage.

But the Gospel according to St. Matthew has two passages corresponding to those just quoted, and in both an exception is introduced. What account are we to give of these exceptions?

The church has given us the four Gospels with the other books of the New Testament as documents of the highest spiritual authority; has bidden us, in interpreting any passage from these books, have regard to the common mind of the church in which these books were written; and has refused to "expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another." It is not my business at this moment to justify this method of interpreting the New Testament, but only to say that I accept it, and will return to it shortly. But there is another method of interpreting the New Testament, from which we cannot, without unfaithfulness to truth, seek to exclude men; and that is the method of free [17/18] historical and critical inquiry, which approaches the sacred books as if they were any other ancient books, and admits no antecedent impossibility of contradiction between one passage and another. I would approach these passages in the first Gospel by this method first of all.

1. It has a section (19 3-12) based in the main on the section in St. Mark already referred to, which is as follows, the most significant peculiarities in the record of the first Gospel being given in italics:

And there came unto Him Pharisees, tempting Him, and saying, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? And He answered and said, Have ye not read, that He which made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the twain shall become one flesh? So that they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder. They say unto Him, Why then did Moses command to give a bill of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses for your hardness of heart suffered you to put away your wives; but from the beginning it hath not been so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: [and he that marrieth her when she is put away committeth adultery]. [1] [(1) These words in brackets are probably introduced from 5 32, and should not stand in the text. It should be noted that the words in St. Mark which contemplate the wife divorcing her husband are omitted in the first Gospel.] The [18/19] disciples say unto Him, If the case of the man is so with his wife, it is not expedient to marry. But He said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, but they to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are eunuchs, which were made eunuchs by men: and there are eunuchs, which made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

2. It has a saying (5 31, 32) which forms part of the Sermon on the Mount, and which is closely connected with the passage already referred to in St. Luke--for in both cases the saying, "It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fail," or its equivalent, occurs in the context [1] [(1) St. Matthew 5 18; St. Luke 16 17.]--and again the same exception is introduced.

It was said also, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, that every one that putteth away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, maketh her an adulteress: and whosoever shall marry her when she is put away committeth adultery.

Various expedients have been suggested to obviate what seems to be the plain meaning of these passages taken together.

Some lay stress upon variations of reading in the Greek text. But certainly they are not such as justify us in doubting that the first Gospel does really contain twice over the exceptive clause "saving for the cause of fornication" or "except [19/20] for fornication," and contains in chap. 19 the words "and shall marry another," which leave no doubt that divorce is used in such sense as covers permission to re-marry.

A few modern scholars have satisfied themselves that the word rendered "fornication" cannot mean adultery, but must be taken to mean only prenuptial sin; but I cannot think they have proved their point, and they have all antiquity against them. Others lay stress on the absence in 5 32 of any plain implication of remarriage after divorce; but there is no doubt about it in 19 9. On the whole I think it must be granted at least as most probable that the first Gospel represents our Lord as affirming the indissolubility of the marriage tie only with an important exception: that is, as sanctioning the husband (only) in putting away a wife guilty of adultery and marrying another.

Now it may be argued [1] [(1) It has been argued by the present writer in the Sermon on the Mount (Murray), p. 75.] that when, as here, you are dealing with different and equally authoritative statements of law, the statements which mention an exception must, as being more explicit, be held to define the more general and presumably less exact statements. This would be perfectly true, if all the passages were independent, and, so to speak, on a level--if they were really all equally authoritative [2] [(2) On the matter of the authority of the Gospels as given by the church, more will be said later.] from the point of view of the critical inquirer. But the critical examination [20/21] of the Gospels does not allow us so to treat them.

It may be said to be a certain conclusion of criticism that both the compiler of the first Gospel and St. Luke knew, and used, St. Mark's Gospel in practically its present form. Now, if we compare St. Matt. 19 3-12, with its source in St. Mark it will be observed that in the former Gospel the Pharisees' initial question is altered to suit the exception to be introduced later. To the question, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife?" are added the words, "for every cause," by which it is made practically equivalent to "Are you of the school of Hillel in the matter of freedom for divorce?" Our Lord's answer, if the exceptive words are admitted, ranks Him with the stricter school among the Jewish teachers, or puts Him somewhat in advance of them. [1] [(1) The school of Shammai would presumably have allowed as cause of divorce all "indecent" or "unchaste" behaviour.] But there can be no question that these additions to the Marcan account fundamentally alter its character and render it altogether less intelligible. Indeed the valuable addition which St. Matthew makes to the Marcan account, from some other source, expressing the astonishment of the disciples ("If the case of a man be so with his wife, etc.") is itself quite unintelligible, unless our Lord had been announcing some law of new and unheard-of strictness. Nothing short of the total abolition of divorce would be sufficient to account for the dismay of His disciples.

But besides St. Mark's record it is plain that [21/22] St. Matthew and St. Luke use in common at least one other document which appears to have consisted mainly of a record of our Lord's discourses or sayings. This was probably made by St. Matthew, and caused the first Gospel, which used it most abundantly, to be called "according to Matthew." Its contents may be gathered from the passages in St. Matthew and St. Luke which agree together but have nothing to correspond to them in St. Mark. This document is commonly called by the first letter of the German word Quelle, "the source "--Q. Now a saying of our Lord about marriage was contained not only in St. Mark but in Q also. The compiler of the first Gospel reproduces both passages. In the Sermon on the Mount he has introduced the saying about divorce from Q; but, again, it has been altered by the introduction of the exception. It is true that the original form of the saying is in this case uncertain: and that in the version given in the first Gospel the permission for the man to remarry after divorcing his wife for adultery is no. longer explicit; but it is probably implied. And again, looking at the matter critically, we cannot but conclude that the "interpretation" is a real departure from the meaning of the original.

