Philosophical Dictionary, by Voltaire


In the article on “Divorce,” in the “Encyclopædia,” it is said that the custom of divorce having been brought into Gaul by the Romans, it was therefore that Basine, or Bazine, quitted the king of Thuringia, her husband, in order to follow Childeric, who married her. Why not say that because the Trojans established the custom of divorce in Sparta, Helen repudiated Menelaus according to law, to run away with Paris into Phrygia?

The agreeable fable of Paris, and the ridiculous one of Childeric, who never was king of France, and who it is pretended carried off Bazine, the wife of Bazin, have nothing to do with the law of divorce.

They all quote Cheribert, ruler of the little town of Lutetia, near Issay — Lutetia Parisiorum — who repudiated his wife. The Abbé Velly, in his “History of France,” says that this Cheribert, or Caribert, divorced his wife Ingoberg to espouse Mirefleur, the daughter of an artisan; and afterwards Theudegild, the daughter of a shepherd, who was raised to the first throne of the French Empire.

There was at that time neither first nor second throne among these barbarians whom the Roman Empire never recognized as kings. There was no French Empire. The empire of the French only commenced with Charlemagne. It is very doubtful whether the word “mirefleur” was in use either in the Welsh or Gallic languages, which were a patois of the Celtic jargon. This patois had no expressions so soft.

It is also said that the ruler or governor Chilperic, lord of the province of Soissonnais, whom they call king of France, divorced his queen Andovere, or Andove; and here follows the reason of this divorce.

This Andovere, after having given three male children to the lord of Soissons, brought forth a daughter. The Franks having been in some manner Christians since the time of Clovis, Andovere, after her recovery, presented her daughter to be baptized. Chilperic of Soissons, who was apparently very tired of her, declared that it was an unpardonable crime in her to be the godmother of her infant, and that she could no longer be his wife by the laws of the Church. He therefore married Fredegond, whom he subsequently put away also, and espoused a Visigoth. To conclude, this scrupulous husband ended by taking Fredegond back again.

There was nothing legal in all this, and it ought no more to be quoted than anything which passed in Ireland or the Orcades. The Justinian code, which we have adopted in several points, authorizes divorce; but the canonical law, which the Catholics have placed before it, does not permit it.

The author of the article says that divorce is practised in the states of Germany, of the confession of Augsburg. He might have added that this custom is established in all the countries of the North, among the reformed of all professions, and among all the followers of the Greek Church.

Divorce is probably of nearly the same date as marriage. I believe, however, that marriage is some weeks more ancient; that is to say, men quarrelled with their wives at the end of five days, beat them at the end of a month, and separated from them after six weeks’ cohabitation.

Justinian, who collected all the laws made before him, to which he added his own, not only confirms that of divorce, but he extends it still further; so that every woman, whose husband is not a slave, but simply a prisoner of war during five years, may, after the five years have expired, contract another marriage.

Justinian was a Christian, and even a theologian; how is it, then, that the Church derogates from his laws? It was when the Church became the sovereign and the legislator. The popes had not much trouble to substitute their decretals instead of the civil code in the West, which was plunged in ignorance and barbarism. They took, indeed, so much advantage of the prevailing ignorance, that Honorius III., Gregory IX., and Innocent III., by their bulls, forbade the civil law to be taught. It may be said of this audacity, that it is not creditable, but true.

As the Church alone took cognizance of marriages, so it alone judged of divorce. No prince effected a divorce and married a second wife without previously obtaining the consent of the pope. Henry VIII., king of England, did not marry without his consent, until after having a long time solicited his divorce in the court of Rome in vain.

This custom, established in ignorant times, is perpetuated in enlightened ones only because it exists. All abuse eternizes itself; it is an Augean stable, and requires a Hercules to cleanse it.

Henry IV. could not be the father of a king of France without the permission of the pope; which must have been given, as has already been remarked, not by pronouncing a divorce, but a lie; that is to say, by pretending that there had not been previous marriage with Margaret de Valois.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01