QUESTION 66: OF BIGAMY AND OF THE IRREGULARITY CONTRACTED THEREBY
In the next place we must consider bigamy and the irregularity
contracted thereby. Under this head there are five points of inquiry:
(1) Whether irregularity attaches to the bigamy that consists in having
two successive wives?
(2) Whether irregularity is contracted by one who has two wives at once?
(3) Whether irregularity is contracted by marrying one who is not a
(4) Whether bigamy is removed by Baptism?
(5) Whether a dispensation can be granted to a bigamous person?
Article 1: Whether irregularity attaches to bigamy?
Objection 1: It would seem that irregularity is not attached to the bigamy that consists in having two wives successively. For multitude and unity are consequent upon being. Since then non-being does not cause plurality, a man who has two wives successively, the one in being, the other in non-being, does not thereby become the husband of more than one wife, so as to be debarred, according to the Apostle (1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:6), from the episcopate.
Objection 2: Further, a man who commits fornication with several women gives
more evidence of incontinence than one who has several wives
successively. Yet in the first case a man does not become irregular.
Therefore neither in the second should he become irregular.
Objection 3: Further, if bigamy causes irregularity, this is either because of
the sacrament, or because of the carnal intercourse. Now it is not on
account of the former, for if a man had contracted marriage by words of
the present and, his wife dying before the consummation of the marriage,
he were to marry another, he would become irregular, which is against the
decree of Innocent III (cap. Dubium, De bigamia). Nor again is it on
account of the second, for then a man who had committed fornication with
several women would become irregular: which is false. Therefore bigamy
nowise causes irregularity.
I answer that, By the sacrament of order a man is appointed to the
ministry of the sacraments; and he who has to administer the sacraments
to others must suffer from no defect in the sacraments. Now there is a
defect in a sacrament when the entire signification of the sacrament is
not found therein. And the sacrament of marriage signifies the union of
Christ with the Church, which is the union of one with one. Therefore the
perfect signification of the sacrament requires the husband to have only
one wife, and the wife to have but one husband; and consequently bigamy,
which does away with this, causes irregularity. And there are four kinds
of bigamy: the first is when a man has several lawful wives successively;
the second is when a man has several wives at once, one in law, the other
in fact; the third, when he has several successively, one in law, the
other in fact; the fourth, when a man marries a widow. Accordingly
irregularity attaches to all of these.
There is another consequent reason assigned, since those who receive the
sacrament of order should be signalized by the greatest spirituality,
both because they administer spiritual things, namely the sacraments, and
because they teach spiritual things, and should be occupied in spiritual
matters. Wherefore since concupiscence is most incompatible with
spirituality, inasmuch as it makes a man to be wholly carnal, they should
give no sign of persistent concupiscence, which does indeed show itself
in bigamous persons, seeing that they were unwilling to be content with
one wife. The first reason however is the better.
Reply to Objection 1: The multitude of several wives at the same time is a
multitude simply, wherefore a multitude of this kind is wholly
inconsistent with the signification of the sacrament, so that the
sacrament is voided on that account. But the multitude of several
successive wives is a multitude relatively, wherefore it does not
entirely destroy the signification of the sacrament, nor does it void the
sacrament in its essence but in its perfection, which is required of
those who are the dispensers of sacraments.
Reply to Objection 2: Although those who are guilty of fornication give proof of
greater concupiscence, theirs is not a so persistent concupiscence, since
by fornication one party is not bound to the other for ever; and
consequently no defect attaches to the sacrament.
Reply to Objection 3: As stated above, bigamy causes irregularity, because it
destroys the perfect signification of the sacrament: which signification
is seated both in the union of minds, as expressed by the consent, and in
the union of bodies. Wherefore bigamy must affect both of these at the
same time in order to cause irregularity. Hence the decree of Innocent
III disposes of the statement of the Master (Sent. iv, D, 27), namely
that consent alone by words of the present is sufficient to cause
Article 2: Whether irregularity results from bigamy, when one husband has two wives, one in law, the other in fact?
Objection 1: It would seem that irregularity does not result from bigamy when
one husband has two wives at the same time, one in law and one in fact.
