Mixed Marriages

by Fr. Michael Muller, C.SS.R (1872)

What is a mixed marriage?

Answer: It is a marriage in which one of the parties is not a Catholic.


Mixed marriages are the union of Catholics with non-Catholics. They are called mixed, on account of the difference of religion between the parties. There is a married couple. The husband is not a Catholic. He either believes not in God and in Jesus Christ, or he believes in such a God and Christ as he fancies. His wife says: "I believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and God; I believe in all that He teaches us through the Catholic Church." She says with Jesus Christ: "Hear the Church." "No," says her husband, "do not hear the Church, protest against her, with all your might."

With Jesus Christ she says: " If any one will not hear the Church, let him be to thee as the heathen and the publican." "No," says her husband, "if any one does not hear the Church, look upon him as a good and free man." With Christ she says: " The gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church." "No," says her husband, "'tis false; the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church more than a thousand years ago." She says: " The pope is the Vicar of Christ." "No," says her husband, " the pope is Antichrist." She believes in the necessity of good works; her husband denies it. She believes in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament; her husband denies it. She believes in the indissolubility of marriage; her husband does not. She prays to the Blessed Virgin and the other saints of heaven; her husband declares such a prayer to be an act of idolatry. Nothing can be more detestable and shocking than such a union of a Catholic with a non-Catholic.

In a synodal address published by the hierarchy of Australia, the Right Rev. Prelates speak on the subject of such unions as follows: "The frequency of mixed marriages is a terrible blot upon the character of our Catholic community. It is sad to think with what facility Catholic parents consent to such irreligious connections, and with how little caution they expose their young people to social intercourse, where passionate fancy and the thoughtlessness of youth are certain to entail the danger of mischievous alliances. It is in the main the fault of the parents more than of the children, who hear so little warning against mixed marriages--so little denunciation and deprecation of their dangers and miseries. If young people did hear from the clergy and from parents, as often and as explicitly as they ought, the sense and doctrine of the Church concerning such marriages, these unholy unions would be a far rarer calamity than they are. The generosity of the young would revolt from such unions, if they saw them in their true light, as a danger and as a disgrace."

Indeed, experience shows that those pastors who are zealous in teaching the faithful the dangers of these marriages, and firm in warning all persons to be prudent in the control of their passions, have but seldom to apply for a dispensation, and, when they apply for one, it is based upon the strongest reasons.

This deficiency of instruction arises, in part, from a certain fear of wounding those who have already contracted mixed marriages. No doubt, it is a subject that demands the use of prudent, grave, and measured language. However, where the salvation of souls is at stake, the Church knows neither silence nor false delicacy.

There is a license for the poet, a license for the stage, a license for the bar, a license for the writer of fiction, a license for the press; and why should there not be a license for a Christian writer and speaker, for a true minister of Christ? It is high time for true modesty and delicacy to take the place of false modesty and delicacy, to which the alarming increase of mixed marriages is greatly to be attributed.

Our youth must be taught, in catechism, the law of the Church forbidding mixed marriages. If they are taught properly, they will be prepared to hear it enlarged upon from the pulpit. If the prohibition of mixed marriages, and the reasons of such a prohibition, are made known to them before their passionate fancy is developed, they will have the Catholic sense and instinct within them to guard and withhold them before they allow themselves to be entangled in engagements. If parents are taught to reflect on the dangers inherent to these marriages, on the real religious disadvantages which attend even the best of them; if they are taught the great horror in which the Church holds these marriages, they will be more careful in keeping their children from the immediate occasion of them, and will be less disposed to encourage them.

Why does the Church disapprove of mixed marriages?

1. Because the Catholic party is exposed to the danger of losing the faith, or of becoming indifferent to it;

2. because the Catholic education of the children is generally neglected, and often made impossible;

3. because the non-Catholic party does not believe in the indissolubility of the bonds of marriage.

In an instruction addressed by the Holy See, in the year 1858, to all the archbishops and bishops of the Church, it is explicitly taught that "the Church has always reprobated mixed marriages, and has held them to be unlawful and pernicious, as well on account of the disgraceful communion in divine things, as on account of the danger of perversion that hangs over the Catholic party to the marriage, and of the disastrous influences affecting the education of children."

Hard and stern as the law of the Church forbidding mixed marriages may seem to the lax and indifferent, or even to the better-disposed Catholics who have never earnestly thought the subject through, it has, in fact, been in force in all ages. When God, through Moses, gave his divine law to his chosen people, stern and uncompromising was the prohibition against their mingling in marriage with the children of unbelief: "Thou shalt not," said he, "make marriages with them. Thou shalt not give thy daughter to his son, nor take his daughter for thy son."

