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munion* What should I trouble you with the Decree of Syricius, concerning these contracts t; or with the pregnant testimonies of St. Chrysostom and Ambrose to this purpose; which were but to waste time and paper upon so clear a truth?
As there was no Christian Church which did not carefully observe this sacred rite ; so, above all other, the Roman hath been at least curious enough, in calling for a strict and severe account of their espousals. What voluminous discourses, what a world of nice questions, have fallen from the pens of their Canonists and Casuists, concerning this subject ! Certainly, this is a point of so much use and agitation amongst them, that were it not for the quarrels arising herefrom, it is to be feared their Consistories would want work, and their Advocates employment.
But, to speak ingenuously, those of the Roman Clientele are not more careful and punctual in scanning and observing the rules and practice of their espousals, than ours here are incurious of both. How many have we heard to say, they will make no promise of themselves till they come to the church door! And of those, that do contract themselves, how weakly and insufficiently is it performed, on many hands; so as their act, if questioned, is no way obliging; nor such, as, upon the least discontent, will endure a contestation.
Now, whereas there is a double contract or espousal; the one of the future, the other of the present :
That of the present, if it be expressed in full terms, differs nothing from marriage itself, save only in the public solemnization; which, doubtless, is a ceremony so requisite, as that, without it, a horrible confusion must needs follow both in Church and State:
That of the future, is a mutual engagement of both parties, that they will marry each other; which is most properly an espousal contract : giving both assurance to each other of a mutual consent to a matrimony that shall be; and yet, withal, some meet respiration of a more full trial and enquiry into each others' condition. For which purpose, the wisdom of the Church hath ordained, that there should be a solemn publication of that more private contract, three several sabbaths, to the whole congregation; not without the earnest charge of a discovery, of whatsoever impediment might justly hinder the intended matrimony:
The frequent, but unfit use of these espousal contracts in the Roman Church, betwixt their children in minority, allowing seven years in either party for a meet age to this purposef, must needs breed both much question and inconvenience.
But, in those which are of a mature age, and therefore able to judge of what may be most expedient for themselves, this institution cannot be but singularly useful and beneficial: for, neither is it meet that so great a work, and so highly importing us as matri
* Concil. Eliv. c. 45. + Luitbrand in Syric. Ætas legitimè contrahendi matrimonium, est, in masculis, 14 annios; in fæminis, 12; sponsalibus autem contrahendis, seprem in wrisque. Navar. c. 22. n. 28.
mony, should be rashly and suddenly undertaken ; neither doth it a little conduce to our safety, that, since marriage once passed is irreversible, we may have some breathing time betwixt our promise and accomplishment, to inform ourselves thoroughly, before it be too late, what we must trust to for ever.
For, we may take notice, that, though marriage is indissoluble, yet these espousals or contracts of a future marriage are not so: many things may intervene, betwixt this engagement by promise and that full and complete solemnization, which may break off the match.
The Casuists determine of seventeen several cases, at the least, which may sort to this effect : some whereof have a proper relation to the Romish Religion; others are common to whatever contracts of this kind. I shall not grudge you the mention of them all.
An espousal-contract, therefore, may, according to their judgment, be broken off,
By the willing remission of both parties, although it had been seconded by an oath :
By the entrance of the one party, into some order of Religion: by a contract with some other, in words of the present :
By the travel of one of the parties into remote countries, and not returning upon a lawful summons at a time prefixed by the judge :
By an affinity supervening upon the sinful copulation of one of the parties, with the near kinswoman of the other :
By the absolution of the judge, upon suit of one of the parties, repenting and pleading minority :
By lapse of the time set for the accomplishment of the marriage:
By the disease of one of the parties; being fallen into palsy, leprosy, the Neapolitan sickness, or any other contagious distemper or notable deformity:
By the fornication of one of the parties, committed since the contract :
By a vow of chastity, precedirg the contract :
By some capital enmity intervening betwixt the families and persons of the contracted :
By the omission of performing the promised conditiors; as when the dowry agreed upon, is retracted or held off':
By the fame of a Canonical impediment :
And, which may comprise many other particularities, by the falling out and discovery of any such accident or event, as, if it had been sooner known, would have prevented the making of such a contract.
All these, say they, may bar a marriage after espousals : but yet so, as that the parties may not be their own arbiters, to break off their contracts, at pleasure; but must have recourse to the Judge Ecclesiastical, and submit themselves to the overruling sentence of the Church.
If you balk those, which are proper to the Romish Superstition; yet you shall find many just and allowable causes, which may, after à contract of espousal, interrupt a purposed matrimony : so as, if there were neither rule nor example of any such preceding engagement; yet, surely, it were very fit, for our own security, and our confident and comfortable entrance into that estate which we shall never put off, to observe carefully this previous betrothing of ourselves, ere we knit the knot that can never be loosed.
I'hether there ought to be a prohibition and forbearance of marriuges
and marriage duties, for some appointed times. It is one thing, what is lawful; another thing, what is fit and expedient: as St. Paul hath taught us to distinguish. Marriage, being of God's own institution, and that in the perfection of paradise, there can be no time, wherein it may be unlawful to celebrate it; yet, there may be times, wherein it is unfit.
There is the like reason of times and places: both of them are circumstances alike.
The debt of the marriage-bed not only may, but must be paid by them, whom God hath called to that estate; yet, there are places, wherein it were barbarous and piacular to defray it. Even, besides those places, which are destined to a holy use, the Jews of old held this act done in the field or under a tree, worthy of scourging *.
Doubtless, there are times, so wholly consecrated to devotion, as that therein it would be utterly unseasonable to let our thoughts loose to the most lawful pleasures. Hence, is that charge of the Apostle, Defraud not one the other, c.rcept it be with consent for the time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer' ; 1 Cor. vij. 5. So then, ås Solomon himself can say, There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing , Eccl. iii. 5.