What appears to be the case is that the first Gospel "according to Matthew" was compiled in some Jewish-Christian community, probably in Palestine, at a date which cannot be much later at any rate than the destruction of Jerusalem, and was based upon the Gospel of St. Mark and the (originally Aramaic) recollections of St. Matthew [22/23] as well as upon other materials. It would appear that in this Jewish community, where it originated, the old Jewish feeling had been allowed to assert itself so far as to modify in respect of marriage the original strictness of our Lord's command. [1] [(1) We note also that the clause in St. Mark, contemplating a wife taking action to divorce her husband, is omitted, probably as repugnant to Jewish feeling. The first Gospel concedes to the husband what it does not concede to the wife.] No doubt the exceptive clause as it appears in the first Gospel was believed to express the real intention of Christ--"what He must have meant." But it cannot be admitted that this was really the case. So serious an exception must have been expressed. The law with the exception is a really different law from the law without exception.

It must be added that the critical conclusion [2] [(2) As to the bearing of this conclusion upon the general trustworthiness of the Gospels, I have endeavoured to express my opinion as frankly as possible in a note appended to this chapter.] that the exceptive clause in the first Gospel is an interpolation, which really alters the sense of our Lord's original utterance about marriage, and that His real teaching is that given in St. Mark's and St. Luke's Gospels, represents an impressive consensus of scholars from Germany, France, America, and our own country--a consensus of scholars, moreover, who, as being mostly Protestants in conviction, were predisposed in favour of the laxer view of the marriage bond. Among our own countrymen the late Dr. Salmon, Dr. Plummer, Canon Goudge, [23/24] and Dr. Wright support this opinion. "I incline," says Dr. Salmon, "to the belief that we ought to accept St. Mark's account here as the most literal report of what our Lord said . . . and I believe that St. Matthew's addition was made in order to bring the precept into conformity with the usage of the church at the time his Gospel was written. . . . It seems now to me plain that the disciples understood our Lord to say, that it was not lawful to put away one's wife, even in the case of adultery." [1]

[(1) On the whole see S. L. Tyson's Teaching of our Lord as to the Indissolubility of Marriage (University Press, Sewanee, Tennessee, 1909), a full discussion of the Scriptural evidence. In Hastings' Dict. of the Bible, v. 27, Prof. Votaw gives a list of scholars holding the opinion expressed above. For the English scholars see Salmon, Human Element in the Gospels (Murray), pp. 391-4; Plummer, in the Exegetical Commentary (Elliot Stock); Archdeacon Allen, in the Internat. Crit. Commentary (Clarks); Goudge, in his Commentary on 1 Cor., Westminster Commentaries (Methuen), pp. 65 ff; Wright, Synopsis of the Gospels, p. 99, See also below, p. 27.]

Some of these scholars, who regard the exceptive clause in St. Matthew as an interpolation, still decline the conclusion that our Lord formally and decisively declared marriage indissoluble by the supposition that He was rather stating an ideal than a law. But the Christian Church from the beginning thought otherwise. In St. Matthew's account of our Lord's words the very insertion of the interpolated clause, "saving for the cause of fornication," twice repeated, shows that he thought of the words as enunciating an explicit commandment, such as at once becomes [24/25] a law, which must accordingly be fully stated with its presumed exception; and St. Paul's, St. Mark's, and St. Luke's records are not really compatible with any other conclusion.

We have been examining the different versions of our Lord's utterances about divorce, as they occur in the Gospels, critically; that is, by the application of the ordinary methods of literary analysis and historical scrutiny. We are bound to apply such methods to the Gospels as to any other documents. As the result of such critical examination we are certainly led to the conclusion that our Lord taught the indissolubility of marriage, and refused to sanction or allow divorce at all. We are driven to the opinion that the exception recorded in St. Matthew, "saving for the cause of fornication," is an exception which, if it means what it appears to mean, goes contrary to His mind.

But have we a right to be so bold? Are not all four Gospels given us by the church with the same authority? Yes, by the primitive church as the best and most authentic accounts which it possessed of what our Lord said and did. But if we defer to the authority of the church which gave us the Gospels, we must recognise the fact that it has not as a whole interpreted the passage in St. Matthew as sanctioning re-marriage after divorce in any case.

We shall discuss the teaching of the church and its interpretation of the Gospels in the next chapter. On the whole, we shall find that it is true to say that the primitive church, and the [25/26] later church with certain important exceptions, ignored the natural meaning of the first Gospel, and in the matter of the marriage bond interpreted that Gospel in the light of St. Mark, St. Luke and St. Paul.

You can, in fact, appeal to the Gospels as documents critically estimated, or you can appeal to the Gospels as given you by the church and interpreted by the church. Both methods of appeal appear to lead to the same result. The first method leads you to the probable conclusion that a gloss--intended to be explanatory of Christ's teaching, but really contrary to it--has been allowed a place in the first Gospel, but that in all the documents taken together His meaning shines out clearly--that marriage is to be regarded as indissoluble. The second method leads you to the conclusion that the church, which gave us the Gospels, gave them on the whole as teaching indissoluble marriage, and ignored the natural force of a single clause repeated twice in one of the documents. Criticism and authority converge upon one result.

There is at least one other instance in which, as it seems to me, the church has given us in the canon of the New Testament a document, the authorship of which is unknown, stamped as canonical by her authority, but, so to speak, on the understanding that one particular passage is not to be allowed its natural force. I allude to the Epistle to the Hebrews and to the passage in the epistle (6 6) about the impossibility of "renewing again unto repentance" those who, [26/27] after conversion and the full and conscious sharing in the privileges of the Christian body, have "fallen away." Our critical judgment tells us that those words taken by themselves deny what the Christian Church has refused to deny--the possibility of repentance and renewal for even the worst sinners. The church has given us this magnificent epistle with these words in it, but refuses to allow us with her authority to give them all their natural force. The epistle stands with her authority, and the words are explained in accordance with the general sense of Scripture.