For when the sacrament is void there can be no defect in the sacrament.
Now when a man marries a woman in fact but not in law there is no
sacrament, since such a union does not signify the union of Christ with
the Church. Therefore since irregularity does not result from bigamy
except on account of a defect in the sacrament, it would seem that no
irregularity attaches to bigamy of this kind.
Objection 2: Further, if a man has intercourse with a woman whom he has
married in fact and not in law, he commits fornication if he has not a
lawful wife, or adultery if he has. But a man does not become irregular
by dividing his flesh among several women by fornication or adultery.
Therefore neither does he by the aforesaid kind of bigamy.
Objection 3: Further, it may happen that a man, before knowing carnally the
woman he has married in law, marries another in fact and not in law, and
knows her carnally, whether the former woman be living or dead. Now this
man has contracted marriage with several women either in law or in fact,
and yet he is not irregular, since he has not divided his flesh among
several women. Therefore irregularity is not contracted by reason of the
aforesaid kind of bigamy.
I answer that, Irregularity is contracted in the two second kinds of
bigamy, for although in the one there is no sacrament, there is a certain
likeness to a sacrament. Wherefore these two kinds are secondary, and the
first is the principal kind in causing irregularity.
Reply to Objection 1: Although there is no sacrament in this case there is a certain likeness to a sacrament, whereas there is no such likeness in fornication or adultery. Hence the comparison fails.
This suffices for the Reply to the Second Objection.
Reply to Objection 3: In this case the man is not reckoned a bigamist, because
the first marriage lacked its perfect signification. Nevertheless if, by
the judgment of the Church, he be compelled to return to his first wife
and carnally to know her, he becomes irregular forthwith, because the
irregularity is the result not of the sin but of imperfect signification.
Article 3: Whether irregularity is contracted by marrying one who is not a virgin?
Objection 1: It would seem that irregularity is not contracted by marrying one
who is not a virgin. For a man's own defect is a greater impediment to
him than the defect of another. But if the man himself who marries is not
a virgin he does not become irregular. Therefore much less does he if his
wife is not a virgin.
Objection 2: Further, it may happen that a man marries a woman after
corrupting her. Now, seemingly, such a man does not become irregular,
since he has not divided his flesh among several, nor has his wife done
so, and yet he marries a woman who is not a virgin. Therefore this kind
of bigamy does not cause irregularity.
Objection 3: Further, no man can become irregular except voluntarily. But
sometimes a man marries involuntarily one who is not a virgin, for
instance when he thinks her a virgin and afterwards, by knowing her
carnally, finds that she is not. Therefore this kind does not always
Objection 4: Further, unlawful intercourse after marriage is more guilty than
before marriage. Now if a wife, after the marriage has been consummated,
has intercourse with another man, her husband does not become irregular,
otherwise he would be punished for his wife's sin. Moreover, it might
happen that, after knowing of this, he pays her the debt at her asking,
before she is accused and convicted of adultery. Therefore it would seem
that this kind of bigamy does not cause irregularity.
On the contrary, Gregory says (Regist. ii, ep. 37): "We command thee
never to make unlawful ordinations, nor to admit to holy orders a
bigamist, or one who has married a woman that is not a virgin, or one who
is unlettered, or one who is deformed in his limbs, or bound to do
penance or to perform some civil duty, or who is in any state of
I answer that, In the union of Christ with the Church unity is found on
either side. Consequently whether we find division of the flesh on the
part of the husband, or on the part of the wife, there is a defect of
sacrament. There is, however, a difference, because on the part of the
husband it is required that he should not have married another wife, but
not that he should be a virgin, whereas on the part of the wife it is
also required that she be a virgin. The reason assigned by those versed
in the Decretals is because the bridegroom signifies the Church militant
which is entrusted to the care of a bishop, and in which there are many
corruptions, while the spouse signifies Christ Who was a virgin:
wherefore virginity on the part of the spouse, but not on the part of the
bridegroom, is required in order that a man be made a bishop. This
reason, however, is expressly contrary to the words of the Apostle (Eph. 5:25): "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church,"
which show that the bride signifies the Church, and the bridegroom
Christ; and again he says (Eph. 5:23): "Because the husband is the head
of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church." Wherefore others say
that Christ is signified by the bridegroom, and that the bride signifies
the Church triumphant in which there is no stain. Also that the synagogue
was first united to Christ as a concubine; so that the sacrament loses
nothing of its signification if the bridegroom previously had a
concubine. But this is most absurd, since just as the faith of ancients
and of moderns is one, so is the Church one. Wherefore those who served
God at the time of the synagogue belonged to the unity of the Church in
which we serve God. Moreover this is expressly contrary to Jer. 3:14,
Ezech. 16:8, Osee 2:16, where the espousals of the synagogue are
mentioned explicitly: so that she was not as a concubine but as a wife.
