Orthodoxy & Divorce: Biblical & Apostolic Teaching?

Orthodoxy & Divorce: Biblical & Apostolic Teaching? March 18, 2020

Chapter 8 of my book, Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison (July 2004 / 3rd revised edition July 2015, 335p), co-authored with Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier (Byzantine Catholic), pp. 191-224.


Orthodoxy allows up to three marriages. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, believes that “remarriage” is sinful (a perpetual state of adultery) if one or both parties has already been married, since a validly consummated, sacramental marriage between two baptized persons is indissoluble.

The Bible and the fathers are fairly clear that a second “marriage” is a state of perpetual adultery. One of my Orthodox dialogue partners argued that to make a rule “engraved in stone” with no exceptions (Catholic indissolubility of marriage) is to undercut the authority of the Church to “bind and loose.”

But relativists, antinomians, many libertarians, secularists, and theological liberals argue the same way: they tell us that Christian morality is too rigid and archaic, and that there are no absolutes: we must exercise a flexibility and compassion which takes into account human frailty, situation ethics, and modern society. Teenagers can’t be expected to abstain, so we will pass out condoms to them and not even try to stop them from engaging in sex.

Rather than protect them from the possibility of contracting AIDS by urging abstention, we will give them a balloon for sexual purposes and hope that it doesn’t break. We’re willing to take that chance (with their lives). Instead of telling college kids they shouldn’t get drunk, we know they will anyway, so we will come up with the claptrap about “designated drivers.” Where does such reasoning end? The eternal destiny of a soul is far more important than even saving one’s life.

We continue to follow through on the notion that divorce and remarriage is sinful and thus we won’t allow a second “marriage.” But if an ostensible “marriage” was in actuality never valid in the first place, the couple can be released to enter into a valid sacramental marriage. That is mercy and (the Orthodox conception of) economia exercised in harmony with the upholding of right and wrong – not a compromise with what is inherently immoral. The concept is fundamentally different.

Jesus taught that “the two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:6). When He contended with the Pharisees over the levitical legality of rescuing a sheep on the Sabbath, He was not saying such an act was wrong, which He was now relaxing for pastoral purposes, in order to accommodate human weakness. Quite the contrary; He was saying that such acts never were wrong, but that they were misunderstood as being forbidden by the Law when in fact they were not contrary to the Law – properly understood spiritually. He said that the Sabbath was made for man, not vice versa.

Orthodoxy, on the other hand, appears in this instance to be maintaining  that what is truly sinful and wrong can be relaxed and allowed, as an exercise of pastoral mercy or prudence. Such a principle is never found in the Bible. Jesus didn’t tell the woman caught in adultery that she was free to engage in sin because she couldn’t help it. No; He said, “go and sin no more.”

By this faulty reasoning, the early martyrs could have exercised “economia” and bowed down in idolatry to Caesar to spare their lives. They could have reasoned, “it is too difficult to be burned alive or eaten by lions, so God and the Church will understand if I renounce Christ in order to get out of this mess.”

I was asked to provide examples of the concept of an annulment in ancient Christian tradition. I found  two:

There is hardly anything more deadly than being married to one who is a stranger to the faith, where the passions of lust and dissension and the evils of sacrilege are inflamed. . . . how can that be called a marriage ceremony where there is no agreement in faith? (St. Ambrose, To Vigilius, Letter 19:7 [A.D. 385], in FC, XXVI:176)

This is an unambiguous example of the “Pauline privilege,” which is a type of annulment, or something similar to it, at any rate.

And so a wife is different from a concubine, even as a bondwoman from a freewoman. For which reason also the Apostle in order to show the difference of these persons quotes from Genesis, where it is said to Abraham, ‘Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.’ And hence, since the marriage tie was from the beginning so constituted as apart from the joining of the sexes to symbolize the mystic union of Christ and His Church, it is undoubted that that woman has no part in matrimony, in whose case it is shown that the mystery of marriage has not taken place. (Pope St. Leo the Great, To Rusticus, Epistle 167:4 [A.D. 459], in NPNF2, XII:110)

The Old Testament distinction between a concubine and a wife is somewhat analogous to our distinction between civil and sacramental marriage – itself the kernel and foundational premise of the concept of annulment. Sarah told Abraham to have sexual intercourse with the slave girl Hagar in order to produce a child (she being barren up till that time).

This was a Hebrew custom in those days. Concubines were protected by Mosaic law (Ex 21:7-11; Dt 21:10-14), though they were distinguished from wives (Judges 8:31) and were more easily divorced (Gen 21:10-14). God approved of the sending away of Hagar and her son Ishmael (Gen 21:12), not because they were evil or disparaged by Him (see Gen 17:20, 21:13, 17-20), but because Sarah was Abraham’s wife in the fuller sense (akin to sacramental marriage), as St. Leo argues above, following the Apostle Paul (see Gen 17:15-21; Gal 4:21-31).

But later prophets encouraged monogamy (Mal 2:14 ff.) and the ideal woman of Proverbs 31 lived in a monogamous society. Later, of course, Jesus taught that monogamy (with no divorce) was God’s ideal from the beginning (Mt 19:1-12; cf. Gen 2:24). Divorce – so Jesus said – was permitted to the Jews only because of “hardness of heart.”

But the “except for fornication” clause of Matthew 19:9 is interpreted by us as a case of non-matrimonial ongoing fornication as opposed to real marriage, and as such is a biblical basis for annulments, along with the Pauline privilege (1 Cor 7:15), which has always been accepted by the Church.

Also, we are informed in Ezra 10:1-19, 44 (cf. Ezek 9:1-2, 14-15), that many ancient Jews “put away” the “foreign wives” they had married, not merely because they were foreigners, but because they caused them to become corrupted by false religions and idolatry (see, e.g., Dt 17:17, Neh 13:23-28). This was essentially an annulment, not a divorce.

Eastern Christendom (long before 1054) changed the primitive, apostolic tradition on marriage and divorce – following emperors rather than councils and popes, the Bible and the fathers (as will be further documented below).

