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§ 76. Domestic Life.


The purity and happiness of home-life depend on the position of woman, who is the beating heart of the household. Female degradation was one of the weakest spots in the old Greek and Roman civilization. The church, in counteracting the prevailing evil, ran into the opposite extreme of ascetic excess as a radical cure. Instead of concentrating her strength on the purification and elevation of the family, she recommended lonely celibacy as a higher degree of holiness and a safer way to heaven.

Among the Western and Northern barbarians she found a more favorable soil for the cultivation of Christian family life. The contrast which the heathen historian Tacitus and the Christian monk Salvian draw between the chastity of the Teutonic barbarians and the licentiousness of the Latin races is overdrawn for effect, but not without foundation. The German and Scandinavian tribes had an instinctive reverence for the female sex, as being inspired by a divinity, possessed of the prophetic gift, and endowed with secret charms. Their women shared the labors and dangers of men, emboldened them in their fierce battles, and would rather commit suicide than submit to dishonor. Yet the wife was entirely in the power of her husband, and could be bought, sold, beaten, and killed.

The Christian religion preserved and strengthened the noble traits, and developed them into the virtues of chivalry; while it diminished or abolished evil customs and practices. The Synods often deal with marriage and divorce. Polygamy, concubinage, secret marriages, marriages with near relatives, mixed marriages with heathens or Jews or heretics were forbidden; the marriage tie was declared sacred and indissoluble (except by adultery); sexual intemperance restrained and forbidden on Sundays and during Lent; the personal independence of woman and her rights of property were advanced. The Virgin Mary was constantly held up to the imagination as the incarnation of female parity and devotion. Not unfrequently, however, marriages were dissolved by mutual consent from mistaken ascetic piety. When a married layman entered the priesthood or a convent, he usually forsook his wife. In a Roman Synod of 827 such separation was made subject to the approval of the bishop. A Synod of Rouen, 1072, forbade husbands whose wives had taken the veil, to marry another. Wives whose husbands had disappeared were forbidden by the same Synod to marry until the fact of death was made certain.334334    For all these details see the scattered notices in vols, III. and IV. of Hefele.

Upon the whole, the synodical legislation on the subject of marriage was wise, timely, restraining, purifying, and ennobling in its effect. The purest and brightest chapter in the history of Pope Nicolas I. is his protection of injured innocence in the person of the divorced wife of King Lothair of Lorraine.335335    See § 61, p. 275 sq.



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