‘There is an evil growing’: Views on Mixed Marriages (1917)

Thursday’s post — ‘Your Husband Comes First in the House’: a (Catholic) Guide for the Young Wife (1938) — attracted a lot of interest. It was re-tweeted numerous times, re-blogged and reproduced on Broadsheet.ie and IrishCentral.com. Thank you to everyone who took an interest.  If you didn’t read the post, it looked at a booklet from 1938 that belonged to my grandmother, which gave advice on how to be a good wife and maintain a good house in accordance with Catholic teaching.  While rummaging through an old box of her belongings, I found another booklet entitled Mixed Marriages, published by the Catholic Truth Society of Ireland. I think I was more baffled by this one than the marriage booklet. As far as I was aware, there were no mixed marriages in our family — something my Dad confirmed, to the best of his knowledge, when I asked him why Granny would have had the booklet. He suggested that because she was very religious, such literature might have been just part of her general reading. I asked him that before I actually read the content. I had mentioned to another historian on twitter that I had found this pamphlet along with the one intended for the young wife, and it was suggested that it could shed some interesting light on advice given about negotiating the difficulties of an inter-faith marriage. I jokingly replied that the advice would probably be more along the lines of ‘don’t do it’. Although the pamphlet didn’t quite use those words, its message was just as blunt. Presumably my grandmother was reading it, therefore, not because there was a mixed-marriage in our family, but because it emphasised the importance of marrying within the faith she held dear.

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In possession of author

Mixed Marriages was written by Rev. Aloysius Corbett.  There’s no specified publication date on the booklet, but a quick search of the National Library’s catalogue reveals that it was produced in 1917, nine years after Pope Pius X’s Ne Temere decree on marriage took effect. The publisher — The Catholic Truth Society of Ireland — was founded in June 1899. The forerunner of Veritas, it began producing religious materials of interest to Irish citizens the following year. Mixed Marriages was pamphlet number 583 in the series.

The pamphlet opens immediately with a clear indication of the content’s tone:

There is an evil growing to an alarming extent in non-Catholic countries and which unhappily is becoming too common in Catholic Ireland. I mean the evil of mixed marriages.

Note how the word evil appears twice in the first two sentences of the pamphlet; it is also used in the third sentence.

The aim of the pamphlet, Corbett explained, was to

prove from grave and authentic documents that from the earliest down to the latest period of her history the Church has always reprobated those marriages and accounted them unlawful.

Unsurprisingly, his argument draws heavily on extracts from the bible and various papal writings, including the work of St Augustine and Popes Clement XI and Benedict XIV.

One of the reasons advanced for the Church’s opposition to inter-faith marriages is

the probable loss of the faith to which both the Catholic party and the children are necessarily exposed.

And it was felt that, even if the union of a Catholic and non-Catholic did result in a happy marriage (which Corbett doubted was possible in most instances), the loss of faith was too great a risk:

Here in Catholic Ireland we have no available statistics to show the disastrous spiritual results of those unions, but it is undeniably true that through their agency hundreds, if not thousands, have made shipwreck of the Faith.

Intriguingly, Corbett deems the Catholic partner to be ‘the weaker of the two’. I was particularly struck by this statement. Is he inferring that a Protestant is more manipulative, perhaps?

By page nine, the word evil has returned.  Corbett poses the question, ‘What remedy can be proposed for the evil of mixed marriages?’ The answer is to be found in the continuous teaching of the Church’s views on such marriages; presumably, the pamphlet was considered part of such instruction.

The pamphlet concludes with just over three pages that extolled the virtues of the ‘truly Catholic home’. It ended with the hope that all future generations of Irish Catholics would

resolve never to endanger by contracting mixed marriages the sacred inheritance of Catholic faith and loyalty to the Church bequeathed on them by their national Apostle St Patrick!

Far from being a guide to reconciling differing religious views within a marriage, the pamphlet acts as a warning against such unions.  It should also be noted, though, that, while the Protestant Church was not as open in its condemnation of inter-faith marriages, individual rectors would have advised parishioners against mixed marriages, especially after the Decree.

Both of the pamphlets I’ve blogged about have made me think a lot about what ordinary people were reading in Ireland as the twentieth century progressed, and, possibly, what that reveals about their values. It’s potentially something worth exploring as part of the new project I’m thinking about that examines the reactions of ordinary women to change in Ireland.

Published by Dr Ciara Meehan

I am Head of History and Reader in History at the University of Hertfordshire. I am the author of 'The Cosgrave Party: a History of Cumann na nGaedheal, 1923-1933' (Royal Irish Academy, 2010) and 'A Just Society for Ireland? 1964-1987' (Palgrave, 2013). I also co-edited 'A Formative Decade: Ireland in the 1920s' (Irish Academic Press, 2015) and 'Perceptions of Pregnancy from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century' (Palgrave, 2017).

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