To The Most Reverend Father in God , by the grace of God Archbishop of Canterbury, one of his Majesty’s most Honorable Privy Council, Chan- cellor of the University of Oxford, Primate of all England, and Metropolitan.
M ay it please your Grace to understand, that although it may seem presumptuous to present the following Treatise to you, being as little known to your Grace as I am ; yet I am persuaded of good reasons which lead me to presume this once upon your Grace’s goodness.Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury.
Firstly, your Grace’s immediate Predecessor had already held this Treatise in his hands many years ago *, in his keeping as long as he wished ; and then when he saw fit, he approved of the book being published at my discretion. I chose not to publish the work just then, while in the middle of another opportunity, and then it pleased God to take him from his earthly labours and trials, and install another man in his position and office. That change of office is not what led me to change my course now, although it is true that there is a juster reason to publish now, than there was previously.John Whitgift, Abp. of Canterbury. * 1595 AD
Secondly, the recent debates on divorcing for adultery make it clear that there is demand to see my work published today ; but everything on this topic must be reviewed by those whose office it is to offer censure. Since my work had already gone through most of the review process, now seemed the right time to complete the course, submit it unto you, and to await your Grace’s censure.
It may even be a godly policy to take stronger steps for resolving the present crisis, which was caused by an excessive indulgence granted to the recent flood of books. And if books need to be suppressed, then so much better that it is your Grace that God has chosen for this time.
God long preserve your Grace among us, to the glory of God, to the good of his Church, & to your own comfort in him.
July 3. 1610.
Your Grace’s most humble in the Lord,
Unto all those who are already entered, or will hereafter enter into the holy estate of wedlock, Edmund Bunnius wishes all the Christian graces ( such as those needed for everyone in his own proper Calling ) ; and especially here, to rightly understand the force which the marital bond should have among us, and what strength we should see in it.
I f it were still doubtful to anyone how strong is the corruption of our nature, and how often it comes to pass that in many things we can hardly conceive of that which were sound and right indeed : while this were obvious in many other cases, yet we need go no farther than the matter at hand : namely how few there are who can see how strict & indissoluble the bond of wedlock is, once it were rightly joined together.
2 The Hebrew Fathers of old, even prior to the Law being given, already knew of the truth of that holy ordinance, and how it pleased God to ordain it from the beginning : of man and wife to make but one ; and that he ordained of only two to make up this unity which he spake of. Yet as history plainly shows, not only the common people but even the betters among them did not consider that bond to be very strict, and many of them did take several wives. Notwithstanding of which, it must needs be true that they recognized, and could not omit that therein they swerved clean from the direction that God had given them, and from the pattern of life which he left for them under it.Gen. 2. 21. 14. Abraham, & Sarai, Gen. 16. Jacob & Laban. Lea & Rachel. Gen. 29. 17. 30. and 30.3.4-9.10.
3 Afterward, when the Law was given to those who followed them, although God’s teaching were made a great deal plainer, yet those men also found no more improvement than their forbearers who lived prior to the new light being shed on the issue. They were the very ; the Law was given in their own mother-tongue, and the Text itself must have been very plain unto them ; some ( we may hope ) were diligent in the study of it, with an unfeigned desire to know the word, and in the fear of God. Yet it appears that they did not apprehend the true doctrine of matrimony which we speak of. Curious and careful they were in many things of lesser importance, which they might have omitted without any breach of the law of God ; but their diligence & watchful study of all those Books, words, syllables, letters, characters, even in the counts and number of words, never ( for all we know ) led them unto a clear apprehension of the true nature of matrimony.
For instance, consider . 24. 1.—
כִּֽי־יִקַּ֥ח אִ֛ישׁ אִשָּׁ֖ה וּבְעָלָ֑הּ וְהָיָ֞ה אִם־לֹ֧א תִמְצָא־חֵ֣ן בְּעֵינָ֗יו כִּי־מָ֤צָא … בָהּ֙ עֶרְוַ֣ת דָּבָ֔ר וְכָ֨תַב לָ֜הּ סֵ֤פֶר כְּרִיתֻת֙ וְנָתַ֣ן בְּיָדָ֔הּ וְשִׁלְּחָ֖הּ מִבֵּיתֽוֹ׃ ( When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house… ) ( ESV )Deut. 24. 1.
In a text like this, ( I speak of the original Hebrew, and not of some false English translations recently spread among us, ) Moses makes mention of a practice among the Hebrews of putting away their wives upon dislike, and marrying again. He ( I say ) only mentions it, and says nothing at all of approving, disapproving, or allowing it unto them ; yet the Hebrew scholars during the time of Christ claimed that this text plainly permitted the freedom to divorce at will. There is a big difference between merely describing a practice, and the allowing of it, and in other questions the Hebrew scholars would have quickly discerned even lesser and daintier distinctions than this. Even the Text itself encouraged them for the right building up of doctrine, its very words repulsing them from that interpretation of theirs.Mat. 19. 7. Mat. 10. 4.
Or consider . 18. 18., another verse which the scribes had claimed as permitting of divorce:—
וְאִשָּׁ֥ה אֶל־אֲחֹתָ֖הּ לֹ֣א תִקָּ֑ח לִצְרֹ֗ר לְגַלּ֧וֹת עֶרְוָתָ֛הּ עָלֶ֖יהָ בְּחַיֶּֽיהָ׃ ( And you shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, to afflict her, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive. )Lev. 18. 18.
4 Here the text has an impression of being open to their interpretation, that the prohibition against multiple wives applies only in some cases, but not in all. The words prohibit of marriage to one’s wife’s sister, which they interpret as serial marriages being permitted, so long as the women are not sisters. But if the text had been better considered and conferred with other passages, they would have found that its more likely sense was to have forbidden men who already had a wife, to proceed to marry another.
First, to interpret the passage as prohibiting of marriage to sisters seems to be no part of its meaning ; the preceding verse already forbids it to marry the brother’s wife, which would equally disqualify marrying the wife’s sister. But even our passage adds that such a marriage would afflict the woman in uncovering her nakedness, which would least of all apply to sisters, from the intimacy that already exists among those who are so near as sisters. The limitation, while her sister is still alive, can have no other meaning ( without some forced construction upon it ) , than what we here speak of ; just as the preceding law of the brother’s wife is set down without any limitation, so here we are likewise forbidden to marry again without any limitation ; until after death.Leviticus 18. 16.
That this should be the interpretation of the passage is much more likely, in that it so fitly agrees with the institution of Marriage that had been established from the Beginning. While polygamy in the general sense is not addressed in the Law of Moses, there is a statement of its prohibition to the kings, at 17.17. Now to a king, this ( if anything ) should have been allowed, from which it were simple to reason, that if it were forbidden unto kings, how much more were it forbidden unto everyone else.Deut. 17. 17.
It may be objected that the phrase, a sister, could seem strained if women in general were intended ; but there is no such strain in the original Hebrew, where it is a common idiom : a men swearing an oath brother to brother, b curtains that are brothers with each other, c a pair of wings joined as sisters, and d soldiers who do not push or jostle their brothers. In all these verses and in many others, as noted by Montanus, Tremellius, and Junius, the Hebrew words for brother and sister are used for where we would say one another ; especially for things which are in pairs or couples.a Gen. 26. 31. b Exod. 26. 3. c Ezec. 1. 9. & 3. 13. d Joel. 2. 8. Arias Montanus. Imm. Tremellius. Franciscus Junius.
From these instances it is remarkable that the old Hebrew fathers ( in all their scholarship and inquiries ) had never discovered their Polygamy to be forbidden, notwithstanding the creation and establishment of wedlock at the very Beginning itself, and even the grammatical rules of their own language ; any careful consideration of the Text would strongly disagree with them, and repulse them from the interpretation which they would give it.
5 After this time of the Hebrew fathers, a greater light of understanding had been bestowed among all peoples in various fields of learning, and among some in the knowledge of the Gospel. And yet in questions of Matrimony, we today have been almost as blind as they. We proclaim quite freely that it were allowed unto the men in the Scriptures to put away their wives, and marry again ; and leave no doubt but that Christ himself in one case also allows it. And we lean so much unto the acceptance of divorce, that many of us are almost persuaded that re-marriage is also nowhere forbidden unto us. Wherever such men may gather these beliefs, they yet will never find them in the Scriptures, notwithstanding the help which our age provides in the knowledge of the original Hebrew and Greek itself, and the diligent scholarship of weighing the Text, and conferring the verses, one with another ; where the controverted passages ( such as, of taking sisters in wedlock ) especially urge us to look into it. These new scholars are so carried away with their conviction in this belief, as to become quite furious when presented with arguments and limitations such as what provided above ; it is of little help to them to inquire into the actual meaning of the Scriptures. For my part, I cannot see what may sufficiently explain this, other than the corruption of our nature, being so committed ( as we are ) to this level of obstinacy, and detesting being made to change our opinions. Therefore, since we already have such a beam in our eyes, I am less surprised that we fail to clearly perceive the true force possessed by the bond of marriage, which it truly does.
6 Weighing all this in mind, on an occasion of giving a recent Sermon, I briefly noted that the liberty taken by many in these our days, of divorcing their wives for adultery and marrying of others, had no such warrant in the word of God. And then, when this was largely disregarded, I more fully delivered two other Sermons solely and more amply on this topic. Which also being little acknowledged by some, and not as fully allowed by others as the truth of the doctrine might expect : gathering that such was likely to be the judgment of many, and having good cause to extend this warning further, I thought good to write more fully of it, and to let it go forth unto all.
Therefore, dear reader, whether you are currently married already or will hereafter enter into it, keep your unity, and make thy choice as well as you can. Once your marital knot were rightly knit, then should your wife commit adultery ( if it fell out that your case were so hard ), I for my part would never wish you to conceive a hope that you would be at liberty to marry again. For the further exploration of which matter, I now refer you to the Treatise below. And so in the Lord I heartily bid thee well to fare.
Bolton-Percy. Decemb. 13. 1595.
An Advertisement to the Reader.
C oncerning this Treatise, its subject was recently treated by scholars of great learning; my work on the subject remained as a written manuscript from many years ago, without being published until now. It seems necessary, gentle Reader, to acquaint thee with how it came to pass that I now intervene upon this subject, and where my manuscript for this book was kept until the present time.Lanc. Andrewes, Against Second Marriage (1601) John Dove, Of Divorcement. A Sermon. (1601)
It began with a local gentleman who intended to divorce, and having gathered opinions of some nearby Preachers, he came and desired of my opinion also : his case being, that his wife had committed adultery, and therefore he might sue for the divorce, and marry again. His request I denied, & gave him reasons why I did so : but perceiving that it did not satisfy him, I wrote a few pages enlarging on the matter. A while later our most reverend Father, being minded to Visit, requested me to preach a sermon at the beginning of his Visitation, and there I first made mention on this topic. I spoke of many being persuaded that upon an adultery they might sue the divorce, and marry again, and that some already have ; but that if the matter were well examined, such a liberty would not be found to have any undoubted warrant in the word of God.
2 In those years several individuals of some power and eminence, and members of a powerful local family, had received divorces, & were married again. Then followed others, imitating this rash and heady example more than it deserved, including one man who had even greater stature and eminence than all the rest, also receiving divorce against his wife and thereupon marrying again. Well then, when my warning was publicly issued, I discovered more uproar taking place from this than should arise from so clear and obvious ( to me ) a truth. Seeing such a slight warning be received with hostility, I resolved to look for opportunities to enlarge upon this doctrine and its principles, so that my Audience might better perceive the reasons for my warning. A few months later I made it my entire focus and delivered two whole Sermons upon the matter, demonstrating that the presupposed liberty of putting away their wives for adultery, and marrying again, was altogether without warrant in the word of God ; not to mention being faulty in other ways as well.
3 Hereupon the controversy began to brew, at home and abroad. At home, though most of my Audience were glad to hear upon the matter, and conceived well of it : yet there those who having their ways called into question, became much offended ; one carrying himself so inordinately that he was for a time committed to prison. A local Honourable Gentleman, who was then in chief place for the execution of justice, objected that although the liberty of re-marriage had no warrant in the word of God, yet the laws of our country did allow it. To him I answered that he was wrong, because under the law those second wives were forbidden to receive any dowry, or their children to be considered legitimate. He was unable to respond, but asserted that I was much deceived therein, until other members of the Council informed him that it was indeed as I said.
4 But then that Noble Gentleman displayed an incredibly good nature, right noble indeed. He possessed a manuscript where a Man noted for his learning (and from a significant family) delivered his judgment on the controversy. This was a large and most elaborate Treatise ever written upon the subject, presenting the Gentleman with a clear permission to remain in the wrong courses concerning divorce and remarriage, which he and others had so desired to be allowed unto them. The author is indeed more copious than the prior works on the subject, aiming to show that there have been many who shared his opinion ; but he was off on the foundations of the whole question. The usual misinterpretations and false judgments of other writers prevailed on him so much, that his conclusion matched his learning and judgment far less than it deserved. This author delivered his written manuscript ( as I understand it ) to that Noble Gentleman, his Lord and Master, to let him see how clear and warrantable was the course of divorce and remarriage which he & others were engaged in. During my interaction with the Gentleman, it was this Manuscript which he had fetched by one of his attendants, and forthwith given away to me, signifying the loss of all positive opinion of it and its conclusions.J. Rainolds, Judgment of Reformed Churches John Reinolds.
5 All this had taken place at York. Abroad, my work had a similar reception among many scholars, and one of the most eminent men in the Southern parts of England, hearing about my sermons, sent to be acquainted with my notes : which I had accordingly provided him ; and heard that they were approved.
Perceiving that many scholars were swayed by the omissions and prejudices of the professors of divorce, but having our scholars in the reverence that is indeed due to them, I recognized that further input need be added to this controversy. Therefore collecting this present Treatise, I sent it up to the man who was at that time my Lords Grace of Canterbury ; to be published, if so it should stand with his Grace’s pleasure. His answer ( I heard ) was, that he himself was of the same mind as mine ; I heard likewise, that he imparted the book to others of special note, and they shared his opinion. And yet he concluded against publishing it at the time, giving no other reason than wishing to have as few controversies in the Church as possible. He was already presented with a contrary Manuscript from the above writer, who exerted incredible efforts to become published ; he suppressed that manuscript, and would be seen as partial if my manuscript would to be permitted.John Whitgift, Archbishop of Canterbury. J. Rainolds, Judgment of Reformed Churches
6 So there it lay for several years, out of my hands : and I, entering through the front door of rightful process, would not climb in through a back window of any inordinate tactics. Nevertheless to make some use of my time, I thought good to acquaint the aforementioned champion of divorce with my thoughts, and why I had conceived negatively of his Volume. To that end I sent him a copy of my manuscript, and desired him to let me understand, if he found anything that was unsound therein. My treatise and welcome letter were both delivered : but no response was sent back in return. Some time later the manuscript was returned back to me, with the reply that the author saw no reason for changing his opinions, and advising that my Treatise was not as welcome as I had hoped.John Rainolds.
7 In the following years, the looseness of opinions toward matrimony began to grow bold and heady, and thinking afresh of his Grace’s words, I began to wonder about the fairness of suppressing a book which had a good right to be known ( and necessary as well ) , because of a book which did not ( and was dangerous besides ) . To that I had no answer, and neither was it necessary that I should ; but I did notice an edict against my opponent’s Treatise, being issued by public authority. I also heard of others beginning to openly to deal in these topics, those notable in the chiefest assemblies of the nation, and those notable in exercise of learning ; even in the University itself. Whereupon again reminding his Grace of my Treatise, whether his Grace could not approve of the publishing of it, his Grace then readily sent my manuscript back to me, with his good leave to publish the whole thing ( after an impediment which restrained him, being clean removed ) . Yet by then I was already pursuing another opportunity, then being nearly attained unto ; and thus I thought it best to keep this Treatise still unpublished for the time being.Lanc. Andrewes, Against Second Marriage (1601) John Dove, Of Divorcement. A Sermon. (1601)
8 In the meantime, the advocates of marital Liberty had used stealthy and secret methods to cause the above writer’s manuscript to be published into a book, and by sneaky means widely dispersed among the people. By this inordinate course of theirs, many would have been unquestionably endangered ; since the book concluded in favor of marital Liberty, which so perfectly combining with the author’s learning, and the zeal of these advocates, would seem to put the truth of the question on its side.J. Rainolds, Judgment of Reformed Churches. That a man may lawfully put away his wife for adultery, and marry another (1609)
9 Many other scholars were generally starting to approve of marital Liberty, interpreting the desired Scripture verses in their favor ; but just as many others ( if not far more ) rejected any such Liberty, and read those same verses in a very different manner. There may be ( perhaps ) some other Territories or Churches which are of the opinion for allowing divorce & marrying again : but just as evidently, the government of our Church ( and many others ), do not allow it. If we only had the conclusions of men to go to, the matter would unquestionably be difficult to decide ; but the more erudite and settled judgment will cast the balance, such as with Scripture verses at first seeming to teach one thing, unless put side by side with others, by which our first impression will be evidently incompatible with the duties of Marriage as required.
10 The controversy therefore stands as it does, with many being eager to seize on such plausible a Liberty, with little concern for the great harm which would attend it. It was clear even previously that the matter needed to be farther looked into, & that people needed to be warned of the danger that was therein ; and this is even clearer in the present day, because of the greater danger from this inordinate liberty to many of our Countrymen. To the extent that the opportunity presented itself here in the North, I felt bound in conscience and in duty, to give such a warning as I did before. The same occasion being now also plainly given, I thought it my duty to resume and pick up my purpose once again, discharging that point of duty, so far at the least, as it should lay in my hands to do.
Seeing that the question of marital liberty is being hotly disputed, and those tasked with addressing it are much more capable, I have no intention to join into the fray, but merely to respect the truth. Thus I have thought good simply to publish the exact manuscript which I had then ( years ago ) under review, together with the Preface, and the date thereof that it had before. So now I cease, and commend thee to God.1595.
Of Divorce For Adultery, and marrying again.
WHereas the question of divorcing for adultery and re-marriage ( which used to be a mere academic dispute ) , has now grown to such a common practice among the masses : we are in great danger of overthrowing any integrity that we have still left, and bringing in the Turkish liberty of putting away the wives who are no longer liked, and marrying others. Therefore we have a great imperative to see into the matter, and not slightly but soundly to examine whether this practice have any warrant in the written Word.Euthymius Zigabemus. pag.35.
There are two groups of Scripture verses commonly cited in support of marital liberty, some brought forward only in support of divorce, and and the others in allowing re-marriage as well. But if we set aside popular opinion, and study this controversy directly in the written Word ( through new means of scholarship provided these days by God ), we will find so much support against both of those views, that anyone indifferently considering it will struggle to find in those Opinions anything of worth to draw him back to them.
The masses of people clamour for marital liberty merely from an addiction to fleshly indulgence, but the writings of theologians serve for them as a scholarly cover. Therefore ( to free the people from this confusion, ) it shall be necessary not to hide any weakness we discover in those theologians, even those of some prominence. The truth ought to be much dearer unto us. It is Satan’s frequent tactic to use the chiefest men to hatch & rear up his errors, and therefore the dearer the truth is unto us, the more we should take heed not to bear with the error of anyone ; and the bolder may we be to examine their conclusions, not sparing the small discredit incurred by them thereby.
Let us now briefly go through the Scripture verses typically cited, and see how little warrant they have for marital liberty, notwithstanding all the help which its advocates try to marshal in its favor.
2 Some of these passages they cite even while admitting them to have little weight, such as 25. 26., and 18. 22. of of Solomon. The passage in Ecclesiasticus is variously read : but the effect is this, that it wills the husband if the wife will not be ruled by him, to put her away. But this book is not Canonical, and therefore, since few of these scholars will rely on it, so we also will not waste any needless labour upon it. The Proverbs passage is taken from the Latin version of the Vulgate, where the text reads,
qui tenet adulteram stultus est & insipiens: he that keeps an adulteress is a fool and unwise. However the translation here is corrupt and the words are different from the Original text ; plus the adulteress here may just mean a harlot had outside of marriage. Therefore this verse is also left behind by most of these scholars, and we likewise will also not go any farther against it.
There are other verses which they take from the Books of Scripture which are Canonical, and therefore authoritative. The professors of marital liberty take them to be of special force in support of that doctrine, and lean not a little upon them in their arguments. In 21. 7. the Priest is forbidden to marry any woman that is divorced from her husband, because he is consecrated unto his God ; which to the professors of divorce indicates the existence of divorces. 44. 22. also adds a disgrace for the priests who would marry such a wife ; after promising a Priesthood which diligently walks in the ordinances which he delivered unto them, the Lord adds that they should not take such that were divorced as their wives.Lev. 21. 7. Ezek. 44. 22.
