Pope Gregory XVI on Mixed Marriages
SUMMO IUGITER STUDIOON MIXED MARRIAGES
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE GREGORY XVI
MAY 27, 1832
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction.
The Apostolic See has always ensured that the canons forbidding the marriages of Catholics with heretics have been observed religiously. Occasionally such marriages have been tolerated in order to avoid more serious scandals. But, even then, the Roman Pontiffs saw to it that the faithful were taught how deformed these marriages are and what spiritual dangers they present. A Catholic man or woman would be guilty of a great crime if he presumed to violate the canonical sanctions in this matter. And if the Roman Pontiffs themselves very reluctantly relaxed this same canonical prohibition in some serious cases, they always added to their dispensation a formal condition: that the Catholic party must not be perverted, but rather must make every effort to withdraw the non-Catholic party from error and that the offspring of both sexes must be educated entirely in the Catholic religion.
2. Therefore, guided by the example of Our predecessors, We are grieved to hear reports from your dioceses which indicate that some of the people committed to your care freely encourage mixed marriages. Furthermore, they are promoting opinions contrary to the Catholic faith: namely, they dare to affirm that a Catholic may freely and legally contract marriage with a heterodox party, not only without asking for a dispensation (which must be obtained from the Apostolic See in each individual case), but also without agreeing to the necessary obligations, especially the duty to educate all the offspring in the Catholic religion. Indeed it has even come to the point that these same persons insist that mixed marriages ought to be approved when the heretical partner is a divorced person whose former spouse is still alive. To this end they issue serious threats of punishments in order to induce priests to announce mixed marriages in the churches and, afterwards, to defend the act by which these marriages were contracted or, at least, to grant the contracting parties what they call dimissory letters. Finally some of these misguided people attempt to persuade themselves and others that men are not saved only in the Catholic religion, but that even heretics may attain eternal life.
3. Some circumstances, however, lighten Our grief which arises from this matter: namely, the constancy of most of the Bavarian people in holding fast to the Catholic faith, their sincere obedience to ecclesiastical authority, and the steadfastness of nearly all of their clergy in carrying out their ministry according to the canons. We know that, although you may not all hold the same opinion in this business of mixed marriages, all of you are resolved to hearken to the Apostolic See and, with its guidance, to protect the flocks entrusted to you, not even fearing to encounter dangers in order to safeguard the sheep.
Help from King Louis
4. Through these letters We hope to strengthen your fraternity so that in the matter under consideration you may continue to preach the unchangeable Catholic teachings and to safeguard the observance of the canons. Since Our opinion has been made known to you, We hope it will result in a more perfect agreement between all of you and the Holy See. We hope that Our dear son in Christ, Louis, the illustrious king of Bavaria, when he understands the present problem, may assist Us and you with his patronage because of his grandfather's zeal for the Catholic religion which Louis has inherited. If he toes, the evils which threaten the Catholic cause from this source may be prevented and our most holy religion may be restored and protected throughout Bavaria. Then Catholic clergy may enjoy complete liberty in carrying out their ministry, just as was provided for in the agreement entered into with the Apostolic See in 1817.
