The Ravages of Adultery
by Fr. Francis Hunolt, 1740

Adultery is 1st. An abomination before men.
2nd. An abomination before God.

Multi enim sunt vocati, pauci vero electi.--Matth. xx. 16.
"For many are called, but few are chosen."

Terrible saying: "Few are chosen!" What good is it, then, to be called, if one does not arrive at the place to which one is called? This is a matter of interest to all human beings, no matter what their state or condition may be. We are all called by God to a certain state of life, that we may save our souls, and go to Heaven; but how few there are who earnestly work out their salvation according to their state, and consequently, how few there are who go to Heaven! I mean to apply this subject today to that state of life of which I have spoken up to the present. I mean the holy state of matrimony. Many enter on that state without first taking counsel with Jesus, and without being called to it by God. What wonder is it, then, that only a few of them save their souls? Many are called to that state, but they do not enter it as they ought, with God on their side. I am afraid that but few of them will be chosen. Many who fulfil these two conditions, do not live as they ought in their state; they do not keep in the friendship of God; they do not fulfil the duties of their state properly; they live in constant strife and dissension, and thus expose themselves to all kinds of vices and sins. I am afraid that but few of them will be chosen.

There is one sin in particular, which, when it is committed in the married state, is the most likely to prevent election to Heaven. I hope, my dear brethren, that none of you here present are guilty of that sin. Yet I must speak of it, that all of you may conceive a proper horror and dread of it, although, to tell the truth, I have hitherto shuddered at the idea of saying anything about it. And what sin is it? Adultery. You unmarried people, do not go away! This subject is not so circumscribed as might be imagined at first sight: We are all frail and sinful mortals, especially when the opportunity offers; and even the unmarried of both sexes can commit this sin, not merely in deed, but also by a deliberate thought, for, as Christ says: He or she who looks on a married person with an impure desire has already committed adultery in the heart (Matt. v. 28). Christians, be on your guard against that sin! What a terrible crime it is!

Plan of Discourse.

It is an abomination before God and man. Such is the whole subject. It is an abomination before man. The first part. An abomination before God. The second part.

Those who wish, may apply this sermon to any mortal sin, considering every grievous offence as a spiritual adultery against the Holy Ghost, whose light and grace we implore, through the intercession of the blessed Virgin Mary and the holy angels guardian.

Theft and robbery, murder and assault, gluttony and drunkenness, sorcery and witchcraft, and beastly lust are looked upon as shameful vices by all reasonable men. Yet there are whole nations and peoples in the world who do not look upon such vices as sins deserving of punishment, but openly tolerate them, so that, instead of being ashamed of them, people rather make them a subject for boasting. Tiraquellus writes that among some heathen nations, theft is regarded as a sign of cleverness and skill, and is rewarded by the chiefs; amongst others, it is looked upon as good and honorable to take an enemy's life, so as to satisfy one's wounded honor. Most heathen nations hold sorcery and witch craft and their so-called priests in high esteem, and all who wish to have a name for wisdom must be well experienced in the diabolical art. In fact, their religion consists in adoring devils, and consulting them on all matters of doubt. Nowadays, in our own country, what account is made of the vice of drunkenness? Many are quite happy at being able to boast of having drunk another down, and brought him to complete intoxication. The Epicureans allowed all kinds of lust among unmarried people, and even in some Christian countries that abominable vice is regarded as a mere human frailty that no one need be ashamed of.

And yet, mark this, my dear brethren (for in my opinion it proves my subject as clearly as daylight), there is hardly a single nation in the world, not even in the lowest state of humanity, which does not condemn adultery as an abominable crime, and punish it in the severest manner. I will say nothing of the Imperial Law of the Roman Empire which punished with death one who was juridically convicted of adultery. It will be sufficient to consider how even the most savage peoples, who otherwise retain scarcely a vestige of humanity, treat this crime. Historians say of the Parthians: "They punished no crime more severely than adultery." Amongst the Arabs, both the guilty parties were beheaded. The Egyptians burnt them alive. The ancient Romans allowed the husband, whose wife was convicted of this crime, to put her to death as he pleased. The Turks, although they are a most sensual people, cannot tolerate adultery, and woe to the person whom they convict of it! The Peruvians not only burned alive the adulterers, but also put to death their parents, brothers and sisters, and all their blood relations, so that not one of the family in which such a crime was committed should remain alive. The Spartans punished this vice so cruelly that, populous as their country was, there was hardly an adulterer to be found in it. And, therefore, the story is told of a Spartan who was once asked by a stranger how adultery was punished in his country. The Spartan answered: The guilty person must travel through the world until he finds an ox big enough to stand on one side of a high mountain and drink out of the stream that flows on the other side. What nonsense! said the stranger; there is not such a monstrous beast to be found in the world! The Spartan answered: How, then, could you expect to find any one amongst us who would be guilty of such a monstrous crime?