They also cite 50. 1. and 3. 1. In Isaiah the Lord demands, Where is that Bill of divorce with which I sent your mother away? ; alluding to the custom they had among themselves, of divorcing away their wives, although he had not done it unto them. The verse in Jeremiah alludes to the same custom, contrasting the men divorcing their wives with the Lord who would not divorce them, and adds : It is commonly said, if a man shall put away his wife, & she departing from him shall marry another, shall he ever return unto her any more? shall not that woman be polluted and defiled? I should noted ( in passing ) that these verses actually demonstrate God as having more love for man, than of husbands for their offending wives, and thus contradict the very doctrine which they hoped to establish.Isaiah 50. 1. Jeremiah 3. 1.
But the verses they chiefly rest on, are 24. 1., and 2. 16. The text in Deuteronomy, as they allege it, says : If a man taketh a wife, and she loseth favor in his eyes for some uncleanness, then he shall write her ( or as others translate, then let him write her ) a bill of divorcement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house. That of Malachi is much like unto it, and they read it to say : Seeing thou hatest her ( meaning the wife ) , put her away, says the Lord God of Israel. By these verses they conclude that the practice of divorce was allowed, first by Moses and then by Malachi, in the plain words of the Text and in the conditions as mentioned.Deuter. 24. 1. Malachi 2. 16.
3 Before we see how weakly those passages support the marital Liberty, first, it shall not be amiss to note the marvelous quickness with which the lewd crowds align themselves with that interpretation, & yet how little foundation they have, even among their Leaders. When it is allowed that, yes, the professors of divorce do try to ground some of their arguments in Scripture, that alone is enough for them, and so fully encourages them that they can hardly afford for their ears to hear anything further. As we are all by nature given to sin, revenge, & the inordinate lusts of the flesh : so are there many who will ascribe to themselves that good Spirit of God which would preserve them from all dangerous passions ; and such folk can only be expected to easily settle themselves upon any semblance, that should fit their fancy, whatsoever it should be.
4 To see how small a beachhead their Leaders have within the Church, we shall need to go no further than the plain confession of one Erasmus by name, who immediately at the start of his treatise, plainly announces that the general judgement of all Christendom is against him. I know, says he, that it is the general opinion of all Christians, that when marriage is once made, it can no way be broken again, but only by the death of one of the parties. He acknowledges the universal judgement of the whole Church, and all Christian people generally, to be against his supposed marital Liberty : and in the next sentence, he acknowledges that such is the judgement of Chrysostom and of the old Latins, especially of S. Augustine ; and, that the same judgement is confirmed by the constitution of Bishops, and by the authority of Decretal Laws ; and allowed of by the consent of the Schools of Theology. Erasmus also grants, that he finds all the Latin fathers generally, the Ecclesiastical laws, and effectively the entire body of theology, to stand against his opinion ( to which he still nevertheless inclines ) ; and we need no further proof, than such a clear admission from so eminent an advocate of that persuasion.Erasmus. in 1. Cor 7. pag. 491. Ibid. Chrysostom. Old Latins. Augustine. Decretals & Scholastics against it. All the latins. Eccl. laws. Divinity.
While the others in his camp have been more careful than to slip in such an admission ( lest they diminish the credit of their cause lower than they can raise it up again ) , neither do they correct him for it. Moreover, both Peter Martyr abroad and one of our countrymen here had the courage to admit to the same fact. Peter Martyr writes, Thou shalt not find in the old Testament, any of the better sort of men to have used divorce, so far as the holy Scriptures do testify. Our countryman states that S. Augustine, the School Divines, the Canonists, and the Church of Rome, though in case of adultery allowing of divorce, yet do not allow to marry again.Peter Martyr Vermigli. Sect. 67. pag. 306. D. R. Cap. 2. sect. 1.
History of divorce’s doubtful champions.
5 If we look at the entire body of literature produced by the professors of Divorce, it is remarkable how much they hedge in their belief with limits and doubts. This may be of warning unto us, to take heed, that we rest not too much on their judgements. Erasmus who was the first to ever write on this subject, attached that famous first Treatise to his 1515 Annotations on the new Testament. There he was far from permitting divorce universally, and indeed only begged for it in cases where a the woman ( being divorced ) must be a very bad woman, b that her husband ( divorcing her ) never gave her occasion for infidelity, neither is able now in any way to help it, nor ever c deserved any such ill dealing of her ; after this also, d that first he must have tried all good means, but can do no good on her ; and even then, to never let it be done by themselves or other private authority, but e that such divorce never be made except by Bishops or other approved and grave Judges.Erasmus. In 1. Cor. 7. a Pag. 495. b Ibid. c Ibid. d Pag. 504. e Pag. 501.
Musculus was next, in his Commentaries on S. Matthew’s Gospel, 1554, where although permitting divorce for whoredom, he added that the question has various nuances, which I do not intend to sift here. But this would I advise, that those to whom such wives have fallen by God’s appointment, would remind themselves that they are Christians. That they would strive to bring their wives to better ways : yet if that cannot be, to take advantage of their own liberty, but not without their heart’s grief.Musculus. In Math. 5. p. 112.
Peter Martyr was next, cautioning in his 1552 Commentaries that the man must needs be faithful to the wife ; but if divorcing, to proceed only with authority. I take it, he says, to be very bad dealing for the husband to exact chastity from his wife, and yet not yield the same unto her ( attributing it to the law of Antonius ) . And on submitting to authority, he says : When the laws will not suffer a man to marry again, and by putting away his wife for whoredom a man be compelled to live single, he may choose one of two remedies : to account himself to have a calling from God to single life ; or if he think it expedient to use that liberty that God has given him, to move into those countries that will allow him to do so. And again : Even in the things which Scripture has expressly allowed, I reckon that nothing is to be attempted if Magistrates permission be absent, or as he says later, if the Laws of the country forbid it. And his reason there, is, that although marriage be the ordinance of God : yet for the circumstances thereunto appertaining, it has many things that are to be governed by the positive laws.P. Martyr. in 1. Cor. 7. ( 1552. ) & habetur in locis com. Sect. 68. pag. 306. Sec. 56. pag. 302. Ibid.
Chemnitz next in 1566, writing against the Council of Trent, says : We must take heed, so far as we may with good conscience, even of legitimate and lawful divorces, and that the bond of marriage either inviolably be kept, or if it be broken, then to be made up again. And a little after, It is reckoned ( says he ) by all good men, that husbands do not forthwith set in hand with divorce, but that all things be tried first, which may help forward reconciliation. For all things are lawful, but not all things expedient, and unto edifying, according to S. Paul.Chemnitz. Part. 2. sess. 8. can. 7. pag. 287. Ibid, p. 283.
Beza likewise, in his special Treatise on this matter of Divorce published 1573, although harshly calling those who labour to reconcile the offending party in a manner that little thinks of providing for the innocent ; yet neither is he of the mind of those, who account the innocent party more bound to separate for adultery, than to reconcile ; and afterward more liberally he adds that of the two, he more approves of those who labour for reconciliation, than those who labour for a permanent separation. Afterward again he says, that it were praiseworthy not to conduct Divorce without the leave of the Church. Going against the opinion of Bucer, who seeing the Lord would have an adulteress put to death, would not have their husbands to keep them, he answers, It be no great hardship for husbands to receive their offending wives when they are penitent, according to the rule of Christian charity. For ( says Beza ) , the Law which Bucer appeals to prescribes what Magistrates, not private men, are in such case to do.Beza. De repud. & divor. Ob. 11. pag. 111. Pag. 113. Pag. 115.
Lastly, Szegedinus in his Commonplaces published in tables in 1585, asks whether the innocent party ( if he cannot be continent ) may marry again. And answers, With good conscience he may, after a License from the Church, & the godly Magistrates ; so that he be not offended by a demand for continence.Szegedinus. De coniug. & divor. Tab. 2. pag. 354.
Divorce pretended to be necessary.
6 Next is the mystery of what it was that made divorce an attractive option to these authors. Here Erasmus again, having first opened the passage ( to those that followed him ) , was also so accurate in describing his motivations, that it seems others did not think it necessary to elaborate on them any farther. What he took as most substantial in this question were the troubles commonly seen in a failed marriage ( especially one where the bond of wedlock were broken ) . These he thinks to be so many and so destructive, that S. Paul himself would advocate for divorce, had he known about them. Suppose ( says he ) that the following case were presented unto Paul : one fool with another, a boy and a wench have married together. Fornication, drunkenness, & foolishness were its origins, and complications had gotten them entangled. Now being married, they never agree, being so foreign to each other in their ways and disposition : endless mutual blame, extreme hatred, poisoning, and murder are feared also. They expect nothing but the worst manner of evil from each other, and yet lack the strength for a single life of continence. It may be, that according to the circumstances of the case, the Apostle would give another answer, and loosen some of his former rigorous advice, interpreting his writings unto us more charitably than we do ourselves. I cite this passage to demonstrate how much Erasmus believed that the tragedy of a failed marriage must play a role in deciding the truth or falsehood of marital Liberty. For so he says : If they still abide together, each of them would certainly perish ; but if they may break off and marry again, there is good hope, that both shall be safe.Erasmus. Pag. 504. Ibid.
Another motivation for his argument was the belief that the Scriptures say little upon the matter, which he dismissed rather swiftly, saying, I have found the Scriptures on this topic, as on many others, to be muddled and confused, and therefore that his fame and reputation might help decide the debate, if the Scriptures were believed to say nothing definitive either way. And as to the interpretation of the Scriptures by scholars and theologians over the centuries, he writes : I have found differences between the ancient fathers and scholars, and the thinkers of recent years, using that to simply conclude that there is no scandal in dissenting from those around him upon this question. Albeit he hedged, adding : to those who are of contrary mind from me, I will easily answer, that there is no harm to our religion on either side of the debate.Pag. 505. Ibid. Ibid.
Yet further motivation of his argument he explained as follows : I have seen how great is the authority of the Church, assigned to it by Christ, to whom he had given the keys of the kingdom of heaven ; saying thereby that she has the authority to decide on these matters. As for her good direction he says : The Church has the Spirit as her spouse, and it is impossible for her to wrongly decree whatsoever is good for man, having him as her guide ; implying thereby, that anything she concluded would always be correct. Then he brings in the Pope, reasoning that because his compassion is so great towards those who are no longer with us, how much greater must it be towards those who are still around him. And invoking his presupposed ability or Power for doing whatever he wishes, he writes : it is a common teaching that the Bishop of Rome, not only can interpret the holy Scripture and set down when he thinks good, and lessen and mitigate some part of it, but even ( in the judgement of some ) to abrogate some part of it. He adds that a mere recommendation of marital Liberty need not be thought of as imposing too much upon the Pope, because people have already been made unable to marry by the Bishop of Rome, although neither nature nor the law of God made them unable ; concluding thereby, that it seemed to be of similar power to make a marriage prohibited, and to make it broken.Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
And as his final motivation for opening the pathway toward Divorce, Erasmus cited its allowance by thinkers of great authority, saying : I note many men in times past, of undoubted learning and godliness, to have not been terrified by the words of the Gospel, and of S. Paul, and have ( sometimes ) admitted divorce ; to this he added : the verses which seem against them might have another interpretation than they had received until now. Espousals and betrothals have sometimes been violated ( he notes ) , where lawfully betrothed men have been robbed of their future wives, merely for changing their profession, and sometimes for merely changing their attire. Even marriages have been broken, for I have seen ( he says ) , marriage to be reckoned as void from person’s mistakes, or low social class, even though it were already consummated with copulation ; and that, such marriage also was held as broken for falling into heresy, though nobody might doubt that it was true marriage indeed. In all which his inference is, that if men have played so fast and loose, altering and disposing of this holy ordinance with such liberty, then nobody may think much of him for merely advancing a doctrine which he took to be much better warranted, even by the teaching and the plain words of Christ himself.Ibid.
Upon these aforesaid reasons, he thought good for the doctrine of divorce to be farther thought on by others, and that he did no more but suggest it for discussion. All the things mentioned above ( he says ) , I have thought good to give just as a taste, for the learned and studious to think better thereupon, and immediately after, that Christian charity being moved herewith, those seeing farther than I, should consider whether those inconvenient verses in the Gospel, and in S. Paul, might be disposed of, to the good or safety of many. Adding below : But if that which I wish may not be obtained, there must be a greater intent henceforth for preventing lightly and rashly made marriages, so foreign to the ancient noble customs, and foreign to any rational fairness.
All these passages from Erasmus I have listed so that we may see how much ( or little ) he proceeded to build on this foundation ; it is remarkable that he did not proceed any further than merely suggesting this question for discussion. If those in later times have raised a taller building upon his foundation, by claiming as a manifest truth what was just before a doubtful and academic inquiry, then it seems to me that either they should have stronger reasons than their teacher, or that they have raised a taller building than the foundation is able to bear.
7 It shall also be useful to note the protestations, which these professors of Divorce have made to soften ( as it were ) their shocking conclusions ; otherwise, we might judge them more harshly than they deserved, or else to allow their rhetoric to be more persuasive than it is. I shall again chiefly cite from Erasmus, as the leader of their movement ; but it would not be amiss to also hear from others, especially the one who most of all has advanced the persuasion for marital Liberty in these our days.
I have noted above how having opened the topic of Divorce, how short Erasmus is on definite conclusions, and how much leeway he leaves for his readers to draw what conclusions they may. Writing in his ( wherein his Treatise of divorce & re-marriage was attached ) , he says : We are ready to present reasons for it, if anywhere we have advised well ; or plainly and readily to acknowledge our error, if anywhere we were found to have slipped. But leaving the reader with the liberty of rejecting his views, he also adds : Let a man first read it and look into it, and only then, if he think necessary, to condemn and cast it away.In praefat. pag. ulc.
In the beginning of his Treatise, he protests his good intention, having it written only to inquire into the truth, and not for the sake of being contentious : It is proper to state here that throughout the entire work I will never author a contentious opinion, and that my meaning is but only to admonish the studious for their help : always reserving the judgement of the holy Church, and of those on whom Christ has bestowed a better gift of learning and wisdom, altogether untouched by me.In 1. Cor. 7. pag. 491.
A little after, he says likewise, But if it ever pleased good men well, to change their opinion unto the better, and if it be good to frame our Laws even as medicines unto the nature or manner of our diseases, let us consider, whether in this also it be good so to do : and if it be expedient, whether ( then ) it be lawful or permitted unto us, that certain marriages may be broken asunder again not lightly, but when the cause is weighty, nor by any whomsoever but by the Governors in the Church, or other lawful judges : and that those marriages may in such sort be broken asunder, that it may be free for either party to marry again where they think good, or at least for the one of them, the same that gave no cause of divorce.Ibid.
Towards the end of his Treatise, after he protested that he advanced his Opinion only to nudge the studious among his readers toward further thought, he adds, Neither do we in any way desire to prevent the judgement of our betters, much less of the Catholike Church.Ibid. pag. 505.
Others who make similar protestations are Peter Martyr, and Theodore Beza. In his , Peter Martyr runs the self-same course on Divorce that was opened by Erasmus, although first making it require the permission of the Magistrate ( as we saw above ) . And yet having set down a great piece of his mind across five whole Sections, in the end he adds : I teach these points only in such a manner as to ever be ready, both to hear and to admit some better & more sound reasoning. Which words of his, if taken to refer to the sentence immediately preceding, would do him a manifest disservice ; but if applied to the entire section, it would show that he was less stubborn than others, but professed being ready to change, if anybody would show him different.Peter Martyr. In 1. Cor. 7. & 7. et in Loc. com. Sect. 56. p. 302.
Theodore Beza is more resolute in it, and has handled of divorce at greater length ; yet may we see, that he also moderates himself therein. In the Epistle prefixed to his book, , he says : Let nothing prohibit my writings from being called into question, and of hearing of contrary views from those led by a desire for the truth, so that there be no resistance on matters which have been approved by public authority already received. Of his treatment of the subject, he says that he could not satisfy himself therein, writing as follows : Neither could I satisfy myself in my conclusions : but it was enough to have stirred up the studies of more learned divines. And likewise he adds that he meant not in any way to prejudice the conclusions of others : I have conveyed what seemed persuasive to me on these and such matters, being as I am just one among the many ; and I have not wished to prejudice the conclusions of anyone.Theodore Beza. Opusc. vol. 2. pag. 3. Ibid. pag. 4.
Within the Treatise itself, he makes a special point when discussing whether the husband whose wife committed adultery be bound in conscience to divorce her, or to take her back if she repents. He states that he does not intend to create doubts in the matter, and yet on the other hand, I do not aim to prescribe laws unto anyone ; which seems to say that although he makes his opinion known, yet he intends nothing other than to leave his audience with the freedom of their own conclusions. And again : I have showed my judgement on the matter : let every one be persuaded therein as each himself thinks good, so that he grounds himself on the word of God.De repud. & divort. pag. 114.
8 Let us now gather what we may think of such resolutions, allegations, reasons, and protestations ; all these doubting, limited, and cautious speeches. I do not cite these in order to disgrace the men who admitted to them, for you can hardly blame them, and they could not have written with any more confidence, being as wrong as they were in some of their main principles. It deserves right good commendation, that they framed their speeches appropriately, in a matter that was ( to them ) so intricate, doubtful and muddled ; and their concessions are evidence of how skeptical they were of even the claims that they did make. The caution and restraint which lay beneath their claims should be a good warning, that we ought to read with better attention and judgement, and not embrace every conceivable opinion ; but to examine and ponder the reasons leading the authors into their opinions.
Although it be expected of those who are to lead others, that they always be resolute in anything they teach : yet if at any time their judgement is given of things which are not yet decided, then no more is expected at their hands than simply to deliver their mind accordingly. Men may proceed upon a firm, plain, ready, & well-traveled road, howsoever they are wont to ride : yet if the road be covered with snow, rough, or stony, or yield any semblance of quicksand or mire, though some will still ride freely enough, yet is it always considered wiser to be more wary. We have very many examples hereof, where the Scriptures have not so fully declared some things which nevertheless we think are enough decided by them ; such as, at what time the Angels were made : or, when the matter is prophetical and extends to a later time than was thought ; or, the question of the Antichrist and of his coming among the Fathers of old ; or, of today’s debates upon the calling the Jews and Turks to the knowledge of Christ before the last day. Of all these things ( and others ) , even the best writers have made ambiguous and cautious speeches : and yet are not to be strongly censured, for that there was nothing more that could fairly be expected from them.
And so, returning again to our professors of Divorce, as I could not rightly seek their disgrace from their lacking a sufficient foundation in their beliefs, so God forbid that I should ever do take that meaning, being as they are not only partakers of the selfsame Grace with us, but also such instruments to the advancement of the glory of God, and such comfortable lights to all the faithful in these our days, that the Church of God seldom had a greater blessing. My meaning here is no more but to note, that seeing as they are not more confident on this matter, there is no certainty for anyone else to base themselves upon them either.
If we had found them so resolute that what they flatly & boldly pronounced was without any question the undoubted word of God, and we in believing them might have been deceived, as not looking into the matter itself ourselves, but through the eyes of others ; yet that would be a tolerable error, and easily excused, especially to those who in such cases are to depend on others, being otherwise employed, or not having the depth of judgement that such questions require. But when these leaders, being in other things resolute enough and as bold as Lions, do not set down their opinion in this, but with great wariness, doubtfulness & fear, with so many cautions & allegations, with such submissions and protestations ; it is a wonder that anyone should consider following them in their course, or so much as conceive for their works to offer any ground whereon a man might be bold to build.
II. Verses cited for Divorce.
9 Next let us pass to the actual verses of Scripture mentioned at the beginning, which these scholars cite in support of their doctrines. Seeing that they little rely on the first four passages, but very much on the last two, we also may briefly dispatch of the four, and follow them only in those verses wherein they think they have their chiefest strength.
To speak now of the first four passages, namely . 21. 7., . 44. 22., . 50. 1., and . 3. 1., and we have analyzed at the beginning of this treatise. Nothing more need be said here, other than that they speak about the whole notion of divorcing with such disdain, that Divorce loses much more there than it gains. From those verses the advocates of marital Liberty gather some support for their weak conclusions, as will be detailed below ; and this was their only value, for that doctrine of theirs.See above.
Errors in Erasmus, Musculus, P. Martyr, J. Calvin,
Gualter, Chemnitz, Beza, Szegedinus.
10 The misunderstanding of these verses, then, being a matter of such special importance, it shall be good to consider, first, whether the advocates of marital Liberty do mistake them or not ; and if it fall out that they do, what we are to gather concerning the matter at hand. First therefore to begin with Erasmus who was so forward therein, it shall be good to mark how he mistook it, not only when he first gave his judgement, but also when afterward being impugned for it, he might have taken occasion to have looked better unto it. When first he gave forth his judgement of it, [
Divortium ( says he )
ipsa lex palam indulget: ] that is, The old testament law plainly allows of divorce. Again, The old testament law allows husbands to put away their wives and give them a bill of divorcement, for any reason whatsoever. Again, He permits the husband, to exchange his wife, for whatsoever cause he will. The same he says in so many other places, that it is evident that it was not a momentary slip, but his very own judgement, which he thought the Text itself would bear. In one passage especially, he not only affirms it, but even goes on to base some reasoning upon it. It seems ( he says ) unlikely that a Jew would sin in casting away his wife for being a wicked woman and marrying another. The Law clearly grants it, without specifying that this allowance was just due to the hardness of their hearts, especially since it could not have been known by natural sense ( meaning, that it was indeed granted but for the hardness of their hearts, which we Christians know by Christ, but they could not know by natural reason. ) And if it be granted due to the hardness of their hearts, it remains lawful, because God has granted it : at the very least nothing in what he said declared it a sin for people to use this liberty granted unto them.