William Klimon, an Eastern Catholic expert on Orthodoxy, wrote, as part of a web-paper of mine:

Ignorance of the distinction between divorce and annulment and the claim that annulment is “Catholic divorce.” That claim is an incorrect and really uneducated one. There is no system of civil marriage law in the Christian world (and those parts of the world influenced by the Christian view) that does not have both categories – divorce and annulment – by whatever names.

Annulment of a marriage is legislative or judicial invalidation of it, as in law never having existed, as distinct from dissolution [divorce], which terminates a valid marriage. (The Oxford Companion to Law, ed. D.M. Walker, 1980, s.v. “Annulment”)

An “annulment” differs from a divorce in that a divorce terminates a legal status, whereas an annulment establishes that a marital status never existed. (Black’s Law Dictionary, 6th ed., 1990, s.v.   “Annulment”)

This distinction is recognized even in the Eastern canon law:

One should probably distinguish [when looking at the Eastern canon and civil law] between divorce proper and the annulment of marriage caused by its illegality (e.g., marriage prohibited by impediments, such as consanguinity) or by the social inequality of the partners. (The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, ed. A.P. Kazhdan, 1991, s.v. “Divorce”)

The great majority of the Fathers, in interpreting 1 Corinthians 6:16, required spouses to separate (without of course the possibility of remarriage) when one or both parties had committed adultery. See Henri Crouzel, “Divorce: I. Separation” in Encyclopedia of the Early Church, ed. A. Di Berardino (Oxford U. Pr. 1992), vol. 1, p. 243. The only relevant question the Fathers were divided on was whether the innocent spouse had to accept back the erring one. None of the Fathers thought that either party would be free to marry someone else.

Of course, the annulment process, like any judicial proceeding, is open to abuse. If someone is intent on defrauding the proceeding by, e.g., lying under oath, there is not much that can be done to stop that. One does not, therefore, dismantle the process. But the abuses in the American church (which seem largely limited to the American church) do not change the real nature of the annulment process (which seeks to determine whether a particular marriage was valid ab initio) nor the Church’s teaching on marriage.

I was told that in allowing divorce, Orthodoxy chooses between the “lesser of two sins.” The response to this is in the Bible:

John 8:34 . . . Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin . . .

1 John 3:8-9 Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil . . . Those who have been born of God do not sin.

Romans 7:7, 12 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! . . . the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good.

Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

In the case of marriage, a man and a woman are either truly joined together (sacramental and indissoluble) or not (non-sacramental / civil marriage / cohabitation / ongoing fornication). If they are truly joined together, that is a metaphysical and spiritual reality which can’t be examined under a microscope. We accept that based on revelation. If that is the case, then it cannot end until death (remember that?: “till death do us part”?). “What God has joined together . . .” God – not man!

That’s why a second marriage must be adulterous, and perpetually so, by the very nature of things. A couple has to willfully and with full knowledge enter into the holy, grace-giving matrimonial covenant and sacrament, which has certain defining characteristics. The fact that they often don’t these days is one of the root causes of the increase in annulments. The very concept of sacramental marriage is being lost.

Orthodoxy disregards the “ontology” of what has happened in a legitimate marriage, where the two become one flesh. One can’t undo that by “repentance.” It is distinct from other sins, which can be viewed as “in the past.” A true marriage between two validly baptized Christians can’t be dissolved by any power on earth, because it is a metaphysical and spiritual reality, ordained by God Himself.

If no marriage exists, it is no sin to remarry, and to that extent our two communions are in total agreement. Where there did exist a true marriage, we think divorce is (metaphysically, spiritually, morally) impossible, and that’s where the disagreement lies.

However one regards the particulars of the “contractual” or “legal” elements of marriage, we still have our Lord’s rather clear words as to what happens to those two people: a mystical bond occurs which is unbreakable in its very essence. Hence to break it constitutes adultery.

Matthew 5:31-32 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ [32] But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

He expands upon this in a later chapter:

Matthew 19:3-12 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” [4] He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, [5] and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? [6] So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.” [7] They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?” [8] He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. [9] And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery.” [10] The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” [11] But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. [12] For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.”

In Mark 10:1-12 this is reiterated without the dispensation for unlawful marriages.

The late Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J. (one of America’s leading orthodox Catholic catechists), explained the historical background of the change in Eastern Christian teaching on marriage and divorce:

The critical difference between Catholicism and Orthodoxy on marriage is that the latter does not consider Christian matrimony indissoluble. Everything in the administration of the sacrament suggests a permanent union, and all the writing on the subject encourages the people to remain steadfast until death. But the history of Orthodoxy shows that divorce with the right to remarry goes back to at least the sixth century when the Eastern Emperors passed marriage laws without the approval of Rome.

The most significant early legislation is that of Novel XXII in 536 A. D. and Novel CXVII promulgated by Justinian I in 542 A. D. As a matter of record, Justinian accused Pope Vigilius of heresy and asserted that, as emperor, he could pass judgment even on matters of doctrine. Gradually ecclesiastics accepted the civil legislation. The first patriarch to give express canonical sanction to divorce and remarriage seems to have been Alexius, who held office in Constantinople from 1025 to 1043 A. D. Adultery was the only grounds recognized.

Since the fall of Constantinople (1453) a wide range of reasons is available. We get some idea of its scope from the currently acceptable grounds for complete divorce, with the right to remarry, as found in the patriarchates of Constantinople and Moscow – the two largest bodies in Orthodoxy. Twenty-one distinct grounds are listed in Byzantine canon law . . .

In the Moscow Patriarchate there are ten canonical reasons for dissolving the marriage bond . . . The Muscovite legislation on divorce was passed by the national synod summoned just before the fall of the Russian Empire in 1917. Actual promulgation took place the following year. The more extensive Byzantine laws grew out of a millennium of practice but they also date, in their present form, from the 20th century . . .

Provisions are made for marriage ceremonies following a divorce. They are much different from the Crowning at a first nuptial, and reflect a clearly penitential note to emphasize that those who enter on a second union have failed to preserve the purity of their intention . . .

