Whether Catholicism should follow the Eastern Orthodox Churches in permitting “penitential” adultery

Well, when you put it like that…

I’m a great fan of the Jesus marriage equation:

divorce + remarriage = adultery

Take a statement about remarriage, do a search/replace swapping “remarried” with “adulterous”, and–Boom!–moral clarity.

But, at least they don’t give out communion at second weddings!  Yeah, and there’s another class of adulterers who don’t even insist on a ceremony at all, which I suppose is even better.

The dogma of the absolute indissolubility of marriage is not only Catholicism’s most distinctive doctrine; it is also one of the most beautiful teachings of any religion, and even man’s natural reason can see how it can bring a sense of definitive meaning to the lives of men and women

If the Roman Church did not have the glory of alone maintaining this teaching, it would be very hard to tell which of the ancient churches is the true one.  One can very easily argue oneself to different conclusions on the filioque, papal authority, the validity of this or that council, and the like.  But to allow remarriage or contraception is step from one world into another.

43 Responses

  1. When you allow divorce you destroy patriarchy. Our modern day Progressivism first sprouted when Luther left the Church, some of the first laws to go concerned sex and marriage. At one point he considered allowing polygamy.

    Another good one:
    Catholicism + Patriarchy = Western Civilization

  2. “If the Roman Church did not have the glory of alone maintaining this teaching, it would be very hard to tell which of the ancient churches is the true one. One can very easily argue oneself to different conclusions on the filioque, papal authority, the validity of this or that council, and the like.”
    Not really. If one believes in a visible Church – and scripture speaks of the Church as a kingdom – there must be some criterion or test by which it can be identified. Now, any test that defines Christians by their tenets or the Church by her teaching turns into a vicious circle: “The true church is the one that teaches the true faith” and “The true faith is what the true church teaches.”
    “But if you ask a Catholic “What is the Catholic Faith? ” and are told it is that held by the Catholic Church; if you persevere, and ask what is the Catholic Church, you are no longer met with the irritatingly circular definition “the Church which holds the Catholic Faith “; you are told it is the Church which is in communion with the Bishop of Rome. “ (R A Knox)
    We find the same test in the Edict of Thessalonica of 380, which stands in pride of place at the beginning of the Codex of Justinian and which enjoins on all subjects of the Empire the religion, “now professed by the Pontiff Damasus…”
    It is a test remarkably easy of application; just what one would expect of the criterion of a divine message, intended for all, regardless of learning, capacity or circumstances.

  3. “divorce + remarriage = adultery”
    An exception is given for cases involving fornication/sexual immorality. Bonald, can you discuss this?

  4. Are you talking about Matthew 19:9, Bruce?

  5. Also, Bonald, did you see this?: http://rorate-caeli.blogspot.com/2014/09/shock-with-appointment-of-danneels-to.html

    Kasper is a clown, but Danneels is the scum of the hierarchy; my hopes for a positive outcome to the Synod dwindle by the day.

  6. Yes, that’s correct Proph. The explanation that I have seen on Catholic blogs is that Matthew was written to the Jews and the reference to sexuality immorality is a reference to the Jewish betrothal period. If sexual immorality/infidelity occurred during the betrothal period, then that would indicate the marriage was entered into under false or deceptive intentions. So this would square with Catholic understanding that annulment is valid but not divorce.
    I’m wondering if there’s other arguments for the Catholic interpretation.
    In the past, I have reasoned that this reading is supported by the fact that the verse refers to sexual immorality (porneia) committed by the wife and not to adultery. If it referred to fornication committed during the marriage (which, by definition, is adultery) then wouldn’t it read:
    “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for adultery, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.”
    But I’m not exactly a Bible scholar.

  7. Note that the exception is only mentioned in Matthew, not Luke or Mark.

  8. Well, I’ve always been fond of Cornelius a Lapide’s understanding (which, he advances, is the true understanding of the Church): that what Christ said in Matt. 19:9 should be understood as: “Whoever divorces his wife (except for adultery), as well as whoever marries another after divorce, commits adultery.” He is acknowledging, in other words, the validity of separation in the event of adultery, without conceding (as had been conceded under the Mosaic law) that this thereby frees the offended party to remarry by dissolving the marital bond.

