The Relations of Ethics and Theology

by Andrew P. Peabody

My subject is the mutual relations of Ethics and Theology.

Ethics is the science of the Right; and we would first inquire whether this science is a mere department of theology, or whether it has its own independent existence, sphere, and office. Our opening question then is: What is the ground of right? Why are certain acts right, and certain other acts wrong? Are these characteristics incidental, arbitrary, created by circumstances; variable with time or place, or the intelligence of the agent; contingent on legislation, human or Divine? Or are they intrinsic, essential, independent of command, even of the Divine command?

We can best answer this question by considering what is implied in existence. Existence implies properties, and properties are fitnesses. Every object, by virtue of its existence, has its place, purpose, uses, relations. At every moment, each specific object is either in or out of its place, fulfilling or not fulfilling its purpose, subservient to or alienated from its uses, in accordance or out of harmony with its relations, and therefore in a state of fitness or of unfitness as regards other objects. Every object is at every moment under the control of the intelligent will either of the Supreme Being or of some finite being, and is by that will maintained either in or out of its place, purpose, uses, and relations, and thus in a state of fitness or unfitness as regards other objects. Every intelligent being, by virtue of his existence, bears certain definite relations to outward objects, his fellow-beings, and his Creator. At every moment each intelligent being is either faithful or unfaithful to these relations, and thus in a state of fitness or unfitness as regards outward objects and other beings. Thus fitness or unfitness may be predicated at every moment of every object in existence, of the volitions by which each object is controlled, and of every intelligent being with regard to his voluntary position in the universe. Fitness and unfitness are the ultimate ideas that underlie the terms right and wrong. These last are metaphorical terms: right, rectus, straight, upright, according to rule, and therefore fit; wrong, wrung, distorted, twisted out of place, abnormal, and therefore unfit. We are so constituted that we cannot help regarding fitness with esteem and complacency; unfitness, with disesteem and disapproval, even though we ourselves create it or impersonate it.

Fitness is the law by which alone we have the knowledge of sin, by which alone we justify or condemn ourselves. Duty has fitness for its only aim and end. To whatever object comes under our control its fit place or use is due; and our perception of that due constitutes our duty, and awakens in us a sense of obligation. To ourselves and to other beings and objects, our fidelity to our relations has in it an intrinsic fitness; that fitness is their and our due; and the perception of that due constitutes our duty, and awakens in us a sense of obligation.

Conscience is the faculty by which we perceive fitness or unfitness. Its functions are not cognitive, but judicial. Its decisions are based upon our knowledge, real or imagined, from whatever source derived. It judges according to such law and evidence as it has; and its verdict is always, relatively, a genuine verdict (verum dictum), though potentially false and wrong by defect of our knowledge,—even as in a court of law an infallibly wise and incorruptibly just judge may pronounce an utterly erroneous and unjust decision, if he have before him a false statement of facts, or if the law which he is compelled to administer be unrighteous. What we call the education of conscience is merely the accumulation and verification of the materials on which conscience is to act; in fine, the discovery of fitnesses.

Permit me to illustrate the function of conscience by reference to a question now mooted in our community,—the question as to the moral fitness of the temperate use of fermented liquors. Among the aborigines of Congo and Dahomey, there being no settled industry, no mental activity, and no hygienic knowledge as to either body or mind, it seems fitting, and therefore right, to swallow all the strong drink that they can lay their hands upon; for it is fitted to produce immediate animal enjoyment,—the only good of which they have cognizance. Among civilized men, on the contrary, intoxication is universally known to be opposed to the fitnesses of body and mind, an abuse of alcoholic liquors, and an abuse of the drinker's own personality; and it is therefore condemned by all consciences, by none more heartily than by those of its victims. But there still remains open the question as to the moderate use of fermented liquors; and this is not, as it is commonly called, a question of conscience, but a mere question of fact,—of fitness or unfitness. Says one party, "Alcohol, in every form, and in the least quantity, is a virulent poison, and therefore unfit for body and mind." Says the other party, "Wine, moderately used, is healthful, salutary, restorative, and therefore fitted to body and mind." Change the opinion of the latter party, their consciences would at once take the other side; and, if they retained in precept and practice their present position, they would retain it self-condemned. Change the opinion of the former party, their consciences would assume the ground which they now assail. Demonstrate to the whole community—which physiology may one day do—the precise truth in this matter, there would remain no differences of conscientious judgment, whatever difference of practice might still continue.

