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The History and Philosophy of Marriage   [ Menu ]

The History and Philosophy of Marriage

Chapter 6
Monogamy After the Introduction of Christianity

The introduction of Christianity effected no violent

revolutions of any kind in the social relations of men and

women, except by purifying these relations, and enforcing the

duties dependent upon them. Christianity did not dictate any

particular form of government, or any code of laws, but

enjoined obedience to the existing laws, when they were not

inconsistent with the laws of the gospel. The first

Christians, while they were themselves scarcely tolerated,

were not inclined to attempt a social revolution by opposing

the established system of monogamy; but they attempted to

oppose only its vices, and to remove them. They insisted,

from the first, upon purity and chastity in men and women

equally. They denounced prostitution, adultery, and frequent


Page 121

capricious divorces, and did what they could to eradicate

their practice. But before they attained any degree of civil

or religious freedom, or were in any situation to introduce

the purer system of polygamy, they had themselves become

thoroughly Romanized; and the errors of Gnosticism,

Platonism, and Montanism had then prevailed so extensively as

to impel them, at last, to attempt a social reformation in a

direction quite contrary to polygamy, by discouraging

marriage, and by introducing asceticism, monasticism, and


Page 122


Christianity was not fully tolerated in Europe till the time

of the Emperor Constantine the Great, in the former part of

the fourth century; and was not established by law as the

religion of Rome, till the reign of Theodosius, in the very

last part of that century; while Gnosticism and its cognate

errors began to be disseminated even in the first century, in

apostolic times: they prevailed extensively in the second

century, and had permanently corrupted the church in the

third and fourth. While the different Gnostic writers and

Page 123

teachers differed greatly from one another on many points of

belief, they were generally agreed in their fundamental

doctrines, which sprung from the ancient Persian or Magian

system of religion, and which taught the existence of two

eternal beings, - Ormuzd, or God, the author of good, and the

creator of light, which is his emblem; and Abriman, or the

Devil, the author of evil, and the creator of darkness, his

emblem. They believed that the world consisted of spirit and

of matter, both being eternal; the latter, essentially evil,

formed or moulded by the Devil from the eternal substance of

chaos, and the former, essentially good, proceeding out of

God, and still forming a part of God: hence, that the body is

vile, wicked, and dark; while the soul is pure, holy, and

light. The body, therefore, with its appetites and passions,

should be despised and subdued; while the soul, with its

superior attributes, should be cherished and obeyed. The

principal Gnostic teachers of the first century were Simon

Magus, Menander, and Cerinthus. They all studied at

Alexandria, and all became Christians. Cerinthus taught that

the man Jesus

Page 124

was born of Joseph and Mary in the natural way; that the

[spirit], Christ, descended on him at his baptism, in the

form of a dove; and, previous to the crucifixion, that the

[spirit] returned to God, leaving the man to suffer on the



In the second century, the Gnostic Christians became much

more numerous and influential. Among the writers and

teachers whom historians particularly mention were

Saturninus, Basilides, Carpocrates, Valentine, Bardesanes,

Tatian, Marcion, Montanus, Tertullian, and Origen. Saturninus

(A.D. 115) taught that Satan, the ruler of matter, was coeval

with the Deity; that the world was created by seven

angels, without the knowledge of the Deity, who, however, was

not displeased when he saw it, and breathed into man a

rational soul. Satan, enraged at the creation of the world

and the virtue of its inhabitants, formed another race of men

out of matter, with malignant souls like his own; and hence

arose the great moral difference to be observed among men.

The moral

Page 125

discipline of Saturninus was ascetic and severe: he

discouraged marriage, declaring it to be the doctrine of the

Devil;*1 he enjoined abstinence from wine and flesh, and

taught to keep under the body, as being formed from matter,

which is in its essence evil and corrupt. Bardesanes wrote

about A.D. 170, in the time of the the Emperor Marcus

Aurelius. "His moral system was ascetic in the extreme; he

enjoined his disciples to renounce wedlock, abstain from

animal food, and live in solitude on the slightest and most

meager diet, and even to use water instead of wine in the

Lord's Supper."*2 Montanus-(A.D. 175) insisted upon more

frequent and more rigorous fasts than had yet prevailed in

the church, for they had hitherto fasted only during the

passion-week; he forbade second marriages; taught the

absolute and irrevocable excommunication of adulterers,

murderers, and idolaters; required all chaste women to wear

veils; and forbade all kinds of costly attire and ornaments

of the person. His most distinguished disciple was

Tertullian, bishop of Carthage, a

Page 126

very learned and voluminous writer, whose works have been

held in the greatest estimation in every age. Origen, a

still more learned and more voluminous writer, and a very

eloquent preacher, embraced the Gnostic errors when a young

man, and carried his principles of subduing the passions of

the body to such an extent, that he made a eunuch of himself:

but in after-life, when he had spent many years in studying,

translating, and expounding the Holy Scriptures, and

understood them better, he regretted the rash act of his

youth, and greatly modified his Gnostic sentiments; so much

so, that many have accused him of teaching different views of

the same subject, and of contradicting himself. The first

Platonic philosopher who joined the Christians was Justin

Martyr, who was beheaded at Rome A.D. 155; followed by

Clement of Alexandria, A.D. 192, who had a school in the city

called the Catechetic School, which attempted to harmonize

the philosophy of Plato with the materialism of the Gnostics

by means of the common medium of Christianity. This scheme

was called the New Platonism; and a long contest prevailed

Page 127

between the followers of this system and the advocates for

gospel simplicity. But the victory appeared to be on the

side of the Platonists, which assured the lasting corruption

of Christianity; for learned Christians now began to maintain

that the Scriptures have a double meaning; one literal and

plain, and the other latent and symbolic: the literal or

esoteric sense to be taught to the people, and the latent or

esoteric sense to be communicated only to the initiated and

the faithful. A similar distinction in morals followed.

There was one rule for the multitude, and another for the

aspirants to higher sanctity. These were to seek retirement

and to mortify the flesh, avoiding marriage and all

indulgence of the senses. Hence originated the austerities of

religious hermits; hence the celibacy of priests, monks, and




At the council of Caesarea, A.D. 314, it was decided and

decreed, in the first canon, that, if a priest should marry

after his ordination, he must be deposed from office. The

seventh canon for-

Page 128

bids a priest to be present at the marriage of a bigamist.

At the council of Ancyra, in the same year, it was ordered,

in the tenth canon, that those deacons who expressed their

intention to marry at the time of their ordination might

innocently do so; but if they should marry without having

expressed such intention, they must be deposed from office.

At the first council of Carthage, A.D. 348, by the second

canon, it was ordered that all Christians who had violated

their vows of virginity by subsequent marriages should be

excommunicated; and, if they were priests, they should be

deposed from office.

Siricius, Bishop of Rome, in 385 ordered that every priest

and every deacon within his diocese who should marry a second

wife, or a widow, should be deposed from office.

While these Gnostic and Platonic sentiments were at work

corrupting the church within, the state of social life

without the pale of Christianity was much the same as it has

been described under the first six Caesars; or, if the

testimony of all the contemporary writers can be believed, it

was be-

Page 129

coming more and more corrupt. The Christians formed but a

small minority of the whole population, and they were

generally hated, and often persecuted. It is scarcely

possible for us to conceive of any greater depravity than

that of the age of Caligula and Nero; and we do not wonder to

learn that in the succeeding century the once mighty Roman

empire was beginning to totter to its fall. But before it

fell it was destined to be upheld a while by the fortitude of

Christians patriots; and, in turn, the purity of Christianity

was to become more and more sullied by its long contact with

Roman depravity, and its intimate complicity with Roman



In the former part of the fourth century, the two joint

emperors were Constantine and Licinius. They agreed, at

first, to tolerate Christianity; but Licinius violated his

agreement, and commenced a persecution. Then Constantine,

who had himself been a pagan hitherto, resolved to favor the

Christians more than he had done already, and thus attach to

himself the most industrious and peaceable citizens, and the

most brave and loyal soldiers

Page 130

of the empire. In the year A.D. 324 the cross appeared for

the first time upon his banners; his rival was defeated, and

he became sole emperor. Then Constantine issued circular

letters, announcing his conversion to Christianity, and

inviting the people to follow his example. This call of the

powerful monarch was not unheeded. The Christian faith

spread rapidly: ministers of religion thronged the royal

court, and offices of honor and profit were conferred upon

Christians. Yet Constantine himself, through all his

subsequent life, was only a catechumen or inquirer, and was

not baptized, and received into full membership in the

church, until he was near his end. And, in the mean time, he

left the ancient system of the Roman state undisturbed; and

paganism, with its corrupt monogamy, was still the law of the

land. At length Theodosius, his grandson, required the

Senate, a majority of whom had hitherto remained pagans, to

choose between the two religions; and they were finally

induced to vote in accordance with his wishes, in favor of

Christianity. He soon (A.D. 392) published a severe edict

against paganism; and "Then pretended conversions became

numerous, the tem-

Page 131

ples were deserted, and the churches filled with

worshippers, and the religion under which Rome flourished for

twelve centuries ceased forever."*3


And then at length, when Christianity became paramount in the

State, a permanent and decided social reform might have been

possible, had they tolerated polygamy, as the first

Christians had done in Judaea and other Asiatic countries;