  9. It seems important to me that both porneia and moichaō are used in the verse.

  10. A common reading of μὴ ἐπὶ πορνείᾳ, based on Hellenic Jewish usage, is that πορνείᾳ refers to a forbidden union.

    Thus, in the Septuagint translation of Deut 23:2, the Hebrew word מַמְזֵ֖ר [Mamzer] is translated as εκ πόρνης, literally “one born of a harlot.” Now, in Jewish law, a mamzer is a child born of a forbidden union, that is, one born of parents within the forbidden degrees of marriage specified in Leviticus 18:6-17, or of a married woman’s adultery.

    Again, we find St Paul using πορνείᾳ in 1 Cor 5 in reference to the man who had married his father’s wife. This would be very much in accordance with rabbinic usage.

    The sense of Matt 19:9 would thus be, “unless the union is a forbidden one.” It is clear enough that Our Lord is not referring to adultery, for He uses the ordinary Greek word for adultery – μοιχός in the same passage and in the parallel passages in the other Synoptics.

    Bruce’s reading runs up against the difficulty that Jewish law draws no distinction between a woman’s infidelity after betrothal and after marriage, both are alike adultery.

  11. Unlike the Orthodox practice, which is indefensible, I respect the Protestant practice as being a good-faith interpretation of scripture. But I reject it because the evil of divorce for any reason can be known apart from Revelation.

    As has been pointed out, only Matthew makes an exception for porneia, whatever that is. Let us call divorce for reason of porneia D1, divorce for any other reason D2, and the set of all divorces D = D1 U D2. Protestants read the Gospels as

    Matthew: D2 is forbidden. D1 is allowed.
    Other Gospels: D2 is forbidden.

    Catholics read the Gospels as

    Matthew: D2 is forbidden.
    Other Gospels: D is forbidden.

    Both are self-consistent, and both involve some extrapolation. Which is true? From our translations, the Protestant reading certainly seems more natural. Why introduce the distinction between D1 and D2 if the statement is true of both of them? However, this assumes that Jesus is the one to invent the distinction, which may be how it seems, but we have no way of knowing because we only have a snapshot of his part of the conversation. There may have been, for example, some ephemeral slang term going around in those parts at the time that meant “divorce for reasons other than porneia” that Jesus used. If this was a common classification (even common in the context of a single conversation), Jesus’ using it would not suggest anything about his opinion of D1. It would be as if Jesus Christ showed up on the comment section of Sunshine Mary’s blog and announced that He too is opposed to wives frivorcing their husbands. This wouldn’t mean He approves of them divorcing their husbands for weighty reasons. But “divorce except for weighty reasons” might be a translation of “frivorce” into standard 1st-century Greek.

    So how to know if Matthew clarifies the other Gospels, or if they clarify Matthew. As I’ve said, I have a prior natural law commitment to the Catholic view, but here are two pieces of evidence, one I think weak, and one I think strong.

    The weak argument: It is totally out of character for Jesus to make lawyerly distinctions like that. Christ always left his followers to work out the practical exceptions to His startlingly sweeping statements (e.g. hating your parents, not calling your father “father”, not retaliating to attacks) Even the standard Catholic interpretation that He meant to exclude invalid marriages just doesn’t sound like HIm. It seems much more in character of Jesus if the distinction was made by someone else.

    The strong argument: Jesus states either that D2 is forbidden or that D is forbidden, but then He goes on to give a reason that applies equally to D2 and D1. It is thus more in line with the spirit of the teaching on “one flesh”, “let no man separate” to assume he meant D.

  12. The simplest reading of Matthew 19:9 is “unless the union is invalid”. That is how the priest actually read it out loud when it was the gospel reading recently.

  13. I don’t know about formal Protestant theology but a common, contemporary Protestant practice is to ignore the teaching and, if pressed, to say that faith covers our sins or something similar. Not that the current, common Catholic practice is much better.

  14. I would assume Bonald’s “weak argument” is easier for Catholics to accept if only because Protestants are more likely to believe that Scripture represents a complete revelation so it has all the “snap-shots” that God wanted us to see. Is this right?