From what has been said, it is necessarily inferred that right and wrong are not contingent on the knowledge of the moral agent. Unfitness, misuse, abuse, is none the less wrong because the result of ignorance. If the result of inevitable ignorance, it does not indeed imply an unfitness or derangement of the agent's own moral powers. Yet it is none the less out of harmony with the fitness of things. It deprives an object of its due use. It perverts to pernicious results what is salutary in its purpose. It lessens for the agent his aggregate of good and of happiness, and increases for him his aggregate of evil and of misery. In this sense—far more significant than that of arbitrary infliction—the maxim of jurisprudence, Ignorantia legis neminem excusat ("Ignorance of the law excuses no one"), is a fundamental principle of human nature.


We are now prepared to consider the relation of moral distinctions to theology. In the first place, if the ground which I have maintained be tenable, ethical science rests on a basis of its own, wholly independent of theology. Right and wrong, as moral distinctions, in no wise depend on the Divine will and law; nay, not even on the Divine existence. The atheist cannot escape or disown them. They are inseparable from existence. For whatever exists, no matter how it came into being, must needs have its due place, affinities, adaptations, uses; and an intelligent dweller among the things that are cannot but know something of their fitnesses and harmonies, and, so far as he acts upon them, cannot but feel the obligation to recognize their fitnesses, and thus to create or restore their harmonies. Even to the atheist, vice is a violation of fitnesses which he knows or may know. It is opposed to his conscientious judgment. He has with regard to it an inevitable sense of wrong. I can therefore conceive of an atheist's being—though I should have little hope that he would be—a rigidly virtuous man, and that on principle.

But while atheism does not obliterate moral distinctions, or cancel moral obligation, these distinctions are a refutation of atheism; and from the very fitness of things, which we have seen to be the ground of right, we draw demonstrative evidence of the being, unity, and moral perfectness of the Creator: so that the fundamental truths of theology rest on the same basis with the fundamental principles of ethics. Let me ask you to pursue this argument with me.

Every object, as I have said, must, by virtue of its existence, have its fit place and use; but, in a world that was the dice-work of chance, there would be myriads of probabilities to one against any specific object's attaining to its fit place and use. This must be the work of will alone. If chance can create, it cannot combine, co-ordinate, organize. If it can throw letters on the ground by the handful, it cannot arrange them into the Iliad or the Paradise Lost. If it can stain the sky or the earth with gorgeous tints, it cannot group them into a Madonna or a landscape. Its universe would be peopled by straylings, full of disjointed halves of pairs,—of objects thrown together in such chaotic heaps that seldom could any one object find its counterpart or subserve its end.

The opposite is the case in the actual world. The first discoveries which the first human being made were of the fitnesses of the objects around him to himself and to one another. With every added year his microcosm enlarged, so that, before he left the world, he had within his cognizance a range of fitnesses and uses sufficient to guide his own activity, and to enable him to predict its results, together with numerous other results not contingent on his own agency. Beyond this microcosm, indeed, lay a vast universe impenetrable to his search, in which he could trace no relations, no filaments of order; in which all seemed to him a medley of chaotic confusion, mutually intruding systems, clashing and jarring forces. On this realm of the unknown man has ever since been making perpetual aggressions; and every step of his progress has been the discovery of fitnesses, relations, reciprocal uses, among the most remote, diverse, and at first sight mutually hostile objects, classes, and systems. Natural history, physics, and chemistry, are the science of mutual fitnesses and uses among terrestrial objects. Astronomy is the science of harmonies among all the worlds,—of fitnesses in their relations and courses to the condition of things in our own planet, approximately to other bodies in the solar system, and, by ascertained analogies, to those distant orbs of which we know only that they stand and move ever in their order. Geology is the science of mutual fitnesses in former epochs and conditions of our own planet, and of prospective fitnesses in them to the needs and uses of the present epoch; so that by harmonies which run through unnumbered æons we are the heirs, and sustain our industries by the usufruct, of the ages, the great moments of whose history we are just beginning to read. Mathematical science reveals geometrical and numerical fitnesses, proportions, and harmonies, which are traced alike in the courses of the stars and in the collocation of the foliage on the tree, and which promise one day to give us the equation of the curve of the sea-shell, of the contour of the geranium-leaf, of the crest of the wave. There is still around us the realm of the unknown; yet not only are daily aggressions made upon it, but science has advanced so far as to render it certain that there is no department or object in the universe, which is not comprehended in this system of mutual fitnesses, harmonies, and uses.

