Magnae Nobis - Pope Benedict XIV - The Papal Library


Magnae Nobis Encyclical of Pope Benedict XIV on Marriage Impediments and Dispensations June 29, 1748 To the Kingdom of Poland, to the Primate, Archbishops and Bishops. Venerable Brothers, Greetings and Apostolic Benediction. It was a painful surprise to learn from trustworthy reports and letters that a certain false opinion had spread in Poland. It is said that some matrimonial dispensations had been granted and sent out, indeed, that they are customarily granted and sent out, by this Apostolic See, in which the canonical impediments for a legitimate and valid marriage are removed, even though one or both of the contracting parties openly profess a heretical sect. Since this could only be disseminated by injustice and intolerable calumny, We would be lacking in our Apostolic ministry if We did not clarify the constant rule of action in this matter. At the same time, We earnestly admonish and beseech all of you and your subordinates in Poland, a kingdom renowned for its faith and religion, to read and weigh the letters of matrimonial dispensation which are sent out by the Apostolic See for the people of that kingdom. We are certain that if there ever was any sin in this matter, it was not the fault of this Apostolic See or of its officials; truly it must be attributed entirely to the Ordinaries of places or to their ministers, who did not take care either to read or to weigh sufficiently the letters of dispensation which they received. Condemnation of Marriages with Heretics 2. Nor is it necessary for us to prove in full the antiquity of the discipline by which the Apostolic See always condemned the marriage of Catholics with heretics. But it will be sufficient to bring forward only some evidence with which We may show that the same discipline and rule which has been diligently preserved down to our own time flourishes now, by Us no less religiously preserved. This is what our predecessor Pope Urban VIII testifies to concerning his own times in his Apostolic Letters dated December 30, 1624; these may be read in the book of Cardinal Albitius entitled De inconstantia in Fide, chap. 37, no. 127, where he writes: Granted that We hold that the marriages of Catholics with heretics are all-together to be avoided, and, as far as it depends on us, We aim to keep them far from the Catholic Church. Also our predecessor Pope Clement XI, in the letters dated June 25, 1706, and found in the collection of his briefs and letters published in Rome in 1724, expresses himself no less clearly. On page 321 we read: We consider it most important not to transgress the rules of the Church of God, of the Apostolic See, of our predecessors and of the holy people, all of whom shrink from the marriage of Catholics with heretics, unless the good of the entire Christian community should demand it. And in other letters dated July 23, 1707, in the same collection, page 391: Indeed the Church shrinks from such marriages which present so many proofs of deformities and spiritual danger. 3. Our judgment in this matter is sufficiently clear in the Decretal Rescript published by our authority November 4, 1741, and printed in volume I of Bullarii Nostri, no. 34, sect. 3, as follows: In the first place his Holiness grieves very much that some Catholics today are demented in their base love. They no longer shrink from these detestable marriages which the Church has always condemned and forbidden. He praises those bishops who strive to restrain Catholics from marrying heretics by imposing more severe penalties. Also He seriously admonishes all bishops and Vicars Apostolic, parish priests, missionaries, and other faithful ministers in Holland and Belgium to frighten away Catholics of both sexes from entering upon such marriages to the destruction of their souls, and to impede these same marriages by every good means, and to strive effectively to prevent them. Further along, concerning a marriage already contracted by a Catholic party with a heretical partner, we read: The Catholic spouse, whether a man or a woman, ought to resolve to do penance for the grave crime committed, to beg God for pardon, and to strive to bring back to the Catholic Church the spouse wandering from the true faith and so to win his soul; this could obtain remission for the crime committed because, as has already been said, he will be forever bound by the chain of that marriage. Heresy Must Be Abjured 4. When a dispensation is requested to allow a Catholic to marry a heretic or to remove some canonical impediment which exists between the contracting parties, neither the permission nor the dispensation is granted except with the addition of this expressed law or condition, namely that the heresy must first be abjured. Pope Innocent X was on his guard and ordered that such dispensations should not be granted at all unless there was proof, supported by authentic documents, that the heretical fault of the heterodox contracting party had been rejected under oath; this testimony was left us by Cardinal Albitius, at that time Assessor of the Congregation of the Universal Inquisition, in the tractate mentioned above, De Inconstantia in Fide, chap. 18, no. 44. Clement XI, in the Congregation of the Holy Office held in his presence on June 16, 1710, ordered the Archbishop of Malines to give no permission or dispensation for marriages to be celebrated between a contracting Catholic and a heretic unless the abjuration of heresy had indeed preceded; he ordered that the theologians who had opinions contrary to this practice be sharply admonished. Vicenzo Cardinal Petra recorded this in his Commentary on the Constitution XII in Suo C of John XXII, Operum, vol. 4, p. 76, no. 14. 5. Some examples are found of Roman Pontiffs who either gave permission to contract marriages or gave dispensations concerning some impediment, without the condition of first abjuring heresy. We say first of all that these concessions were very rare and most of them were granted for marriages to be contracted among the highest princes, and not without an urgent and grave cause, a cause which concerned the public welfare. Besides, opportune safeguards were always added, lest the Catholic spouse might be perverted by the heretical one; the former would know that he must strive for the conversion of the latter. In addition, children of both sexes born of the union must be educated in the sanctity of the Catholic religion. It is easy then to realize that in such concessions no opportunity for error was open to the executors unless they wished knowingly and deliberately to fail in their duty. Finally, from what We have said so far, it is obvious that the Apostolic See has always both disapproved and condemned such marriages unless the abjuration of the heresy preceded; it still abominates and detests them. Justification for Dispensation 6. Sometimes the justifications for dispensations are not openly mentioned in the petitions; the ministers and officials of the Holy See cannot divine this. Therefore, to silence accusers and calumniators, it is sufficient to point out that every dispensation is given to a specified executor, who is to determine the truth of everything in the deposition. Since he knows that the marriage of Catholic with heretics is condemned by the Apostolic See, he can also understand that the evil of heresy, which affects one of the contracting parties and which is not mentioned in the letters of dispensation, was concealed from the Apostolic See. It is his duty to suspend the execution of such letters and to notify the Roman Pontiff and his officials of the reason for the suspension, as Pope Alexander III prescribed in his letter to the Archbishop of Ravenna. This was entered in the Codex of Decretals to insure its perpetual effect, in the chapter Si quando, de Rescriptis, where we read: Diligently consider the nature of this business and either comply with Our orders or by your letter explain the reasonable cause which prevents you; for if you do not, We will maintain what was suggested to Us by an evil report. Presumption that Both Parties are Catholic 7. In truth the circumspection of the Apostolic See and its officials does not stop here. Sometimes when a dispensation to remove some canonical impediment for a reasonable cause is requested it comes from a region in which Catholics live together with heretics. When it is not certain from other sources whether both of the petitioners or only one of them is Catholic, the above Pontifical officials always presume both to be Catholics. Therefore they set forth their wishes in a little book (called Supplicationum) to which the Papal signature is applied: The afore-said petitioners, who are truly members of the orthodox faith and live under obedience to the Holy Roman Catholic Church, and intend so to live and die, etc. These words agree with others which are added in provisional and conditional form, namely: Provided the petitioners mentioned are truly worshipers of

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