  15. Bonald and Zippy both refer to “invalid” marriages, which is fine, so long as we appreciate that the valid/invalid distinction is a concept borrowed from Roman law. Jewish legal discourse employs other concepts: permitted/prohibited and clean/unclean, for example.

    Thus, the rabbis never asked themselves whether incestuous marriages were “invalid.” If by invalid, one means “devoid of legal consequences,” they plainly were not, for the offspring of such a union were mamzerim, a special legal (and hereditary) status. One can see how πορνείᾳ fits into this scheme very well.

    This may seem pedantic, but it is worth noting that the whole controversy over marriage with a deceased wife’s sister that so exercised Protestant theologians in the 19th century was a result of discussing Jewish law in Roman terms; in that case, imposing Roman notions of “degrees” of relationship on Leviticus 18, a fallacy that goes back to Calvin.

  16. My dear Bonald, I have no idea if you are right, or wrong, or plain crazy, but I do see that this idea of yours has the dimension of the majestic and the sublime to it. Even if it would turn out to be the crazy sort of majestic, still. There is something Spanish in it: something grand, tragic, beautiful – and harsh, almost cruel. Nevertheless, boring and unimaginative you are not, and that’s way more than what I can say about most people I know.

    I find it strange that a religon that is quite pragmatic has so unpragmatic sexual morals, as in, so incredibly hard to reconcile with normal sexual desires. Have you ever given some thougth to the idea that a religion that requires a man to constantly fight against a core set of his desires in one field of life, while in many other fields of life it is reasonably easy to reconcile with desires, is somehow not really consistent enough?

    Here is roughly what kind of sexual morality would fit moderately disciplined people (not utter hedonists): allow contraceptive sex in halfway committed relationships, no random hook-ups but for example year-long trial marriages. If compatible, marry, if married, stay together unless the other person becomes objectively evil, such as actively, consciously working against the harmony of the family. Then separate and if separate, be allowed to try it again, because you weren’t really meant to be lonely in life. Oh, and when young and single, yes, allow masturbation.

    What I described here is roughly the morals of the 1940’s-1950’s. Back then women wanted to hear something like “yes we are couple now, I love you” before giving in, but not necessarily actual marriage. Then, marriage should sooner or later happened. Then, divorce was allowed but someone had to be at fault, there was no no-fault divorce.

    To me, this sounds like a reasonable sexual morality that does not require constantly fighting against urges, yet it does require a certain sense of maturity and discipline and grown-up attitude, and it does say that the ideal is always the traditional family life: just sometimes the road to there is not that simple, and that sometimes you realize you married a firebreather, in which case you click the “Undo” button and try again.

  17. “there was no no-fault divorce”
    As someone who remembers the old law, the principle effect of no-fault divorce was to end the charade of “Hotel Cases,” in which the receptionist who booked them in and the chambermaid who brought them their early morning tea proved that the Defender (always the husband), whom they identified from a photograph, spent the night with a lady, who was not the Pursuer; their precognitions might as well have been mimeographed. No effort was ever made to identify the fair unknown and there was never any evidence of prior association.

    No-fault divorce caused not so much as a blip in the inexorable rise in the number of divorces throughout the 20th century.

    Taking the figures for my own country, Scotland, in 1930, there were 469 decrees. A generation earlier, in 1890, there had been 87. There were 890 decrees in 1939, but in 1949, there were 2,447, an increase of 175% over 10 years.

    In the 1950s, the annual average was 2,071; in the 1930s, the annual average had been 597, representing a 250% increase on the 1930s average. So much for the family-friendly ’50s

    There were only 1,828 decrees in 1960, but in 1965, there were 2,691 and in 1969, there were 4,246.

    In 1970, there were 4,618 decrees and in 1974, the last full year before no-fault divorce, there were 7,221, a 168% increase on the 1965 figure. In 1976, the first full year of no-fault divorce, there were 8,692.

    In the 1980s, the annual average was 11,824, a 64% increase on the 1974 figure and in the 1990s, it was 12,381. In 2011, there were 9,862.

