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Yes, Our Lord Meant Exactly What He Said About Divorce
Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: Month of the Immaculate Conception, 16th Day, Year of Our Lord 2022
Jesus Disputes with Pharisees, File Author Frank Zimmerman, flickr.com, public domain

I have seen on here an article with a title that sounded much like the question which the Serpent posed to Eve in the Garden: “Did God really say that?”

It is difficult for me, and I pray I have applied sufficient discernment, to either overlook this article which I was drawn to read partially, or to refrain from simply stating what is unequivocably true, since I do not have the authority sufficient to teach on divorce and remarriage. I feel I cannot overlook it, because it is downright evil (it seems to me) to erode Christian morality which has always held continence as being specially pleasing to God, and divorce as being antithetical to His commands. But I cannot simply state the truth of it utulizing persuasion to show how one thing is true and another seductive, because traditional Catholic doctrine also requires lay people and particularly women to be silent as much as possible. For the teaching of morality and philosophy, I have always been told that permission ought to be sought of the bishop, and all debates avoided.

So, therefore, I attempt to find a happy medium between culpable silence and prideful contention by saying nothing further except to quote the saints which I could quickly collect on divorce:

St John Chrysostom:

“[T]he husband, though he have a wife more intolerable than all besides, must needs be content with his bondage, and cannot find any release or escape from this arbitrary sway.”

“Let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. … What then if he will never be reconciled? one may ask. Thou hast one more mode of release and deliverance. What is that? Await his death. For as the (consecrated) virgin may not marry because her Spouse liveth away, and is immortal; so to her who hath been married it is then only lawful when her husband is dead.”

“Do not cite the civil law, made by outsiders which command a bill be issued and a divorce granted.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.”

“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 Paul:

“But to them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife.”

St Gregory of Nazianzus:

“But nevertheless, the public executioner is not a laudable character, nor is the death-bearing sword received joyfully. Just so neither can I endure to become hated by confirming the divorce by my hand and tongue. “

“For I think that the Word here seems to deprecate second marriage. For, if there were two Christs, there may be two husbands or two wives; but if Christ is One, one Head of the Church, let there be also one flesh, and let a second be rejected; and if it hinder the second what is to be said for a third? The first is law, the second is indulgence, the third is transgression, and anything beyond this is swinish, such as has not even many examples of its wickedness. Now the Law grants divorce for every cause; but Christ not for every cause; but He allows only separation from the whore; and in all other things He commands patience. He allows to put away the fornicatress, because she corrupts the offspring; but in all other matters let us be patient and endure; or rather be enduring and patient, as many as have received the yoke of matrimony.”

St Justin Martyr:

“Concerning chastity, He uttered such sentiments as these: “Whosoever looks upon a woman to lust after her, has committed adultery with her already in his heart before God.” And, “If your right eye offend you, cut it out; for it is better for you to enter into the kingdom of heaven with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into everlasting fire.” And, “Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced from another husband, commits adultery.” And, “There are some who have been made eunuchs of men, and some who were born eunuchs, and some who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake; but all cannot receive this saying.” So that all who, by human law, are twice married, are in the eye of our Master sinners, and those who look upon a woman to lust after her. For not only he who in act commits adultery is rejected by Him, but also he who desires to commit adultery: since not only our works, but also our thoughts, are open before God.”

St Clement of Alexandria:

“But to put to shame and to discourage those inclined to contract a second marriage the apostle appropriately uses strong language and says at once: “Every other sin is external to the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.”… as idolatry is an abandonment of the one God to embrace many gods, so fornication is apostasy from single marriage to several.”

St Hilary:

“For whereas the law had conceded the liberty of effecting divorce by the authority of instruments, now the Evangelical Faith has not only enjoined upon the husband the desire for concord, but has judged him guilty of compelling his wife to adultery, if she is married anew to another through the stress of his desertion, prescribing no other ground for ceasing from wedded life than the defilement of a husband by the society of a prostituted wife.”

St Epiphanius:

“[I]t may be tolerated in the laity by reason of their weakness, and of their inability to remain constant to the first wife, that they should be connected with a second after the death of the first. Yet he who has had but one wife is held in greater praise and honour by all members of the Church, but [not] if he could not be content with the one wife, who had died. If there has been a divorce for some reason — whether fornication, or adultery, or an evil charge, and the man marries a second wife, or the woman marries a second husband, God’s Word does not censure them or bar them from the Church and life, but tolerates them because of their weakness. The holy Word and God’s holy Church show mercy to such a person, particularly if he is devout otherwise and lives by God’s law — not by letting him have two wives at once while the one is still alive, but [by letting] him marry a second wife lawfully if the opportunity arises, after being parted from the first.”

St Basil the Great:

“A woman whose husband has gone away and disappeared, and who marries another, before she has evidence of his death, commits adultery. … The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery; Matthew 5:22 thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man?”

St Ambrose of Milan:

“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.”

“Anyone saying that one is free to marry a wife that has been put away is not a Christian; he is a Jew.”

