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marriage was unlawful, and he sought to obtain from the pope a sentence annulling it. But various circumstances, chiefly of a political nature, prevented the accomplishment of his wishes, and deferred the matter indefinitely. At this crisis, two of Henry's courtiers happened to meet Cranmer at a private house, when (as we read in Bishop Burnet's History), "These two courtiers, knowing Cranmer's learning and solid judgment, entertained him with it [the divorce], and desired to hear his opinion concerning it. He modestly declined it; but told them, that he judged it would be a shorter and safer way once to clear it well, if the mar→ riage was unlawful in itself by any Divine precept; for if that were proved, then it was certain, that the pope's dispensation could be of no force to make that lawful, which God had declared to be unlawful. Therefore he thought that instead of a long fruitless negotiation at Rome, it were better to consult all the learned men, and the universities of Christendom; for if they once declared it in the king's favour, then the pope must needs give judgment; or otherwise the bull being of itself null and void, the marriage would be found sinful, notwithstanding the pope's dispensation.
Craniner's suggestion was adopted; and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge being consulted, pronounced that the King's marriage with his deceased brother's wife was contrary to the law of God." Burnet adds, that Crooke, the king's agent in Italy, "talked with divines and casuists about these questions: "Whether the precepts in Leviticus, of the degrees of marriage, do still oblige Christians? And whether the pope's dispensation could have any force against the law of God. 1533, the question was brought before the Convocation of the Church of England, whether this marriage within the prohibited degrees, "was against the law of God, and indispensable by the pope;" and after the judgments of the Universities had been read, it was carried unanimously in the affirmative-a judgment, by which the Church of England proclaimed her belief that marriage within the degrees of consanguinity and affinity forbidden in Leviticus, is unlawful and unchristian. After this, followed the dissolution of the marriage by Archbishop Cranmer, and an open breach with the see of Rome.
Bishop Burnet, from whom we have taken the above particulars, has given us a summary of the arguments urged by Cranmer, and by all those who were favourable to the divorce, i. e. in fact, by the party opposed to the claims of the papacy-the party which included all the English Reformers. These arguments are precisely the same which are at this moment employed by those who are advocates for the preservation of the marriage law of England. To read them, one might suppose they were VOL. XI.—NO. XXI.—MARCH, 1849.
written for the present session of Parliament. They all proceed on the ground that the law of God on the subject of marriage contained in Leviticus is a moral law of universal obligation, not limited to the Jews, but equally binding on Christians.
The legislation of the time all embodied the same principle. In acts of Parliament passed in 1534 and 1537, marriages within the prohibited degrees, (amongst which are specified marriage with a deceased wife's sister) are asserted to be "prohibited by the laws of God," "prohibited by God's law," and therefore are forbidden to be celebrated. So, again, in the Reformatio Legum, drawn up in the time of King Edward VI., by Cranmer and a number of the leading bishops, clergy, and canonists favourable to the Reformation, it is held that the Levitical restrictions on marriage are still binding, and that "all the degrees by name are not expressly set down; for the Holy Ghost there did only declare plainly and clearly such degrees, from whence the rest might evidently be deduced. As, for example, when it is prohibited that the son shall not marry his mother, it follows also that the daughter shall not marry her father... To which the same book adds two particular rules for our direction in this matter: 1. That the degrees which are laid down as to man, will hold equally as to woman in the same proximity. 2. That the husband and wife are but one flesh; so that he who is related to the one by consanguinity, is related to the other by affinity in the same degree
The next feature we have in the history of this matter, is the issuing by authority on the accession of Elizabeth, the Table of Degrees, which maintains the same doctrine, and which was followed by the canon of 1603-the last regulation on the point, which expresses the full and deliberate judgment of the Church of England, repeated again after the lapse of seventy years, that the Levitical law of marriage is binding on Christians,-that marriages within the prohibited degrees are forbidden by THE LAW OF GOD.
We have attempted only a very brief outline of the history of the doctrine of the English Reformation on this point. But what has been said will perhaps be sufficient to show, that the Church of England is very much committed in this question, and that it concerns her credit and moral weight very considerably. We cannot of course claim infallibility for the Reformation; but, at the same time, we confess that we think it might be as well for the Church to be able to show, that she has not, for the last three centuries, at least, been in grave error on so important a branch
1 Burns, Ecclesiastical Law. Ed. Phillimore, ii. 447.
of Christian morality. In this question, the Church of England is decidedly on her trial. Those who advocate the Bill now before the House of Commons, or any other similar measure subversive of the prohibited degrees, are in fact accusing the Church of England of teaching error and falsehood up to the present moment. That the prohibited degrees are "forbidden by the law of God," is as much the doctrine of the Church of England, and of the English Reformation, as that the pope has no right to claim jurisdiction in England, or that transubstantiation is an error. It is true that the Thirty-nine Articles do not contain the Table of Prohibited Degrees; but that is a mere technical distinction between the sanction of the one doctrine and the other. The Church of England has really, and bona fide, again and again, declared herself just as clearly on the Divine obligation of the law of marriage in Leviticus, as she has on the question of transubstantiation, or the papal supremacy. The Table of Prohibited Degrees is part and parcel of the English Reformation.