  18. Shenpen,

    What you are describing is indeed a more practical and less difficult system of sexual morals than the Catholic system, as can be proved by the fact that by your own counting it lasted two whole decades. That is, roughly a full generation was able to square the acceptance of contraception and divorce-with-fault with rejection of hookup culture, single motherhood, and sodomy.

    It seems that an ethic may be more stable even if fewer people succeed in satisfying it as long as it seems coherent to them. If fornication and masturbation are to be accepted, then sex is a profane thing that can mean whatever we want it to, and there’s no reason to restrict it at all–no reason having to do with chastity at least, since even people today will limit their indulgences for reasons of consent, career, and hygiene. If we admit divorce and remarriage in some cases, then we admit that we don’t really mean “till death do us part”, so any remaining restrictions seem arbitrary. If we accept divorce in some case, we must accept it in every case.

    It is, in fact, not easy to come up with a system other than the Catholic one and the modern hedonist one whose restrictions don’t feel arbitrary. For example, the Church says no sex until marriage, hedonism says sex on a first date is okay, and you suggest year-long trial marriages. Now suppose my lady and I really want to do it, but when we check the calendar we see that it’s only been eleven months. We know perfectly well that the number 12 is not written in the stars; it would be silly, wouldn’t it, to deny ourselves just for a completely arbitrary timeline? But any rule like that will seem (and be) equally arbitrary. We need a clear and unambiguous marker that we are now in a committed relationship. It’s got to be public and involve explicit promises, and while we’re at it, why not throw in rings and a pretty white dress too?

  19. I really cannot forbear a quotation from my old tutor, Miss Anscombe’s 1972 paper, “Contraception and Chastity” – “In one word: Christianity taught that men ought to be as chaste as pagans thought honest women ought to be; the contraceptive morality teaches that women need to be as little chaste as pagans thought men need be.“

    It is worth noting that, although she was one of the English-speaking world’s leading philosophers, her paper is unremittingly theological (although her treatment of NFP draws heavily on Action Theory, of which she was one of the leading exponents)

  20. Dear Bonald

    This is a very good argument!

    All I can say that the Catholic morality is nevertheless quite difficult do obey and to be honest AFAIK it was rarely perfectly upheld. AFAIK there was more prostitution in the Middle Ages as today, actually France never really took the whole idea of marital fidelity too seriously etc. I think what actually happened is tha the Church more or less tolerated sins of momentary passion (such as people occasionally having sex before or beside marriage) and only sins of fully conscious choice were supressed (such as divorce and remarriage).

    You know way more about ecclesial history as I do so does it sound plausible? I.e. a sin that would be committed by some passion temporarily overriding the rational mind would be seen as sort of acceptable, while a sin that would be committed as fully informed, rational, concscious choice (sort of: a heresy put into practice) would be seen as much worse?

  21. I am curious what you would say to the following reasoning:

    Permitting remarriage after divorce is rather more like the sticky question of whether you should permit a man who has strangled his own children to father more of them. When a church permits a second marriage, it is not “performing divorce”, but it is acknowledging the fait accompli, that divorce was already performed by the actions of the former spouses. That is, when it is said that “what God has joined together, let man not put asunder”, this is spoken in the tone of an inviolable commandment regarding marriage, just as with the inviolable commandment against murder. The moral inviolability of the commandment, does not imply that man is /not capable/ of committing divorce; he is capable of it, just as he is capable of committing murder, and the consequences are real in both cases.

    A destroyed marriage cannot be treated as if it were still extant, anymore than a murdered person can be treated as if they were alive, and insisting that the reality of the matter endures seems obnoxious. The Catholic Church acknowledges this much in permitting spouses to separate (but not remarry), at which point at least the relevant marital duties no longer apply. Almost as if the marriage had been destroyed.

    However, this does not make the Catholic policy unintelligible or necessarily even wrong. In actual deed, the Catholic Church errs towards prudence, in not entrusting any marriage to those who have shown themselves capable of destroying marriage. The Orthodox Church currently errs towards mercy, though not to an unlimited extent. If I think of it that way, both positions seem at least initially defensible, and the Catholic position certainly seems defensible in an environment where marriage is assaulted as an institution.