We must then say about the exceptions in St. Matthew that, whatever the original meaning of the exceptions, the church has on the whole interpreted them in the light of the plainer language of the other documents, and criticism justifies her doing so by its own different process of literary analysis.

But we must now consider whether this is a true statement of the mind of the church.

ADDENDUM.--To note 1, p. 24, add, "See also Mr. Streeter in Oxford Studies in the Synoptic Problem (Oxf. 1911), p. 222, and Archd. Allen, p. 275, n 1."

In confirmation of note 1', p. 19, see Oxf. Studies, p. 133. Harnack, Sayings of Jesus (Williams and Norgate, 1908), p. 260, gives the original in Q as "Everyone who divorceth his wife maketh her an adulteress, and whosoever marrieth her that is divorced committeth adultery" (cf. pp. 57-8).



What has been said above on certain passages in the first Gospel raises the question of its trustworthiness, and indirectly the trustworthiness of the Gospels generally, and I wish therefore to explain my belief with regard to them.

Every time that I have given fresh study to the Gospels, or any considerable part of them, I have risen from my study with a deepened conviction of their trustworthiness as historical documents, and of the fulfilment of our Lord's promise (St. John 14 26) that the Holy Spirit should be present with the apostles to preserve a faithful memory of His teaching.

This trustworthiness of the Gospels depends partly on considerations of authorship. I think that we can rely upon it that St. Mark wrote the second Gospel, St. Luke the third Gospel, and St. Matthew made the memoirs (Q) from which the matter common to the first and third Gospels is derived, and which are preserved in greatest fullness in "the Gospel according to St. Matthew." I am also unable to doubt that St. John the Apostle wrote the fourth Gospel. These were plainly men who had the best opportunities of giving an authentic history of our Lord, and I accept their records as trustworthy in the highest degree. I believe, for instance, that St. Luke strictly fulfilled the intention of his preface. I would give the synoptic records the first place, and use St. John's Gospel as supplementing them in important ways and correcting them at certain points, admitting at the same time a considerable element of idealism in the fourth Gospel, which colours a record substantially historical.

[29] With regard, however, to the "Gospel according to St. Matthew," we are bound to think of it as compiled out of St. Mark and the collection of St. Matthew (Q), but as containing also independent material which we cannot trace to its sources, the whole being the work, not of St. Matthew, but of an unknown compiler writing not very long after the destruction of Jerusalem (A.D. 70). For the independent portions of the first Gospel, therefore, we rely upon an unknown collector of traditions.

But the trustworthiness of the Gospel narratives is inferred partly also from intrinsic evidence. Thus, St. Matthew 6 1-18 is (apart from the Lord's Prayer) without support in the other documents; but it is none the less a trustworthy record of a discourse of our Lord. It cannot, we feel, be due to any one but Him. The same is true of the parables, such as the Unmerciful Servant, the Labourers in the Vineyard, the Two Sons, the Ten Virgins, the Judgment Day.

The trustworthiness of other parts of the record is guaranteed by what we may call the agreement of results. Thus, the substantial accuracy of the record of our Lord's foundation of the church (16 18) and the bestowal of powers upon St. Peter and upon the church (16 18, 18, 28 18-20) is guaranteed by the plain fact that the church was from the first regarded as the church of Christ possessing such powers. This could not have been without the direct action of Christ Himself; just as the primitive belief in the Holy Spirit postulated some such discourse of our Lord as is given in St. John 14-16. Again, markedly independent as are the first two chapters of St. Matthew, the fact of chief importance to which they bear witness--our Lord's birth of a virgin mother--is supported by the otherwise totally independent narrative of St. Luke 1, 2, and by the intrinsic evidence that the two narratives come the one from the mother herself (St. Luke), the other (St. Matthew) directly or indirectly from Joseph.

[30] But there are certain points at which the first Gospel appears to be discrepant with the earlier records, or to be independent and open to reasonable doubt. Thus, in St. Matthew 21 2-7, 26 15, (cf. 27 3-10) 27 34, the influence of a passage from the Old Testament, quoted as a prophecy, has apparently affected the earlier record which the writer was using, and details--in the first case "the ass," in the second the "thirty pieces of silver," in the third the "gall"--are introduced which are without support in the Marcan narrative. Again, there is a case (12 40) where an explanation is introduced of "the sign of Jonah," which the parallel passage (St. Luke 11 29,30) seems to show to be a gloss and probably a misinterpretation. There are also certain incidents, especially the resurrection of the dead saints (27 52-53) and the setting the watch upon the tomb (27 63-66, 28 11-15), which have a doubtful appearance in themselves, and are unsupported in the other records.

The first Gospel, in fact, gives us the fullest and richest collection of the best material, and so is the most glorious of all the Gospels, but it seems to contain also a small amount of material of a more doubtful kind. Of this kind we should judge the famous exceptions to the law of indissoluble marriage to be. They occur only in St. Matthew; they are out of harmony with the earlier records and with the witness of St. Paul. We must refuse to build upon them, or to allow them to over-ride the earlier records.

This is no doubt to treat the Gospels generally, and St. Matthew in particular, critically. I can only say that the confidence which I believe we may feel in the truth of the gospel, depends upon the courage of our criticism of the Gospels. We must dare to test them frankly as historical documents, though our judgment upon them, as upon all other documents, cannot but depend in great measure upon presuppositions about God and man which affect our sense of what is probable or possible. And [30/31] if we are prepared to accept, on good evidence, the occurrence of miracles, we shall not be much influenced by the verdict of scholars, however able, who plainly are not so prepared, but are "bound" to explain away the supernatural somehow. A readiness to believe is a condition of receiving the evidence.

Of course we must recognise that we cannot regard the Gospel narratives as infallible and faultless in detail. But I am thankful to believe that we are under no obligation so to regard them. This is a burden which the church never formally and decisively bound upon us in the past; and it is one we could not now bear.