for they would thus have made it possible for all to be

married that wished to marry, and thus have guarded

themselves from the terrible licentiousness of the pagans, by

the influences of which they were surrounded on every hand.

But, on the contrary, impelled by the prevailing influences

of Gnosticism, they not only retained their former monogamy,

but they made it more strict and ascetic than before, and

attempted an impossible reform by suppressing the amorous

propensities, and vainly endeavoring to eradicate them. The

bishops and doctors of the church had already done what they

could to discourage marriage, and bring it into disrepute,


Page 132

pecially with the ministers of religion; but now they

for bade it to them altogether.

At the council of Toledo, in A.D. 400, it was ordered, by

canon seventeenth, that every Christian that had both a wife

and a concubine should be excommunicated; but he should not

be excommunicated who had only a concubine without a wife.

At the fourth council of Carthage, A.D. 401, it was ordered,

by canon seventieth, that all bishops, priests, and deacons,

who had wives, must repudiate them, and live in celibacy,

under penalty of deposition from office.

Pope Innocent I., about A.D. 412, in his official letter to

the two bishops of Abruzzo, orders them to depose those

priests who had been guilty of the crime of having children

since their ordination.

Thus the seeds of Gnostic error, that had been sown in the

church during the former periods of its history, now sprang

up anew, and bore a plentiful harvest. "Nothing," say

Keightley, "is more characteristic of the corruption which

Christianity had undergone then the high honor in which the

various classes of ascetics were held. These useless or

pernicious beings now actually swarmed

Page 133

throughout the Eastern empire, and were gradually spreading

themselves into the West. We have shown how asceticism has

been derived from the sultry regions of Asia, and how it

originates in the Gnostic principles. It had long been

insinuating itself into the church; but, after the

establishment of Christianity, it burst forth like a

torrent." "The hope of acquiring heaven by virginity and

mortification was not confined to the male sex: woman, with

the enthusiasm and the devotional tendency peculiar to her,

rushed eagerly towards the crown of glory. Nunneries became

numerous, and were thronged with inmates. Nature, however,

not unfrequently asserted her rights; and the complaints and

admonitions of the most celebrated fathers assure us that the

unnatural state of vowed celibacy was productive of the same

evils and scandals in ancient as in modern times."*4


"And then," says the learned ecclesiastical historian,

Mosheim, "the number of immoral and un-

Page 134

worthy Christians began so to increase, that the examples of

real piety and virtue became extremely rare. When the

terrors of persecution were totally dispelled; when the

church, secured from the efforts of its enemies, enjoyed the

sweets of prosperity and peace; when the major part of its

bishops exhibited to their flocks the contagious examples of

arrogance, luxury, effeminacy, animosity, and strife, with

other vices too numerous to mention; when multitudes were

drawn into the profession of Christianity, not by the power

of conviction and argument, but by the prospect of gain or by

the fear of punishment, - then it was indeed no wonder that

the church was contaminated with shoals of profligate

Christians, and that the virtuous few were, in a manner,

oppressed and overwhelmed by the superior numbers of the

wicked and licentious." "Nor did the evil end here; for those

vain fictions, which an attachment to the Platonic philosophy

and to popular opinions had engaged the greatest part of the

Christian doctors to adopt before the time of Constantine,

were now confirmed, enlarged, and embellished in various

ways. Hence arose the extravagant veneration

Page 135

for departed saints, the celibacy of priests, the worship of

images and relics, which, in process of time, almost totally

destroyed the Christian religion, or at least eclipsed its

lustre, and corrupted its essence." "A preposterous desire of

imitating the pagan rites, and of blending them with the

Christian worship, and that idle propensity which the

generality of mankind have towards a gaudy and ostentatious

religion, all combined to establish the reign of superstition

on the ruins of Christianity. Accordingly, frequent

pilgrimages were undertaken to Palestine and to the tombs of

the martyrs, as if there alone the sacred principles of

virtue and the certain hope of salvation were to be acquired.