    The way the Catholic Church explains its own position, though, seems to me absurd in that it leads to a game of relabeling the reality. I myself am a child of a second marriage (where the first marriage was infertile). If my parents were Catholics in a Catholic country, then my parents’ marriage would be a long-term partnership for the purpose of fornication, I would be a ‘bastard’ (with corresponding legal ramifications under most historical regimes) and my parents’ considerable self-sacrifice in raising me would be a work undertaken for the purpose of self-delusion. Apparently (as far as I have been able to find anything resembling a clear position on the matter) the Catholic Church gives a pass for pagans, stating that ‘natural’ marriage admits of being dissolved. So, hooray, I guess I am not a bastard.

  22. To clarify: when I said the first marriage was infertile, I meant in the most general sense that it did not lead to any children. Beyond that, I do not have any information from my mother as to who her first husband was, or why they divorced.

  23. Treating divorce like murder would destroy Catholic sacramental theology. Bodily life is dissoluble; sacraments, once done, cannot be undone. There is no such thing as reversing a sacrament through ‘unmarraige’ or ‘unbaptism’.

    ‘Natural’ marriages are not sacraments and are thus (in rare circumstances) dissoluble.

    Between believers, however, a true and ratified marriage exists, because the sacrament of faith (baptism) once conferred is never lost, and indeed it makes the sacrament of marriage ratified so that the marriage itself endures in the spouses as long as the baptism endures. – Pope Innocent III, Quanto te magis, letter to Bishop Ugo of Ferrara, May 1, 1199 (Denzinger)

  24. It’s easy to find lots of ways to interpret a single bible passage. Fortunately, Jesus disambiguates things for us:

    “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18)

    If “let man not put asunder” just meant “don’t divorce your wife, but once you do, you’re free to find another woman”, the above wouldn’t make any sense.

  25. “Bodily life is dissoluble; sacraments, once done, cannot be undone. There is no such thing as reversing a sacrament through ‘unmarraige’ or ‘unbaptism’.”

    Okay, that explanation is clear, and explains why the distinction (in terms of indissolubility specifically for sacramental marriage) is drawn in Catholic doctrine.

    The position is complicated a bit in that, unlike baptism, sacramental marriage can be dissolved — by the death of one of the spouses. (I recall Laura Wood suggesting that the *correct* Catholic solution to the — admittedly hyperbolic — hypothetical case of a wife discovering after-the-fact that she is married to a psychopathic serial murdering rapist, would be to subject the rapist to the death penalty, which any ‘sane society’ would do.) Whereas the indelible mark of baptism is considered to persist eternally no matter what.

    So, strictly speaking, Catholicism doesn’t teach indissoluble marriage; it teaches that marriage is only dissolved at death.

    “‘Natural’ marriages are not sacraments and are thus (in rare circumstances) dissoluble.”

    In what specific rare circumstances? I am interested because I have not managed to find a clear explication of what ‘natural marriage’ is, according to Catholicism. Then again I have not delved very deeply into the Vatican’s paper trail on the subject.

    This admission of ‘rare circumstances’ is doubly curious because Jesus’ commandments and disambiguations (e.g. as Bonald points out, “the man who marries a divorced wife commits adultery”) seem to apply to any kind of marriage. There are no qualifications of the ‘sacramental marriage’ type or restricting the warning to ‘marriage between baptized persons’. So maybe I am, in fact, a bastard?

  26. Here is a fuller citation:

    We, therefore, responding to your inquiry, in conformity with the advice of Our brothers, even though one of Our predecessors [Celestine III] seems to have thought otherwise, make a distinction between two cases: when there are two unbelievers and one converts to the Catholic faith, or when there are two believers and one lapses into heresy or falls into the error of the heathens. For if, indeed, one of the two unbelieving spouses converts to the Catholic faith, and the other does not wish to live together in any manner, or at least not without blaspheming the divine name or leading the other into mortal sin, the one who is abandoned, if wishing to, may enter into a second marriage, and in this case, We understand what was said by the apostle: “If the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so: in such cases, the brother or sister is not bound” [1 Cor 7:15]. And likewise, the canon that says: “The insult to the Creator dissolves the juridical bond of marriage for the one who is thus abandoned.” [Cf. Gratian, Decretum, P. II, cs. 28, q. 2, c. 2 (Frdb 1:1090]

