INNOCENT III 1198-1216

Marriages of Pagans and the Pauline Privilege *


[From the letter “Gaudemus in Domino” to the Bishop of Tiberias, in the beginning of 1201]


407 You have asked to be shown through Apostolic writings whether pagans receiving wives in the second, third, or further degree ought, thus united, to remain after their conversion with the wives united to them or ought to be separated from them. Regarding this we reply to your brotherhood thus, that, since the sacrament of marriage exists between believing and unbelieving spouses as the Apostle points out when he says: “If any brother has an unbelieving wife, and she consents to live with him, let him not put her away” [1 Cor. 7:12], and since in the aforesaid degree matrimony is lawfully contracted with respect to them by pagans who are not restricted by canonical constitutions, (“For what is it to me?” according to the same Apostle, “to judge concerning those which are outside?” [ 1 Cor. 5:12]; in favor especially of the Christian religion and faith, from receiving which many fearing to be deserted by their wives can easily be restrained, such believers, having been joined in marriage, can freely and licitly remain united, since through the sacrament of baptism marriages are not dissolved but sins are forgiven.


408 But since pagans divide their conjugal affection among many women at the same time, it is rightly doubted whether after conversion all or which one of all they can retain. But this (practice) seems to be in disagreement with and inimical to the Christian Faith, since in the beginning one rib was changed into one woman, and Divine Scripture testifies that “on account of this, man shall leave father and mother and shall cling to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh” [ Eph. 5:31; Gen. 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:5]; it does not say “three or more” but two; nor did it say “he will cling to wives” but to a wife. Never is it permitted to anyone to have several wives at one time except to whom it was granted by divine revelation. This custom existed at one time, sometimes was even regarded as lawful, by which, as Jacob from a lie, the Israelites from theft, and Samson from homicide, so also the Patriarchs and other just men, who we read had many wives at the same time, were ex-used from adultery. Certainly this opinion is proved true also by the witness of Truth, which testifies in the Gospel: “Whosoever puts away his wife (except) on account of fornication, and marries another commits adultery,” [ Matt. 19:9; cf. Mark 10:11]. If, therefore, when the wife has been dismissed, another cannot be married according to law, all the more she herself cannot be retained; through this it clearly appears that regarding marriage plurality in either sex-since they are not judged unequally must be condemned. Moreover, he who according to his rite puts away a lawful wife, since Truth in the Gospel has condemned such a repudiation, never while she lives, even after being converted to the faith of Christ, can he have another wife, unless after his conversion she refuses to live with him, or even if she should consent, yet not without insult to the Creator, or so as to lead him into mortal sin. In this case to the one seeking restitution, although it be established regarding unjust spoliation, restitution would be denied, because according to the Apostle: “A brother or sister is not subject to servitude in (cases) of this kind” [ 1 Cor 7,12]. But if her conversion should follow his conversion to faith, before, on account of the above mentioned causes, he would marry a legitimate wife, he would be compelled to take her back again. Although, too, according to the Evangelical truth, “he who marries one put aside is guilty of adultery” [Matt. 19:9], yet the one doing the dismissing will not be able to upbraid the one dismissed with fornication because he married her after the repudiation, unless she shall otherwise have committed fornication.