To distinguish contemporaneous from successive bigamy I shall use throughout this volume the word "digamy" to denote the latter, and shall thus avoid much confusion which otherwise is unavoidable.
The whole subject of second, and even of third and fourth marriages has a great interest for the student of early ecclesiastical legislation, and I shall therefore treat the matter here (as I shall hope) sufficiently and refer the reader for its fuller treatment to books more especially upon the subject.
The general position of the Church seems to have been to discourage all second marriages, and to point to a single matrimonial connexion as the more excellent way. But at the same time the principle that the marriage obligation is severed by death was universally recognised, and however much such fresh marriages may have been disapproved of, such disapproval did not rest upon any supposed adulterous character in the new connexion. I cite a portion of an admirable article upon the subject by an English barrister of Lincoln's Inn.
(J. M. Ludlow, in Smith and Cheetham, Dictionary of Christian Antiquities, sub voce Digamy.) Although among the earlier Romans3 there was one form of marriage which was indissoluble, viz., that by confarreatio, still generally a second marriage either after death or divorce was by no means viewed with disfavour.Meanwhile an intensifying spirit of asceticism was leading many in the Church to a condemnation of second marriage in all eases. Minucius Felix (Octavius, c. 31,5) only professes on behalf of the Christians a preference for monogamy. Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 150-220) seems to confine the term marriage to the first lawful union (Stromata, Bk. ii.).... It would seem, however, that when these views were carried to the extent of absolute prohibition of second marriages generally by several heretical sects, the Montanists (see Augustine, De Hoeresibus, c. xxvi.), the Cathari (ib., c. xxxviii.), and a portion at least of the Novatianists (see Cotel., Patr. Apol., vol. i., p. 91, n. 16) the Church saw the necessity of not fixing such a yoke on the necks of the laity. The forbiddance of second marriage, or its assimilation to fornication, was treated as one of the marks of heresy (Augustine. u. s.; and see also his De Bono Vid., c. vi.). The sentiment of Augustine (in the last referred to passage) may be taken to express the Church's judgment at the close of the fourth century: "Second marriages are not to be condemned, but had in less honour," and see also Epiphanius, in his Exposition of the Catholic Faith.
To these remarks of Mr. Ludlow's, I may add that St. Ambrose had written (De Viduis, c. xi.), "We do not prohibit second marriages, but we do not approve marriages frequently reiterated." St. Jerome had spoken still more strongly (Ep. lxvii., Apol. pro libris adv. Jovin.), "I do not condemn digamists, or even trigamists or, if such a thing can be said, octagamists." It does not seem that the penance which was imposed in the East upon those entering into second nuptials was imposed in the West. The Corpus Juris Canonici contains two decretals, one of Alexander III. and another of Urban III., forbidding priests to give the nuptial benediction in cases of reiterated marriage. In the East at second marriages the benediction of the crown is omitted and "propitiatory prayers" are to be said. Mr. Ludlow points out that in the "Sanctions and Decrees," falsely attributed to the Council of Nicea and found in Mansi (vol. ii., col. 1029) it is expressly stated that widowers and widows may marry, but that "the blessing of the crowns is not to be imparted to them, for this is only once given, at first marriages, and is not to be repeated. ... But if one of them be not a widower or widow, let such one alone receive the benediction with the paranymphs, those whom he will."
IF the wife of anyone has committed adultery or if any man commit adultery it seems fit that he shall be restored to full communion after seven years passed in the prescribed degrees [of penance].
Ancient Epitome of Canon XX.
An adulteress and an adulterer are to be cut off for seven years.
The simplest explanation of this canon is "that the man or woman who has violated the marriage bond shall undergo a seven years' penance"; but many reject this explanation, because the text says au0to\n tu/kein and consequently can refer only to the husband. Fleury and Routh think the canon speaks, as does the seventieth of Elvira, of a woman who has broken the marriage tie with the knowledge and consent of her husband. The husband would therefore in this case be punished for this permission, just as if he had himself committed adultery. Van Espen has given another explanation: "That he who marries a woman already divorced for adultery is as criminal as if he had himself committed adultery." But this explanation appears to us more forced than that already given; and we think that the Greek commentators Balsamon and Zonaras were right in giving the explanation we have offered first as the most natural. They think that the Synod punished every adulterer, whether man or woman, by a seven years' penance. There is no reason for making a mistake because only the word au0to\n occurs in the passage in which the penalty is fixed; for au0to\n here means the guilty party, and applies equally to the woman and the man: besides, in the preceding canon the masculine o\#soi e0paggello/menoi includes young men and young women also. It is probable that the Trullan Synod of 692, in forming its eighty-seventh canon, had in view the twentieth of Ancyra. The sixty-ninth canon of Elvira condemned to a lighter punishment-only five years of penance-him who had been only once guilty of adultery.