Mark this, my dear brethren, heathen, infidel, wild, and savage nations, who knew nothing of the Christian faith and had not heard of the eternal punishments that divine justice inflicts in the next life, all condemned and punished the vice of adultery. Therefore, I am driven to the conclusion that, if there is hardly any vice, shameful and disgraceful though it be, which some nation or other does not look upon as lawful and honorable, and on the contrary, no nation in the world, no matter how savage and barbarous it is, but condemns adultery and forbids it by severe laws, then it must be that this vice has a special malice and deformity in itself which reason must condemn as abominable.

And whence comes the natural horror of this malice and deformity? From the fact that adultery is most injurious and prejudicial to the general welfare of the human race, as Philo says: "Adulterers should be put to death, as public enemies of the human race." And so it is in reality, my dear brethren. The first and chief end of matrimony, for the general welfare, is to continue the human family by bringing up children to succeed as lawful heirs to their parents property, after the death of the latter. But if adultery were tolerated, what would be the consequence? If, for instance, a married woman were guilty of it, how could the lawful be distinguished from the spurious heirs? And what disorder it causes to have legitimate and illegitimate children living together in the same house, supported and clothed with great labor and trouble by the same father, eating the same food at the same table, and enriched afterwards by the same property, the lawful children being cruelly deprived of their rights by the others! What a number of injustices thus follow on one crime; and injustices which can hardly ever be set right! How could they? Let any one guilty of that crime ask an experienced confessor what is to be done so as to repair the injury. The latter will say, according to the teaching of theologians: You must do all you can to prevent the children whom you know to be illegitimate from sharing in the inheritance of the others; you must economize and refrain from all unnecessary expenses in order to make occult compensation to the legitimate heirs. This is your obligation in conscience, and it also binds your accomplice. What would you think of an answer like that? Ah, it is easy to talk, but it requires skill, trouble, and hard work to do all that; I do not think there is one in a thousand who does it properly. And humanly speaking, it is almost an impossibility to make such atonement that the lawful heirs suffer no injustice whatever. See the trouble that unbridled passion may cause, and what harm it does the whole community.

Again, what a number of sins of hatred, anger, rage, and despair spring from it, if the husband learns or reasonably suspects that his wife is unfaithful! What a wretched life the married couple then lead! If disunion alone makes the married life a hell on earth, as we have seen before, what will it be if the wife sees that her husband is guilty of adultery, or what is still worse, if the husband knows that his wife is perjured and false to him?

Surius, writing of the year 1528, relates the fearful resolve of a married man, who had clear proofs of his wife's unfaithfulness: He got into such a rage that he killed, not only his wife, but all the children she had borne to him, crying out in his passion: "Death to all dogs and thieves who break into my house to rob me of what belongs to me! My property is for my own children, not for strangers!" The world has witnessed similar tragic scenes in Spain, Italy, France, and other countries; therefore, with reason does St. John Chrysostom call adultery murder: "Adultery is murder, nay, even worse than murder," because it brings with it so many crimes that injure not merely one individual, but a whole family, and even a whole community.

Married Christians, think of this! If you have only a spark of reason left, it should be enough to inspire you with a horror of such an abominable crime; of reason, I say, such as was sufficient for even heathens and savages to condemn and execrate that crime.

Mezentius, the tyrant, was as lustful as he was bloodthirsty. When he once heard a young married woman, named Sophronia, praised for her beauty, he sent for her husband and told him of the impure passion he had conceived for his wife. The husband, through fear of death, gave up his wife to the will of the tyrant. Sophronia was told of this and was ordered to come to the court. Wait, said she to the messenger, and let me put on my best attire that I may appear as I ought. She then entered her chamber, took a dagger in her hand, and raising her eyes to Heaven, swearing that she would rather die a thousand times than be untrue to her marriage vow, stabbed herself to the heart and fell dead on the floor. Such was the conduct of one whose husband had, although unjustly, allowed her to commit that crime, and who, therefore, had nothing to fear from him. By consenting to the tyrant's wishes she could have enjoyed the friendship of a monarch; furthermore, she was a heathen who could expect no reward for her virtue in the next life, so that she acted as she did because reason itself had inspired her with horror of such a detestable crime.

