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God therefore gave laws of divorce, in their proper use most equitable and humane; he even extended the benefit of them to those whom he knew would abuse them through the hardness of their hearts, thinking it better to bear with the obduracy of the wicked, than to refrain from alleviating the misery of the righteous, or suffer the institution itself to be subverted, which, from a divine blessing, was in danger of becoming the bitterest of all calamities.
The two next passages, Ezra x. 3. and Nehem. xiii. 23, 30. do not merely tolerate divorce on account of the people's hardness of heart, but positively command it for the most sacred religious reasons. On what authority did these prophets found their precept? They were not the promulgators of a new law; the law of Moses alone could be their warrant.8 But the law of Moses nowhere commands the dissolution of marriages of this kind; it only forbids the contracting of such: Exod. xxxiv. 15, 16. Deut. vii. 3, 4. whence they argued, that the marriage which ought never to have been contracted, ought, if contracted, to be dissolved. So groundless is the vulgar maxim, that what ought not to have been done, is valid when done.9
Marriage therefore gives place to religion; it gives place, as has been seen, to the right of the master;' and the right of a husband, as appears from the passages of Scripture above quoted, as well as from the whole tenor of the civil law, and the custom of nations in general, is nearly the same as that of the master. It gives way, finally, to irresistible antipathies, and
to that natural aversion with which we turn from whatever is unclean; but it is nowhere represented as giving way to hardness of heart, if this latter motive be really alleged as the sole or
sThis command thus gospellized to us, hath the same force with that whereon Ezra grounded the pious necessity of divorcing. Neither had he other commission for what he did, than such a general command in Deuteronomy as this, nay not so direct, for he is bid there not to marry, but not bid to divorce,' &c. Doctrine, &c. Prose Works. III. 200.
9But,' saith the lawyer, 'that which ought not to have been done, once done, avails.' I answer, this is but a crotchet of the law, but that brought against it is plain Scripture.' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, I. 202.
The law of marriage gives place to the power of parents; for we hold that the consent of parents not had may break the wedlock, though else accomplished. It gives place to masterly power, for the master might take away from a Hebrew servant the wife which he gave him, Exod. xxi.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, III. 357.
principal reason for enacting the law. This appears still more evidently from Deut. xxii. 19. "because he hath brought up an evil name upon a virgin of Israel, she shall be his wife; he may not put her away all his days" and v. 29. "she shall be his wife, because he hath humbled her; he may not put her away all his days." Now if the law of Moses did not give way to his hardness of heart who was desirous of putting away the virgin whom he had humbled, or to his who was willing to put away the wife against whom he had brought up an evil report, why should we imagine that it would give way to his alone who was averse from uncleanness, supposing that such aversion could properly be included under the definition of hardness of heart? Christ therefore reproves the hardness of heart of those who abused this law, that is, of the Pharisees and others, when he says, on account of the hardness of your hearts he permitted you to put away your wives;" but he does not abrogate the law itself, or the legitimate use of it; for he says that Moses permitted it on account of the hardness of their hearts, not that he permitted it wrongfully or improperly. In this sense almost the whole of the civil law might be said to have been given on account of the hardness of their hearts: whence St. Paul reproves the brethren, 1 Cor. vi. 6. because they had recourse to it, though no one argues from hence that the civil law is, or ought to be abrogated. How much less then can any one who understands the spirit of the Gospel believe, that this latter denies what the law did not scruple to concede, either as a matter of right or of indulgence, to the infirmity of human nature ?2 The clause of the eighth verse, "from the beginning it was not so, means nothing more than what is more clearly intimated above in the fourth verse, "he which made them at the beginning, made them male and female;" namely, that marriage in its original institution was not capable of being dissolved even by death, for sin and death were not then in existence. If however the purpose of the institution should be violated by the offence of either, it was obvious that death, the consequence of that offence, must in the course of things
20 perverseness! that the law should be made more provident of peacemaking than the gospel: that the gospel should be put to beg a most necessary help of mercy from the law, but must not have it!' Doctrine, &c. Prose Works, III. 195. See also Book II. chap. vii. 'But if those indulgencies, &c. work of our redemption.' II. 231, 232.
dissolve the bond; and reason taught them that separation must frequently take place even before that period. No age or record, since the fall of man, gives a tradition of any other beginning in which it was not so. In the earliest ages of our faith, Abraham himself, the father of the faithful, put away his contentious and turbulent wife Hagar by the command of God, Gen. xxi. 10, 12, 14.
Christ himself, v. 9. permitted divorce for the cause of fornication; which could not have been, if those whom God had once joined in the bands of matrimony were never afterwards to be disunited. According to the idiom of the eastern languages, however, the word fornication signifies, not adultery only, but either what is called any unclean thing, or a defect in some particular which might justly be required in a wife, Deut. xxiv. 1. (as Selden was the first to prove by numerous testimonies in his Uxor Hebræa) or it signifies whatever is found to be irreconcileably at variance with love, or fidelity, or help, or society, that is, with the objects of the original institution ; as Selden proves, and as I have myself shewn in another
3 From the beginning, that is to say by the institution in Paradise, it was not intended that matrimony should dissolve for every trivial cause, as you Pharisees accustom. But that it was not thus suffered from the beginning ever since the race of men corrupted, and laws were made, he who will affirm must have found out other antiquities than are yet known. Besides, we must consider now, what can be so as from the beginning, not only what should be so. In the beginning, had men continued perfect, it had been just that all things should have remained, as they began to Adam and Eve, &c.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, III. 389.