If we turn to the law of Christ and His Church, we shall find that St. Paul lays down a rule for married converts from paganism, which clearly shows it was never intended that Christians should marry unbelievers. The apostle tells the Corinthians: "If any faithful woman hath an unbelieving husband, and he assent to dwell with her, let her not put him away." "He is not speaking of those who are not yet married," as St. John Chrysostom explains, "but of those who are already married. He does not say: If any one wishes to take an unbeliever, but, if anyone has an unbeliever; that is: if anyone has received faith and the consort remains in unbelief, and consents to live with the other party, let no separation be made." "But," says the apostle, "if the unbeliever depart, let him depart; for a brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God hath called us in peace. For how knowest thou, O woman, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" The apostle intimates that, if the unbeliever refuses to live in peace with the converted believer, or wantonly deserts her, the marriage bond is dissolved. Hence, the law of the Church leaves the Christian free in such a case to contract a Christian marriage. But this is limited to the case of an unbeliever who is unbaptized. St. John Chrysostom says, in explanation of St. Paul's words: "If he orders you to sacrifice to his idols, or to join him in impious acts in your marriage, or to depart from him, it is better the marriage be dissolved than that piety should suffer." But the whole instruction of the apostle implies, if it does not expressly state, that a marriage between a Christian who is free, and an unbaptized pagan or an unbeliever, cannot be thought of. Hence, such marriages, although they are not positively forbidden by any natural or divine law, have always been forbidden and treated as invalid by the Church, from the earliest to the latest of her laws.

Again, the apostles prohibited all social intercourse with heretics. In his second Epistle, St. John says: " If any man come to you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, nor say to him, God speed you. For, he that sayeth to him, God speed you, communicateth with his wicked work." Now, if the apostle forbids the faithful to receive heretics into their houses or to greet them on the way, how can they be allowed to marry them? St. Paul gives the same rule to Titus: "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition avoid." And to the Corinthians, he says of one whose husband is dead: "She is at liberty: let her marry whom she will, only in the Lord." But to marry in the Lord is to marry in the Church, and to be united to a member of Christ; and so the fathers interpret the passage. Tertullian says that, when the apostle says, "'Let her marry only in the Lord,' he is no longer advising, but strictly commanding; so that, in an affair of this greatest importance, unless we obey, we perish." (Ad Uxor., 1. ii, c. 1.)

In the year 313, the Council of Eliberis, in its sixteenth Canon, decrees: "If heretics will not enter the Catholic Church, the daughters of Catholics must not be given to them in marriage. They are not to be given to Jews or to heretics, because there can be no society of believers and unbelievers. If parents act against this decree, let them abstain from communion for five years." (Harduin's Concila vol. i, col. 252.)

In 372, the Council of Laodicea decreed, in its tenth chapter, that "those who belong to the Church ought by no means to ally their children indifferently with heretics in matrimony." (Ibid., col. 783.)

In the year 451, the General Council of Chalcedon, in its fifteenth action, fourteenth canon, decreed: " Neither ought one, who is marriageable, to contract marriage with a heretic, a Jew, or a pagan, unless such a one promise to join the orthodox faith; so that an orthodox person may be united with one who is orthodox. If anyone shall transgress this definition of the holy synod, he shall be subject to the canonical correction."

The law forbidding mixed marriages continued to be reenacted in the middle-ages; and in the year 1309, the Council of Posen, presided over by a papal legate, and confirmed by Pope Clement VI, in 1346, decrees as follows: "That the Catholic faith, which spurns the rending spirit of any error whatsoever, may not be stained with the leaven of any schism or heretical depravity, with the counsel and consent of this present council, we, by a perpetual edict, prohibit that any one subject to our legislation, who desires to be held and accounted a Catholic, shall presume to give his daughter, niece, or other relative, in marriage to a heretic, to a Patarene, to a Garane, to a schismatic, or to any other person who is opposed to the Christian faith, so long as they remain in errors." (Harduin's Concilia, vol. vii, col. 1300.)

In the year 1583, the Council of Bordeaux, approved by Pope Gregory XIII, in its fifteenth title on matrimony, decrees as follows: "Let the faithful Catholics be frequently admonished by their parish priests that they give not their sons and daughters in marriage to heretics, or to men who are aliens from the Catholic faith and religion." (Ibid., voL x, col. 1351.)

Let us now turn to the doctrine and disciplinary decisions of the Holy See, which has ever held one uniform language on this subject. Especially have the popes peremptorily declared against mixed marriages since the rise and spread of Protestantism. And although, in his treatise on Diocesan Synods, the illustrious Benedict XIV has vindicated the right and authority of the Holy See to grant dispensations for very grave reasons, and to prevent worse evils, yet, in his Constitution addressed to the bishops of Poland, the great Pontiff affirms "the antiquity of that discipline with which the Holy See has ever reprobated the marriage of Catholics with heretics." He quotes a letter of Clement XI, in which, replying to a petition for dispensation for a mixed marriage, the pope says: " We hold it of greater importance not to ever pass the rules of God's Church, of the Apostolic See, of our predecessors, and of the canons, unless the good of the whole Christian republic require it." And in another letter Pope Clement says: ''The Church, in truth, abhors these marriages, which exhibit much deformity in them, and but little spirituality."