It is of more than historical interest to note that the Trullan Synod [692] was rejected by the Syrian Pope St. Sergius I (687-701); that the synod was held in the throne room (trullus) of the Emperor Justinian II; that the meeting is popularly called the Quinisext, or Fifth-Sixth Council to suggest that it completed the task of the previous two ecumenical assemblies; and that the disciplinary decrees of Trulla served to accentuate the growing division between Western and Eastern marital morality . . .

It was at Trulla that . . . the council also permitted husbands whose wives had been faithless to receive Communion in the Church [Mansi, vol. XI, c. 980]. Without expressly saying that divorce with remarriage was sanctioned, it is presumed that in actual practice no objection was raised.

Until recently, the Orthodox attitude toward contraception was strongly prohibitive. It was assumed that the practice was wrong and writers made only passing reference to the Eastern tradition that universally reprobated the practice. Already at Nicæa (325), men who had castrated themselves were not to be ordained or, if ordained, were to cease functioning as priests [Mansi, vol. II, c. 668]. Chrysostom [Homily on Romans, Patrologia Græca 60, 626-7], Epiphanius [Panarion, 26], and Cyril of Alexandria [Adoration in Spirit and Truth, 15: PG 68, 690] among the Fathers were cited as witnesses of the Church’s teaching.

Since the first World War, however, more and more writers defend contraception, with marked differences between the Russian and Greek segments. The Russians tend to be more liberal; the Greeks more strict. Thus the Church of Greece has come out against artificial birth control, and the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America has made a similar pronouncement. But even where the prevalent attitude is restrictive, the tendency is to condone contraception. (“Mixed Marriages: A Theological Analysis,” excerpt from Église et Théologie, I, 1970, 229-260; Fr. Hardon noted that Conservative Judaism came out in favor of contraception in 1934, and Orthodox Judaism – the Rabbinical Alliance of America – gave its sanction in 1958)

The Orthodox scholar, Fr. Stanley S. Harakas confirms the lateness of the tradition of divorce (some 500 years after Christ) in Eastern Christianity:

The Church is opposed to divorce in principle and sees it as a failure and an evil. However, . . . Jesus did not prohibit all divorces . . . In the year 541 a law was passed by the state (Novel 117) and was later made a ruling of both the Church and the state which recognized several reasons for divorce, all of which presupposed the breakdown of the unity of the couple, corresponding to physical death and adultery. These reasons have since become expanded somewhat, but it is always a sad and sorrowful thing for the Church to acknowledge the end of a marriage. (The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers, Minneapolis: Light & Life Pub. Co., 1987, 107)

Met. Kallistos Ware explains the Orthodox position on divorce, which to Catholic ears sounds morally incoherent:

Certainly Orthodoxy regards the marriage bond as in principle lifelong and indissoluble, and it sees the breakdown of marriage as a tragedy due to human weakness and sin. But while condemning the sin, the Church still desires to help suffering humans and to allow them a second chance. When, therefore, a marriage has entirely ceased to be a reality, the Orthodox Church does not insist on the preservation of a legal fiction. Divorce is seen as an exceptional but unavoidable concession to our human brokenness, living as we do in a fallen world . . . the Orthodox Church knows that a second alliance cannot have exactly the same character as the first; and so in the service for a second marriage several of the joyful ceremonies are omitted, and replaced by penitential prayers. In practice, however, this second marriage service is scarcely ever used. (The Orthodox Church, New York: Penguin Books, 1993 edition, 295)

Professor of History and Philosophy of Religion E. O. James (unstated religious persuasion) writes, in his Marriage Customs Through the Ages (New York: Collier Books, 1965, 129-130, 132-133, 151-152):

Canonical legislation governing Christian marriage gradually became systematized to interpret and apply the divine law on the assumption that the sacramental contract validly made and consummated is dissoluble only by the death of one of the parties . . . . .

[the author cites the presence from the beginning of the “Pauline privilege” in terms basically synonymous with the Catholic notion of annulment – viz., that in such cases the marriage never existed]

As the Church established its position in the Empire, and eventually became the sole authority, it set to work to correct laxity of observance by the exercise of canon law through its matrimonial courts. In the Byzantine East, however, imperial control remained much more firmly entrenched and civil legislation had a stronger hold than in the West. Thus, between the time of Constantine (314) and that of Justinian (527) facilities began to be given not only for the putting away of a wife or husband for adultery (porneia) which was a generally accepted practice in the pre-Constantine period, but for remarriage after divorce, at any rate in the case of the innocent party . . .

. . . the Latin Church on the whole has maintained the most consistent and uncompromising attitude in Christendom to the indissolubility of marriage . . . How deeply laid in Western Christendom was this conception of indissolubility is shown by the refusal of theologians to grant even to the Pope the right to dissolve a validly contracted and duly consummated marriage between two baptized persons . . .

In the Byzantine Empire . . . the Church made no attempt to determine the legal aspects of the constitution of marriage. It accepted the existing civil regulations including, as we have seen, the dissolution of the union a vinculo [dissolution of the marriage bond] under certain conditions . . . no conflict has arisen between the canonical legislation of the Orthodox Church and the secular authority since the civil order was reformed by the Byzantine emperors. Even when the decisions of the ecumenical synods, including those of Trullo, have been modified by later secular legislation no opposition has been encountered from the ecclesiastical authorities, so completely has marriage become regarded as subject to State regulation.

In the Latin West, on the other hand, the traditions of the indissolubility of Christian marriage were steadfastly maintained even before matrimonial causes were brought exclusively under spiritual jurisdiction. Papal decisions like those of Gregory II (726) communicated to St. Boniface, or of Alexander III to the bishop of Amiens, could be interpreted as declarations of nullity rather than permissions granted by the popes to the Frankish kings to dissolve a valid marriage.

