Polygamy and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

Can a person only be bound in Holy Matrimony to one other living person, or is it possible (in a sacramental sense) to be married to multiple people at the same time? I’m trying to reconcile modern beliefs on marriage with the practices of OT figures.

Well, remember that in the New Testament, Jesus Christ came and made marriage a sacrament. He corrected the practice of polygamy. Much of what was done in the OT no longer applies due to Christ’s teachings in the NT.

I don’t know how to correctly explain this, but this is what I have been taught. So, regarding polygamy, it no longer applies.

Actually, St. Thomas in his Summa Contra Gentiles, explains the three ends of marriage:

  1. The procreation and rearing of children.
  2. Common good of spouses.
  3. The sacramental sign between man and woman.

While theoretically not impossible, the ability for a man to be able to be true to the vows of the Sacrament is impeded my multiple wives, so St. Thomas says this is why the Catholic Church does not permit the practice. The sancitity of the marital union cannot be assured by polygamy in the same way monogamy can. Polygamy is not in itself evil, or condemned, but is not the ideal we are called to. The ideal is the union of two people in one flesh as Scripture says. It was thus in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, and it is to thus we are called.

The only type of polygamy strictly condemned is polyandry (one woman, many husbands). While less relevant with paternal testing now, St.Thomas tells us all children have the right to know their father, which in this relationship arrangement would have at the time been impossible. Even now, though, just as the body has only one head, so too can the home have only one head, and therefore only one husband.

There is only one notable example of the Church permitting sacramental polygamy, and that was in Paraguay in the 19th century. The War of the Triple Alliance decimated the male population, already low, and so the Church gave a dispensation for polygamy in order to rebuild the populace, and of course later ended it when this was achieved.

Sorry if this answer is not very coherant, but I try! :shrug:

Further, remember Marriage ends at death.

While it is a sacrament, it is a sacrament that can be repeated, but only after it’s expiry.

So a man who outlives his wife and remarries is married only to one woman: wife #2.

A man who divorces is still married… and is blocked from sacramental marriage. If he remarries without anullment, he is married to but one woman, “ex-wife”, and is committing adultery with “wife #2”.

Although, as St. Thomas points out, he could theoretically marry sacramentally more than once. The Church will not permit him to marry sacramentally twice, however, so this is only theoretical. The impediment is disciplinary not sacramental, like married priests in the Latin Rite.

Does the Church even possess such a power? Could you suggest some sources for this claim?

Certainly, if this is a matter of discipline, than the Church can claim such a power. St. Thomas simply said that polygamy interfered with the third end of marriage, but it did not mean it was not possible.

As for sources on polygamy in Paraguay, they are mostly scholarly. The Economic Approach to Human Behaviour, by Gary Stanley Becker, mentions this briefly. It is available on Google books. There is little on the internet I can point you to as a reputable source other than this. I have read it in histories of South America, but they are only brief mentions, no in depth analysis. Sorry I cannot provide more to help.

Matrimony was not a sacrament until Jesus; none of the sacraments existed before then.

Jesus said that divorce and remarriage was permitted in previous times because of the hardness of men’s hearts but it was not so in the beginning. He talked about the ideal being one man and one woman becoming one flesh and cleaving to one another.

In OT times it was apparently acceptable in some instances for Jewish men to have more than one wife at the same time. Jacob was tricked into marrying Leah before he married Rachel. Abraham married Sarah and took her servant as a concubine to father a child but this was because he didn’t wait for God to fulfilled the promise of giving him many descendants. David had many wives and/or concubines like other rulers of the time. Since a man was responsible for supporting his wife and children, perhaps only the rich could afford many wives.

One of the prophets (Hosea??) was married to a prostitute who kept leaving him and he kept pursuing her and taking her back. This was meant to be an example of the constant love of God for Israel who was unfaithful to Him. In an analogous way, Christian marriage is supposed to reflect the love between God and the Church. St. Paul is quite clear about this.

It is my feeling that the idea of marriage between only two people is more than a discipline of the church. It seems to have been taught from the beginning. Missionaries have upheld this teaching and been martyred for it (re the Georgian martyrs in the USA).

Or is this more like the question of women priests? Although some theologians consider it to be theoretically possible, it is constant Tradition that cannot be changed. I don’t believe any of the Eastern Catholic churches permit multiple wives.

I would be most interested to know if the situation in Paraguay had the knowledge and approval of the Pope. I know that one of the impediments to a valid marriage is the intention on the part of one or both of the parties that the relationship will not be an exclusive one. Could the church really have permitted those people to enter into invalid marriages? Well, I guess the bishop could do that but the marriages would still have lacked validity.

Actually, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Pope John Paul II has already made clear the Church has not the power, even in theory, to ordain women as priests. This is not even a matter of Tradition, but of total lack of power of the sacrament to be conferred on women.

With regard to the Pope, I am pretty confident he would have known. It was no secret and since Pope Leo XIII was able to find out within weeks that Peru had passed civil marriage and licensture laws, which he swiftly condemned, I would be suprised if he had refrained from condemnation in this case, if he felt it was merited. The Paraguay constitution at the time only recognized sacramental marriages and any violation of this would have been duly noted by Rome. Today, the Paraguay constitution has since been amended to ban polygamy.

