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TO THE MOST REV. DR. MANNERS,
PROTESTANT ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY, AND PRDATE OF ALL ENGLAND.
THE QUESTION OF THE DIVORCE BETWEEN GEORGE IV. AND HIS
MAYNOOTH COLLEGE, Dec. 2, 1890.
In patriam populumque fuxit. --HORACE.
Fruitful of crimes, this age first stained
Y LORD - During the late portentous proceedings which
bave awed public curiosity, your Grace and episcopal colleagues stood out in too prominent an attitude, not to
attract and fix observation. As the question of divorce embraced much of ecclesiastical polity, it was naturally expected that the faithful would be enlightened by the wisdom and confirmed by the accordance of the hierarchy. But, alas! these anticipations have been sadly frustrated, and the surprise and disedification that were feebly murmured among the Lords have been long since loudly re-echoed through the empire.* It has been a subject of regret to some, of triumph to others, and of wonder to all, to see the heads of a religion which hinges on the principle of the universal intel
• Witness among others the speech of my Lord King, who sported a good deal of mirth and raillery at the expense of the premier, until his seriousness was restored by the shock which his faith had sustained in the collision of the prelacy.
ligibility of the Scripture, arrayed in adverse ranks on a momentous question, involving in its general tendency the best interests of mankind, and in this particular instance, the safety and the honor of the empire ; disputing every inch of ground with Scripture authority, and thereby demonstrating to the world the obscurity of the sacred volume. For I will not- I cannot, my lord, suppose that any unworthy bias or flexibility to power could warp the judgment of men of such exalted station and sanctity. And hence, one cannot sufficiently express his indignation against those rash advocates of the Bible, who cannot defend its perspicuity without impeaching the integrity of its expounders. Hitherto, whatever might be the opinion of the prelates, they uniformly affected the language of orthodoxy and concord, and like the ancient philosophers, though they might inwardly disbelieve, they exteriorly reverenced the doctrines of the Church. But on this occasion they scandalized the faithful, and edified the sectary, by sincerely revealing the mysteries of their own disunion.
I have heard, my lord, of the distinction of essentials, by which the lovers of subtlety, more than of truth, have thought to elude the arguments of their adversaries. It will not, doubtless, be recurred to on this occasion, nor will it be deemed presumption to assert, that there is nothing essential in Scripture, if the doctrine of marriage does not form an essential point of Christian morality. It is not a speculative article, on which one could be supposed to err without danger, and propagate his errors, without affecting the public repose. It is a duty of every day's occurrence, connected with the happiness of almost every individual ; nor have the ministers of the establishment themselves aspired to such unearthly sanctity, as to be exempt from its obligations. It is, therefore, of vast importance to know whether the marriage contract lasts for life, or only during the discretion of the parties; and whether we are to believe, with his lordship of Chester, that its ties are indissoluble, or, with your Grace of Canterbury, that adultery annuls its engagements.
On reading the report of your Grace's speech, I was not a little surprised to find a minister of Christ principally resting on the obsolete laws of Moses. However, it may appear consistent enough, that they who have ahjured the living authority of the
Church should appeal to the fallen power of the synagogue. Still, I would expect from your Grace, that connected and enlightened view of legislation which mounts to the origin, and catches the spirit of the law, flinging aside its exceptions, and not the heavy drudgery of a darkling critic, who fastens on a detached part, without comparing its effect with the symmetry of the whole. It is true, as appears from Deuteronomy,* that divorce was tolerated by the law of Moses. But did this permission originally enter into the views of the legislator; or was it not rather extorted by the stubborness of a people, whom it was necessary to conciliate by indulgence to a compliance with the law? Hence the practice of divorce was not so frequent among the Jews as it is generally, but erroneously imagined. Hence it was uniformly marked as a licentious advantage which was taken of the letter against the spirit of the law, and denounced by those who were raised up by the Almighty, to enforce its observance or punish its infraction. I might illustrate the truth of these assertions by a reference to the purest period of the Jewish history. However, I shall content myself with citing the following passage of Malachy, which marks the indignation of the Almighty against this odious practice : "And this again have you done; you have covered the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and bellowing, so that I have no more a regard to sacrifice; neither do I accept any atonement at your hands. Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, whom thou hast despised; yet she was thy partner, and the wife of thy covenant.” | It is true, indeed, that towards the decline of the Hebrew republic the permission given by Moses had grown into a pernicious practice. But this relaxation may be traced to another cause. When we consider that the dispersion of the Jews introduced to their acquaintance the profane wisdom of the East; and that hence they mingled more freely with the nations, it will not be surprising if the purity of the law should have been adulterated by a mixture of exotic commentary. Then arose the celebrated schools of Hillel and Samaiah, of whom the latter confined the privilege of divorce to adultery, while the former abused the flexibility of the text to an indefinite latitude of passion or caprice. The Sanhedrim was divided by the credit of * Chap. xxiv.
