Beliefs about divorce and remarriage
Roman Catholic view: Historical tradition.
The following essay provides only general information. If you are seeking guidance
on your own personal use, please consult a canon lawyer or other authority.
Variety of Bible-based beliefs:
There is no consensus within Christianity towards divorce and remarriage:
||Various Christian groups -- conservative Protestants, liberal Protestants
and Roman Catholics have reached different beliefs about when, if ever, the Bible
permits divorce and remarriage. Some argue that the preservation of the institution of marriage is of the greatest importance and that marriages should not be dissolved even though a married couple may find their life a living Hell. Others feel that to preserve the mental health of the spouses and children, that divorce should be allowed with the possibility of a future remarriage.
||Each author, theologian, and webmaster who has written on these topics
seem to regard that their belief alone is the correct interpretation of
the Bible. The vast majority are obviously wrong.
The main positions are:
divorce nor remarriage are allowed. (Conservative Protestant view)
- Divorce is OK, but not remarriage. (Ditto)
- Divorce is OK in cases of adultery or desertion; remarriage is OK.
- Divorce is OK for many reasons; remarriage is OK. (Ditto)
- Divorce is impossible unless the marriage can be proven to have never existed --
described below. (Roman
- Divorce is OK in cases of marriage breakdown; remarriage is OK. Religious
liberal and secular view.
This essay describes the fifth position: the Roman Catholic beliefs that the Bible
does not allow
divorce on any grounds. Valid marriages are indissoluble. However, if it can be proven that a valid marriage had never taken place,
then an annulment can be obtained. Remarriage is generally allowed after an annulment.
The position of the Roman Catholic church on divorce and
remarriage can be summed up in a few sentences:
Divorce was allowed in Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) times.
But the permanence of marriage was restored by Jesus in the first century CE.
Marriage is a sacrament that is indissoluble. Once a valid marriage
has been consummated, It endures until
one spouse dies.
The church does not issue divorces or recognize divorces issued
by other institutions. Thus a couple who has obtained a civil divorce is still regarded as married by the Church.
The church can issue an annulment. However, the couple must first
prove to a church tribunal that the marriage was invalid; that is, that a valid marriage never did exist.
The Church Fathers in early Christianity, the Church
Councils in later years, and various popes to the present time have
consistently held that after a valid marriage is consummated, it is indissoluble until
the death of one spouse. Some examples:
||The Shepherd of Hermas (a.k.a. The Pastor of Hermas)
describes a conversation between a Christian leader and a follower. 1 There is no consensus on the date of its composition; estimates range from 50 to
160 CE. or even later. One source says that the most likely
date is "between c.AD 139-155; proposals for a
first-century date of composition are largely dismissed today." 2 Some attribute the authorship to the Apostolic Fathers; others to the Hermas
mentioned by Paul; still others say the work is anonymous. "Irenaeus, Clement
of Alexandria, Origen and [initially] Tertullian treated it as divinely
inspired, on par with what was later to become New Testament Scripture." 2 Some unsuccessfully argued that it be included as a canonical work in the
Bible. Section 35.1, "Mandate the Fourth" deals with marriage. Verses
35:16-18 discuss a case in which a wife commits adultery, and the husband
||35:16 "What then, Sir", say I, "shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this case"?
||35:17 "Let him divorce her", said he, "and let the husband abide alone:"
||35:18 "but if after divorcing his wife he shall marry another, he likewise commits adultery".
||Justin Martyr (circa 107-176 CE) wrote: "He that marries her that has been put away by another man commits adultery. " 3
||Athenagoras (134 - 190 CE) wrote "For whosoever shall put away his wife and shall marry another, committed adultery." 4
||Tertullian (160-230 CE) wrote: "They enter into adulterous unions even when they do not put away their wives, we are not
allowed to even marry although we put our wives away." 5
||Clement of Alexandria (150-circa 220 CE) was very specific when he
wrote: "You shall not put away your wife except
for fornication, and [Holy Scripture] considers as adultery a remarriage while the other of the separated persons survives." 6
The web site New Advent.org lists similar writings by Basil of Cæsarea, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine.
Their web site mentions that some ancient authors:
"... treat the husband more mildly in case of adultery, or seem to allow
him a new marriage after the infidelity of his spouse, does not prove that these expressions are to be understood of the
permissibility of a new marriage, but of the lesser canonical penance and of exemption from punishment by civil law. Or if they
refer to a command on the part of the Church, the new marriage is supposed to take place after the death of the wife who was
Synod of Elvira (300 CE) issued Canon 9:
"A faithful woman who has left an adulterous
husband and is marrying another who is faithful, let her be prohibited
from marrying; if she has married, let her not receive communion until the
man she has left shall have departed this life, unless illness should make
this an imperative necessity." 7
||The Synod of
Arles (314 CE) instructs those young men who had dismissed their wives
on grounds of adultery to not remarry. 7
||The Second Council of Mileve (416), the Council of Hereford (673), and the Council of Friuli (791 CE)
made similar statements. 7
||Pope Innocent I (401 to 417 CE) wrote: "Your diligence has asked
concerning those, also, who, by means of a deed of separation, have
contracted another marriage. It is manifest that they are adulterers on
both sides." 8
||Pope Zacharias wrote: "If any layman shall put away his own wife and marry another, or if
he shall marry a woman who has been put away by another man, let him be deprived of communion." 9
||The Council of Trent issued two canons during their 24th session:
||Canon 5: "If anyone
shall say that the bond of matrimony can be dissolved for the cause of heresy, or of injury due to cohabitation, or of willful desertion; let him
An anathema is a formal curse by a pope or a Church council that excommunicates an individual or denounces a doctrine as heresy.
||Canon 7: "If anyone
shall say that the Church has erred in having taught, and in teaching
that, according to the teaching of the Gospel and the Apostles, the bond
of matrimony cannot be dissolved, and that neither party -- not even the
innocent, who has given no cause by adultery -- can contract another
marriage while the other lives, and that he, or she, commits adultery who
puts away an adulterous wife, or husband, and marries another; let him be
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- J.B. Lightfoot, trans., "The Shepherd of Hermas," at: http://wesley.nnu.edu/
- "The Shepherd of Hermas," Monachos.net, at: http://www.monachos.net/
- Justin Martyr, "First Apology," xv, P.G., VI, 349
- Athenagoras, "Defense for the Christians (Legatio pro Christ),"
xxxiii (P.G., VI, 965)
- Tertullian, "De monogamiâ", c, ix (P.L., II, 991).
- Clement of Alexandria, "Strom.", II, xxiii (P.G., VIII,
- Divorce in Moral Theology," New Advent, at: http://www.newadvent.org/
- Innocent 1,"Epist. ad Exsuper.", c. vi, n. 12 (P.L., XX, 500).
- Zacharias, letter to Pepin and the Frankish bishops, 747.
Copyright © 2002 to 2011 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2002-APR-18
Latest update: 2011-DEC-12
Author: B.A. Robinson