QUESTION 58: OF THE IMPEDIMENTS OF IMPOTENCE, SPELL, FRENZY OR MADNESS, INCEST AND DEFECTIVE AGE
We must now consider five impediments to marriage, namely the impediments of impotence, spell, frenzy or madness, incest, and defective age. Under this head there are five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether impotence is an impediment to marriage?
(2) Whether a spell is?
(3) Whether frenzy or madness is?
(4) Whether incest is?
(5) Whether defective age is?
Article 1: Whether impotence is an impediment to marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that impotence is not an impediment to marriage.
For carnal copulation is not essential to marriage, since marriage is
more perfect when both parties observe continency by vow. But impotence
deprives marriage of nothing save carnal copulation. Therefore it is not
a diriment impediment to the marriage contract.
Objection 2: Further, just as impotence prevents carnal copulation so does
frigidity. But frigidity is not reckoned an impediment to marriage.
Therefore neither should impotence be reckoned as such.
Objection 3: Further, all old people are frigid. Yet old people can marry.
Objection 4: Further, if the woman knows the man to be frigid when she marries
him, the marriage is valid. Therefore frigidity, considered in itself, is
not an impediment to marriage.
Objection 5: Further, calidity may prove a sufficient incentive to carnal
copulation with one who is not a virgin, but not with one who is, because
it happens to be so weak as to pass away quickly, and is therefore
insufficient for the deflowering of a virgin. Or again it may move a man
sufficiently in regard to a beautiful woman, but insufficiently in regard
to an uncomely one. Therefore it would seem that frigidity, although it
be an impediment in regard to one, is not an impediment absolutely.
Objection 6: Further, generally speaking woman is more frigid than man. But
women are not debarred from marriage. Neither therefore should men be
debarred on account of frigidity.
On the contrary, It is stated (Extra, De Frigidis et Malefic., cap. Quod
Sedem): "Just as a boy who is incapable of marital intercourse is unfit
to marry, so also those who are impotent are deemed most unfit for the
marriage contract." Now persons affected with frigidity are the like.
Further, no one can bind himself to the impossible. Now in marriage man
binds himself to carnal copulation; because it is for this purpose that
he gives the other party power over his body. Therefore a frigid person,
being incapable of carnal copulation, cannot marry.
I answer that, In marriage there is a contract whereby one is bound to
pay the other the marital debt: wherefore just as in other contracts,
the bond is unfitting if a person bind himself to what he cannot give or
do, so the marriage contract is unfitting, if it be made by one who
cannot pay the marital debt. This impediment is called by the general
name of impotence as regards coition, and can arise either from an
intrinsic and natural cause, or from an extrinsic and accidental cause,
for instance spell, of which we shall speak later (Article ). If it be due to
a natural cause, this may happen in two ways. For either it is temporary,
and can be remedied by medicine, or by the course of time, and then it
does not void a marriage: or it is perpetual and then it voids marriage,
so that the party who labors under this impediment remains for ever
without hope of marriage, while the other may "marry to whom she will . .
. in the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:39). In order to ascertain whether the
impediment be perpetual or not, the Church has appointed a fixed time,
namely three years, for putting the matter to a practical proof: and if
after three years, during which both parties have honestly endeavored to
fulfil their marital intercourse, the marriage remain unconsummated, the
Church adjudges the marriage to be dissolved. And yet the Church is
sometimes mistaken in this, because three years are sometimes
insufficient to prove impotence to be perpetual. Wherefore if the Church
find that she has been mistaken, seeing that the subject of the
impediment has completed carnal copulation with another or with the same
person, she reinstates the former marriage and dissolves the subsequent
one, although the latter has been contracted with her permission.
[*"Nowadays it is seldom necessary to examine too closely into this
matter, as all cases arising from it are treated as far as possible under
the form of dispensations of non-consummated marriages." Cf. Catholic
Encyclopedia, article Canonical Impediments.]
Reply to Objection 1: Although the act of carnal copulation is not essential to
marriage, ability to fulfill the act is essential, because marriage gives
each of the married parties power over the other's body in relation to
Reply to Objection 2: Excessive calidity can scarcely be a perpetual impediment.
If, however, it were to prove an impediment to marital intercourse for
three years it would be adjudged to be perpetual. Nevertheless, since
frigidity is a greater and more frequent impediment (for it not only
hinders the mingling of seeds but also weakens the members which
co-operate in the union of bodies), it is accounted an impediment rather
than calidity, since all natural defects are reduced to frigidity.
Reply to Objection 3: Although old people have not sufficient calidity to
procreate, they have sufficient to copulate. Wherefore they are allowed
to marry, in so far as marriage is intended as a remedy, although it does
not befit them as fulfilling an office of nature.
