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Gentleman Usher_ (1606), represents the riteless marriage of his
hero and heroine, which the latter thus introduces:--
"May not we now
Our contract make and marry before Heaven?
Are not the laws of God and Nature more
Than formal laws of men? Are outward rites
More virtuous than the very substance is
Of holy nuptials solemnized within?
.... The eternal acts of our pure souls
Knit us with God, the soul of all the world,
He shall be priest to us; and with such rites
As we can here devise we will express
And strongly ratify our hearts' true vows,
Which no external violence shall dissolve."
And to-day, Ellen Key, the distinguished prophet of marriage
reform, declares at the end of her _Liebe und Ehe_ that the true
marriage law contains only the paragraph: "They who love each
other are husband and wife."
The establishment of marriage on this sound and naturalistic basis had the
further excellent result that it placed the man and the woman, who could
thus constitute marriage by their consent in entire disregard of the
wishes of their parents or families, on the same moral level. Here the
Church was following alike the later Romans and the early Christians like
Lactantius and Jerome who had declared that what was licit for a man was
licit for a woman. The Penitentials also attempted to set up this same
moral law for both sexes. The Canonists finally allowed a certain
supremacy to the husband, though, on the other hand, they sometimes seemed
to assign even the chief part in marriage to the wife, and the attempt was
made to derive the word _matrimonium_ from _matris munium_, thereby
declaring the maternal function to be the essential fact of marriage.
The sound elements in the Canon law conception of marriage were, however,
from a very early period largely if not altogether neutralized by the
verbal subtleties by which they were overlaid, and even by its own
fundamental original defects. Even in the thirteenth century it began to
be possible to attach a superior force to marriage verbally formed _per
verba de praesenti_ than to one constituted by sexual union, while so many
impediments to marriage were set up that it became difficult to know what
marriages were valid, an important point since a marriage even innocently
contracted within the prohibited degrees was only a putative marriage. The
most serious and the most profoundly unnatural feature of this
ecclesiastical conception of marriage was the flagrant contradiction
between the extreme facility with which the gate of marriage was flung
open to the young couple, even if they were little more than children, and
the extreme rigor with which it was locked and bolted when they were
inside. That is still the defect of the marriage system we have inherited
from the Church, but in the hands of the Canonists it was emphasized both
on the side of its facility for entrance and of its difficulty for
exit. Alike from the standpoint of reason and of humanity the gate
that is easy of ingress must be easy of egress; or if the exit is
necessarily difficult then extreme care must be taken in admission. But
neither of these necessary precautions was possible to the Canonists.
Matrimony was a sacrament and all must be welcome to a sacrament, the more
so since otherwise they may be thrust into the mortal sin of fornication.
On the other side, since matrimony was a sacrament, when once truly
formed, beyond the permissible power of verbal quibbles to invalidate, it
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