By these passages we see that Erasmus, in his treatise on divorce and re-marriage, believed that Moses plainly and in clear words allowed husbands to put away and divorce their wives upon taking a dislike to them. Afterward, when being impugned by his critics, he could have taken his time to investigate this better ; yet even in the aftermath I cannot find that he ever acknowledged his error, but rather still persisted in it. We find him complaining that he was hard-pressed by many, defending himself as best he could in particular against Natalis Bedda, and someone else whom he left anonymous.Erasmus impugned for his views. Nat. Bedda. tom. 9. p.366. Ibid. pag. 775.
Among his opponents it shall not be amiss to note one instance of his dealings, for there was an Englishman, one of our Countrymen, who was treated by Erasmus rather disgracefully. It was one Master Edward Lee, at that time sojourning at Louvain on account of his studies, and of such good nature that Erasmus himself while in Louvain sought his acquaintance, craving his corrections on his Annotations upon the New Testament which he then was composing. Master Lee offered him his corrections, and that in a polite manner ( as can be seen in his Apology at the beginning of his Book ; in many of his Censures upon the Annotations ; and in his answer to several of Erasmus’s epistles ) . But instead, Erasmus had shown himself to be much nettled with those comments, seemingly admitting that on some points he had lost the advantage ; else would he never have sought to shake him off with contempt as he did, charging that M. Lee has not yet taken a degree in Divinity, but was merely a student of the seven liberal Arts, ( or as we commonly say, a Master of Arts ) . And after M. Lee replied that he had left the study of those liberal Sciences and bade them farewell, he offers this frump, that he only bade them good morning ; meaning thereby, that in his studies he had profited nothing. Erasmus adds more plainly, that in those things that Master Lee had written against him, there was not so much as one token of good learning in him ; clean contrary to what anyone may see when reading his writings directly. M. Lee charges him with many other base dealings in this quarrel, such as did not befit the order whereof they were both partakers. Omitting other reasons ( he says ) , why you should not have had me in such contempt, you should have at least tried harder on account of the Priesthood, and not, being an annointed of the Lord yourself, so foully assault me, another Annointed of the Lord.Impugned by an Englishman, Mr Edward Lee. Edward Lee. In Apolog. sua Lowani 4 Calend. Jan. 1519. In responsione ad Annotationes Ed. Lei. Novas ad Annot. 17. Tom. 9. pa. 321. In resp. ad Epistolas Erasmi fol. 240.
As for the quarrel betwixt them, I leave them both to it and do not meddle with it ; I only note that at their introductions, Mr Lee was of such good nature, that Erasmus himself desired his acquaintance on account of his learning. Seeing as how soon thereafter he became the Archbishop of York, it seems likely that Erasmus did concede some special advantage to Master Lee, and discovered it when they commenced in their quarrel. But Erasmus also being thus provoked, they never returned to their original purpose.
And now not to trouble the Reader with the similar stories, lest I grow tedious therein, I will briefly mention the other errant followers of Erasmus, and places in their books where their errors are to be found : namely,
–Musculus, on the fifth chapter of Matthew, pag. 111.Musculus.
–Peter Martyr, in many places, on the 1. Cor. 7. and, as it is placed in his Common Places Sect. 52. and 66. pag. 301, 3, 5, & 6.P. Martyr.
–John Calvin, in his Harmony of the Gospels, on Mat. 5.31. and 19, 7.Calvin.
–Gualter, on Mark 10, & Malachi the 2. fol. 399.8.Gualter.
–Chemnitz in his second part upon the council of Trent. Sess. 8. Can. 7. pag. 286, 8.Martin Chemnitz.
–Theodore Beza, in many places of his Book de repudiis & divortiis, among his Opuscula vol. 2. pag. 113, 15, & 17.Theodore Beza.
-And last of all Stephanus Szegedinus in his Tables of Common places. pag. 348.49.Steph. Szegedinus.
While Erasmus does not say much on the Malachi passage, Musculus, Peter Martyr, Calvin and Gualter do speak much ( and wrongly ) upon it in the places above, and so do all others in their camp of advocacy for divorce & marrying again.
Deuteronomy and Malachi.
11 Let us now look in depth into the two verses ; beginning with the text in Deuteronomy 24. 1.
“When a man taketh a wife, and marrieth her, if so be she find no favor in his eyes, because he hath espied some filthiness in her, then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house. And when she is departed out of his house, and gone her way, and marry with another man, And if the latter husband hate her, and write her a letter of divo– cement, and put it in her hand, and send her out of his house, or if the latter man die which took her to wife : Then her first husband, which sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after that she is defiled : for that is abomination in the sight of the Lord, and thou shalt not cause the land to sin, which the Lord thy God doth give thee to inherit.” ( Geneva Bible )
There is a high certainty that this passage was not given with the intent of warranting Divorces. Firstly, we plainly see a kind of punishment being cast on the man who divorces his wife ; namely that if she then marries another, he then should never have her again ; the reason being given that thereby she is defiled ; and the blame for her defiling ( in opinion of some ) laying at his feet. Because the Text itself not only punishes him, but also charges him with defiling his wife just for putting her away, it is most likely that that action was forbidden in the first place. Relevant here is a passage in the fifth chapter of the book of Numbers, where that notable law of Jealousy prescribes a peculiar remedy for a man who has his wife in suspicion of adultery ( or if she truly were guilty but without any witness ) ; the recourse there, far harsher than anything we discussed on Divorce, forbids him to take any adverse steps if she makes her purgation, in the manner specified, and instructs him to hold himself content. This law, I say, in every way insinuates that Moses did not take adultery to be an easy way for getting rid of a wife, contrary to the teachings of Peter Martyr. The behavior of all notable men in the Scriptures teaches us this point in its own fashion : we never read of any of the godly sort of men ever having used the help of divorce : which notwithstanding, it is most likely that many would have done, if they had taken it to be so plainly permitted unto them, especially by God himself.Per eum factum est, &c. Tremellius. & Junius. Numbers 5. 13. Peter Martyr.
The second proof may be found in the original Hebrew text of this passage, and is so strong that several heretofore adherents of Divorce & re-marriage have since offered corrections to their initial mistakes. The proof is found in the fact that the original Hebrew text differs from what our Translators have long been telling us : namely, that it does not read, it shall be for him to write a bill of divorcement, or, let him write a bill of divorcement ; but only, he writes a bill of divorcement ; merely describing the case, rather than giving a permission thereof. This oversight has long remained among us, and the scholars who helped to amend it were the following. First, to my knowledge, was Franciscus Vatablus, the professor of the Hebrew tongue at Paris ; after him it was Benedictus Arias Montanus, a Spaniard who had the chief oversight of that great Bible for the King of Spain ; and last of all Emmanuel Tremellius, and Franciscus Junius, the famous translators of the Scriptures. They, each in their own works, have very plainly amended the Translation of this passage, pronouncing that the Hebrew text itself has no mention of divorce being allowed at all.1557. F. Vatablus. Ar. Montanus. Im. Tremellius. Fra. Junius.
Several of those who previously advocated for Divorce & marrying again, after first erring in this Text, since admitted to their error therein ; the first being John Calvin, and the other Theodore Beza. M. Calvin, when setting forth his Commentaries on the Harmony of the Gospels in the year 1555, was then of opinion that Moses had commanded for a bill of Divorce to be given to the wife. Afterward, having further occasion to look better unto it by gathering four of the Books of Moses into their own Harmony, which accordingly he published about eight years after in 1563, he amended his former reading, and set down his judgement as follows : Certain interpreters ( among whom he was one a few years prior ) do not read these three verses in the same context, and pull the first verse by itself : [ Let the husband affirm that his divorce is done not for any crime by his wife, but because her beauty or favour do not satisfy him]. But if it be read more carefully, it will be obvious that the Law carries one meaning across the several verses, namely : 1. if a man were to put away his wife ( even for no crime ) , then, 2. it shall be unlawful for him to take her again, 3. if in the mean season she had married another. It is to be noted here, that Calvin considered this reading to be very obvious, for he says, that a man who reads carefully will plainly perceive it ; and thus insinuates that it was a lack of attention which deceived many on this point ; as it still continues today, among those who persist in withholding their attention.M. Calvin. In Harm. in II. Legis. p. 364.
Yet many then began to notice this error, and in the Bible of Vatablus of 1557 it was plainly noted, above five years before M. Calvin published his aforementioned work.
Master Beza, in what I have found, is not as plain on this point as M. Calvin, yet does mention enough to satisfy any reasonable man. At first, in his Treatise on divorce, De repudiis & divortiis, published 1573, he showed himself to frequently mistake this passage, as others were also wont to do ; he erred so strongly as to even conclude forgiving an adulterous wife was made optional by a verse from Jeremiah ; it would be absurd, ( he says, ) to consider divorce from an adulterous wife to be a sin, especially since Jeremiah 3.1 teaches it to be the very Law of Moses, and thus it is to be encouraged, rather than avoided. Where M. Beza made his mistake will be apparent enough, if his words are tried by the rule previously set down by M. Calvin ; and should be condemned much more thereby, considering how this famous error was already noted and corrected sixteen years prior. Yet subsequently, after Benedictus Arias Montanus issued his own public correction of this mistake, Beza in his book entitled, Lex Dei moralis, caeremonialis, politica, explained the passage just as Vatablus and Arias had done before, and Tremellius and Junius would do afterward. Therefore by his own reading now, it is not absurd to affirm that the Jews who divorced their wives have indeed sinned ; neither was that supposed law of Divorces to be kept, nor did Jeremiah make mention of any such law of Moses, and neither did Moses ever institute it. No more need to be said here ; but if more were required, even in his
De repudiis & divortiis he acknowledges that That such divorces, although tolerated by civil law, yet are never allowed in court of conscience [ in foro conscientiae]. Which statement, although limited only to such divorces, yet shows that he believed for an action made mandatory by the law of God to be of no force in the court of conscience.
[Ed : , 2001 — “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce…”]
12 The second major passage pretended to be for Divorce comes from Malachi 2. 16.
“If thou hatest her, put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel, yet he covereth the injury under his garment, saith the Lord of hosts.” ( Geneva Bible )
With this verse, less will be said upon its words and letters, and more upon its meaning and how it applied to the people. Neither Vatablus nor Arias Montanus here swerve from the commonly accepted reading ; but two other sources give us a very contrary witness : firstly the ancient Greek Septuagint, and secondly the recent translation work of Tremellius and Junius. The text in the Greek Septuagint has it read thus : If hating her, thou shalt put her away, saith the Lord God of Israel : impiety shall cover thy thoughts, saith the Lord Almighty. By this reading, the verse clearly gives no liberty for one who hates his wife, to put away and divorce her ; also adding that the Lord frowns upon any man who does so. But Tremellius and Junius, in our own times, correct our reading of the original Hebrew itself, having the hate now refer to the Lord, namely that it is who hates all such putting away of wives. For whereas the pretended meaning of the verse was, If thou hatest her, put her away saith the Lord God of Israel: their meaning now is, That the Lord God of Israel saith, that he hateth such putting away. Although Calvin preceded their research and was burdened under the false consensus, yet he managed to say this : Here the Prophet magnifies a crime that the Priests had minimized, for he saith that they sin more grievously, than if they had put their wives away. But divorce we know was never permitted of God, properly speaking. Although there was no punishment for it under the Law : yet never was it permitted. And after again, Such is the reason why the Prophet sayeth, [ If thou hate her, put her away] ; not that he permits of divorce, as we said previously ; but that by this circumstance he shows their fault to be so much the greater. Which also is the conclusion from others.Vatablus. Montanus. Septuagint. Tremellius & Junius. un tom. 6. fol. 13. In Mal. 2. 16. pag. 770.
[Ed : , 1611 — “For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts.”
, 2001 — “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts ; or ; The Lord, the God of Israel, says that he hates divorce, and him who covers…”]
Thus to summarize, with the first passage we have seen that the original Hebrew text and many eminent scholars, have proven the text to have been vastly misunderstood ; and some of the chief leaders for divorce and re-marriage to have acknowledged their oversight therein. With the second passage, we have both the seventy Interpreters of the ancient Septuagint, and two notable scholars of recent times, showing how the very text of the Hebrew has been misread, and that the reading of the text lately made customary, can in no way be accepted.
13 What we are to gather then, concerning the matter at hand, is now to be seen. It might arise in the conceit of some, that I have brought in these reputable Scholars to show how the advocates of Divorce have misunderstood the Scripture, and to conclude that those passages should be read as the scholars have elucidated ; or at least that their opinion is more likely : therefore making those who read them in other ways to be unquestionably deceived. And in truth, I personally am indeed of that belief. But for those who are convinced in having warrant for putting away their wives in the word of God, my only aim was to have them discover that their warrant was not as secure as they imagined. They imagine to have the support of so many recent scholars, and the so-called reformed Churches, although in this novel doctrine there be no reformation at all. We only need to convince them that their foundational verses are not taken that way by all, and that there is a manifest diversity of conclusions among the scholars ; leaving the deciding or the over-ruling of the case to others who have a better part in it, and the desire of it to those who shall need it more than we. It is enough for us, with the purpose we have currently, to be able to show the many eminent scholars do not allow those verses to help them in the way they hoped. Now whether the scholars who do allow it, or those who do not, are more correct or nearer to the truth, we will leave to be concluded among the scholars themselves ; I urge only that it cannot be taken as undoubted truth, or out of the question, that the law of God at any time gave liberty of an easy divorce that the interpreters have hitherto delivered unto us.
III. Pretexts invoked for Re-Marriage.
1. Adultery of the spouse.
C ontinuing, let us move to the second major half of our work, namely the question of a second marriage, and the Scripture verses invoked for that purpose, where the advocates of marital Liberty hang for the last remainder of their strength. Those passages are only two : both of them in the New Testament, and put forth as being the words of Christ himself ; which, when well examined, I believe will be of no more use to them than all the others have been.
Before we proceed, let us remark how many Scholars oppose any idea of a second marriage, starting from exactly the same verses, and just as careful to give it the pristine understanding that it ought to have. This vast array of scholars, of equal learning but countlessly more in number, may easily induce those standing on the fence to be less fearful in siding with the camp whose doctrine had been tried by long experience, and much less likely to be faulty. That seems a wiser course than to rapidly turn toward the newcomers, embracing a judgment but lately sprung up among us, and so newly introduced within the Church. Although this is not a proof for absolute certainty, yet neither may its probability be very well neglected. A certainty cannot be found on these issues at present, for we are still in the midst of the debate ; the matter has not yet been finally proven by us, or conceded by them in their small numbers ( although some of them are beginning lean to our side ) . Nor is it a certain proof that they who are less numerous are therefore wrong. Yet, on the other hand, the compelling probability leaves it as a good conjecture, that those of a contrary view from these newcomers may be correct, or at least that our view is not out of the question.The judgment of countless scholars against divorce and remarriage.
15 Having given them all the credit I can, I still cannot omit to say how defective their argument has been, and even their own arguing of this question has shown the many defects, in its weak reasoning, and in the many awkward concessions. I do not mean to go so far as to say that they have absolutely nothing worth considering ; nor that their awkward concessions are so many that they alone give sufficient reason for condemning anything being said. I say only that they often use such arguments as in truth make no sense ; and their tolerance of this spotty reasoning may justly breed suspicion, that they are somewhat partial therein, & are carried quite a bit with some private affection. In using so often such weak collections, they do plainly insinuate, that their store of strong points is not very great ; and that in adding such awkward concessions, it may be justly concluded that they were so far out of temper as to overshoot their goal.
16 We may see their defects, for instance, in their stating as a core principle that the nature of Adultery is such that it can utterly dissolve the existing bond of Matrimony, and that was the reason why Christ made an exception for it. It is their way of deflecting a mighty argument from our side about the bonding made by God betwixt man and wife, and stated by Christ : that which God hath joined, let not man put asunder. In attempting to parry it, Erasmus replied : This concern can be easily dismissed. What God did join together was rightly joined : and that does God himself put asunder, which was well put asunder. Musculus later added, that they who put away their wives do not break the bond of marriage ; but that the adulteress by her adultery had broken it already.How weakly they reason. Mat. 19. 6. In 1. Cor. 7. p. 499. In Mat. 5. pag. 114.
Let us run through the judgment here, from of all principal professors of Divorce and Second Marriages, first in Latin and then with their meaning. To start with Erasmus, since he was the first, he says :
( Divortium ) Christus astringit ad unam adulterii causam, non quod non sint alia flagitia adulterio sceleratiora : sed quòd adulterium tota ratione pugnet cum coniugio. Matrimonium e duobus unum facit : eam copulam dissecat adulterium. Musculus likewise, being to show for what cause marriage may be dissolved, says,
una causa est quam Deus ponit dicendo, Nisi causa stupri. Nam hoc crimine conjugalis fides dissoluitur. Again,
Excipit causam stupri, significans tum licere &c. Quia, quod Deus conjunxerat, per adulterium dividit, mariti fidem obnoxiam sibi iam amplius non habet, &c. Nam nemo alterius improbitate, ius suum quod a Deo habet, &c. amittere debet. Again, speaking of an adulterous wife,
Marito amplius non viuit, sedei cui perfida & adultera adheret. Mr Calvin likewise says,
Merito abijcitur mulier, que perfidè coniugium violauit : quia eius culpa, abrupto vinculo, libertas viro parta est. Again,
additur tamen exceptio, quia mulier scortando se quasi putridum membrum a viro rescindens, eum liberat. Gualter is also of the same mind, because the adulteress
coniugii vinculum perfide dissolvit, and otherwise argues that
adulteris & scortatoribus coniugii dignitas patrocinabitur, quod Deus ut istis uterentur, instituit. Lastly Beza answering a concern, that it might cause one man to possess multiple wives at once : Respondeo, says he,
in hoc argumento esse petitionem principii. Praesupponit enim id ipsum, de quo quaeritur : manere nempe vinculum matrimonij etiam post divortium. Concedo igitur uni viro non licere plures vxores habere : sed addo, uxorem esse desiisse, quae propter adulterium se a viro separavit. And somewhat after,
Coniugii vinculum abrupit, quisquis factus est scortationis membrum. And after that,
Concludo igitur, adulterio abrumpi non tantum usum, sed vinculum : quod nisi voluntate innocentis rursum coalescit, integram esse eidem innocenti, si continere non potest, novas nuptias inire. &c. And lastly,
Convictus adulterii, maritus esse desinit.
All these quotes say, in effect, that adultery has the capacity of breaking the bond of matrimony which previously had existed between the spouses, and dissolve it away. This has already been utterly disproven by the most eminent men, but if we look into it a bit ourselves, we too will discover that the bond of marriage has the kind of nature which none of the parties has the capacity of breaking.
Let us make note of the fact, that there is a variety of bonds which bind a husband and a wife to one another. There of course exist the first two : the bond of the husband, and the bond of the wife, simultaneous but slightly different, the one going before, and the other following after ; it is good to see them as distinct, like two ships grappling together and fastening their grapple to each other. In addition, there exist the bonds which tie the spouses with those who join them them in the marriage, namely God himself, and his ambassadors on earth among us. When one person ties a bond which another, they also tie a bond with all of the other parties involved, in a veritable knot which contains all the bonds tied in one place together. And thus in matrimony, each person is, by the virtue of that marriage, bound fast with four distinct knots and ties : the bond of the husband ; the bond of his yokefellow, the wife ; the bond with the officiant ; and last, the bond with God and his holy ordinance. From this we may conclude that anything we claim to have the force of dissolving the entire knot of matrimony, should be such as to command the whole interest of all these parties, and to concur in all of them by a full and lawful consent. Absent of that, nothing done by the husband or wife can have the force of dissolving the entire knot, because others also participate in it, and those others being superiors, whose consent must also be obtained. Otherwise, it would be as if one party broke one of the bonds, and concluded that it broke the entire knot, releasing all involved parties to their prior state.The 4. bonds.
How wrong this logic is will be clearer in some other example where we are not yet forestalled by prejudice, or have our affections blinded, such as in the bond between a Master and a Servant. There, although the servant may behave as badly as may be, and violate the nature of his role, deserving to be utterly cast off : yet if the master has taken him into his service without exceptions, not only for better but also for worse, or if the laws do not permit the dismissal : then their bond still has not been severed. In such cases we may see some bond of duty still remaining and standing in force between them, making it difficult to claim that disrepute from the servant alone rips up the bond that tied them together.
