QUESTION 51: OF THE IMPEDIMENT OF ERROR
We must now consider the impediments to matrimony in particular, and in
the first place the impediment of error. Under this head there are two
points of inquiry:
(1) Whether error of its very nature is an impediment to matrimony?
(2) What kind of error?
Article 1: Whether it is right to reckon error as an impediment to marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that error should not be reckoned in itself an
impediment to marriage. For consent, which is the efficient cause of
marriage, is hindered in the same way as the voluntary. Now the
voluntary, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. iii, 1), may be hindered
by ignorance. But ignorance is not the same as error, because ignorance
excludes knowledge altogether, whereas error does not, since "error is to
approve the false as though it were true," according to Augustine (De
Trin. ix, 11). Therefore ignorance rather than error should have been
reckoned here as an impediment to marriage.
Objection 2: Further, that which of its very nature can be an impediment to
marriage is in opposition to the good of marriage. But error is not a
thing of this kind. Therefore error is not by its very nature an
impediment to marriage.
Objection 3: Further, just as consent is required for marriage, so is
intention required for baptism. Now if one were to baptize John, thinking
to baptize Peter, John would be baptized none the less. Therefore error
does not annul matrimony.
Objection 4: Further, there was true marriage between Lia and Jacob, and yet,
in this case, there was error. Therefore error does not annul a marriage.
On the contrary, It is said in the Digests (Si per errorem, ff. De
jurisdic. omn. judic.): "What is more opposed to consent than error?" Now
consent is required for marriage. Therefore error is an impediment to
Further, consent denotes something voluntary. Now error is an obstacle
to the voluntary, since "the voluntary," according to the Philosopher
(Ethic. iii, 1), Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 24), and Gregory of Nyssa
[*Nemesius] (De Nat. Hom. xxxii), "is that which has its principle in one
who has knowledge of singulars which are the matter of actions." But this
does not apply to one who is in error. Therefore error is an impediment
I answer that, Whatever hinders a cause, of its very nature hinders the
effect likewise. Now consent is the cause of matrimony, as stated above
(Question , Article ). Hence whatever voids the consent, voids marriage. Now
consent is an act of the will, presupposing an act of the intellect; and
if the first be lacking, the second must needs be lacking also. Hence,
when error hinders knowledge, there follows a defect in the consent also,
and consequently in the marriage. Therefore it is possible according to
the natural law for error to void marriage.
Reply to Objection 1: Speaking simply, ignorance differs from error, because
ignorance does not of its very nature imply an act of knowledge, while
error supposes a wrong judgment of reason about something. However, as
regards being an impediment to the voluntary, it differs not whether we
call it ignorance or error, since no ignorance can be an impediment to
the voluntary, unless it have error in conjunction with it, because the
will's act presupposes an estimate or judgment about something which is
the object of the will. Wherefore if there be ignorance there must needs
be error; and for this reason error is set down as being the proximate
Reply to Objection 2: Although error is not of itself contrary to matrimony, it
is contrary thereto as regards the cause of marriage.
Reply to Objection 3: The character of baptism is not caused directly by the
intention of the baptizer, but by the material element applied outwardly;
and the intention is effective only as directing the material element to
its effect; whereas the marriage tie is caused by the consent directly.
Hence the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 4: According to the Master (Sent. iv, D, 30) the marriage
between Lia and Jacob was effected not by their coming together, which
happened through an error, but by their consent, which followed
afterwards. Yet both are clearly to be excused from sin (Sent. iv, D, 30).
Article 2: Whether every error is an impediment to matrimony?
Objection 1: It would seem that every error is an impediment to matrimony, and
not, as stated in the text (Sent. iv, D, 30), only error about the
condition or the person. For that which applies to a thing as such
applies to it in all its bearings. Now error is of its very nature an
impediment to matrimony, as stated above (Article ). Therefore every error is
an impediment to matrimony.
Objection 2: Further, if error, as such, is an impediment to matrimony, the
greater the error the greater the impediment. Now the error concerning
faith in a heretic who disbelieves in this sacrament is greater than an
error concerning the person. Therefore it should be a greater impediment
than error about the person.
Objection 3: Further, error does not void marriage except as removing
voluntariness. Now ignorance about any circumstance takes away
voluntariness (Ethic. iii, 1). Therefore it is not only error about
condition or person that is an impediment to matrimony.
Objection 4: Further, just as the condition of slavery is an accident
affecting the person, so are bodily or mental qualities. But error
regarding the condition is an impediment to matrimony. Therefore error
concerning quality or fortune is equally an impediment.
