The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 12
I revert to Sir W. P. Wood's second letter—his argument on scriptural principles.
The necessities of the Vice-Chancellor's argument require that he should prove—1. That there is in Scripture a clear prohibition of this marriage; or, 2. A constant prohibition by the whole Church from the beginning, inferring a Scriptural prohibition; 3. That such prohibition was made on the ground of invest. With what success he has attained these objects I will briefly examine.
The prohibition from the Bible he rests entirely on two inferences from 18th Lev. He insists that the words "near of kin," in ver. 6, must be applied to every relation in that chapter. That is not a necessary or logical construction. Near of kin are prohibited. And some connections of affinity are prohibited. But it is a forced construction to say that all the affines are therefore included in near of kin. Scripture itself has expressly defined who are "near of kin," and confined it to blood relations in near degree. But there is a peculiarity of expression in Lev. xviii. which indicates, that not only is there no inexorable logic which obliges us to believe that, because both are prohibited in the same chapter, they must therefore be included in the same degree of kin, but that a distinction between them is carefully defined. In all the instances where the kin mentioned is expressly acknowledged elsewhere in Scripture (sec Lev. xx. 19; xxi. 2, 3; xxv. 49), either the prohibition is simple, or words are added repeating the blood relationship; for instance, of the granddaughter it is said, it is his own nakedness; of the half-sister, she is thy sister. But, in the case of the Affines, a substantive reason is always assigned for the prohibition, where none would have been required if they had all been included in "near of kin." It says, because "it is thy father's nakedness;" "the uncle's nakedness;" "thy son's wife;" "thy brother's nakedness." In the case of the wife's granddaughter, the reason given is because she is the "wife's near kinswoman." It does not say his own near kinswoman. In Lev. xx. 19, where the instance is repeated of father's sister and mother's sister, it is said distinctly; he uncovereth his near kin. Whilst in the case of uncle's wife and brother's wife, in the following verses, nothing is said of kin, but that he uncovers his uncle's or his brother's nakedness, and in both these latter cases the penalty attached is, not "cutting off," as in the case of all admitted blood relations, but that "they shall die childless." The distinction seems to me clearly to mark a difference of degree, and to shew that "near of kin" is not intended to be ascribed beyond those very instances which, as I observed, page 12 have alone been acknowledged in other places of Scripture, viz. father, mother, brother, sister, half-sister, uncle, aunt, child, grandchild.
I have no time to examine that elaborate pedigree of prohibition which is drawn out on page 42. Notwithstanding its formidable aspect, I have no idea that many will fall in with its remarkable conclusion, that a wife's sister is "related in the same degree of nearness as a grandchild." Nor do I think, if the Vice-Chancellor was distributing an estate in his Court, he would admit that relationship to be quite so close; or he would certainly come into collision with an Act of Parliament of long established authority.
Next, it is inferred that everything between the third and twenty-fourth verses must be included in the curse on the Canaanites. That is clearly not the case, for one tiling included is a legal uncleanness, created by Leviticus itself, and peculiar to the Jews. Supposing it, however, to be granted, it would amount to this and no more, that to marry two sisters at the same time was an accursed act of the Canaanites. That does not show that to marry them in succession was, but quite the contrary. The Vice-Chancellor's Scriptural prohibition, then, rests on nothing more than two doubtful inferences from one chapter of the Old Testament. To anything in its support from the New he does not so much as pretend. But, as many men not inferior to the Vice-Chancellor in learning, ability, or conscientiousness, regard such inferences to be quite unwarranted and untenable, assuredly he has no right to insist on a clear prohibition in Scripture.