Eastern Christendom was thus willing to forsake the advice of its own holy fathers with regard to divorce; for example, St. John Chrysostom:

Do not cite the civil law made by outsiders, which command that a bill be issued and a divorce granted. For it is not according to these laws that the Lord will judge thee on the Last Day, but according to those which He Himself has given. (De. Lib. Rep., cited in Conway, Bertrand, The Question Box, New York: Paulist Press, 1961 edition, 204)

Catholic theologian Ludwig Ott summarizes the teaching of the fathers:

The Fathers of the first centuries almost all expound the view that in the case of adultery the dismissal of the guilty party is permitted, but that a subsequent re-marriage is forbidden [he cites Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen] . . . St. Basil (Ep. 188 can. 9), St. Epiphanius (Haer. 59, 4) and Ambrosiaster (on 1 Cor 7,11) in view of Mt 5,32 and 19,9, and influenced by the state of legislation, allowed the man the right to the dissolution of the marriage and to marry again in the case of adultery of the woman. A defender of the absolute indissolubility of marriage, even in the case of adultery, is St. Augustine. (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974; originally 1952, 464)

What we have seen so far is more than adequate to establish that the Catholic Church alone maintains the tradition and practice of the early undivided Church in the first five centuries with regard to marriage and divorce. Eastern Christianity in the sixth century, introduced innovations with regard to the biblical and patristic understanding of the indissolubility of the marriage bond.

The Orthodox legatees of the Eastern Christian tradition have unfortunately continued this innovative tradition and practice, and have expanded it – now allowing many more reasons than adultery for the “dissolution” of a validly consummated marriage.

Church Fathers on Divorce and the Indissolubility of Marriage

Many thanks to Catholic Answers and Joe Gallegos for the following information:

What then shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this disposition [adultery]? Let him divorce her, and let the husband remain single. But if he divorce his wife and marry another, he too commits adultery. (Shepherd of Hermas; The Shepherd 4:1:6 [A.D. 80])

Flee wicked arts; but all the more discourse regarding them. Speak to my sisters, that they love in our Lord, and that their husbands be sufficient for them in the flesh and spirit. Then, again, charge my brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they love their wives, as our Lord His Church. If any man is able in power to continue in purity, to the honour of the flesh of our Lord, let him continue so without boasting; if he boasts, he is undone; if he become known apart from the bishop, he has destroyed himself. It is becoming, therefore, to men and women who marry, that they marry with the counsel of the bishop, that the marriage may be in our Lord, and not in lust. Let everything, therefore, be [done] for the honour of God. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, To Polycarp, 5 [A.D. 110], in ANF, I:100)

In regard to chastity, [Jesus] has-this to say: ‘If anyone look with lust at a woman, he has already before God committed adultery in his heart.’ And, ‘Whoever marries a woman who has been divorced from another husband, commits adultery.’ According to our Teacher, just as they are sinners who contract a second marriage, even though it be in accord with human law, so also are they sinners who look with lustful desire at a woman. He repudiates not only one who actually commits adultery, but even one who wishes to do so; for not only our actions are manifest to God, but even our thoughts. (St. Justin Martyr, First Apology 15 [A.D. 151])

Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, ‘Thou shalt not put away thy wife, except for the cause of fornication;’ and it regards as fornication, the marriage of those separated while the other is alive. Not to deck and adorn herself beyond what is becoming, renders a wife free of calumnious suspicion. while she devotes herself assiduously to prayers and supplications; avoiding frequent departures from the house, and shutting herself up as far as possible from the view of all not related to her, and deeming housekeeping of more consequence than impertinent trifling. ‘He that taketh a woman that has been put away,’ it is said, ‘committeth adultery; and if one puts away his wife, he makes her an adulteress,’ that is, compels her to commit adultery. And not only is he who puts her away guilty of this, but he who takes her, by giving to the woman the opportunity of sinning; for did he not take her, she would return to her husband. (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, 2:24 [A.D. 202], in ANF, II:379)

Whence are we to find (words) enough fully to tell the happiness of that marriage which the Church cements, and the oblation confirms, and the benediction signs and seals; (which) angels carry back the news of (to heaven), (which) the Father holds for ratified? For even on earth children do not rightly and lawfully wed without their fathers’ consent. What kind of yoke is that of two believers, (partakers) of one hope, one desire, one discipline, one and the same service? Both (are) brethren, both fellow servants, no difference of spirit or of flesh; nay, (they are) truly ‘two in one flesh.’] Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit ton. Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God; equally at the banquet of God; equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither hides (ought) from the other; neither shuns the other; neither is troublesome to the other. The sick is visited, the indigent relieved, with freedom. Alms (are given) without (danger of ensuing) torment; sacrifices (attended) without scruple; daily diligence (discharged) without impediment: (there is) no stealthy signing, no trembling greeting, no mute benediction. Between the two echo psalms and hymns; and they mutually challenge each other which shall better chant to their Lord. Such things when Christ sees and hears, He joys. To these He sends His own I peace. Where two (are), there withal (is) He Himself. Where He (is), there the Evil One is not. (Tertullian, To My Wife, 2,8:4 [A.D. 206], in ANF, IV:48)

Then, describing what ought to be in the case of those who are joined together by God, so that they may be joined together in a manner worthy of God, the Saviour adds, ‘So that they are no more twain;’ and, wherever there is indeed concord, and unison, and harmony, between husband and wife, when he is as ruler and she is obedient to the word, ‘He shall rule over thee,’ then of such persons we may truly say, ‘They are no more twain.’ Then since it was necessary that for ‘him who was joined to the Lord,’ it should be reserved ‘that he should become one spirit with Him,’ in the case of those who are joined together by God, after the words, ‘So that they are no more twain,’ it is said, ‘but one flesh.’ And it is God who has joined together the two in one so that they are no more twain, from the time that the woman is married to the man. And, since God has joined them together, on this account in the case of those who are joined together by God, there is a ‘gift’; and Paul knowing this, that marriage according to the Word of God was a ‘gift,’ like as holy celibacy was a gift, says, ‘But I would that all men were like myself; howbeit, each man hath his own gift from God, one after this manner, and another after that.’ And those who are joined together by God both mind and keep the precept, ‘Husbands love your wives, as Christ also the church.’ The Saviour then commanded, ‘What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder,’ but man wishes to put asunder what God hath joined together, when, “falling away from the sound faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron, forbidding,” not only to commit fornication, but ‘to marry,’ he dissolves even those who had been before joined together by the providence of God. Let these things then be said, keeping in view what is expressly said concerning the male and the female, and the man and the woman, as the Saviour taught in the answer to the Pharisees. (Origen, Commentary on Matthew, 14:16 [post A.D. 244], in ANF, X:506)

