QUESTION 43: OF MATRIMONY WITH REGARD TO THE BETROTHAL
In the next place we must consider matrimony absolutely; and here we
must treat (1) of the betrothal; (2) of the nature of matrimony; (3) of
its efficient cause, namely the consent; (4) of its blessings; (5) of the
impediments thereto; (6) of second marriages; (7) of certain things
annexed to marriage.
Under the first head there are three points of inquiry:
(1) What is the betrothal?
(2) Who can contract a betrothal?
(3) Whether a betrothal can be canceled?
Article 1: Whether a betrothal is a promise of future marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that a betrothal is not rightly defined "a promise
of future marriage," as expressed in the words of Pope Nicholas I (Resp.
ad Consul. Bulgar., iii). For as Isidore says (Etym. iv), "a man is
betrothed not by a mere promise, but by giving his troth [spondet] and
providing sureties [sponsores]". Now a person is said to be betrothed by
reason of his betrothal. Therefore it is wrongly described as a promise.
Objection 2: Further, whoever promises a thing must be compelled to fulfill
his promise. But those who have contracted a betrothal are not compelled
by the Church to fulfill the marriage. Therefore a betrothal is not a
Objection 3: Further, sometimes a betrothal does not consist of a mere
promise, but an oath is added, as also certain pledges. Therefore
seemingly it should not be defined as a mere promise.
Objection 4: Further, marriage should be free and absolute. But a betrothal is
sometimes expressed under a condition even of money to be received.
Therefore it is not fittingly described as a promise of marriage.
Objection 5: Further, promising about the future is blamed in James 4:13,
seqq. But there should be nothing blameworthy about the sacraments.
Therefore one ought not to make a promise of future marriage.
Objection 6: Further, no man is called a spouse except on account of his
espousals. But a man is said to be a spouse on account of actual
marriage, according to the text (Sent. iv, D, 27). Therefore espousals
are not always a promise of future marriage.
I answer that, Consent to conjugal union if expressed in words of the
future does not make a marriage, but a promise of marriage; and this
promise is called "a betrothal from plighting one's troth," as Isidore
says (Etym. iv). For before the use of writing-tablets, they used to give
pledges of marriage, by which they plighted their mutual consent under
the marriage code, and they provided guarantors. This promise is made in
two ways, namely absolutely, or conditionally. Absolutely, in four ways:
firstly, a mere promise, by saying: "I will take thee for my wife," and
conversely; secondly, by giving betrothal pledges, such as money and the
like; thirdly, by giving an engagement ring; fourthly, by the addition of
an oath. If, however, this promise be made conditionally, we must draw a
distinction; for it is either an honorable condition, for instance if we
say: "I will take thee, if thy parents consent," and then the promise
holds if the condition is fulfilled, and does not hold if the condition
is not fulfilled; or else the condition is dishonorable, and this in two
ways: for either it is contrary to the marriage blessings, as if we were
to say: "I will take thee if thou promise means of sterility," and then
no betrothal is contracted; or else it is not contrary to the marriage
blessings, as were one to say: "I will take thee if thou consent to my
thefts," and then the promise holds, but the condition should be removed.
Reply to Objection 1: The betrothal itself and giving of sureties are a
ratification of the promise, wherefore it is denominated from these as
from that which is more perfect.
Reply to Objection 2: By this promise one party is bound to the other in respect
of contracting marriage; and he who fulfills not his promise sins
mortally, unless a lawful impediment arise; and the Church uses
compulsion in the sense that she enjoins a penance for the sin. But he is
not compelled by sentence of the court, because compulsory marriages are
wont to have evil results; unless the parties be bound by oath, for then
he ought to be compelled, in the opinion of some, although others think
differently on account of the reason given above, especially if there be
fear of one taking the other's life.
Reply to Objection 3: Such things are added only in confirmation of the promise,
and consequently they are not distinct from it.