Reply to Objection 4: In all contracts it is agreed on all hands that anyone who
is unable to satisfy an obligation is unfit to make a contract which
requires the fulfilling of that obligation. Now this inability is of two
kinds. First, because a person is unable to fulfill the obligation "de
jure," and such inability renders the contract altogether void, whether
the party with whom he contracts knows of this or not. Secondly, because
he is unable to fulfill "de facto"; and then if the party with whom he
contracts knows of this and, notwithstanding, enters the contract, this
shows that the latter seeks some other end from the contract, and the
contract stands. But if he does not know of it the contract is void.
Consequently frigidity which causes such an impotence that a man cannot
"de facto" pay the marriage debt, as also the condition of slavery,
whereby a man cannot "de facto" give his service freely, are impediments
to marriage, when the one married party does not know that the other is
unable to pay the marriage debt. But an impediment whereby a person
cannot pay the marriage debt "de jure," for instance consanguinity, voids
the marriage contract, whether the other party knows of it or not. For
this reason the Master holds (Sent. iv, D, 34) that these two
impediments, frigidity and slavery, make it not altogether unlawful for
their subjects to marry.
Reply to Objection 5: A man cannot have a perpetual natural impediment in regard
to one person and not in regard to another. But if he cannot fulfill the
carnal act with a virgin, while he can with one who is not a virgin, the
hymeneal membrane may be broken by a medical instrument, and thus he may
have connection with her. Nor would this be contrary to nature, for it
would be done not for pleasure but for a remedy. Dislike for a woman is
not a natural cause, but an accidental extrinsic cause: and therefore we
must form the same judgment in its regard as about spells, of which we
shall speak further on (Article ).
Reply to Objection 6: The male is the agent in procreation, and the female is the
patient, wherefore greater calidity is required in the male than in the
female for the act of procreation. Hence the frigidity which renders the
man impotent would not disable the woman. Yet there may be a natural
impediment from another cause, namely stricture, and then we must judge
of stricture in the woman in the same way as of frigidity in the man.
Article 2: Whether a spell can be an impediment to marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that a spell cannot be an impediment to marriage.
For the spells in question are caused by the operation of demons. But the
demons have no more power to prevent the marriage act than other bodily
actions; and these they cannot prevent, for thus they would upset the
whole world if they hindered eating and walking and the like. Therefore
they cannot hinder marriage by spells.
Objection 2: Further, God's work is stronger than the devil's. But a spell is
the work of the devil. Therefore it cannot hinder marriage which is the
work of God.
Objection 3: Further, no impediment, unless it be perpetual, voids the
marriage contract. But a spell cannot be a perpetual impediment, for
since the devil has no power over others than sinners, the spell will be
removed if the sin be cast out, or by another spell, or by the exorcisms
of the Church which are employed for the repression of the demon's power.
Therefore a spell cannot be an impediment to marriage.
Objection 4: Further, carnal copulation cannot be hindered, unless there be an
impediment to the generative power which is its principle. But the
generative power of one man is equally related to all women. Therefore a
spell cannot be an impediment in respect of one woman without being so
also in respect of all.
On the contrary, It is stated in the Decretals (XXXIII, qu. 1, cap. iv):
"If by sorcerers or witches . . . ," and further on, "if they be
incurable, they must be separated."
Further, the demons' power is greater than man's: "There is no power
upon earth that can be compared with him who was made to fear no one"
(Job 41:24). Now through the action of man, a person may be rendered
incapable of carnal copulation by some power or by castration; and this
is an impediment to marriage. Therefore much more can this be done by the
power of a demon.
I answer that, Some have asserted that witchcraft is nothing in the
world but an imagining of men who ascribed to spells those natural
effects the causes of which are hidden. But this is contrary to the
authority of holy men who state that the demons have power over men's
bodies and imaginations, when God allows them: wherefore by their means
wizards can work certain signs. Now this opinion grows from the root of
unbelief or incredulity, because they do not believe that demons exist
save only in the imagination of the common people, who ascribe to the
demon the terrors which a man conjures from his thoughts, and because,
owing to a vivid imagination, certain shapes such as he has in his
thoughts become apparent to the senses, and then he believes that he sees
the demons. But such assertions are rejected by the true faith whereby we
believe that angels fell from heaven, and that the demons exist, and that
by reason of their subtle nature they are able to do many things which we
cannot; and those who induce them to do such things are called wizards.
Wherefore others have maintained that witchcraft can set up an
impediment to carnal copulation, but that no such impediment is
perpetual: hence it does not void the marriage contract, and they say
that the laws asserting this have been revoked. But this is contrary to
actual facts and to the new legislation which agrees with the old.