When we have once convinced ourselves that we are free to examine and also free to believe, we shall grow to feel the greatest confidence in using the Gospels, not as absolutely without error of detail, but as documents of the highest trustworthiness.

No doubt there are very many people who have neither leisure nor faculty for critical study. It can be pursued for them by those who have the gift for it, and who should be left free to pursue it. But those who take the Gospels on trust without inquiry, as the books of the church, should read them in the light of the mind of the church, which may not "so expound one place of Scripture that it be repugnant to another."



IS it the case that the church has consistently or generally held that Christian marriage is an indissoluble bond which even adultery does not abolish?

That was certainly the mind of the primitive church--the church of the first three centuries. The Christian Church came out into a world which gave the largest possible license for divorce, especially by mutual consent without any cause assigned. A number of deeds of divorce--written on papyrus--have been recently discovered in Egypt and published, in which, for example, two persons, exactly described, register an agreement "to the effect that there is dissolved the mutual union which had brought them together in accordance with the contract of marriage; and that they neither make nor will make any claim against one another regarding any matter whatsoever"; the woman "acknowledges the receipt of the dowry of silver owed by" the man "and the super-dowry"; and it is specified that the woman "may go away and marry as she will." Sometimes no reason is [32/33] assigned, sometimes the separation is ascribed "to some evil influence," and in one late instance. (sixth century) it is regretfully mentioned that the union had been entered into "with good hopes," and in the belief that it would last "for all the period of the life of both of them." [1] [(1) Milligan, Greek Papyri (Cambridge, 1910), p. 43.]

Into such an atmosphere of facile divorce, with the fullest freedom of re-marriage, the Christian Church came out. It knew itself to be set to be "the salt of the earth," under a higher than human law--"the laws of our Master and Lord." Thus it confronted the world boldly with a social and domestic life based on the principle of indissoluble marriage. I will cite the earliest and most explicit statement of the principle from The Shepherd of Hermas, [2] [(2) Pastor, Mand. 4.] who wrote probably about A.D. 140, in Rome.

"Sir," says Hermas, addressing the Shepherd, the messenger of repentance, "suffer me to ask you a few questions.

"If a man had a wife and he discovered her in adultery, does the man sin by continuing to live with her?"

He replies. "So long as he is ignorant he does not sin. But if the man has come to know of her sin and the woman does not repent, but remains in her fornication, and the man continues to live with her, he becomes guilty of her sin and a partaker of her adultery."

"What then, sir, I say, is the man to do if the woman continue in this state?"

"Let him put her away," he says, "and let the [33/34] man remain by himself. But if after putting away his wife he should marry another, then he too is an adulterer."

"But if then, sir, after he has put away his wife she repents and desires to return to her own husband, shall he not receive her?"

"Yes," he says, "if the husband will not receive her he sins and draws a great sin upon himself. The penitent sinner ought to be received back, not however again and again, for to the servants of God there is only one repentance. It is to give opportunity for repentance that the man ought not to marry. . . . On this account was it enjoined upon you [after any separation] to remain by yourselves, whether it be man or woman; for then there is opportunity for repentance." [1] [(1) Hermas goes on to extend the idea of "adultery" to spiritual adultery, i.e. idolatry; and some later authors follow him in this extension. Obviously, so long as divorce does not cover liberty of re-marriage, it is not necessary to define it strictly.]

This plain statement by Hermas is corroborated from Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Tertullian, the Apostolical Canons, the Council of Eliberis, and other sources within the period before the Conversion of Constantine. [2] [(2) The passages are all given in Watkins' Holy Matrimony, pp. 178 ff., and discussed at length, pp. 198 ff: The "Apostolical Canons" are of somewhat later date as a whole, but this particular one (47) expresses the clear mind of the church before it was perplexed by imperial laws.] There does not, within this period, appear clearly the suggestion that Christ had allowed of the re-marriage in any case of divorced persons, if they had been married as Christians. Origen indeed mentions in his [34/35] commentary on St. Matthew [1] [(1) On St. Matt. 19. Watkins, pp. 186-8.] a case in which certain bishops had allowed a divorced woman to be married while her husband was alive. The passage occurs in an extremely ascetic context, in which he is treating a second marriage after a husband's death, and even marriage at all, as a concession to human infirmity, "because of the hardness of your hearts." He gives the case referred to as another instance of such a concession. Presumably, the woman was the innocent victim of a husband's wickedness. We are not told whether he was a Christian--a detail which might make all the difference. Origen, however, is disposed to consider the concession as perhaps tolerable "by comparison with worse things"; but he speaks of it as "contrary to what is written"--quoting 1 Cor. 7 39 and Rom. 7 2--"contrary to what has been from the beginning ordained and written." Then, after speaking of the exception in St. Matthew's text on which he is commenting, he makes it plain that he does not conceive that any sanction for such re-marriage can be ascribed to Christ: for he concludes, "As the woman is an adulteress, even if she seems to be married to a man, while her former husband lives, so also the man who seems to marry a divorced woman does not so much marry as commit adultery."

The whole passage is very obscure. I am not sure that Origen may not mean that the words of our Lord in St. Matthew allow an innocent husband to re-marry after a divorce for adultery, but [35/36] not a wife in any case. But certainly there is no clear passage to set against the consent of the witnesses belonging to this period to the principle of indissoluble marriage. St. Matthew was commonly treated as the principal Gospel, but his famous exceptions were apparently interpreted in the light of other Scriptures, and he was regarded as sanctioning putting away, but not re-marriage.

