Sacred Texts  Christianity  Early Church Fathers  Index  Previous  Next 

Chapter XXIII.—On Marriage.

Since pleasure and lust seem to fall under marriage, it must also be treated of. Marriage is the first conjunction of man and woman for the procreation of legitimate children. 2421 Accordingly Menander the comic poet says:—

“For the begetting of legitimate children,
I give thee my daughter.”

We ask if we ought to marry; which is one of the points, which are said to be relative. For some must marry, and a man must be in some condition, and he must marry some one in some condition. For every one is not to marry, nor always. But there is a time in which it is suitable, and a person for whom it is suitable, and an age up to which it is suitable. Neither ought every one to take a wife, nor is it every woman one is to take, nor always, nor in every way, nor inconsiderately. But only he who is in certain circumstances, and such an one and at such time as is requisite, and for the sake of children, and one who is in every respect similar, and who does not by force or compulsion love the husband who loves her. Hence Abraham, regarding his wife as a sister, says, “She is my sister by my father, but not by my mother; and she became my wife,” 2422 teaching us that children of the same mothers ought not to enter into matrimony. Let us briefly follow the history. Plato ranks marriage among outward good things, providing for the perpetuity of our race, and handing down as a torch a certain perpetuity to children’s children. Democritus repudiates marriage and the procreation of children, on account of the many annoyances thence arising, and abstractions from more necessary things. Epicurus agrees, and those who place good in pleasure, and in the absence of trouble and pain. According to the opinion of the Stoics, marriage and the rearing of children are a thing indifferent; and according to the Peripatetics, a good. In a word, these, following out their dogmas in words, became enslaved to pleasures; some using concubines, some mistresses, and the most youths. And that wise quaternion in the garden with a mistress, honoured pleasure by their acts. Those, then, will not escape the curse of yoking an ass with an ox, who, judging certain things not to suit them, command others to do them, or the reverse. This Scripture has briefly showed, when it says, “What thou hatest, thou shalt not do to another.” 2423

But they who approve of marriage say, Nature has adapted us for marriage, as is evident from the structure of our bodies, which are male and female. And they constantly proclaim that command, “Increase and replenish.” 2424 And though this is the case, yet it seems to them shameful that man, created by God, should be more licentious than the irrational creatures, which do not mix with many licentiously, but with one of the same species, such as pigeons and ringdoves, 2425 and creatures like them. Furthermore, they say, “The childless man fails in the perfection which is according to nature, not having substituted his proper successor in his place. For he is perfect that has produced from himself his like, or rather, when he sees that he has produced the same; that is, when that which is begotten attains to the same nature with him who begat.” Therefore we must by all means marry, both for our country’s sake, p. 378 for the succession of children, and as far as we are concerned, the perfection of the world; since the poets also pity a marriage half-perfect and childless, but pronounce the fruitful one happy. But it is the diseases of the body that principally show marriage to be necessary. For a wife’s care and the assiduity of her constancy appear to exceed the endurance of all other relations and friends, as much as to excel them in sympathy; and most of all, she takes kindly to patient watching. And in truth, according to Scripture, she is a needful help. 2426 The comic poet then, Menander, while running down marriage, and yet alleging on the other side its advantages, replies to one who had said:—

“I am averse to the thing,
For you take it awkwardly.”

Then he adds:—

“You see the hardships and the things which annoy you in it.
But you do not look on the advantages.”

And so forth.

Now marriage is a help in the case of those advanced in years, by furnishing a spouse to take care of one, and by rearing children of her to nourish one’s old age.

“For to a man after death his children bring renown,
Just as corks bear the net,
Saving the fishing-line from the deep.” 2427

according to the tragic poet Sophocles.

Legislators, moreover, do not allow those who are unmarried to discharge the highest magisterial offices. For instance, the legislator of the Spartans imposed a fine not on bachelorhood only, but on monogamy, 2428 and late marriage, and single life. And the renowned Plato orders the man who has not married to pay a wife’s maintenance into the public treasury, and to give to the magistrates a suitable sum of money as expenses. For if they shall not beget children, not having married, they produce, as far as in them lies, a scarcity of men, and dissolve states and the world that is composed of them, impiously doing away with divine generation. It is also unmanly and weak to shun living with a wife and children. For of that of which the loss is an evil, the possession is by all means a good; and this is the case with the rest of things. But the loss of children is, they say, among the chiefest evils: the possession of children is consequently a good thing; and if it be so, so also is marriage. It is said:—

“Without a father there never could be a child,
And without a mother conception of a child could not be.
Marriage makes a father, as a husband a mother.” 2429

Accordingly Homer makes a thing to be earnestly prayed for:—

“A husband and a house;”

yet not simply, but along with good agreement. For the marriage of other people is an agreement for indulgence; but that of philosophers leads to that agreement which is in accordance with reason, bidding wives adorn themselves not in outward appearance, but in character; and enjoining husbands not to treat their wedded wives as mistresses, making corporeal wantonness their aim; but to take advantage of marriage for help in the whole of life, and for the best self-restraint.

