Divorce and Remarriage

Jared Lovell’s and River Devereux’s calls to restore marriage to its traditional definition as a truly indissoluble union are welcome in our era of counterfeit love and frequent separation. However, their cases are incomplete and leave several questions unanswered: when to consider a marriage valid or invalid, the meaning of the Matthean exception, and how our priests ought to handle situations of divorce, and remarriage when they arise.

Scripture

Jesus’s words in Matthew 5 and 19, Mark 10, and Luke 16 set out the basis for the Christian elevation of marriage, beyond its merely human nature, to what I would term the “sacramental” view of marriage. This is the view that came to hold sway in the West: that Jesus’s teaching was not just a stern warning against divorce, but a statement of fact that marriage, since it is effected by God, is therefore indissoluble by human beings. The position then, of those of us who still hold this perspective, is that Jesus’s teaching is a radical departure from what had become ordinary human practice in both Judaism and among the nations, and it remains a stark challenge to the world’s mores today. It is for this same reason, by the way, that even hardened skeptics of the historical authenticity of the gospel texts tend to count these passages as authentic, since it is too hard a saying to accept as having been fabricated by a church seeking accommodation in the Roman world.

So what does Jesus actually say? Answering the Pharisees’ question about divorce, he states the now well-known definition of marriage:

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (Matthew 19:5-6).

The Pharisees then question why the Law allowed divorce, and Jesus responds directly. Divorce was only ever a concession due to “hardness of heart,” never a positive recommendation, pointing out that “it was not so from the beginning.” The Lord then flatly prohibits divorce.

And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.

Before going on to the famous exception (given only in Matthew), it is important to pause and consider the disciples’ reaction to Jesus’s words. The gospel authors, as in other parts of Jesus’s teaching, record their reactions precisely for the purpose of driving home that Jesus’s teaching astonishes them.

The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.”

The disciples’ reaction reveals that Jesus’s teaching has clearly broken with prior tradition on marriage in his restoration of the ideal of Genesis 2, raising the requirements of lifelong, exclusive spousal fidelity to an unprecedentedly high standard. They would not have had this reaction if, for example, Jesus was simply supporting the teaching of Rabbi Shammai, who also laid down a somewhat strict standard for divorce, over Hillel, for whom it was a routine matter of male privilege. Jesus’ teaching exceeds even the most stringent teachings of his day. Mark’s account hits the same way, when the disciples bring the matter back up to ask for clarification (10:10) and Jesus doubles down, with no exceptions given.

The Exception in Matthew

So then what does the exception in Matthew for ‘immorality’ mean? Many Christians today take it to mean a serious sexual transgression, usually adultery. But if Jesus had meant simple adultery, then he would probably have used the actual word for it (moichea) as he does at the end of the sentence when he classes those who divorce and remarry as ‘adulterers.’ Instead, Jesus uses porneia which is a broader term used to encompass a wider range of illicit sexual behavior. Hence it is correctly translated as ‘fornication’ or ‘immorality’ but what does it actually mean? Today, this exception is cited in support of considering a wide range of sexual sins as legitimate causes for divorce and remarriage, from affairs to pornography addiction, but this interpretation runs smack into the problem of the disciples’ reaction. If Jesus had truly meant to say that any one of a broad range of sexual indiscretions was enough to end a marriage and warrant remarriage, then the disciples would not have been astonished at this, since it would have been nothing new for the mores of the ancient word, and would even have been right in line with the well-known perspective of Shammai’s school.

So what does porneia mean in this verse? The most convincing explanation that the Western Church came to accept is that it meant ‘marriages’ that were not lawful, and so could not be considered to be authentic. Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife is described thus in Mark 6. Since the ancient world was rife with a whole host of sexual unions that that could only be called ‘marriages’ in a loose sense (one thinks of the Ptolemies’ tradition of consanguinity, or Paul’s condemnation of men coupling with their mothers-in-law, homosexual unions, and the like), it makes sense to use a broad term to collect them. From this perspective, Jesus’s comment is definitional, his stricture against a couple divorcing and remarrying is not speaking of illicit marriages that cannot be classed as Christian marriages in the first place. If people may remain married in the sight of God but not the state, then it stands to reason that there are some who may be married in the eyes of the state, but not under God. The recent legalization of same-sex unions is a contemporary example, but the ancient world had its own varieties. Jesus’s teaching then, elevates marriage to its original ideal: as a union effected by God and indissoluble by human will. However, not all unions can be properly described as Christian marriages.