At the end of the period occurred the Edict of Milan (313) and the end of persecution. Henceforth the world pressed into the church, in large measure unconverted in spirit; and totally refused to make the moral effort needed to rise out of the system of easy divorce, such as was sanctioned and continued to be sanctioned by the law and custom of the Empire, to the severe law of Christ. In the Eastern region, where the church was perilously implicated with the Empire, the world had, on the whole, its own way with the marriage law. Great Christian writers indeed, like Chrysostom and Basil, affirm the indissolubility of marriage, but there are signs of weakening. These great authorities insist that the law of Christ is over man and woman equally. A husband's commerce with any other woman than his wife--and not only with a married woman--should be reckoned adultery; and a wife should not be called upon to tolerate an adulterous husband any more than the husband an adulterous wife. The divine command presses equally on husband and wife. So they insist. But human laws, remarks Gregory Nazianzen, [36/37] have been made by men, and therefore women suffer injustice. Thus custom and law, severe upon a woman, demand greater freedom for a man; and most of the Easterns recognise that the full principle of Christ cannot be applied. Thus St. Basil acquiesces--with remonstrances--in the church admitting not only the re-marriage of an innocent husband who has divorced an adulterous wife, but the re-marriage of a guilty husband whose wife has refused to live with him. And Chrysostom, while he emphasises for the woman the indissolubility of marriage, seems to admit that, for the husband, the wife's adultery dissolves marriage, and the husband is no longer a husband. Theodoret appears to agree, and Epiphanius to admit divorce not for adultery alone, but other causes. In the end the Eastern Church so far controlled the imperial legislation as to put an end to divorce simply by mutual consent; but, on the other hand, settled down simply to accept the imperial legislation admitting divorce, with liberty of re-marriage, for adultery, presumption of adultery, desertion, captivity, insanity, high treason, the entrance of one party into the monastic state, and other causes. [1] [(1) See Watkins for the whole of this paragraph, pp. 227-244, 294-316, corrected as regards Basil and Chrysostom by Tixéront Histoire de dogme, Paris, 1909, p. 192.]

It has been customary to support such a restricted admission of re-marriage after divorce for adultery as is expressed, for instance, in the resolutions of the Lambeth Conference [2] [(2) See below, pp. 49-50.] by [37/38] appealing to the authority of the Eastern Church; but the Eastern fathers who can be quoted plainly for the view that there is one only cause which admits of divorce and re-marriage, viz. adultery, and then only in favour of the innocent party, and who ground this view on the exceptive clause in St. Matthew's Gospel, are not many. It is much truer to say of the Greek theologians that they considered themselves compelled to abandon the strict law of the Gospel in view of imperial laws and a lax public opinion among Christians. Certainly the length to which the Eastern Church has gone in allowing divorce and re-marriage deprives our Anglican divines of all right to quote its authority.

But the Western Church was in a freer position. It was less under the shadow of the imperial court and the imperial system. It could more easily maintain its own ground, and, in fact, it did so consistently and courageously. Ambrose, Jerome and, after some hesitation, Augustine--with the greatest distinctness and precision--and all the later Westerns maintained the indissolubility of the marriage tie, and refused to admit re-marriage in any case. [1] [(1) They show themselves as zealous as the Easterns to maintain the principle that the man and the woman are equal under the Christian law.] They show themselves, of course, thoroughly conscious of the difference between the divine law and the civil law in this respect. The only considerable Western writers who allow the husband to dismiss an adulterous wife and marry another are [38/39] Lactantius and the writer known as Ambrosiaster. [l] [(1) Watkins, pp. 244-288, 316-342.]

When, in the fifth and following centuries, the barbarian invaders who flooded the Empire were brought into the church, it was hard indeed to maintain any standard of discipline over their strenuous lusts. Concessions were sometimes made. A few local councils in the fifth and again in the eighth century sanctioned divorce, with re-marriage, either in the single case of adultery, or for other causes. Even one of the Popes--Gregory II. A.D. 726--allowed a man to marry again if his wife was "taken with infirmity." But the Western Church recovered itself quickly from such momentary lapses. The Christian law, as collected by Gratian (about 1140) in his Decretum, was declared to render marriage indissoluble: "The bond of marriage cannot be dissolved by fornication"; "Marriage, once validly contracted, cannot be dissolved in any way." [2] [(2) Ibid. p. 373.] If human laxity was henceforth connived at, it was by the expedient of declaring marriages, on various pretexts, to have been null and void from the first.

In our own country Theodore of Tarsus, in the seventh century, brought with him to Canterbury the lax ideas of the Eastern Church; and, though the standard he would have established in the English Church was not as low as what had prevailed in the British Church in the last period of its independent history, [3] [(3) Ibid., pp. 411-423f.] he would have [39/40] allowed divorce, with re-marriage, for a variety of causes. But his ideas, as expressed in his Penitential, did not take effect, any more than Cranmer's in the sixteenth century. He himself, at the Council of Hertford (673), consented to establish the Western standard of indissoluble marriage in England; and though his Penitential left some traces on one or two documents of the seventh and eighth century, the Western standard prevailed from that date, and without exception or controversy from the Norman Conquest till the Reformation, and in spite of opinions to the contrary down to 1859, when the laws of state and church diverged.

On the whole, reviewing the record of the mind of the church, we must say that it yielded at certain moments to the current standard of the world, and admitted within its communion a practice with regard to marriage below what Christ (on any showing) can be held to have countenanced. This was the case in the Eastern Church from the fourth century onward; it was the case sporadically in the lowest periods of the Western Church, especially in the British Church. But such concessions were confessedly contrary to the mind of Christ, and went distinctly beyond what the church, which depends on Christ, had authority to make.

Besides this, some few teachers (before the Reformation period) have held, on the authority of St. Matthew's Gospel strictly interpreted, that divorce, with re-marriage, was permitted by Christ Himself, but only to an innocent spouse of an [40/41] adulterous partner, or only to the innocent husband of an adulterous wife. But on the whole the church, while reverencing St. Matthew's Gospel with a profound reverence, has declined the full and natural interpretation of his words. It has treated them as ambiguous; and, like St. Augustine, has interpreted the first Gospel in the light of the rest of the New Testament. In other words, where the Christian Church has not manifestly deserted the guidance of our Lord under the pressure of human passion, it has, on the whole, maintained the law of Christ to be, as St. Mark, St. Luke, and St. Paul state it, the law of indissoluble marriage.