+ Malachy, ii, 13, 14.
these doctors ;* and we are told that until the time of our Redeemer, the controversy still trembled between the alternations of either party.
I have asserted that the liberty of divorce granted by Moses was rather the effect of necessity than the spontaneous dictate of his wisdom. Such is the interpretation of Christ, who, while He explains the law of Moses, unfolds and propagates His own. And the Pharisees coming to Him, asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife ? tempting Him. But He answering them, saith to them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses permitted to write a bill of divorce and to put her away. And Jesus answering, said to them, Because of the hardness of the heart he wrote you that precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife. And they shall be in one flesh. Therefore, now, they are not two but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together let not man put asunder.” | I should now appeal to the candor of the unprejudiced, and ask what is the doctrine clearly conveyed in this language. The Pharisees ask Christ whether it is lawful for one to send away his wife. To obviate cavil and to defeat that hostile spirit which so often lurked under a pretended reverence for the law, He asks what did Moses tommand. Then, after showing that divorce was an imperfection which originated in temporary circumstances, He ascends to the origin and develops the primitive institution of matrimony, showing its indissoluble connexion from the creation of only one of either sex - & connexion, if we are to believe the apostle, 1 which shadowed His own mystic union with His Church ; and concludes by proposing this original compact, instead of the permission of Moses, as the positive standard of His own law.
I should now ask if the solitary text of St. Matthew & be sufficient to weaken the force of this reasoning ? "But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: And he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.” St. Luke agrees with St. Mark, and what determines the controversy, the apostle, f expressly
* Selden Uxor Ebraica, Lib. III, ch. xviii, xx, xxii. Ephes. v. $ St. Matt. v. • St. Luke, xvi.
+ St. Mark, . s Cor. vil.
in the name of Christ, prohibits marriage even in case of separation. What canon of criticism, then, can warrant us to bend the evidence of three clear and consistent testimonies, mutually supporting and illustrating each other, to an interpretation of an ambiguous passage which is at war with the express principles of the legislator? But if there is an apparent ambiguity, the Catholic interpretation makes it accord with the tenor of the other evangelists. The Catholic Church authorizes divorce, or rather repudiation, in case of adultery
- a practice evidently warranted by the first part of the text of St. Matthew. Yet she teaches the indissolubility of marriage, a doctrine clearly deduced from the second part, compared with the other evangelists ; nor shall I exhaust the patience nor insult the understanding of my reader by showing the violence that is offered to language in qualifying an absolute member of a sentence with a forced or fancied exception.
However, as if to satisfy the scruples and appease the pruriency of the grammarian, we are told that after this discourse with the Pharisees, Christ was again consulted on the same point by His disciples, to whom He was in the habit of clearly explaining what He denied to the treacherous curiosity of His enemies, or only darkly delivered in mystery and parable. To them He thus solemnly addresses himself: "Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery.". Such, my lord, is the conclusion of Christ himself upon that important occasion when He undertook to instruct the future teachers of His Church. And hence I am justified in expressing my surprise that the exception of an imperfect and abrogated law should be converted by a Christian prelate into the rule and practice of a perfect dispensation.
And now, my lord, permit me to lay before you another proof of the truth of Catholic interpretation in the demoralizing effects of the contrary doctrine. How different the idea of marriage in the Catholic and Protestant religion. In the one we behold a contract exposed to all the waywardness of inclination and caprice; and in the other a sacred connexion subsisting for life, exalted by religion, and instead of being at the mercy of the passions, subduing and chasten
• St. Mark, ..