Just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Savior, he commits adultery with her. (Origen, Commentaries on Matthew, 14:24 [A.D. 248])

Likewise, women who have left their husbands for no prior cause and have joined themselves with others, may not even at death receive communion. (Council of Elvira, canon 8 [A.D. 300])

Likewise, a woman of the faith [i.e., a baptized person] who has left an adulterous husband of the faith and marries another, her marrying in this manner is prohibited. If she has so married, she may not at any more receive communion – unless he that she has left has since departed from this world. (Ibid., canon 9)

If she whom a catechumen [an unbaptized person studying the faith] has left shall have married a husband, she is able to be admitted to the fountain of baptism. This shall also be observed in the instance where it is the woman who is the catechumen. But if a woman of the faithful is taken in marriage by a man who left an innocent wife, and if she knew that he had a wife whom he had left without cause, it is determined that communion is not to be given to her even at death. (Ibid., canon 10)

Two reasons can be advanced to explain why the marriage was celebrated with external festivities in Cana of Galilee, and why the water was truly changed into wine: so that the tide of Bacchanalian frenetics in the world might be turned to chastity and dignity in marriage, and so that the rest might be directed aright to the enjoyment both of wine free of toil and of the favor that presented it; so that in every way it might stop the mouths of those aroused against the Lord, and so that it might show that He is God with the Father and His Holy Spirit. (Epiphanius, Panarion [Against All Heresies], 51:30 [A.D. 370], in JUR, II:72-73)

‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ See a teacher’s wisdom. I mean, that being asked, Is it lawful? He did not at once say, It is not lawful, lest they should be disturbed and put in disorder, but before the decision by His argument He rendered this manifest, showing that it is itself too the commandment of His Father, and that not in opposition to Moses did He enjoin these things, but in full agreement with him. But mark Him arguing strongly not from the creation only, but also from His command. For He said not, that He made one man and one woman only, but that He also gave this command that the one man should be joined to the one woman. But if it had been His will that he should put this one away, and bring in another, when He had made one man, He would have formed many Women. But now both by the manner of the creation, and by the manner of lawgiving, He showed that one man must dwell with one woman continually, and never break off from her. (St. John Chrysostom, On Matthew, 62:1 [A.D. 370], in NPNF1, X:382)

A man who marries after another man’s wife has been taken away from him will be charged with adultery in the case of the first woman; but in the case of the second he will be guiltless. (St. Basil the Great, Second Canonical Letter to Amphilochius 199:37 [A.D. 375])

No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. ‘If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce’; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another. (St. Ambrose, Abraham 1:7:59 [A.D. 387])

Do not tell me about the violence of the ravisher, about the persuasiveness of a mother, about the authority of a father, about the influence of relatives, about the intrigues and insolence of servants, or about household [financial] losses. So long as a husband lives, be he adulterer, be he sodomite, be he addicted to every kind of vice, if she left him on account of his crimes he is still her husband still and she may not take another. (St. Jerome, Letters 55:3 [A.D. 396])

Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may calumniate the innocent and, for the sake of a second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed a second may not be taken while the first lives. (St. Jerome, Commentaries on Matthew 3:19:9 [A.D. 398])

[T]he practice is observed by all of regarding as an adulteress a woman who marries a second time while her husband yet lives, and permission to do penance is not granted her until one of them is dead. (Pope Innocent I, Letters 2:13:15 [A.D. 408])

Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others. This adultery, nevertheless, is certainly less serious than that of men who dismiss their wives for reasons other than fornication and take other wives. Therefore, when we say: ‘Whoever marries a woman dismissed by her husband for reason other than fornication commits adultery,’ undoubtedly we speak the truth. But we do not thereby acquit of this crime the man who marries a woman who was dismissed because of fornication. We do not doubt in the least that both are adulterers. We do indeed pronounce him an adulterer who dismissed his wife for cause other than fornication and marries another, nor do we thereby defend from the taint of this sin the man who dismissed his wife because of fornication and marries another. We recognize that both are adulterers, though the sin of one is more grave than that of the other. No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery. (St. Augustine, Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9 [A.D. 419])

A woman begins to be the wife of no later husband unless she has ceased to be the wife of a former one. She will cease to be the wife of a former one, however, if that husband should die, not if he commit fornication. A spouse, therefore, is lawfully dismissed for cause of fornication; but the bond of chastity remains. That is why a man is guilty of adultery if he marries a woman who has been dismissed even for this very reason of fornication. (Ibid., 2:4:4)

Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier

One of the most painful pastoral issues facing the Church today pertains to the breakdown of the family, most especially in the cases of divorce. Divorce – most especially among Christians – is a great evil and a great cause for sadness, even though in particular cases it may even be necessary or obligatory to undertake this action in order to protect innocent spouses and/or children. But even in such cases, there can be no doubt that in view of the Christian calling, divorce in general is a harmful phenomenon: on a personal, societal, and ecclesial level.

As a result many Catholics find themselves in difficult and canonically irregular situations, through the attempt at a second marriage outside of the Church, that causes them to be excluded from full participation in the sacramental life of the Church, who, given her life of spiritual maternity in Christ cannot simply abandon them despite the need to fully uphold the teachings of Christ vis-à-vis marriage.

The traditional Christian affirmation concerning matrimony, rooted in the Gospels and fathers and doctors of the Churches of East and West, is one that upholds the sacramental nature and absolute indissolubility of the marriage covenant. Both Orthodoxy and Catholicism (East and West) affirm this teaching, which is amply supported by the evidence provided by Dave in the above chapter.