This easy break of marital bonds is very dangerous, and could be extended to other conjunctions between people, such as of parents and children, or princes and subjects. Great care must be taken that no such gap be opened, whereby the looser sort of men, after they get their desire in Divorce, should cast about to obtain similar privileges in other things. In which respect I am quite amazed that Mr Calvin, so judicious a man as he was, and having bettered his understanding as we outlined above : yet did not benefit from his new realizations as he well might. He starts by saying : The bond of wedlock is a thing more holy than what may be dissolved by people’s wishes, or when their lust moves them to it. For although man and wife do join themselves together with mutual consent, yet God ties them together with a knot that cannot be loosed, and they have no liberty to part it asunder afterward. And so far so good ; but then he adds : yet an exception is added, unless the bond be broken for fornication. For the woman is justly cast off who disloyally has broken wedlock, and so forth, as before. We still see that he noted two distinct bonds in the parties themselves by mutual consent, and that the man had bound himself to his wife, and the wife likewise to him ; and also, that God ( above them both ) had likewise join’d them together never to part : and yet notwithstanding in the end he still allows the bond to be wholly broken by a single party ; following therein the judgment of others.J. Calvin.
Even only a single bond tied the adulterous wife to her husband ; still one could hardly say that her lewdness would completely break their bond of Matrimony : the laws say that the wife’s land property remains with the husband, even after adultery, by the virtue of the bond made between them. On the other hand when that bond becomes dissolved by death, then he is indeed forced to part with the properties. Even Erasmus understands this ; his saying that A woman who committed adultery, ceases to be a wife, was castigated by Natalis Bedda ; and he defending himself, replied : this was just a manner of speech. We also deny the name of a son to the man who degenerates from his father’s ways, and deserves to be cast off : and yet the bond of nature remains. We also deny the name of a Bishop to a man who is unworthy of that name : and yet his consecration still remains. And we also deny the name of a Christian to one of wicked behaviour : & yet his Baptism is not abolished. In such sense did I say that she ceased to be a wife, who made herself unworthy of the name. And thereupon citing similar thoughts out of Chrysostom and Jerome, he concludes : As therefore a man is not a man, a wife not a wife, so is marriage no marriage. But although he plainly offered the interpretation for his initial words, those who followed him framed their judgement without that latter qualification of his.Natalis Bedda. Supputationes Beddae. 22. Tom. 9. pag. 472.
It should be noted, in passing, that the above argument denies for man and woman to have been knit by God, if it were done without orderliness. Consider what gap this may open for dissolving not only of marriage, but of any obligations whatsoever.
2. Misery for the couple.
17 Misery in marriage is another another reason frequently cited as a pretext for Divorce. Although irrelevant to the essence and nature of the marital bond, still, in marriages which are knit in a disorderly way, with deep discontentment between the parties, breaking of the bond of wedlock has an appearance of seeming like a just request. A marriage may be considered disorderly when it is a conjunction of men and women with weak understandings, such as of children, or idiots ; or those who could understand if they desired, but are so swept away with ambition, covetousness, or inordinate lust, as to demonstrate that they do not intend to follow a rational course. To join such a marriage, it is very true, is to have a great disorder be committed ; and such instances are rife all around us. But if Erasmus or anyone else would seize on this, to conclude that an escape hatch of divorce and re-marrying must be crafted for the remedy of those abuses, or that the Apostle were more likely to bear with Divorce than we have understood until now : that is but a weak conclusion, and in no way has any sound reason to urge us unto it.Weak reasoning from secondary causes. In 1. Cor. 7. pag. 504.
It may be readily granted that there are many and great evils, which indeed commonly oppress both parties who are locked together in a disorderly marriage. Around us ( says Erasmus, ) we see many thousands who cleave together in their unlucky wedlock, to the destruction of them both : who, it may be, if they were sundered again, might then be saved. Thereupon he draws the conclusion that if doable without breach of God’s commandment, then it were something to be wished for, because it belongs to Apostolic piety to strive for the salvation of all, and especially to offer help for the weak members of the Church.Inconveniences. Pag. 492.
But more than the suffering of both parties, it is the suffering of the innocent party in cases of abuse, which especially haunts them. Erasmus writes that There are often cases of such injustice, that it may seem to be no less than plain cruelty, not to help someone who is in a manifest danger. And to make the case more moving, he adds, Christ did not pause to go up and down just for one sheep, everywhere seeking, that having found it he may bring it home again, even on his shoulders ; and shall we not inquire how we may help those who are ready to perish? Especially given that Christ is the author of safety, men’s laws should be of no further force, but only to tend to the good of men. And even more plainly, There is nobody who can deny that the laws of Christ are most upright, &c ; whereupon he concludes, Can it be seen as equitable for the husband to be compelled to live with a woman marvelously lewd, whom he never gave cause for her lewdness, or was able to make her better, with whom to live is to be considered no life at all? Or if he leave her, that then he should be compelled to live all his life long, with no hope of propagation ; alone, repulsed even from his very manhood itself?Pag. 496. Pag. 495.
Beza, likewise, says this of a wife that violates her marital vows again and again : What is more unjust here, than continuing to still have no care for the innocent party? He notes ( as do others on his side ) , that a restriction of marital Liberty will make the harlots more bold & fearless to violate their vows ; while the innocent party would have no choice but quietly to put up, and not seek any punishment.De repud. & divort. pag. 153.
Of what force all these reasons are, may be seen by anyone who will consider them for a bit. The abuses in marriage form but a weak reason for urging one to favorably adopt divorce, as it is clear indeed, that they can be amended in several ways : by reconciliation within the marriage ( with the assistance of the Church ) , or by the force of good laws in the Nation. But no such liberty for divorce can be seen as a redress for these ills, unless it stand by undoubted warrant of the Word of God ; and yet the advocates of divorce seize on these causes and offer their remedies without any solid footing, proclaiming marital Liberty, before they have found it to be allowed to them by the word of God.
3. Theological ignorance.
18 Another argument presented to us comes from the pretended theological confusion among scholars, of which Erasmus managed to gather many instances. He cites Johannes Andreae, who says, that matrimony, before the parties have lain together, may be dissolved again, not only for the profession of the monastical life, but even just by the authority of the Bishop of Rome alone, without any reasons. Out of Hostiensis, Augustinu, and Pope Leo, he gathers, that a fall into heresy dissolves matrimony, even consummate matrimony ; and it dissolves it so clean, that it is lawful for the party that remains in the faith, to marry another. Thirdly, he cites Zacharias the Pope : it does break off the bond of marriage, if the husband has had to do with the wife’s sister: and proceeds to grant the wife permission for marrying again. Lastly, Hostiensis, asking whether the Church may order, that if one of the married parties falls into heresy, the other may marry again?, answers it by saying : the Church may so do.More weak reasoning. In 1. Cor. 7. pag. 494. Ibid. Ibid. Ibid.
Having showed these and other diversities of opinion, which are not unlike what he advocates, Erasmus is bold to go to make other claims, even farther off : that the Apostles ordered the Gentiles to observe certain of Jewish ceremonies among the Christians in Antioch ( for greater peace ) ; that the Bishop of Rome makes other bishops than what the Apostle had allowed of ; that the Church had recently declared many points which were originally left at liberty, such as Transubstantiation, the procession of the holy Ghost from the Son, the Conception of the blessed Virgin, and the holy Ghost being of one substance with the Father and the Son. All which Erasmus brings up to show that it is no new thing for the Church to make further decisions on matters which had not been taken before, as need arises : and so insinuates that in the matter of divorce, they might also do well to take such order as he commended, if the word of God will bear it ( as he was persuaded it would ) .
Similar equivocations are brought out of the Sermon on the Mount, which is claimed to provide us with a license to alter other instructions which we had received from our Lord. Erasmus says that our Lord forbids us to swear, to be angry, to reproach, to presume to come with our offering to God before being at peace with our brother, to go to make lawsuits, to return offenses, and to resist assault. Further, he is said to command us to love our enemies, to wish well for them who wish ill of us, and to pray for them who curse us. Erasmus sums these up as follows : When Christ teaches many things which plainly concern the duty of Christians, in all other things we admit of various interpretations ; why are we so crabbed in this one point of Divorce, that we restrict his words even further than he himself meant them?. And on the sermon on the mount in particular, he says : Christ spake all this not to the crowds but to his Disciples ; not just somewhere but on the Mount, painting forth that most pure part of his body which he calls the kingdom of heaven, among which there will be no need of laws. On these he says, If we only admitted the ideal and pure people as Christ was describing, there would be no need for Divorce, or for swearing. But if we admit the weak whom the Church has in great abundance, they are not forbidden to seek redress of their grievances through lawsuits ; nobody is forbidden to defend himself from violence ; nobody is forbidden to swear, if caused by something ; no one is compelled to think well of those who think ill of him. But why do we still enforce this matter of divorce from everyone?
Followers of Erasmus added further thoughts on this ; that if Christ had taught us to pursue perfection, then a man putting away his wife for adultery, and marrying another, may not ( in any way ) be called into question, for that is allowed to him who seeks for more perfect things.
Finding Chrysostom say that the Jew was permitted to put away his wife lest he slays her in hatred, thereupon Erasmus reasons : Shall the Jew benefit from his wicked malice, but a husband among us be deprived of the same benefit despite virtuous and honest dealing? The he goes one notch further, adding, At least let us be allowed to relieve our miserable innocency, just as the Jews were permitted their perverse crabbedness, to the same extent that S. Paul was patient with intemperate widows lest they commit some further evil.Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 502. Ibid. pag. 505.
If we now examine these claims of his ; although the Apostles and the godly Fathers had determined more plainly on points of doctrine than those who went before them, still they had the word of God on their side, and were never reproached for their decisions. But their doing so is not in itself an argument to move us in favor of Divorce, except to the extent that we may count to have the word of God with us on it. But where he listed the things which they determined & did against the word of God, there we ought to be precisely the opposite, and be even more on guard against being led by their example ; for when an argument is of this nature, it builds upon a falsehood.
4. Supposed warrant in Scripture.
19 When the advocates of Divorce claim to base their arguments upon Scripture, often they simply misunderstand the text. Erasmus having conceived ( as we saw before ) , that the Law allowed the husband to put away his adulterous wife, he urges further, that it is not specified, that this permission was granted for the hardness of their hearts ; especially since the explanation we were given ( what Christ said, ) cannot be gathered from observation or nature. And immediately after, he adds : Even if it were only granted for the hardness of their hearts, still what God has granted becomes lawful : especially if he in no way declared to be offended by those who used this liberty. Not resting in this excuse, he cites another verse ; and adds afterward : whether people agree with this verse or not, there is no dispute that in cases of adultery, the husband may marry whomever else he wishes ; and those who are divorced, are not forbidden to marry again. Sometimes a thing may be called lawful when the Law merely does not punish it. And adds, from the assumption that this liberty was granted them by Moses, why cannot we, when we need that help as much as they, expected it to be granted to us as much as them?Weak reasoning from God’s authority. Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 505.
Musculus similarly misunderstood this whole principle, and yet attempted to build even further : Moses had permitted a bill of divorcement unto the Jews ; and then by the means of his permission, it grew to be a common practice for husbands among them to divorce their wives. Erring thus in his beginning, he still proceeds to make it a chief piece of his belief that the there is no divorce without the ability to marry again. For keeping in mind that the Church does not allow of any other divorce than where each party remains unmarried or be reconciled, he infers that Christ spake not of an imagined but of an actual divorce, and by it was given the capacity for marrying again. For the Jews only knew of this kind of divorce. And to prove that it was lawful for the divorced party to marry again, it will be sufficient to cite the teaching that a Priest might not marry a divorced woman ; which Law had been superfluous if it had not been lawful for a divorced woman to marry again.In Mat. 19.
Which also is the view of Chemnitz, when he hangs on this mistaken understanding of the Text to conclude for the lawfulness of divorce and marrying again, against the contrary decision set down by the Council of Trent.Exam. par. 2. in Sam. 7. pag. 285.
This little taste may be sufficient to illustrate the problem, because most of the foundation for their opinion rests on this simple misunderstanding of the text. I mention it here, because it is clear enough that mistaking the Text whereon they grounded their opinion cannot but weaken their case, and needs nothing else to discover the weakness of it than to point to their mistake.
But in Erasmus we have something else here to note as well. Observe that in his remarks, he depended at least in part upon the sense of nature, which is as perilous a guide in these matters, as a man could have possibly chosen. We are by nature utterly given to the lusts of the flesh ( and to have variety therein ) , always seeking to be rid of displeasures done unto us ( especially in our innermost personal lives ) ; thus we may be as easily blinded in this, if we lean on our own judgement, as in anything else that can commonly befall us. In this especially, Erasmus should not have rested on the sense of nature, but sought a better guide which he could have more safely followed.Sense of nature a perilous guide.
Then also, how readily does he seize on the supposed permission for Divorce, which in all his researches he could find no reason for, other than the hardness of their hearts ; which is a sufficient burn to discredit the use of that liberty to all who are godly, or have any reasonable care of their reputation. But because he takes hold of this permission so readily, it may seem to argue that without his store of arguments is but weak.
Fantasies by Erasmus and Beza.
20 But now, if we come to consider how far they have gathered amiss upon those several Texts they have used ; I know not what others may think, but for myself, I cannot but marvel at many things that I find therein. When I had gathered the list of all these mistakes, which needed to be brought to the attention of Learned men, I found them to be so many in number, and proceeding from so many famous authors, that I thought it best to take a few of them ( leaving the rest to the research of others ) , the chief ones whom the equity of the cause itself shall most desire to be called unto such a trial. In which respect, I have thought good to settle upon Erasmus and Mr Beza, because I have found these two to most purposefully discourse upon this subject, and most deeply to elaborate upon it.
Although Erasmus claims to only present this topic for discussion, and leave the serious discussion to others, yet he assembles a vast array of witnesses across history who seemed to share his views and even stated them openly in public. What his particular views are, he states very clearly, and strives also to refute objections which could be raised against them.
But the truth is, all his beliefs rest on no other part of Scripture, but go directly to the exception of adultery mentioned by Christ in the Gospel of S. Matthew, which is the only foundation for all their beliefs ( along with the Old Testament texts which they misunderstand, as I have shown above ) . And he builds on these words of Christ, because seeing us forbid such a divorce and marrying again, he attacks us, that in divorce we are so rigid, as to restrain the words of Christ more than he intended himself. And his reason is, whereas he left to the husband one cause for which he might put away his wife, we repulse that logic in so many different ways. And after again, That which Moses wrote of the bill of divorce was interpreted by the Jews to mean that husbands might put away their wives for any cause, however small. This teaching Christ narrowed down, limiting only to cases of adultery. And somewhat later, Therefore Christ allows unto his church but only one cause of divorce. Among his writings, these passages state most clearly what his beliefs were in this case.Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 498.
Two things may be noted : first, that he builds his case on no other text of Scripture than that Exception, and second, that he understands that exception to mean, that Christ himself had allowed of divorces in case of adultery. Which he does interpret the exception in that manner, either the words must be straight incapable of another meaning ; or if it could have another meaning, he must shy why it should be taken as he would have it, than as taken by others. Whereas therefore it is evident ( by the judgement of most men, in the Church of God, who did otherwise take it ) that the text may have another sense, and yet he having shown no reason why the Text must needs be taken in the sense that he would have it, nevertheless so enters upon it, and will have that to be the meaning of it hence is it, that for any thing that yet I do see to the contrary, he can hardly avoid the charge of intentional misrepresentation, or to expect mercy at the hands of his adversaries. And then having gotten so much for divorce, that the husband may use the benefit of it to put away an adulterous wife, he infers also that the husband then may lawfully marry another. And yet we must ask him to tell us plainly what kind of divorce he means. For he says, By divorce I mean not just a rupture of domestic tranquility which still retains the conjugal bond ; but a real divorce, the kind well-known in that era, which permitted upon putting away an adulterer, to marry again. By this he shows, that he means the kind of divorce which altogether breaks the bond of marriage, and not the kind which is currently in use in Christendom. Then if we put the two pieces together, namely Christ’s allowance of divorce for adultery, and that divorce being such as to free liberty for marrying again, he simply means that Christ allows his Church to put away our wives for adultery, and to marry again. And yet it is an opinion that is more boldly proclaimed, than ( in any of his proofs ) firmly proven.Ibid.
Let us next examine how Erasmus attempts to parry the verses which he cites directly refuting his own meaning. In passing, it should be noted how he avoids all other passages, especially the verses out of Deuteronomy and Malachi, almost always brought up by the advocates of marital Liberty, and entirely misunderstood by them. As discussed above, the ancient Hebrew and Septuagint wording in these verses is so much against him, that if he wished to clear doubts on the matter of Divorce, they must needs be answered before he can make any headway in his opinions.
The passages he does address come from the words of Christ, and from among the passages of the Apostle St Paul. First he addresses the first and nineteenth Chapters of the Gospel of S. Matthew, where Christ so restrains the liberty of divorce as to limit it only to adultery. It is especially notable to see what meaning he gathers from this text, for ( unlike his successors ) he does not seize on the Adultery Exception to exploit its supposed advantages ; instead he takes it as an image of perfection of true Christianity, and demands that we deliver similar restraint in all the other aspects of our lives. He would seem to say that if we exactly apply Christ’s teaching and make it a direct rule in our lives, we would need to find many similar Exceptions for ourselves ; that we would need some dispensation to avoid the strictness of it. Seeing ( he says, ) that Christ here teaches many things which should be bound on Christians, how does it come to pass that in all the rest, we content ourselves with some favourable interpretation, and only in divorce are so austere that we restrain his words even further than he went himself. And somewhat later : in this point we strictly cleave unto the uttermost which appears to be demanded by this teaching, but in all the others we look for interpretations. Christ forbids swearing for everyone, and with greater severity than he forbids divorce, beating with more words upon it. Yet we commonly swear at the drop of a dime, afterward excusing ourselves that we really should not swear rashly. But why cannot a man leave his wife just as rashly? He forbids us to be angry, and we straightaway boil over at something silly. He forbids us to reproach anyone, and yet we engage in verbal assault and abuse, afterward excusing it as done but to chastise and not to hurt. He then adds, If man had continued as he was first made, there would have been no existence of divorce. Christ, recalling his faithful to our original innocence, will have no divorce, because he will not have them to be hard-hearted ; yet Paul bears with the infirmity of man, often loosening the Lord’s commandments. Why may not the Bishop of Rome do the same likewise? By all this, it should be clear that Erasmus did not exploit the supposed allowance of divorcing for adultery, but rather leaned on the remainder of the passage to condemn us, forcing us to beg for some excuse from the entire teaching ; or at least to dispense with some part of it.Out of the words of Christ. Pag. 498.
However in both cases he slips in the logic. First, in listing Christ’s teachings, he endeavours to show that we do not hold ourselves literally tied to them ; arguing therefore, that we should similarly approach the teaching on divorce. But the truth is, how we hang on Christ’s teachings is itself guided by authority of the word of God, the whole counsel of the Scriptures, such as on the one hand being forbidden to swear, and yet elsewhere being taught to swear by God himself, as part of the worship due to him. And second, the conclusion he would have us to make on divorce is not something that any of the Scriptures can lead us toward ; and in fact something that all other Scripture directly forbids. Just as with accusing S. Paul of dispensing with the Lord’s commandment and seeing no reason why the Bishop of Rome might not do the same, Erasmus seems to say that Christ unwillingly allowed of divorce, and as soon as the hardness of hearts should be abolished, then the people would not stand indeed of that help to their infirmity. And yet if we apply this method in any other case, we would show ourselves trying to make our corrupt inclinations into a rule for interpreting the Scriptures ; rather than allowing the Scriptures to be a rule unto us, by which to amend, or to call into check, whatever ill ways there are in our own corruption.
Concerning chapter 19 of Matthew, where Christ said that what God had coupled together, was not for man to put asunder, he replies : This verse, put forth as an objection to my views, may easily be answered. God only coupled together that, which is coupled rightly ; and God himself breaks asunder that which was well put asunder. And then he goes on to proceed, that although he assures us not to permit the divorce to be conducted by the parties themselves, or anyone else except those in authority for those matters ; yet he also plainly shows that he would allow it for more causes than just adultery ; and that God would bless those cases. That which childhood, drunkenness, impatience, and ignorance had coupled together, that which the Devil had joined by whores and prostitutes ( his own proper Deacons ) , those marriages will God by his Ministers rightly put asunder again. To which end he says that neither among the Gentiles nor the Jews, were marriages deemed to be of force without the consent of the parents, or the principal friends : and yet both of them had allowed marriage to be dissolved in some way or another. But among Christians, marriage is made on most frivolous grounds, and yet when made, there is no way to undo it. But by saying that, ( in his quest for the great liberty of divorce, ) , he not only has no Scripture supporting him, but even most of those standing in favor of divorce and marrying again ( in these days of ours ) flatly against him. Making this point, therefore, greatly weakens his point not only for truth, but also to them, for whose benefit he was making it.Pag. 499.
