Obrázky na stránke

savage instincts and passions of conquerors, they have stooped likewise to the gentle sacrament of marriage; they have acknowledged the nuptial bond as one, holy, and indissoluble, out of reverence to that of which it is a copy, as they date the years of their reign from the Incarnation; for amid war, conquest, and all its interminable train of violences on one side and of suffering on the other, the nuptial bond has been ever held before their eyes by Rome, the great centre of moral light, from which the Christian law radiates, whose Pontiffs have so protected the feeble, and so charmed the strong, through those centuries of strife, that alike in the halls of these kings, now become Spanish, French, English, or German, from the countries which they have occupied, and in the cottage of their serfs, one wife alone is recognised, in rank her husband's equal, whose place cannot be taken by another during her life.

Then comes a period of full five hundred years wherein these new-formed monarchies have entered into a stable alliance with the Church older than themselves, whose missionaries have converted them, whose bishops sit as their hereditary counsellors, building up their realms as bees their hive. The law of the State runs parallel, as it were, with the law of the Church. They are kings in the nation, but likewise most favoured sons in the house of God; as temporal benefactors, defenders, patrons, they have special power and influence with the common Father; and more than once they have used the utmost power which their sovereignty and its alliance with the Church could exert, in order, if it might be, to corrupt the judgment of that Father in the affairs of their domestic life reserved to his cognisance. A queen slighted without cause by her husband flies for restitution of her conjugal rights to the chair of universal justice at Rome; another, wrongfully divorced, fears to be supplanted by a younger and fairer rival; a third has to defend the sterility of her marriage against a husband greedy for heirs: but in all such instances, repeated again and again, never do the Sovereign Pontiffs consent to sacrifice the indissoluble bond of marriage for fear or for reward. It stands recorded to their honour that they preferred to suffer a powerful kingdom, and still more powerful race destined to dominion, to break from their obedience, rather than they would surrender the right of one deserted wife; for in her right lay the right of all wives, and the sanctity of all marriage.

And this period too has passed, and another ensued, far different in all its tendencies. It is not now that Christian kings only, or only the rich and noble, seek for privileges in their own case incompatible with Christian law, but society as such strives to emancipate itself from obedience to any law but one self-imposed; and that not a law of Christ, but a law of its own, which it would make for itself,—a law with parts gathered from Paganism, with parts retained from Christianity, the end of which, as it conceives, would be social ease and comfort, material wealth, and worldly prosperity. It is the age of humanity rising up in its own strength, with the resources bestowed on it by centuries of Christian faith and practice, against any thing which is above itself, when what it calls law is but the expression of general will, neither the command of One reverenced as superior, nor the choice of One loved as good. Before this spirit of self-will, which assumes the guise of liberty, and sweeps over modern nations as the flame over the prairies, the Church maintains still the self-same law of marriage, as the last defence of the weak against the strong, the last rampart of the family and of society against their invaders. What nobler instance of her defence could be found than when, sixty years ago, the man who embraced in his single person the power and genius and more than the will of Cæsar and Alexander, who was besides the symbol and embodiment of his age, called upon the Sovereign Pontiff to annul a marriage made by his brother, as too humble for his own soaring ambition? In the face of all that power, genius, and self-will, Pius VII. himself examined the circumstances of the marriage, and declared that it was impossible for him to annul it. The Sovereign Pontiff was once more seen proclaiming that no seduction and no threat could induce him to dissolve a legitimate marriage, though the mightiest ruler on earth was the postulant, and a Protestant of humble degree the wife assailed. *

We have now passed rapidly over a period of more than eighteen hundred years, through four entirely different states of society, and we have seen the Church equally maintaining the sacrament of marriage, its unity, sanctity, and indissoluble bond, in the face of the Roman despotism, under an often crushing persecution, in the face of northern conquerors, amid the ruin of civil institutions, the license and anarchy of violent change, before her own Christian sovereigns, her sons, patrons, and defenders, and before a civilised Europe, half hostile and half alienated. We saw that when she began to do this, society, by the confession of its ablest representatives, the rulers and thinkers of Rome, had no help in itself, no device or wisdom whereby to restore a ruined morality, and all the broken affections of the family. To complete the demonstration look around, and outside of the one Church you will find no civilised nation, no uncivilised tribe of man, in possession of the complete Christian marriage, in its unity, sanctity, and indissoluble bond. The Turkish Mahometan is a polygamist. Is he an affectionate husband, a tender father, or a faithful brother? Do not the cities which he found rich and populous dwindle into villages, and the villages become deserts; and have not the most fertile countries been struck with barrenness beneath his feet? Is not the beautiful Ionian climate itself a desolation under his rule? And is not this the first generation in four hundred years, if indeed it be the first, when his reigning family has not been polluted with its own blood? The Hindoo, the Chinese, both in possession of a most ancient civilisation, are polygamists. Can any one look into their domestic life without horror? The Jew is settled in all the countries of the world, and wherever the law of the land in which he sojourns will permit it, he may be, as far as his own law is concerned, a polygamist and a divorcer. So much for civilised man who is not Christian. If we go to the uncivilised, we find the old heathen abominations still prevailing. But the proof does not stop here. Take nations who consider themselves to be in the van of civilisation, to be marching onwards at its front to all the conquests of science and art, whose boast is self-government, whose pride is freedom, but who have rejected the gentle rule of the Church. What do we see? We see them one and all incapable of maintaining the perfect Christian marriage, its unity, sanctity, and indissolubility. Already three centuries

* See the Letter of Pius VII, to the Emperor Napoleon, June 27, 1805, summing up the doctrine of the Church on marriage, the occasion being the marriage of Prince Jerome with Miss Paterson, Rohrbacher, Histoire de l'Egliso, xxviii. 54-58.


very patriarchs of the revolt met in council in order to allow a princely adherent, who dutifully laid before

« PredošláPokračovať »