In fact, in the Byzantine East, the marriage bond was viewed by some as indissoluble even after death, leading at times to the active discouragement (up to and including canonical penalties) for the remarriage of widows and widowers! Such a view could even be said to be bolstered by comparisons made by Saint Augustine of Hippo, who saw parallels in the sacramental nature of matrimony to that of sacrament of baptism, which indelibly marks the new Christian and cannot be undone even if he separates himself from the Church. In the case of a Christian who divorces his or her spouse:

Indeed it now remains as a wound of guilt, no longer as uniting power of the covenant, just as the soul of an apostate, in likewise leaving its marriage with Christ, even after losing its faith does not lose the sacrament of faith, which it once received in the bath of rebirth. (De nuptiis 1, 10, 11 CSEL 42, 222.)

All that being said, it is apparent that, while both Christian East and West began with the same apostolic root: the sacramentality and indissolubility of the marriage bond, in dealing with the issue of Christian divorce and remarriage, widely divergent practices developed for a variety of reasons.

The West for the most part (although some different practices developed in various areas at various times) maintained a fairly consistent stance, which followed the literal ideal of the Gospel teaching of Christ on the impossibility of legitimately contracting a second marriage (either sacramentally or civilly) while a spouse was still living.

In the case of a civil divorce where either party desired to be remarried in the Church, however, a system of granting annulments after due examination developed which would examine the underlying validity of the union. Any Declaration of Nullity issued would stipulate that the individuals involved were never married sacramentally due to some impediment that was identified, and which prevented the actual full, free sacramental union from being formed.

The Byzantine East, however, while completely affirming the sacramental and indissoluble characteristic of the first union of husband and wife, nevertheless, in the case of marital breakdown due to adultery, abandonment or some other grave cause, would grant what is known as an ecclesiastical divorce and permit a non-sacramental second marriage to be celebrated in a penitential manner. A third marriage might also be permitted under the same circumstances, but never a fourth.

Within this particular rite of remarriage, there is an exchange of rings, but not the use of Crowns, which is significant since matrimony is known within the Eastern traditions generally as the “Rite of Crowning in Marriage.” The prayers of great joy and blessing in the original rite are also replaced with prayers that make reference to the repentance and forgiveness of Rahab the prostitute (see Joshua 6) and the need for mercy in reference to human weakness and burning passions. The text and tone of the ceremony makes explicit that what is occurring is not in accord with the will of God, but rather is being done as a pastoral concession to human weakness.

This special concession was originally intended to be granted primarily to the innocent spouse who through no presumed fault of his or her own (adultery of or abandonment by the other spouse) found himself or herself in an extremely difficult circumstance. After a suitable period of penance for several years, such persons who contract a second or third marriage might even be readmitted to Holy Communion. Of course, contemporary Orthodox practice today has expanded this far beyond the original intention.

The theological basis for such a permission to undertake a second or third marriage is the notion of oikonomia or “economy” (coming from the Greek oikos meaning “household” and nomos meaning “law”). According to this principle, which in some ways is related to but not entirely synonymous with the Catholic usage of dispensations, the bishop as the steward and shepherd of the household of God is granted certain leeway in the application of Church laws to particular pastoral situations, most especially in view of the reality of our sinful and weakened condition.

One essential difference is that according to the Orthodox understanding of oikonomia, a bishop may in fact apply this not only to particular laws of the Church, but even to the revealed teachings of the moral law, such as, in this particular case, the command of Christ echoed by St. Paul and the apostolic patrimony for the first several centuries of Church life forbidding remarriage after divorce. The Catholic application of dispensations is far more proscriptive according to much more narrow circumstances, and applies strictly to matters of ecclesiastical and not divine law.

In this regard, it is important to point out that the Catholic Churches of East and West believe that no patriarch, pope, bishop or even synod in their stewardship over the household of faith, that is, the Church entrusted to their pastoral care, has the authority to alter, dispense from, cooperate with, condone, or even tacitly approve any belief or practice which is viewed as contrary to the revealed Word of God and the faith and morals which form the traditio of the apostolic faith entrusted to their successors in perpetuity.

That being said, both systems – the system of annulments and the system of ecclesiastical divorce – developed in response to the pastoral crisis and breakdown of the ideal of Christian marriage: fully faithful, fruitful and sacramental. Both systems ultimately upheld the same sacramental assumptions about the indissolubility of the first, consummated marriage bond. The Byzantine system of ecclesiastical divorce developed in the context of a Christian Empire which was developing civil laws to address the many and varied needs of its subjects. Church laws were no doubt influenced by or even in certain cases mirrored the laws of the Empire, especially given the state of growing interdependence between ecclesia and imperium.

The Latin system of annulments which was supported especially by the Pope of Rome during a time where no such Christian State existed, developed in an environment where no such concessions to the imperium were requested or granted, seeing the command of Gospels as being normative.

What has evolved, however, over time in both systems – one, namely the system of annulments, being more faithful to the literal meaning of the teaching of Christ in the Gospels – appears at times to call into question even the shared understanding of marital indissolubility as professed by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

The Orthodox Churches allow the practice ecclesiastical divorce and remarriage with great frequency, even beyond the traditional provisions for the innocent spouse faced with an adulterous or absent – yet still living – spouse. In the Catholic Church (Eastern and Western), annulments are granted as well with great frequency, causing some to question whether the traditional teachings and affirmations of the Church still stand.

Of course, the dogmatic and doctrinal sacramental teachings of the Church do not change. Pastoral practice, however, is another matter altogether, within certain limits. One example of a change in pastoral practice is found in a section of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), written by Pope St. John Paul II (no. 84) entitled “Divorced Persons Who Have Remarried.” Here I quote the section in full:

Daily experience unfortunately shows that people who have obtained a divorce usually intend to enter into a new union, obviously not with a Catholic religious ceremony. Since this is an evil that, like the others, is affecting more and more Catholics as well, the problem must be faced with resolution and without delay. The Synod Fathers studied it expressly. The Church, which was set up to lead to salvation all people and especially the baptized, cannot abandon to their own devices those who have been previously bound by sacramental marriage and who have attempted a second marriage. The Church will therefore make untiring efforts to put at their disposal her means of salvation.

