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joined together,” and the parties themselves are challenged in words of the most impressive solemnity to confess, “if either of them know any impediment why they may not be lawfully joined together,” and they are assured, “ that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God's word doth allow, are not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful.” To be coupled together otherwise than God's word doth allow, is the only case, contemplated by the Church, in which the parties are not joined together by God, and in which their matrimony is not lawful : all other marriages are supposed to be valid, and on a just presumption, founded in the silence of all parties, that there is no such impediment or contravention of God's word, the mutual consent of the parties is asked and declared : and upon this consent they severally stipulate, that they will live together in the discharge of their reciprocal duties, according to God's holy ordinance, so long as they both shall live, and until death shall part them. A ring, in token of mutual trust and continual love, is then given by the man to the woman, whom he weds and contracts to himself in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The minister, after a short prayer, joins their hands together, reciting the impressive words in which our Lord hath laid down the law of marriage: Those whom God hath joined together, let no man put asunder: and he pronounces them to be man and wife in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. The office concludes with benedictions, prayers, a psalm of thanksgiving, and Scriptural instructions on the
duties of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.
This is the unequivocal doctrine of the Church of England concerning marriage, that it is a divine institution, and that being once, without lawful impediment contrary to God's word, contracted, its duties cannot cease, its obligations cannot be vitiated or dissolved, but by the death of one of the parties. As far as the Church is concerned there can be no disorder of marriages ; and if the principle maintained by the Church, and the chief expressions of her ritual, be traced to the remotest period, they will be found to coincide with the highest and most commanding authorities, with the clearest and most continuous current of opinion in favour of the permanent validity and obligation of the bond of marriage.
It is not, however, the least difficulty which embarrasses the doctrine of marriage, that there is, or is supposed to be, a marked and striking discrepancy in the principles held by the Law and the Church of England ; that while the Church maintains the divine institution of marriage, and deduces all the rules of marriage from divine authority, the Law is content to hold that marriage is a civil contract, and to argue upon the obligations of marriage, in reference only to the civil contract.
“Our Law,” says Blackstone, “considers marriage in no other light than as a civil contract d.” This is the first distinction between the Church and the Law: the Church affirms that marriage is God's holy ordinance, a state instituted by God: the Law
Commentaries, vol. i. c. 15.
considers it to be a civil contract; at the same time it accumulates upon this simple contract the necessity of a religious ratification, without which, both by the common law and by particular statutes, the parties cannot contract as is required, “ in due form of law."
“In general all persons are able to contract themselves in marriage, unless they labour under some particular disabilities and incapacities. These disabilities are of two sorts: first, such as are canonical, and therefore sufficient by the ecclesiastical law to avoid the marriage in the spiritual court : but these, in our law, only make the marriage voidable, and not ipso facto void, until sentence of nullity be obtained. Of this nature are pre-contract; consanguinity or relation by blood ; affinity or relation by marriage; and some particular corporal infirmities. And these canonical disabilities are either grounded upon the express words of the divine law, or are consequences plainly deducible from thence: it therefore being sinful in the persons who labour under them, to attempt to contract matrimony together, they are properly the object of the ecclesiastical magistrate's coercion, in order to separate the offenders, and inflict penance for the offence pro salute animarum. But such marriages not being void ab initio, but voidable only by sentence of separation, they are esteemed valid to all civil purposes, unless such separation is actually made during the life of the parties. For after the death of either of them, the courts of common law will not suffer the spiritual courts to declare such marriages to have been void, because such declaration cannot
now tend to the reformation of the parties. By Statute 32 Hen. VIII. c. 38. it is declared, that all persons may lawfully marry, but such as are prohibited by God's law, and that all marriages contracted by lawful persons in the face of the Church and consummate with bodily knowledge and fruit of children, shall be indissoluble. And (because, in the times of popery, a great variety of degrees of kindred were made impediments to marriage, which impediments might, however, be bought off for money,) it is declared by the same statute that nothing (God's law except) shall impeach any marriage without the Levitical degreese.
There is a subtlety in this legal distinction between void and voidable marriages, which ordinary minds are not prepared to entertain. From the process of reasoning that it is sinful to attempt to contract matrimony under such circumstances, it seems natural to expect that the contract should be void, on the principle that no man may take benefit of his own wrong, rather than that the marriage should be voidable, i. e. that its validity should be approved, at the same time that it is liable to a restricted sentence of nullity. The same inference might be thought justly deducible from the statute : if marriages without the Levitical degrees are indissoluble, it is not a remote conclusion that marriages within those degrees, or otherwise contrary to God's word, are void. The statute coincides with the expression of the Liturgy, concerning those who are joined together otherwise than God's word doth
• 1 Bl. Com. c. 15.
allow, and of whom the Church declares that they are “not joined together by God, neither is their matrimony lawful:" and yet, in equal opposition to the Liturgy and the statute, it is the received exposition of the law, that marriages within the Levitical degrees are only voidable, not ipso facto void, are not void ab initio, but voidable only by sentence of separation. It is also a singular arrangement which includes infirmities in the same class with disabilities grounded on divine prohibitions.
“ The other sort of disabilities are those which are created, or at least enforced, by the municipal laws. And though some of them may be grounded upon natural law, yet they are regarded by the laws of the laud, not so much in the light of any moral offence, as on account of the civil inconveniences they draw after them. These civil inconveniences make the contract void ab initio, and not merely voidable : not that they dissolve a contract already formed, but they render the parties incapable of forming any contract at all. They do not put asunder those who are joined together, but they previously hinder the junction. And if any persons under these legal incapacities come together, it is a meretricious and not a matrimonial union f.”
In the case of voidable marriages the Law affirms what the Church disavows: in the case of marriages legally void, it annuls what the Church approves : for whatever may be these legal disabilities, with the single exception of those who are coupled together otherwise than God's word doth allow, the Church
11 Bl. Com. c. 15.