Benedict XIV, in a decree referring to Holland and Belgium, declares his "extreme grief that Catholics can be found, who, disgracefully deluded by an unhealthy affection, neither abhor these hateful marriages nor abstain from them, even although the Catholic Church has always condemned and forbidden them; " and he "greatly commends those prelates who strive, even with severe penalties, to restrain Catholics from joining themselves in this sacrilegious bond with heretics." He seriously exhorts and warns all bishops, vicars-apostolic, parish priests and missioners in Holland and Belgium, "to do their utmost to deter and hinder Catholics from entering into this kind of marriage." And where a mixed marriage has already been contracted, "the Catholic party, whether husband or wife, is to be sedulously brought to repentance for the grievous sin committed, and to ask pardon of God, and to make all possible endeavors to bring the party erring from the faith into the bosom of the Church: which endeavors will contribute greatly toward obtaining pardon for the sin committed."

In 1858, Pope Pius IX issued the instruction on dispensing in mixed marriages, and addressed it to all archbishops and bishops, in which he exhorts them "to keep the holy teaching of the Catholic Church respecting these marriages most religiously and in all its inviolable integrity:" With "the ardent zeal of their pastoral office must they turn away the Catholics entrusted to them from these mixed marriages, and exactly teach them the doctrine of the Catholic Church and her laws as affecting these marriages."

Mixed marriages are unlawful and pernicious on account of the disgraceful communion in divine things.

Mixed marriages are, indeed, a disgrace, not, perhaps, always in the eyes of the world, but always in the sight of the Church. How are they to be interpreted? On one side, there is the Church teaching that matrimony is a sacrament; that the married life has its own great duties, its own difficulties, for which special graces of God are necessary, and which are granted by Him; that the married state is to be entered upon, thoughtfully and solemnly, with careful preparation of mind and heart; that spouses are to be of mutual help and encouragement in the grand end of all human life, the life for God and the next world. This is on one side; and on the other, what is there? A mere fanciful or passionate attachment, with little enough of worth about it, even when pure with the utmost natural purity it can have,--a mere passionate attachment, overlooking, or at least most certainly undervaluing, the great considerations just stated. Is not this a disgrace?

Or, if the motive to mixed marriages be an advantageous alliance in respect of money, is it not even more disgraceful to soil a sacred thing with the sordid calculations of a commercial bargain?

Or, if the mixed marriage be coveted because one of the parties possesses some little higher worldly standing of fashion, or connection, or style,--why, is not the thing still more contemptibly disgraceful, at least for the Catholic, with the belief about the one Church, the holiness of the sacraments, the preciousness of God's grace, and the true end of life?

St. Ambrose calls the marriage of a Catholic with one who is not a Catholic, sacrilegious, and Benedict XIV, and other popes after him, have judicially applied to it the same awful term. Sacrilege is a violation offered to something sacred in that in which it is sacred. Now, Christian marriage is, in the first place, a communion in sacred things. But, as St. Paul teaches, there can be no communion between light and darkness; that is, there can be no religious communion between one who has the faith, and one who has not the faith. They cannot communicate in faith, in worship, or in the sacraments. And for one without faith to communicate in a sacrament is a sacrilege, because it is the violation of a most sacred thing. Yet marriage in the Catholic Church involves the sacramental communion.

Secondly, the parties to the marriage are the dispensers of this great mystery, and, in a mixed marriage, one of the parties ministers in that solemn act of religion, having no Catholic faith in the sacrament. Thirdly, the Catholic marriage is a communion in the grace of Christ, and in the benediction of the Church; and, therefore, the parties prepare themselves by purifying their hearts in the sacrament of penance, and partake together of the body of Christ. But in a mixed marriage, although the baptism of the heretical person secures the validity of the marriage, and although, to prevent worse evils, the Church may very reluctantly grant such a dispensation as to prevent the unlawfulness of the marriage, yet she withholds her blessing and forbids the holy sacrifice, and mourns over a union which is neither a communion in faith nor in grace.

We have seen how a Catholic marriage represents and signifies the nuptial union between Christ and His Church, the profound meaning of which sacramentally affects the spiritual relations of the married pair in Christ, and gives them great responsibilities in common as members of the Church. But how can the union between a member of the Church and one who is not one of her members express the union between Christ and the Church? And how can they fulfill united duties toward the Church? For such grave reasons as these, has the Church not hesitated to call mixed marriages sacrilegious, unlawful, and pernicious.

One of the touching reasons which God gave to the Israelites not to be married to idolaters was: "Because thou art a holy people to the Lord thy God. The Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be His peculiar people of all peoples that are upon the earth. Not because you surpass all nations in number, is the Lord joined to you, and hath chosen you, for you are the fewest of any people; but because the Lord hath loved you, and hath kept the oath which He swore to your fathers, and hath brought you out with a strong hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage." Can a Catholic have realized what it is to have the high and noble privilege of being one of God's chosen people, of being a child of Christ's Church, a member of the household of faith,--and yet prefer to become one flesh, and to live in one spirit, with an alien from God's Church, rather than with one of God's chosen people?