I do not propose in these chapters to review the history of Protestant opinion. But it is necessary to point out that the view based upon the strict interpretation of the first Gospel, viz. that our Lord allowed divorce, with re-marriage, for one cause only and to the innocent partner only, is a view which has chiefly belonged to Anglican divines. Foreign Protestants, quite unjustifiably claiming the Pauline privilege, as it was called, [1] [(1) See above, p. 14.] have mostly declared for liberty of divorce in cases of desertion as well as adultery; and indeed the lax opinion of foreign Protestants was represented in the proposals of the Reformatio Legum, which were discussed above. On this Sir Lewis Dibdin says:

"Attention has already been drawn to the extreme opinions of the section of the Reformers who were undoubtedly chiefly concerned with its [41/42] actual compilation. It is easy to see how naturally they would be led on by their emphatic repudiation of the sacramental view of marriage as a divinely appointed symbol of the relation between Christ and His Church, and therefore indissoluble, to disown this indissolubility and then, under the pressure of practical considerations, to allow one exception after another to the old rule of theoretic rigidity. Another set of changes made at this time as part of the revolt from Rome, abolished a great many of the old rules as to forbidden degrees of consanguinity and affinity. These elaborate and highly artificial rules produced a system under which marriages theoretically indissoluble, if originally valid, could practically be got rid of by being declared null ab initio on account of the impediment of relationship. This relationship might consist in some remote or fanciful connection, between the parties or their godparents, unknown to either of them until the desire to find a way out of an irksome union suggested minute search into pedigrees for obstacles--a search which somehow seems to have been generally successful. The disappearance of this machinery for what was virtually divorce, left the difficulty to which its development had been due, demanding solution in some other way, and must have furnished another powerful incentive to the men of that age to adopt the direct course of declaring divorce a vinculo possible under certain circumstances. It is not at all surprising that the Reformers should seize on the doubtful and always disputed case of adultery as a ground for complete divorce and should range themselves on the side of those who considered that our Lord permitted re-marriage at any rate to the innocent party. Speaking [42/43] generally the English Reformers seem to have stopped at this point. But as we have seen, the scheme of the Reformatio Legum went much farther. It is suggested that the real inspiration of this portion of the code came from the foreign Protestants, whose influence in Edward VI's reign in the changes then made or proposed, is notorious, and has already been noticed."

It remains to restate the conclusions which have been reached in these chapters, and to apply them to the present situation.



OUR inquiries have thus far led us to three chief conclusions:

1. The present law of the Church of England, which is not enacted but presupposed in the Canon of 1603, is the law of indissoluble marriage, i.e, the law which admits in extreme cases of the separation of the parties "from bed and board," but not in any case of the re-marriage of either party during the lifetime of the other. This conclusion has been confirmed by the learned evidence of Sir Lewis Dibdin, given before the Divorce Commission.

2. As a mere matter of evidence it is in the highest degree probable that this law of indissoluble marriage simply reflects the intention of the divine Founder of our religion. If, apart from the question of traditional interpretation by the church, the documents of the New Testament are critically examined, we reach the conclusion that it is in the highest degree probable that Our Lord forbade divorce to His disciples altogether; and that the exception "in the case of fornication," which appears to be [44/45] admitted in the first Gospel, represents an inconsistent interpolation which has found its way as a gloss into Our Lord's original utterances. By this it is not meant that it did not originally stand in the text of the first Gospel, but that that Gospel, being drawn up under Jewish influences, accepted the original utterances of Christ (which had been preserved pure in the two earliest documents, St. Mark and Q) with a gloss which, was in accordance with Jewish prejudice, but which is really inconsistent with the intention of Christ, and which betrays its true character, on its second occurrence, by being ill-adjusted to the context in which it appears.

Dr. Sanday is reported in his evidence before the Royal Commission to have said:

There were two distinct questions: (1) Did the use by Our Lord of unqualified language on one occasion absolutely preclude the possibility that He should have used qualified language upon another? and (2) Did the recognition by Christ of a lofty and unqualified moral ideal of necessity prevent a Christian State from legislating (as it were) upon a lower level? He felt compelled to answer both questions in the negative. [1] [(1) See the Times of November 22, 1910.]

Postponing the second point for a few moments, I should say that there is no probability that either of the passages in St. Matthew, as compared with those in St. Mark and St. Luke, represents an utterance of Our Lord "upon another occasion." The passages in St. Matthew represent the [45/46] utterances and the occasions represented in St. Mark and St. Luke. But each utterance is given in the first Gospel with the exception introduced, and all the probability is on the side of the view that it was not in the originals.

I think then we must conclude that it is in the highest degree probable that Our Lord prohibited divorce to His disciples absolutely. And, as against those who would say that He was only stating an ideal and not promulgating a law, I should urge that His saying was never understood except as a commandment addressed to the Christian conscience such as must form the basis of a specific law; and indeed the treatment of Our Lord's words in the first Gospel, by the introduction of a detailed exception, show that they were in fact regarded as a specific commandment.

3. The record of the mind of the church, as expressed in legislation and commentary, shows that on the whole the church has regarded itself as under a divine law of indissoluble marriage. It has "explained" the passages in St. Matthew in the light of the plainer utterances of St. Paul, St. Mark, and St. Luke. There have certainly been a few teachers in the fourth century and more in later times, especially in the Anglican communion, who have appealed to St. Matthew to justify divorce and re-marriage in the single instance of adultery, and only in favour of the innocent party or the innocent husband; but the authority of the church which can be quoted in favour of this (single remission of the strict law [46/47] is comparatively very slight. When the Eastern Church abandoned the strict law under pressure of imperial legislation, it was in favour of a laxity much wider than any version of Christ's words can justify. So it was with the Celtic Churches. So it has been with Protestant opinion, as represented in the scheme of the Reformatio Legum in England. And modern social opinion shows no signs of being satisfied with the single remission. Even our existing statute law of divorce allows (what Christ's words as reported in St. Matthew do not allow) the re-marriage of the guilty party.

