8.0 Indissolubility

This objection is that, if the D&R not living in complete continence can receive Holy Communion, the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage is effectively denied.

8.1 Doctrinal Background of the Objection

Canon 7 of the 24th Session of the Council of Trent declares, based on Sacred Scripture (Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12 etc), that:

If anyone says that the Church errs in that she taught and teaches that in accordance with evangelical and apostolic doctrine the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved by reason of adultery on the part of one of the parties, and that both, or even the innocent party who gave no occasion for adultery, cannot contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that he is guilty of adultery who, having put away the adulteress, shall marry another, and she also who, having put away the adulterer, shall marry another, let him be anathema”.

That is to say a valid “ratum et consummatum” sacramental marriage between baptised persons, is absolutely intrinsically and extrinsically indissolubility except by death, and “can be dissolved by no human power and by no cause” (Canon 1141 and CCC 1638 – 1640).

In this regard, it was argued in an intervention at the Second Vatican Council by the Melkite Archbishop Elias Zoghby, that this anathema does not apply to “what the Orthodox call the principle of economy”:

The bond of matrimony has certainly been made indissoluble by the positive law of Christ, but, as the Gospel of Saint Matthew indicates (5:32, 19:9) “except on the grounds of adultery.” It is up to the Church to judge the meaning of this clause; even though the Church of Rome has always interpreted it in a restrictive sense, the same has not been true in the East, where the Church interpreted it, from the earliest times, in favor of the possible remarriage of an innocent spouse.

It is true that the Council of Trent in its 24th Session (Canon 7 of De Matrimonio) sanctioned the restrictive Roman interpretation. However, it is widely known that the formula adopted at that holy council in that canon has been revised intentionally so as not to exclude the Eastern tradition that followed a practice contrary to that of the Church of Rome”.

However, at the behest of Pope Blessed Paul VI, Cardinal Charles Journet spoke against the proposal and it was not accepted by the Second Vatican Council (Acta Synodalia IV/3, 58):

[T]he teaching of the Catholic Church on the indissolubility of sacramental marriage is the very teaching of the Lord Jesus that has been revealed to us and has always been safeguarded and proclaimed in the Church . . . the Church has no authority to change what is of divine law  

It is true that some churches in the East have admitted divorce in the case of adultery, and have also allowed innocent spouses to contract a new marriage. But this happened, given the existing relationships between state and church at the time, under the influence of civil law…. When these [Eastern] churches admitted other grounds for divorce beyond the one introduced above, it appears that they followed … a procedure (modus agendi) more human than evangelical”.

8.2 Divorce in Eastern Orthodox Churches

Despite the rejection of “principle of economy” as inconsistent with the dogma of the of the indissolubility of marriage at the Ecumenical Councils of Trent and Vatican II, the 2014 Instrumentum Laboris 95 again raised this matter:

In this regard, some recommend considering the practice of some Orthodox Churches, which, in their opinion, opens the way for a second or third marriage of a penitential character. In light of this suggestion, countries having a major number of Orthodox Christians noted that, from their experience, this practice does not reduce the number of divorces. Others request clarification as to whether this solution is based on doctrine or is merely a matter of discipline”.

Similarly, the 2015 Instrumentum Laboris 129 stated:

129. Those who make reference to the matrimonial practice of the Orthodox Churches ought to bear in mind the difference in these Churches’ theological understanding of marriage. The Orthodox Churches link the practice of blessing a second union to the notion of “economy” (oikonomia), understood to be a pastoral accommodation towards failed marriages, without calling into question the ideal of an absolute monogamous relationship or the uniqueness of marriage. In itself, this blessing is a penitential celebration to invoke the grace of the Holy Spirit, so that human weakness might be healed and the penitent might be restored to communion with the Church”.

However, as at the Second Vatican Council and consistent with the Council of Trent, this proposal was not accepted or mentioned by either the Synods on the Family or AL. Rather, following the 2014 Relatio Synodi 48 and the 2015 Relatio Finalis 85, AL 62 reaffirms the indissolubility of marriage:

The Synod Fathers noted that Jesus, “in speaking of God’s original plan for man and woman, reaffirmed the indissoluble union between them, even stating that ‘it was for your hardness of heart that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’ (Mt 19:8). The indissolubility of marriage – ‘what God has joined together, let no man put asunder’ (Mt 19:6) – should not be viewed as a ‘yoke’ imposed on humanity, but as a ‘gift’ granted to those who are joined in marriage … The Gospels clearly present the example of Jesus who… proclaimed the meaning of marriage as the fullness of revelation that restores God’s original plan (cf. Mt 19:3)””.

Accordingly the teaching of AL cannot be said to deny the dogma of the indissolubility of marriage, nor allow second or subsequent marriages to those bound by an absolutely indissoluble first marriage during the lifetime of their spouse.

8.3 Prophetic Witness

It may be further objected AL weakens the prophetic witness to the indissolubility of marriage desired by FC 84, such that indissolubility is denied by neglect:

[T]here is another special pastoral reason: if these people were admitted to the Eucharist, the faithful would be led into error and confusion regarding the Church’s teaching about the indissolubility of marriage”.

However AL 243 is clear this conclusion cannot be drawn from its pastoral approach:

It is important that the divorced who have entered a new union should be made to feel part of the Church … The Christian community’s care of such persons is not to be considered a weakening of its faith and testimony to the indissolubility of marriage; rather, such care is a particular expression of its charity””.

Similarly AL 307 provides:

A lukewarm attitude, any kind of relativism, or an undue reticence in proposing that ideal, would be a lack of fidelity to the Gospel and also of love on the part of the Church for young people themselves. To show understanding in the face of exceptional situations never implies dimming the light of the fuller ideal, or proposing less than what Jesus offers to the human being”.

In any event, there is often a tension between the prophetic and the pastoral in the practice of the Church, with emphasis traditionally changing depending on context. This tension is best expressed in the old Catholic maxim, sometimes attributed to St Alphonsus Liguori or St John Vianney, that a priest should “be a lion in the pulpit, but a lamb in the confessional”.

The operation of this tension in relation to the D&R can be seen for example in the 1977 ITC Theses at 5.2 and 5.4, which speaks both of the “harsh norm” which “is a prophetic witness to the irreversible fidelity of love that binds Christ to his Church”, as well as the “pastoral care of the divorced who have remarried” who “must not, therefore, be deprived of pastoral assistance … but rather helped, like all other Christians who are trying, with the help of Christ s grace, to free themselves from sin”.

Accordingly, both approaches are doctrinally orthodox, and may be validly preferred by the Church in difference circumstances. As noted by AL 308:

I understand those who prefer a more rigorous pastoral care which leaves no room for confusion.  But I sincerely believe that Jesus wants a Church attentive to the goodness which the Holy Spirit sows in the midst of human weakness, a Mother who, while clearly expressing her objective teaching, “always does what good she can, even if in the process, her shoes get soiled by the mud of the street””.

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