We turn now to the passages which Erasmus takes out of S. Paul. To the text from the first Epistle unto the Corinthians, , where the woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives, his answer is : The Apostle is not speaking of divorce ( claimed without proof, ) but brings to the Jews an analogy out of their own Law, by the which he may teach and persuade, that the Law of Moses being now abolished by the Gospel, they are now married to Christ their new husband, and no more bound to the ceremonies of the Law. It is not necessary for the analogy to fit in every sense, which was not required here ; and yet the thing itself must be true, if anything is proved by it. To the second passage, from , he answers likewise : Here too Paul does not refer to Divorce, but exhorts the women who are free from marriage, especially widows, would abstain from marriage, to the end they might be freer from worldly affairs. Which assertion of his, apart for being unproven, offers little help, because something may pertain to a subject whether or not the speaker intended it. To the third reference, out of the same chapter to the Corinthians at , requiring the wife to not depart from her husband and the husband from his wife, he says that it is locus omnium difficilimus, that is, the hardest verse of them all. Upon it his best answer is, that S. Paul there does not treat of grievous crimes as great or greater than adultery, but of the lighter offences for which divorce was frequent, especially among the Greeks, citing a case out of Juvenal where a woman had eight husbands in five years. His proof that the Apostle spoke only of lesser offences, lies in the mention of reconciliation among the spouses, which to him seems only possible for less grievous matters ; but this is left unproven, resting only upon the weight of his credibility. This flaw he saw himself, because he did not lean on this argument but immediately moved on to the others ( and just as weak ) : one, pleading that this teaching was only given to women ; and two, guessing what the Apostle would have taught, if confronted with problems of today’s Christian world. But sensing that his answer may be unsatisfactory, and someone will remind him that the Apostle’s words did not allow the exception of Adultery, it seems he had only this to say : Then why did the Apostle omit the exception, which the Lord himself had provided? And more than that ; why did he add, which the Lord added not, namely, Let her abide unmarried? Why does he forbid the husband to put away any wife, when Christ himself allowed to put away a wife who was an adulteress? ( where, if you notice, he assumes the very thing which is in question among us, and yet resting on it as if he proved it, or we granted it ) .Out of S. Paul. Hom. 7. 2. Ibid. p. 502.
Thus may be said for how Erasmus attempted to gather the proofs for his opinion ; and for clearing it of those objections which he saw might be made against it.
21 Let us now turn to Theodore Beza, who wrote long after Erasmus’s first creation of this Marital Liberty, and which by now was in the minds of many, and even considered as true by some. He sought to craft such a treatise, that if anything existed which could shed light upon the subject, we could hope to find it in him ; and if there was anything which sufficiently confirmed the doctrine of Divorce, that we could find its clearest and best proofs in his treatise. Therefore it shall be good to consider what he has found in favor of Divorce, or how he defends against the Scriptures which oppose him.Mr Beza and his mistakes.
After waving away certain objections which might have burdened his position, he goes on to plainly state as follows : I affirm, upon the express words of Christ, that a marriage may rightly, and with a good conscience be dissolved upon adultery. That is as strong and clear a declaration, as could ever be needed ; and therefore likely enough to have some special good reasoning whereon it might have been based. The words he means are indicated in the margins, citing the very verses which I cited as in dispute, but here simply ascribed on his behalf as the express words of Christ. However their meaning is the very issue in dispute between us, and by what right may he consider them so express or plain on his behalf, when he knows that that is precisely what is being denied to him? He realized that his appropriation of Christ’s words was completely denied to him by many, because he immediately set to vindicate his interpretation. When Christ saw that the punishment of Adultery by stoning was now held in contempt, he instructed that the people should at least stand in fear of their consciences ; and then being asked whether it was lawful to Divorce for trivial reasons ( as many then were doing ) , he so answered, that he not only denied it be lawful for trivial reasons, but then added that divorce was unlawful for any reason, other than adultery ; and , than those words of his. Therefore I have not found among the Christians, either the ancients or the moderns, anyone who has disallowed the innocent party to separate and divorce from an adulterour. On the other hand, they did have a distinction between a mere Separation, and the very Breaking of the marital bond ( which they forthwith made irrelevant by forbidding either one to marry again ) . Even Augustine was of this opinion. All this explains why it is most necessary to show the strong reasons with which the most learned Divines, in this age of ours, have clean wiped away the arguments of that camp. And so, he forthwith proceeds to answer the Objections which he believes stand in the way of marital Liberty.De Repud. & divort. pag. 109. Mat. 5. 31. & 19. 9.
But first let us parse through the passage above. He starts by saying : When Christ saw that the punishment of Adultery by stoning was now held in contempt, he instructed &c. What have we here if not merely his own guess? There is no proof at all that Christ acted from this impetus, which more likely was different, as I will discuss shortly. Thus he starts with a specious conjecture, although ( due to his learning ) his guesses would have been expected to have a greater worth. He mentions the general consent of all in allowing of Divorce for adultery, which may indeed raise his credit at first sight ; but let us remember two things : many of these scholars mistook the Old Testament verses to permit Divorce even on minor grounds ; and more to the point, the kind of Divorce they meant did not dissolve the bond of marriage. If they misunderstood the Old Testament as to permit of divorce for lesser matters, then it would make it more easy to permit it for the greater ; but despite that, they were quick to add that even the Divorce for adultery would not be capable of breaking the Bond of matrimony. It is therefore clear, that regardless of how Christ’s words may have seemed to Mr Beza, the great scholars he cites did not see what he sees there. Also, that S. Augustine was of the same mind with them, weighs much against Beza, as the reputation of his judgment is undoubted. Therefore, whether we should see in his bold claims any proof which would secure our consciences before God, and believe his clear and obvious readings which so many ( and so sharp ) divines found to be doubtful, this I leave to anyone who will ponder on adopting these novel conclusions.
But then Mr Beza did not rest long on his interpretation of Christ’s words ( since he found them obvious enough ) , and instead hastened to answer such Objections as he found to be made against it. Let us see what answers he will find himself to be content with. He himself acknowledges that the word of God ( and other sources ) contains numerous Objections to his doctrine. And those Objections, lo and behold, are exactly those that were listed by Erasmus : the verses are the same ; and their sequence and order ; and his defence against them ; and ( excepting the first ) even his very words and punctuation. As we work through them, it will become apparent that he found no new help from the word of God than when Erasmus had a go at it.
The first Objection to divorce Mr Beza finds in the 5. and 19. chapters of S. Matthew:Out of the words of Christ.
-I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery : and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. ( Matthew 5:32 )
-I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery : and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery. ( Matthew 19:9 )
He defends against these prohibitions differently from Erasmus, who lumped them together with the severest of Christ’s teachings, to make us despair of strictly applying anything he taught altogether. But Mr Beza follows a different course : the opponents of divorce quickly run to this Objection, namely Christ’s teaching that he who marries a divorcee, commits adultery. But observe, that if the original divorce broke the bond of marriage, the second marriage would not constitute adultery, for the Exception added at the beginning of the verse, is also implied at the end. He explains his meaning at length in the words which come next : If divorcing from an innocent party causes her to commit adultery, it follows that divorcing from an adulterer and re-marrying again, does not cause his new wife to commit adultery. We may understand the last clause in Christ’s teaching to have the same Exception as was given in the former clause ; otherwise the Lord contradicts himself. The text should be read as such: [ Whosoever marrieth a divorcee committeth adultery, she divorced from an adulterous husband, in which case she may marry again without an obstacle]. This is the best of all which he will be able to muster in support of his doctrine of divorce. And if we look carefully, it will appear to be an odd proof. Say it is admitted that the Exception of Adultery would mean that one might lawfully divorce his wife for adultery ( although we do not grant it, being the very point in debate between us ) ; yet it does not follow that everyone may claim this exception at will, and in every case of a wife committing adultery, to therefore count her as divorced. For a statement to be true, it is sufficient that it were true in one instance ; not that it must be true in all instances. For example, it may be said that God had had no people unto himself except the seed of Abraham ; yet it does not follow that everyone of the seed of Abraham was in that category. And whereas the Exception for Adultery could be satisfied with a single instance where an adultery therefore made a divorce valid ; yet Beza concludes a general case, that everyone who divorces an adulterous wife, does not commit adultery himself. His proof is no better than any argument which tries to ascend from a particular to the general, or from a part to the whole ; such as : God had no-one in the whole the world to be his peculiar people, except the seed of Abraham ; ergo, all the seed of Abraham were his peculiar people. It is therefore strange to make Christ guilty of contradiction if did not intend to imply the clause which Beza imputes to him ; there is nothing contradictory about saying that an adultery might lawfully permit of a divorce in some cases, but not in others.
The other Objections to divorce which Beza attempted to dispel were the same as listed in Erasmus, and dismissed with the same light answer as given before by Erasmus. To Christ’s teaching that no man should split what God has joined together, Erasmus gave the brief reply that such divorces were split not by man but by God ; and Beza repeats it : In a divorce which was done for adultery, I deny man to have been its author. Thus far they agree, even in how they answered. But in its confirmation they part ways, with Erasmus building upon the common flaws in the making of marriages ; but M. Beza building upon the Law of God which condemns adulterers to death, and upon that exception adultery. Whether M. Beza has made a better claim than Erasmus I leave to be decided by others ; but in pursuing his own course he clearly indicates a dislike for the opening made by Erasmus, of which he says, that he does not join in opinion with those, who believe that Magistrates may make new laws for Divorces. And the proof he offers for his opinion ( that only God can be the author of a divorce for adultery ) is no more than this : the Lord in times past plainly declared that he would have even the bond of matrimony be dissolved by adultery, even punishing the guilty with death ; afterward, when Christ discoursed upon the unlawfulness of divorce, he provided an exception for adultery, consoling people’s consciences on account of the Magistrate’s negligence. Concerning both of these, we plainly see the latter of them to assume for his side the very Exception of Christ that is in dispute between us ; which he knew would be denied to him, and apparently lacked confidence about the former claim also, so quickly rushing over it.
In truth, it is very weak to argue that because God ordained for adulterers to be put to death, therefore an adultery may count as the very death itself, and thereby loosen the parties from the bond of marriage. There is a general rule among scholars, and even plainly taught by Erasmus his partner, that the chief key for opening unto us the secret sense of Scriptures lies in considering the intent or purpose of the speaker. God’s intent here was obviously to instruct the Magistrates on how to implement his judgment, and not for husbands to discover themselves free of the marital bond with which they had been tied. Whosoever unabashedly proclaims that adultery dissolves the bond of matrimony ( because of its condemnation to death ) , should try applying it in other circumstances, such as, whether it will allow the descendant of adulterours to claim all of their goods as his rightful inheritance ; or whether anyone owing them duty, such as children, or servants, may consider themselves discharged of it ; or if anyone who has already deserved death for some other reason, could now avail themselves of adultery at will.Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 503.
Among Objections to divorce found in Apostle S. Paul, the first may be taken from the 7. chapter to the Romans, and the 7. chapter of the 1. epistle to the Corinthians:Out of St Paul.
-For the woman which hath an husband is bound by the law to her husband so long as he liveth ; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband liveth, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress : but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law ; so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man. ( Romans 7:2-3 )
-Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. ( 1. Corinthians 7:27 )
These verses Beza encapsulates as follows : the wife is bound to her husband by law, so long as he liveth ; and attempts to deflect by giving in effect the same answer : the Apostle said nothing there about the causes of divorce. On the first verse he claims that the Apostle merely used wedlock as a visual to convey a purpose he had in hand ; that he spoke of matrimony still in force, not of one already dissolved by divorce ; and that a woman condemned of adultery may not be said to be under her husband, as he no longer actually was her husband. On the second verse, he claims that S. Paul was only addressing widows whose marriage being dissolved by death, they may with good conscience marry again ; and that by S. Paul meant the usual and ordinary cause, where among the faithful to whom he wrote, marriage could only be dissolved by death.De Repud. & Divort. pag. 110.
In the answer unto both which, what else have we to ground upon, but only his own opinion avouched again ; and here also but weakly confirmed? he says the Apostle her did not mention any causes of divorce. Who says that he did, and what does it matter? He says plenty in many other verses to help us interpret this. And why should he speak of that which was not? It is we who assume that God’s law had allowed divorce for them : and the Jews in the time of Christ did assume exactly the same thing, although for other reasons. But in fact no liberty for Divorce was given to them : and therefore we should not expect that the Apostle would speak of it. Should we never permit ourselves to be instructed, or our judgements rectified by any Verses other than those which explicitly mention our topic? If Satan ruse to this point were to prevail through the assistance of famous thinkers among us, he would not only deprive us of a good part of that direction which we have by the word of God : but also might have an easy method for bringing in, and settling, many errors among us. When God spake to Moses out of the bush and said, I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, was it his intent there to deliver the doctrine of the Resurrection? and yet does not Christ lean on this text to notably deliver that doctrine unto us? When God forbad the Israelites to muzzle up the mouth of the Ox that trod out their corn, did he aim to teach about the care with which they ought to have maintained a Ministry among them? and yet does not the Apostle apply that text to that purpose? And there is no end to such examples.Exod. 3. 6. Mat. 22. 31. Deut. 25. 4. 2. Cor. 9. 8.
In the former verse he adds farther, that he only borrows a similitude thence, so far as belonged unto the purpose he had in hand. What then? Could his reason be good therein, unless that same, from whence he takes the force of his reason, were sound itself. And if he can thus put off his Readers, to say, that he speaks of a marriage that stands in force, & by adultery is not dissolved, does it therefore follow, that marriage may be dissolved by adultery? If it be resolved and set down by him, that being found guilty of adultery and condemned thereof, she is now no more under a husband, or that having committed adultery she cannot be one flesh with her husband ; do we then have a sufficient ground for the husband to account himself as thenceforth discharged before God of all such duties, as by the reason of that his wedlock he was before bound unto?
In the latter verse, was it so needful a point to teach widows in the Church of Corinth, after that the Gospel was now already received among them ; & that had a great part of their light from so many of the ancient people of God conversing among them ( with whom such marriages were very common, the Gentiles also being little behind them therein ) that this sentence of the Apostle, which otherwise would serve us marvelous well to give us sound direction in this, and in many such other matters besides, must so be restrained to widows only, that we, in this case, may not look to have any benefit of it? Truly it is good to care for widows, & it is a thing that is much commended unto us, not only in the word of God, but in all other good learning besides : but in all things there is a mean to be kept ; & widows themselves ( it is to be thought ) will be content, that wives also have all their due. Or did he so restrain those words of his, unto that which was then most commonly used, that, for the matter now we speak of, he would not have us to take so much of our direction thence? Or did the Apostle presuppose no farther on the behalf of the faithful as touching their holiness and constancy in wedlock, but only that hardly or scantly they accounted wedlock to be dissolved among them but only by death : or, if of the two, may not a man that is careful to find the truth, rather doubt, that this is but an hard & a scant interpretation of this place of the Apostle?1. Cor. 7. 10. Ibid. pag. 110.
5. Supposed warrant in church history.
22 The champions of divorce and re-marriage, in addition to Scripture, invoke the arguments from history. According to Erasmus, the first among the ancient Fathers thought that after marriage was well dissolved, it was lawful for them to marry another: and namely, that Origen, Tertullian, Pollentius & Ambrose, were all of the same opinion, or at least did at some time incline unto it ; and that Augustine, though he wrote against the aforesaid Pollentius about this matter, yet did not deal with him as with a heretic, but only an adversary in that question. Quotes Erasmus, that it is more wicked, out of wedlock to play the harlot, than after divorce to live in marriage with another husband. Again, if a woman after divorce marries another, that he does not simply deny her to be the wife of this man ; but rather to be the wife of him whom she left than of him whom she has married since. Then also, That if we examine the opinions of more recent writers to whom the Courts and the Schools do grant much authority, we shall find there to be some who thought that marriage might be dissolved, or at least that it was a disputable argument. He has found this in the writings of John of Andrew on matters of espousals or a marriage prior to carnal knowledge ; yet on a consummated marriage he finds so little that he says nothing more.Weak reasoning on the authority of men. S. Augustine. De Adulterinis Coniugiis, ad Pollentium. Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 492. pag. 505.
He also cites, for his authorities, the other John and two more, namely, Panormitanus, and Hostiensis : and finds little more in them. The first leaves it divorce to the judgement of others, having first brought arguments both against it, and with it ; the second merely disputes it, and answering the contrary side to be the more probable ; and the third but seems to be for it the opinion that the Church might do it. That divorces have been done at times in the Church, he brings in two miserable examples : the one where Pope Zachary in a case of incest allowed the innocent wife to marry again ; the other, where Anthony reports, that he had seen a Bull of the Bishop of Rome abolishing or dissolving a matrimony which was fully established and consummated ( by carnal knowledge ) .
To these examples, a writer of good reckoning among us has added that the Pastors & Doctors of the reformed Churches have perceived, and showed, that a man may put away his wife, and marry another. And true it is that many of them have resolved on that opinion, and have published the same accordingly : but whether they have perceived or found it to be so indeed ; and whether they have showed, or by any sufficient demonstration declared the same, let that lie in question betwixt us, till we be further advised of it.J. Rainolds, Judgment of Reformed Churches
That the Fathers do not so fully consent & agree together on marriage, as the adversary that he has chosen bears, may be so ; but many of them were for it, and especially for the first four hundred years. Of those that Erasmus alleges for him, he cites two : John of Andrew, and Panormitan. The example he gets from the former is, asking the Bishop of Rome whether a monk, a king’s only son, may receive dispensation to take a wife until he produces a male heir, he determines for neither side, but leaves it to the judgement of others. Which ( we see ) is but one special case, and does not concern us : and yet, in citing such a dainty and special case as this, Erasmus shows plain enough how little he would endure a more general case. The second writer more plainly supports this, who reciting these above lines also adds his own : I should rather think, that in no case the Pope might dissolve matrimony consummate both the parties being faithful, so that I should choose the negative part. The only helpful passage which ( Erasmus conceives ) he has in him, is this : He neither affirms it, but proposes the argument as disputable, himself thinking the other part to be more probable. And so likewise by and by after, he says ( reaffirming again ) , he does not here affirm that the Church cannot break asunder a consummated marriage, but yet implies this ; although he says that marriage may not be broken, on the contrary.
How poor are these authors for support, I think everyone will perceive. The argument that the advocates of divorce take here is ( in effect ) no more than this, that anything which is brought against their conceived opinion, is all but weak, and easily answered. And for this point I have thought good to note, not only that judgement before to have been in Erasmus abroad : but also, that we find it in the author whom I mentioned before, upon whom many are known to rest their thoughts. That Erasmus was of that mind, his words are plain ; I have seen that those objections can be answered quite easily, with no injury to our religion. I saw that the arguments brought forth here by the ancients and the new writers have no urgency that might drive the human race into desperation. Wherein whether he were deceived, or had some over-weening conceit his own thinking, let it rest until the clarity of the matter itself may teach us both. But true it is, that before he had noted some things that might seem to be no small part of the foundation and ground of his opinion : as namely, from what authors such persuasion came, and how wrong they were in some things else besides, even the best of them all : We grant that wedlock is of the law of God, yet many things handled about in the causes of matrimony do appertain to the positive laws : marriage degrees, impediments, and of separating a marriage. These decrees come unto us from the more famous Councils, but of the private views of some Bishops, disagreeing even among themselves. Yet he says they were quite wrong : Neither is it marvel, that the ancient Fathers were so hard to allow of divorce ( which was an odious thing even among the Heathen also ) who did but hardly allow of marriage itself, & much hardlier of second marriages. In both which he shows himself to be of opinion, that this restraint of such divorce as he would plead for, is only of men ( one foul gawle in the argument: ) & then, that it proceeds from such men whose credit very small. And yet so far as I am able to see into it, he needs not so much to trouble himself with finding holes in the judgement of the Fathers of old, as to defend his own.Pag. 505.
I marvel that Erasmus finds so many faults with the only kind of divorce which stands by law among us, 1. First, says he, we only have divorce allowed so far that whosoever will use it must afterward live as a eunuch, without possibility of children. 2. If after suspicion of adultery, a man nevertheless has relations with his wife, then he is fallen from the right to sue for divorce. 3. If he had also committed adultery, then he must cling unto his adulterous wife. 4. Lastly, that particle of the Exception we read to say, that it gives no right to the husband to put away his wife ( for adultery ) but, if he do it, then he does not make her an adulteress, because he puts away one who is an adulteress already. Such ( says he ) is the view of Augustine. And although he made a show of finding fault in many of their conclusions, and at last even with S. Augustine himself : yet as will appear, he troubled himself more than he needed. But regardless, it is quite evident that he only counts them as faults because of the assumption that his opinion stands on the authority of the word of God ; which if it does not, would quickly reveal that the things he called faults were quite the opposite.Pag. 498. J. Rainolds, Judgment of Reformed Churches
6. Other shameful pretexts.
23 If we now look at the scandalous statements made by the pro-divorce party, the truth is that all of them say something shameful, although Erasmus, the leader of them all, was so excessive in his proclamations that none of his followers have matched him. A scandalous statement, although not an argument in itself, can still serve as a fair warning for everyone to take heed, because it proceeds from a troubled mind, and indicates a rupture from the truth, giving us a good reason to look closer at some of these statements.Inconvenient admissions.