Again, according to this, fornication would be the sacred sign
[sacramentum] of that union, which is absurd. Wherefore heathendom,
before being espoused to Christ in the faith of the Church, was corrupted
by the devil through idolatry. Hence we must say otherwise that
irregularity is caused by a defect in the sacrament itself. Now when
corruption of the flesh occurs outside wedlock on account of a preceding
marriage, it causes no defect in the sacrament on the part of the person
corrupted, but it causes a defect in the other person, because the act of
one who contracts marriage terminates not in himself, but in the other
party, wherefore it takes its species from its term, which, moreover, in
regard to that act, is the matter as it were of the sacrament.
Consequently if a woman were able to receive orders, just as her husband
becomes irregular through marrying one who is not a virgin, but not
through his not being a virgin when he marries, so also would a woman
become irregular if she were to marry a man who is not a virgin, but not
if she were no longer a virgin when she married ---unless she had been
corrupted by reason of a previous marriage.
This suffices for the Reply to the First Objection.
Reply to Objection 2: In this case opinions differ. It is, however, more probable
that he is not irregular, because he has not divided his flesh among
Reply to Objection 3: Irregularity is not the infliction of a punishment, but the
defect of a sacrament. Consequently it is not always necessary for bigamy
to be voluntary in order to cause irregularity. Hence a man who marries a
woman, thinking her to be a virgin, whereas she is not, becomes irregular
by knowing her carnally.
Reply to Objection 4: If a woman commits fornication after being married, her
husband does not become irregular on that account, unless he again knows
her carnally after she has been corrupted by adultery, since otherwise
the corruption of the wife nowise affects the marriage act of the
husband. But though he be compelled by law to pay her the debt, or if he
do so at her request, being compelled by his own conscience, even before
she is convicted of adultery, he becomes irregular, albeit opinions
differ on this point. However, what we have said is more probable, since
here it is not a question of sin, but of signification only.
Article 4: Whether bigamy is removed by Baptism?
Objection 1: It would seem that bigamy is removed by Baptism. For Jerome says
in his commentary on the Epistle to Titus (1:6, "the husband of one
wife") that if a man has had several wives before receiving Baptism, or
one before and another after Baptism, he is not a bigamist. Therefore
bigamy is removed by Baptism.
Objection 2: Further, he who does what is more, does what is less. Now Baptism
removes all sin, and sin is a greater thing than irregularity. Therefore
it removes irregularity.
Objection 3: Further, Baptism takes away all punishment resulting from an act.
Now such is the irregularity of bigamy. Therefore, etc.
Objection 4: Further, a bigamist is irregular because he is deficient in the
representation of Christ. Now by Baptism we are fully conformed to
Christ. Therefore this irregularity is removed.
Objection 5: Further, the sacraments of the New Law are more efficacious than
the sacraments of the Old Law. But the sacraments of the Old Law removed
irregularities according to the Master's statement (Sent. iv,). Therefore
Baptism also, being the most efficacious of the sacraments of the New
Law, removes the irregularity consequent upon bigamy.
On the contrary, Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xviii): "Those
understand the question more correctly who maintain that a man who has
married a second wife, though he was a catechumen or even a pagan at the
time, cannot be ordained, because it is a question of a sacrament, not of
Further, according to the same authority (De Bono Conjug. xviii) "a
woman who has been corrupted while a catechumen or a pagan cannot after
Baptism be consecrated among God's virgins." Therefore in like manner one
who was a bigamist before Baptism cannot be ordained.