Again, as St. Thomas noted, the validity of the sacrament is not affected by having more than one spouse, since there is no impediment to the primary end of marriage, the rearing of children. However, the Church has generally opposed polygamy on the grounds that the tertiary end of marriage, the good of the spouses, is difficult if not impossible to establish with multiple wives and therefore an impediment to the good of the interior life of the spouses. Now, the primary purpose of the sacraments is the edification of souls through grace. The primary end of marriage (that which affects its validity) is not violated by polygamy. However, the tertiary end, which relates to the primary purpose of the interior life, would be threatened. This is much like an occasion of sin. It is not sin, but one should still strenously avoid it, that one not fall into sin.

Same applies here. The union of one man and one woman is the form most suited for the edification and growth of souls in marriage. Polygamy, while not invalid, does not assure this and therefore is not permitted. Just as a married man can be validly ordained a priest, the Tradition of the Church strongly indicates in the West, that, given the teachings of Christ and St. Paul on celibacy, the better vehical for the glorification and sanctification of souls is celibacy. This is true despit the fact that marriage is a good and not evil, it simply does not serve the primary ends of the priesthood as well as celibacy, and is therefore not permitted.

Hope this makes sense! And, you are correct, the Easterns do not permit the practice either, for the same reasons as the West.

Some other things to consider: if having mulitple wives is ok now in God’s eyes, then what exactly is the sin of adultery which the Bible speaks of? Polygamy also shatters the sacramental sign of man and woman in marriage. Think about it, the man represents Christ and the woman represents the Church. How is the husband loving his wife as Christ loved the Church if he has multiple wives? How does his body belong to her more than it belongs to himself if there’s more than one her? Do the wives each claim 1/3 of the husband’s body? Or do they take turns claiming 100% of him at a time? It doesn’t work.

Also, how many Churches are there? A Protestant God might argue otherwise, but there is only one true Church, one Christ; one bridegroom, one bride…

Exactly. You have captured what St. Thomas was trying to say here. Even if polygamy is not evil in itself, its efficacy as a sacramental sign and as an institution is minimal. The Christian understanding of marriage is not satisfied by a polygamous arrangement, and therefore not a permissable arrangement for Christians.

I stole this from another poster in the polygamy thread for reference: :smiley:

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles

“I answer that, As stated above (A[1], ad 7,8), plurality of wives is said to be against the natural law, not as regards its first precepts, but as regards the secondary precepts, which like conclusions are drawn from its first precepts. Since, however, human acts must needs vary according to the various conditions of persons, times, and other circumstances, the aforesaid conclusions do not proceed from the first precepts of the natural law, so as to be binding in all cases, but only in the majority. for such is the entire matter of Ethics according to the Philosopher (Ethic. i, 3,7). Hence, when they cease to be binding, it is lawful to disregard them. But because it is not easy to determine the above variations, it belongs exclusively to him from whose authority he derives its binding force to permit the non-observance of the law in those cases to which the force of the law ought not to extend, and this permission is called a dispensation. Now the law prescribing the one wife was framed not by man but by God, nor was it ever given by word or in writing, but was imprinted on the heart, like other things belonging in any way to the natural law. Consequently a dispensation in this matter could be granted by God alone through an inward inspiration, vouchsafed originally to the holy patriarchs, and by their example continued to others, at a time when it behooved the aforesaid precept not to be observed, in order to ensure the multiplication of the offspring to be brought up in the worship of God. For the principal end is ever to be borne in mind before the secondary end. Wherefore, since the good of the offspring is the principal end of marriage, it behooved to disregard for a time the impediment that might arise to the secondary ends, when it was necessary for the offspring to be multiplied; because it was for the removal of this impediment that the precept forbidding a plurality of wives was framed, as stated above (A[1]).”

I think Pope John Paul II said this; Any act necessary for man to return to god is natural and good to do. I found the situation in Paraguay an interesting example of this. The guardians of the souls in Paraguay must have discerned that the situation as it was hindered the souls involved from returning to God. They must have been inspired in their conclusion that polygamy in this instance would be a good in that it would remove a hindrance to their return to God. I suspect that the breakdown of the social structure founded on the matrimonial bond was imminent and polygamy permitted to ensure that the social structures weren’t replaced by the maternal bond. This imo would have made polygamy a necessity for the salvation of souls.

First, I think it should be stipulated that monogamy is by far the preferred form of marriage, both as a matter of natural law and as a matter of sacrament. I mean really, that doesn’t even go far enough.

The question in my mind, though, is whether there can be a dispensation in extraordinary circumstances so that a second spouse is permissible.

Starting from the proposition that divorce is, strictly speaking, impossible, just as it is impossible to become “unbaptized”, is that also true of marriage to more than one spouse?

St. Thomas thought not, arguing that a bigamist could get a dispensation. Later, the Council of Trent declared anathema anyone who maintained that having several wives at the same time did not violate divine law.

Several means more than two.

Taken together it might be argued that a dispensation could be given for a second spouse, but not more than that. Obviously the justification for something like that would have to be quite compelling, I should think.

Anyway. Am I wrong?

Only one marriage at a time is valid per the Catholic Church.

Catechism of the Catholic Church

**2387 **The predicament of a man who, desiring to convert to the Gospel, is obliged to repudiate one or more wives with whom he has shared years of conjugal life, is understandable. However polygamy is not in accord with the moral law." [Conjugal] communion is radically contradicted by polygamy; this, in fact, directly negates the plan of God which was revealed from the beginning, because it is contrary to the equal personal dignity of men and women who in matrimony give themselves with a love that is total and therefore unique and exclusive." 179 The Christian who has previously lived in polygamy has a grave duty in justice to honor the obligations contracted in regard to his former wives and his children.

179 Familiaris Consortio 19; cf. Gaudium et Spes 47 # 2.

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