Fourth Ecumenical Council, Canon 27.previous | next
The holy Council has made it a rule regarding those who take women by force under pretense of marriage, and their accomplices and abettors, that if they should be Clergymen, they shall forfeit their own rank, but if they are laymen, they shall be anathematized.
(c. XCII of the 6th; c. XI of Ancyra; cc. XXII, XXX, XXXVIII, XLII, and LIII of Basil.)
The present Canon, dealing with the forcible seizure of women in a harsher way than the other Canons do, penances those who seize women forcibly with a view to taking them to wife. For it deposes from office not only those clergymen who seize them by force, but also those who helped them to do so, and those who incited them to such a seizure by words of advice or encouragement; or if they be laymen, it anathematizes them, and in a manner which is quite just. For the one who seizes them can offer as a pretext the allegation that he is impelled by the urge of his absurd and improper love of women, but his accomplices and abettors are not impelled to this absurd and improper act by any such incentive, save the viciousness of their head and their bad judgment.
 Instead of this word, John of Antioch substitutes the word “girls” (in his Collection of Canons, Title 42).
 The Council and likewise the civil laws mete out stern chastisement to those who take women by force, because it is a thing that is dishonorable in itself and subversive of whole households, exciting men to murders and disturbances of the peace, and in general being the cause of many woes. Even if, let us say, the parents, the masters, of the women seized afterwards consent to the wedding, it is never-the-less true that they have been compelled to consent to it against their will, owing to the dishonor and defloration which their daughters and female slaves suffer before being seized for the most part, and because after such occurrences nobody else is willing to marry them. I have said that it was most certainly for this reason that this Canon and the civil laws chastise severely those who seize women by force, because it is not merely a matter of control or ownership, for, behold, in Basil’s c* XXII it is decreed that marriages of daughters taken from their parents by force shall remain valid by virtue of the consent of their parents, as we said hereinabove, whereas the civil laws dissolve marriages resulting from the exercise of force, even though the fathers of the women seized consent to them later, as we have stated. If, however, according to ch. 39, Title XII, Book LX, anyone seizes or snatches away a female slave who is of foreign extraction and in reality a prostitute, and hides her, he cannot be punished either as a thief or as a slaver, since it was for pleasure, and not for the sake of theft or robbery, that he did it. In such a case, however, if he is a rich man, he shall pay damages in money; but if he is a poor man, he shall be cudgeled.
The Sixth Ec. C. makes this same Canon its c. XCII by incorporating it verbatim. Canon XI of Ancyra, on the other hand, decrees that women betrothed to men but seized by other men shall be given to their fiances even though they have suffered violence at the hands of the other men. Canon XXII of Basil also says the same thing; but if they were not betrothed, they are to be returned to their parents or relatives, the same Canon adds, and if the latter are willing, a wedding may be performed, but if they will not consent to this, they are not to be coerced. In case their captors deflowered them secretly or forcibly, they are to be punished with four years as fornicators. Canon XXX of the same Basil excommunicates for three years those who seize women by force or who abet others that do so. But as for any woman that merely pretends to have been seized by force (who wants to follow the man, that is to say), and in general any wedding that is not due to compulsion, it judges such a case to be one that needs no punishment if no defloration occurred before the wedding. Canon LIII of the same saint judges any widowed slave to be unindictable if she pretended to be seized by force but in reality wanted to contract a second marriage.