“Except on the Ground of Unchastity”

The Lord makes it very, very clear that the marriage bond between a man and a woman is indissoluble.  In two places in Matthew, (5:32; 19:9) Jesus says that anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.  Even the disciples respond incredulously and tell Jesus that His teaching is so hard, that they plan not to marry at all.  I thought, in light of this, that it would be a great idea to review the Catechism on marriage.

Marriage in the Lord

(CCC 1612)  “. . .the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving His life, has united to Himself in a certain way all mankind saved by Him, thus preparing for ‘the wedding feast of the Lamb.'”

(CCC 1613)  Jesus performed His first miracle at a wedding feast per His mother’s request.  The Church attaches a great importance to Cana.  She sees it as Jesus’ confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that marriage will be a sign of His Presence.

(CCC 1614)  Jesus unequivocally and consistently taught that the matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble.

(CCC 1615)  This demand of indissolubility could seem impossible to realize.  However, Jesus, Himself, gives the grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God.  Spouses who deny themselves, take up their crosses and follow Christ will be able to live marriage with the help of Christ’s Presence in their marriage and His grace.

(CCC 1616)  “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her.  For this reason a man shall leave His father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one.  This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”  Eph. 5: 25-26; 31-32.

(CCC 1617)  “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. . . Christian marriage become an efficacious sign. .  Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant.

“Except for Unchastity”

Matthew 5: 32; 19:9

Jesus and the CCC make it clear marriage as ordained by God from the beginning is to be indissoluble.  “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” The Catholic Church has always maintained that Jesus forbids divorce and remarriage.

There has been some confusion over what He meant by “except for unchastity” which only appears in Matthew.  Was He really leaving open an exception to allow divorce and remarriage?  Probably not, even though some non-Catholics point to this phrase to justify divorce and remarriage in extreme circumstances.

There have been three main interpretations of this exemption clause of which none are endorsed by the Church as her official understanding of the passage.  They are all permitted interpretations, though.

Porneia:  Gk.  translated as “unchastity” in Matthew.  Can also mean “adultery.”  In OT, it is translated as “harlotry.”  In 1 Cor 5: 1-2, it is translated as “immorality.”

1.  Patristic View

An adulterous situation may give cause for separation as long as the spouses do not embark upon a second marriage.  This is squarely aligned with St. Paul’s teaching that a separated couple has only two options:  be reconciled to one another or remain single.  (1 Cor 7: 10-11)

2.  Levitical Law View

The OT suggests that “unchastity” refers to invalid marriages where spouses are too closely related.  So Matthew 5: 32; 19:9 would mean that such unions should be severed.  However, if a valid marriage has never existed, a true marriage bond is not sundered.

3  “No Comment” View

According to this position, Jesus sets aside Jewish debates over the ground for divorce in the Old Covenant. (Deut 24)  In this view,  Jesus is declaring Deut 24 as irrelevant.

(I like number three myself.)

LentNext time:  More antitheses

Study Question:  I have heard non-Catholics call annulments a Catholic divorce.  How would you explain an annulment in the Catholic Church to them?

Meditation:  Eph 5: 25-26; 31-32


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