But that there must be a prohibition by Scripture the Vice-Chancellor considers proved by the continued prohibition of the Church from the earliest period:—"The Church of Christ from the earliest period held that marriage with a wife's sister is forbidden by God's law." If by the words "from the earliest period," is meant from the days of the Apostles, as it should be, this is not true. If from a later period, the proposition is of no value. Now, if there is a clear prohibition in Scripture, the custom of the Church from the earliest period is quite superfluous. If it is necessary to call in aid the custom of the Early Church, then he can claim no clear prohibition in Scripture. He mentions a challenge of Dr. Pusey's, that no Christian writer can be found for fifteen centuries who had any doubt that the marriage with a deceased wife's sister was forbidden by the Law of God. That is nothing to the purpose. What he should show to avail anything is, that any writer of the first Three centuries ever expressed a doubt of this marriage being agreeable to the Word of God. Soon after erroneous opinions page 13 quite sufficient were held without doubt by Christian writers. The first three centuries alone are of any weight in the argument. How stands the case? At the time the Gospel was promulgated the marriage was customary, and regarded as blameless, both by Jew and Gentile. Neither Christ nor his Apostles ever disapproved of it. The onus probandi clearly lies with the opponent to show that any one doubted its lawfulness People declare their doubts when they have any. They don't make spontaneous declarations of the absence of doubt when nothing is questioned. That there is not one single expression of such a doubt to be found for 300 years is admitted on all sides. St. Basil, who wrote some fifty years later, is the first authority given for the "Church of Christ from the earliest period." The Vice-Chancellor begins his testimony in fact precisely where it ought to have terminated. St. Basil, writing a friendly letter to Diodorus Bishop of Tarsus, reprobates the marriage, and says, "we have no such custom." St. Basil, we contend, was speaking of local custom. The Vice-Chancellor maintains he spoke the opinion of the whole Church of Christ. But at the conclusion of his letter, there are words which make it as certain as it well can be, that he did not—"At all events, let no such customs come into my diocese," which clearly implies that there might be such customs in other dioceses. And, as it is clear, from this very letter to Diodorus, that in the diocese of Tarsus the contrary custom prevailed, and was considered scripturally good by a Bishop of acknowledged piety and eminence, he could not be speaking of the whole Church. But if we ask, how is it that no one objected to such marriage before St. Basil, who is ludicrously out of date as a witness to the earliet period, the Vice-Chancellor boldly replies, "Because it was never heard of before." That is not correct, for it is spoken of very expressly in the Apostolic canons fifty years earlier. These canons forbid Ordination to any who has married twice, or married (amongst others) a widow, or a servant-maid, or an actress, or two sisters. I presume the Vice-Chancellor would allow that marriages of widows, servant-maids, and second marriages were not unknown in the Church. If not, then neither were these unknown, or they would not have been mentioned with the others. Neither is this distinct mention made in a general prohibition of the marriage. It occurs in a restraint of marriage to the Clergy, one of the earliest corruptions of the Church. The restriction is confined to them alone, and is no more forbidden to the laity than second marriage, or marriage with a widow, a servant-maid, or an actress. It is obvious that if this marriage had been looked upon as contrary to Scripture the prohibition would have gone beyond Ordination—if considered clearly contrary to Scripture no prohibition would have been needed. The marriage is mentioned also in the page 14 Canon of Eliberis, fifty years before St. Basil. That Canon was probably directed, the Vice-Chancellor says, without a moment's hesitation, against heathen practices. That is an easy way of surmounting a difficulty. But the censure attached was exclusion from the communion for five years, unless in case of sickness. As heathens were not communicants, they could not be excluded, and the practices to which it was directed must have been Christian. Here is ample evidence that they were well-known in the whole Church before St. Basil. But the "decree of the Emperor Constantius in 355," he adds, "is remarkable evidence of the feeling of the early Christians, for as soon as Christianity is established we find the heathen practice is at once repealed." Christianity was not established by Constantius, but by his father, some fifty years before, The Great Council of Nice had sat in the meantime, after it had been established, and treated of marriage. It did not prohibit this. The law of Constantius was not directed to the practices of heathens, or it would have been addressed to the heathens. It is obvious it alludes to what was then a general practice.