The public processions and supplications, by which the pagan

endeavored to appease their gods, were now adopted into the

Christian worship, and celebrated with great pomp and

magnificence. The virtues that had formerly been ascribed to

the heathen temples, to their lustrations, to the statues of

their gods and heroes, were now attributed to the Christian

churches, to water consecrated by certain forms of prayer, to

the images of holy men; and the worship, of the martyrs was

modelled ac-

Page 136

cording to the religious services that were paid to the gods

before the coming of Christ."*5

Similar testimonies could easily be cited from Gibbon's

"Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," from D'Aubigne's

"History of the Reformation," from the ancient works of

Eusebius, and the modern ones of Neander, and from hundreds

of others; but I will not weary my readers with them. Thus

it appears from the testimonies of all the historians,

ecclesiastical and civil, sacred and profane, that the

doctrines and practices which distinguish the Roman-Catholic

Church to-day were most of them derived from a very early

age, anterior to the civil acknowledgment and legal

establishment of Christianity. Keightley says, "The Church

of Rome is, in fact, very unjustly treated when she is

charged with being the author of the tenets and practices

which were transmitted to her from the fourth century. Her

guilt or error was not that of invention, but of



Her boasted claim of immutability is well sustained, as far

back, certainly, as the commence-

Page 137

ment of the fifth century. The Western empire survived till

the close of that century; and as the power of the emperors

continued to decline, that of the bishops of Rome, who were

afterwards called popes, continued to increase, till at

length they attained monarchical as well as hierarchical

power, and governed the religious and the social affairs of

the European world. And as the dogmas of the Roman Church

are now maintaining monogamy with many of its attendant

vices, and are now prohibiting marriage to its clergy, and

discouraging it in all its more earnest religious devotees,

of both sexes, so they always have done. And we have the

testimonies of all modern historians, all modern travellers,

and of modern statistics, that the vices of old Rome that

then attended its social system of monogamy are still the

vices of modern Rome, and of all the countries of Europe

giving the number of illegitimate children born there each

year, as greater then the number of those legitimate birth.

And it is not only on the corrupt soil of old Europe that the

licentiousness of ancient Roman monogamy

Page 138

still prevails, but also in the Catholic countries of new

America. In proof of this I will cite only one testimony,

where thousands might be cited, from a recent work entitled

"What I saw in South and North America." By H.W. Baxley,

M.D., Special Commissioner of the United-States Government.

D. Appleton & Co., New York, 1865. this is his description

of "what he was" in Lima, the capital of Peru: -

"It is rarely the case that one walks in any part of the

city, during the day or night, without being shocked by

sights of indecency, immodesty, and immorality, too gross

even to be hinted at, and disgraceful to the arrogant

civilization of the nation. If one thousand seven hundred and

ninety-three priests, exercising ecclesiastical authority and

performing religious functions in this city, as published in

its statistics, with seventy churches, forty-two chapels, six

hundred and twenty-eight altars, and vast power of influence

and enforcement, cannot produce a better state of morals and

manners, it shows either a defective system of religion, or

incapacity and faithlessness on the part of the executors of

the holy trust. The statements of candid citizens and of

foreign residents of many years compel the belief, that the

general demoroliza-

Page 139

tion is mainly due to a depraved clergy. If priests taking

vows of chastity and devotion alone to God, perjure

themselves, obey the lusts of the flesh, and scatter their

illegitimate offspring abroad, it is to be expected that they

will find imitators among those whose temporal purity they

should guard, and whose eternal welfare they should promote.

The unblushing boldness with which clerical debauchery stalks

abroad in Lima renders it needless to put in any saving

clause of declaration. The priest may be seen on the sabbath

day, as on others, in bull-ring and cock-pit, restaurant and

tavern, with commoner and concubine, joining in noisy revel,

or looking on with complacent sanction. Nor does the

going-down of the sun arrest his wayward peregrinations; for

he may be seen at that hour, at corners, with tapadas, in gay

and lascivious conversation, or threading by-ways in

fulfilment of a lustful assignation. If the bishop of

Arequipas will turn to the 'weak and beggarly elements of the

world,' if he cannot, like his great predecessor St. Paul,

'contain,' but must obey the carnal desires, 'let him marry,'

as he is commanded by the apostle, like an honorable man and

a consistent Christian; and let him not encourage the frailty

of depraved disciples by a shameless example of

licentiousness made public by his procurement of separate

apartments in Lima for his seven concubines and his

thirty-five illegitimate children.