When St. Frances de Chantal was urged by her parents to marry a Protestant, she most emphatically refused their request and said: "I would rather live forever in a prison than in the house of a Protestant; and I would die a thousand times rather than marry an enemy of the Church." (Her Life, by Bougand.)

Mixed marriages are also unlawful and pernicious, because the Catholic party is exposed to great danger of either losing the faith, or of becoming indifferent to it.

There was a time when to marry a heretic furnished legal suspicion of either an inclination to heresy, or to foster heresy. The civil law defined marriage to be a perpetual life in common between the contracting parties, and a mutual communication of divine and human rights; and it was argued that, for "a Catholic to enter of free choice into a life-long union of so intimate a nature with a heretic, furnished a grave presumption of sympathy with heresy." (Pitra, in Cons. Apost., vol. iv; Constit. Joannis xxii, nn. 4, 5.) If, in the beginning of marriage, the Catholic party does not as yet sympathize with heresy, he or she will soon be in danger of not only sympathizing with it, but of even falling entirely away from the faith.

In the sixth chapter of Genesis, it is shown how large a share mixed marriages had in bringing about that universal corruption which made God say that he "repented of having made man." For the sons of God, that is, the sons of Seth, the true believers on earth, married the daughters of unbelief from sensual motives, "because they were fair." Holy Scripture points to these unions as to the original cause of that universal corruption, in remedy of which God sent the purging deluge.

When the generations after the deluge had sunk anew into corruption, and idolatry had stifled faith and the true worship of God, the Lord chose the patriarchs to worship him in faith; and that their faith might be preserved in their descendants, He inspired them to shun the daughters of the unbelieving races around them, and to seek their wives even from a distance--from the more religious race of which they were descended.

When Almighty God led the Israelites into the Promised Land, He strictly forbade them to give their sons and daughters in marriage to the idolatrous people of the land; for, said He, "she" (the idolatrous woman) " will turn away thy son from following Us, that he may rather serve strange gods, and the wrath of the Lord will be enkindled and will quickly destroy thee."

Indeed, the whole drift and provision of God's law were directed toward preserving the faithful from alliance with the populations that were devoid of faith; and the whole history of that people from the time of Solomon, and after his sad example, goes to show that mixed marriages in defiance of God's law, and despite of the warnings of the prophets, were amongst the chief causes of the infidelities, impieties, and sacrileges that forfeited for God's people the divine protection, introduced heathen worship into the very palaces of their kings and to the gates of their temple, and brought unutterable calamities on the people. It is impossible to read the Old Testament with attention, without seeing that the divine prohibition of marriage between believers and unbelievers was a most benign and merciful dispensation, and that the neglect of this prohibition was ever attended with evils of the gravest kind.

Hence, the councils, the fathers and Pontiffs of all times, proclaim the experience that these marriages are injurious to faith, and often cause the loss of it, both to the Catholic parent and the children. The above-quoted Council of Posen says: "We have learned from experience that men who, through the devil's instigation, are separated from the Catholic faith, draw their wives, however Catholic, to the error of unbelief, instead of their wives drawing them:" "By such marriages," says the Council of Bordeaux, quoted above, "very many have made shipwreck of the faith." St. Augustine reproves the marriages of Catholics with schismatics, in these words: "Those miserable people, believing in Christ, have their food at home in common, but the table of Christ they cannot have in common. Must we not weep when we so often see how the husband and wife vow to each other in Christ to have their bodies faithfully united in one, whilst they rend the body of Christ by being attached to different communions? Great is the scandal, great the devil's triumph, great the ruin of souls!" (Epist. 23 to Maximinus, Donatist Bp.)

There is, as a general rule, greater danger in the marriage of a Catholic with a heretic, than in the marriage of a Catholic with a heathen. A Catholic must naturally hold marriage with a heathen in greater abhorrence than marriage with a baptized person. And if, in an evil hour, such a marriage were contracted, the dread of heathen influence would be far greater, and the desire and solicitude for that heathen's conversion far more earnest.

But a daily familiarity with heresy removes half the dread of it; and weak Catholics, who are ill instructed, are apt to lose sight of the immeasurable distance between faith and heretical opinion, between the security of the Church and absence of all safety outside the Church.

And where the non-Catholic party to the marriage possesses kindly and attractive qualities, either by nature or from culture; or where the character of the non-Catholic party is the stronger of the two, and where the Catholic is drawn away from Catholic influences and associations, and brought under the anti-Catholic influences of those with whom the non-Catholic consort habitually associates, it must, of necessity, require an extraordinary and special gift of grace for that Catholic to hold to the faith and its duties. Experience shows that many who are placed in such circumstances fall away from the faith, and too often carry distressed and tortured consciences to the end of their lives.

