Divorce and Remarriage
It is a sad fact of life that divorce has become an all-too-common occurrence. Many marriages that began with joy and hope end in bitter separation. Unfortunately, the Church is not immune to this problem.
As with marriage, many view the Church’s position on divorce and remarriage as archaic and unrealistic. But the Church’s position is nothing more than the direct teaching of Christ. In Luke 16:18 we hear Jesus saying: "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
Paul says essentially the same thing in Romans 7:2-3: "Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies she is discharged from the law concerning the husband. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is still alive. But if her husband dies she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress."
When confronted with this evidence, those who object will often turn to Matthew 5:31 where Jesus says: "It was also said, ’whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."
And so the reasoning goes, if my spouse cheats on me I am free to divorce and remarry. But that is not the case. The Greek word that is translated as "unchastity" is porneia (πορνεία ) which can mean harlotry, adultery, incest, or fornication. In determining how Jesus uses the word there are a couple of things we need to consider. First of all you cannot have Jesus contradicting himself by making no exceptions for one group (Luke 16:18) and then allowing them for another (Matthew 5:31).
Second, let’s look at this logically. If the critics are correct in their interpretation of Matthew 5:31 then divorce for any reason is permissible. Think about it, if a couple wants a divorce all that would be necessary is for one or both of them to go out and have an affair. In effect God would be promoting adultery. This might be a good way to fill the church on Sunday morning, but somehow I don’t think it would be very pleasing to God. The Church has always seen the word unchastity as referring to an invalid marriage such as a couple who are living together. They can divorce or separate because they were never married in the first place.
Marriage is a bond established by God. Jesus revealed this to us in Mark 10:6-9: "But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder"
These may be tough words but they are the words of Christ Himself. While it is important to understand what they mean, it is also important to understand what they don’t mean. It is true that the bonds of a valid marriage can never be broken short of death. However,there may be occasions when it becomes necessary for a couple to separate, for instance in the case of an abusive spouse. If there is any threat to the well being of one of the spouses or the children, a separation would constitute the best course of action. However, even in such a case remarriage would not be possible. Paul makes this very clear in his first letter to the Corinthians where he writes: "To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce the wife" (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
In certain cases there can be exceptions. If a problem was so serious that divorce was the only solution, there is a good chance that it existed before the marriage. This could prevent the marriage from being valid. If such is the case, the Church can annul the marriage and the innocent party would then be free to remarry.
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For Further Study
The Early Church Fathers on Divorce and
Books - 101 Quick Questions with Catholic Answers: Marriage, Divorce, Annulment by Jim Blackburn
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