divorceI heard some time ago about a Methodist minister who decided that he wanted to do things “more Catholic.” So he started wearing vestments and added a few extra candles to the altar. He began to cross himself and introduced a more formal liturgy. When Lent came along he decided to impose ashes on the people for Ash Wednesday, but his ecclesiastical experiment went awry because he used ashes from his fireplace and mixed them with water. So he went to the Catholic priest and asked where he got “Catholic ashes.” The priest informed him that the ashes for Ash Wednesday were made by burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday.

“Gee!” said the Methodist, “All this Catholic stuff is connected!”

Our of the mouth of babes…

It’s the same with the Catholic understanding of marriage: all the Catholic stuff is connected.

The way to explore this question is to ask whether a Catholic can be divorced. If not why not?

That a marriage cannot be dissolved is a cornerstone not only of the Catholic understanding of marriage, but of everything else. Here’s why.

Catholics believe that marriage is intrinsically linked with the created order. That’s why the creation story in Genesis reveals man and woman together as an integral and original part of the way things work. This is not just a cute fairy tale about an innocent  man and woman traipsing around a sort of primeval nudist colony talking to the animals like Dr Doolittle.

Instead this is a profound meditation on the relationship which is fundamental to human existence and the whole created order. To put it simply, the survival of the human race depends on men and women mating and the civilized survival of the human race depends on them living together in harmony in order to thrive.

But why does this necessarily imply that a marriage cannot be dissolved? It doesn’t. On the natural level it shows that the relationship between man and woman is fundamentally important, but there is another dimension to revelation.

Special revelation is that knowledge that God gives through the teaching and life of Jesus Christ and his church.

Jesus raises the stakes about marriage and cancels the previous permission within the Jewish religion that a man may divorce his wife. Instead he says if a man divorces his wife and marries another he commits adultery. This is because he also teaches that he is the bridegroom and his followers are his bride. His commitment to them is binding, everlasting and self sacrificial even to the point of death. Because his commitment to his “bride” is everlasting Christian marriage–which points to that commitment of Christ to his church, is also unbreakable. But there is more to it than this…  Continue Reading