The Pauline Privilege in Sacramental Context

Western traditions have also seen an exception for remarriage in 1 Corinthians 7:15. Devereux is unconvinced by this, saying that it only allows for separation. However, the traditional understanding that “not enslaved” allows for remarriage harmonizes both with the exception in Matthew 19 and the overall teaching of marriage’s indissolubility. I won’t go into the exegesis too much, except to say that I think Devereux makes too much of the difference between δουλόω and δέω and that he appears confused about the situation Paul is addressing. Paul is talking about a case in which the unbelieving partner has already separated, so letting the believer know that they are free to separate too would be unnecessary since the break has already occurred. So, Paul must mean something additional here, and “not enslaved” meaning the freedom to enter another union is the sensible conclusion. As for verse 16’s address of the couple as husband and wife (I will defer to the Greek scholars among us to decide for sure), it seems to me from our best translations that verse 16 clearly follows from verse 14, with 15 as an appositive.

What could Paul mean instead? Some have taken this verse as a license to remarry on account of “abandonment” alone, but the context of belief and unbelief makes it hard to take that shallow reading seriously. Put into practice it opens a loophole to easy divorce and remarriage since ‘abandonment’ can easily be taken as just a synonym for divorce, and while the divorcer would not be free to remarry, the divorcee would be, making reunion impossible even if the one who instigated the divorce were to repent.

Instead, this verse lands among St. Paul’s practical guidelines for converts’ new lives in the Church. What should new believers hold onto and what should they let go of? Paul clearly wants people to hold onto their marriages if they can, which suggests that he assumes their validity, despite being effected in a pagan context. However, that does not mean that Paul knows for sure that this is the case, and the situation of an unbelieving spouse separating on account of religion may very well suggest the opposite. Christians ought to assume the best of peaceable marriages to pagans, but marriages that break up over a spouse’s conversion may be safely considered to have been invalidly solemnized in the first place—and the unbeliever’s unwillingness to remain with a convert suggests that the original terms of their union were far outside of Jesus’s lifelong ideal. However, where there is a willingness to continue a marriage as a lifelong covenant, the union ought to be maintained in hopes that the unbelieving spouse and the household be “made holy.” In my judgment, Paul seems to be writing to a group of people that are already in the middle of these problems and are trying to figure out what to do about them. Should I divorce my wife because she is an unbeliever? Am I bound to respect the pagan vows I made to my ex-husband or may I marry again as Christ prescribed and bring up a proper Christian household? Paul’s point is that Christianity must not instigate divisions nor should conversions cause social discord. Paul thinks that God compels people to decide these matters in favor of the peaceful solution. The following section encouraging people to ‘live as they are called’ then, makes contextual sense. The Faith will not be the cause of scandal on Paul’s watch. The world may be full of evil, but Christians are bound to seek its good nonetheless.

In my opinion, the remarkable thing about this passage is not the exception, but that Paul requires Christians to remain married to their pagan spouses! If Jesus’s teaching on marriage is indeed a radical alternative to the world’s definition, then it would be understandable to assume that any union solemnized outside of the Christian community must be automatically invalid. But Paul takes people as they come. He clearly does not think that conversion to Jesus’s teachings, radical though they may be, gives anyone license to separate from those who do not hold to them. Christians must work to heal human relations, they do not break them.

Marriage as Sacramental Contract

While Anglicans disagree as to whether marriage may be properly described as a ‘sacrament’ it is nonetheless helpful to look back at how Western sacramental theology has defined and ordered marriage, since it will clarify some important questions about divorce, remarriage, and pastoral practice. Lovell, for instance, asks the common question of whether a marriage that is not solemnized by a minister can count as valid. Consulting the sacramental theology that grew up to ensure the Church’s rituals were faithfully done, we learn that every sacrament has a proper minister which varies by rite. While the Eucharist may only be celebrated by a priest, the priest is (perhaps confusingly) not the minister of the sacrament of marriage, but rather it is the couple itself, making their vows to each other under God. The Priest witnesses and blesses the marriage in the presence of the community, but he does not effect the union. This is actually not surprising, given that marriage is an ordinance given at Creation, predates the Christian Church, and can be found among people of every culture and creed. It is not true that pagan marriages are invalid simply because they are pagan, as we have seen above. Although it may be natural to assume that those of us who think of marriage sacramentally also think that priests are the ones who create them, it actually means understanding marriage as a compact between a man and a woman under God. The priest is important for the preparation of a proper Christian marriage, as we will see, but he is not strictly essential to effecting it.