Reply to Objection 4: The condition that is appended does not destroy the liberty
of marriage; for if it be unlawful, it should be renounced; and if it be
lawful, it is either about things that are good simply, as were one to
say, "I will take thee, if thy parents consent," and such a condition
does not destroy the liberty of the betrothal, but gives it an increase
of rectitude. or else it is about things that are useful, as were one to
say: "I will marry thee if thou pay me a hundred pounds," and then this
condition is appended, not as asking a price for the consent of marriage,
but as referring to the promise of a dowry; so that the marriage does not
lose its liberty. Sometimes, however, the condition appended is the
payment of a sum of money by way of penalty, and then, since marriage
should be free, such a condition does not hold, nor can such a penalty be
exacted from a person who is unwilling to fulfill the promise of marriage.
Reply to Objection 5: James does not intend to forbid altogether the making of
promises about the future, but the making of promises as though one were
certain of one's life; hence he teaches that we ought to add the
condition. "If the Lord will," which, though it be not expressed in
words, ought nevertheless to be impressed on the heart.
Reply to Objection 6: In marriage we may consider both the marriage union and the
marriage act; and on account of his promise of the first as future a man
is called a "spouse" from his having contracted his espousals by words
expressive of the future; but from the promise of the second a man is
called a "spouse," even when the marriage has been contracted by words
expressive of the present, because by this very fact he promises
[spondet] the marriage act. However, properly speaking, espousals are so
called from the promise [sponsione] in the first sense, because espousals
are a kind of sacramental annexed to matrimony, as exorcism to baptism.
Article 2: Whether seven years is fittingly assigned as the age for betrothal?
Objection 1: It would seem that seven years is not fittingly assigned as the
age for betrothal. For a contract that can be formed by others does not
require discretion in those whom it concerns. Now a betrothal can be
arranged by the parents without the knowledge of either of the persons
betrothed. Therefore a betrothal can be arranged before the age of seven
years as well as after.
Objection 2: Further, just as some use of reason is necessary for the contract
of betrothal, so is there for the consent to mortal sin. Now, as Gregory
says (Dial. iv), a boy of five years of age was carried off by the devil
on account of the sin of blasphemy. Therefore a betrothal can take place
before the age of seven years.
Objection 3: Further, a betrothal is directed to marriage. But for marriage
the same age is not assigned to boy and girl.
Objection 4: Further, one can become betrothed as soon as future marriage can
be agreeable to one. Now signs of this agreeableness are often apparent
in boys before the age of seven. Therefore they can become betrothed
before that age.
Objection 5: Further, if persons become betrothed before they are seven years
old, and subsequently after the age of seven and before the age of
maturity renew their promise in words expressive of the present, they are
reckoned to be betrothed. Now this is not by virtue of the second
contract, since they intend to contract not betrothal but marriage.
Therefore it is by the virtue of the first; and thus espousals can be
contracted before the age of seven.
Objection 6: Further, when a thing is done by many persons in common, if one
fails he is supplied by another, as in the case of those who row a boat.
Now the contract of betrothal is an action common to the contracting
parties. Therefore if one be of mature age, he can contract a betrothal
with a girl who is not seven years old, since the lack of age in one is
more than counterbalanced in the other.
Objection 7: Further, those who at about the age of puberty, but before it,
enter into the marriage contract by words expressive of the present are
reputed to be married. Therefore in like manner if they contract marriage
by words expressive of the future, before yet close on the age of
puberty, they are to be reputed as betrothed.
I answer that, The age of seven years is fixed reasonably enough by law
for the contracting of betrothals, for since a betrothal is a promise of
the future, as already stated (Article ), it follows that they are within the
competency of those who can make a promise in some way, and this is only
for those who can have some foresight of the future, and this requires
the use of reason, of which three degrees are to be observed, according
to the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 4). The first is when a person neither
understands by himself nor is able to learn from another; the second
stage is when a man can learn from another but is incapable by himself of
consideration and understanding; the third degree is when a man is both
able to learn from another and to consider by himself. And since reason
develops in man by little and little, in proportion as the movement and
fluctuation of the humors is calmed, man reaches the first stage of
reason before his seventh year; and consequently during that period he is
unfit for any contract, and therefore for betrothal. But he begins to
reach the second stage at the end of his first seven years, wherefore
children at that age are sent to school. But man begins to reach the
third stage at the end of his second seven years, as regards things
concerning his person, when his natural reason develops; but as regards
things outside his person, at the end of his third seven years. Hence
before his first seven years a man is not fit to make any contract, but
at the end of that period he begins to be fit to make certain promises
for the future, especially about those things to which natural reason
inclines us more, though he is not fit to bind himself by a perpetual
obligation, because as yet he has not a firm will. Hence at that age
betrothals can be contracted. But at the end of the second seven years he
can already bind himself in matters concerning his person, either to
religion or to wedlock. And after the third seven years he can bind
himself in other matters also; and according to the laws he is given the
power of disposing of his property after his twenty-second year.