Page 140

"The streets of this capital were yesterday the scene of a

procession which was a disgrace to its professed

enlightenment, and an idolatrous violation of its boasted

Christianity. A gorgeously-gilded throne, borne on the

shoulders of negroes, who were partially concealed by a deep

valance, supported the pontifically-attired effigy of St.

Peter; its right arm, moved by secret machinery, being

occasionally raised in attitude of blessing the throngs of

deluded worshippers who bowed their heads for its

benediction. Another similarly decorated dais bore a

life-size graven image of La Merced, the patron saint of

Peru; elegantly arrayed in curls, coronet, richly-embroidered

crinoline and robe, pearl necklace and earrings, brooch and

bodice; and holding in its uplifted jewelled fingers a silver

yoke. These effigies were escorted by prelates and other

ecclesiasties; and that of La Merced was preceded by six

pert-looking mulatto girls, - designed to represent virgins,

- carrying incense upon silver salvers, from which numerous

censers, swung by priestly hands, were kept supplied, and

rolled upward their clouds of perfume, to tell of the

adoration of her votaries. The whole procession moved to the

sound of measured chants sung by hundreds of the clergy, who

often bowed; behind whom followed the civic dignitaries of

the nation and

Page 141

city, bareheaded and reverential; and after these came the

plumed warriors, on horse and foot, with breastplate and

helmet, lance, sabre, musket, and cannon, flaunting banners,

and martial music, guarding the saints through the city, and

back to the altars of the Church of La Merced, whence they

came, and where they will receive hereafter, as heretofore,

the petitions and vows of thousands of misguided

religionists. Can popular regeneration be rationally looked

for when examples of ecclesiastical profligacy are patent to

the public eye, and when such violations of divine precepts

are practised, and such delusions devised to mislead the


"No one can scrutinize the social habits in Lima, without

becoming sensible of the fact that women are probably 'more

sinned against then sinning.' For they not only have

provocations to faithlessness, and opportunity afforded for

its indulgence by sanctioned customs, but they are taught by

the universally-recognized dissoluteness of the men not to

place any confidence in them, and not to contemplate marriage

as a means of happiness beyond its power to furnish an

establishment, and make a woman mistress of her own actions.

"In the street called San Francisco, opposite the monastery

of that name, a kind of barracks

Page 142

is found, containing quite a population apart from the rest.

There lives a class of women and children whom one would

think came in a direct line from the gypsies, if their

complexion did not show a variety of a thousand shades, from

white to black. These women are the acknowledged mistresses,

and the children the progeny, of the monks, who visit them at

all times, and pay them a regular stipend. "La casa de la

monjas,' - the house of the nuns, - as the people ironically

call it, is a real Gomorrah. The clerical protectors of the

tenants that inhabit it willingly mistake the chambers, not

having the weakness of the laity of being jealous of each

other. Do not suppose that we are amusing ourselves in

speaking ill of the monks of Lima. These abominations among

themselves, they are the first to expose; for in their stated

elections for superiors, such is the bitterness of rival

aspirants, that they publicly charge against each other these

infamous transactions, making known the number of their

concubines and illegitimate children."

Thus have Dr. Baxley and others cast the principal reproach

of this frightful immorality upon the poor priests; but does

it not belong rather to their entire social system? The


Page 143

in assuming the vows of perpetual celibacy, and the people in

supporting the old Roman monogamy, which their Gnostic views

of Christianity require, have assumed more than human nature

is able to bear, and more than it ought to bear; and there

must be constant transgression and immorality as long as

their present system prevails.

And now I think I have fairly demonstrated that the European

social system of monogamy had its origin in Roman paganism,

and has been perpetuated by Roman Catholicism.


*1 Mosheim, Ecc. Hist., vol. 1, p. 246

*2 Keightley's Hist. Rom. Emp., part2, chap. 7.

*3 Keightley, Rom. Emp., part 3, chap. 6.

*4 Hist. Rom. Emp., chap. 6.


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The History and Philosophy of Marriage
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Chapter Menu
Chapter 1 - Introductory
Chapter 2 - Primary Laws of Love
Chapter 3 - Primary Laws of Marriage
Chapter 4 - Origin of Polygamy
Chapter 5 - Origin of Monogamy
Chapter 6 - Monogamy After the Introduction of Christianity
Chapter 7 - Monogamy As It Is
Chapter 8 - Relation of Monogamy to Crime
Chapter 9 - Objections to Polygamy
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