Lovell is uncomfortable describing marriage as a contract and prefers the language of covenant, but I think contract law is a good place to begin, (especially since, in cold logic, the two terms mean the same thing). The problem is not that marriage is treated like any other secular contract, but that it is not. The fact is that, since the advent of no-fault divorce, marriage has become our country’s only unenforceable contract. If any corporate merger, sales contract, or simple lease, could be dissolved with the same impunity as we do our marriage licenses, then our markets would break down for lack of trust, which of course is exactly what has happened to marriage and family in our society.

Matrimony then, is accurately described as a contract that a man and a woman freely enter into, effected by God, and witnessed by the Church. The resulting union is a sign of Christ and his Church that brings new life into the world.

Pastoral practice

Priests, however, do more than just stand by and watch as couples form marriages. How do priests accompany a couple into Christian marriage?

When marriage is properly understood as a sacramental contract, premarital counseling becomes a serious process of discovery wherein the priest ensures that the couple discloses all material matters that might prevent the formation of that contract. Folksy wisdom and prayer together with the couple are all very well, but the real reason the Priest ought to spend time with a couple beforehand is to ensure that the couple is preparing to enter a properly Christian marriage, and not some other kind of union. Additionally, since marriage is freely chosen, all material information about the couple’s history and intentions in marriage must be brought out into the open between them, not to pry, but to ensure that each person has the opportunity to choose the other freely, with all the facts on the table. This is what the priest, like a contract lawyer, ought to be responsible for before he agrees to perform the marriage ceremony.

What sorts of impediments could prevent a valid marriage? Conveniently, these are listed in our ACNA Canons. Section 5 of Canon 7 lists the six traditional impediments to marriage and forbids ACNA clergy from solemnizing any union for which there remain unresolved doubts regarding:

(a) Consanguinity and affinity as defined in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer;

(b) Mistaken identity;

(c) Absence of the capacity for free and intelligent choice;

(d) Bigamy, evidence of sexual perversion or conviction of a sexually related crime;

(e) Fraud, coercion, abuse or duress.

(f) Failure to conform to the teaching of this Church regarding man, woman, and marriage as set forth in the Holy Scriptures and in these Canons.

I won’t go into each one of these in detail in this article, but I will point out that c) is especially important in the context of premarital counseling. If the couple are the proper ministers of the sacrament, then withholding any material information from each other that might have caused them to reconsider marrying to the other person is critical to bring out. For instance, each partner entering into a marriage has a right to know the other’s sexual history as well as any known serious medical or psychological conditions, like infertility or the presence of same-sex attraction. It is especially important to make sure that anything that might prevent them from consummating their union or bearing children is brought out into the open between the couple. None of these matters would prevent a marriage in principle. Indeed, marrying someone despite complications like these can be a beautiful picture of true love, and God can and does heal and restores us from our sinful pasts, but since no one is required to marry, each partner needs to have the opportunity to freely choose to marry the other person in full knowledge of these complicating factors.

Accompaniment through Divorce

What are our priests to do when, as sometimes happens, a marriage falls apart and one of the parties wants to remarry? The Western Church, in line with the Lord’s teaching that marriage is indissoluble, has traditionally allowed remarriage only when it can be reasonably determined that the prior union was invalid (i.e. a bishop declaring it “null,” an annulment). Lovell’s and Devereux’s articles seem to suggest that a union may result in divorce but never remarriage. However, understanding marriage sacramentally and in line with Jesus’s exception for ‘immorality’ helps us see how not every union may have been properly solemnized as a Christian marriage.

The canonical list also works in the other direction, as reasons to determine when a union may be declared null after a couple separates so that a second marriage may be pursued. Per the ACNA’s canons, a remarriage after a divorce may only occur with a Bishop’s approval (7.4.1, 7.5.2) after consulting the listed impediments. Priests, then, should be deputized to investigate the circumstances of the couple’s union to assist the bishop in determining whether a Christian marriage exists between the separated couple or not. If it does, then remarriage cannot be allowed, but if it can be reasonably determined that one or more of the above impediments existed at the time of the union, then the prior union may be considered null, and another marriage may be pursued. From the pastoral perspective, the call to treat marriage sacramentally just means applying the guidance of our canons to people’s lived circumstances. Priests then, must become skilled casuists, considering the unique circumstances of each separation, guided by these traditional, objective principles preserved in our canons.