Reply to Objection 1: If the parties are betrothed by another person before they
reach the age of puberty, either of them or both can demur; wherefore in
that case the betrothal does not take effect, so that neither does any
affinity result therefrom. Hence a betrothal made between certain persons
by some other takes effect, in so far as those between whom the betrothal
is arranged do not demur when they reach the proper age, whence they are
understood to consent to what others have done.
Reply to Objection 2: Some say that the boy of whom Gregory tells this story was
not lost, and that he did not sin mortally; and that this vision was for
the purpose of making the father sorrowful, for he had sinned in the boy
through failing to correct him. But this is contrary to the express
intention of Gregory, who says (Dial. iv) that "the boy's father having
neglected the soul of his little son, fostered no little sinner for the
flames of hell." Consequently it must be said that for a mortal sin it is
sufficient to give consent to something present, whereas in a betrothal
the consent is to something future; and greater discretion of reason is
required for looking to the future than for consenting to one present
act. Wherefore a man can sin mortally before he can bind himself to a
Reply to Objection 3: Regarding the age for the marriage contract a disposition
is required not only on the part of the use of reason, but also on the
part of the body, in that it is necessary to be of an age adapted to
procreation. And since a girl becomes apt for the act of procreation in
her twelfth year, and a boy at the end of his second seven years, as the
Philosopher says (De Hist. Anim. vii), whereas the age is the same in
both for attaining the use of reason which is the sole condition for
betrothal, hence it is that the one age is assigned for both as regards
betrothal, but not as regards marriage.
Reply to Objection 4: This agreeableness in regard to boys under the age of seven
does not result from the perfect use of reason, since they are not as yet
possessed of complete self-control; it results rather from the movement
of nature than from any process of reason. Consequently, this
agreeableness does not suffice for contracting a betrothal.
Reply to Objection 5: In this case, although the second contract does not amount
to marriage, nevertheless the parties show that they ratify their former
promise; wherefore the first contract is confirmed by the second.
Reply to Objection 6: Those who row a boat act by way of one cause, and
consequently what is lacking in one can be supplied by another. But those
who make a contract of betrothal act as distinct persons, since a
betrothal can only be between two parties; wherefore it is necessary for
each to be qualified to contract, and thus the defect of one is an
obstacle to their betrothal, nor can it be supplied by the other.
Reply to Objection 7: It is true that in the matter of betrothal if the
contracting parties are close upon the age of seven, the contract of
betrothal is valid, since, according to the Philosopher (Phys. ii, 56),
"when little is lacking it seems as though nothing were lacking." Some
fix the margin at six months. but it is better to determine it according
to the condition of the contracting parties, since the use of reason
comes sooner to some than to others.
Article 3: Whether a betrothal can be dissolved?
Objection 1: It would seem that a betrothal cannot be dissolved if one of the
parties enter religion. For if I have promised a thing to someone I
cannot lawfully pledge it to someone else. Now he who betroths himself
promises his body to the woman. Therefore he cannot make a further
offering of himself to God in religion.
Objection 2: Again, seemingly it should not be dissolved when one of the
parties leaves for a distant country, because in doubtful matters one
should always choose the safer course. Now the safer course would be to
wait for him. Therefore she is bound to wait for him.
Objection 3: Again, neither seemingly is it dissolved by sickness contracted after betrothal, for no man should be punished for being under a penalty. Now the man who contracts an infirmity would be punished if he were to lose his right to the woman betrothed to him. Therefore a betrothal should not be dissolved on account of a bodily infirmity.