To a true Catholic, indeed, religion is the first of all things--the very law of life. The house of a Catholic should be a Catholic house. It should be pervaded with a certain religious tone. and more especially so in the private apartments of the family. As the house contains a family of God's children, it should be under the benediction of God. There should be nothing in it to offend the Christian sense, to awake temptation or to cause disedification. The crucifix should be found in the place where the family-prayer is performed, and devout pictures should speak of God and heaven from the walls.

In a mixed marriage, the house is not Catholic; the family is not Catholic; the atmosphere is not Catholic; the symbols of faith are not visible. The souls of husband and wife are locked up from each other; they have no communion of thought or feeling in the chief concern of life. Think what it is to be never able to speak or act together in what concerns God, the soul, the Church, or the life to come! Think what it is to have no joint counsel or community of feeling in what concerns the spiritual welfare of a family! Think what it is to have one's faith shut up in the breast, there to pine and faint for want of full and open exercise in the household and in the family duties!

How often are the visible tokens of religion removed, to avoid offence, whilst the faith is kept hidden from sight, like some dangerous secret! Where are the family prayers? Where is the communion in the sacraments? Happy is the Catholic wife when she is not thwarted in her way to the Church. How often must she stay at home, when she would gladly seek some consolation there, until her devotion grows feeble for want of exercise! Happy is she when her faith and her Church are left unassailed, and when she is not teased with sectarian importunities by her husband, or by his relatives and friends. Perhaps (for this often happens), she is much isolated from her Catholic friends, and from those who, in the hour of need, could give her support. Happy is she, then, if at last she does not sacrifice her inward conscience to human respect and to a shallow exterior tranquility. She has chosen the peril, and blessed is she if she is saved by a miracle of grace. Yet she has no right to expect such a miracle.

Happy is the Catholic husband whose sectarian wife neither oppresses his weaker religious will by her zeal, nor undermines his faith by the more subtle influences which she can bring to bear upon him. Even if faith is held to, peace will go. Holy Scripture says: "Where one buildeth up and another pulleth down, what profit have they but the labor? Where one prayeth and another curseth, which voice will God hear? "

Undoubtedly, there are exceptional cases, where the marriage proceeds happily; and that, not merely in the complete fulfillment of all the pledges given, but even in the conversion of the non-Catholic party. Still the overwhelming majority of examples stands on the opposite side; and who shall venture to foretell that this or that marriage will turn out happily for the faith, and not for its destruction? Even in those exceptional cases where the marriage proves happy in the final result, we must guard against letting them blind us to the fact that, in far the greatest number of cases, such marriages end unhappily.

Mixed marriages have always been reprobated by the Church, because the Catholic education of the children is generally neglected, and often made impossible.

It is the sublime office of the married pair to present their children to Christ, and with united solicitude to guide them on the path of faith and charity. But how are their united strength, authority, and devout influence to accomplish this important duty as God wishes, when one parent contends for the faith and the other contends against it? How can they fulfill this duty when, as it often happens, all promises and pledges are broken, and the children are refused either a Catholic baptism or a Catholic education? How can either a Catholic man or a Catholic woman contract a marriage with a safe conscience, where, granting the influence to be equal on both sides, the parent without faith must neutralize the influence over the children of the Catholic parent?

The contest not infrequently begins when there is question of baptizing the first child. The non-Catholic father will have the boys baptized and brought up in his way. The non-Catholic mother will have the girls to follow her way. And to the eyes of the world, there is a semblance of equity in this arrangement; but the world cannot take into consideration the conscience of the Catholic, secured before the marriage, the obligation contracted by the sacrament of matrimony, and the free pledges that have been made on the other side as essential conditions to the contract.

Sometimes, again, the non-Catholic father is for Leaving the children free, without being taught any specific creed, until, as he says, they are able to judge for themselves; and on this ground the Catholic mother is restrained from teaching them their religion. It also happens very frequently that the non-Catholic father declares that no child of his shall ever enter a Catholic church, or be taught the Catholic catechism or prayers. Sometimes, wearied with the contest, the weak mother will at last exclaim, like the woman before Solomon's judgment-seat who was not the true mother: "Let it be neither mine nor thine, but let it be divided." And as there is no Solomon to settle the point of justice, a compromise is effected, which is followed by coldness toward religion, a neglect of its duties, a weakening of faith, and other such fatal effects which are most hurtful to the soul.

Again, there is the benumbing influence of human respect, so potent over weak souls, and the fear of offending those who may benefit the children in a temporal point of view. Then there are those terrible trials to the child's heart, who, loving both parents equally, finds them opposed to each other in all that concerns God, the soul, and the religious life. To one dear parent, the question of religion as between parent and child is a forbidden topic; and happy is the child when it has not to witness the contest about the guidance of its soul,--a contest that cannot fail to wound parental influence, as well as filial reverence. Ah! what is to be expected from children who hear one thing from one parent, and the contrary from the other--who see that what the one approves, the other condemns--that what the one reverences, the other ridicules? What is to be expected in such circumstances but that the poor children should become cold and indifferent about all religion; or at best,-- like those unhappy Israelites who halted between the Lord and Baal,--halt all their days between the Church of Christ and heresy or infidelity, and at last fall under the condemnation of those of whom our Saviour says: "He that is not with me, is against me"? (Luke xi, 23.)