    But if one of the believing spouses either falls into heresy or lapses into the error of the heathens, we do not believe that in this case the abandoned one can enter into a second marriage while the other spouse is living, even though in this case a greater insult to the Creator may be evident. For even if, in fact, a true marriage exists between unbelievers, it is still not ratified. Between believers, however, a true and ratified marriage exists, because the sacrament of faith (baptism) once conferred is never lost, and indeed it makes the sacrament of marriage ratified so that the marriage itself endures in the spouses as long as the baptism endures. – Pope Innocent III, Quanto te magis, letter to Bishop Ugo of Ferrara, May 1, 1199 (Denzinger)

    As for “In what specific rare circumstances?” (can natural marriages be dissolved), there are a number of kinds of situations covered in various citations in Denzinger — though I am not aware of any claim to a comprehensive accounting of possible circumstances, so there may be circumstances which are not explicitly covered. Some ‘covered’ situations include where polygamous pagans converted to the faith and could obviously only sacramentally marry one of their natural wives; and there were situations where a pagan converted but his natural wife was in an inaccessible foreign land. There are also the so-called Pauline and Petrine privileges wherein unconsummated Catholic marriages may be dissolved, since sacramental marriage consists in consent but is ratified (probably the wrong word) by actual exercise of marital rights, that is, consummation.

    In every circumstance of which I am aware though the juridical authority to dissolve merely natural marriages resides in the Church, and even merely natural marriages among pagans are presumptively valid unless dissolved by the Church in a positive act. I might have that wrong though.

  27. You defend the Catholic view of divorce well, and I’d take it you do not provide exception for abandonment, or conversion away from the Faith (even excommunication of a spouse). For me, it seems these two things along with adultery (taking account of mercy, so repeat and shameless adultery) would be indicative of a total dereliction of duty on the part of one of the partners and defensible grounds for divorce.

    However, the quote from the Lord himself is hard to refute with anything, even earlier verses, for in them we find divorce was an institution created by man and not God. Christ seems pretty unequivocal.

    Catholicism and Orthodoxy have many disagreements on doctrine, however going by the Bible, this is something that Orthodoxy should be looking at with a lot of focus, especially in light of the destroyed family structure of Eastern Europe (not to say the West’s family structure is much better, but it has different problems). Remember, Orthodoxy, like Catholicism, has gone through its own changes in the past. Long before Vatican II, we had ‘Raskol’ or the ‘great cleaving’.

  28. Mark,

    The Church allows separation in certain cases (e.g. adultery), however remarriage while one’s spouse lives is not permitted even then.

  29. Thanks for the information; it’s taken me a while to get back to this topic.

    Given the narrowness of exceptions cited in Zippy’s comment, it appears that terminating on the mere grounds of ‘wanting a divorce’ is unlawful for a natural marriage as well as for a sacramental one. Zippy also said something very confusing about the authority to terminate a natural marriage ‘residing in the Church’. This, along with the fact that Jesus made no distinctions between different types of marriages, suggests that a person who ended a natural marriage in divorce and attempted a second marriage commits fornication (plain reading), even if he was living in a pagan culture whose laws permitted such a thing.

    On that logic, does a second natural marriage also constitute fornication, or does the Catholic Church consider it possible to make concessions to ‘hardness of the heart’ in the case of a natural marriage (as the Orthodox do for all marriage)? That is, if a married person converts and it is known that his current marriage is a second marriage, with the first one having blown up in frivorce, is he obliged to quit the second marriage? Or does he join in a sacramental marriage with the second wife, and the sacramental marriage cancels out the original natural marriage?

  30. The Church allows an unbaptized man with several unbaptized wives to choose any of them on conversion (and vice versa), the same would apply in the case of divorce and remarriage.

    It should be noted that only the Church can do this, divorcing ones natural spouse and remarrying is wrong without the Church’s permission.

    Also, if the first spouse is baptized, this is not allowed.