Objection 4: Again, neither seemingly should a betrothal be dissolved on
account of a supervening affinity, for instance if the spouse were to
commit fornication with a kinswoman of his betrothed; for in that case
the affianced bride would be penalized for the sin of her affianced
spouse, which is unreasonable.
Objection 5: Again, seemingly they cannot set one another free; for it would
be a proof of greatest fickleness if they contracted together and then
set one another free; and such conduct ought not to be tolerated by the
Church. Therefore, etc.
Objection 6: Again, neither seemingly ought a betrothal to be dissolved on
account of the fornication of one of the parties. For a betrothal does
not yet give the one power over the body of the other; wherefore it would
seem that they nowise sin against one another if meanwhile they commit
fornication. Consequently a betrothal should not be dissolved on that
Objection 7: Again, neither seemingly on account of his contracting with
another woman by words expressive of the present. For a subsequent sale
does not void a previous sale. Therefore neither should a second contract
void a previous one.
Objection 8: Again, neither seemingly should it be dissolved on account of
deficient age; since what is not cannot be dissolved. Now a betrothal is
null before the requisite age. Therefore it cannot be dissolved.
I answer that, In all the cases mentioned above the betrothal that has
been contracted is dissolved, but in different ways. For in two of
them---namely when a party enters religion, and when either of the
affianced spouses contracts with another party by words expressive of the
present---the betrothal is dissolved by law, whereas in the other cases
it has to be dissolved according to the judgment of the Church.
Reply to Objection 2: This doubt is solved by either party not putting in an
appearance at the time fixed for completing the marriage. Wherefore if it
was no fault of that party that the marriage was not completed, he or she
can lawfully marry without any sin. But if he or she was responsible for
the non-completion of the marriage, this responsibility involves the
obligation of doing penance for the broken promise---or oath if the
promise was confirmed by oath---and he or she can contract with another
if they wish it, subject to the judgment of the Church.
Reply to Objection 3: If either of the betrothed parties incur an infirmity which
notably weakens the subject (as epilepsy or paralysis), or causes a
deformity (as loss of the nose or eyes, and the like), or is contrary to
the good of the offspring (as leprosy, which is wont to be transmitted to
the children), the betrothal can be dissolved, lest the betrothed be
displeasing to one another, and the marriage thus contracted have an evil
result. Nor is one punished for being under a penalty, although one
incurs a loss from one's penalty, and this is not unreasonable.
Reply to Objection 4: If the affianced bridegroom has carnal knowledge of a
kinswoman of his spouse, or "vice versa," the betrothal must be
dissolved; and for proof it is sufficient that the fact be the common
talk, in order to avoid scandal; for causes whose effects mature in the
future are voided of their effects, not only by what actually is, but
also by what happens subsequently. Hence just as affinity, had it existed
at the time of the betrothal, would have prevented that contract, so, if
it supervene before marriage, which is an effect of the betrothal, the
previous contract is voided of its effect. Nor does the other party
suffer in consequence, indeed he or she gains, being set free from one
who has become hateful to God by committing fornication.
Reply to Objection 5: Some do not admit this case. Yet they have against them the
Decretal (cap. Praeterea, De spons. et matr.) which says expressly: "Just
as those who enter into a contract of fellowship by pledging their faith
to one another and afterwards give it back, so it may be patiently
tolerated that those who are betrothed to one another should set one
another free." Yet to this they say that the Church allows this lest
worse happen rather than because it is according to strict law. But this
does not seem to agree with the example quoted by the Decretal.
Accordingly we must reply that it is not always a proof of fickleness to
rescind an agreement, since "our counsels are uncertain" (Wis. 9:14).
Reply to Objection 6: Although when they become betrothed they have not yet given
one another power over one another's body, yet if this [*Referring to the
contention of the Objection] were to happen it would make them suspicious
of one another's fidelity; and so one can ensure himself against the
other by breaking off the engagement.
Reply to Objection 7: This argument would hold if each contract were of the same
kind; whereas the second contract of marriage has greater force than the
first, and consequently dissolves it.
Reply to Objection 8: Although it was not a true betrothal, there was a betrothal
of a kind; and consequently, lest approval should seem to be given when
they come to the lawful age, they should seek a dissolution of the
betrothal by the judgment of the Church, for the sake of a good example.