But what the limitation of this time may be, no small question hath been raised in the Church of God. Neither do there want extremities on both sides.
The Church of Rome hath, heretofore, been excessively large in her prohibitions ; forbidding the solemnization of marriage, upon pretence of the holiness of the great feasts to be observed, for the whole third part of the year: neither doth the account fall less, if we reckon from the Advent to the Epiphany; from Septuagesima Sunday to the Octaves of Easter; and from three days before the Ascension to the Octaves of Pentecost : all which had wont to be strictly kept; besides the feast of St. John Baptist added by some, and the four Ember Weeks by others: But now, of late, upon second thoughts, their Council of Trent + have found it meet lo shorten the restraint, and somewhat to enlarge the liberty of the
to boa o the doo
* Maimon. Shicard. de Reg.
of Concil. Trid. Sess, 21.
seasons for marriage; having exempted the two only solemn feasts of Easter and the Nativity, and abridged sone previous weeks of the former. And, for us, how observant the Consistories had wont to be of those inhibitions, for their own gain, every almanack can witness. . Some worthy Divines in our Church did not stick to profess their great dislike of our conforming herein to the Church of Rome, to the scandal of the Reformed. Concerning both winch I must say, that if either we or they do put any holiness in the time exempted, or any unholiness in the act inbibited, we cannot he excused from superstition. Can any time be more holy, than God's own day? yet, on that day, we do commonly both publish marriages and celebrate them. But, if, as in soleinn fasts, indicted by the Church for some public humiliation, we both do and enjoin to abstain from all conjugal society; so, in a desire the more devout. ly to celebrate the memory of God's infinite mercy to mankind in sending a Saviour into the world for our redemption, and of the glorious resurrection of that Son of God for our justification, we shall take off ourselves from all worldly cares or delights, I see not why it should not be both lawful and commendable.
But, to say as it is, as the Romanists are guilty of too much scruple in this kind; so too many of our own are no less faulty, in a careless disregard of the holiest occasions of restraint : which I would to God it did not too palpably appear, in the scandalous carnality of many, otherwise inoffensive, professors.
It is a common practice, which I have long wished an opportunity to censure, that husbands and wives forget one another too soon. Scarce are their consorts fully cold, ere they are laying for a second match ; and too few months are enough for the consummation of it. Let me be bold to say, this haste hath in it too much, not immodesty only, but inhumanity.
If we look abroad into the world, we shall find, not among God's peculiar people only, but even amongst the very heathens, a ineet, and not niggardly, intermission, betwixt the decease of the one husband or wife, and the marriage of another. A whole year was found little enough for the wife to mourn for her husband departed : and so is still amongst the very Chineses, though atheous pagans. And, by the Civil Laws, a woman, marrying within a year after her husband's death, is counted infamous *.
It was no short time t, that Abraham, though now very old, breathed upon Sarah, the first of wives mentioned as mourned for, before he took Keturah ; and yet the Hebrew Doctors observe that there is a short letter I in the midst of that word, which signifies his mourning; to imply, say they, that his mourning was but moderate. I am sure his son Isaac (Gen. xxiv. 67.) was not comforte concerning the death of that his good mother, till three years after her decease: at which time, he brought his Rebekah into that tent, which even still retained the name of Sarah's. Whereas, with us, after the profession of the greatest dearness, the old poesy of the death's ring tells what we may trust to; " Dead and forgotten.” Who can but blush, to read that some heathens were fain to make laws, that the wife might not be allowed to continue her solemn mourning for her husband above ten months; and to see, that our women had need of a law, to enforce them so to mourn for the space of one ?
* Alex. ab Alex. I. iii. Gen. Dier. c. 7. Cod. I. ü. tit. 12. + As appears by comparing of Gen, xxüi. 2. with xxv. 1. innsas Gen. xxiii. 2.
In other Reformed Churches, there is a determinate time of months set, until the expiration whereof widows, especially the younger, are not suffered to marry. It were more than requisite, that these loose times were, here with us, curbed with so seasonable a constitution : but, it were yet more happy, if a due regard of public honesty and Christian modesty could set bounds to our inordinate desires; and so moderate our affections, that the world may see we are led by a better guide than appetite.
Whether it be necessary, that marriages should be celebrated by a Mi
nister; and whether they may be valid and lawful without him. It is no marvel, if the Church of Rome, which holds matrimony a Sacrament, conferring grace by the very work wrought, require an absolute necessity of the priest's hand in so holy an act : but, for us, who, though reverently esteeming that sacred institution, yet set it in a key lower, it admits of too much question, whether we need to stand upon the terms of a minister's agency in the performance of that solemn action.
There are those, in these wild times, that have held it sufficiently lawful, for the parties, having agreed upon the bargain before friends and witnesses, to betake themselves to bed : others have thought this act of conjoining the married persons in wedlock, a fitter act for the magistrate to undertake.
And, certainly, if there were nothing in marriage but mere nature, it could not be amiss, that men and women should, upon their mutual agreement, couple themselves together, after the manner of brute creatures : and, if there were nothing in marriage but mere civility, the magistrate might be meet to be employed in this service. But, now that we Christians know matrimony to be a holy institution of God himself; which he not only ordained, but actually celebrated betwixt the first innocent pair; and which, being for the propagation of a holy seed, requires a special benediction; how can we, in reason, think any man meet for this office, but the man of God, set over us in the Lord, to derive the blessings of heaven upon our heads?
From hence, therefore, have our wholesome laws taken a just hint, to appropriate this service to a lawful minister only: so as, whatever private contract may be transacted in corners betwixt the