Now consider the relation of organized being to this system. What is an organ? It is the capacity of perceiving, choosing, and utilizing a fitness. The rootlets of the tree by the river-side perceive the adjacent water, elongate themselves toward it, in a drought make convulsive and successful efforts to reach it; while the corolla of the heliotrope perceives the calorific rays, and turns toward their source in the heavens. The organs of the plant select from the elements around it such substances as are fitted to feed its growth, and appropriate them to its use, even though they be found in infinitesimal proportions, in masses of alien substance. In all this there is a semi-self-consciousness, corresponding, not indeed to the action of mind, but to that of the spontaneous life-processes in intelligent beings.

The animal carries us a step higher. His instincts are an unerring knowledge of fitnesses and uses within his sphere. He seeks what is fitted, shuns what is unfitted to his sustenance and growth, is never deceived when left to his own sagacity, and fails only when brought into anomalous relations with the superior knowledge of man. He lives, merely because he is conscious of the fitnesses of nature, and yields up his life to a stronger beast, in accordance with those same fitnesses—beneficent still—by which all realms of nature are kept fully stocked, yet never overstocked, with healthy and rejoicing life.

The fitness which thus pervades and unifies the entire creation, man as an animal perceives, as a living soul recognizes and comprehends; and to his consciousness it is an imperative law, obeyed always with self-approval, disobeyed only with self-condemnation. Of disobedience he alone is capable, yet he but partially. In order to live, he must obey in the vast majority of instances; still more must he obey, if he would have society, physical comfort, transient enjoyment of however low a type; and the most depraved wretch that walks the earth purchases his continued being by a thousand acts of unintended yet inevitable obedience to one of voluntary guilt. Man's law—the law which, in violating or scorning it, he cannot ignore or evade—is the very same fitness which runs through all inorganic nature, and which the semi-conscious tree, shrub, or flower, the imperfectly self-conscious bird, fish, or beast uniformly obeys.

Now can chance have evolved this universal fitness, and the souls that own their allegiance to it? Is it not the clear self-revelation of a God, one, all-wise, omnipotent? Has it any other possible solution? Bears it not, in inscriptions that girdle the universe in letters of light, the declarations of the Hebrew seer, "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth," and "The Lord our God is one Lord"? I am not disposed to cavil at the argument from design in the structure and adaptations of any one organized being; but immeasurably more cogent is this argument from a consenting universe, in which filaments of fitness, relation, and use cross and recross one another from bound to bound, from sun to star, from star to earth, from the greatest to the least, from the order of the heavens to the zoöphyte and the microscopic animalcule. In the human conscience I recognize at once the revelation and the perpetual witness of this all-pervading adaptation, this universal harmony. Conscience is the God within, not in figure, but in fact. It is the mode in which He who is enshrined in all being, who lives in all life, takes up his abode, holds his perpetual court, erects his eternal judgment-seat, within the human soul.

We pass to the consideration of the moral attributes of the Creator. I have spoken of moral distinctions as logically separable from and independent of the Divine nature. From this position alone can we establish the holiness, justice, and mercy of the Divine Being. In order to show this, let me ask your attention to the distinction between necessary and contingent truths; that is, between truths which have an intrinsic validity, which always were and cannot by any possibility be otherwise than true, and truths which were made true, which began to be, and the opposite of which might have been. Mathematical truth is necessary and absolute truth,—not made truth even by the ordinance of the Supreme Being, but truth from the very nature of things, truth co-eternal with God. Omnipotence cannot make two and two five, or render the sum of the angles of a triangle more or less than two right angles, or construct a square and a circle of both equal perimeter and equal surface. In our conception of mathematical truth we are conscious that it must have been true before all worlds, and would be equally true had no substance that could be measured or calculated ever been created. Every mathematical proposition is an inherent property or condition of the infinite space identical with the Divine omnipresence, or of the infinite duration identical with the Divine eternity.