The annulment process should only be occasioned by a petition to remarry. Priests should not go prying into the status of any married couple that comes to their church out of scrupulosity. Like Paul, priests must assume the best of the marriages that come to them from the outside.

The Stability of True Fidelity

The sacramental vision of marriage offers modern relationships the one thing they conspicuously lack: the stability of true, lifelong fidelity. Couples that enter into Christian marriages are uniquely capable of fully giving themselves to each other when they understand that their union is truly lifelong from the outset. Pastors are given objective principles by which they can guide couples into truly Christian marriages and are not left to the vagaries of subjective experience when they are responsible for determining whether a marriage may be solemnized or, sadly, annulled.

I will not answer the many frequent objections to the sacramental vision of Christian marriage in this article, save for the one that, I think, underlies them all. This is the thought that a pastor ever telling one of their parishioners that they may not remarry has become an unimaginable offense in the eyes of most people today. How could a good, compassionate priest ever tell, say, an abandoned woman, that the philandering man she married is still her husband? How could a good God ever require something so painful? Not coincidentally, the same charge is frequently leveled at our prohibition of same sex unions. In my opinion, this objection has more to do with the concerns of the pastor’s security than for the layperson who finds herself in this situation. The Church has reached its nadir of social influence, and a pastor behaving in this way will almost certainly be met with fury in today’s climate, as an emotionally insensitive miscarriage of his pastoral charge. Most clergy in the ACNA pastor small and financially insecure churches and may understandably seek to avoid difficult pastoral admonitions if they can help it. Bearing the news that their bishop has prohibited a second marriage runs a real risk of stirring up the sort of anger and drama that could weaken or divide a congregation or cause people to leave for another more “welcoming” denomination. As the teachings of Jesus become increasingly obscure, the call to uphold those teachings is not for the faint of heart, and we who are called to the vocation of shepherd will be pushed to deeper levels of trust in the Lord for our future and security (and we may also take comfort in the fact that our bishops make the final decision). The risks, however, are more than outweighed by the great reward of leading people into true Christian marriages. In my experience, parishioners have often been much more receptive to the ideal and challenge of sacramental marriage than I thought they would be. Sometimes, Christians who have divorced carry deep insecurities, aware as they are of Christ’s strong prohibition and the oft quoted verse in Malachi that “God hates divorce” and unsure whether they have sinned or not and what their future ought to hold. There is great relief to know that they need not be left alone with their accusing consciences, and Priests guided by the principles preserved by our canons can offer real stability and direction to those cast adrift by the tragedy of shattered relationships.

The promise of a renewed sacramental vision of Christian marriage could not be more important than it is today, and clergy especially have the responsibility to see that the marriages under our watch are solemnized as properly Christian: freely chosen, and lifelong unions between men and women. We also carry the responsibility of accompanying those whose marriages have fallen apart and give them consistent and sane guidance according to the principles preserved in our canons. May we put away fear and apply ourselves with faith and love to this vital work.

 


Alexander Wilgus

Fr. Alexander Wilgus is the Rector at Redemption Anglican Church in Frisco, TX. He is creator of the Word & Table podcast and Director of Saint Paul’s House of Formation online catechesis program. Fr. Wilgus is married to Lauren and father to four children: Owen, Bryan, Abraham, and Mae.


'Divorce and Remarriage' have 31 comments

  1. July 8, 2024 @ 10:22 am Bart Wallace

    I would just like to point out that you skipped a lot of the history of divorce and remarriage in the West. The idea of annulments are a development. A host of local western councils allowed divorce and remarriage for variety of reason and seemed to be different from council to council. Eventually the annulments came about from the best I can tell in the 800’s but let us not forget they were in communion with the Eastern churches even after that that followed the rules set down in the Council of Trullo, which do appear to be the closet to what the early church actually did. If we are bound by the first 500 years we should get rid of the idea of annulments.

    Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 11:51 am Alex Wilgus

      On the tradition, we don’t need to launch into a long re-hash of how doctrinal development happens, but my position here is that annulments are in fact the authentic development and I have argued for it. Many other central features of the faith (like: whatever your preferred theory of the Atonement is) don’t get crystallized until the middle ages either so it’s not by itself any trouble to bring up the diversity of local practices that don’t get regularized until later on. That’s how all doctrinal development happens over time. And it is worth pointing out that this was indeed the basic perspective of the Church of England until the 20th Century, and I think there is still much to recommend it, so that’s what I’ve written about.

      Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 12:12 pm Peter T.

      “If we are bound by the first 500 years we should get rid of the idea of annulments.”

      Actually, if we stick with the first 500 years, we would need to get rid of many Reformed ideas that have degraded Anglicanism’s catholicity since the 16th century. I’d gladly trade the excision of annulments from the tradition if it means the eradication of actual heresies such as the denial of Real Presence and once-baptized-always-saved (“justification by ‘faith'”).

      Reply

  2. July 8, 2024 @ 10:28 am Bart Wallace

    Also I have to ask what ACNA Canons are your refencing. I went to the ACNA website looked at the canons and found this:
    Section 4 –
    As marriage is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman in which the two become one
    flesh, it is both an ordinance of Creation, affirmed as such by our Lord, and commended by Saint
    Paul as a sign of the mystical union between Christ and His Church (Matthew 19:3-9; Ephesians
    5:22-32). Therefore, the failure of a marriage is always a tragedy. Scripture acknowledges our
    fallen nature and does provide guidance to know when a marriage may be declared a nullity or
    dissolved and allows the possibility of a subsequent marriage in certain circumstances (Matthew
    19 and 1 Corinthians 7).
    1. Couples who request to be married by a member of the Clergy of this Church must have
    approval from their Bishop if either party has ever been divorced;
    2. When a divorced person seeks permission to remarry, the Clergy must ascertain the pertinent
    facts concerning a declaration of nullity or termination of marriage; and in the absence of a
    declaration of nullity, forward such information to the Bishop in writing for his godly advice
    and consent;
    3. The Diocese is responsible to create a process by which this discernment may be made with
    reasonable promptness.

    This seems to be a much different set of rules than what you laid out. Perhaps those are your diocesan rules.

    Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 10:31 am Bart Wallace

      There does seem to be allowanced for divorce and remarriage as it is in the East, as a concession to our weakness not a declaration of nullity. It does seem you misrepresented the canons in what they say and they imply by only sticking to the ideas of annulments.

      Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 11:44 am Alex Wilgus

      Summarizing our facebook exchange:
      Canon 7 Section 4 does not contradict Section 5, so I am confused as to the objection. The language of the canons carefully allows for people who believe in the indissolubility and objective sacramentality of marriage and those who do not: see \”declared a nullity or dissolved\” my article is simply written from the former perspective, and in either case the Canons\’ rule is that only a Bishop\’s discretion may approve a remarriage. The list in section 5 is derived from the traditional perspective I lay out. So I have not misrepresented anything.

      Reply

  3. July 8, 2024 @ 5:01 pm Ken

    I won’t go into each one of these in detail in this article, but I will point out that c) is especially important in the context of premarital counseling. If the couple are the proper ministers of the sacrament, then withholding any material information from each other that might have caused them to reconsider marrying to the other person is critical to bring out. For instance, each partner entering into a marriage has a right to know the other’s sexual history as well as any known serious medical or psychological conditions, like infertility or the presence of same-sex attraction

    ————————-

    My wife has chronic depression which I didn’t know about before marriage. Maybe she didn’t have a diagnosis of depression before we were married but I think she knew she had some issues with it. Our courtship did a very good job giving her enough positive energy that I didn’t recognize any depression nor did she tell me about it. In our particular denomination at the time all we got for premarital counseling was an hour long conversation with the church’s preacher that went into more about our beliefs rather than our histories. All I can say is that it’s been a thorn in our marriage almost as soon as the honeymoon period ended. Fast forward 27 years and, frankly I feel robbed and cheated. While I could be generalizing from my own experience, but given today’s culture and environment, marriage will likely be damaging spiritually, emotionally, psychologically and financially as shown by the massive amount of divorce and struggling marriages (statistically a greater number than “successful” marriages).

    Bishops, priests, pastors, preacher and church leaders need to really think about what they are doing when they paint marriage in such a positive light. I’m reminded of the fact that of all the wickedness that led to the Flood, Christ only pointed out that they carelessly married up until Noah closed the door on the Ark. I believe the circumstances of our country are no better or supportive of marriage.

    Reply

    • July 13, 2024 @ 6:47 pm Rhonda C. Merrick

      I for one sincerely hope that your wife can get help for her illness. Those of us in the X Generation weren’t taught to discuss or analyze our emotions, or were even conditioned to dismiss them. The younger people nowadays are certainly leading the charge on that, and despite the pitfalls (or opportunities to chuckle and shake our heads), it’s a needed corrective.