Nothing, indeed, can surpass the easy way in which the Vice-Chancellor gets rid of any unpleasant fact by assuming something for which there is no authority. The Jews considered themselves permitted by the Law to marry two sisters in succession. "That," he says, "is the interpretation of Talmudists and Rabbis," though sanctioned by the Bible before there were either Rabbis or Talmudists. Eliberis shows these marriages known before St. Basil. "It probably speaks of heathen practices." Yet both the Apostolic Canons, and this canon of Eliberis, in express words connect them with Christian practices. Constantius prohibits them in the Empire. "Yes, he prohibits heathen practices." I will say nothing at present of Constantius being an Arian, but I can by no means agree with, what I am sure I may call, the Vice-Chancellor's hasty assertion, that the question "of this marriage being incestuous lies far deeper than any difference of doctrines, however important in themselves." Most Christians, I think, hold such doctrines as the Divinity of our Lord, and the Atonement made for sin, to lie far deeper than a doubtful question of incestuous marriage.
The Vice-Chancellor has not then found a prohibition—certainly not a clear prohibition—in Scripture, or in the Church from the earliest period. But to whatever prohibition he may pretend, his case requires that it should be a prohibition on the distinct ground of incest. His objection to the marriage throughout is that it is incestuous. Now his inference from Lev. xviii. 6, can weigh nothing against direct testimony. If marriage with a brother's wife was not incestuous, neither was marriage with page 15 a wife's sister. Whatever might be the reason of the prohibition of marrying a brother's wife if he left children, Lev. xviii. 16, (and reasons sufficient have been assigned in the Jewish polity,) it was not because it was incestuous. That is quite certain, because God, in Deut. xxv. 5, absolutely commanded it if a brother died childless. The Vice-Chancellor, true to a system of passing lightly what is inconvenient, touches this very gently. The prohibition, he says, "is happily clear from all cavil, and the injunction in the excepted case is enforced by penalties, as if it was foreseen that it would be reluctantly and with repugnance observed." To believe that God would command a marriage, which he regarded with abhorrence as incestuous, is a thing impossible. It is more impossible still to believe that he would force the struggling conscience of the Jews, by penalties, to commit an act to which they were reluctant and repugnant, on account of its inherent wickedness. That would be to make the Jews more righteous than God. To marry a deceased brother's childless wife was a custom of the Jews sanctioned by the Almighty long before the Law. It was commanded them by the Law, and they did not think it incest. The Law allowed them, as they believed, to marry a deceased wife's sister. They did marry them, as is not denied, and do now, and they believed it a praiseworthy, not an incestuous act.
As to the Church, neither the Apostolic Canons, nor Eliberis, nor even the ascetic St. Basil, either called or treated the marriage as incestuous. The Apostolic Canons simply class it with second marriage, marrying a widow, and other blameless unions. Eliberis assigned to incest excommunication and total exclusion from the Church for ever. To this marriage it awarded only five years' exclusion from Communion, or less in case of sickncss. St. Basil assigned to it only seven years' separation from the Church, but to incest twenty years, incest is a pretence which has no support. Yet without incest there is and can be no ground of objection.