Moral truth is of the same order, not contingent, but necessary, absolute. This is distinctly declared in one of the most sublime bursts of inspiration in the Hebrew Scriptures. If you will trace in the book of Proverbs the traits of Wisdom as personified throughout the first nine chapters, you will find that it is no other than a name for the inherent, immutable, eternal distinction between right and wrong. It is this Wisdom, who, so far from confessing herself as created, ordained, or subject, proclaims, "Jehovah possessed me in the beginning of his way, before his works of old. I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was.... When he prepared the heavens, I was there.... When he appointed the foundations of the earth, then I was by him, AS ONE BROUGHT UP WITH HIM; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing always before him."

It is only on the principle thus vividly set forth that we can affirm moral attributes of the Supreme Being. When we say that He is perfectly just, pure, holy, beneficent, we recognize a standard of judgment logically independent of his nature. We mean that the law of fitness, which He promulgates in the human conscience, and which is our only standard of right, is the self-elected law of his own being. Could we conceive of omnipotence and omniscience devoid of moral attributes, the decrees and acts of such a being would not be necessarily right. Omnipotence cannot make the wrong right, or the right wrong; nor can it indue either with the tendencies of the other, so that the wrong, that is, the unfitting, should produce ultimate good, or the right, that is, the fitting, should produce ultimate evil. God's decrees and acts are not right because they are his; but they are his because they are right. On no other ground, as I have said, can we affirm moral attributes of him. If his arbitrary sovereignty can indue with the characteristics of right that which has no intrinsic fitness, beauty, or utility, then the affirmation that He is holy, or just, or good, is simply equivalent to the absurd maxim of human despotism, "The king can do no wrong." It is only when we conceive of the abstract right as existing of necessity from a past eternity, and as a category of the Divine free-will and perfect prescience, in which the creation had its birth and its archetypes, that holiness, justice, and goodness, as applied to the Divine character, have any meaning.

We thus see that our ethical conceptions underlie our theology, and that, however explicit the words of revelation may be as to the Divine nature, he alone can understand them, who recognizes in his own heart the absoluteness and immutableness of moral distinctions. How many Christians have there been in every age since the primitive, who, in using the terms just and holy with reference to the Almighty, have employed them in an entirely different sense from that in which they are applied to human conduct, and with regard to supposed dispositions and acts, which in man they would call unjust and cruel! And this simply because they have attached no determinate meaning, but only a conventional and variable sense to ethical terms, and have imagined that arbitrary power could reverse moral distinctions, or that God could impose on man one law of right, and himself recognize another.

We have thus seen that theology is indebted to the fundamental principles of ethics for the most luculent demonstration of the being, omnipotence, and omniscience of God, and for the clear conception of his moral attributes.


We will now consider the reciprocal obligations of ethics to theology; and, in the first place, to Natural Religion. Pure theism attaches the Divine sanction to the verdicts of conscience, makes them the will, the voice of God, enforces them by his authority, and elevates the conception of virtue by establishing a close kindred between the virtuous man and the Ruler of the universe. And this is much, but not for many. It has raised some elect spirits to a degree of excellence which might put Christians to shame. It has conjoined virtue with lofty devotion and earnest piety in a Socrates and a Marcus Antoninus, and refined it into a rare purity, chasteness, and tenderness of spirit in a Plutarch and an Epictetus. But on the masses of mankind, on the worldly and care-cumbered, on the unphilosophic and illiterate, it has exerted little or no influence. Moreover, while among the virtuous men of pre-Christian times and beyond the light of the Jewish revelation, we recognize some few of surpassing excellence, we find not a single ethical system, or body of moral precepts, which does not contain limitations, deficiencies, or enormities utterly revolting to the moral sense of Christendom. Thus Plato had lofty conceptions of virtue, but there are directions in which his precepts give free license to lust and cruelty; and even Socrates sanctioned by his unrebuking intimacy and fondness the leaders and ornaments of the most dissolute society in Athens.

