Before the obvious is verified, let’s look at what marriage accomplishes with the originally separate individuals.
“and [Jesus] said, “for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two can become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”1
Christians are familiar with Jesus’ reply when asked about the “bill of divorce” in Moses’ time:
“He said to them, “Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.”2
So, Why the Confusion?
Knowing this, how can any Christian argue that a civil decree of divorce negates the sacramental union created by the covenant of marriage? Civil laws have no impact on the validity of a covenant. To use the vernacular, “Marriage is above the state’s pay grade” (which is also important to remember when dealing with the absurdity of the state attempting to redefine marriage—a discussion for another time).
But still, aren’t there extenuating circumstances permitting a divorce?
Two Erroneous Grounds for Christian Divorce
The split in the Church as a result of the 16th century Protestant “Reformation” has created much confusion producing today’s justification of divorce by many. For example:
▪ “When adultery has take(sic) place, a divorce can be obtained, because adultery has already severed the marriage relationship and divorce is a formal acknowledgment of what has already taken place.”3
Adultery may do great harm to a human relationship leading to a temporary or permanent separation, but it does not break the marriage covenant. Recall the vow “for better or for worse.”
The act of adultery is a mortal sin, another reality that was lost sometime after the year 1517. Mortal sin does sever the relationship between the individual and God. However, that relationship with God can be reestablished through a proper confession and absolution of the sin,4 but adultery is not a “get out of jail card free” which allows the other partner to ignore the commitment made before God.
Now, if it can be established that one of the partners had a history of an inability to commit to relationships or showed a disregard for the permanence of marriage any time prior to the wedding ceremony, then a valid marriage never took place. Something which never took place need not be broken (divorce). While the validity of a marriage is always presumed, key facts may become known later which reveal that the two did not become “one flesh.” Hence, “a decree of nullity” (annulment) may be granted, thus freeing each to marry someone else who is also free to do so.
▪ “The Pauline privilege, which I mentioned earlier, (1 Corinthians 7:15) permits divorce on the grounds of desertion by an unbelieving spouse. For mental cruelty to be grounds for divorce, it must involve conduct which makes it impossible to live with the spouse without endangering oneself.”3
The epistle in question refers to a “separation” which “The brother or sister is not bound in such cases.” Since a valid marriage is indissoluble, the only way a spouse is not bound by the marriage vows is if the necessary conditions were not present at the time of the commitment. Again, the origins for abusive behavior must be proven to have existed before the ceremony, otherwise the “for better or for worse” vow holds. (Of course, the Church does not suggest that the abused party must continue to live with the abuser.)
This is why entering into a marriage is such a serious issue requiring an sufficient period of discernment. It’s much more than having moral sex.
If No Annulment, What About the Happiness of the Aggrieved Party?
In some cases, an annulment cannot be granted. Where does that leave each spouse?
For those of us who believe in an afterlife, we are concerned about “happiness” in the next life not just on Earth. It’s easy to forget that. One cannot watch a simple sporting event without an advertiser trying to convince us that life without sex is desolate, unloving and not worth living.
Speaking from experience, this is completely false. A special relationship outside of marriage with a member of the opposite sex can achieve amazing fulfillment for each person while being faithful to all ten of the Commandments.
So, instead of trying to rationalize our way into immoral activities, we could make the world a much better place if we would return to the commands our Savior gave us Himself or through his apostolic successors.5,6
1 – Matthew 19: 5-6 from “The New Catholic Answer Bible,” Fireside Catholic Publishing; Wichita, KS, 2005
2 – Matthew 19: 8-9, Ibid.
3 – from “What Does The Bible Say About Divorce and Remarriage?” at http://www.cbn.com/spirituallife/cbnteachingsheets/Divorce_And_Remarriage.aspx
4 – “And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’” John 20: 22-23, from “The New Catholic Answer Bible,” Fireside Catholic Publishing; Wichita, KS, 2005
5 – as Jesus said, “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” Luke 10: 16, Ibid.
6 — For those who do not believe in God, we still possess the code of moral behavior present in human consciences even before the time of Moses’ trip to Mount Sinai. When we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, we end up feeling empty in the end. Ask any therapist.