Oh, holy laws of the Christian faith, where are you! Are there Christian men and Christian women who adore the one, true, living, all-seeing, almighty, omnipresent, all-holy, and just God, from whom they may expect a Heaven of eternal joys if they observe those laws faithfully, while they have the eternal fire of hell to fear if they act against them, and are those very men and women more shameless in this regard than the blind heathens? Alas. that is only too often the case! What a horrible thing! If they do not fear the laws of men, should not the fear of the divine law at least keep them from so terrible a crime? The fear of the divine law, I say, for that adultery is an abomination to every reasonable man, makes it a shameful thing in the eyes of the world, which is, after all, not saying much. What should touch us Christians most of all is the fact that adultery is an abomination in the sight of God, as we shall see in the

Second Part

Every sin, no matter of what kind it is, is an abomination in the sight of God, because He is thereby despised and insulted; yet there is no doubt that some sins are worse in His sight than others, because they are more opposed to the divine goodness and perfections. Of this kind is the sin of adultery, because, in addition to the contempt of the divine law, which forbids all acts of impurity under pain of hell-fire, and besides the many acts of injustice already alluded to, which it occasions, it dishonors and defiles most grievously the sacred bond of marriage, which binds man and wife, in the sight of Heaven and earth, of angels and men, to love and be true to each other, and that bond cannot be severed, as long as they both live, by any civil or ecclesiastical power.

How hateful the crime of adultery is in the sight of God, is shown by His own words in the Old Testament, in which He calls it a great sin (Gen. xx. 9); nay, even the greatest of sins. For Job says: "If my heart hath been deceived upon a woman," I am ready to endure any punishment, "for this is a heinous crime, and a most grievous iniquity (Job xxxi. 9, 11)." Hear how God threatens all who are guilty of this sin: "Every man that passeth beyond his own bed: . . . . this man shall be punished in the streets of the city, and he shall be chased as a colt; and where he suspected not, he shall be taken. And he shall be in disgrace with all men, because he understood not the fear of the Lord (Eccl. xxiii. 25, 30, 31). So every woman also that leaveth her husband and bringeth in an heir by another; for first she hath been unfaithful to the law of the Most High; and secondly, she hath offended against her husband; thirdly, she hath fornicated in adultery. This woman shall be brought into the assembly, and inquisition shall be made of her children. Her children shall not take root, and her branches shall bring forth no fruit. She shall leave her memory to be cursed, and her infamy shall not be blotted out." Such are the words of God, in the Book of the Wise Ecclesiasticus.

When the Pharisees asked Jesus Christ if a man were allowed to put away his wife, or a woman to leave her husband on account theow of any crime: No, answered our Lord, the bond of marriage can be loosed only by death; but the separation of one from the other, as far as cohabitation is concerned, is only allowed on account of adultery (Matth. xix. 9); as we read in the Gospel of St. Matthew. Mark this, my dear brethren, "except," by which He meant that no crime or sin of one against the other is grievous enough to allow them to be separated, unless one of them commits adultery; for this is the terrible crime on account of which they are allowed to separate. Husbands, are you so unfortunate as to be obliged to live with a peevish, quarrelsome, disobedient, and obstinate wife? It is hard, indeed, and difficult to do so; but patience! you must put up with it. Is your wife idle, vain, extravagant, or given to drink? Then your lot is hard indeed; but patience! you must put up with it. Bear with her faults, punish and correct her as well as you can, but you cannot therefore separate from her. On the other hand, although your wife is cheerful, meek, obedient, prudent, clever, and industrious, have you convicted her of unfaithfulness to her marriage vow? Then away with her; in that case you are allowed to separate from her.

Wives, are you so unfortunate as to have to live with a cruel, ill-tempered, or drunken husband, from whom you can expect nothing but suffering and ill-treatment? Have patience, and keep in the friendship of God, and you will be able, by a pure intention, to make your trials a means of gaining Heaven; but you cannot therefore leave your husband on your own authority. If you come to know, however, that he has only once failed against conjugal fidelity, that would be too intolerable a thing to bear, and you are then allowed to leave him and to live alone. Such is the meaning of the words of Christ to the Pharisees, from which we can see what an abomination adultery is in the sight of God.