There is a congregation in one of the Middle States which numbers about two hundred families. There are not fewer than fifty-seven mixed marriages in it. The number of converts is but six, and the number of those who gave up the Catholic religion is twenty-two. As to the children, there are at present found fifty-four who are being instructed in the rudiments of our religion, and it is hoped that they will adhere to the practice of her doctrines. But there are one hundred and thirty-seven who are receiving their religious training in some religious sect, or are left to grow up in utter ignorance. There are thirty-one more, whose ultimate end is as yet doubtful. The number of perverted Catholics is nearly four to one in this congregation. There is no reason to believe that mixed marriages are less productive of evil in other congregations.

The non-Catholic party does not believe in the indissolubility of the bonds of marriage.

There is one reflection, were there no other unpleasant consequences to be anticipated, which should make the Catholic party, before contracting a mixed marriage, pause and consider: "The young man whom I intend to marry today, does not believe that the bonds of marriage cannot be dissolved. He may therefore forsake me tomorrow, or at any time he chooses. And while I cannot contract another marriage during his lifetime, I may be forced to endure every privation; perhaps I may even find it necessary to beg a morsel of bread. The consolation of having my children--should God in time bless me with any--by my side may not be granted: I may be forced to confide them to unfriendly hands." On this account M. de Stolberg wrote to a young person whom he was endeavoring to dissuade from contracting a mixed marriage: "Do you know, my child, to what a temptation to apostasy you are about to expose yourself? Are you able to resolve the doubts which will be proposed to you by learned men--perhaps by Protestants still attached to the false doctrines of Luther and Calvin, of whom the number is daily diminishing, or more probably by Protestants, who turn all religion into ridicule, and retain no more of their own than they like: unbelievers, of whom the majority regard Jesus Christ merely as a wise man? Will you never feel any false shame when they see you go to confession,--they who regard confession of sins as an ignominious and insupportable yoke? Will you never be disturbed or shaken by the ideas which your husband entertains regarding the sacred mystery in which the Godman is veiled, and gives Himself under the most humble outward appearance to us Catholics? Is it a feeling of satisfaction and tranquility that you will experience when you reflect that he cannot, by participating in the same sacrament, share with you the blessing whereof our Saviour spoke to St. Thomas: 'Blessed are they that have not seen and have believed'? That you cannot, kneeling together before the holy sacrament, both share in that promise: 'I am with you always to the end of the world;' or rejoice mutually in the proper meaning of the assurance that He will ever remain with the successors of the apostles to preserve His Church from all error? Will it conduce to your tranquillity when your husband is attacked by serious illness, and you see death approaching, without his being able to receive the sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ--penance, the holy Eucharist, extreme unction?

"You probably dwell with pleasure on the thought of nursing your little ones, and of seeing a numerous family spring up around you. But, before God entrusts you with these children, your husband will probably tell you that none of his children shall ever be allowed to become a Catholic. Will you be firm enough to oppose him in this point?

"And he who tells you this, does not pledge himself to be your husband forever! His religion authorizes him to forsake you in order to contract ties which Jesus Christ has declared to be adulterous. And this husband, who merely lends himself to you, while you give yourself without reserve to him, is either without religion, and then he leaves you without security for his fidelity; or he is attached to his false worship, and in that case he will soon repent of having married you. But, whether he is indifferent or zealous, he will always try to make you adopt his principles.

"In a word, you will either continue thoughtless, as you are at present--and then what dangers threaten you!--or your eyes will be opened to your real position, and you will be every day more distressed at seeing yourself separated, in what is of the highest importance, from your own children, whom you will have excluded from the Church, the mother of all the faithful, whom you will have sacrificed to what you know to be error, and perhaps to everlasting perdition."

A young woman had a practice of going to the dancing houses. One evening, in the dancing-house, she made acquaintance with a Protestant young man: they danced and talked with each other. The time passed on, and it was getting late. The Protestant young man asked her if she would marry him. She was silent for a few moments. She remembered very well she had often heard the priest say it is a very bad thing for Catholics to marry Protestants, or those of any other religion--that God does not bless these marriages. No matter; she answered, "Yes"--she promised to marry him. What else could you expect in a dancing house? The evil spirit of the dancing-house moved her to give that answer. That angel guardian whom God had given her to take charge over her in all her ways (Ps. xc), was not with her. How could he go into a bad dancing house? So, even if she had thought of saying a short prayer to her good angel before giving that important answer, on which her future happiness or misery depended, he was not there to listen to it. They do not think about these things in dancing-houses. Before the marriage, the young man made many fine promises how she should go to Mass every Sunday, and he would go with her, and the children should be christened by the priest, and brought up Catholics. Very likely, he said, he would become a Catholic himself. This marriage took place--a dancing-house marriage! She was married to the Protestant young man.