For the language of the Scripture signifies by fornication....not only the trespass of the body .... but signifies also any notable disobedience, or intractable carriage of the wife to the husband.' Tetrachordon, Prose Works, III. 395.
See Book III. Chaps. xxii. and xxviii. Selden is quoted again with approbation in the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce. 'Let him hasten to be acquainted with that noble volume written by our learned Selden, Of the Law of Nature and of Nations, a work more useful and more worthy to be perused by whosoever studies to be a great man in wisdom, equity, and justice,' &c. Prose Works, III. 269. He calls him also, in the Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing, 'the chief of learned men reported in this land." II. 52. Again, in his Defensio Secunda pro Populo Anglicano, referring to the treatise here quoted, he says, 'quid item de excepta solum fornicatione sentiendum sit, et meam aliorumque sententiam exprompsi, et clarissimus vir Seldenus noster, in Uxore Hebræa plus minus biennio post edita, uberius demonstravit.' Symmons' ed. V. 234.
treatise from several texts of Scripture. For it would have been absurd, when the Pharisees asked, whether it was allowable to put away a wife for every cause, to answer, that it was not lawful except in case of adultery, when it was well known already to be not only lawful but necessary to put away an adulteress, and that not by divorce, but by death. Fornication, therefore, must be here understood in a much wider sense than that of simple adultery, as is clear from many passages of Scripture, and particularly from Judg. xix. 2. "his concubine played the whore against him;" not by committing adultery, for in that case she would not have dared to flee to her father's house, but by refractory behaviour towards her husband." Nor could St. Paul have allowed divorce in consequence of the departure of an unbeliever, unless this also were a species of fornication. It does not affect the question, that the case alluded to is that of a heathen; since whoever deserts her family "is worse than an infidel," 1 Tim. v. 8. Nor could anything be more natural, or more agreeable to the original institution, than that the bond which had been formed by love, and the
6 This is the only direct reference to any of Milton's printed works which this treatise contains. The allusion is to a passage in Tetrachordon, where the author explains the text, saving for the cause of fornication. Prose Works, III. 394-398. It has been generally supposed that Milton's opinions on the subject of divorce were influenced by the well-known circumstances connected with his first marriage, and Warton says that he published Tetrachordon in consequence. Some probability seems to have been given to this conjecture by the passage quoted in the note 4, page 244. But though Milton's attention may have been first directed to this subject by his own domestic unhappiness, it is evident from the work now published, that his sentiments respecting divorce were deliberately conceived, and that the treatises which he printed during his life-time were not merely intended to serve a temporary purpose, in which he was personally interested.
7 'Grotius shows also, that fornication is taken in Scripture for such a continual headstrong behaviour, as tends to plain contempt of the husband, and proves out of Judg. xix. 2. where the Levite's wife is said to have played the whore against him; which Josephus and the Septuagint, with the Chaldean, interpret only of stubbornness and rebellion against her husband..... Had it been whoredom, she would have chosen any other place to run to than her father's house, it being so infamous for a Hebrew woman to play the harlot, and so opprobrious to the parents. Fornication then in this place of the Judges is understood for stubborn disobedience against the husband, and not for adultery.' Doctrine, &c. III. 256.
See 1 Cor. vii. 15.
hope of mutual assistance through life, and honourable motives, should be dissolved by hatred and implacable enmity, and disgraceful conduct on either side. For man, therefore, in his state of innocence in Paradise, previously to the entrance of sin into the world, God ordained that marriage should be indissoluble; after the fall, in compliance with the alteration of circumstances, and to prevent the innocent from being exposed to perpetual injury from the wicked, he permitted. its dissolution: and this permission forms part of the law of nature and of Moses, and is not disallowed by Christ. Thus every covenant, when originally concluded, is intended to be perpetual and indissoluble, however soon it may be broken by the bad faith of one of the parties; nor has any good reason yet been given why marriage should differ in this respect from all other compacts; especially since the apostle has pronounced that "a brother or a sister is not under bondage," not merely in case of desertion, but in such cases, that is, in all cases that produce an unworthy bondage. 1 Cor. vii. 15. "a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us in peace, or to peace;" he has not therefore called us to the end that we should be harassed with constant discord and vexations; for the object of our call is peace and liberty, not marriage, much less perpetual discord and the slavish bondage of an unhappy union, which the apostle declares to be above all things unworthy of a free man and a Christian. It is not to be supposed that Christ would ex
9 St. Paul leaves us here the solution not of this case only, which little concerns us, but of such like cases, which may occur to us.' Tetrachordon. Prose Works, III. 412.
1 Having declared his opinion in one case, he leaves a further liberty for Christian prudence to determine in cases of like importance, using words so plain as not to be shifted off, that a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, adding also that God hath called us to peace in marriage. Now if it be plain that a Christian may be brought into unworthy bondage, and his religous peace not only interrupted now and then, but perpetually and finally hindered in wedlock, by misyoking with a diversity of nature as well as of religion, the reasons of St. Paul cannot be made special to that one case of infidelity, but are of equal moment to divorce wherever Christian liberty and peace are without fault equally obstructed.' Doctrine, &c. III. 259.
2St Paul here warrants us to seek peace rather than to remain in bondage. If God hath called us to peace, why should not we follow him? why should we miserably stay in perpetual discord under a servitude not required?' Tetrachordon, III. 411.