· Councils 

The Council of Trent

  Twenty Third Session, Decree  



The form prescribed in the Council of Lateran for solemnly contracting marriage is renewed.-Bishops may dispense with the bans.-Whosoever contracts marriage, otherwise than in the presence of the Parish Priest and of two or three witnesses, contracts it invalidly.

Although it is not to be doubted, that clandestine marriages, made with the free consent of the contracting parties, are valid and true marriages, so long as the Church has not rendered them invalid; and consequently, that those persons are justly to be condemned, as the holy Synod doth condemn them with anathema, who deny that such marriages are true and valid; as also those who falsely affirm that marriages contracted by the children of a family, without the consent of their parents, are invalid, and that parents can make such marriages either valid or invalid; nevertheless, the holy Church of God has, for reasons most just, at all times detested and prohibited such marriages. But whereas the holy Synod perceives that those prohibitions, by reason of man's disobedience, are no longer of avail; and whereas it takes into account the grievous sins which arise from the said clandestine marriages, and especially the sins of those parties who live on in a state of damnation, when, having left their former wife, with whom they had contracted marriage secretly, they publicly marry another, and with her live in perpetual adultery; an evil which the Church, which judges not of what is hidden, cannot rectify, unless some more efficacious remedy be applied; wherefore, treading in the steps of the sacred Council of Lateran celebrated under Innocent III., it ordains that, for the future, before a marriage is contracted, the proper parish priest of the contracting parties shall three times announce publicly in the Church, during the solemnization of mass, on three continuous festival days, between whom marriage is to be celebrated; after which publication of banns, if there be no lawful impediment opposed, the marriage shall be proceeded with in the face of the church; where the parish priest, after having interrogated the man and the woman, and heard their mutual consent, shall either say, "I join you together in matrimony, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost;" or, he shall use other words, according to the received rite of each province. But if upon occasion, there should be a probable suspicion that the marriage may be maliciously hindered, if so many publications of banns precede it; in this case either one publication only shall be made; or at least the marriage shall be celebrated in the presence of the parish priest, and of two or three witnesses: Then, before the consummation thereof, the banns shall be published in the church; that so, if there be any secret impediments, they may be the more easily discovered: unless the Ordinary shall himself judge it expedient, that the publications aforesaid be dispensed with, which the holy Synod leaves to his prudence and judgment. Those who shall attempt to contract marriage otherwise than in the presence of the parish priest, or of some other priest by permission of the said parish priest, or of the Ordinary, and in the presence of two or three witnesses; the holy Synod renders such wholly incapable of thus contracting and declares such contracts invalid and null, as by the present decree It invalidates and annuls them. Moreover It enjoins, that the parish priest, or any other priest, who shall have been present at any such contract with a less number of witnesses (than as aforesaid); as also the witnesses who have been present thereat without the parish priest, or some other priest; and also the contracting parties themselves; shall be severely punished, at the discretion of the Ordinary. Furthermore, the same holy Synod exhorts the bridegroom and bride not to live together in the same house until they have received the sacerdotal benediction, which is to be given in the church; and It ordains that the benediction shall be given by their own parish priest, and that permission to give the aforesaid benediction cannot be granted by any other than the parish priest himself, or the Ordinary; any custom, even though immemorial, which ought rather to be called a corruption, or any privilege to the contrary, notwithstanding. And if any parish priest, or any other priest, whether Regular or Secular, shall presume to unite in marriage the betrothed of another parish, or to bless them when married, without the permission of their parish priest, he shall-even though he may plead that he is allowed to do this by a privilege, or an immemorial custom,-remain ipso jure suspended, until absolved by the Ordinary of that parish priest who ought to have been present at the marriage, or from whom the benediction ought to have been received.

The parish priest shall have a book, which he shall keep carefully by him, in which he shall register the names of the persons married, and of the witnesses, and the day on which, and the place where, the marriage was contracted.

Finally, the holy Synod exhorts those who marry, that before they contract marriage, or, at all events, three days before the consummation thereof, they carefully confess their sins, and approach devoutly to the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist.

If any provinces have herein in use any praise-worthy customs and ceremonies, besides the aforesaid, the holy Synod earnestly desires that they be by all means retained.

And that these so wholesome injunctions may not be unknown to any, It enjoins on all Ordinaries, that they, as soon as possible, make it their care that this decree be published and explained to the people in every parish church of their respective dioceses; and that this be done as often as may be during the first year; and afterwards as often as they shall judge it expedient. It ordains, moreover, that this decree shall begin to be in force in each parish, at the expiration of thirty days, to be counted from the day of its first publication made in the said parish.


Between whom Spiritual Relationship is contracted.

Experience teaches, that, by reason of the multitude of prohibitions, marriages are ofttimes unwittingly contracted in prohibited cases, in which marriages either the parties continue to live on, not without great sin, or they are dissolved, not without great scandal. Wherefore, the holy Synod, wishing to provide against this inconvenience, and beginning with the impediment arising from spiritual relationship, ordains, that, in accordance with the appointments of the sacred canons, one person only, whether male or female, or at most one male and one female, shall receive in baptism the individual baptized; between whom and the baptized, and the father and mother thereof; as also between the person baptizing and the baptized, and the father and mother of the baptized; and these only; shall spiritual relationship be contracted.

The parish priest, before he proceeds to confer baptism, shall carefully inquire of those whom it may concern, what person or persons they have chosen to receive from the sacred font the individual baptized, and he shall allow him or them only to receive the baptized; shall register their names in the book, and teach them what relationship they have contracted, that they may not have any excuse on the score of ignorance. And if any others, besides those designated, should touch the baptized, they shall not in any way contract a spiritual relationship; any constitutions that tend to the contrary notwithstanding. If through the fault or negligence of the parish priest any thing be done contrary hereto, he shall be punished, at the discretion of the Ordinary. That relationship, in like manner, which is contracted by confirmation shall not pass beyond him who confirms the person confirmed, his father and mother, and him who places his hand on him; all impediments arising from this kind of spiritual relationship between other persons being utterly set aside.