“You dismiss your wife, therefore, as if by right and without being charged with wrongdoing [by the civil law]; and you suppose it is proper for you to do so because no human law forbids it. But divine law forbids it. Anyone who obeys men ought to stand in awe of God. Hear the law of the Lord, which even they who propose our laws must obey: ‘What God has joined together let no man put asunder.””

“I must first, I think, speak of the law of marriage so as to treat afterward the prohibition of divorce. Certain persons think, in fact, that every marriage is of God, especially since it is written, “What God has joined man must not separate.” So then, if every marriage is of God, it is not permitted to dissolve any marriage. Why then has the Apostle said, “If the unbelieving spouse departs, let him depart?” His discernment here is admirable. He wanted no motive for divorce to remain available to Christians, but showed that not every marriage is of God. For it is not by God’s authority that Christians marry pagans, since the law forbids this. … In his wonderful way, he did not want the cause of divorce to lie with Christians; and at the same time he showed that not every marriage is from God. Christian women are not joined to pagans by the judgment of God, since the law forbids it.”

“Because it not being lawful for her in her husband’s lifetime to contract a new marriage, sinful desire may gradually prevail against her. Suppose her to marry. The blame of the constraint she lay under is upon you: and what you account to be marriage is adultery. For what does it matter whether one commits that crime with open avowal of it, or as one who is an adulterer under the mask of a husband. Only that it is more grievous to have contrived a law to warrant crime than a secret perpetration of it.”

St Asterius:

“These things were spoken to the Pharisees; but do you hear them now, you who do such things as these: you who change your wives as readily as your garments; who build bridal chambers as often and as easily as you build booths for feasts; who marry money, and deal in women; who if provoked a little immediately write a bill of divorcement; you who leave many widows while you are yet alive; believe me, marriage is terminated only by death or adultery. “

St Thomas Aquinas:

“I answer that, By the intention of nature marriage is directed to the rearing of the offspring, not merely for a time, but throughout its whole life. Hence it is of natural law that parents should lay up for their children, and that children should be their parents’ heirs (2 Corinthians 12:14). Therefore, since the offspring is the common good of husband and wife, the dictate of the natural law requires the latter to live together for ever inseparably: and so the indissolubility of marriage is of natural law.”

St Jerome:

“As I read the case put I recall the verse they make excuses for their sins. We are all human and all indulgent to our own faults; and what our own will leads us to do we attribute to a necessity of nature. It is as though a young man were to say, I am over-borne by my body, the glow of nature kindles my passions, the structure of my frame and its reproductive organs call for sexual intercourse. Or again a murderer might say, I was in want, I stood in need of food, I had nothing to cover me. If I shed the blood of another, it was to save myself from dying of cold and hunger. Tell the sister, therefore, who thus enquires of me concerning her condition, not my sentence but that of the apostle. Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman which has an husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress.Romans 7:1-3 And in another place: the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.1 Corinthians 7:39 The apostle has thus cut away every plea and has clearly declared that, if a woman marries again while her husband is living, she is an adulteress. You must not speak to me of the violence of a ravisher, a mother’s pleading, a father’s bidding, the influence of relatives, the insolence and the intrigues of servants, household losses. A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another. The apostle does not promulgate this decree on his own authority but on that of Christ who speaks in him. For he has followed the words of Christ in the gospel: whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, commits adultery.Matthew 5:32 Mark what he says: whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery. Whether she has put away her husband or her husband her, the man who marries her is still an adulterer. Wherefore the apostles seeing how heavy the yoke of marriage was thus made said to Him: if the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry, and the Lord replied, he that is able to receive it, let him receive it. And immediately by the instance of the three eunuchs he shows the blessedness of virginity which is bound by no carnal tie.”

Council of Elvira:
“Likewise, women who have left their husbands for no prior cause and have joined themselves with others, may not even at death receive communion.” (Canon 8)

“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.” (Canon 9)

“If she whom a catechumen [an upbaptized 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” (Canon 10)

Council of Arles:
“As regards those who find their wives to be guilty of adultery, and who being Christians are, though young men, forbidden to remarry, we decree that, so far as may be, counsel be given them not to take other wives while their own, though guilty of adultery, are yet living.” (Canon 10)

Council of Ancyra:
“If any one have violated a married woman, or have broken the marriage bond, he must for seven years undergo the different degrees of penance, at the end of which he will be admitted into the communion of the Church.” (Canon 20)

There are many more. Pick a saint and search “[Saint’s Name] on divorce”, and you will find it. There is absolutely nothing anywhere to suggest marriage is an “ideal” to be approached, but rather it is an inviolable law that, if violated, results in severe punishment. This is regardless of a woman’s emotions or a man’s lusts. Even within marriage, we are required to practice continence. For instance: during the holy penitential seasons of Lent or currently right now, in Advent, where across all the remains of Christendom there should not be one instance of the marital act until Christ comes in His manger. If we do not observe this, we do not deserve the title of Christian. If anyone is seperate from their spouse, they should endure as widows, much as the Church does on Good Friday, when She is seperated from Her most Holy Spouse, and as we all do who live in this tearful valley, awaiting the coming of the Bridegroom of our souls.

May the Lord reward you.

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