“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery” (Luke 16:18)
1. First and foremost let us look to the teaching of the Savior on Marriage and Divorce.
In the spiritual life discerning and doing the will of God is of fundamental importance. But sometimes, due to perplexing circumstances, we have difficulty discerning the will of God, and we wish that God would send us a text message with explicit instructions telling us what to do! But when it comes to marriage, Jesus has not left us wondering about his intentions: – Jesus has told us very explicitly that marriage is for keeps, forever, indissoluble. The emphasis in your marriage, therefore, must always be to make it work better, to increase your love for your spouse, to forgive faults, to persevere through the difficult times (that’s what God wills). God has pledged to provide the grace you need to make it all the way through to the end (“til death do us part”).
Jesus, who is God, speaks forcefully and with Divine authority about marriage. And if Jesus declared himself “Lord of the Sabbath” at Mark 2:27, it can be seen from his teaching on marriage and divorce that He also presents himself as Lord of Marriage (and indeed, as God, He is). Jesus’ most concise teaching is from Luke16:18, where he states:
“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (see also Mark 10: 10-12)
And in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus invokes his authority – much to the amazement of the apostles – to prohibit divorce and remarriage, hearkening back to God’s original intent expressed in Genesis that marriage is an indissoluble bond:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, 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’? So they are no longer two but one. 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?” He said to them, “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry.” (Matt 19: 3-10, RSV-Catholic)
2. The teaching of Saint Paul
Saint Paul, invoking the teachings of Christ, teaches that if husband and wife separate, they cannot remarry. He states:
“To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)—and that the husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
The Catholic Church confirms Jesus’ teaching that the marriage bond is indissoluble, and therefore encourages couples “to grow continually in their communion through day-to-day fidelity to their marriage promise of total mutual self-giving…and by the Eucharist received together” (see CCC 1644,1643, 1645-1650, and 2364). Pope Francis adds: “The holiness and indissolubility of Christian matrimony, often disintegrating under tremendous pressure from the secular world, must be deepened by clear doctrine and supported by the witness of committed married couples” (April 25, 2014). As the Apostolic successors of Jesus Christ it is incumbent upon the Pope and Bishops of the Catholic Church not to weaken marriage by lessening or weakening its indissoluble, sacramental character (please see my previous post, “The Dark Clouds of Eucharistic Ambiguity”).
God’s will that marriage constitute an unbreakable union between husband and wife is powerfully manifested through the teaching of Jesus Christ. Indeed, this is good news, for what can be more important than knowing the will of God! What is there left to do then, for us married folks, but to become better husbands and wives, and to love our spouse with an even deeper love. And since marriage is a sacrament, Jesus has pledged Himself to our marriage, and we can depend upon his invincible help to get us through even the most difficult times.
Tom Mulcahy, M.A.
Note: The phrase, “except for unchastity,” mentioned in Matthew 19 (quoted above) is translated in the Greek as “porneia,” meaning an unlawful union such as the “porneia” mentioned by Saint Paul at 1 Cor. 5: 1-2, where a man had married his father’s wife. Divorce is permitted here because the union was unlawful to begin with. See page 41 of The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, topical essay, “Jesus on Marriage and Divorce,” which provides further explanations, all prohibiting divorce and remarriage. The Church’s valid jurisdiction over annulments, which generally concerns impaired matrimonial consent or other reasons rendering the marriage null and void, is not the topic of this post. See CCC 1629.
REFERENCES: Our Savior And His Love For Us by Father Garrigou-LaGrange, who points to Jesus’ Lordship over marriage (TAN Books, Chapter II);Ignatius Catholic Study Bible (see note above); Marriage Is For Keeps by John F. Kippley, and his pamphlet, “Until Death do us Part,” published by Foundation for the Family; and Covenanted Happiness by Conrad Burke (Scepter Press). Burke says at page xvii: “The marriage covenant, with its commitment not to divorce, places demands on the spouses’ love for one another, and especially on their love for their children. But it is a condition of real happiness for all concerned in married and family life.”
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