      Reply

  4. July 8, 2024 @ 5:13 pm River Devereux

    Good article! We disagree on some things, but I think those are minor points. I would agree that Matt 19:9 can also be taken to mean that one can dissolve an illegitimate marriage.

    I am very pleased to see yet another article on this subject. It seems that God is stirring us up to finally proclaim the Biblical view of marriage. I pray that the Anglican Church will listen to us.

    Reply

  5. July 8, 2024 @ 6:25 pm Nancy

    I am puzzled by the statement (also reflected in my diocese’s policies regarding remarriage) that a declaration of annulment should only be sought with a petition for remarriage. I am divorced, and am frankly hesitant to seek a relationship with a man which could possibly lead to marriage without knowing whether or not I am free to investigate such relationships. In other words, if I am still married in the sight of God, there could be no legitimacy in dating or courtship. I would not want to put myself, my ex, or a potential romantic partner in such a compromised position. If my first marriage was annulled, I would not therefore assume that remarriage is necessarily advisable, but if I became involved in a relationship potentially leading to marriage, I could do so knowing that my previous relationship would not be an impediment. If, on the other hand, my bishop discerned that my first marriage was valid, and my vows binding, such a judgment, as a “closed door,” would be helpful in discerning other means of loving neighbor and serving Christ.

    Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 7:31 pm Alex Wilgus

      Good point. In that case I think it would be helpful for you to bring it up with your priest. The point here is that we don’t go poking around into people’s prior marriages without consent. Your diocese’s policy is probably meant to limit priests from interrogating people about their past marriages with no occasion. Whether one should start dating or not seems a good reason to bring the matter up with your priest.

      Reply

    • July 8, 2024 @ 7:34 pm Alex Wilgus

      Good point. In that case I think it would be helpful for you to bring it up with your priest. The point here is that we don’t go poking around into people’s prior marriages without consent. Your diocese’s policy is probably meant to limit priests from interrogating people about their past marriages with no occasion. Whether you should start dating or not seems a good reason to bring the matter up with your priest.

      Reply

  6. July 8, 2024 @ 9:15 pm Sudduth Rea Cummings

    While my wife and I have been married for 53 years, we have many friends who have been divorced and remarried. My own mother divorced my alcoholic father, but she never remarried. While my father did much to his regret. While I could recount the many stories of marriage and remarriage in my pastoral and family experience, there is one that I will share. There was a husband in the leadership of a church of which I was the rector who divorced his wife in order to marry the wife of his best friend. That led to my removing him from the parish leadership and denying the new couple a Christian matrimony in the church. That’s the only occasion I had to do that. In some other times I declined to marry a couple who openly lived together for a while before requesting a wedding, nor have I ever officiated at the union of a same sex couple. I don’t think of that as the old “Rigorism” in some circles of the early church, but as upholding the standards of Scripture and the church.

    Reply

  7. July 10, 2024 @ 11:40 am Bruce

    Thanks Fr. Alexander, this is another great article on the topic. However, I still don’t have a clear understanding for the all-to-common case of those who are professing Christians who were married in a Christian ceremony, got divorced for reasons that may or may not have been deemed “Biblical” by clergy where they may have been attending church, and then remarried. In some instances maybe the previous marriage could be annulled, but in many instances, if not most, the conditions for annulment laid out here could not be met, and yet they have already been remarried, often in another “Christian” ceremony. Are they living in sin? Do they need to break up the second marriage? I imagine some version of this scenario would confront pastors rather frequently if they were to adopt the model laid out in this article, and to address the scenario the question has to be answered: is the new marriage perpetually adulterous? Should the couple break up or try to honor God in the state they are in, regardless of how they got into the marriage? Even though it may be a case by case issue, there has to be clear guidance for this scenario if this view is to be adopted.

    Reply

    • July 11, 2024 @ 5:36 am Alex Wilgus

      The Church ought to avoid breaking up marriages or families. In the cases you describe there is typically no awareness of the sacramental view of marriage, so people remarry in all good faith assuming the previous one no longer exists. We priests are not tasked with righting every wrong in the world, only reconciling men and women to God, who knows the state of our hearts and minds at every stage of our lives. In these cases where there is a situation of competing goods, the Church should always be in favor of keeping present marriages (and certainly families!) together, assuming their validity. Again, the priest’s duty is not to be a “marriage detective” investigating the validity of the unions in his flock. The above is a guide for dealing with situations of divorce and remarriage when they arise.