The acme of extra-Christian piety, and consequently of moral excellence, is presented in the writings and lives of the later Stoics, whose incorruptible virtue affords the only relief to our weariness and disgust, as we trace the history of Rome through the profligacy of the declining commonwealth and the depravity of the empire. We find here the Simeons and Annas of the Pagan world, who, though with the fleshly arm they embraced not the Son of God, needed but to see him to adore and love him. Yet in nothing was Stoicism more faulty than in its exalted sense of virtue. For it had no charity for sin, no tolerance even for the inferior forms of goodness. It was the ethics of the unfallen. It proffered no hope of forgiveness; it let down no helping hand from the heavens; it uttered no voice from the eternal silence; it opened no Father's house and arms for the penitent. In Moore's "Lalla Rookh" the Peri, promised forgiveness and readmission to Paradise on condition of bringing to the eternal gate the gift most dear to heaven, returns in vain with the last drop of the patriot's blood. Again, when she brings the expiring sigh of the most faithful human love, the crystal bar moves not. Once more she seeks the earth, and bears back the tear of penitence that has fallen from a godless wretch melted into contrition by a child's prayer; and for this alone the golden hinges turn. Stoicism could boast in rich profusion the patriot's blood, could feed the torch of a love stronger than death; but it could not start the penitential tear,—it failed of the one gift of earth for which there is joy in heaven.

Let us rise, then, from the purest philosophy of the old world to Christianity in its ethical relations and offices.

Christianity, as a revelation, covers the entire field of human duty, and gives the knowledge of many fitnesses, recognized when once made known, but undiscoverable by man's unaided insight. The two truths which lie at the foundation of Christian ethics are human brotherhood and the immortality of the soul.

1. Human brotherhood. The visible differences of race, color, culture, religion, customs, are in themselves dissociating influences. Universal charity is hardly possible while these differences occupy the foreground. Slavery was a natural and congenial institution under Pagan auspices, and the idea of a missionary enterprise transcends the broadest philanthropy of heathenism. We find indeed in the ancient moralists, especially in the writings of Cicero and Seneca, many precepts of humanity toward slaves, but no clear recognition of the injustice inseparable from the state of slavery; nor have we in all ancient literature, unless it be in Seneca (in whom such sentiments might have had more or less directly a Christian origin), a single expression of a fellowship broad enough to embrace all diversities of condition, much less of race. Even Socrates, while he expects himself to enter at death into the society of good men, and says that those who live philosophically will approach the nature of the gods, expresses the belief that worthy, industrious men who are not philosophers will, on dying, migrate into the bodies of ants, bees, or other hard-working members of the lower orders of animals.

The fraternity of our entire race—even without involving the mooted question of a common human parentage—is through Christianity established, not only by the Divine fatherhood so constantly proclaimed and so luculently manifested by Jesus, but equally by the unifying ministry of his death as a sacrifice for all, and by his parting commitment of "all the world" and "every creature" to the propagandism of his disciples. Though the spirit of this revelation has not yet been embodied in any community, it has inspired the life-work of many in every age; it has moulded reform and guided progress in social ethics throughout Christendom; it has twice swept the civilized world clean from domestic slavery; it has shaken every throne, is condemning every form of despotism, monopoly, and exclusiveness, and gives clear presage of a condition in which the old pre-Christian division of society into the preying and the preyed-upon will be totally obliterated.

2. The immortality of the soul, also, casts a light, at once broad and penetrating, upon and into every department of duty; for it is obvious, without detailed statement, that the fitnesses, needs, and obligations of a terrestrial being of brief duration, and those of a being in the nursery and initial stage of an endless existence, are very wide apart,—that the latter may find it fitting to do, seek, shun, omit, endure, resign, many things which to the former are very properly matters of indifference. Immortality was, indeed, in a certain sense believed before Christ, but with feeble assurance, and with the utmost vagueness of conception; so that this belief can hardly be said to have existed either as a criterion of duty or as a motive power. How small a part it bore in the ethics of the Stoic school may be seen, when we remember that Epictetus, than whom there was no better man, denied the life beyond death; and in Marcus Antoninus immortality was rather a devout aspiration than a fixed belief. In the Christian revelation, on the other hand, the eternal life is so placed in the most intimate connection with the life and character in this world as to cast its reflex lights and shadows on all earthly scenes and experiences.

Christianity, in the next place, makes to us an ethical revelation in the person and character of its Founder, exhibiting in him the very fitnesses which it prescribes, showing us, as it could not by mere precepts, the proportions and harmonies of the virtues, and manifesting the unapproached beauty, nay, majesty, of the gentler virtues,—virtutes leniores, as Cicero calls them,—which in pre-Christian ages were sometimes made secondary, sometimes repudiated with contempt and derision.

