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7/21/2015 1:58 pm  #1

Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

I know this isn't a Catholic forum as such; however, the social issues surrounding marriage have today become so politicized that it hardly seems innapropriate to discuss all the nuances of marriage even from the peculiar perspectives of particular religions.

As many Catholics will know, the Church is preparing a council - a "Synod of the Family" - due to come together this October. It is well known that the issue of divorce and remarriage will be very much on the table. It is also well known that this is an issue wherein some fairly clear lines are being drawn up between conservatives and liberals, between rigorists and laxists.

For the conseratives and the rigorists, there is the understanding that marriage is instituted and regulated by God and not hy human power or agency once entered into. Consequently, they argue that the Church is bound or restricted in accomodating divorced and remarried persons, especially Catholics or, more specifically, those who are safely presumed to have entered into Holy Matrimony as such - that is, a sacramental marriage. Generally speaking, this is also applies to any union entered into by two baptized persons who are otherwise elligible for marriage.

I think the biggest and best issue pointed out by the more liberal side is the sense that in some cases it does seem odd that some souls find themselves in almost impossible situations to rectify apparent defects. Often these unions were entered into long ago during a period of virtual lapse, with only later a conversion occuring. Further, the Church's ordinarily rigorist view of marriage can easily and accidentally cause confusion insofar as those who were not batpized may presume that the ordinarily rigorist and disciplined Catholic view toward sacramental marriages applies equally to any and all marriages whatever. Of course, now that even gay unions are being called marriages, it is obvious that this isn't the case.

There is a sense that in some cases entering into a marriage seems almost to have injured the possibility of some toward salvation, which hardly seems conducive to Catholic thinking generally. Salvation comes first and while marriage is a fundamental reality it is still a temporal instiution in Christian belief. The Catholic belief is certainly that marriage is regulated and instituted by God. Moreover, we are right not to presume that God would, e.g., ever annul or otherwise invalidate a sacramental marriage so long as the spouses both live. However, not every marriage is sacramental, of course. Further, there is the question of priority between salvation of souls and the realization of the kingdom of God on earth on one hand and the moral and natural law as such on the other. Ordinarily and ideally, these two ought to go hand in hand; however, we do at times recognize a priority in God's will toward the salvation of souls, which can liberate people from otherwise ordinarily binding human customs and traditions, which are typically routed in nature or expressions of our nature and are therefor just and part of the moral and natural law.

Now I am not saying there is a contradiction and nor am I trying to draw anything like an opposition between God's law and natural law. Part of the Church's mission is to in fact effect a unity between the two which is part of the Church's mission of redemption and restoration, "But from the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8).

The distinction I think that needs to be considered is a difference between natural moral laws insofar as they concern truly and strictly temporal realities and the same as it touches upon things that will not "pass away." For example, while marriage we are taught is something that will pass away, we have no reason to believe -indeed, good reason to deny- that, e.g., our sex as such will; that is, that we will be male or female for all eternity (and here natural defects such as make for, e.g., hermaphrodites can expect a restoration of their proper nature though we should not presume, I think, to know what God will do for each soul in each case). Indeed, one might argue this distinction was the very reason for Moses' permitting divorce in the first place without offending God. This permission, however, must simultaneously be understood to have not been anything remotely like ideal but as the Lord himself says was done in consideration of the 'hardness of hearts.'  We must also never fail to forget that the restoration of the moral and natural law here, in conjunction with the divine, was done in view of the graces that were to now be dispensed. God was also going to be giving all the graces necessary for people to realize their vows in sacramental marriages; further, it acted as a real sign of God's redemption and restoration of man and also, as we well know, the insperable unity between God and His Church. In many marriages, even these latter signs (of restoration, redemption and the unity of God and His Church) are scarcely intelligible - even scandalous to that effect.

"The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State."
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16 (3).

Defend your Family. Join the U.N. Family Rights Caucus.