Whilst the Vice-Chancellor has not, I venture to say, shown a clear prohibition, or any prohibition, Lev. xviii. 18, we contend, shows a clear permission. As to the translation of that verse, he hesitates, falters, and remains indecisive. He neither boldly denies the orthodox version, nor candidly accepts it; neither docs he quite adopt, or quite reject the marginal reading. He allows great weight to Dr. M'Caul's argument establishing the text; but he insinuates small difficulties. The uninterrupted testimony of the Church from the year 350, and not before, to the Reformation of the marriage being, as he assumes, contrary to the Word of God, he considers a tradition amply sufficient to establish that point for ever, in contradiction to the version page 16 of our Bible and every other version. But the far closer, stronger, and exclusive testimony of the Church, from the Apostles to this day (besides the testimony of the Jewish Church for ages before), is not sufficient to establish the true text of the Word of God, when it is inconvenient to his argument. He tells Dr. M'Caul there is a difference between translation and interpretation. No doubt there is. But surely we must know what the Word of God really is before we can interpret it, and here the true text fixes absolutely the interpretation, as is evident from the acrobatic feats of grammar and logic that have been resorted to in order to escape it. It is not right, however, though common enough, first to settle the interpretation of God's word to your own satisfaction, and then determine the translation accordingly. The Vice-Chancellor between the text and the margin reminds us somewhat of "Youth between Wisdom and Folly:" reason is with the former, inclination with the latter. Evidently he would gladly unite, if he could, the words of the first with the sense of the last. But he must take one or the other. If, with the whole world, Jew and Christian, he takes the text (which he admits Dr. M'Caul has powerfully supported), and reads "one sister to another," then the words following, "in her life time," show, according to all use of language, that the union was not forbidden after her death. That is a difficulty which the struggles to escape this version prove he considers fatal. If, again, by assuming a Hebrew idiom (which Dr. M'Caul has made even the most unlearned understand to be impossible), he reads "one woman to another," then he denies that polygamy was allowed to the Jews. Here he falls on the other horn of the dilemma. He does not venture to deny that polygamy was part of the Jewish polity, yet he insinuates small doubts against it. "That it could "not have been prohibited, because holy men of old had more than "one wife at a time, is not to his mind conclusive: Abraham, "Isaac, and Joseph had each but one wife." That is, if three holy men had each but one wife, it is conclusive that nobody else was permitted to have more than one wife. But Abraham, unluckily, had two wives, unless we are to accept Sir W. P. Wood as better authority than Genesis (xvi. 3), where we read, Sarah gave Hagar to her husband to be is wife. For that he has an answer:—"Hagar's case was not favourably viewed either in the Old Testament or by St. Paul in the New." Where the Vice-Chancellor discovers that he does not tell us. We read that God twice sent an Angel expressly to comfort her in her affliction, and to promise her that he would make her son a great nation; and "God was with the lad." St. Paul compares Hagar and Sarah to the two covenants, whereof the new was better than the old, but he does not say the old was bad, but just, the con- page 17 trary. Of Hagar herself he says nothing whatever except in her typical character. "Jacob," the Vice-Chancellor proceeds, "was tricked into his first marriage." That might have been an argument if he had been "tricked" into his second marriage, which, on the contrary, was completed after seven years' deliberation. And, moreover, Jacob took two wives in addition without being "tricked." "Elkanah's case was certainly one not attended with blessing." Now, perhaps, there is not a more remarkable case of blessing and prosperity in the whole Bible than Elkanah's. The only alloy to the family happiness was that Hannah was childless. And Eli (the High Priest of God,) blessed Elkanah and his wife, and she bare three sons and two daughters. And one son became the most illustrious Judge and Ruler of Israel. That does not seem a lot "not attended with blessing." As to David and Solomon transgressing the Law against the Kings multiplying wives, amongst the benefits with which God reproaches David, 2 Sam. xii. is this, that He had given him his Masters Wives into his bosom. The fault imputed to Solomon, 1 Kings xi. is, not that he had multiplied wives, but had married strange women who turned away his heart after other Gods. It is idolatry, not polygamy, for which he is blamed. I am obliged to confess, under pain of the Vice-Chancellor regarding me as a person of very irritable temper, that I am not aware that more elaborate—I will not say perversion, for he objects to the word but—misconception of Scripture was ever before crowded into the same space.