It is, I know, among the commonplaces of the rationalism and secularism of our time, that the moral precepts of the Gospel were not original, but had all been anticipated by Greek or Eastern sages. This is not literally and wholly true; for in some of the most striking of the alleged instances there is precisely the same difference between the heathen and the Christian precept that there is between the Old Testament and the New. The former says, "Thou shalt not;" the latter, "Thou shalt." The former forbids; the latter commands. The former prescribes abstinence from overt evil; the latter has for its sum of duty, "Be thou perfect, as thy Father in heaven is perfect." But the statement which I have quoted has more of truth in it than has been usually conceded by zealous champions of the Christian faith; and I would gladly admit its full and entire truth, could I see sufficient evidence of it. The unqualified admission does not in the least detract from the pre-eminent worth of Him who alone has been the Living Law. So far is this anticipation of his precepts by wise and good men before him from casting doubts on the divinity of his mission upon earth, that it only confirms his claims upon our confidence. For the great laws of morality are, as we have seen, as old as the throne of God; and strange indeed were it, had there been no intimation of them till the era of their perfect embodiment and full promulgation. The Divine Spirit, breathing always and everywhere, could not have remained, without witness of right, duty, and obligation in the outward universe and in the human conscience. So, struggling through the mists of weltering chaos, were many errant light-beams; yet none the less glorious and benignant was the sun, when in the clear firmament he first shone, all-illumining and all-guiding.

But in practical ethics a revelation of duty is but a small part of man's need. According to a Chinese legend, the founders of the three principal religious sects in the Celestial Empire, lamenting in the spirit-land the imperfect success which had attended the promulgation of their doctrines, agreed to return to the earth, and see if they could not find some right-minded person by whose agency they might convert mankind to the integrity and purity which they had taught. They came in their wanderings to an old man, sitting by a fountain as its guardian. He recalled to them the high moral tone of their several systems, and reproached them for the unworthy lives of their adherents. They agreed that he was the very apostle they sought. But when they made the proposal to him, he replied, "It is the upper part of me only that is flesh and blood: the lower part is stone. I can talk about virtue, but cannot follow its teachings." The sages saw in this man, half of stone, the type of their race, and returned in despair to the spirit-land.

There is profound truth in this legend. It indicates at once the mental receptivity and the moral inability of man, as to mere precepts of virtue. It is not enough that we know the right. We know much better than we do. The words which Ovid puts into the mouth of Medea, Video meliora, proboque, deteriora sequor ("I see and approve the better, I pursue the worse"), are the formula of universal experience. We, most of all, need enabling power. This we have through Christianity alone. We have it: 1. In the Divine fatherhood, as exhibited in those genial, winning traits, in which Jesus verifies his saying, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father,"—a fatherhood to feel which is to render glad and loving obedience to the Father's will and word; 2. In the adaptation of the love, sacrifice, and death of Christ to awaken the whole power of loving in the heart, and thus by the most cogent of motives to urge man to live no longer for himself, but for him who died for him; 3. In the assurance of forgiveness for past wrongs and omissions, without which there could be little courage for future well-doing; 4. In the promise and realization of Divine aid in every right purpose and worthy endeavor; 5. In institutions and observances designed and adapted to perpetuate the memory of the salient facts, and to renew at frequent intervals the recognition of the essential truths, which give to our religion its name, character, and efficacy.


Thus, while right and obligation exist independently of revelation, and even of natural religion, Christianity alone enables us to discern the right in its entireness and its due proportions; and it alone supplies the strength which we need, to make and keep us true to our obligations, under the stress of appetite and passion, cupidity and selfishness, human fear and favor.

Morality and religion, potentially separable, are yet inseparable in the will of God, under the culture of Christ. It used to be common to place the legal and the evangelical element in mutual antagonism. Nothing can be more profane or absurd than this. That which is not legal is evangelical only in name and pretence. That which is not evangelical is legal to no purpose. The religious belief or teaching, which lays not supreme stress on the whole moral law, is an outrage on the Gospel and the Saviour. The morality, which rests on any other foundation than Jesus Christ and his religion, is built on the sand, the prey of the first onrush or inrush of wind or wave. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."