We must therefore draw a distinction: for the inability to copulate
caused by witchcraft is either perpetual and then it voids marriage, or
it is not perpetual and then it does not void marriage. And in order to
put this to practical proof the Church has fixed the space of three years
in the same way as we have stated with regard to frigidity (Article ). There
is, however this difference between a spell and frigidity, that a person
who is impotent through frigidity is equally impotent in relation to one
as to another, and consequently when the marriage is dissolved, he is not
permitted to marry another woman. whereas through witchcraft a man may be
rendered impotent in relation to one woman and not to another, and
consequently when the Church adjudges the marriage to be dissolved, each
party is permitted to seek another partner in marriage.
Reply to Objection 1: The first corruption of sin whereby man became the slave of
the devil was transmitted to us by the act of the generative power, and
for this reason God allows the devil to exercise his power of witchcraft
in this act more than in others. Even so the power of witchcraft is made
manifest in serpents more than in other animals according to Gn. 3, since
the devil tempted the woman through a serpent.
Reply to Objection 2: God's work may be hindered by the devil's work with God's
permission; not that the devil is stronger than God so as to destroy His
works by violence.
Reply to Objection 3: Some spells are so perpetual that they can have no human
remedy, although God might afford a remedy by coercing the demon, or the
demon by desisting. For, as wizards themselves admit, it does not always
follow that what was done by one kind of witchcraft can be destroyed by
another kind, and even though it were possible to use witchcraft as a
remedy, it would nevertheless be reckoned to be perpetual, since nowise
ought one to invoke the demon's help by witchcraft. Again, if the devil
has been given power over a person on account of sin, it does not follow
that his power ceases with the sin, because the punishment sometimes
continues after the fault has been removed. And again, the exorcisms of
the Church do not always avail to repress the demons in all their
molestations of the body, if God will it so, but they always avail
against those assaults of the demons against which they are chiefly
Reply to Objection 4: Witchcraft sometimes causes an impediment in relation to
all, sometimes in relation to one only: because the devil is a voluntary
cause not acting from natural necessity. Moreover, the impediment
resulting from witchcraft may result from an impression made by the demon
on a man's imagination, whereby he is deprived of the concupiscence that
moves him in regard to a particular woman and not to another.
Article 3: Whether madness is an impediment to marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that madness is not an impediment to marriage. For
spiritual marriage which is contracted in Baptism is more excellent than
carnal marriage. But mad persons can be baptized. Therefore they can also
Objection 2: Further, frigidity is an impediment to marriage because it
impedes carnal copulation, which is not impeded by madness. Therefore
neither is marriage impeded thereby.
Objection 3: Further, marriage is not voided save by a perpetual impediment.
But one cannot tell whether madness is a perpetual impediment. Therefore
it does not void marriage.
Objection 4: Further, the impediments that hinder marriage are sufficiently
contained in the verses given above (Question ). But they contain no mention
of madness. Therefore, etc.
On the contrary, Madness removes the use of reason more than error does.
But error is an impediment to marriage. Therefore madness is also.
Further, mad persons are not fit for making contracts. But marriage is a
contract. Therefore, etc.
I answer that, The madness is either previous or subsequent to marriage.
If subsequent, it nowise voids the marriage, but if it be previous, then
the mad person either has lucid intervals, or not. If he has, then
although it is not safe for him to marry during that interval, since he
would not know how to educate his children, yet if he marries, the
marriage is valid. But if he has no lucid intervals, or marries outside a
lucid interval, then, since there can be no consent without use of
reason, the marriage will be invalid.
Reply to Objection 1: The use of reason is not necessary for Baptism as its cause, in which way it is necessary for matrimony. Hence the comparison fails. We have, however, spoken of the Baptism of mad persons (TP, Question , Article ).
Reply to Objection 2: Madness impedes marriage on the part of the latter's cause
which is the consent, although not on the part of the act as frigidity
does. Yet the Master treats of it together with frigidity, because both
are defects of nature (Sent. iv, D, 34).
Reply to Objection 3: A passing impediment which hinders the cause of marriage,
namely the consent, voids marriage altogether. But an impediment that
hinders the act must needs be perpetual in order to void the marriage.
Reply to Objection 4: This impediment is reducible to error, since in either case
there is lack of consent on the part of the reason.
Article 4: Whether marriage is annulled by the husband committing incest with his wife's sister?
Objection 1: It would seem that marriage is not annulled by the husband
committing incest with his wife's sister. For the wife should not be
punished for her husband's sin. Yet she would be punished if the
marriage were annulled. Therefore, etc.
Objection 2: Further, it is a greater sin to know one's own relative, than to
know the relative of one's wife. But the former sin is not an impediment
to marriage. Therefore neither is the second.