He thinks it a fallacy that runs through the whole argument of Dr. M'Caul and others, that a special prohibition is a licence to do anything not included within the special words of restriction. On this principle (he says) the "Eighth Commandment—Thou shalt not commit adultery—would be a licence to commit fornication." The Vice-Chancellor here confounds special with general. That Commandment (which is the Seventh and not the Eighth) is not a special prohibition. It is absolute prohibition. A special prohibition is where something is forbidden under particular circumstances, or time, or place, which would be allowed at others. The restriction, ex vi termini, must be confined to the particular instance, and no more. The Fourth Commandment—general in its obligation—has a special restriction to time. It would be a positive inference from the seventh day only being named, that you might work on the other six, even if it were not expressly said so.
But the Vice-Chancellor asks, "How, if Jews and heathens recognised such marriages as lawful, the quiet acquiescence of the Christian world in the conclusion that the 18th verse does not authorise such marriages, can be explained?" Because false opinions early crept into the Church; because, from before St. page 18 Basil and downwards, the Church frequently misinterpreted Scripture and perverted doctrines; because, as the ages grew darker and the Popes stronger, prohibitions multiplied upon an ignorant and superstitious people. What says the Vice-Chancellor himself:—"No doubt corruptions had crept in, by which the prohibition had been extended beyond the Levitical degrees." He solves the whole mystery himself. Will the Vice-Chancellor tell us how the acquiescence of the Christian world, in the con-clusion that Scripture prohibits marriage of cousins, can be explained? How is acquiescence in the prohibition by Scripture of marriage to the Clergy to be explained? We know how transubstantiation, for instance, came to be received as the word of God, and acquiesced in by the Church and Realm of England; and we know how prohibition of this marriage came into the Church. It began in restrictions on the marriage of the Clergy, whilst permitted to the Laity. As days grew darker, the restriction was, with others beyond the Levitical degrees, gradually extended to the laity; and quietly acquiesced in by the Christian world. And if it should be asked further how, at the Reformation, the Church of England acquiesced in the marriage of cousins being Scriptural, but not in marriage with a sister-in-law, the answer is plain,—because it suited the lusts of Henry VIII. to allow the one and prohibit the other. If it should be asked how the marriage of the Clergy came at length to be acquiesced in,—It was because they felt that the alleged prohibition of Scripture was a falsehood, as this is, and broke the law; till at last shame compelled its repeal. Yet, at first, marriage of priests and cousins was received by many well-meaning persons with more repugnance and louder wailing than is surging round us now. And, doubtless, now, as then, in a short time this marriage would be regarded as commendable; and people would wonder how men could have been so moved against what seems so blameless.*
The Vice-Chancellor "purposely passes by Dr. M'Caul's list of foreign Divines since the Reformation. He deals with an English question." He does not think Luther a very safe guide upon such a point. "It is more interesting to know how the Kirk of page 19 Scotland has dealt with the subject." But, when certain well-bribed foreign divines favour Henry VIII. with the opinion he needs, the Vice-Chancellor is very respectful to foreign divines on an English question. He lightly esteems Martin Luther as a guide on the point. But the perjured, blood-stained Constantius—a heretic—an Arian—who let loose bands of armed Pagans to murder the faithful in their churches, he considers may be a safe guide. His theological predilections are certainly somewhat singular. He deals with an English question, and rejects foreign divines; but thinks the opinion of the Kirk of Scotland very interesting. Of course it is interesting to him, on the principle which pervades his work throughout, of receiving nothing whatever that inconveniences him, accepting anything in any shape that agrees with him. The Scotch are, proverbially, in their prejudices a stiff-necked people. The Vice-Chancellor is a member, a sincere and enlightened member, of the Church of England and its government by Bishops on the Apostolic model. But the Kirk of Scotland holds that to be an erroneous view of Scripture, and Presbytery to be the only Scriptural plan of government. Does the Vice-Chancellor feel inclined to take his belief in this respect from the Kirk of Scotland, and let go his own faith? If not, the Kirk of Scotland is not an infallible guide, and he can scarcely require those who think that Church wrong on so important a question to bend to its authority in this.
Very truly, yours,
Hugh Ford Bacon.