Starting with Erasmus, we find in is writings a consistent thread that implies ( without plainly stating it ) that disagreements in a marriage may be enough for dissolving it ; an unfaithful spouse, a lack of children, and even simply burning lust will all be classified by him as good reasons for looking toward a re-marriage. Among the Heathen, says he, a frivolous marriage is not deemed to have force, but only one that is intentional, and approved by the authority of parents or tutors ; neither yet among the Jews : and yet with both those matrimony could be dissolved again. Among Christians, marriages are easier made, and yet being made, may by no means be broken off. Marriages have been made by stealth betwixt boys and wenches, by bawds and harlots, between fools & drunks : and yet, a marriage being so ill-favouredly made, may not in any way be dissolved ; and, what is the stranger of the two, has even become a Sacrament. To which end he insinuates that if the Magistrate or competent judge should dissolve such marriages, then they are rightly dissolved by the Ministers of God, after being naughtily made by the Deacons of the Devil.Annot. in 1. Cor. 7. pag. 499.
On the lack of children Erasmus says likewise, Setting aside the authority of the writer ( meaning S. Jerome ) let the reader consider the thing itself, whether the threat of men taking advantage of divorce be of sufficient importance in cases where he were tied to a wicked woman, or suffers from the want of Children, or the heat of lust all his life. Should any nation or people adopt his prescription, it is hard to see how to avoid the result that some existing marriages would be clean considered invalid. If we let the doctrine of divorce be founded merely on a marriage being disorderly ( of which there are countless instances and variants ) , we may plainly see, that it would lay open a ready way to many divorces : the disorders cited are such as where both parties conceive no hope of them being amended.
And as for marrying again after a divorce, if we but allow it for the first two causes of infidelity or a lack of children, we should soon see that such a liberty, so freely granted, will be ( by many ) as freely used. And if the third cause of burning lust be added, then so often as required there should be a new and fresh marriage, and no return to the old one. We have a proverb in another matter, which we quickly would see in this ( to the shame of our faces that had so allowed it ) : that but set a beggar on horseback, & we may be sure, that he will ride. It may be that if Erasmus had been directly demanded, whether he would have allowed such liberty or not, he would have bethought himself better, & in the end would have denied it. Yet seeing how he framed his speeches, and in the heat of his reasoning has so far overslipped himself, the reader may gather that he was of that judgement indeed.
Concerning Scripture, he says so much which may be taken wrongly, and in appearance most inclines thereunto, that it may seem that he found his inclination so strong that he could not quietly bear it. As I noted, he says towards the end of his Treatise : I saw that the Scripture was in this point, as in many others, intricate and doubtful. Of which he could have some probability so to say if those verses were much mistaken, and by many. Yet those verses being duly considered, we may plainly perceive that Scripture is plainly enough in the negative for his Motion of divorce ; and that all the difficulty and doubt here lies only in his own argument. Which might and should have taught him to suppress his doubtful motion than speak so harshly of the Scriptures. His calumnies on S. Paul are dispersed throughout the Treatise, especially while he answers the verse that are brought against him. In answering the fifth section of Matthew, he says : Paul does not allow the second marriage : and yet he permits a second marriage for incontinency, as he dares not require both parties to be continent ; thinking it better to marry, than to burn. And yet shall we not relax in our rigor on divorce? It is inconvenient to him that the Apostle does not allow widows to re-marry ; and he reckons that to allow any more of divorce than it was allowed then ( which notwithstanding was as much, as any of us may lawfully challenge ) was too hard and rigorous dealing.Against Scripture. Pag. 505. Pag. 499.
As to the 19. of Matthew, he says, Paul bears with the frailty of man, often relaxing of the commandments of the Lord. ( what? often? where even once? ) Why may not the Bishop of Rome do likewise? Commenting on the Apostle’s words in Romans 7. for his cause, but I would say against his cause, he says : It was peculiar to Paul, to stop at nothing to wrest for the Gospel sake, with a godly and Christian subtlety. And in the 7. chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians, he alleges Paul to be the same as in Romans. For there the Apostle ( to him ) must be slippery in disputing, shifting himself, now here and now there: adding a quote from Origen besides, to amplify his judgment therein. Yet in commenting on the latter verse of Corinthians in a different Text, there he terms the law of God an Apostles law ; and charges S. Paul with over-rigorousness : I know in evenot whether Paul in this point did attribute too much to his own Law: and elsewhere, If a scenario was propounded to Paul, a marriage of one fool to another, &c : it may be that he would remit no small part of the his rigour. We may farther note, that he terms the Apostle’s advice or counsel, that which the Apostle himself calls the Lord’s commandment : insinuating that the Apostle’s rule was not absolute, and that the Apostle himself were so flexible, that in curtesy he would have yielded on matters of doctrine. Towards the end of his Treatise, he gives this compliment, that S. Paul was so keen of the salvation of others as to often wrestle against the holy Scriptures. But the Scriptures, it is well enough known, directly tend to our salvation and therefore need so little to be wrestled against, that we have here more wonders than one : that Erasmus could write such a thing about the Apostle, instead of suspecting his own intentions ; and that others who agree with Erasmus on divorce, great men too, did not take this as a warning, for themselves to see better unto it, and not to follow him as much as they did.Pag. 499. Pag. 502. Pag. 503. Pag. 506.
And outside of Scripture, he can only allege three of the ancient Fathers ( Origen, Tertullian, & Ambrose ) , and even then, in every one of them he himself notes a crack in their support for his theory : a crazy piece of doctrine to try to prove from the Fathers, if he had any other better help to fetch for himself. He might have cited better writers than these, and yet even then would be little helped, for it is not on these authorities that the state of the question stands. We shall not need to get into these citations here, and the reader may find the references in the original text, other than to make this observation : most advocates of divorce content themselves with citing those passages after Erasmus ; whereas our countryman has made such a study of this point, that although it were not deemed worthy of general publication, yet it contains more scholarship on this point than any works written in other countries ; even if we still have the better logic of the case.J. Rainolds. in all his third Chapter.
24 But Erasmus did not have a monopoly on scandal, and we find shameful and scandalous statements in others of his party. To begin with, they all resolutely affirm that an adultery should be punished by death, and it is the duty of the Magistrate to make it so, deeming it negligence if he does it not. Here these writers drag in a foreign doctrine, namely that the Judicial edicts of Moses must also be observed in our government, and that Christian Princes generally are bound to observe them. They often seem to presuppose this point of doctrine in their discourses, but it cannot be accepted ; nor is it endorsed by the careful writers among them, and stands completely contrary to the position of our Church. Most of the Magistrates in Christendom are such that even if utterly determined, will be unable to act in their own power. The power they carry, over lands or goods, life or limb, extends only so far as the lands they govern will permit unto them ; and the only laws allow’d to stand in force among us, first have to have been approved by all of the Estates. Thus the Magistrate is incapable of following these theologians ( be he never so inclined to their opinion ) , and yet they still heap blame on him, often even demeaning his authority and credit among the people ; something they should seek to uphold rather than demean, knowing that the people already think little of their Superiors, and need no further encouragement.Article 7.
Many of these scholars also strive to pile up as many ways to dissolve marriage as possible, calling it but a loose and a slender bond ; unaware that the word itself makes it the strongest and hardest of all bonds, greater than a bond between friends, yea even between Parents and children. There is a crowd of such thinkers, but we may take Peter Martyr as a stand-in for all of them, for his reputation ensures that whatever his opinion, it will be sure to have many followers. In his Commentary on 1. Corinthians, upon the text that man & wife must keep together, he rejects saying that it were never lawful for a married couple to be severed from one another, through disease or other special circumstances ; but the couple should do all they can to avoid separation, and strive to continue living together. But when later discussing the case of an Atheist, although saying that we may not despair of any man while he lives, he concludes that a faithful woman may separate if he blaspheme and curse Christ, and will not permit himself to be corrected, or for his wife to continue professing Christ. He later elaborates on this liberty, in case of a spouse that is weak and little by little drawn from the faith by the unbeliever. If it fall out, he says, that the faithful party is weak, and finds himself by the reason of matrimony to be carried away little by little from the Christian religion ; or is led away from the faith, or is in some special danger to fall unto idolatry, by the reason of his conversing with idolaters: in this case his answer is, he is not bound to remain ; the reason being that we may not do evil in order for good to follow. To this end, when commenting further on the teachings of the Apostle, he remembers this discussion and adds that the doctrine of Christ which permits no grounds for divorce except adultery, is not a complete list, for the Apostle here adds yet another cause, meaning the infidel departing from the faithful for the cause of religion.More causes of divorce. Peter Martyr. In 1. Cor. 7. & in loc. com. clas. 2. c. 10. sect. 69. pag. 306. Ibid. Sect. 70, 71.
Szegedinus advocates for this same imaginary liberty of divorce, when he comes to comment on the teaching of Christ. Many of those, he says, who over-precisely cleave unto the letter of Christ’s words, will insist that marriage may be dissolved for no reason other than adultery. But Paul plainly allows divorce to a faithful woman who is despised for her religion and cast out by her unbelieving husband ; and indicates that a brother or a sister may be separated again, not only in case of fornication and infidelity, but in other such cases besides. It is obvious that Christ used words like adultery and fornication as Metonymy ( a grammatical figure ) ; by whoredom he included any crimes that were as great, or greater than it, and only the lesser crimes were not included within it. His reasoning being, For how can the Apostle teach anything which would be contrary to his Master’s doctrine? He also finds his imaginary liberty of divorce in Deuteronomy 24.1, [ When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce… ] Commenting on the passage, he says : It cannot be, that the phrase [ some indecency in her ] meant something of minor significance, such as some fault in behavior or some deformity in the body which offend her husband : but only the big things are to be understood here, for which a marriage may truly be dissolved.Szegedinus. In loc. com. proleg. de divortio. In append. ad tab. 1. de divortio pag. 348.
But perhaps it is our duty to forgive an adulterous wife? On this point Mr Beza has made lengthy and copious reflections, and since his opinion is more moderate than others of his camp, it shall suffice to only quote from him on the matter. First, he asks whether it be the duty of the innocent party to report the offender to the Magistrate ( possibly for capital punishment ) . And his answer ( in effect ) is : the victim should be the very first to report this crime to the Magistrate ; lest they try to cover it up out of preposterous love, and incur a just suspicion of being similarly wicked themselves. And being then asked if we may forgive this injury done to us, Beza utterly forbids any forgiveness, for Christian charity does not favour evil things, or those who are evil ; thus utterly dishonoring the Common-wealth and nearly turning us into the Anabaptists. He even considers the case of Joseph, who dealt mildly with Mary his espoused wife, and was commended for his moderation ; upon which Mr Beza answers that the transgression was not entirely proven, and therefore, in that respect, Joseph did the best he could. This is stated without proof ; the explanation explains nothing at all. And even he elsewhere acknowledges that Joseph, unaware of her extraordinary conception, might well have thought that she certainly had been gotten with child by some man. So it seems that even M Beza will allow that from Joseph’s perspective, Mary could have had the marks of suspicion of adultery. Being pressed that he should at least allow for a private warning, and first resort to the Church rather than the Magistrate ( whom his camp are quick to lean on ) , he rejects this alternative, listing many reasons why, but finally just ending with this : I have said what I myself think of this matter. Let every one judge as seems good to him.Offending wife cannot be received. Beza. De Repud. & divort. pag. 113.
But then comes the second question : Whether the innocent party is is required by conscience (
in foro conscientiae ) to divorce from the offender ; or may upon repentance receive him again. He answers it first by granting that this is a disputed question among many of our great Divines, both old and new ; and that in his judgement, the one sort of them seem to be too rigorous to the offending party, and others to be too mild, although being too opposed to those he considers mild, he eventually sides with those whom he just called overly rigorous ( indeed showing that their austerity was anything but ) . For in his sources ( Jerome, and Bucer ) , he finds little that is more rigorous than the injunction to retain the offender ( which is what he labels to be this great austerity ) .
His conclusion is couched in caution, at first saying that he does not condemn a man who receives his wife upon her repentance, and I do not deny that an adulteress, if she repent, may be admitted again. But elsewhere he adds that which largely impeaches what he had just granted : there may be many where a forgiveness from the heart may yet be followed by never bedding again ; although he never states what those cases are, or how a true forgiveness may yet be followed by marital alienation. These things never need to be answered, for the mere fact of his statement gives enough substance, where those who were already corruptly inclined to his opinion may continue to nurture their diseased belief. He also adds, that a man is not bound in conscience to receive the adulteress again, even should she repent ; and after some sober exhortation given by the Church, everyone should to be left to his own conscience, which is exactly done in the Church of Geneva. Anyone contending so hard for the liberty now spoken of should inquire of M. Beza, what exactly he means by the Church, where the people have so much liberty that the Church would say what it will, and the people would then do whatever they wished. As for receiving the adulteress before her repentance, his judgement is utterly against it : it cannot be done, without making wickedness appear acceptable. All this shows that he finds absolutely no favour in the possibility of receiving the offender back into the marriage, thereby handing a sword for the victim to avenge herself on the offender, until she sees signs of repentance.
IV. Verses cited for Re-Marriage.
S. Matthew, ch. 5, and ch. 19.
25 Now we finally come to the verses of Scripture and examine them directly themselves. As we gather their meaning and make it reasonably plain, let us acknowledge that it is not unlikely for the interpretation to seem doubtful to some of my readers, unless I address the doubts which contrary interpretations have already raised in the minds of many. Therefore in the plan I shall follow, first we shall set down the meaning of each passage, and then examine the doubts which may claim to be strongest against them.
To find out the meaning of the verses, first we will set out that what the verse does not say : and then afterward to say what it does. By setting out what the verse does not say from the start, most of the business will be dispatched, and what it does say will more plainly appear : but we are also not only to set down the negative, that I mean unto it ; but also to add some such proof thereunto as may not well be wanting from it. The negative that I mean unto it is this, that whatsoever Christ by those words meant ; yet this in no way seems to be his meaning therein, that by them he would give them liberty to divorce themselves the one from the other. That which I thought needful to add thereunto, & is not meet to be wanting from it, lest it should stand as a bare negation, rests on two principal grounds : one, that Christ himself should not seem to be so favourable unto it ; the other, that the nature of wedlock does not well bear it. That Christ himself should not seem to be so favorable unto it, seems to be a clear case, being well considered, for that we shall find, that there was never any such allowed before, nor after neither : namely to permit men to part with their wives for adultery, and thereby to be at liberty for marrying others. In the new Testament we never thought that we had any such liberty but only so far as these words of his would help us. But in the old Testament we thought we had many ; at least those two : the one in Deuteronomy ; the other, in Malachi. And therefore so long as those stood in that credit with us, we thought the sense of this Exception for Adultery might well be, that he allowed that liberty for adultery to all, what was allowed ( for lesser matters ) to the Jews, by Moses and Malachi. And indeed that collection had been very good, for that both Moses and Malachi also wrote those things not of their own private motion, but as directed by God’s holy Spirit, which spake by the Prophets. But now, if we find that these also fail us, then we must grant that we now have none : and so consequently, that if Christ in this exception has allowed the liberty of divorce for adultery, it is such a thing as was done by hime alone, with none of his Prophets before, nor the Apostles since. Which thing ( for my part ) I think would prove a strange assertion, that Christ in his holiness should give further liberty to that natural inclination of ours, then any of his servants, either before or after him.
We need go no further than to go to them who are for divorce and marrying again. Mr Calvin therefore, even in his Harmony on the Gospels says reasonably well on that matter : Christ encompasses the whole matter in two principal points : that the order of creation ought to serve for a law, that the husband should keep the promise made in marriage all his life ; and that divorces were permitted, not because they were lawful, but because they had to deal with a rebellious and untoward people. He says further in a commentary on that passage itself in Deuteronomy. In the beginning of that his Treatise he says, Concerning divorce, although by sufferance it were granted unto the Jews, yet Christ pronounces that it was never allowed unto them as lawful, because it plainly crosses the first ordinance of God, out of which the rule of our life is to be taken, and ever inviolably to be kept. Again, And truly the instrument or bill of divorce did not a little discredit the husband. Lastly, he writes in the end : So were the Israelites admonished, that although they put away their wives without any danger of punishment from the Law, yet that so to have used their liberty, they could in no way excuse unto God. As Gualterius puts it : Such men as were genuinely good and honest did not give those bills of divorcement easily.Calvin. In Mat. 19. 3. In Harm. in lib. Mosis, in Praeceptum. In Marc. 10.
By which speeches, and their hard ( but just ) censure of divorce, it is clear, not only that no man of reasonable honesty uses the benefit of it lightly : but also that it was not thought a proper and lawful thing before God. If it was such, then may we think, that Christ would grant such a thing?
If they reply that the divorce in the old Testament was of the trivial kind, granted for small matters, and not for such heavy things as adultery : true indeed that they oft used it for small matters, but yet we know of no other matters they did use it for. And it still remains that if Christ allowed such a divorce, he is both the first and the last to have done so. The nature of wedlock does not well bear it, which was explained at large above, in the discussion of the weak reasoning that the bond of matrimony could be broken by adultery, an act which offends only one of the parties.The nature of wedlock does not allow of divorce.
Mr Calvin himself did set down a very good rule : The bond of Marriage is a more sacred thing than what can be dissolved simply wishing, or when pressed upon by lust. His reason is, Although the man and wife join themselves together by mutual consent : yet God ties them together with such a knot that does not come loose, and they may never thereafter make themselves separate again. That being said ( says he ) there is added an exception, &c.: meaning this what we now speak of, and therefore making little use of the benefit of his good observation. It is true that men & women may of themselves join together in holy wedlock : yet when they are so coupled, they are then so joined together by God himself, that they cannot break the bond again. Even Mr Calvin says on this, that It is not in the husband’s power, to make void his matrimony: though he there again makes no advantage of this rule other than stating that marriage is not dissolved by domestic contentions : which is but a small point in larger inquiry. Therefore we should cite the counsel he gives elsewhere, because it teaches that the so-called Exception of Adultery really points to some other meaning, than to permitting of so strange a liberty as divorce. He says : Let private men take heed, that while they seek to cover their sins under the patronage of laws, they do not double their guilt. For the Lord here covertly castigates the Jews, as though it were not sufficient to have their naughtiness be without punishment, unless they made God also to be the author of their iniquity. Johanan and his company, intending to go into Egypt, sought to obtain the consent of Jeremiah, so they might seem to have done it, if not with the Lord’s direction, yet at the least with his good leave and license. Balaam would also fain have gratified the king of Moab in that his bad suit ; but yet would first very gladly have had the Lord’s allowance thereunto, if by any entreaty he could have obtained it. Balaam, for greediness of the reward ; and these, for the love of their wanton pleasures.Harmon. in Mat. 5. 31. In 1. Cor. 7. 11. In Mat. 19. 7. Jer. 42. 20. Num. 22. 10. 19.
Passage in S. Matthew, ch. 5.
26 Coming to it, let us inquire into the verses of the new Testament. First therefore to begin with the fifth chapter of S. Matthew‘s gospel. In the Sermon on the Mountain, when Christ was calling his hearers away from the looseness of the times, he did indeed say that whereas it had been said of old, that whosoever put away his wife, gave her a bill of divorcement, he now said unto them that whosoever put away his wife except for fornication, should cause her to commit adultery ; and that whosoever married a divorcee should commit adultery also. These safest way in which these words would be taken is as follows : instead of [ whosoever did put away his wife, except for fornication], to read [ whosoever did, put away his wife except for fornication]. Namely, Christ sought to restrain their habit of divorcing their wives, understood then as putting away except for adultery : not meaning to show that he would allow that liberty ; but only he restrained divorce itself, as they understood it.
That that is the correct interpretation may be seen from the circumstances of the Sermon : this was at the start of his ministry, having gathered many of his disciples, and done such miracles that the people began to resort unto him at large. At this time Christ might well have thought it prudent to bear with their rough weakness, and not require ( at that time ) the uttermost of that which he rightly might. The multitude who heard him may very well have been so rough as to miss the subtleties of higher teaching. Even his disciples, despite cleaving unto Christ, came from the common people and were almost as accustomed to the liberty of divorce, in the looseness of those times. Given that Christ’s audience consisted of such people, it is reasonable to conceive that he did not aim to press them too far, or declare the fullness of his teaching, and leave unmentinoned the fullest boundaries of true doctrine. A farmer marking out his land may first choose to lay his fence as close to the edge as possible ; yet on some special consideration he may choose not to set it up as far as he has a right to. This does not mean that he abandons the rest, or has left it to others. He may fence in the land that he chose in order to take greater possession of it, and yet nevertheless he does not mean to abandon the land which is left remaining. So in this case, Christ may seek to restrain that looseness of theirs, within the smaller set of principles that he then manifested unto them ; and yet there was more beyond the bounds which would still be eventually prohibited unto them.
We should take caution how we read what is being said, so as not to imagine what in fact was left unsaid. God wishes not only to lead those who abide by his requirement of seeking the peaks of holiness and righteousness ; but also sometimes deals more lightly with the common sort, and issues them rules with a restraint which leaves them with some liberty beyond that restraint ; and that liberty he then uses for their edification. It may very well be that in this verse Christ does not endeavour to teach the whole perfection on questions of matrimony ; but only ( as Civil Magistrates do ) to create the restraints will hopefully be kept ; with a nod toward those who are better, passing them in silence until another time.
