Monogamy in Christianity  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel



Tertullian, who lived at the turn of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, wrote that marriage is lawful, but polygamy is not: "We do not indeed forbid the union of man and woman, blest by God as the seminary of the human race, and devised for the replenishment of the earth and the furnishing of the world and therefore permitted, yet singly. For Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife, one woman, one rib." (Ad Uxorem libri duo, chapt.II).

In the 3rd century, Eusebius of Caesarea wrote the now lost work "On the Numerous Progeny of the Ancients. This work is referred to by Eusebius twice, in the "Præparatio Evangelica", VII, 8, and in the "Demonstratio Evangelica", VII, 8;His "Demonstratio Evangelica" reveal the most information about this treatise. Eusebius writes: "If there is any question about the families of Abraham and Jacob, a longer discussion will be found in the book I wrote about the polygamy and large families of the ancient men of God. To this I must refer the student, only warning him that according to the laws of the new covenant the producing of children is certainly not forbidden, but the provisions are similar to those followed by the ancient men of God. "For a bishop," says the Scripture, "must be the husband of one wife." Yet it is fitting that |54 those in the priesthood and occupied in the service of God, should abstain after ordination from the intercourse of marriage. To all who have not undertaken this wondrous priesthood, Scripture almost completely gives way, when it says: "Marriage is honorable, and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge. This, then, is my answer to the first question." (Dem. Ev. I,9). Joseph Barber Lightfoot and Adolf von Harnack think that this work was also referenced by St. Basil (On the Holy Spirit 29), where he says, "I draw attention to his [Eusebius's] words in discussing the difficulties started in connexion with ancient polygamy." Arguing from St. Basil's words, Lightfoot thinks that in this treatise Eusebius dealt with the difficulty presented by the Patriarchs possessing more than one wife. But he overlooked the reference in the "Dem. Ev.", from which it would appear that the difficulty dealt with was, perhaps, a more general one, viz., the contrast presented by the desire of the Patriarchs for a numerous offspring and the honour in which continence was held by Christians.

Augustine wrote in the second half of the 4th century, that: "the Sacrament of marriage of our time has been so reduced to one man and one wife, as that it is not lawful to ordain any as a steward of the Church, save the husband of one wife." (De bono coniugali, 20.)

Basil of Caesarea also wrote in the 4th century: "On polygamy the Fathers are silent, as being brutish and altogether inhuman. The sin seems to me worse than fornication. It is therefore reasonable that such sinners should be subject to the canons; namely a year’s weeping, three years kneeling and then reception." (Letter CCXVII, LXXX).

In the earliest period of the Church, "bigamy" did not only mean a second marriage instituted while the first partner was still alive, it simply meant "second marriage". In this sense, bigamy was allowed by the Church in case the first spouse had died, i.e. widowhood. Yet there were religious women who also rejected second marriage. One such woman was Marcella of Rome (ca.335 - 410, a widow who became a monacha, after she rejected the proposal of a Roman consul, saying: "If I had wished to marry and not to commit myself to eternal purity, I would search for a husband, not heritage."

A similar road was followed by Paula of Rome (347-404), a woman of the aristocracy, who moved to the Holy Land to lead a monastic lifestyle after the death of her husband. This also happened among the Greeks: Olympias (IV-V. century) became a deaconesss after having been widowed at a young age and founded a monastery with a rich library next to the Hagia Sophia.

A theological defense of this practice was provided by Tertullian wrote the work "De Monogamia" to defend Christian matrimonial practices. According to Tertullian's understanding, second marriage should be rejected as an evil. However, Tertullian's opinion never became the official teaching of the Church. Tertullian wrote: "If you are a digamist, do you baptize? If you are a digamist, do you offer? How much more capital (a crime) is it for a digamist laic to act as a priest, when the priest himself, if he turn digamist, is deprived of the power of acting the priest! “But to necessity,” you say, “indulgence is granted.” No necessity is excusable which is avoidable. In a word, shun to be found guilty of digamy, and you do not expose yourself to the necessity of administering what a digamist may not lawfully administer. God wills us all to be so conditioned, as to be ready at all times and places to undertake (the duties of) His sacraments." (De Exhortatione Castitatis, chapt. VII.)

Paul answered this problem by allowing widows to remarry (1 Cor. vii. 39. and 1 Tim 5:11-16). Paul says that only one-man women older than 60 years can make the list of Christian widows (who did special tasks in the community), but that younger widows should remarry to hinder sin. By demanding that leaders of the Church be a one woman man, Paul excluded remarried widowers from having influence. This was a more strict understanding of monogamy than what the Roman laws codified, and it was new and unusual that the demand was made on men.

Socrates Scholasticus wrote in the 5th century, that the Roman Emperor Valentinian I, in the fourth century, took two wives and authorized his subjects to take two wives supporting that Christians were then practicing plural marriage. There is no trace of such an edict in any of the extant Roman Laws. Valentinian I divorced his first wife according to John Malalas, the Chronicon Paschale and John of Nikiu, before marrying his mistress, which was viewed as bigamy by Socrates, since the Church did not accept divorce.