Objection 3: Further, if this is inflicted as a punishment of the sin, it
would seem, if the incestuous husband marry even after his wife's death,
that they ought to be separated: which is not true.
Objection 4: Further, this impediment is not mentioned among those enumerated
above (Question ). Therefore it does not void the marriage contract.
On the contrary, By knowing his wife's sister he contracts affinity,
with his wife. But affinity voids the marriage contract. Therefore the
aforesaid incest does also.
Further, by whatsoever a man sinneth, by the same also is he punished.
Now such a man sins against marriage. Therefore he ought to be punished
by being deprived of marriage.
I answer that, If a man has connection with the sister or other relative
of his wife before contracting marriage, even after his betrothal, the
marriage should be broken off on account of the resultant affinity. If,
however, the connection take place after the marriage has been contracted
and consummated, the marriage must not be altogether dissolved: but the
husband loses his right to marital intercourse, nor can he demand it
without sin. And yet he must grant it if asked, because the wife should
not be punished for her husband's sin. But after the death of his wife he
ought to remain without any hope of marriage, unless he receive a
dispensation on account of his frailty, through fear of unlawful
intercourse. If, however, he marry without a dispensation, he sins by
contravening the law of the Church, but his marriage is not for this
reason to be annulled. This suffices for the Replies to the Objections,
for incest is accounted an impediment to marriage not so much for its
being a sin as on account of the affinity which it causes. For this
reason it is not mentioned with the other impediments, but is included in
the impediment of affinity.
Article 5: Whether defective age is an impediment to marriage?
Objection 1: It would seem that deficient age is not an impediment to
marriage. For according to the laws children are under the care of a
guardian until their twenty-fifth year. Therefore it would seem that
before that age their reason is not sufficiently mature to give consent,
and consequently that ought seemingly to be the age fixed for marrying.
Yet marriage can be contracted before that age. Therefore lack of the
appointed age is not an impediment to marriage.
Objection 2: Further, just as the tie of religion is perpetual so is the
marriage tie. Now according to the new legislation (cap. Non Solum, De
regular. et transeunt.) no one can be professed before the fourteenth
year of age. Therefore neither could a person marry if defective age were
Objection 3: Further, just as consent is necessary for marriage on the part of
the man, so is it on the part of the woman. Now a woman can marry before
the age of fourteen. Therefore a man can also.
Objection 4: Further, inability to copulate, unless it be perpetual and not
known, is not an impediment to marriage. But lack of age is neither
perpetual nor unknown. Therefore it is not an impediment to marriage.
Objection 5: Further, it is not included under any of the aforesaid
impediments (Question ), and consequently would seem not to be an impediment
On the contrary, A Decretal (cap. Quod Sedem, De frigid et malefic.)
says that "a boy who is incapable of marriage intercourse is unfit to
marry." But in the majority of cases he cannot pay the marriage debt
before the age of fourteen (De Animal. vii). Therefore, etc.
Further, "There is a fixed limit of size and growth for all things in
nature" according to the Philosopher (De Anima ii, 4): and consequently
it would seem that, since marriage is natural, it must have a fixed age
by defect of which it is impeded.
I answer that, Since marriage is effected by way of a contract, it comes
under the ordinance of positive law like other contracts. Consequently
according to law (cap. Tua, De sponsal. impub.) it is determined that
marriage may not be contracted before the age of discretion when each
party is capable of sufficient deliberation about marriage, and of mutual
fulfilment of the marriage debt, and that marriages otherwise contracted
are void. Now for the most part this age is the fourteenth year in males
and the twelfth year in women: but since the ordinances of positive law
are consequent upon what happens in the majority of cases, if anyone
reach the required perfection before the aforesaid age, so that nature
and reason are sufficiently developed to supply the lack of age, the
marriage is not annulled. Wherefore if the parties who marry before the
age of puberty have marital intercourse before the aforesaid age, their
marriage is none the less perpetually indissoluble.
Reply to Objection 1: In matters to which nature inclines there is not required
such a development of reason in order to deliberate, as in other matters:
and therefore it is possible after deliberation to consent to marriage
before one is able to manage one's own affairs in other matters without a
Reply to Objection 2: The same answer applies, since the religious vow is about
matters outside the inclination of nature, and which offer greater
difficulty than marriage.
Reply to Objection 3: It is said that woman comes to the age of puberty sooner
than man does (De Animal. ix); hence there is no parallel between the two.
Reply to Objection 4: In this case there is an impediment not only as to
inability to copulate, but also on account of the defect of the reason,
which is not yet qualified to give rightly that consent which is to
endure in perpetuity.
Reply to Objection 5: The impediment arising from defective age, like that which
arises from madness, is reducible to the impediment of error; because a
man has not yet the full use of his free-will.