Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Marriage, The Church and.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Few claims of the modern apologist have been so freely adopted in our journalism and general literature, even endorsed at times by non-Christian moralists and scientists, as the claim that Christianity rendered a high social service by elevating marriage; yet this claim is as completely false to the historical facts as the statement that the early Church broke the fetters of the slave, gave the world schools and hospitals, and taught it charity, mercy, and justice. There is here no question of different estimates of the facts or of a selection of some out of a number of conflicting facts. The entire history of marriage since Roman days makes a mockery of the claim. Many articles of this work which describe the actual state of morals during the Dark Age and the Middle Age may seem sufficient to rebuke the statement, but it is often based upon so gross a misrepresentation of historical facts that it is expedient to state these. With the earlier evolution of marriage - for which see Prof. Westermarck's History of Human Marriage (1891) - we are not here concerned, since it is the Roman social order that is supposed to have been transformed. It is usual to say that under the early Republic the Romans had an admirable ideal of marriage and the family, but this was corrupted in the later Republic, and the corruption continued under the Empire until the new religion saved society by making marriage a sacred thing. As the complete collapse of the Roman social order, which had been sound until the latter part of the fourth century, after the establishment of Christianity and the fall of Rome is a notorious fact, this is audacious; and even a theologian will smile, covertly, at the statement that the Church (apart from the opinions of individual Fathers) made marriage a Sacrament, which was not done until more than 1,000 years later. But the account of the development in ancient Rome is itself grotesquely false to modern historical scholarship. In early Rome, the man, married or unmarried, had no obligation whatever of chastity, and the forms of marriage (confarreatio, etc.) put a wife on a level with the slaves or children. She could acquire no property, and the husband could put her to death for offences. As soon as the Romans were fully civilized by Greek influence this had to cease and less rigid forms of marriage be permitted. The change led for a time to just such freedom as we find in all ages of rapid prosperity and discredited traditions, but apologists, who usually know no more about history than science, give ridiculous accounts of this. They blush over the morals of the age of Augustus; yet even Lecky, who so frequently obliges them, says "there is probably no period in which examples of conjugal heroism and fidelity appear more frequently than in this very age" (History of European Morals, II, 303). The Empress, Livia, was as puritanical as Queen Victoria, and the Emperor sent into a stern exile for life his beloved daughter Julia for loose conduct. The apologists next deplore the age of Trajan and Hadrian, which is admittedly the finest period of ancient civilization, on the strength of the discredited statements of Juvenal (about an earlier age) and Martial (whom, clearly, none of them ever read). However, the authoritative studies of this and the last pagan period by the Protestant historian Sir S. Dill, Roman Society from Nero to Marcus Aurelius (1904) and Roman Society in the Last Centuries of the Western Empire (1899), have disposed of all this shallow and ignorant rhetoric.
      It is more important to understand what the Church really did, and about this in turn there is no dispute in social history. Since all earnest Christian leaders, from Paul to Augustine, regarded sexual intercourse in itself as repulsive, they lashed adultery. But it is chiefly among the Christians that they find and denounce it. Chrysostom in one sermon - significantly, it is on chastity - says that there are 100,000 Christians at Antioch (out of 500,000 people), but he doubts if 100 of them will escape hell, and, Jerome, Cyprian, Augustine, etc., concur. Moreover, their horror of the flesh gave them an attitude to marriage which sterilized their work. Married folk were weaklings who had to be indulged in this "decorous sort of adultery," as Athenagoras calls it in his Apology (c. 33), Lecky quotes from the Fathers, from the second to the fifth century, a list of such sentiments. Augustine would not refuse a Christian a concubine if his wife were childless (De 'Bono Conjugali,' c. 15), and the first Synod of Toledo (eighteen prelates) permits a man (canon 17) to have a concubine instead of a wife (in Mansi's collection of Councils, III, 1001). This unnatural asceticism of the really religious leaders of the Church broke down. Divorce continued to be allowed on from four to six grounds, and the Church failed to get any control of marriage. The few points on which the bishops induced the Emperors to interfere legislatively form, says Muirhead, "a miserable chapter in the history of law" (Historical Introduction to the Private Law of Rome, 1899, p. 356). The Dark Age, in which "conjugal morals returned to brutality" (Legouvé), followed, and in the eleventh century the reformed Papacy began its great struggle to suppress divorce, enforce sacerdotal celibacy, and bring the marriages of the laity under control [see Celibacy; Divorce; Gregory III; etc.], relying very largely on forgeries [Forged Decretals]. S. B. Kitchin's History of Divorce (1912) and Howard's History of Matrimonial Institutions (2 vols., 1904) give a fair idea of this; but for a thorough study one must consult Prof. E. Fahrner's Geschichte des Unauflösigkeits Prizip (1903), or J. Freisen's Geschichte des Canonischen Eherechts (1888). There is, however, little reason to go into detail. Marriage was never more flagrantly flouted than in the Age of Chivalry , which opened after the death of Hildebrand, and the Renaissance , which followed that. It is shown in many articles [Baths; Celibacy; Divorce; Middle Ages; Prostitution; Thirteenth Century; etc.] that the five centuries which followed the formulation of the Canon Law and the Church's control of marriage are one of the most licentious periods if not the most licentious period, in history.
      The later development in Catholic countries need not be pursued. Catholics had themselves to invent the myth of "the hot blood of the Latins" to explain the state of conjugal morals in Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and South America, while the boast of Irish chastity has been heavily discredited [see Eire]. But it is necessary to emphasize that Protestantism entirely failed to correct what Doctor Howard calls the shameful abuses which disgrace the record of ecclesiastical judicature previous to the Council of Trent (I, 324). Child-Marriages continued. The Anglo-Catholic Party fanatically blocked the way to a reform of divorce, though the state of law caused general irregularity. Howard quotes a statute of Henry VIII lamenting "the terrible confusion of marriages in England" and the finding of a Royal Commission in the eighteenth century that at least a third of the marriages in the country were irregular. For a situation had developed in England in the seventeenth century which makes the idea of the Church of England as the stern guardian of marriage as amusing as the loose morals of Catholic countries make the claim of their Church. "Free parsons" (technically not under the bishop, many of them being in jail) could and did marry anybody who applied, without any conditions beyond the fee. The "free" incumbent of St. James's in the West End performed 40,000 marriages in twenty-seven years. A parson in the Fleet Prison for debt performed 36,000 in thirty-one years. Adventurers brought young eloping heiresses, whores dragged drunken sailors who had just been paid off; and so on. The parsons had touts Out in Fleet Street. See the extraordinary story in Burn's Fleet Registers (1833), or J. C. Jeafferson's Brides and Bridals (1872). It was reserved for the sceptical or humanitarian England of the nineteenth century to reform marriage and divorce (as in other Protestant countries) and reduce the sufferings of women and children. The Church of Rome still affronts our modern ideals with its law of indissoluble marriage; and still dissolves it for the rich. In 1924 Countess Marconi (nee O'Brien) had her marriage declared null from the first - which meant nineteen years earlier - because of lack of real consent. A Vanderbilt lady married to the Duke of Marlborough got a similar cynical decree. G. Seldes, The Catholic Crisis, has a full account of these cases. A rich and pious American film-actress was permitted to marry a married man, whose union was conveniently annulled. [See Pauline Privilege.] The Church can flout the civil law and the social interest by declaring a secret Catholic marriage valid, or a marriage with a non-Catholic without a priest's permission invalid. [see Canon Law.] In addition to the works recommended above see, for a general survey, McCabe's Influence of the Church on Marriage and Divorce (1916).


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