Pastors must know that, for the sake of truth, they are obliged to exercise careful discernment of situations. There is in fact a difference between those who have sincerely tried to save their first marriage and have been unjustly abandoned, and those who through their own grave fault have destroyed a canonically valid marriage. Finally, there are those who have entered into a second union for the sake of the children’s upbringing, and who are sometimes subjectively certain in conscience that their previous and irreparably destroyed marriage had never been valid.

Together with the Synod, I earnestly call upon pastors and the whole community of the faithful to help the divorced, and with solicitous care to make sure that they do not consider themselves as separated from the Church, for as baptized persons they can, and indeed must, share in her life. They should be encouraged to listen to the word of God, to attend the Sacrifice of the Mass, to persevere in prayer, to contribute to works of charity and to community efforts in favor of justice, to bring up their children in the Christian faith, to cultivate the spirit and practice of penance and thus implore, day by day, God’s grace. Let the Church pray for them, encourage them and show herself a merciful mother, and thus sustain them in faith and hope.

However, the Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried. They are unable to be admitted thereto from the fact that their state and condition of life objectively contradict that union of love between Christ and the Church which is signified and effected by the Eucharist. Besides this, there is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage.

Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance which would open the way to the Eucharist, can only be granted to those who, repenting of having broken the sign of the Covenant and of fidelity to Christ, are sincerely ready to undertake a way of life that is no longer in contradiction to the indissolubility of marriage. This means, in practice, that when, for serious reasons, such as for example the children’s upbringing, a man and a woman cannot satisfy the obligation to separate, they take on themselves the duty to live in complete continence, that is, by abstinence from the acts proper to married couples.” [italics added]

Similarly, the respect due to the sacrament of Matrimony, to the couples themselves and their families, and also to the community of the faithful, forbids any pastor, for whatever reason or pretext even of a pastoral nature, to perform ceremonies of any kind for divorced people who remarry. Such ceremonies would give the impression of the celebration of a new sacramentally valid marriage, and would thus lead people into error concerning the indissolubility of a validly contracted marriage.

By acting in this way, the Church professes her own fidelity to Christ and to His truth. At the same time she shows motherly concern for these children of hers, especially those who, through no fault of their own, have been abandoned by their legitimate partner.

With firm confidence she believes that those who have rejected the Lord’s command and are still living in this state will be able to obtain from God the grace of conversion and salvation, provided that they have persevered in prayer, penance and charity.

The pastoral attitude towards those in these difficult situations is palpable. It was also echoed over three decades later by the 2012 Synod of Bishops when they issued this statement to those who find themselves in such difficult circumstances: “To all of them we want to say that God’s love does not abandon anyone, that the Church loves them, too, that the Church is a house that welcomes all, that they remain members of the Church even if they cannot receive sacramental absolution and the Eucharist. May our Catholic communities welcome all who live in such situations and support those who are in the path of conversion and reconciliation.”

We note here no rank moralistic or dismissive tone, but rather a statement of outreach and of great pastoral concern imbued with the love of Jesus Christ for all and a deep awareness of the difficulties of living fully the teachings of the Gospel in today’s world.

One important pastoral concession mentioned in the Apostolic Exhortation (in italics) is in the case of those who have remarried and, who for serious reasons such as the sake of the children of their union, cannot fulfill the obligation to separate, may still live together in a state of perfect continence; that is, without engaging in the intimacy proper to the married state.

The path undertaken here may be difficult, but is by no means impossible and may, through grace, reflect a true spiritual heroism. Some, however, may regard this as hardly any concession at all, especially in view of the ever widening latitude afforded to Orthodox Christians in the matter of remarriage and readmission to Communion, not to mention those in Protestant communities.

Might further concessions be possible? The frequently expressed hope is that the current incumbent to the Petrine See, Pope Francis, who publicly made mention of Orthodox practice in reference to the search for a pastoral solution, might adopt a less strict application of the divine law. Here I wish to be sensitive, as both an Eastern Catholic and a clergyman, to the dangers of either creating a false hope or of discouraging hope for the reunion of Churches who are divided on this issue.

As of the writing of this book, the preparations for the Synod of Bishops on the matter of the pastoral care of the family and Christian marriage are underway. Additionally, the current Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, issued a statement weighing in on the current debate about marital indissolubility and the idea of remarriage and readmission to the sacraments entitled “Testimony to the Power of Grace” which is well worth reading given its outline of the witness of Scripture and tradition in this regard.

Beyond this, I do not wish to say more and submit to the wisdom and discernment of the Church’s pastors to determine what, if anything, may change as regards Catholic practice.

What can be said is that this particular issue is one of grave pastoral concern for the bishops of the Catholic Church, both Eastern and Western, as well as of grave ecumenical concern in terms of Orthodox-Catholic prospects of reunion, considering that issues like the papacy and Filioque do not generally strike the heart and homes of individual Christians and families like that of the nature of Christian marriage.

This is a significant ecumenical issue that needs to be addressed in the official dialogues in the hope that it may also help to bring new energy to these issues in our post-Christian society which appears to have rejected any sense of marital indissolubility, even embracing more radical redefinitions of marriage far removed from both natural law and the divinely revealed Judeo-Christian tradition.

Dave Armstrong

I appreciate Fr. Deacon Daniel’s emphasis on the pastoral aspect and human dimension of this difficult issue. It’s one that I also wholeheartedly share. When I was a staff moderator for three years in the Internet forum of The Coming Home Network, we often counseled people in difficult and irregular marital situations, in a way perhaps similar to what a priest or deacon might do.

Our challenging (and on occasion, frustrating) task was to walk the “thin line” of balancing compassion and sympathy with a duty to present what the Catholic Church teaches and requires. I believe that we succeeded, for the most part, with the necessary aid of the Holy Spirit and God’s grace.