From these premises what conclusion ought we to draw--

(i) as to what it is competent for a national church or province of the church to do?

(2) as to what we of the Church of England ought to do?

(3) as to what the British Parliament ought to do?

(1) The "binding" and "loosing" power of the Christian Church or of any part of it is of course not absolute. It can act only in application, and not in contravention, of the will of its Master. On any reasonable construction of His words, even as reported in St. Matthew, He expressly prohibited divorce, with re-marriage, to His disciples, "except in the case of fornication." Thus we cannot but believe that the license taken by the Eastern Church to allow divorce, with [47/48] re-marriage, for a variety of causes, exceeds the power which the church possesses. This free sanction for divorce, in contravention of the solemn directions of our Lord, would be, unless repealed, a great hindrance to reunion, if the formal restoration of communion between the Western and Eastern portions of Christendom were otherwise possible.

We must say the same of the permission given by some Protestant bodies to re-marry on the plea of desertion. The so-called "Pauline privilege" has, as has been argued above, no application to marriages among those already Christians. It is not within the competence of a Christian church to allow re-marriage to the deserted partner of a Christian marriage.

But, in view of the exceptive clause, twice repeated in St. Matthew's Gospel, and the interpretation which it most naturally bears, and has been recognised as bearing by eminent authorities, it cannot, I think, justly be denied that it is competent for any part of the church to admit the principle that adultery does, potentially at least, dissolve marriage in such sense that it enables the innocent husband, by public judicial process, to divorce an adulterous wife and to marry again; and though it is probable, in view of the Jewish origin of the first Gospel, that it was not intended to give a like liberty to a wife to divorce an adulterous husband and re-marry, it can hardly be denied that the church which can grant this liberty of divorce and re-marriage to the man, can grant [48/49] it also under like circumstances to the woman. One who holds the opinion expressed in these chapters would strive to the utmost to persuade any part of the church to maintain or to re-establish the law of the absolute indissolubility of marriage as the church in general has accepted it, and as our Lord seems really to have proclaimed it. But he will not deny that at the last resort a church can adopt the law with the one exception, without exceeding the ultimate rights of a church.

If this is so, any part of the church might, without exceeding its rights, either decide to celebrate with religious rites the second marriage of a man or woman who had divorced an adulterous spouse, or might regard it as a marriage so undesirable as to forfeit the celebration of religious rites, but not as a marriage prohibited by Christ or by the church, and therefore not such as to cause those who contract it to forfeit the status of communion.

This is precisely the position represented in the Resolutions of the Lambeth Conference (1888 and 1908), which were as follows:

I. "That, inasmuch as our Lord's words expressly forbid divorce, except in the case of fornication or adultery, the Christian Church cannot recognise divorce in any other than the excepted case, or give any sanction to the marriage of any person who has been divorced contrary to this law, during the life of the other party."

2. "That under no circumstances ought the guilty party, in the case of a divorce for [49/50] fornication or adultery, to be regarded, during the lifetime of the innocent party, as a fit recipient of the blessing of the Church on marriage."

3. "That, recognising the fact that there always has been a difference of opinion in the Church on the question whether our Lord meant to forbid marriage to the innocent party in a divorce for adultery, the Conference recommends that the Clergy should not be instructed to refuse the Sacraments or other privileges of the Church to those who, under civil sanction, are thus married."

(2) But, though we allow this, we maintain the better way, and we would have the church in England hold fast to the law of the church as it has stood hitherto and stands to-day for us, viz. that marriage once validly contracted is indissoluble, except by the death of one of the parties, in such sense as admits of either of them contracting another valid marriage. It seems to me that the temptation which has beset the church at various times to make compromise with current opinion, should not be found strong to-day; for it is evident that current opinion will not be satisfied with any compromise which it is possible for us to offer; and it is further evident that the hardship involved by the principle of indissoluble marriage in the case of the man whose wife becomes a lunatic, or weak in health in such a way as makes the marriage relation impossible, or in the case of the deserted wife, or of the wife of a cruel husband, is at least as great as in the case of the husband or wife of an adulterous partner. [50/51] Separation without re-marriage is possible in all these cases. And it involves no hardship in the one case more than in the others. Our duty as Churchmen is to adhere to the law of indissoluble marriage, which has the enormous practical advantage that it alone is plain and explicit. And we must demand from Parliament (at the least) the recognition of the church's law, and freedom for its exercise within the church; that is, freedom to refuse to re-marry with the rites of the church those who have been divorced, in all cases, and liberty to maintain our own discipline in the matter of communion, about which a word will be said directly. We ought not to be left in this matter, even for a few years more, in the position--the quite needless position--of being compelled in certain cases to choose between our duty to the church and to Christ (as we believe) on the one side, and obedience to the law on the other. Whatever happens in the region of the state law, this conflict is quite needless, and should be brought to an end at once. Let the legislation of 1857, and any subsequent legislation by Parliament affecting marriage, be declared explicitly to have regard only to the civil contract, and to leave the law and action of the church with regard to marriage totally unaffected. We must hope to win this good result at least from the Divorce Commission.

The question however arises whether, if we hold steadfastly to our marriage law and refuse to re-marry any divorced persons, we can with due regard to consistency of principle accept the [51/52] advice of the Lambeth Conference and admit to communion, after whatever period of discipline, the "innocent party" in a divorce for adultery who has re-married, with the partner in the new marriage. The recommendation of the Lambeth Conference does not of course alter our law unless we take steps to alter it in accordance with this recommendation. And our law is based on the conclusion, which our inquiries have shown to be after all the true conclusion, that Our Lord declared re-marriage after divorce, without any exception, to be adultery. This has been the general principle of the church: and upon this principle our law is based. It is the conviction which has been growing in my mind that consistency with our own principle ought to lead us to give plain notice to the members of our church that our law gives no sanction whatever to re-marriage after divorce, and that those who contract such marriages forfeit the privileges of church communion, without its being within the competence of any bishop or other minister to restore them. It has seemed to me, more and more clearly, that on this matter, while the first necessity is that the church should maintain only what is true and justifiable, the second necessity is that it should be also as explicit and intelligible as possible.