7/22/2015 3:05 am  #2

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

The Orthodox permit it as a dispensation and last resort though they understand marriage differently as a spiritual discipline. I support the Church's effort to keep marriages intact but given the commonality of the remarried in the Church, I wonder if the teaching doesn't look like something of a paper tiger.

Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger

7/22/2015 9:14 am  #3

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

One idea I've seen kicked around a bit is that, in view of the cultural and legal trends of the last half-century or so, the Church could stop presuming that (at least in the U.S.) civil marriages, even between baptized spouses, are valid by default. I like the idea in principle, but I don't know what practical difficulties it would entail.


7/22/2015 9:27 am  #4

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

Doesn't the Church recognize natural marriage? I've always been confused about what status a "marriage" conducted outside the Church is supposed to have. If I lived in a tribal state where no on had anything akin to formal wives but we came and went as we pleased, would no one be married or only some insofar as they formally acted like a married couple and were of the right sex or would the first proper person I slept with count as my wife?

Fighting to the death "the noonday demon" of Acedia.
My Books
It is precisely “values” that are the powerless and threadbare mask of the objectification of beings, an objectification that has become flat and devoid of background. No one dies for mere values.
~Martin Heidegger

7/22/2015 9:33 am  #5

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

I have a type of antipathy towards divorce, which is perhaps strange since neither I nor my extended family have been affected directly by it.  When I think about all I can think about is a few biblical quotes - especially when hearing someone's sob story about how they were unhappy and had to change - you know - for happiness.

Off memory here so it won't be exact.
"Love God with your whole heart, whole mind, and whole soul ..."
"He who does not set aside his mother and father is not worthy of me ..."
"He who does not love his brother who he has seen cannot love God who he has not seen ..."

Now if someone can not love his wife to whom he made a vow, how can he love his brother?  How can he love God?  When I see a divorce, I see a man whose soul is in peril and in dire need of real reform.  I'm not sure how accomidating the divorced and remarried actually helps them change their lives.  I have a sneaking suspicion that it will merely make them comfortable in their current ones.

Finally a remark by Chesterton (once again, inexact).

"Remarriage is a myth, because a man cannot commit to a vow in principle that he has shown he has not believed in practice"


7/22/2015 6:00 pm  #6

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

At least in the U.S., it's been decades since civil marriage required a "vow." For half a century or more, the Catholic view even of natural (never mind sacramental) marriage hasn't been taught, practiced, or respected, and quite a lot of us lived for quite a long time without knowing what it was. (Or, for that matter, even that there was such a view.)

In light of those conditions I would be slow as molasses in winter to judge the behavior and motives of individual "divorced" persons, let alone regard them as vow-breakers.

Last edited by Scott (7/22/2015 9:01 pm)


7/23/2015 11:03 am  #7

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

I know it didn't come across this way because the way I phased it seemed pretty specific "... when I see a divorce ...a man whose soul is in peril" but I actually try to actively not judge the condition of any individual's soul.  I was attempting and failing to speak generally.


7/23/2015 7:36 pm  #8

Re: Matrimony in Catholicism and the Issue of Divorce

buffgbob wrote:

I was attempting and failing to speak generally.

Understood, and I wasn't really intending to correct anything you said. Mostly I wanted to point out, by way of amplifying a point Timocrates had made, that you weren't speaking generally enough.

Several generations* of people (including mine) grew up being taught (by word and numerous examples**) that marriage is nothing more than a civil contract that can be dissolved by the secular authorities at the will of one or both of the parties. In many cases "divorced" people of those generations simply never made any "vows" (and by the standards of the Church therefore arguably never had valid marriages, even "natural" ones) in the first place. The fundamental problem in such cases is not the breaking of individual "vows" but the loss of a sound understanding of marriage as a result of the degeneration of an entire culture.


* I said "decades" in my previous post, but G.H. Joyce, writing in Christian Marriage in 1933, dates the change from "the opening of the nineteenth century."

** In my case, incidentally, these examples included a friend of my parents who is an ordained Presbyterian minister and is now, I believe, on his fourth wife.

Last edited by Scott (7/23/2015 9:27 pm)


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