And also, my dear brethren, we can draw the following inference: If even in the Old Law, when matrimony was a mere natural contract, adultery was regarded as a terrible sin, how must God now look upon it, when Jesus Christ has raised the marriage contract above nature to the dignity of a holy sacrament, and indeed of a great sacrament, as St. Paul says: "This is a great sacrament, but I speak in Christ and in the Church (Ephes. v. 32)." For it is, as we have seen already, a symbol of the greatest and holiest mystery of our faith, namely, the wonderful union of the divine Word with human nature. It is a symbol of the espousal of Jesus Christ with His spouse the Holy Catholic Church; it is a symbol of the union of the Holy Ghost with the soul of man by sanctifying grace. And besides all this, it is the contracting parties themselves who administer this holy sacrament to each other. As long as they live, therefore, they constitute a sacramental symbol of the most sublime mysteries.

Hence, adultery is not merely a sin against purity; not merely a grievous offence against the right that husband or wife has acquired by a contract ratified by God Himself; not merely a mortal sin, or, to speak more correctly, several mortal sins against the just rights of children; not merely a mortal sin, on account of the many sins it causes among married people when one suspects or knows the other to be guilty of it; but in addition to all these, it is a sacrilegious and shameful insult to a great and holy sacrament. If a Catholic were guilty of profaning the sacred vessels, the monstrance, ciborium, or chalice, or of turning a Church into a dancing house or theatre, he would be looked up on by every one as a sacrilegious wretch, and the people would cry out: To prison with him! But what has he done? He has profaned a chalice, or a sacred edifice. Is that all? They are sacred things, indeed, but only because they contain the Blessed Sacrament: What would you think of an adulterer, an adultress, or any unmarried person who sins with one who is married? For such people profane not merely the vessel which contains a sacrament, but the very Sacrament of Matrimony itself.

Sacrilegious, indeed (according to the Papal decrees), is he or she who dares to profane so holy a sacrament in such a disgraceful manner! "Can any sin be found more grievous than adultery?" Such was the expression of the holy Pope Clement, the disciple and successor of St. Peter, from whom he learned this doctrine. Tertullian was of the opinion that he who committed adultery could have no hope of repentance and forgiveness, no matter what efforts he might make. Although that opinion is very wrong, because it contradicts the infallible teaching of the faith, as well as the divine promises, yet we may learn from it how the early Christians loathed and abominated adultery. A single sin of the kind was then punished by a public penance of fifteen years, as we read in the Penitential Canons of St. Basil: For the first four years, he, or she who was guilty of that crime, was not allowed to enter a Church, or to associate with the faithful, and was obliged to remain at the Church door, weeping and sighing, begging like a poor mendicant for the prayers of all who were coming in or going out. The five following years the guilty person was allowed to enter the Church, but only to hear the sermon. The next four years he could hear Mass, but had to remain prostrate on the ground among the other penitents. For the next two years he was allowed to assist at all the public devotions, but not to receive Holy Communion." During the whole fifteen years, he had to fast for weeks at a time on bread and water, to wear a hair shirt and to practise other corporal austerities.

Can it be, oh, my God, that the sin of adultery was greater and more abominable in those days, than it is now? Hast Thou less horror of it now than Thou hadst then? Alas, how common it is now! And where is the penance, where the punishment for it? Yet we may be sure they will not be wanting, for St. Paul says: "Adulterers God will judge (Heb. xiii)." As if His meaning was: Do not be surprised that the ecclesiastical and civil laws so seldom punish this vice, nowadays, for they cannot see nor find out everything. The sin is committed in secret and privately, so as to hide brutal lust from public view. But, says the all-seeing God, it cannot be concealed from Me; my strict justice will examine and condemn that hateful sin; I will be able to find out all who are guilty of it. "Adulterers God will judge."

Misery with their own children, as David experienced after having committed adultery, although he had bitterly deplored and repented of his sin; heavy domestic trials and crosses, as David also experienced; public shame and disgrace before the world, as David again gives us an example of; fearful maladies, and distortions of the body, as we read of some adulterous husbands, whose features became terribly deformed after their sin, and of others who were changed into demons, or into wild boars, in which condition they struck terror into every one who saw them. These, and other punishments such as these, are the chastisements that a just God holds over the guilty heads of adulterers, even in this life. Yet these fearful chastisements are only intended as mercies to drive sinners to repentance. There is a still more frightful doom in store for adulterers. But, oh, God of mercy, are not the other punishments enough? Christians, what think you? If the God of justice always punished every adulterer in that manner, what a crowd of black demons and deformed bodies there would be! How many husbands there are who keep sinful women in their very houses, or sin with their own servants! How many wives who secretly nurture an impure attachment! How many unmarried persons of both sexes who deliberately entertain impure desires with regard to married people! All-seeing God, Thou knowest how many sins of this kind have been committed in the world up to the present time!