It was a bright, sunshiny morning, the morning of the marriage. There were dark clouds not very far off. The Protestant young man behaved pretty well to his wife for a few months. It is true he quarreled with her sometimes. He forgot his promises, and beat her because she wanted to go to the Catholic church on Sundays. He sometimes threw her prayer-book into the fire, and spoke against the doctrines of the Catholic Church. She was silent and patient. She knew that it was a just punishment from God for marrying a Protestant: "For by what things a man sinneth, by the same also is he punished." (Wisd. xi.) That marriage had been made, and it was too late to unmake it. At last the dark cloud came! The Protestant young man came home one day to his dinner. He sat down to the table and began to eat. The meat was not to his liking. There was sulky anger on his face. He was silent for a few moments. At last he stood up on his feet, holding the knife clenched in his hand, fury and rage flashing from his eyes. He cursed his wife, and said: " You Popish beast, I will stick you with this knife, and take every drop of Popish blood out of you!" The wife turned deadly pale. She fell off the chair. Her senses were gone with the fright.

She got back her senses again, but it was only to live for a day or two. She died of the shock which the fright had given her! And now she lies buried near the wall of a Catholic burial-ground in Lancashire. So ended the dancing-house marriage. So ended the marriage of a Catholic with a Protestant. Those who care about their own happiness will never marry those who are not Catholics: " Know ye for a certainty that, if you make marriages with them.... they shall be a pit and a snare in your way, and a stumbling-block at your side, and stakes in your eyes." (Jos. xxiii.--Furniss' Tracts.)

It is only a few years ago that a priest was called to see a dying woman, who had not been to her duties for twenty years. Some of her children were baptized by Protestant ministers, others were not baptized at all. Her husband was a Protestant, who would never allow her to attend to her religious duties, nor to bring up her children in the Catholic religion. He took care that no priest should speak to his wife before her death. Knowing that a Catholic friend of his wife had sent for the priest, he gave her, in the meantime, some medicine, which made her unconscious until she died.

Ah! how happy would it be for many a Catholic, if, instead of going to his nuptials, he had gone to his grave! Then he would have to render an account for only one; now, hundreds may rise up in judgment against him, because he was instrumental in bringing up a generation of heretics or unbelievers. How often do we not hear the phrase: "I am a friend of the Catholics, for my father was once a member of that Church;" or, "My mother ought to be a Catholic"! Expressions like these bear a terrible testimony against the person fallen away from the faith, and tell of a wretched soul bartered to satisfy the cravings of an unholy love.

Does the Church permit mixed marriages?

Yes, on condition: 1, that there is a grave reason for such a marriage; 2, that the Catholic party is allowed the free exercise of religion; 3, that all the children be brought up in the Catholic religion ; 4, that the Catholic party will do his best to persuade the non-Catholic to embrace the true faith.

For a Catholic to form a union so intimate as that of marriage with one who is not a Catholic, has been, at all times and in all places, forbidden by the Church. In this universal law common to the whole Church, no local bishop has authority to dispense. The Vicar of Christ, as visible head of the Church, and he alone, moved by sufficient reasons, can dispense with this ecclesiastical law. Benedict XIV says that it was extremely rare for his predecessors to dispense in mixed marriages, except on condition that heresy was renounced; and even then, only in the case of the marriage of sovereign princes, and to prevent great evils to the commonwealth.

"If anything of the severity of the canons," says Pius IX, in his instruction on dispensing in mixed marriages, "is relaxed in dispensing by authority of the Holy See in mixed marriages, that can only be done for grave reasons, and with very great reluctance."

According to an instruction of the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, in 1868, the precautionary promises exacted of the contracting parties are by no means a warrant of themselves for obtaining a dispensation. Reasons for the dispensations must be assigned that actually arise out of the individual case, and that are "altogether just and grave." For, "the precautionary conditions are exacted by the natural and the divine law, and that for avoiding the intrinsic dangers inherent in mixed marriages; but there must be some grave difficulty impending over the faithful that cannot otherwise be removed, before they can be allowed to expose their faith and morals to grave risks."

These last words sum up the judicial responsibility resting on the person who grants the dispensation. There must be grave risks impending over the faithful that cannot otherwise be removed, to justify the grant of the dispensation. Will it justify any Catholic to make these risks or bring them about, with the view of pleading them as a ground for dispensation? This would be in fraud of the law; and no one has a right to profit by this fraud, or to claim an indulgence or a privilege, whose plea is set up in a fraud. Can there be a greater fraud than for a Catholic to go and engage himself to marry one who is not a Catholic, and then to come and plead the engagement as a ground for dispensation? This is but a cunning way of trying to wrest from the Church both her law and her judgment: it can be followed by no blessing.

Where a marriage is canonically unlawful in itself, there can be no espousals, and no engagement binding before the Church, until the legal impediment is removed. No Catholic is justified in contracting such an engagement until a dispensation has been previously obtained. The farthest extent to which the Catholic can go is to have it clearly understood that everything must depend on the condition that a proper dispensation is obtained; and he or she should make no irrevocable engagement until it is obtained.