Middle Ages

The Council of Toledo in 397 affirmed that a Christian man could have a concubine or a wife but not both at the same time. In legal terms, this conformed to imperial legislation and practice. In ecclesiastic practice, it may have been intended to restrict the use of slave women by their married Christian masters.

In pre-Christian times men of the Germanic tribes married one wife, but it was acceptable for them to keep a large number of concubines. This custom persisted in the Middle Ages, and inspired several attacks from the Church:

The Church held a Catholic synod in Hertford, England, in 673, that was supervised by Archbishop Theodore. Chapter 10 issued by the synod declared that marriage is allowed between one man and one woman, and separation (but not divorce) is only granted in the case of adultery, but even then remarriage is not allowed. It is likely that this edict was issued to discriminate against existing Anglo-Saxon pagan marriage customs that allowed both.

It is with this background in mind that we must read the Frankish Laws of 818-9, which strictly forbid kidnapping of women. The XXVII. law issued by King Stephen I of Hungary (1000–1030) declares that the kidnapper must return the woman to her parents even if he has had sexual intercourse with her, and must pay a penalty to the parents. According to the Hungarian law, the kidnapped girl was then free to marry whomever. This was an unusual view in an age when a woman became attached to the man who first had sexual relations with her, in keeping with the mosaic law, which proclaimed that a rapist must marry the victim.

In Scandinavia, the word for an official concubine was "frille". Norwegian Bishop Øystein Erlendsson (ca. 1120-1188) declared that concubines were not allowed to accept the sacraments unless they married, and men were forced to promise marriage to women they had lain with outside of wedlock. In 1280, the Norwegian king Eirik Magnusson (1280–99) declared that men were exempted from having to promise marriage to the frille, if they went to confession and did penance. The Church answered by making several declarations in the 14th century, urging men to marry their concubines. The only known case of a frille who actually did get married to her lover, happened in 1317. In 1305, King Håkon V (1299–1319) issued a law that declared marriage to be the only lawful way of cohabitation, and declared that only women in wedlock were allowed to dress as they pleased, while the dress of concubines was restricted.

The Roman councils of 1052 and 1063 suspended from communion those laymen who had a wife and a concubine at the same time. Suspension from communion borders on excommunication. Divorce was also forbidden, and remarriage after a divorce counted as polygamy. Nicholas the Great (858-67) forbade Lothair II of Lotharingia to divorce his barren wife Teutberga and marry his concubine Waldrada, with whom he had several children. After a council of the lotharingian bishops, as well as the archbishop of Köln and Trier had annulled his marriage to Theutberga, the pope voided this decision, and made him take his wife back.

Reformation and Enlightenment

During the first 100 years of the Reformation, numbers of Protestant preachers practiced polygamy as a way of life, inspired by the Old Testament where the Patriarchs are depicted as having several wives.Template:Citation needed

It was against this that the Council of Trident declared in 1563: "If any one saith, that it is lawful for Christians to have several wives at the same time, and that this is not prohibited by any divine law; let him be anathema" (24. Session,Canon II.)

On the subject of concubinage, the Synod had this to say: "It is a grievous sin for unmarried men to have concubines; but it is a most grievous sin, and one committed in special contempt of this great sacrament, for married men also to live in this state of damnation, and to have the audacity at times to maintain and keep them at their own homes even with their own wives. Wherefore, the holy Synod, that it may by suitable remedies provide against this exceeding evil, ordains that these concubinaries, whether unmarried or married, of whatsoever state, dignity, and condition they may be, if, after having been three times admonished on this subject by the Ordinary, even ex officio, they shall not have put away their concubines, and have separated themselves from all connexion with them, they shall be smitten with excommunication; from which they shall not be absolved until they have really obeyed the admonition given them. But if, regardless of this censure, they shall continue in concubinage during a year, they shall be proceeded against with severity by the Ordinary, according to the character of the crime. Women, whether married or single, who publicly live with adulterers or with concubinaries, if, after having been three times admonished, they shall not obey, shall be rigorously punished, according to the measure of their guilt, by the Ordinaries of the places, ex officio, even though not called upon to do so by any one; and they shall be cast forth from the city or diocese, if the Ordinaries shall think fit, calling in the aid of the Secular arm, if need be; the other penalties inflicted on adulterers and concubinaries remaining in their full force" (24. Session, Chapter VIII).

New Testament

There are no explicit commandments regarding monogamy in the New Testament, but Paul alludes several times to the circumstance that Christian men must have one wife and women must have one husband. In the First Epistle to Timothy, Paul writes: "A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach" (1Tim 3,2). Likewise, he writes about deacons: "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, (mias gunaikos andra) ruling their children and their own houses well" (1Tim 3,8). Similarly, Paul writes in the Epistle to Titus: "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly" (Titus 1,6)

In the Roman Age, female widows who did not remarry were considered more pure than those who did. Such widows were known as one man woman = mias andros gune in the epistles of Saint Paul (1Tim 5:9). This expression is the exact parallel of mias gunaikos andra and illuminates how that expression is to be understood.

Value of monogamy

Value of monogamy

Modern day cultures value monogamy as an ideal form of family organization. There are multiple forms of nonmonogamy that are used to organize families, as well multiple forms of monogamy such as marriage, cohabitation and extended families.

See also

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