In Arcanum divinae sapientiae Pope Leo XIII notes that Christianity tried to end the double-standard in matrimonial morality common in ancient times. Among pagans, he notes, the allowance of divorce and other evils gave men a specious freedom or rather licence, while degrading women:
Man assumed right of dominion over his wife, ordering her to go about her business, often without any just cause; while he was himself at liberty “to run headlong with impunity into lust, unbridled and unrestrained, in houses of ill-fame and amongst his female slaves, as if the dignity of the persons sinned with, and not the will of the sinner, made the guilt.”(4) When the licentiousness of a husband thus showed itself, nothing could be more piteous than the wife, sunk so low as to be all but reckoned as a means for the gratification of passion, or for the production of offspring. Without any feeling of shame, marriageable girls were bought and sold, tike so much merchandise,(5) and power was sometimes given to the father and to the husband to inflict capital punishment on the wife.
Christians, however, charged the husband to be as faithful as the wife:
‘And thus the rights of husbands and wives were made equal: for, as St. Jerome says, “with us that which is unlawful for women is unlawful for men also, and the same restraint is imposed on equal conditions.”(23) The self-same rights also were firmly established for reciprocal affection and for the interchange of duties; the dignity of the woman was asserted and assured; and it was forbidden to the man to inflict capital punishment for adultery,(25) or lustfully and shamelessly to violate his plighted faith.
Christian morality imposes strict obligations, that limit superficial freedom of action, but it is at the service of a deeper moral freedom. The liberals of Pope Leo’s time, however, convinced by Enlightenment philosophy, wanted to destroy those Christian restraints in the name of freedom. Their main goal was the legalization of divorce:
Yet, owing to the efforts of the archenemy of mankind, there are persons who, thanklessly casting away so many other blessings of redemption, despise also or utterly ignore the restoration of marriage to its original perfection. […] The chief reason why they act in this way is because very many, imbued with the maxims of a false philosophy and corrupted in morals, judge nothing so unbearable as submission and obedience; and strive with all their might to bring about that not only individual men, but families, also-indeed, human society itself-may in haughty pride despise the sovereignty of God. […] For, the salutary fear of God being removed, and there being no longer that refreshment in toil which is nowhere more abounding than in the Christian religion, it very often happens, as indeed is natural, that the mutual services and duties of marriage seem almost unbearable; and thus very many yearn for the loosening of the tie which they believe to be woven by human law and of their own will, whenever incompatibility of temper, or quarrels, or the violation of the marriage vow, or mutual consent, or other reasons induce them to think that it would be well to be set free. Then, if they are hindered by law from carrying out this shameless desire, they contend that the laws are iniquitous, inhuman, and at variance with the rights of free citizens; adding that every effort should be made to repeal such enactments, and to introduce a more humane code sanctioning divorce.
Divorce increases superficial freedom of choice, but it leads to moral slavery and the destruction of human happiness and society. Moreover, Pope Leo argues, divorce re-introduces the double-standard between husband and wife that had characterized paganism:
Truly, it is hardly possible to describe how great are the evils that flow from divorce. Matrimonial contracts are by it made variable; mutual kindness is weakened; deplorable inducements to unfaithfulness are supplied; harm is done to the education and training of children; occasion is afforded for the breaking up of homes; the seeds of dissension are sown among families; the dignity of womanhood is lessened and brought low, and women run the risk of being deserted after having ministered to the pleasures of men. Since, then, nothing has such power to lay waste families and destroy the mainstay of kingdoms as the corruption of morals, it is easily seen that divorces are in the highest degree hostile to the prosperity of families and States, springing as they do from the depraved morals of the people, and, as experience shows us, opening out a way to every kind of evil-doing in public and in private life.
Liberal feminism understandably reacted against that double standard. Its “solution,” however, was the opposite of the Christian one. Instead of holding men to the same strict standard as women, it decided to hold women to the lax standard of men. Contraception and abortion are the means by which it is possible for women to have the same false and licentious freedom as pagan men. (Note that in pagan Rome men had the power of killing their new born children by exposure).