Now, it is solely in virtue of a special delegation from the Sovereign Pontiff, which is granted for a limited time, or a limited number of cases, and on the conditions he prescribes, that a bishop can dispense in regard to mixed marriages. But the very fact that, in granting these dispensations, a bishop must act, not as an ordinary but as a delegated judge, and in face of the universal law, must necessarily deepen the sense of responsibility. Hence, the Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda, in 1868, wrote to the bishops of the Catholic Church: "Wherefore we earnestly request of your charity that you strive and put forth your efforts, as far as in the Lord you can, to keep the faithful confided to you from these mixed marriages, so that they may cautiously avoid the dangers which are found in them. But you will gain this object the more easily, if you have care that the faithful be seasonably instructed on the special obligation that binds them to hear the voice of the Church on this subject, and to obey their bishops, who will have to give a most strict account to the Eternal Prince of pastors, not only for sometimes allowing these mixed marriages for most grave reasons, but for too easily tolerating the contracting of marriages between, the faithful and non-Catholics, at the will of those who ask it."

These are very solemn words. They point to exceedingly grave responsibilities in bishops who grant dispensations in mixed marriages. The Pontiffs, having the evils of mixed marriages in view.--even when, for the purpose of preventing greater evils, they grant their dispensations,-- declare, not only that they grant them "with extreme reluctance," but that they grant them, " as it were dissembling certain things." Of this, both Benedict XIV and Pius VI made a solemn declaration at the foot of the crucifix. To any faithful Catholic contemplating such a marriage, this is awful to reflect upon. It is awful to the bishop who has to exercise his delegated power in granting such dispensations. It is awful to the priest who has to deal with the case.

Now, if the Holy See, for a very grave reason, grants a dispensation in the law prohibiting mixed marriages, it is only upon the following conditions:

1. The Catholic party must be left free in the exercise of the Catholic religion; 2, the children must be brought up Catholics; 3, the Catholic party must promise to endeavor, by prayer, good example and other prudent means, to effect the conversion of the non-Catholic party.

No Catholic can in conscience enter upon a mixed marriage without having the fullest guarantees that the children will be brought up in the Catholic faith and worship. But what guarantees can be held secure when experience shows that the most solemn pledges are constantly broken? In many cases they are treated with absolute contempt and scorn. Severe as these words are, they are the severity of truth; for, alas! not few are the persons who hold to no point of honor where the Catholic religion is concerned.

It would be as unjust as ungenerous not to admit that there are non-Catholics who faithfully keep the promises which they made in marriage with Catholics, and truly respect the Catholic faith and religious exercises, and fulfill their pledges concerning the Catholic education of their children.

But prudence looks to what generally happens, and not to the exceptional cases. And wisdom never runs any serious risks in matters of the soul. The individuals, and even the families, that have fallen away from the faith through mixed marriages, amount to numbers incredible to those who have not examined the question thoroughly; and the number of Catholics bound at this moment in mixed marriages, who live in a hard and bitter conflict for the exercise of their religion for themselves and for their children, and in certain cases for the soundness of their moral life, would, could all the facts be known, deter any thoughtful Catholic from contracting a mixed marriage.

Hence, although the Church reluctantly grants a dispensation in the bare hope of saving the Catholic party from worse evils, yet she looks at such an unnatural and unholy union with a face, as it were, half turned away; and to show her utter displeasure and sorrow at such an unholy alliance, she does not allow the banns to be published, nor permit the parties to enter the contract in the church before the holy altar--no, not even in the sacristy; the holy sacrifice is not offered up, nor is the priest allowed to impart to the parties the holy rite of nuptial benediction. If the priest is permitted to be present, it is only as a witness, divested of every sacred vestment. He is not allowed to perform any sacred ceremony whatever whilst the parties are repeating the words of the marriage contract. With what consistency could the Church bless that which she declares to be sacrilegious?

Clement Augustus, Archbishop of Cologne, endured much suffering for his unceasing opposition to mixed marriages. The King of Prussia peremptorily commanded him to bless the marriages of Catholics and Protestants; but he firmly declined to do that which his conscience taught him to look upon with horror. One night his enemy, the king, had the archbishop's palace surrounded by troops, and in the dead of the night the aged and suffering prelate was torn from his bed, and hurried off to the fortress of Minden, where, for a long time, he was kept in the most rigorous captivity. He was approaching his sixty-fifth year when all this occurred. Eight years more of trial and glory were destined to complete his triumph. During that period the King of Prussia passed to his great account, and Clement Augustus soon followed him. The one has gone down to his grave with all the infamy which so justly attaches to a religious persecutor, whilst the unmerited sufferings and unshaken fortitude of the archbishop have excited the sympathy and admiration of Europe. His history is now blended with that of the Church of the nineteenth century. He will take his place amongst the most illustrious defenders of her liberties against the unjust aggressions of the civil power; and posterity will one day rank him with a Pius VII and a St. Thomas of Canterbury. (The Catholic Offering.)