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Adultery, Ecclesiastical Treatment of.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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By a study of the writings of the fathers and of the canons of the ancient Church, we are made acquainted with the Church's views concerning this crime.

1. Definition. In the legislation of Justinian, the wife is. regarded as the real criminal, and her paramour, whether married or unmarried, as the mere accomplice of her crime. She is essentially the adultera, and he, because of his complicity with a married :woman, becomes an adulterer. The same meaning is attached to the term "adultery" during the whole early Christian period, as appears from the heathen writings of Valerius Maximus, Quintilian, Juvenal, and Apuleius. In the latter half of the 4th century we have exact and very valuable ecclesiastical definitions. Gregory of Nyssa distinguishes between fornication and adultery, the latter including deceits and injury affecting another (i.e. man). A canon of Basle furnishes this incidental definition: "We name him - who cohabits with another woman (aliena, not his own wife) an adulterer." Ambrose (Defence of Abraham) says, "All unchaste intercourse is adultery; what is illicit for the woman is illicit for the man," etc. Gregory Nazianzen argues that the man should not be left free to sin while the woman is restrained; and says that this inequality came to pass because men were the law-makers, and that it is contrary to (a) the fifth commandment; (b) the equal creation, resurrection, and redemption of both sexes; and (c) the mystical representation of Christ and his Church. Chrysostom (Sermon on the Bill of Divorce ) says, in substance, "It is commonly called adultery when a man wrongs a married woman. I, however, affirm it of a married man who sins with the unmarried; for the essence of the: crime depends on the condition of the injurers as well as the injured." Yet we encounter a qualification: the offence of a husband with the unmarried is "a different kind of adultery." Jerome: feels most strongly the unity of marriage, and joins with it the proposition that the word man contains woman, and says, therefore, that 1 Corinthians 6:16 applies equally to both sexes.

2. Classification. By the Lex Julia, adultery was placed among public wrongs. But a public wrong does not necessarily infer a public right of prosecution. Under Augustus, the husband was preferred as prosecutor, next the wife's father, and was in danger of incurring the guilt of procuration if he failed to prosecute. The Church agreed with the State in not allowing a husband to condone. Divines who were not canonists differed considerably. Hermas's Pastor allowed and urged one reconciliation to a penitent wife. Augustine at first hesitated between condonation and divorce, opposed forgiveness, and concluded by advising continence.

3. Penalties. The following are the Church penalties:

(1.) Against Adultery, strictly so called. -A convicted adulterer cannot receive orders (Conc. Ancyra, can. 20). An adulteress or adulterer is sentenced to seven years' penance (Neo-Ccesarea, Song of Solomon 1). A presbyter so offending is to be fully excommunicated and brought to penance (ibid. Song of Solomon 8). The layman whose wife is a convicted adulteress cannot receive orders, and, if already ordained, must put her away under penalty of deprivation (Basil. can. 9). An unchaste wife must be divorced; an unchaste husband not so, even if adulterous (ibid. can. 58). The adulterer must undergo fifteen years of penitence (ibid. can. 59, which gives seven years to simple incontinence). Gregory of Nyssa (Song of Solomon 4) prescribes eighteen years, and nine only for simple incontinence.

(2.) Against Adultery as under Spiritual, but not Civil, Law.-Two conclusions were drawn both by canonists and divines: (a) Divorce, except for adultery, is adultery.' Under this fell the questions of enforced continence and of marriage after divorce. (b) To retain an adulterous wife is also adultery. These divisions should be remembered, though the points are often blended in the canons (Can. Apost. 5). 'No one in higher orders is to cast out his wife on plea of religion. This is altered as regards bishops (by Trull. can. 12), but the change was not enough to satisfy Rome. If a divorced husband marries again, the secondwife is not an adulteress, but the first. A woman must not leave her husband for blows, waste of dower, incontinence, nor even disbelief (1 Corinthians 7:16), under penalty of adultery. Basil. can. 21 assigns extra penitence to what would now be called simple adultery, i.e. the incontinency of a married man. An offending-wife is an adulteress, and must be divorced. Not so the husband (Caarthage, can. 105). Divorced persons are t. remain unmarried, and an alteration of the imperial law in this sense is to be petitioned for. The same canon and its parallels forbade marriage' after divorce, whether just or unjust, and the view of its being adultery had gained ground in the West. But we find from several sources that Church custom did not permit incontinency to be held a like' condition in husband and in wife.

(3.) Constructive Adultery.-The following are treated as guilty of the actual crime: a man marrying a betrothed maiden (Tr.ull. can..98); girls seduced marrying other men than their seducers (Elib. can. 14); consecrated virgins who sin, and their paramours (Basil. can. 18). These supersede Ancyra, can. 19, by which the offence was punished as bigamy. Marriage between Jew and Christian was to be treated as adultery (Cod. Theod);: and, on the principle of idolatry being considered from Old-Test. times as adultery, marriage with an unclean transgressor involved wife or husband in the sinner's guilt. See Bingham, Christ. Antiq. index.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Adultery, Ecclesiastical Treatment of.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/adultery-ecclesiastical-treatment-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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