  31. If the more direct Protestant KJV reading is correct, the most liberal possible teaching would be that a husband can divorce a sexually immoral wife. The wife would have no such right or recourse. This seems like a possibility (obvious it’s not if Catholicism is true) that is consistent with the importance of patriarchy and paternity. If your wife is sexually immoral, you cannot have moral certitude (or even probable confidence) that your children are yours. I assume paternity and legitimacy are important in Christianity.

    Interestingly, this most liberal reading is prudishly “cruel” by modern standards.

  32. A very thought provoking piece. I do appreciate and respect the strong position that official RC theology takes on the issue of re-marriage, however, one cannot properly appreciate or understand the position of the Orthodox Church on re-marriage without first doing two things.
    First, it is not likely one can gain an accurate understanding of Orthodox theology of re-marraige by either failing to understand Orthodox praxis or using Western theological standards of analysis. Second, it is essential, in order to understand *why* Orthodox allow re-marriage, that one understand how Orthodox Christianity approaches the mystery( sacrament )of marriage.
    It is never the case that Orthodoxy has looked only to biblical reference for its understanding of the mystery of Holy Matrimony–Orthodoxy embraces Holy Tradition as the highest form of material or wordly expression of salvation.
    I have included a link to a podcast( with transcript) done by an Orthodox priest addressing many of the points you have brought up. It is my hope that you will take a small amount of time to listen or read the material as I think it will give you additional insight.
    Thanks–you have a wonderful website!

  33. Holy Tradition is not greater than Jesus Christ’s words.

  34. Which is why I am led to question this doctrinal practice. Holy Tradition is incomparably informative for the Orthodox Faith since it traces itself all the way back to earliest church and the disciples in a very clear way, and it may be enough to override an ambiguous concern. However, the passages in question are so uncompromising that this needs a serious look.

  35. This doctrinal practice, as I understand it, is pretty long-standing and persistent.

  36. Correct. I can’t say for certain if it goes all the way back to the beginning, but it is definitely a long-held practice.

  37. I guess you know where I’m going to go next. Is the persistency of this practice (error) indicative of a fundamental error or limitation in Orthodoxy? I mean, marriage seems pretty important. Jesus comes back to it again and again. It seems to be one of the few things that He got detailed and legalistic about.

  38. I saw that coming a mile off 😉

    I have many more doctrinal disagreements with the Catholic Church however (before we even get to Vatican II) and don’t get me started on Protestantism. This is my only niggle with Orthodoxy. Plus, my Slavic national roots imbibe me with the spiritual legacy of the Eastern martyrs and heroes. I am as tied to Orthodoxy as I am to my ethnicity, and carry its confession to my grave. We’re a stubborn people, as the Soviets discovered.

  39. This simple explanation suggests that Jesus was merely distinguishing between marriage and concubinage. This makes sense to me. He didn’t say “except the wife commit fornication” he said “excepting fornication.”


  40. Mark, if you don’t mind the question, how much of your connection to Orthodoxy is doctrinal, and how much of it is culturally Slavic? Catholicism affects each aspect of my life. So I’ll die a Catholic. Although I would feel honored to get martyred, I don’t deserve that privilege, and I’m too proud to accept it humbly.

  41. Orestes Brownson wrote a great article called “Catholicity Necessary to Sustain Popular Liberty,” where he says that society needs a religion that can govern the citizens. That religion can’t be Protestantism, in his opinion, because Protestants govern it. Brownson believes that we need a religion that political pressure won’t change. So he insists that religion needs to be Catholicism.

    Since the Russian Orthodox communion has become an arm of the Russian Government, that’s an example of what can happen when politics controls religion when religion should control it instead.

    No, I’m not advocating theocracy. But the Catholic doctrine about the social Kingship of Christ tells me that, in a Catholic society, the government has a duty to make laws that are compatible with what the Bible and the Catholic Church teach about morality. Since I agree with that doctrine, it’s hard for me to know how the Russian Orthodox communion could do what Brownson and I believe Catholicism should do. If an Eastern Orthodox communion allows penitential adultery, is that because some government or a democratic part of that communion has convinced it to allow it?

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