      Reply

  8. July 10, 2024 @ 12:45 pm Jason

    This is a written article on a difficult subject. My own experience with divorce and remarriage within Anglican churches has been difficult. My first wife renounced her faith in Christ and then left me. I live in a state where divorce is granted at the request of one party after one year of separation. There was no mutual decision to divorce and I fought as hard as I could to preserve the marriage to no avail. I took it as an act of God’s graciousness when a couple of years later I met a woman with whom marriage seemed a real possibility. I sought prayerful counsel as we dated and considered marriage and felt release from my first marriage and peace about re-marrying. While some clergy in the church were supportive and we ultimately received the blessing of our Bishop to marry, the process was beyond sobering. The reality that some individuals strongly believed that I was abandoning my duty to live as if I were still married, and therefore sinning, was and still is difficult, especially since it felt like it came from a place of distant observation rather than prayerful accompaniment. I guess I share all of this because, amid all the necessary and rigorous debate over the issue, there are people genuinely trying to live faithfully who need compassionate pastoral care and close pastoral accompaniment. Without that care and accompaniment sincere, God-loving, parishioners can get crushed under the weight of the debate and left forever feeling like lesser citizens of the Kingdom.

    Reply

    • July 11, 2024 @ 5:43 am Alex Wilgus

      I am very sorry to hear about those reactions. My hope for articles like these is to educate people on what our church actually says and does. By seeking the permission of your bishop you’ve done exactly what is required of you, and your conscience may be clear on the matter. I hope that ordinary parishioners will learn about our what our canons and sacramental theology actually requires of us before judging what someone else ought to have done.

      Reply

  9. July 10, 2024 @ 12:46 pm Jason

    This is a well written article on a difficult subject. My own experience with divorce and remarriage within Anglican churches has been difficult. My first wife renounced her faith in Christ and then left me. I live in a state where divorce is granted at the request of one party after one year of separation. There was no mutual decision to divorce and I fought as hard as I could to preserve the marriage to no avail. I took it as an act of God’s graciousness when a couple of years later I met a woman with whom marriage seemed a real possibility. I sought prayerful counsel as we dated and considered marriage and felt release from my first marriage and peace about re-marrying. While some clergy in the church were supportive and we ultimately received the blessing of our Bishop to marry, the process was beyond sobering. The reality that some individuals strongly believed that I was abandoning my duty to live as if I were still married, and therefore sinning, was and still is difficult, especially since it felt like it came from a place of distant observation rather than prayerful accompaniment. I guess I share all of this because, amid all the necessary and rigorous debate over the issue, there are people genuinely trying to live faithfully who need compassionate pastoral care and close pastoral accompaniment. Without that care and accompaniment sincere, God-loving, parishioners can get crushed under the weight of the debate and left forever feeling like lesser citizens of the Kingdom.

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  10. July 10, 2024 @ 8:23 pm Fr. Mark Perkins

    Excellent and helpful, Fr. Wilgus. Thank you.

    Reply

  11. July 11, 2024 @ 6:13 pm mack

    St Paul says re-marriage after divorce is perfectly fine: “…Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned….” 1 Corinthians 7:27-28. Article 25 says Marriage is not a sacrament.

    Reply

    • July 12, 2024 @ 9:00 am Alex Wilgus

      That’s not true. Paul is not talking about divorce here. He is talking about the state of being unmarried, and recommending remaining in that state. See Romans 7:2-3 for his opinion on divorce. This is why the church only regularly permitted remarriage after the death of one of the spouses. It seems unlikely that the Church misunderstood Paul for all this time.

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      • July 12, 2024 @ 9:54 pm mack

        Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:27-28 says “loosed from a wife” which means the man had a wife and no longer has her. That clearly means divorce. As for Romans 7:2 it is talking about a woman, not a man. A woman legally did not have power to divorce her husband – she was “bound” until he loosed her. Only the man could initiate the divorce. What the “church permitted” is irrelevant – it is what the law permits. Marriage is not a church institution, it is an institution for all mankind. That’s why Paul calls marriage with an unbeliever sanctified. The reason for this ought to be obvious, the marriage only involves the flesh, not the soul. The law of marriage is civil beginning at Genesis 2 and not religious. Paul would have the church advising people with good recommendations, but not tying them up with legalistic prohibitions. Jesus was not the enemy of Moses. He explained why his ‘rule’ was entirely different – because he was not going to let people get away with any hardness of heart whatsoever. They would have to gouge their eyes out and cut their hands off first. Christ is helping us see what perfection looks like, that is too high for us to attain to. All those who hear what Christ said must make a choice: either respond with “I’ll try to meet this standard” or “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” I’m in the second category.