History of Dictum Against Mixed Marriages
5. Next let Us start with the things which concern the faith which, as We mentioned above, some are endangering in order to introduce greater freedom for mixed marriages. You know how zealously Our predecessors taught that very article of faith which these dare to deny, namely the necessity of the Catholic faith and of unity for salvation. The words of that celebrated disciple of the apostles, martyred St. Ignatius, in his letter to the Philadelphians are relevant to this matter: "Be not deceived, my brother; if anyone follows a schismatic, he will not attain the inheritance of the kingdom of God." Moreover, St. Augustine and the other African bishops who met in the Council of Cirta in the year 412 explained the same thing at greater length: "Whoever has separated himself from the Catholic Church, no matter how laudably he lives, will not have eternal life, but has earned the anger of God because of this one crime: that he abandoned his union with Christ." Omitting other appropriate passages which are almost numberless in the writings of the Fathers, We shall praise St. Gregory the Great who expressly testifies that this indeed is the teaching of the Catholic Church. He says: "The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her and asserts that all who are outside of her will not be saved." Official acts of the Church proclaim the same dogma. Thus, in the decree on faith which Innocent III published with the synod of Lateran IV, these things are written: "There is one universal Church of all the faithful outside of which no one is saved." Finally the same dogma is also expressly mentioned in the profession of faith proposed by the Apostolic See, not only that which all Latin churches use, but also that which the Greek Orthodox Church uses and that which other Eastern Catholics use. We did not mention these selected testimonies because We thought you were ignorant of that article of faith and in need of Our instruction. Far be it from Us to have such an absurd and insulting suspicion about you. But We are so concerned about this serious and well known dogma, which has been attacked with such remarkable audacity, that We could not restrain Our pen from reinforcing this truth with many testimonies.
Help the Bavarian People Avoid Mixed Marriages
6. Strive to eradicate these slithering errors with all your strength. Inspire the populace of Bavaria to keep the Catholic faith and unity as the only way of salvation with an ever more ardent zeal, and, thus, to avoid every danger of forsaking it. Once the Bavarian faithful understands this necessity of maintaining Catholic unity, admonitions and warnings to them against joining in marriage with heretics will certainly not be in vain. If on occasion some grave cause should suggest such a mixed marriage, they will then apply for a dispensation from the Church and observe the conditions We mentioned above. You and their parents and others who have care of them are responsible for teaching them what the judgment of the canons is in this matter. They must be warned lest they should dare to break these canons and, thus, jeopardize their souls. Hence if the circumstances suggest it, it may be necessary to remind them of that wellknown precept of the natural and divine law, which commands us to avoid not only sins but the next occasion of sin as well. Remind them also of the other precept of the same law which enjoins parents to rear their children in the discipline and admonitions of the Lord (Eph 6.4). Therefore, they must instruct them in the true worship of God, which is unique to the Catholic religion. Hence, exhort your faithful to weigh seriously how great an offense they commit against the supreme Deity and how cruelly they act toward themselves and their future children when, by rashly contracting a mixed marriage, they may expose themselves and their children to the danger of perversion. So that the gravity of such danger may appear more clearly, recall for them those salutary admonitions of the Apostles, of the Fathers, and of the canons, which warn that familiar association with heretics is to be shunned.
Responsibility of Clergy
7. But it may happen that these warnings and admonitions go unheeded and that some Catholic man or woman is unwilling to give up his perverse intention of entering upon a mixed marriage. If a dispensation is not requested or not obtained from the Church or if the necessary conditions or a certain one of them is not fulfilled, then it will be the duty of the priest to abstain not only from honoring the marriage itself with his presence, but also from announcing the marriage and from granting dimissory letters. You must admonish the priests and demand that they abstain from every such act. For one who has the care of souls and who acts differently, especially in the circumstances prevalent in Bavaria, would seem in some way to approve these illicit marriages by his actions. His works would encourage the liberty of those souls, a liberty which is pernicious to their salvation and even to the cause of faith.
Cases Involving Divorce
8. After these things it is hardly necessary to add statements concerning those other, far more serious, cases of marriages contracted between Catholics and heretics in which the heretical party may have a previous partner still living from whom he separated by divorce. You know how strong by divine law the bond of marriage is. This bond cannot be broken by human authority. Therefore, a mixed marriage in such cases is not only illicit, but entirely invalid and adulterous. The only exception is when the former marriage, which the heretical party considers dissolved by divorce, was entirely invalid because of some canonical impediment. In this last case, not only must all the things which were said above be observed, but the new marriage must not be permitted until after the first marriage has been declared invalid by an ecclesiastical judgment made according to canonical standards.