People (otherwise favorably disposed to Christianity) seem generally to be willing to accept “hard teachings” if they are treated with dignity and compassion. A few will become angry and reject Catholic teaching out of hand, as “impossible” or intolerably interfering in matters that are thought to be “private” and therefore not under the jurisdiction of the Church.

Yet Jesus is the Lord of all of life, including even marriage and sexuality, and it remains as true as ever that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Lk 18:27), and “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).

As we saw in the lengthy excerpt from Pope St. John Paul II, no matter how difficult individual circumstances may be, Catholic doctrine and moral teaching remain unchanged, and an ostensible second “marriage” without an annulment requires abstinence and complete marital chastity.

That‘s the very difficult teaching that many find impossible to accept, yet we are never promised that the Christian life will necessarily be easy. Sin, on our own part, and  committed by others, creates pain and suffering and difficulty that might have been prevented, had a different road been taken. In a word, it’s not God’s fault. He created laws of marriage and sexuality that are for our own good. If we follow them, we will be blessed and prosperous and fulfilled. If we don’t, a heavy personal price will, sadly, have to be paid.

The Church is compassionate towards people who have sinned and repented (thanks be to our gracious and merciful God, or we’d all be in very bad shape!), but it doesn’t follow that a valid sacramental marriage can be dissolved as a result. Changing a divine truth or law will not help the overall problem of the breakdown of marriage.

What traditional Christians (including Protestants who are opposed to divorce) need to do, is educate the public about  proper, moral sexual practices, and the nature and purpose and beauty of marriage, as traditionally understood (between a man and a woman, and indissoluble, if properly sacramental,  with full understanding and consent by both parties).

To reiterate: while I am sensitive to the “pastoral” dimension of this area, and do not at all enjoy presenting and defending beliefs that are quite difficult to apply in real life, I remain firmly convinced that it is Catholic teaching that has fully maintained apostolic, patristic, and biblical tradition in this respect.

Annulment is not divorce (no matter how many times people may think or say that); it’s fundamentally, essentially different. Moreover, abuses of the annulment system (which I freely grant), do not cast into question the thing itself; only the process by which it is applied or enforced, as the case may be.

Catholic teachings about marriage, divorce, and what constitutes a legitimate annulment are clear. An annulment which is illegitimate is wrong, and whoever grants it will stand accountable before God for grave sin. I also think that the Catholic Church should take very strong action wherever such abuses are established to have taken place.

My deep concern with regard to Orthodoxy, on the other hand, is the sanction of the Orthodox priest presiding over such a “remarriage”: which gives it (in the eyes of many) a respectability and acceptance that I think is indefensible. In the case of Orthodoxy, then, the critique is made of a “marriage system” that has itself departed from the tradition of the early Church, both East and West.

This is a quite different scenario from the presence of abuses that go against the known laws (as in Catholicism), and – with all due respect to our Orthodox brothers and sisters – is highly troubling to Catholics. Ironically, Catholics are often charged by Orthodox with having departed from ancient teaching and practice, whether it has to do with purgatory or various Marian doctrines or the Filioque or various other Catholic “distinctives.”

In this instance, however, it seems to be a fairly clear-cut case that the departure from ancient precedent and practice is on the Orthodox side. To go from a position of “no divorce and no remarriage” to “divorce and two remarriages” is not a consistent development of what came before, but rather, a reversal, an innovation, and a doctrinal corruption.

That’s my understanding at present, that I hold in good faith and good conscience, and defend as a Catholic apologist. If somehow a principled “compromise” can be achieved in this area: some blessed middle ground where both sides are willing to meet, in accord with apostolic tradition, for the purpose of reunion (stranger things have happened), I will wholeheartedly accept, as always, the teaching and directives of Holy Mother Church, and adjust my beliefs accordingly.

In conclusion (as a sort of addendum), one must distinguish between natural and sacramental marriage. I believe it is correct to say that my wife Judy was in the former state, in our own marriage, from October 1984 until my reception into the Church in February 1991, and her return to it. Since she was baptized Catholic, it was a defect of form for her to be married in a Protestant church.

Thus, we had a valid marriage but not a sacramental one for those years (if I understand correctly: such technical and canonical things are not my forte at all). In any event, whatever the particulars, it was an irregular marriage in some fashion. We went through the entire marriage ceremony with Fr. John A. Hardon, S. J., at my reception: with a touch of humor, since Judy was seven months pregnant at the time with our first child Paul.

I stated above that the Old Testament concubine analogy was “somewhat analogous” and not fully so. Even an attempted full analogy has some difference in it, to be found somewhere, in the nature of the case. Hence, the saying that “no analogy is perfect.”

Secondly, my analogy had not so much to do with the distinction between civil and sacramental marriage (this is where my language could have been more clear), as it had to do with situations in either scenario which are candidates for annulment.

Thus, the concubine could be “sent away” (Abraham and Hagar), as could the “foreign wives” who were not supposed to be married in the first place; analogous to the wife of an ostensible marriage that was annulled due to the absence of factors required on the part of either or both parties.

The main point I was making, was to try to find something – anything – in Scripture akin to annulment: the thing that Orthodox deny altogether and deride as merely “Catholic divorce.”

Whenever something can be tied to Scripture in any way, then it is an apostolic argument and not one of “late development” (real or alleged). That’s one of many reasons I love making biblical arguments so much: it’s “common ground” not only with our Orthodox brethren, but also our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ.


Related Reading

Divorce: Early Church Teaching [Oct. 1998]

Dialogue on Annulment & Divorce: Essentially Different? [1997-1999]

Biblical Evidence for Annulments [2002]

Biblical Evidence for Prohibiting Divorce [2004]

Matthew 19:9 “Divorce Exception” Translation Bias [11-6-08]

Dialogue on the Matthew 19:19 Exception Clause & Divorce [11-10-08]

Divorced & Remarried (Etc.) & Holy Communion [10-19-15]

Annulment is Not “Catholic Divorce” [11-17-15]

Interpretations of Pope Francis’ Application of Amoris Laetitia with Regard to Extraordinarily Difficult Domestic Situations [my comments in my lengthy Facebook thread, 9-14-16]


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