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        • July 13, 2024 @ 6:31 pm Rhonda C. Merrick

          There is no possible way that anything can involve only the flesh or body, and not the soul. Human beings (who are living) simply cannot do anything with just one and not the other. This is the biblical and ancient perspective.

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          • July 13, 2024 @ 9:13 pm mack

            ” What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh.” 1 Corinthians 6:16 … Why did Paul equate marriage and prostitution?

    • July 12, 2024 @ 11:12 am Alex Wilgus

      Also, this is perennially made point, but Article 25 distinguishes between the “sacraments of the gospel” and the other five “commonly called sacraments.” So it does not deny marriage is a sacrament, only that it is not one of the two dominical sacraments. The Articles were written for those with both Reformed and Catholic scruples in mind. More importantly it seems to me, is the fact that no one at the time would have countenanced the sort of easy divorce and remarriage practice that we have today.

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  12. July 11, 2024 @ 6:37 pm mack

    Christ doesn’t use the term ‘adultery’ to mean a violation of civil law (Roman or Mosaic), but only in the sense of committing an offence against each other’s hearts. Onerous civil laws that prohibit divorce and re-marriage only encourage fornication (Rev. 2:20; 1 Cor 7:2); forbidding to marry is a doctrines of devils (1 Tim 4:3).

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    • July 12, 2024 @ 9:19 am Alex Wilgus

      I appreciate healthy pushback but I don’t understand this objection. The Lord is talking about sin when he uses the term ‘adultery.’ So I am not sure what you’re getting at here. Also, you need to explain how scripture prooftexts back up your claim instead of just citing them parenthetically. Rev. 2:20 is a warning against enticements to porneia and has nothing to do with divorce law.

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      • July 12, 2024 @ 10:49 pm mack

        It seems to me that you, Jared, and River all misrepresent what Christ taught to create legalism. He simply explained what absolute purity heart really looks like so that men no longer be deluded into thinking they were perfect just because they kept the outward requirements of the law. Men who hear what Christ said must either go mad trying to obey (as the rich young ruler who went away sorrowful) or else abandon self-righteousness and acknowledge our need for Christ\’s mercy. \”For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.\” John 1:17.
        Where Romanism controls the government they misuse what Christ said as an excuse to refuse to allow people to re-marry – unless a bribe is paid, of course, and then they will \”annul\” what they pretended was impossible to nullify. Funny how the \”impossible is possible\” if the price is right. This is all hypocrisy and legalism and has nothing to do with what Christ was actually teaching. This is why people pretend St Matthew is a \”problem\” for mentioning an exception, and why what Paul taught is largely ignored. By the way, Christianity wouldn\’t exist except for divorce. If God couldn\’t put away the Jew, then how did we become the bride of Christ? If a man can\’t divorce and re-marry, was Queen Easter \’living in sin\’? I could go on.

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      • July 12, 2024 @ 11:00 pm mack

        You say, “Rev. 2:20 is a warning against enticements to porneia and has nothing to do with divorce law.”
        That letter was written to a Christian Church. There’s no authentic Christian church that directly encourages its members to go fornicate. Rather, the passage says they are seduced into this sin. Cross-reference where Paul mentions seducing spirits, ” Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” 1 Timothy 4:1-3. These seducing spirits tell people that in order to be super-religious they ought to be celibate and fast. That’s how seducing spirits work, they don’t tell you to be evil, they allure you with the prospect of being super-holy and super-righteous by various religious gimmicks. That is very attractive message to people who love the Lord and want to do more to draw close to him. They are deceived. So we have Romanism that not only tells its priests to be celibate (leading to all sorts of fornication) but also tells its lay parishioners not to re-marry if they’ve been divorced. It makes this sound super-religious. They piously declare how such re-marriages are “adultery” in God’s sight and they forbid them. This leads to fornication also. That’s why I cited those two verses.

        Reply

        • July 13, 2024 @ 7:20 am Alex Wilgus

          Thank you for explaining your hermeneutic!

          Reply


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