The impediment of public honesty is confined within certain limits.

The holy Synod entirely removes the impediment of justice arising from public honesty, whensoever espousals shall be, for whatsoever cause, not valid; but, when they are valid, the impediment shall not extend beyond the first degree; forasmuch as any such prohibition can no longer be observed, without injury, in more remote degrees.


Affinity arising from fornication is confined to the second degree.

Moreover, the holy Synod, moved by the same and other most weighty reasons, limits, to those only who are connected in the first and second degree, the impediment contracted by affinity arising from fornication, and which dissolves the marriage that may have been afterwards contracted. It ordains that, as regards degrees more remote, this kind of affinity does not dissolve the marriage that may have been afterwards contracted.


No one is to marry within the prohibited degrees: in what manner dispensation is to be granted therein.

If any one shall presume knowingly to contract marriage within the prohibited degrees, he shall be separated, and be without hope of obtaining a dispensation; and this shall much the rather have effect in regard of him who shall have dared not only to contract such a marriage, but also to consummate it. But if he have done this in ignorance, but yet has neglected the solemnities required in contracting matrimony, he shall be subjected to the same penalties. For he who has rashly despised the wholesome precepts of the Church, is not worthy to experience without difficulty her bounty. But if, having observed those solemnities, some secret impediment be afterwards discovered, of which it was not unlikely that he should be ignorant, he may in this case more easily obtain a dispensation, and that gratuitously. As regards marriages to be contracted, either no dispensation at all shall be granted, or rarely, and then for a cause, and gratuitously. A dispensation shall never be granted in the second degree, except between great princes, and for a public cause.


Punishments inflicted on Abductors.

The holy Synod ordains, that no marriage can subsist between the abducer and her who is abducted, so long as she shall remain in the power of the abducer. But if she that has been abducted, being separated from the abducer, and being in a safe and free place, shall consent to have him for her husband, the abducer may have her for his wife; but nevertheless the abduced himself and all who lent him advice, aid, and countenance, shall be ipso jure excommunicated, for ever infamous, and incapable of all dignities; and if they be clerics they shall forfeit their rank. The abducer shall furthermore be bound, whether he marry the person abducted, or marry her not, to settle on her a handsome dowry at the discretion of the judge.


Vagrants are to be married with caution.

There are many persons who are vagrants, having no settled homes; and, being of a profligate character, they, after abandoning their first wife, marry another, and very often several in different places, during the life-time of the first. The holy Synod, being desirous to obviate this disorder, gives this fatherly admonition to all whom it may concern, not easily to admit this class of vagrants to marriage; and It also exhorts the civil magistrates to punish such persons severely. But It commands parish priests not to be present at the marriages of such persons, unless they have first made a careful inquiry, and, having reported the circumstance to the Ordinary, they shall have obtained permission from him for so doing.


Concubinage is severely punished.

It is a grievous sin for unmarried men to have concubines; but it is a most grievous sin, and one committed in special contempt of this great sacrament, for married men also to live in this state of damnation, and to have the audacity at times to maintain and keep them at their own homes even with their own wives. Wherefore, the holy Synod, that it may by suitable remedies provide against this exceeding evil, ordains that these concubinaries, whether unmarried or married, of whatsoever state, dignity, and condition they may be, if, after having been three times admonished on this subject by the Ordinary, even ex officio, they shall not have put away their concubines, and have separated themselves from all connexion with them, they shall be smitten with excommunication; from which they shall not be absolved until they have really obeyed the admonition given them. But if, regardless of this censure, they shall continue in concubinage during a year, they shall be proceeded against with severity by the Ordinary, according to the character of the crime. Women, whether married or single, who publicly live with adulterers or with concubinaries, if, after having been three times admonished, they shall not obey, shall be rigorously punished, according to the measure of their guilt, by the Ordinaries of the places, ex officio, even though not called upon to do so by any one; and they shall be cast forth from the city or diocese, if the Ordinaries shall think fit, calling in the aid of the Secular arm, if need be; the other penalties inflicted on adulterers and concubinaries remaining in their full force.


Temporal lords, or magistrates, shall not attempt anything contrary to the liberty of marriage.

Earthly affections and desires do for the most part so blind the eyes of the understanding of temporal lords and magistrates, as that, by threats and ill-usage, they compel both men and women, who live under their jurisdiction,-especially such as are rich, or who have expectations of a great inheritance,-to contract marriage against their inclination with those whom the said lords or magistrates may prescribe unto them. Wherefore, seeing that it is a thing especially execrable to violate the liberty of matrimony, and that wrong comes from those from whom right is looked for, the holy Synod enjoins on all, of whatsoever grade, dignity, and condition they may be, under pain of anathema to be ipso facto incurred, that they put no constraint, in any way whatever, either directly or indirectly, on those subject to them, or any others whomsoever, so as to hinder them from freely contracting marriage.


The solemnities of marriage are prohibited at certain times.

The holy Synod enjoins, that the ancient prohibitions of solemn nuptials be carefully observed by all, from the Advent of our Lord Jesus Christ until the day of the Epiphany, and from Ash-Wednesday until the octave of Easter inclusively; but at other times It allows marriage to be solemnly celebrated; and the bishops shall take care that they be conducted with becoming modesty and propriety: for marriage is a holy thing, and is to be treated in a holy manner.