9. These are the things, venerable brothers, which We thought should be called to your attention in this matter. Meanwhile We do not cease to ask our omnipotent and merciful God with fervent prayers to clothe you and all the clergy of Bavaria with virtue from on high and to cover you with His right hand and defend you with His holy arm. May the Apostolic Benediction be a pledge of the great love with which We regard your fraternity in the Lord. We most lovingly bestow this benediction on you. Distribute it to the clergy and faithful laity of your dioceses.
Given in Rome, at St. Peter's under the ring of the Fisherman, May 27, 1832, the second year of Our Pontificate.
QUAS VESTROON MIXED MARRIAGES
ENCYCLICAL OF POPE GREGORY XVI
APRIL 30, 1841
To the Prelates of Hungary
Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Blessing.
The letter from you and the bishops of your country which Joseph, the bishop of Csamad delivered has caused Us both sorrow and joy. Since We must diligently safeguard the integrity of sound doctrine and practice, We cannot help but be displeased with whatever might imperil them. And yet what the church has always thought about marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics is more than abundantly clear. Indeed she has always considered such marriages to be illicit and destructive both because of the disgraceful sharing in sacramental matters involved and because of the ever present danger of the Catholic spouse and improper upbringing of offspring. And this is the tenor of most ancient canons severely prohibiting such marriages and more recent sanctions of supreme pontiffs. What Benedict XIV says about such marriages in his encyclical to the bishops of Poland and in his well known work, de Synodo dioecesana, is more than sufficient. If, indeed, in certain places, because of difficulties of place and conditions, such marriages are tolerated, the reason is surely a sort of moderation. It is in no way to be considered approbation or approval, but merely a toleration, brought about not willingly but by necessity to avoid greater evils. The letter of Pius VII to the archbishop of Mainz, on 9 October 1803, in response to the bishops of Wroclaw, Roznava, and Spis, wisely states this. Moreover, if this Apostolic See, mitigating to some extent the full letter of the canons, has, on occasion, allowed such mixed marriages, it has done so only in serious cases and reluctantly. Moreover, it has done so only when precautions are taken to prevent the perversion of the Catholic spouse by the non-Catholic party. Also the Catholic party realized an obligation to work for the conversion of the other party; the Catholic party also realized that all offspring from such marriages be educated only in the sanctity of the Catholic religion. Such precautions are surely founded on divine law, against which, without any doubt, one seriously sins who rashly exposes himself or herself and future offspring to the danger of perversion.
2. Thus, from your letter We learn that in your dioceses an abuse has become common: namely, that marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics, without any previous dispensation from the Church and without necessary precautions, are dignified with priestly blessing and sacramental rites. It must be clear to you how deeply We are affected by this, especially since We perceive that once this license with regard to mixed marriages was introduced, it became widely disseminated. This in turn resulted in a rapidly spreading deadly indifference toward religion in your great kingdom, once so preeminent in the glory of the Catholic faith. Let us not be mistaken: We would scarcely have overlooked this practice if it had been known to Us earlier. This was the reason for Our silence. In the past the Apostolic See granted no dispensation whatsoever for entering such mixed marriages without the necessary preliminary conditions and without the customary regulations.
3. Nevertheless, it is no small consolation that at the same time as We were informed of this growing evil, We have likewise learned of your efforts and those of your colleagues to remedy it opportunely. We are joyful to learn with what zeal you are jointly inflamed to preserve intact the purity of the Catholic faith and with what reverence and devotion you support the Apostolic See, the leader and teacher of truth, which entrusted the exercise of the pastoral office to you. For when you realized that this practice, which had grown strong, was totally adverse to the laws and principles of the Church and therefore could no longer be tolerated without grave danger, you did not hesitate to insist on its removal and were fully prepared, if necessary, to endure danger for the sake of your eternal salvation and that of your flock. And completing Our joy are the abundant fruits which have emanated from your concern. Nor are we ignorant of how your pastors and other clergy have faithfully complied with your orders so that this illegitimate custom has been suppressed in many places out of regard for the ancient discipline of the sacred canons. And so we congratulate you all the more, venerable brothers, and render thanks to God who has endowed you with courage for the protection of the faith and its sacred teaching. We do not desist from exhorting you to continue to espouse the cause of the Church lest this evil usage ever revive, and that if any traces of it remain, it be totally eradicated.
