The Reign of Christ. Book Two. Chapter Nineteen: Whether it May Be Permitted That the Promise Of Marriage May Be Rescinded Before It Is Fulfilled
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Another question here arises about engagements, i.e., matrimonial agreements, when they ought to be held entirely valid and unchangeable. For religious emperors were not of the opinion that an agreement of matrimony would have to be held indissoluble until the bride was brought home and the solemnities had been celebrated. For they judged it a thing unworthy of natural and divine equity, and of the just reflection needed by human infirmity for deliberating and coming to a decision, when a space of time was given to renounce other contracts of much less moment which were not yet confirmed before the magistrates, and to deny this to the matrimonial contract, the holiest of all, which required most accurate circumspection and deliberation. However, lest pacts of this kind should be rescinded without just cause and to the injury of one to whom marriage had been promised, they decreed this penalty that he who rescinded the pledged matrimony against the will of the one to whom he had pledged it and without judicial approval of the cause of this revocation should pay to the one to whom he had pledged it the double amount of earnest money rather than what he had paid for the confirmation of the conjugal agreement, or as much as the judge should pronounce to have been involved either for the fiance in taking the one espoused to him as a wife, or for the bride in marrying the one to whom she had been espoused by his parents.
Since it is already abundantly obvious that there are very often second thoughts about an agreement of matrimony and there are discovered just and honorable causes for withdrawing from this agreement, it certainly cannot be alien to the office of pious princes that they make possible for persons in such situations the same arrangement for withdrawing from a promised marriage as did pious emperors of old, especially when only a promise of matrimony and no carnal intercourse has been involved. As there is no true marriage without a true assent of hearts between those who make the agreement, it is appropriate for pious princes to take very special pains that no marriages take place among their subjects without this assent and love. For when the wedding feast has been celebrated and plenty of carnal intercourse thus enjoyed, it is the right time for the nuptial agreement to have its full confirmation.
I confess that Your Majesty is in no way bound by the laws of the Roman Empire and may administer his realm free from obligation to any alien laws; but it is the duty of a Christian prince to embrace and follow whatever he has learned has anywhere been established and observed concerning pious, holy, just, and equitable causes and what is in itself for himself and for his own people true, honorable, just, and gracious (Phil. 4:8).
But in view of the fact that in the divine laws and the examples of the holy fathers we read nothing about this, it is not astonishing that the opportunity was given to ancient Israel, indeed, the precept given, that one whose wife was entirely displeasing, and who was unwilling to turn his heart to a true love of her, should dismiss her from him, after giving a bill of repudiation, even after carnal relationship and also long cohabitation (Deut. 24:1; Mai. 2:16, Vulg.). This is enough to authorize any pious prince to grant the favor of changing the kind of conjugal pact about which I have spoken, both because it is certain that the Antichrists have invented the indissolubility of the marriage promise made verbally for the present,106 and because it is the duty of every pious prince to take care, as much as he can, that marriages take place as the Lord has appointed. Everyone must receive his spouse with the affection and love with which as we read Adam received Eve as his own so that we may hope that those who are joined in matrimony will become one flesh and one also in God, etc. (Gen. 2:24).