But woe to those who are guilty of that sin and do not repent of it sincerely! They will not escape the punishment that God has in store for them in the next life. And what is that? The eternal flames of hell that have been kindled especially for this abomination. The Wise Man says: "But he that is an adulterer shall destroy his own soul (Prov. vi. 32)." St. Paul says: " Do not err; adulterers shall not possess the kingdom of God (I. Cor. vi. 9, 10)." Therefore, they are destined to hell for eternity.

"This is a great sacrament," is my conclusion, with the same Apostle: matrimony is a great sacrament. Remember this, you who are unmarried, and be careful not to sully its sanctity, even by a deliberate desire; for if you only look at a married person with an impure desire, you have already committed adultery in your hearts. Have a respect for married people, says St. Ambrose: "God Himself is the Guardian of the married state," and since He is present everywhere, and sees all things, "no one can escape His power." "Although, oh, adulterer, you may deceive the husband," so that he knows nothing of your crime, although you may deceive the wife, so that she suspects nothing, "you will not deceive God, who is looking at you." If any one of you is tempted by a married person, do like the chaste Joseph in Egypt, who left his mantle in the hands of his mistress, in order to save his purity by flight. Go away at once from the house in which you are tempted to such a crime, leaving everything behind you, if necessary; and think at the same time, like Joseph: "How can I do this wicked thing, and sin against my God?" How could I commit a crime that God abhors so much?

Mark these words especially, you married people: matrimony is a great sacrament, and you are the constituent parts of it. Never forget the fidelity that you have sworn to each other in the sight of God. If you are assailed by temptation, think and say, like the pious matron of whom Father de la Corda writes: She was solicited to a sinful act, and full of indignation, she cried out: What do you ask of me? If you desired something that was my own, I could grant your request if I chose, but now I belong altogether to God and to my husband. Husbands, love your wives; wives, love your husbands love each other, as Christ loved the Church; that is, with a love pure, true, and constant till death. Keep steadfast in that love with your children, in the fear and love of God, that you may all live together in the eternal joys of Heaven. Amen.

Prayer in an Unhappy Marriage

O God, Lord and Director of my life, You have placed me in the state of marriage. In it I hoped for joy and happiness, but alas! I experience only tribulation upon tribulation. But this is Your will. O Heavenly Father, may Your will be done! You place before my eyes Your only, Your well-beloved Son, Whose whole life here below was the hard way of the cross. You call upon me to follow Him. I will do, O Lord, what You demand of me. I thank You from my heart for Your love in treating me as You treated Your well-beloved Son, eternal with Yourself, and equal to You in essence. But behold my weakness! Have pity on my cowardice! I know that, without Your special grace, I shall be unable to bear my cross as I should. Give me what You demand of me, and then ask what You will. Give me Your most amiable Son, as You gave Him to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, that He may be always with me, to counsel and assist me, to preserve and daily confirm me in Your love. Place me in the open wound of His Heart. Fill me with His meekness and humility.

Grant me a share in His fortitude, and I shall be able to endure all things. Lord, send me sufferings, trials, and tribulations as numerous and as heavy as seems good to You; but, at the same time, increase my patience and resignation. Teach me, after the example of my sweet Savior, to repay evil with good, angry words with silence or gentle replies; to merit Your favor by a strict fulfillment of duty, and, by ready obedience and constant, faithful love, gain my husband's (wife's) heart for You. Preserve us, Almighty God, from the deceits of the evil spirits and from the malicious, or perhaps well-meant, though foolish language and counsels of silly people. Grant us peace and harmony, true affection and forbearance, devout sentiments and holy fear, that we may cheerfully labor, pray, and suffer with and for each other. May we tread together the way of Your holy Commandments and together reap the reward of our good works for an endless eternity! Grant us this, Heavenly Father, for the love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as also of all the saints who, in the married state, sanctified themselves and attained eternal life. Amen.

Other related links to the Sacrament of Matrimony

What is a mixed Marriage Catholic Preparation for
the Sacrament of Matrimony
The Sacrament of Matrimony
Duties of Marriage
Nature of Marriage
Christian Marriage The Ravages of Adultery Catholic Laws on Marriage and Divorce
Sermons: Wedding Feast of Cana
Marriage Feast: Many are called, but few are chosen.--Matt 22 The 6th Commandment The 9th and 10th Commandments