After all, even the advocates of Divorce acknowledge that the ( presupposed ) old Testament permission of Divorce was pragmatic ; why couldn’t possibly this teaching from Christ be similar as well? Szegedinus says it plainly : The teaching of Christ on divorce belongs to the Judicial law : which, according as the time, place, and persons shall require, may be either clean changed, or at least made more easy to bear. That last part he adds to his own purposes, toward allowing more causes of divorce ; we, fewer ; but the meaning is the same.In loc. com. prol. pag. 347.
Musculus, ( another one of them ) , also plainly says : Civil laws permit many things which in themselves are not good, because of the untowardness of the people ; lest the excessive strictness produces a rupture in the public estate. And, Laws neither forbid all the things that are bad, nor require all the things that are good.In Mat. 5.
Master Calvin also, ( another one of them, ) says : Men have done wrong to take the rule of holy and godly life out of the Law of Moses. Political and judicial laws are sometimes framed to the ways and manners of men : it was only in the giving of the spiritual law that God disregarded men’s capacities and laid down the utmost of what ought to be done. Again he says : The magistrates may not approve of many things and yet nevertheless allow them ; it will never come to pass that all the sins of mankind will be forbidden. It is indeed to be wished that no sin at all were tolerated : but we must keep in mind that which is possible. And therefore as Musculus says elsewhere, the Law of Moses for ( presupposed ) divorce, was not given so as to make lawful before God something which was unlawful in its own nature. And thus we may not only admit this Exception, but as will found below, its meaning will have the most approved interpretation that can be found anywhere, if the matter is considered impartially ( as it ought to be ) . There are many such places of Scripture, of sparing of the rude and ignorant people of God, and therefore interpreting his statement in this manner need not to be considered a derogation to his glory.Harmon. In Mat. 5. 31.
In the old Testament we find such like dealing among the prophets. Moses, as soon as God had put on him the special glory making him unable to be beheld without averting one’s eyes, put on a veil when going among the people : but this veil he took off again, when talking with God. Afterward, having brought down God’s Laws, he was aware of people’s great immorality in marrying multiple wives and divorcing the wives they had ; he knew this well enough, and spake on it, yet he made no law against them, or even chastised them for it. Elisha also, when his new convert Naaman at one time sought the Prophet’s approval to halt a little between God and Baal, the Prophet did not chastise him, but simply bade him farewell, after the usual manner.Exod. 34. 29. Deut. 21. 15. 2. Kings. 51. 17.
In the new Testament we have the same. First we have that prophet coming before Christ, and although he utterly denied being an Elias, Christ still in two places plainly ascribed it unto him. Another prophet that followed, being on hand to speak of Melchisedech, and then remembering that such things as were to be spoken of him were hard to be uttered, and those to whom he should utter them were of a dull & hard understanding ; did suddenly break off his speech, in respect of their weakness, because they were not yet capable of so high points of doctrine as those. In the gathering of the Apostles and the other faithful at the Council of Jerusalem, we have an example of a wonderful bearing with the people’s weakness, prescribing nothing unto them but what they were already inclined toward, such as forbidding such meats as were before were already being offered to idols ; and in grouping fornication with other things although it were much worse than them in fact. So much were the leaders of the Church led by the Spirit of God to bear with the weakness of the people : so carefully had they covered the brightness of their faces, lest it should dazzle ( if not blind ) the weak-sighted eyes of the ignorant people.John. 1. 21. Mat. 11. 14. & 17. 10. Hebrews 5. 11. Acts 25. 28.
In our Master, how often does he forbid not only a the masses, but his b disciples also, and even c the best of them all, to not become famous for wonderful deeds, before they first became stronger therein themselves? Not that those important things were to be hidden, but rather that he would have them first be stronger before they should meddle with them. And how plainly does he tell them, that he had many things to speak unto them, which they were not able then to bear? In the parable of the Prodigal Son, how patiently does the father put up with the waywardness of the elder brother who professed the sweet ( but foolish ) conceit of having kept all the commandments of God. How patiently does Christ bear the wranglings of those, who, although they received their due, yet were not pleased because those lower than them received as much as they. How patiently does he bear with the distasteful competition between the two Apostles, and, the complainings among the rest against them? All this even more plainly teaches us, that the infirmity or human weakness may be favourably regarded, not only by good men, but also by God.a Mar. 44. 7. b Mat. 16. 20. c Mat. 17.9. John. 16. 12. Luc. 15. 18. Luc. 18. 21. Mat. 20. 12. Mat. 10. 35.
The one objection pertaining to this verse is, that Christ had an opportunity to commend a more strict observation of the laws of God than the people had become accustomed to. In framing his Exception of Adultery with a favorable eye to their weakness, and them seizing on the liberty of it, it seems that they had no need to pursue godliness ; not only when it was delivered easily and with great liberty, let alone it being exacted of us in the strictest manner. That being so, whosoever will consider the verse in question, will plainly see that Christ does not seek to teach the peak of perfection on the matters he spake of, but to call the people farther therein than they thought any need to require. This will become evident by looking at several other passages.
At verse 25 he says, Thou shalt not kill, and at verse 27 he says, Thou shalt not commit adultery. There he reveals a greater meaning than they who lived loosely had realized, and yet less than what those same laws require of us. At verse 33 he adds a similar note of Not swearing, where he lists many aspects which are forbidden and yet leaves unmentioned points which are also forbidden likewise. At verse 38 he merely seeks to correct their misunderstanding of prior teaching ; the true and lawful permission for the Magistrate to inflict the same punishment on an offender as he had inflicted on his victim ( an eye for an eye ) , was taken by them as a license in private quarrels to prosecute their avenging desire ; at verse 43, when they read the letter of the law requiring them to love their neighbours, they concluded that they were therefore allowed to hate their enemies. His instances in Chapter 6 follow a similar pattern, at verse 1 concerning our duty towards men, which is the doing of our alms ; and at verses 5 and 16, concerning our duty to God that resides in Prayer, and Fasting. In the first and last of these verses he rebukes people’s ostentation, and teaches them how to behave on that matter. In the middle verse he also rebukes their ostentation and vain babbling, teaching them how to pray, and to remember that so oft as they seek forgiveness of God, they also forgive such trespasses as others do unto them.Mat. 5. 25.
In each and every of these points, everyone understands that there are many further strictures which the rule of godliness ( as set down in the word of God ) would also require. And likewise in our original passage on divorce and exemption for adultery, ( Mat. 5. 32 ) , although there too Christ pulls men to greater godliness, yet he leaves room that those who put away their wives and marry again, may well become great sinners on that account.
Passage in S. Matthew, ch. 19.
27 As to the other notable passage, from 19. chapter of Matthew, the sense of the words to me seems not so much to teach a point of doctrine, as to elude the subtle snares of the adversary while still nevertheless stopping their mouths. Saint Jerome is reasonably plain therein : The Lord so tempers his answer, as will best serve to escape the pitfall made for him : bringing in the holy Scripture, and the law of nature to confirm it. He sets the first sentence of God against the second, not so much through God’s own good liking, but rather in concession to the necessity of the sinners. By a second sentence of God opposed unto the first, it seems S. Jerome had not noticed that the Original Text was not as he imagined : which notwithstanding if he had better regarded, he might soon have discovered. Being in a good way and having already noted that Christ’s purpose was to avoid their deceits, he then might have given a fuller answer, if he better followed that course whereinto he was entered. Musculus similarly speaks as follows : He saw that they came not to learn but to tempt him ; now let us see how he answers them, namely how the wisdom of God avoids the snares of the tempting Pharisees. And so, in effect, also speaks Mr Calvin, although in fewer words : Christ, by a fit reply had wiped away the evil impression which they, by their cunning, would have gladly conceived of him.In Mat. 19. pag. 502. In Mat. 19. 7.
It has been noted by many commentators that the Pharisees in this passage had not come to learn, but to tempt and entangle him to some inconvenience, so as to disgrace him unto the people ; or to accuse him unto the Elders. Them having come unto him in such a manner, we ought not expect Christ to give forth every part of that which should be an ordinary doctrine in the Church : but rather, that he would frame such an answer as is most meet for them, to requite them in their iniquity. Which that we may the better conceive, and resolve ourselves accordingly therein, it shall be good a little to consider what we have in the Scripture to induce us thereunto, either of testimonies, that witness the same : or else of examples, that so God has dealt with others already. Christ is plainly said to be a Stone to stumble at, even for both houses of Israel, and to the ruin and overthrow of the many who do not believe or rest in the word that he has spoken. The Prophet Isaiah is plainly instructed to fatten and block up the hearts of the people, to shut up their ears and to close their eyes ; lest they should see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, be converted & he should heal them. Examples of this are many, but it will suffice here to give a few.Isa. 8. 13. Luc. 2. 31. Rom. 19. 32. 1. Pet. 2. 8. Isa. 6. 10.
In the old Testament it is clear, that when even the Elders came to the Prophet Ezekiel in a not so good manner as they should, they were not promised to receive any good answer from him : and when those Captains with their Fifties of Troops in like sort came unto another Prophet, they received a heavier judgement, although being sent by the King their Master. In the new Testament, likewise, not only did Christ speak in Parables unto the Jews, and gave the reason that it was not given unto them to know those things that appertained to the kingdom of heaven : but even the Apostle S. Peter struck down with sudden death both a man and his wife, when they came with a contribution though not in such sort as they ought to have done.Ezech. 14. 1. 2. Kings 1. 9. Mat. 13. 11.
In the case of the Tribute, when they went about to entangle him in his speech, Christ framed his speech to clear himself and put them to silence : but yet not so fully, as to exhaust the doctrine of tribute which was thereunto appertaining. He had delivered that we must give unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s : yet the doctrine is too general to show whether what they spake of be due or not. That which was brought in by him served rather to stop their mouths, than to imply some such that after the Prince sets his stamp on the coin, that none others can have any property in it. In the case of the woman taken in adultery, there too they came to tempt him, and were served accordingly. First he provided them with no answer at all, so employing himself as to teach them by his actions that it were as good to do nothing as to give any good answer to them. Then, when that would not serve, and yet they still urged him to give his answer ( because they thought they now had him in their grip ) , he gave such an answer as choked them all, and made them glad to get away. And likewise, when he so questioned with them that they could not but see the truth ; and yet when they saw it, they would not acknowledge it as then they plainly revealed that they came to entangle him ; so he likewise dealt accordingly with them, confounding them first in their own device, & then denying to give unto them any further answer.Mat. 22. 15. John. 8. 3. Mat. 21. 23.
I have discovered several other instances of this, which I have not seen mentioned by others. For one, consider the sense in which the Disciples took his teaching, for if they did not so see in Christ’s words a liberty of putting away our wives for adultery, and marrying again : then we may safely take it that he granted none to begin with. And that they did not so take it may be seen by their reaction, how they reckoned themselves to be so much straightened thereby, plainly saying, that if the matter were so betwixt man and wife, then it were good not to marry at all. Assuming that these were not loose men, and that a bare liberty would entirely content them, it follows that if they took Christ’s words in the modern sense, they would have never reckoned themselves to be straightened thereby. For such as were of any reasonable moderation, even among the profaner sort, did yet account it liberty enough to be allowed, for adultery to put away their wives, and to marry again : & we may well persuade ourselves, that the Apostles were better than those : and therefore that if they had so understood Christ, they would not then have conceived such hardness as they did in the married estate. It follows, therefore, that if the Apostles did so take the words of Christ, as altogether forbidding divorce and marrying again, even for adultery, that alone should give us much to think about, if not entirely overruling any of our own theories outright.Mat. 19. 10. Mar. 10. 10.
The ‘Exception of Adultery’
28 There may be raised a few objections to the case which I laid out above. For one, the Exception for Adultery is mentioned in both verses ; and second, the Apostle when he allows either party in some cases to marry again, may seem to do it through marital liberty. Concerning the Exception that is used in both verses, we are to note first that if taken in the sense I have given above, even they perceive that the Exception does not help them : but then, that they on the other side may probably challenge, to have such a sense allowed unto it, as will somewhat favor them herein. If we take it in that sense which I have already given it, they yield that it does not help them at all, for in the first passage Christ only bears with the people’s rudeness and weakness ; and in the second passage he gives them no answer, because they came not to learn but only to tempt or disgrace him unto the people. Allowing this sense, we have no difficulty other than in reconciling that kind of speech with the sense that now we speak of. Which in my mind may be easily done, if we note that the Scripture according to the aforesaid rule of S. Basil, when it speaks of two opposites, may often deny the first, and yet avoid thereby granting the other.
Many examples of this may be presented here. In the Old Testament we have that example where the King is forbidden to take many wives, and to gather much silver and gold. It is obvious that both of these were not so forbidden to Princes, as to then be allowed to the people. In another passage, the people were forbidden the usury of lending money at interest to their brethren ; and yet this lending at usury was permitted to perfect strangers in the very next verse. In the first half which concerns their brethren, any usury was utterly forbidden : and in the second that concerns strangers, forbidden was only that which was unlawful or ill, permitting anything that was not against the rule of Charity. In Deuteronomy 15. we have a similar case, which Lyranus describes well : Moses granted them liberty to lend at usury unto strangers, so that they should not be grievous unto their brethren. Therefore, he who does not lend money at all, to neighbour or stranger, better follows the mind and intention of Moses. Therefore anyone who teaches that a man may not put away his wife for any case whatsoever, speaks not contrary to the Scripture meaning, but rather accomplishes & supplies the incompleteness of that Law as given. ( He did not see then, that Moses in plain words did not allow any such thing unto them ; as was shown above. ) In this liberty of lending on usury unto strangers we may take good instruction for the question of divorce at hand. Although they had that liberty granted unto them, yet because it was otherwise so plainly forbidden, they should therefore inquire what kind of usury it was that was allowed unto them, or in what measure it was permitted ; and not to rush at conclusions. In our case likewise, seeing that divorce is a thing so contrary to all of Scripture, if we think that it may be permitted in this case, it still remains our duty to inquire how far that liberty might be extended without crossing any other word of God ; and not to conclude bravely, that supposing such a liberty is granted, that there is nothing against obtaining to ourselves every enjoyment of it.In the old Testament. Deut. 17. 17. Deut. 23. 19.
In the passage on Bigamy, which forbids the marriage of two sisters, the Text forbids one, during his wife’s life, to marry her sister also ; and it is also understood by all as forbidding it after his wife’s death as well. If we look further into it, we may find (in the judgment of scholars, and not minor ones) that the sister there spoken of is not meant as a natural sister, but as any other woman ; as, when a man already has a wife, to take a second unto her. Indeed the words in the Hebrew itself are many times so used elsewhere. Whereas the Turks reason that to have multiple wives is not forbidden in the old Testament ; they and our libertines of this kind take for themselves the liberty of transgressing God’s law. In other other passages what I cited may weaken their resolution : what is left but that these new Testament passages will strike all doubt in their confidence, the Exception we speak of has another sense and consequently they have not that liberty as they have presumed?Tremellius & Junius.
I shall also make a note of Mr Beza’s judgement on this topic, for if he had the same impartiality in the question of divorce as he does here, the matter in question would soon grow to an end between us. For he also calls this speech an Exception, and gives so good an answer unto it, that we could desire no better equivalent for that other Exception in question. He poses the question thus : Why do you say that an Exception is added in the law of Bigamy, namely , if not to have us understand that when one sister is dead to lawfully marry another? And answers it thusly : As Basil answers in his Epistle ad Diodorum, out of that which is written we must take care to gather that which is not written. And then himself approvingly adds : adds his own approbation thereunto saying, Truly so it is, so oft at least, as that which seems to follow thereon, is either absurd, or, by some other place besides, either expressly, or by implication condemned. As examples of this he refers to several texts in the Gospel by S. Matthew. The Lord promises, says he, that he will be with his Church so long as the world stands : may one then gather that when the world shall have an end, that he will then depart from them ; or was this limitation added unnecessarily? Joseph had no carnal knowledge of the blessed Virgin, so long as she was with child ; does it therefore follow that afterward he did have such knowledge of her ; or was this limitation set down unnecessarily by the Evangelist? We have many things worthy of remarking here. The rule which he brings out of Basil is such that if he will allow it to use as he takes for himself, we may account ourselves so secured by it on the question of Divorce that neither he nor any other shall easily bring anything of force against us. Just let them beware how they gather from that which was spoken in Christ’s words that which is left unspoken ; and our contention will soon be at an end. That which is spoken is plain, that no man may put away his wife unless it be for adultery : but that a man may do it for adultery, though they think it so plainly implied, yet unless it be equally plainly said, let it stand as not said yet, and have them take care how how they gather the one from the other. In Beza’s approval we see that he not only approves of this rule of S. Basil, but even adds some of his own examples unto it. As he allows the rule to be generally valid for all of Scripture, so he holds unto it and more strongly invokes it whenever the case is most absurd, or contrary to some other part of Scripture. If S. Basil‘s rule be good generally, even that only will yield as much as we shall need. But if it be more pertinent in the above two verses of the new Testament, then despite only a few deeming it absurd for a man to be allowed to put away his wife and remarry for adultery ; yet if they will put it to the trial with other verses of Scripture, I trust they will not deny that they have none other for it ; and that we do claim that there is much against it.Mr Beza’s judgment worth noting. De repud. & divort. p. 79. Mat. 28. 20. Mat. 1. 25.
One last point out of which we may take some benefit, is, that notwithstanding M. Beza did specially look into this verse of Leviticus 18. 18., yet he never found the corrections which I before showed both Tremellius and Junius to have noted on. Of set purpose he disputes it to and fro : and uses the authorities of S. Basil, Rabbi Solomon, S. Augustine, and Mr Calvin therein ; and confers it with some other Scriptures besides. And yet despite being a good linguist himself, he had not looked into the propriety & use of the language on that point, but let a good part of his matter to slip him therein, when he would have been loath to miss it. He may well be excused, for that all writers were generally to take it as he had, making no question of it : yet thus much may we gather, that God has imparted to the verses a greater light in the Original Text, than to many versions which followed. And it may likewise be so in the other verse we discussed out of Deuteronomy, on which they laid a great part of the foundation of their opinion. Plus, if Tremellius and Junius had published their discovery prior to Mr. Beza’s, as it may seem that did in publishing the second part of the Bible but 3. years after Mr Beza’s book ; then his oversight was even more severe, having been provided with good means to amend it.
For the new Testament we may say less, but may lay out several passages to that end : in another speech of Christ, his words pertain to not coming thence, until the uttermost farthing be paid ; and in the verse of the Apostle, a Bishop must be the husband of one wife. In both of these we may see that something is denied in such a way as still to not account its opposite to be granted thereby. In the former verse, the coming out thence is not so denied til then, that it may be thought to be affirmed, that then it should be. In the latter verse, a Bishop is not so denied to have multiple wives as to allow having it to those who are not bishops. In a similar manner on the question of divorce, it is not so denied to put a way a wife unless for adultery, as to grant it when for that reason. Christ so denies the one that yet he does not grant the other, especially as nowhere else do we have any Scripture for it : but much, ( as even our opponents grant ) which has a great show against it.In the new Testament. Mat. 5. 26. 1. Tim. 3. 2.
29 If they will challenge the benefit of the other, even then, the Exception for adultery would only allow of some situation where the innocent party in adultery might break off and marry again. If the words in the Text are taken to grant a kind of liberty, still they should not be taken more broadly than intended, and would hold true even if there only ever existed a single case. The proposition as a whole is a general negative ; but the Exception is neither general nor negative, but particular and affirmative.
Many of the learned apply a rule for the better quieting and establishing of men’s minds, namely : when a proposition is Prohibitory, then all its species and branches are also forbidden, while if it is Affirmatory, then some of its aspects may be undecided and settled upon further information. In the case of the Commandments, the ones which are Prohibitory have no exceptions or aspects that remain unsettled ; the whole is clearly unlawful. But those which are Affirmatory have aspects which may remain indifferent until additional circumstances cast the balance the one way or other. The first commandment forbidding us to have any other God save the Lord alone, leaves no gods or things of worship unaffected by the prohibition ; all are altogether forbidden unto us. But the fourth commandment requiring keeping holy the Sabbath day leaves many of its aspects unsettled, until further information specifies the manner of it being kept holy ; anyone careful not to transgress against the general Law had no choice but to further inquire into the requisite specifics.A rule to judge of things unlawful and indifferent.
Applying this rule to our question of Divorce, supposing that the verse allowed for a wife to be put away for adultery generally, it would still be mandatory to inquire on the cases it might be done for adultery here. The verse may permit it to be done for an adultery, while leaving unspecified the intended case and situation ; and while there is a farther liberty here than in other cases, there is also a mandatory inquiry into further details. Supposing that the Text’s meaning leaves no doubt about a permission, yet no one may presume anything more, as applied to himself, than what the other verses in the word of God explain unto him. Even the champions of divorce surround the Exception with their own limitations & conditions ( as we saw before ) , which indicates that they do not allow it unrestrainedly, or at large unto all. Therefore even if the Exception did allow for divorce, yet would it also follow that few would be able to hide under the protection of their conditions.