Far more excellent, in my opinion, than the seeds of wheat and barley that are sown at appropriate seasons, is man that is sown, for whom all things grow; and those seeds temperate husbandmen ever sow. Every foul and polluting practice must therefore be purged away from marriage; that the intercourse of the irrational animals may not be cast in our teeth, as more accordant with nature than human conjunction in procreation. Some of these, it must be granted, desist at the time in which they are directed, leaving creation to the working of Providence.

By the tragedians, Polyxena, though being murdered, is described nevertheless as having, when dying, taken great care to fall decently,—

“Concealing what ought to be hid from the eyes of men.”

Marriage to her was a calamity. To be subjected, then, to the passions, and to yield to them, is the extremest slavery; as to keep them in subjection is the only liberty. The divine Scripture accordingly says, that those who have transgressed the commandments are sold to strangers, that is, to sins alien to nature, till they return and repent. Marriage, then, as a sacred image, must be kept pure from those things which defile it. 2430 We are to rise from our slumbers with the Lord, and retire to sleep with thanksgiving and prayer,—

“Both when you sleep, and when the holy light comes,”

confessing the Lord in our whole life; possessing piety in the soul, and extending self-control to the body. For it is pleasing to God to lead decorum from the tongue to our actions. Filthy speech is the way to effrontery; and the end of both is filthy conduct.

p. 379

Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, “Thou shalt not put away thy wife, except for the cause of fornication;” and it regards as fornication, the marriage of those separated while the other is alive. Not to deck and adorn herself beyond what is becoming, renders a wife free of calumnious suspicion, while she devotes herself assiduously to prayers and supplications; avoiding frequent departures from the house, and shutting herself up as far as possible from the view of all not related to her, and deeming housekeeping of more consequence than impertinent trifling. “He that taketh a woman that has been put away,” it is said, “committeth adultery; and if one puts away his wife, he makes her an adulteress,” 2431 that is, compels her to commit adultery. And not only is he who puts her away guilty of this, but he who takes her, by giving to the woman the opportunity of sinning; for did he not take her, she would return to her husband. What, then, is the law? 2432 In order to check the impetuosity of the passions, it commands the adulteress to be put to death, on being convicted of this; and if of priestly family, to be committed to the flames. 2433 And the adulterer also is stoned to death, but not in the same place, that not even their death may be in common. And the law is not at variance with the Gospel, but agrees with it. How should it be otherwise, one Lord being the author of both? She who has committed fornication liveth in sin, and is dead to the commandments; but she who has repented, being as it were born again by the change in her life, has a regeneration of life; the old harlot being dead, and she who has been regenerated by repentance having come back again to life. The Spirit testifies to what has been said by Ezekiel, declaring, “I desire not the death of the sinner, but that he should turn.” 2434 Now they are stoned to death; as through hardness of heart dead to the law which they believed not. But in the case of a priestess the punishment is increased, because “to whom much is given, from him shall more be required.” 2435

Let us conclude this second book of the Stromata at this point, on account of the length and number of the chapters.



[He places the essence of marriage in the chaste consummation itself, the first after lawful nuptials. Such is the force of this definition, which the note in ed. Migne misrepresents, as if it were a denial that second nuptials are marriage.]


Gen. xx. 12.


Tob. iv. 15.


Gen. i. 28.


[The offering of the purification has a beautiful regard to the example of the turtle-dove; and the marriage-ring may have been suggested by the ringdove, a symbol of constancy in nature.]


Gen. ii. 18. [A beautiful tribute to the true wife.]


The corrections of Stanley on these lines have been adopted. They occur in the Choephoræ of Æschylus, 503, but may have been found in Sophocles, as the tragic poets borrowed from one another.


i.e., not entering into a second marriage after a wife’s death. But instead of μονογαμίου some read κακογαμίου—bad marriage.


[To be a mother, indeed, one must be first a wife; the woman who has a child out of wedlock is not entitled to this holy name.]


[A holy marriage, as here so beautifully defined, was something wholly unknown to Roman and Greek civilization. Here we find the Christian family established.]


Matt. v. 32; xix. 9.


Lev. xx. 10; Deut. xxii. 22.


Lev. xxi. 9.


Ezek. xxxiii. 11.


Luke. xii. 48.

Next: Elucidations