Now of course we cannot expect that any considerations of this kind would have weight with those who are not members of the English Church, or induce them to look unfavourably on attempts to subvert the Table of Prohibited Degrees. To some of them, perhaps, it would be rather an argument in favour of Mr. Wortley's Bill, that it proposes to subvert the doctrine and discipline of the Established Church, and to give the clergy full leave and licence to set them at nought. Dissenters are not in any degree committed by the proceedings of the English Reformers. They have nothing to lose if the doctrines of the Church are interfered with. Nay, according to their accustomed mode of reasoning, the passing of the present Bill would be a positive boon to them. They would quote it as a fact, confirmatory of their continual assertion, that the religion of the Church of England is only "an Act of Parliament religion.” And Romanists again, have no reason to be dissatisfied at the proposed alteration. As we might have expected, Dr. Wiseman, in his examination before the Commission, states that marriages within the prohibited degrees are allowed by papal dispensation in the Romish Church. That is to say, the very same practice is still continued in that Church, which Cranmer and the English Reformation condemned as unlawful and contrary to the laws of God. We know what the practice in the Church of Rome is. We remember Kings of Portugal being licensed by the pope to marry within the degrees of consanguinity-to marry their own nieces! We remember that the late Cardinal Acton was the fruit of an incestuous marriage in the same degree, also contracted by
papal licence. We have read in the Theologia Moralis of " Saint" Alphonso Ligorio, that the majority of casuistical writers in the Church of Rome hold that no degrees are "prohibited by God's law," except the marriage of parents and children, or, perhaps, brothers and sisters. The views on this matter, therefore, in the Church of Rome, are even more lax than those of the advocates of the present Bill. They throw aside the Levitical law of marriage altogether. Under these circumstances the Romish communion can feel no objection to Mr. Wortley's Bill: indeed we should say, that to them also the benefit would be not inconsiderable from the passing of this bill; because they will then be able to allege, with the Dissenters, that ours is "an Act of Parliament religion"-the very ground (it is needless to say) which they do take on all occasions, and which has shaken the faith of many persons before now. Such amiable persons as Mr. Noel, with moderate reasoning faculties (and there are many such), are liable to be led astray in different directions from the Church of England, by such arguments as we have referred to.
In the case of Romanists the passing of Mr. Wortley's Bill would be a very great triumph. It would amount to a declaration on the part of Parliament, that the English Reformation had been in error in this matter, and that the Church of Rome had maintained the truth throughout. It would amount to a censure on Cranmer, Jewell, Parker, and the English Reformers generallyon the Convocations of the Church of England in 1533, 1571, and 1603, as guilty of error in this great point of Christian. doctrine. How readily would such a measure be employed by all the enemies of the English Reformation-and we have had such amongst ourselves-to throw discredit on the Reformers and the Church of England. The Newmans, Wards, Oakleys, and their followers, would rejoice in a reversal of the doctrine of Cranmer and Jewell, and more especially in its reversal by a mere Act of Parliament. Their triumph would be very great indeed.
But to pass from these considerations to the case of common people. The Table of Prohibited Degrees is printed in almost all our Prayer Books. It is there headed thus, "A Table of kindred and affinity wherein whosoever are related are forbidden in Scripture and our laws to marry together.' In many of our churches this Table of Degrees is set up, according to the directions of the canon of our Church. Every one may know, that the canon of 1603 declares all such marriages to be "incestuous" and "contrary to God's law." What must be the effect on the minds of our people, when they see their clergy celebrating such marriages -authorized by Act of Parliament to set at nought the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England on this point? In the
first place, will such a result tend to make them respect the doctrine and discipline of their own Church? Will it not shake their confidence in the truth of that Church's teaching, when they find the clergy doing what the Church has up to the present time declared to be deeply criminal? And to look at its effect on the prohibited degrees in general. If even now so many. cases can be produced, of persons who have shown themselves so disregardless of their religious obligations, as to contract incestuous marriages, the evil would be indefinitely increased, if the Parliament were to declare, as it would by the proposed Bill, that marriages within the prohibited degrees are not forbidden by God's law, but are merely positive institutions of men. The Table of Prohibited Degrees would at once lose every vestige of moral authority or influence. If illegal marriages were contracted by persons of unruly passions and without respect for religion, it would be perfectly hopeless for the clergy to remonstrate with them, and point out that such incestuous marriages were forbidden by the law of God in Holy Scripture. Their immediate answer would be, that the law of the land allows marriages within the prohibited degrees,-marriages which have been generally reputed to be forbidden by the Levitical law; and therefore that the law of Leviticus cannot be any longer binding. We know, of course, the fallacy of this kind of reasoning; but we also know that when men are bent on indulging their passions, they are very ready to adopt any kind of reasons which may afford an excuse for their conduct. We have heard of a case in which a man married his deceased wife's daughter, having first sworn that there was no impediment of affinity between them, in order to obtain a licence. In this case the defence set up was, that various persons had married their deceased wife's sisters; and, therefore, that there could be no harm in breaking through the Table of Prohibited Degrees. Now if such a Bill as Mr. Wortley's should pass, we really cannot calculate the amount of mischief that would be done to morality. The Table of Prohibited Degrees would at once become a dead letter. It would lose every vestige of moral weight and influence. If any one instituted prosecutions under it, he would be regarded as a persecutor. The people would set it at defiance. The clergy would be unable to appeal to it, or to the Scriptures, in order to prevent incestuous connexions.
Such considerations as these may weigh very little with the promoters of Mr. Wortley's Bill, whose simple object is to legalize marriages which they have contracted in defiance of the laws of God and man. Those persons who have been guilty of the crime of incest, have been struggling for several years to get their marriages recognised, and their children made capable of