30 Let us now see what these champions of divorce concede, if interpreting the Exception of adultery through the second perspective. Let them take care in adopting this Exception as a liberty, and seriously advise themselves what they are doing ; and when so cautioned, how far they will be willing to persevere in their opinions. Their opinion being as doubtful as it is, and so plainly and resolutely opposed by legions of learned men, even common sense will advise them to take heed of their doings, and avoid hysterically intruding into that which they have not yet found to befall them. The provocation that they bring upon themselves may be easily shown with examples. With David, it was a usual thing not to meddle in any immense tasks until he had first sought to the Lord, and thence had taken his direction : and not only in his time of troubles, but also when he was to enter into the possession of his Kingdom. We have good instruction of this kind in his example, first in helping the inhabitants of Keilah, whom the Philistines at that time besieged. Whereof when tidings were brought unto him he first inquired of the Lord, whether he should go to help them or not, though it seems that he personally would very gladly have done it : and, when his company did cast some doubt of peril therein, he then inquired of the Lord again, before he would proceed therein. After he had delivered the City, and might imagine that he would account himself reasonably safe among his troops : yet on seeing a storm which was to be growing, he would not rest on his own reason and good merits, but inquired of the Lord again ; and so escaped a special danger.1. Sam. 23.
Whilst he and the company had gone with Achish, King of Gath, to battle against Israel, his own City Ziklag given by the king for him to sojourn in was taken in his absence by the Amalekites ; the wives, children, and all that was therein being taken away, and the City itself consumed with fire. Whereat his company were so grieved upon their return that when they found what loss they had therein, especially of their wives & children, they were so enraged against David their Captain that they thought to stone him. He thereupon again inquired of the Lord, whether it would please him, that he might be avenged on those that had done him this wrong, & recover the pray again or not : not resting on those perturbations, that the indignity of that fact had kindled in himself and his men : but seeking unto the Lord therein, and taking all his direction thence.1. Sam. 25. 5. 1. Sam. 30. 7.
When he was to enter into the possession of his kingdom, he observed the self-same course. When the kingdom had come unto him by the death of Saul, yet he did not hasten unto it, but first enquired of the Lord whether he should make his entry unto it or not. And when the Lord had resolved him for that matter, and had given him leave to go and make his entry unto it, he did leave the rest to his own choices, but inquired as to what part of the kingdom he should make his first repair, and where he should begin his kingdom. And yet it was he who was already anointed by Samuel the Prophet to succeed Saul in the kingdom ( on the commandment of God himself ) ; and then having taken it he was endued with a special gift of the Spirit, to enable him thereunto. Shortly after which, it pleased God to work mightily by him in the overthrow of Goliath, and the putting to flight of the whole army of the Philistines ; thereby not only to bring him unto the knowledge of the people, but also into special great honour among them. When thereupon Saul began to conceive hatred against him, and eagerly to pursue upon him to have his life, he plainly found that God had preserved him still, and oftentimes in wonderful manner : and had given him many secret friends with whom he did sojourn when chased about. He might well have conceived an opinion, on seeing that his friends stuck unto him in his adversity, that they would have undoubtedly known him in his entry into prosperity. In which case, even in the most moderate flesh and blood would soon have been doing : insomuch that there are few who would not have resolved in themselves to have made no further question, for matters of less importance than it.2. Sam. 2. 1. 2. Sam. 16. 1. 2. Sam. 17. 49.
Among other instances in addition to David, we may cite the Queen of the South ; she had many strong resolutions, & was wise in herself ; and yet she would not rest in herself, nor in any of her own sages, but came unto Solomon to gain her resolution. Jehosaphat, likewise, was so careful on this point in his expedition against the Syrians, that even in those affairs he craved that he might first inquire of the Lord, before they engaged in battle ; and though he had plenty of Achab’s Prophets all agreeing as one, yet all these did not content him until he inquired of the matter from the one Prophet of the Lord that was left.
The experience we have of the displeasure of God against those that neglect this point of duty is so plain that we need not expound much on it. It is manifest in his judgement against the two sons of Aaron, & in David too ; but especially in one of his judgements against king Saul. However strange were the first two cases, yet this last was the strangest of all. The two sons of Aaron, namely Nadab and Abihu, were but newly entered into the priesthood, and not very exercised therein ; and yet merely by inquiring of a matter which was no given to them to inquire, they were on the sudden destroyed with fire. Moses charged that they did not sanctify the Lord, and that this judgement fell upon them for this very reason ; which may likewise teach us that it is a profane dealing with God, and very dangerous to ourselves, not to inquire of all such things as concern our duty to him when they be not plain unto us. David was about to bring home the Ark of the Lord which was little regarded in the days of Saul, and to that end he gathered a great assembly, that so it might be better done : and yet because they did not heed the manner in which it was done, the Lord with a sudden and fearful stroke, dashed all that whole solemnity of it. But the judgement of Saul I take to be the strangest of all, when he was rejected for being king for no other cause than that he meddled too soon, and did not await the Prophet’s coming, who was first to show him what he should do. For besides that this matter was a matter of State, wherein Princes may have the least regard to their Prophets, Saul was already anointed by the Prophet himself, and confirmed by many signs ; he was indued with a special gift of the holy Spirit, being also enabled to prophesy ; chosen by lot in a special assembly of the estates ; commended unto the people by a victory he had against the anointed, and thereupon acknowledged by the whole army which then counted above three hundred thousand. Yet even he, when having now also tarried too long on Samuel, for seven whole days, and being urged to hasten ( his enemies lying so near around him ) , with his men in fear of dropping away so fast as they did unless he had then addressed himself unto his business, he was rejected when he meddled too quickly without awaiting the Prophet.Lev. 10. 1.
Against scripture, church, and civil society.
31 When therefore our opponents have agreed to be more careful in their search for Marriage exceptions and escape clauses, to help them I need do no more than offer the following points, which will call on them not to trust their interpretation on this issue.
First let us see the Scripture verses, starting with the foundational text, setting down the nature of marriage as established by God himself, the famous verse in the second of Genesis : how God cast Adam asleep, took a rib out of his side, made a woman thereof, brought her to Man, and so joined them both together. Of whom it immediately follows, that she was bone of his bones, and flesh of his flesh : and that, in respect of that so near a conjunction ( in that she was taken out of man, & to him delivered by God himself ) a man should leave Father and Mother, and cleave to his wife ; and that they two should become one flesh. Other passages in Scripture build upon it, such as the words of Christ where after recounting the verse, he adds to it the following : whom God hath coupled together ; let no man put asunder ; and many others elsewhere besides, which we need not recount here. Other verses of Scripture expound upon the nature of marriage as practiced through history ; the Apostle teaches, that the woman is tied unto her husband so long as he liveth, &c ; and elsewhere likewise, that the wife may not depart from her husband, &c, nor the husband put away his wife. All these verses we need not gather together, for nobody cites them against the doctrine we are to set down ; but rather shuns them as altogether going against him ; or, when he is pressed with them, attempts to qualify and fence them in as much as he can. There are other more general passage which have a valuable application here. There are verses which teach our duty toward God, of a patiently bearing the cross that he lays on us. Other verses teach our duty towards our neighbour, teaching us to be ready to b forgive him his offenses to us ; or calling upon us to c bring unto highest Christian integrity all those whom he committed to our charge.Gen. 2. 23.
Having these Scriptures and many others of their kind arrayed against the champions of divorce, I fail to see how they can avoid being forbidden to interpret the Exception of adultery in the sense they have been accustomed to. For the husband and wife are one flesh, the closest union of any two people, and coupled together by God himself : and therefore they cannot be sundered by any party ; the wife to keep to her husband so long as she liveth, and the husband not to put away his wife. If, by our immaturity before the marriage, or by our negligence while within it, it so happens that God lays a cross upon us, what better service can we do unto him than to truly and quietly bear it, til he be disposed to ease us of it? If such a marriage has offenses that be committed against us, we know our Lord who forbade us to take any revenge, and willed us to freely pardon. If we have too hard a peace to make in front of us, to make any good workmanship of, yet if we do our best endeavor, he will hold us excused ; but not if we cast it out of our hands entirely. The worse a husband or wife is, the more do they need their spouse to step up in response, and display the gulf from holiness which God has laid out for the abuser. If we cast our eyes on these points, we see that we are so far from finding any sufficient warrant at all, to that presupposed liberty of these wantons of ours, in such sense to take this exception we speak of, that we rather are flatly beaten, not only from hope of finding any help in these, but also, even from all expectation of it anywhere else.
32 But even if there were no Scripture against divorces, it would still cause such a great disturbance among us, as generally granted by all, that whatsoever inward interpretations they may nourish, yet outwardly very few of them will deny it. The truth is that they who pretend to advance the liberty of divorce for adultery would also encumber the Magistrate with the duty to punish this sin by death ; and they imagine this solution to put an end to the dispute betwixt us : or else, that on him should rest the blame of all such inconvenience.
Allowing of divorce would cause a great disturbance within our Church and State ; for, our liturgy is already against it and would needs be altered, especially the form of our solemnization of marriage, whereby each party is directed to take the other for better and for worse : which being applied generally to all, allows no one to to break or even to call it into question.
It would likewise be a disorder upon the Public to open too wide a gap to all discontented couples, wherein they could break off and marry again according to their liking. Couples of such sort will be caused rather to commit the sin of adultery ( so lightly punished among us as it is ) , than to live all their whole life in so great dislike of each other.
Allowing of divorce may bring hardship even to the private persons ; were they to conduct these divorces under questionable grounds, they could not live therein but in a very doubtful estate, not only before men, but also before God ; and likely be seen as notorious sinners, in the judgement of the most, and of the best.
Let us consider that divorce may bring a hardship to those around, and especially those who are blemished by this act : both those second wives of theirs, and the children that they have by them ; those Second Wives being accounted no wives but only adulteresses by law ; and their children illegitimate under the legal standard. How much will divorce encumber those to whom the lands or goods of their parents might come by inheritance ; who by such dealing should have their title thereto very much doubted. And finally, those hurt will be other marriages, which, if they be already discontented in themselves, by a few examples from the divorces of others would be so tempted to do the like, that they would hardly strive and persevere therein.
There are many who, while tolerating of divorce, yet, under pretense of the ordinance of God for the Magistrates of Israel to punish adultery with death, would usurp of that liberty themselves. They imagine driving the Magistrate to take up that course from the old Testament ; and yet they cannot but know that we have no such law among us : and that there is no great likelihood that we shall ever hereafter have it.
These writers do imagine that their allowance of divorce be protected from abuse through this capital punishment inflicted by the Magistrate. Yet if we have not this law, then divorce not being protected as they fancied, there is nothing which restrains the Public in a manner in which they fancied. Thus we must needs forego this liberty of divorce they promise us ; else it will quickly bring all of these matters to great confusion.
Nor are we likely to see this law hereafter either. Men will generally be unwilling to yield unto a new law punishing adultery by death, when before they were never so free unto it. Most men acknowledge this ; and it may appear in the Israelites also, in that although it were especially ordered unto them, yet we do not read that it was ever put in execution among them. Though the Prince himself would be willing, yet in what part of the world should we find a people, that would be ready to join with him therein?
If then it be unlikely for us to ever have a capital punishment for adultery, then the same reason that teaches us to resist that presupposed liberty of divorce until such a law is established, should teach us to forbear the desire of helping ourselves thereby, when we are never to have it allowed unto us.
And then, what else may we think that persuasion to be, but a special fetch of Satan, to bring in some special confusion, & to work much mischief among us? And if there be so great inconvenience hanging thereon, not only the wise of the world do resolutely determine, that of two evils, the lesser is rather to suffer a mischief in some few particulars, than while they seek to relieve them, thereby to bring in an inconvenience to all : but even the Apostle also has plainly told us, that though things may be lawful, yet if they be not expedient or profitable, in that case also they are not to be attempted by us ; and besides has given in himself an example of it.
Christ also had governed himself by the self-same rule, in many of his speeches and actions : and in effect prescribed the same unto others.
Abraham did well in this respect, to refuse that great loot and spoil of all those cities, which he had recovered for Lot’s sake ; even if only for the reason that he would not have the inhabitants of the land to imagine that it was their substance that made him rich. Wherein it is also good to note that in so doing he pleased God so marvelous well, that by and by he appeared unto him, promising safety from all his enemies, and to bring unto him an exceeding great reward.
David also in that respect did well to refuse the water that was brought unto him from the well that was by Bethlehem, understanding that three of his Captains had put themselves in so very great danger for it : though otherwise he was very thirsty, and longed more for it than for others.
This is far unlike Cleopatra, that dainty & wanton queen of Egypt, who to satisfy her own inordinate lust, did not pause to to sup of a jewel of inestimable price in one draught : of fifty thousand pounds, as some did value it ; but, of six hundred thousand, as others esteemed it.
S. Paul, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, ch. 7.
33 Before I draw to a close, let me respond to one final objection based on the words of the Apostle, who in the First to the Corinthians, 7.15., speaks of a case where either of the parties ( not only the man, but also the woman ) may be allowed to marry again.1. Cor. 7. 15.
We know that in case of an unbelieving spouse who forsakes the marriage, the Apostle teaches that the Christian spouse is not bound in wedlock, and need not be forced to avoid a new marriage. From this, a conclusion is sometimes drawn that if this were capable of breaking the bond of matrimony, then an adultery should capable of it even more. To answer this, we need only to consider that situations are entirely different. An adultery is a very foul and great sin, odious to God and exceeding grievous to man ; but the forsaking by an unbeliever described by the Apostle, is an utter break of the knot of wedlock between the persons. The former of these proceeds from infirmity : the latter, from hatred of Religion itself. The Apostle allows for re-marriage, when the perpetrator has broken the bond of matrimony in his sin against God ; but he does not allow of re-marriage if the perpetrator has only sinned against marriage, intending no break of wedlock, and committing the sin from infirmity, or provoked by a discord within the marriage. The hardship in case of being forsaken is much greater than the hardship in the case of enduring an adultery. In being forsaken, the victim becomes completely deprived, not only of a comfortable fruition of the Purposes of Matrimony : of that needful preservation from sin ; of the children, and of the mutual help. But the case is not so in adultery, where the innocent party may still receive all those supports from the offender ; at least in some tolerable measure, even if not in so good and comfortable manner as desired. He may still have that needful help of preservation from sin, and of accomplishing many of his affairs ; as well as of the propagation of children. If he cannot find these helps in the unfaithful wife, that is due only to a perturbation of mind, scheming for revenge, being incapable of digesting the offense done unto him. This indeed, is justly deserved by the offender, but not justly entertained by the victim ; our Lord who has forgiven us for more than this, has willed that we also forgive, for his sake. And therefore such perturbation is to be removed, or at least bridled, stopping any thought that no Helps of Matrimony can now be had from the offending party. There may be doubt ( I grant ) , whether his children are his or not : but men must be content with the general determination of the law, which makes the children theirs, than permit themselves to be so carried away into suspicions. To anyone who will refuse, let him first show that his own parental lineage is utterly void of all suspicion or blemish, before dealing so strictly with others.
Therefore, albeit the Apostle allows a re-marriage to those who were utterly deprived of the blessings that were intended by God in a marriage : yet no man should thereupon conclude, that a similar liberty may be granted to those who still have those blessings in some tolerable measure, except as their own troubled affections hinder them of it.
34 If we now gather the chiefest and principal points of everything that has been said, what do we find, except crowds clamoring for divorce and remarriage solely out of their bare personal opinions.
They will say : what do we bring for establishing the truth of our opinions, except a brittle screen of a few Scripture verses? They for a while may seem to be for us : but when examined they turn plainly to the contrary side, or at least assure us, that to find the doctrine of divorce and marriage, seek it where we can, but in them we shall never have it. We hoped that Moses and Malachi too would help us well ; we had certain other verses for divorce, but we made most reckoning of these two. Now we see, that not only the other verses but even these also do betray us, and refuse to yield any help to us. Had they granted the allowance of divorce unto us, we had no doubt that they would allow of re-marriage as well ; but now finding them so strong in the former, we have lost all hope in the latter.
They will say : we imagined that even Christ made no objection for divorce if it were for adultery ; but now we have no face with which to look for any such liberty at his hands, realizing that if he granted this to us, he granted more than any of his servants ever did, before, or after. It becomes clear that his words may have another meaning than we hoped, one which agrees with other Scriptures, and is sadly more probable than the one which stands isolated with nothing in common with the whole Bible, either in the old or the new Testament.
They will then say : although we are so strongly rejected by the Scriptures, or rather clean abandoned by them, yet we cannot give up, if we can see a way for recovery ; thus picking back up again, we turn to that sorry last resort : the judgement of some of the Theologians. Let us study them harder, to find whether our cause may not have greater help in them than we conceived. And then we discover that they all misunderstood the Text, out of which the first and principal part of all their opinion should have been derived : and that many of the chiefest of them, have themselves so acknowledged since. If we look somewhat further into them, we find not only that they go against the universal opinion of all learned men, one which has stood in the Church of Christ from the beginning, as the only truth of that point of doctrine. We likewise find this practice of divorce to be against the doctrine of this Church of England, and of almost all other churches besides. Those theologians also give us such weak reasons for why they decided to begin advocating for divorce & remarriage so forcefully, that it were better to pardon and forgive them. When they discourse on divorce, they affirm so very slender, and so inconvenient speeches for their proofs that it may seem to arise from the weakness of the cause itself. If we well advise ourselves what comfort we have gotten therein, we hardly find anything that will afford us any bit of warrant to entertain any such conceit, for never so small a portion of time, or to give it so much as one night’s lodging in our minds.
They will finish by saying the following : we are carried too strongly away with our unbridled fanaticism, and with a hot desire for change, or revenge, or sometimes for both. It is easy to settle us in the fantasy of marital Liberty, despite the prejudices and errors in our scholars ; we will avoid falling into any careful reading of them, for fear of finding reasons to be anxious and concerned about what read.
God give us grace that howsoever in all things we daily offend, by our common infirmity, and great corruption that abides in us ; yet may we so abandon all fleshly lusts, that thereby we grow not into foul stains in the Church of God, and perilous examples to others : especially those who have an unfeigned care to serve him indeed, or, no more but profess the truth of the Gospel.
Another Note For The Reader.
THis former Treatise being thus finished, yet there is one more thing more ( gentle Reader ) that I am to impart unto thee farther : nothing at all appertaining to the matter before ; but only for that it sheds a light on the years when it was published.
The matter is only this : I have already heard many times that certain favorites of Robert Parsons ( the supposed Author of the Resolution ) would not believe that I had made any answer unto him for such matters, as he, in the preface of his second edition of the same ( which was, 1585 ) had charged me with. I contented myself to let them understand that I had answered him many years before : as it is known well enough I had done ( so far as an whole Publication might serve to witness it ) , now about twenty years ago.
But now of late I perceive, that he also does not rest with his Answer, or will not be known of it : and having set forth his Book again two years ago ( namely, 1607 ) and having altered it again, he charges me afresh with many of those stale matters, answered so many years past already ; but makes no mention of mine Answer unto them.
Having come to the knowledge hereof, when his new Book was yet in the Press, I thought it good to mark this : seeing that another answer of mine was given forth and published, in the year of our Lord 1589 ; and that since I never heard anything from him of the same, & that now he wrangles afresh about some of his stale matters, and so grossly distorts my Answer that all good & orderly dealing is far to seek in him.
I make no doubt, but that in my Answer he saw much more to object unto than he was in any way able to answer : especially, the great uncleanness of their thoughts, and their bad dealing with the Fathers. He therefore he would rather see, if, for a flourish, he could not cull out something of his former matters, in lieu of some just Reply, so long expected. Plain dealing is ever the cause for all those that stand for the truth ; but base shifting is much more suitable to the desperate weakness of the cause that he has in hand.
If anyone shall remember his bold promise in that which he calls his Directory, & therein how many years he has been hammering about it, & yet could never get out of the first part neither, and the second time made it worse than before ( even in the judgement of his own favourites: ) the less that this third time also he has now again answered their expectation, the more may such a man see, what hope he may nourish in himself, as touching those others. But I conceived long since that it was not in him to do, as then he did bear the world in hand : namely, to frame such other two parts, as should be of that argument, and yet suitable to that, which he had elsewhere borrowed to the first part of it.
There is another, Radford by name, a fowl of the same feather, who in certain discourses of his published in the year 1599, has been likewise chattering against me. Of whom notwithstanding I have already said more specially in a larger Discourse of mine, which in a few days from now, God willing, will come to the Press : and so I say no more of that matter now. Yet that no man deceive his expectation therein, both it is but towards the end of that larger Treatise : and, as he, in those his other discourses does no more, but as it were, by the way, take his pleasure on me ; so I likewise, following the suit, or, in such like manner, do give him his answer.
So now again ( gentle Reader ) I commend thee to God.
Oxford, June, 22. 1610.