Page images
PDF
EPUB

--This prohibition was sanctioned by St. Ambrose, who declared such marriage contrary to the divine law. St. Augustine admits the divine law does not forbid the marriage, but justifies the prohibition as necessary for the maintenance of public decorum. By the 10th canon of the Council of Arles, A. D. 538, and 31st of the Council of Autun, second cousins were prohibited. By subsequent canons the prohibitions were enlarged so as to include fourth cousins; and the mode of computation according to the canon law being substituted for that of the civil law, added several degrees. In these facts we see the disposition of the church to extend the prohibitions; and the approbation by the most eminent Fathers of the ancient church of an extension of them, now acknowledged universally not to be maintainable: the one pronouncing this extension to be according to the divine law, and the other declaring it necessary for the maintenance of public decorum. All these laws and canons extending these prohibitions, even the remotest, like our Confession on this point, professed to be grounded on xviiith Leviticus, and to be mere declarations of the degrees prohibited by that chapter. The fact, that some of these prohibitions have been universally abandoned, proves the disposition of the ancient church to amplify the Levitical law on this point, leading it into manifest error. The cause is the same which gave Paul so much trouble in preserving his infant churches from adopting the law. It has always been a favorite plan to do works, and in the letter go beyond the letter. Ceremonial purity, abstaining from marriage, will-worship, things that God never commanded, neither entered they into his mind :-- these have always been favorite substitutes for evangelical piety. It was the natural inclination and reasoning of men, taking the law for their rule, to augment holiness by stretching its requirements or going beyond them. To enlarge God's law, was to abound in the merit of obedience. In the View” before referred to is the following passage citing Grotius: “It has been surmised, that in the first ages of Christianity, the ardor of the Gentile proselytes was not satisfied by a tacit renunciation of their Pagan customs which tolerated marriage condemned by the Levitical text; and that being desirous of manifesting to the world the superior purity of their new profession, by a corresponding sanctity of life, their zeal in reprobating those alliances which they were taught now to view with abhorrence, led them to carry the opprobrium of incest beyond the limits with which the Hebrew nation was satisfied, or SECOND SERIES, VOL. IX. NO. I.

22

which were required by more civilized societies for the maintenance of public decorum.”

The laws and usages of Protestant Christendom (the part of the Old World where the reformation has prevailed) are liable to exception of the same nature as those of the ancient church. We have adverted to the influence of that church running into the reformation, through the power of opinions long entertained and associated with every thing deemed holy, to escape from which was motive strong enough to drive the Pilgrim fathers from the comforts of civilized life, and settle them in a savage wilderness. We could not suppose that the rank and vigorous growth of error, where it had struck its roots deep and wide, would ever be wholly eradicated. We have seen the Protestant church more than one hundred years after the reformation insisting, with unyielding pertinacity, upon prohibiting a degree forbidden now by no canonical table. Even the Pilgrim fathers could not divest themselves of the influence from which they fled. Besides, there were strung circumstances to rivet errors on this point. Henry VIII., one of the most wicked of men and powerful of monarchs, had become weary of his amiable but sickly wife, Catharine of Arragon, and had fallen in love with one of her maids of honor, the beautiful Ann Boleyn. To marry the one he must divorce the other. He seized upon the pretence that Catharine was widow of his brother, who had married her at the age of sixteen, and died in a few months afterward. This matter had been deliberately and solemnly discussed, and determined in favor of the marriage of Henry with Catharine. The Pope refusing to grant him a divorce, he separated from the church of Rome, which he had zealously defended, and placed himself on the side of the reformation which he abhorred. Determined upon a divorce, he applied to the universities of Europe, and obtained their answer that it was not agreeable to the law of God for a man to marry his brother's wife. This answer is cited by the reviewer as authority to sustain the decision of the General Assembly. It is wonderful, in this country and age, that authority can be accepted from such a source. As well may the judgments by which Ann Boleyn's head was cut off, by which Sir Thomas More was led to the block, by which another queen was beheaded, and another divorced, and the best blood of England was shed, all by solemn decisions of competent tribunals, under the influence of this unyielding man of power, be adduced as precedents for the promotion of truth, charity and holiness. But