Concerning women who commit fornication, and destroy that which they have conceived, or who are employed in making drugs for abortion, a former decree excluded them until the hour of death, and to this some have assented. Nevertheless, being desirous to use somewhat greater lenity, we have ordained that they fulfil ten years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXI.
Harlots taking injurious medicines are to be subjected to penance for ten years.
The phrase "and to this some have assented" is the translation of Hervetus, Van Espen, and Hefele. Dr. Routh suggests to understand a9i and translate, "the same punishment will be inflicted on those who assist in causing miscarriages," but this seems rather an unnatural and strained rendering of the Greek.
Concerning wilful murderers let them remain prostrators; but at the end of life let them be indulged with full communion.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXII.
A voluntary homicide may at the last attain perfection.1
It is noteworthy how singularly appositely Constantine] Harmenopulus the Scholiast in the Epitom. Canonum., Sect. v., tit. 3, tells the following story: "In the time of the Patriarch Luke, a certain bishop gave absolution in writing to a soldier who had committed voluntary homicide, after a very short time of penace; and afterwards when he was accused before the synod of having done so, he defended himself by citing the canon which gives bishops the power of remitting or increasing the length of their penance to penitents. But he was told in answer that this was granted indeed to pontiffs but not that they should use it without examination, and with too great lenity. Wherefore the synod subjected the soldier to the canonical penance and the bishop it mulcted for a certain time, bidding him cease from the exercise of his ministry."
Concerning involuntary homicides, a former decree directs that they be received to full communion after seven years [of penance], according to the prescribed degrees; but this second one, that they fulfil a term of five years.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXIII.
An involuntary homicide shall be subjected to penance for five years.
Of voluntary and involuntary homicides St. Basil treats at length in his Canonical Epistle ad Amphilochium, can. viii., lvi. and lvii., and fixes the time of penance at twenty years for voluntary and ten years for involuntary homicides. It is evident that the penance given for this crime varied in different churches, although it is clear from the great length of the penance, how enormous the crime was considered, no light or short penance being sufficient.
They who practice divination, and follow the customs of the heathen, or who take men to their houses for the invention of sorceries, or for lustrations, fall under the canon of five years' [penance], according to the prescribed degrees; that is, three years as prostrators, and two of prayer without oblation.
Ancient Epitome of Canon XXIV.
Whoso uses vaticination and whoso introduces anyone into his house for the sake of making a poison or a lustration let him be subject to penance for five years.
I read e0qnw=n for kro/nwn and accordingly translate "of the heathen."
It is greatly to be desired that bishops and pastors to-day would take example from the fathers of Ancyra and devote their attention strenuously to eliminate superstition from the people, and would expound with animation to the people the enormity of this crime.
One who had betrothed a maiden, corrupted her sister, so that she conceived. After that he married his betrothed, but she who had been corrupted hanged herself. The parties to this affair were ordered to be received among the co-standers after ten years [of penance] according to the prescribed degrees.
Ancient Epitome to Canon XXV.
A certain body after being engaged to marry a young girl, violates her sister and then takes her to wife. The first is suffocated. All who were cognizant of the affair are to be subject to penance for ten years.
I have followed the usual translation "hanged herself," which is the ordinary dictionary-meaning of a0pa/gxw, but Hefele says that it signifies any and every variety of suicides.
In this case we have many nefarious crimes committed, fornication, unlawful marriage [i.e. with the sister of one's mistress] and murder. In that case [mentioned by St. Basil in Canon lxxviij. where only seven years penance is enjoined] there is only a nefarious marriage [i.e. with a wife's sister].