Objection 5: Further, just as slavery or freedom pertains to the condition of
person, so do high and low rank, or dignity of position and the lack
thereof. Now error regarding the condition of slavery is an impediment to
matrimony. Therefore error about the other matters mentioned is also an
Objection 6: Further, just as the condition of slavery is an impediment, so
are difference of worship and impotence, as we shall say further on
(Question , Article ; Question , Article ; Question , Article ). Therefore just as error
regarding the condition is an impediment, so also should error about
those other matters be reckoned an impediment.
Objection 7: On the other hand, it would seem that not even error about the
person is an impediment to marriage. For marriage is a contract even as a
sale is. Now in buying and selling the sale is not voided if one coin be
given instead of another of equal value. Therefore a marriage is not
voided if one woman be taken instead of another.
Objection 8: Further, it is possible for them to remain in this error for many
years and to beget between them sons and daughters. But it would be a
grave assertion to maintain that they ought to be separated then.
Therefore their previous error did not void their marriage.
Objection 9: Further, it might happen that the woman is betrothed to the
brother of the man whom she thinks that she is consenting to marry, and
that she has had carnal intercourse with him; in which case, seemingly,
she cannot go back to the man to whom she thought to give her consent,
but should hold on to his brother. Thus error regarding the person is not
an impediment to marriage.
I answer that, Just as error, through causing involuntariness, is an
excuse from sin, so on the same count is it an impediment to marriage.
Now error does not excuse from sin unless it refer to a circumstance the
presence or absence of which makes an action lawful or unlawful. For if a
man were to strike his father with an iron rod thinking it to be of wood,
he is not excused from sin wholly, although perhaps in part; but if a man
were to strike his father, thinking to strike his son to correct him, he
is wholly excused provided he take due care. Wherefore error, in order to
void marriage, must needs be about the essentials of marriage. Now
marriage includes two things, namely the two persons who are joined
together, and the mutual power over one another wherein marriage
consists. The first of these is removed by error concerning the person,
the second by error regarding the condition, since a slave cannot freely
give power over his body to another, without his master's consent. For
this reason these two errors, and no others, are an impediment to
Reply to Objection 1: It is not from its generic nature that error is an
impediment to marriage, but from the nature of the difference added
thereto; namely from its being error about one of the essentials to
Reply to Objection 2: An error of faith about matrimony is about things
consequent upon matrimony, for instance on the question of its being a
sacrament, or of its being lawful. Wherefore such error as these is no
impediment to marriage, as neither does an error about baptism hinder a
man from receiving the character, provided he intend to receive what the
Church gives, although he believe it to be nothing.
Reply to Objection 3: It is not any ignorance of a circumstance that causes the
involuntariness which is an excuse from sin, as stated above; wherefore
the argument does not prove.
Reply to Objection 4: Difference of fortune or of quality does not make a
difference in the essentials to matrimony, as the condition of slavery
does. Hence the argument does not prove.
Reply to Objection 5: Error about a person's rank, as such, does not void a
marriage, for the same reason as neither does error about a personal
quality. If, however, the error about a person's rank or position amounts
to an error about the person, it is an impediment to matrimony. Hence, if
the woman consent directly to this particular person, her error about
his rank does not void the marriage; but if she intend directly to
consent to marry the king's son, whoever he may be, then, if another man
than the king's son be brought to her, there is error about the person,
and the marriage will be void.
Reply to Objection 6: Error is an impediment to matrimony, although it be about
other impediments to marriage if it concern those things which render a
person an unlawful subject of marriage. But (the Master) does not mention
error about such things, because they are an impediment to marriage
whether there be error about them or not; so that if a woman contract
with a subdeacon, whether she know this or not, there is no marriage;
whereas the condition of slavery is no impediment if the slavery be
known. Hence the comparison fails.
Reply to Objection 7: In contracts money is regarded as the measure of other
things (Ethic. v, 5), and not as being sought for its own sake. Hence if
the coin paid is not what it is thought to be but another of equal value,
this does not void the contract. But if there be error about a thing
sought for its own sake, the contract is voided, for instance if one were
to sell a donkey for a horse; and thus it is in the case in point.
Reply to Objection 8: No matter how long they have cohabited, unless she be
willing to consent again, there is no marriage.
Reply to Objection 9: If she did not consent previously to marry his brother, she
may hold to the one whom she took in error. Nor can she return to his
brother, especially if there has been carnal intercourse between her and
the man she took to husband. If, however, she had previously consented to
take the first one in words of the present, she cannot have the second
while the first lives. But she may either leave the second or return to
the first; and ignorance of the fact excuses her from sin, just as she
would be excused if after the consummation of the marriage a kinsman of
her husband were to know her by fraud since she is not to be blamed for
the other's deceit.