4. Meanwhile We have not failed to pay careful attention to your letter in which you point out that sometimes a Catholic, despite his pastor's persuasion and exhortation to the contrary, persists in the intention of undertaking such a mixed marriage without the necessary precautions. You suggest that if the matter cannot be prevented without greater danger to the Catholic religion, the pastor be present at the marriage in a passive fashion only, abstaining completely from all religious rites and any other sign of approval. By way of precaution, you decided that such a serious matter should be brought to Our attention at once, in order to secure Our assent. And, indeed, We, who otherwise are intent on properly preserving intact the most holy doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, will aid you in view of the calamitous circumstances of your region and the difficulties for you arising from them, by approving of the arrangement undertaken by your counsel and by agreeing that your petition should be conceded.
5. We do this in keeping with what We permitted some time ago, following the example of Our predecessors, with regard to regions of other countries and with regard to what Pius VI declared on several occasions for one of the dioceses of Hungary itself. In a reply from Vienna to the bishop of Spis in 1782, which was repeated the following year after his return to Rome and in 1795 to that bishop's successor, he, in accord with the circumstances of the time, explained as follows: "Whatever be the laws regarding the matter, the bishop and pastors ought to see that marriages of this nature not take place. But if they do, all offspring should be educated in the Catholic faith. If these marriages do take place, they must always abstain from granting the nuptial blessing. Their presence, if necessity urges it, must be merely physical and not be joined with words or actions which would encourage or approve of the offspring being allowed to be raised other than in the Catholic religion."
6. Sometimes because of conditions of time, person, or place, the marriage of a non-Catholic to a Catholic without the precautions prescribed by the Church cannot be prevented without danger of greater evil or scandal to the detriment of religion. Pius VII in the above-mentioned letter to the archbishop of Mainz judged that it can tend to the benefit of the Church and the common good if marriages of this nature, although forbidden and illicit, be celebrated before a Catholic pastor rather than before a heretical minister to whom the parties could easily have recourse. On such occasions the Catholic pastor, or any other priest with his delegation, can be present at these marriages in a merely physical manner, without benefit of any sort of ecclesiastical rite. He could act merely as a qualified, as they say, or authorizing, witness; having heard the consent of both spouses, he may afterwards in accord with his office enter the act as valid in the matrimonial records.
7. Nevertheless, in these circumstances, as Our same predecessor aptly commends, bishops and pastors must zealously take precautions that the danger of perversion on the part of the Catholic party, as far as possible, be removed; that care be taken for the education of offspring of both sexes in the Catholic religion; and that the Catholic spouse be seriously admonished of the obligation by which he is bound to procure, as best as he can, the conversion of the non-Catholic spouse, which will be the best means for more easily obtaining pardon from God for the sins he has committed.
8. We grieve that this type of toleration is necessary in a kingdom so outstanding in the profession of the Catholic faith. We are compelled to this expedient to prevent more serious damage to the Catholic Church. Therefore, We beseech you and all your colleagues that in such a serious matter, having first implored that inspiration of the Holy Spirit, you strive to carry out what you truly judge to correspond to this end. Also see that such toleration towards mixed marriages does not extinguish the memory of the canons execrating such marriages as well as of the constant care of the Church to prevent her children from entering into such marriages to the loss of their souls. It will be your task and that of your fellow bishops and pastors in educating these faithful either privately or publicly to zealously recount the teaching and laws pertaining to such marriages and to enjoin their strict observance. In the assurance that you will carry out all these instructions because of your proven observation, faith, and reverence for this chair of blessed Peter, We lovingly impart as a guarantee of heavenly aid and witness of Our paternal affection the apostolic blessing to you and all your colleagues to be communicated to the proper flocks of each.
Given in Rome at St. Peter's under the fisherman's ring on 30 April 1841, in the eleventh year of Our Pontificate.