It is one thing to maintain that a national church or province of the church can, without exceeding its ultimate rights, admit the one exception to the principle of indissolubility. It is another thing to maintain that the individual [52/53] member of a church which upholds the principle without exception can violate the law which has the greatest weight of Christian authority behind it, and is the law of the body to which he owes allegiance, and still claim the privilege of communion. I hold that for the sake of all we had better reassert the principle of indissoluble marriage and abide by the consequences.

(3) What will be the attitude of one who accepts the position at which we have arrived towards the marriage law of the English state?

It is certain that our Lord, when He spoke of marriage, was laying down a law for disciples and believers--a law for a church, to be enforced only by spiritual sanctions, and made practicable only by spiritual assistance. It is certain that when the church went out into the Roman and Greek world, it went out knowing that the law of the church and the law of the state with regard to marriage were, and would remain, totally different. It cannot therefore be taken for granted that the church law and the state law must coincide at any particular period of history. The results of the establishment of Christianity--by which we mean a state of things when the whole of a nation or empire accepts the Christian or church law as its own, and decrees that a man can be a good citizen, and exercise the rights of a citizen, only so long as he lives by the law of the church--the results of establishment have been very different at different epochs. But in our country the epoch of establishment in this old sense is manifestly over. No thoughtful man can [53/54] say that a man must be a Churchman or a Christian in order to be a full citizen. And as the law of marriage is one of the precepts of Christianity most difficult to flesh and blood, we can hardly be surprised if our mixed modern society, full as it is of the elements of revolt, is unable to accept it. In fact, the present statute law of England, the Divorce Law of 1857, diverges completely from the Christian law as the Church of England maintains it, and in one respect--in admitting the re-marriage of the guilty party--from the law as the Lambeth Conference conceives it.

What then ought to be the attitude of the members of the church towards the law of the English state?

First, we ought to demand of the state liberty within our own communion to live by our own law. There is no doubt what the law of the church is. There is no doubt that the representative assemblies of the church to-day would demand its maintenance. If there is any doubt of this, let it be put to the test. If the present mind of our Convocations and Representative Church Council be plainly for maintenance, let us require, even peremptorily, that our churches should not be used for marriages that are contrary to our law, and that we be left free to exercise our own discipline. Let us make it plain that there is no other discipline in religious matters that we can acknowledge.

Secondly, let us throw all our influence as citizens into resisting any proposal to relax the [54/55] existing allowance of divorce by the state. I do not think the evidence given before the Royal Commission will have led men to believe that the working-classes are widely anxious for an alteration of the divorce law, or indeed are troubling very much about the matter. No doubt this indifference is due to what is bad among them as well as to what is good. But indifference on the whole there appears to be. [1] [(1) See next paragraph] On the other hand, the evidence given will probably have convinced a great many people that the alteration of the present law would be like the letting out of water; and that the moral well-being of the country will be best served by maintaining the law at its present level while we may.

[From above: (1) Cf. the words of a shrewd observer who has much intimate knowledge of the workers. "The recent agitation for greater facilities of divorce is nominally in the interest of the happiness and morality of the poorer classes, but it is difficult to believe at once in the far-sighted intellect and disinterestedness of the agitators. Among fairly well-paid, respectable, conscientious, and rational working men and women divorce laws make little practical difference. Among the ill-paid, ignorant, or vicious, facility of divorce could only lead to greater immorality, and weaken the too feeble hold that ideas of the sanctity and permanence of the marriage tie have ever gained on them. One underlying belief of the men who advocate cheap and easy divorce appears to be that decent domestic life could be produced by 'regularising the unions' now existing in many debased and miserable homes. They disregard the fact that in a very large proportion of cases the family life of the submerged could not be 'purified' by divorce, for the painfully sufficient reason that the persons concerned are not married, or entirely refuse to allow themselves to be hampered by that condition" (The Common Growth, by M. E. Loane, pp. 285-6.]

There are those who eagerly pass resolutions [55/56] asking for the abolition of divorce altogether--in such sense, that is, as admits of re-marriage. It is of course possible that the opinion of the country might change for the better. At present the abolition of divorce is not a practicable proposal. If it were seriously brought forward it would do nothing so certainly as stir all the elements of resistance, so as probably to overturn what remains of the Christian standard in national law.

So long as the law of marriage remains what it is in England to-day, the church can continue to recognise as valid marriages the marriages contracted with civil sanction before the registrar, where they are not contrary to the church law. Any subsequent religious ceremony is the benediction of a marriage already valid, and not its celebration. But it must be pointed out that the church recognises the validity of civil marriage from the Christian point of view, only on the condition that the intention of civil marriage is properly monogamous--the lifelong union of the one man and the one woman. It seems to me very doubtful whether in some States of the American Union, where divorces are most easily granted, such a properly monogamous intention can be assumed to exist at all.

Meanwhile the minds of men in all classes of society are in a condition of great uncertainty as on other subjects, so on the relation of men and women. It is not clear whether the bulk of our English society is moving towards Christ or away from Him, or whether it is as a whole [56/57] moving at all. What is quite certain is that this is an age when any clear and reasonable conviction, maintained without arrogance and without fanaticism, whether on a matter of faith or moral conduct, produces a great impression and exercises a wide and deep influence. Let our church be really the guardian of national morals, not by trying to enforce through civil law more than the common conscience can endure, but by bearing, faithfully and strenuously, within her own fellowship the witness of Christ--as on other matters, so specially on the sanctity of the home, based on the principle of indissoluble marriage.


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