these proceedings have another bearing upon this subject. The reviewer

says, “ From the reformation to the present time the general law of Christendom has remained unchanged:"-(by Christendom still meaning the Old World under the reformation, to the exclusion of this country.)—These proceedings show, that in the dawn of the reformation, extraordinary power was in operation to settle in a particular manner, for a special, wicked purpose, the great and commanding point relied on in the discussion before the General Assembly.—This point was, that it was unlawful to marry a brother's widow, and therefore unlawful to marry a deceased wife's sister, being relationships of the same nature and degree: the inverted argument being just as good, it is unlawful to marry a wife's sister, therefore a brother's widow. Accordingly we find a statute of Henry VIII., in which the wife's sister is expressly inserted as a forbidden degree, and in the case in which this point was finally settled in England, in opposition to a precedent opinion most elaborately formed upon consultation of all the judges, this statute was cited by the chief justice as conclusive. It is deserving of observation, in order to understand the character of the times, that it is cited as the reason of this statute, “ that many inconveniences have fallen by reason of the marrying within the degrees of marriage prohibited by God's law;" when by another statute four years afterward the inconveniences that had been experienced are recited to have arisen from the interposing of“ other prohibitions than God's law admitteth.” There was a convocation of the English clergy, and two hundred and fifty-three were in favor of the divorce, and only nineteen against it. What the influence of Henry was in respect to these proceedings may be understood from the fate of the great favorite Wolsey, who failing to effect the divorce, was ruined: the distinguished patron of learning, the most eminent statesman of his time, a cardinal of the church, a man of consummate ability and unbounded wealth, utterly destroyed. Under such circumstances, the determinations referred to, not only are divested of all power to convince us; but it is made manifest, that the law has been settled in the Old World upon the very point in discussion, under the strongest sinister influences. With respect to the opinions of the foreign Universities, we cannot be ignorant, that the influence of so powerful a king as Henry VIII., whose alliance was courted by the highest monarchs in Europe, could make itself felt in those institutions as well as in England; and besides, the learned doctors in those

universities had all been educated in the church of Rome, and bad a full persuasion of the right of the church to expound and fix the meaning of the word of God. To understand what probability there was, that these men would lay aside their professions arising from enlarged construction of the Levitical text, which they had imbibed with their first impressions in the matter, and make up opinions upon the plain, unadulterated word, we refer to another article in the same number of the Princeton Review. There is this passage-" It is indeed a fruitful source of error and its perpetuation, that men are ever more prone to follow a leader than to pick their own way, to pin their faith upon a particular author rather than think for themselves. This is especially the case in schools, where the teaching falls into a beaten track, in which it remains until admonished, that the world has moved on and left the college far behind."-So that, after all, the charge of innovation is not so decisive against our laws, and when taking the ground, " from the reformation to the present time the general law of Christendom has remained unchanged”—the reviewer might with propriety have deemed this country within the limits of Christendom, and excepted every state but one of our Union from the scope of his assertion.

We think it manisest, that in the pursuit of truth in this case, the precedents relied upon are not safe guides. Neither the early records of the ancient church, the apostolic constitutions, nor the laws and usages of Protestant Christendom (confined to the Old World), deserve confidence. We must learn by the word of God, what that word is. We admit,

We admit, “we ought not,” as the reviewer insists, “ to approach the investigation of the Scriptures on this subject, as though we were searching for something which ought not to be there." But we positively deny his position, “that the reverse is true.” No one can doubt that it is perilous to truth, to approach this investigation of the Scriptures, searching for something which ought not to be there. The churches have standards, and to exalt their credit, maintain, that they exactly conform to the word of God; it then becomes the purpose of investigation to establish this conformity. The doctrinal part of the Confession of Faith is remarkable for its soundness : upon full debate the English Parliament readily concurred in it; but they had good grounds for not agreeing to other parts, and, among these, the chapter of Marriage and Divorce. It is believed that the whole difficulty of this subject has arisen from a determination to find in the Scriptures what is

plainly expressed in the Confession. Men have been educated in such reverence for the Confession, that they will not allow themselves to hesitate on this point. For the doctrinal part, setting forth the great gospel truths of salvation, we sympathize in this reverence; but we are confident there is no ground for it with respect to the exposition of the law of marriage and divorce: the Parliament was right in referring this subject to the law of the land : for it is matter of law. The position of the Confession is, “ The man may not marry any of his wife's kindred nearer in blood than he may of his own, nor the woman of her husband's kindred nearer in blood than her own.” This proposition is not in the Bible; nor only so, no proposition can be found in the Bible, bearing resemblance or analogy to it. The consequence is, that those whose prepossessions will not suffer them to give up this sentence, are reduced to the necessity of searching the Scriptures for something not expressed there; but because expressed elsewhere, to be found there unexpressed -understood, as the grammarians say; but at any rate to be found there. Hence we have labored arguments, pages upon pages, volumes to prove that to be the law of God, which if it were the law of God, would be written in a short verse. All this labor, all this learning put in requisition to make out that marriage is prohibited with a deceased wife's sister, by words which neither mention, nor allude to a deceased wife's sister. The verse most insisted upon as containing this prohibition (Lev. 18: 16), “ Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy brother's wife; it is thy brother's nakedness,” is particular, explicit and unequivocal; meaning a brother's wife and nothing more; precisely defining that special relation and nothing else. No two things are more distinct and unlike to perception and expression than the wife of your brother, and the sister of your wife. It is absurd to say the expression “brother's wife" either means or alludes to “ wife's sister ;” any person intending to convey the meaning of “ wife's sister," or to be understood as alluding to her, could not make use of the single phrase "brother's wife.” The expression “daughter-in-law” occurs in this chapter, the expression mother-in-law” occurs in another of the books of Moses, and the expression “sister-in-law” is found in the book of Ruth: if in this verse of Leviticus, the intention had been to express sister-in-law, would not the proper term have been employed? The other verse referred to for aid to make out this prohibition (Lev. 18:17), “ Thou shalt not

« PreviousContinue »