I answer that, Baptism removes sin, but does not dissolve marriage.
Wherefore since irregularity results from marriage, it cannot be removed
by Baptism, as Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xviii).
Reply to Objection 1: In this case Jerome's opinion is not followed: unless
perhaps he wished to explain that he means that a dispensation should be
more easily granted.
Reply to Objection 2: It does not follow that what does a greater thing, does a
lesser, unless it be directed to the latter. This is not so in the case
in point, because Baptism is not directed to the removal of an
Reply to Objection 3: This must be understood of punishments consequent upon
actual sin, which are, or have yet to be, inflicted: for one does not
recover virginity by Baptism, nor again undivision of the flesh.
Reply to Objection 4: Baptism conforms a man to Christ as regards the virtue of
the mind, but not as to the condition of the body, which is effected by
virginity or division of the flesh.
Reply to Objection 5: Those irregularities were contracted through slight and
temporary causes, and consequently they could be removed by those
sacraments. Moreover the latter were ordained for that purpose, whereas
Baptism is not.
Article 5: Whether it is lawful for a bigamist to receive a dispensation?
Objection 1: It would seem unlawful for a bigamist to be granted a
dispensation. For it is said (Extra, De bigamis, cap. Nuper): "It is not
lawful to grant a dispensation to clerics who, as far as they could do
so, have taken to themselves a second wife."
Objection 2: Further, it is not lawful to grant a dispensation from the Divine
law. Now whatever is in the canonical writings belongs to the Divine law.
Since then in canonical Scripture the Apostle says (1 Tim. 3:2): "It
behooveth . . . a bishop to be . . . the husband of one wife," it would
seem that a dispensation cannot be granted in this matter.
Objection 3: Further, no one can receive a dispensation in what is essential
to a sacrament. But it is essential to the sacrament of order that the
recipient be not irregular, since the signification which is essential to
a sacrament is lacking in one who is irregular. Therefore he cannot be
granted a dispensation in this.
Objection 4: Further, what is reasonably done cannot be reasonably undone. If,
therefore, a bigamist can lawfully receive a dispensation, it was
unreasonable that he should be irregular: which is inadmissible.
On the contrary, Pope Lucius granted a dispensation to the bishop of
Palermo who was a bigamist, as stated in the gloss on can. Lector, dist.
Further, Pope Martin [*Martinus Bracarensis: cap. xliii] says: "If a
Reader marry a widow, let him remain a Reader, or if there be need for
it, he may receive the Subdiaconate, but no higher order: and the same
applies if he should be a bigamist." Therefore he may at least receive a
dispensation as far as the Subdiaconate.
I answer that, Irregularity attaches to bigamy not by natural, but by
positive law; nor again is it one of the essentials of order that a man
be not a bigamist, which is evident from the fact that if a bigamist
present himself for orders, he receives the character. Wherefore the Pope
can dispense altogether from such an irregularity; but a bishop, only as
regards the minor orders, though some say that in order to prevent
religious wandering abroad he can dispense therefrom as regards the major
orders in those who wish to serve God in religion.
Reply to Objection 1: This Decretal shows that there is the same difficulty
against granting a dispensation in those who have married several wives
in fact, as if they had married them in law; but it does not prove that
the Pope has no power to grant a dispensation in such cases.
Reply to Objection 2: This is true as regards things belonging to the natural
law, and those which are essential to the sacraments, and to faith. But
in those which owe their institution to the apostles, since the Church
has the same power now as then of setting up and of putting down, she can
grant a dispensation through him who holds the primacy.
Reply to Objection 3: Not every signification is essential to a sacrament, but
that alone which belongs to the sacramental effect,* and this is not
removed by irregularity. [*Leonine edition reads "officium," some read
"effectum"; the meaning is the same, and is best rendered as above.]
Reply to Objection 4: In particular cases there is no ratio that applies to all
equally, on account of their variety. Hence what is reasonably
established for all, in consideration of what happens in the majority of
cases, can be with equal reason done away in a certain definite case.