The Christians are missing a theological concept of a Church divorce

PhDr. Mgr. Jeroným Klimeš, Ph.D. 2017-12-25

The number of divorces is unhealthy big even with religious people. Many religious authorities, including pope Francis are striving to cope with it, but his exhortation Amoris laetitia and the related bishop synod was not much effective in finding an acceptable solution. The main reason according to me is the fact that we are urgently missing a logical theological concept, how to approach divorces from the Christian point of view. Chaotic ad hoc actions - no matter how well they are intended - are violating current Church learning in marital moral.

The starting point must be the fact, that Jesus strictly opposed divorces. He had as bad experience with them as we have. His attitude is expressed in the disputation with pharisees (Mat 19, 2-12). Let me just shortly repeat the two main verses (Young's Literal Translation):

Mat 19, 5: 'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be -- the two -- for one flesh.'

Mat 19, 9: 'And I say to you, that, whoever may put away his wife, if not for whoredom, and may marry another, doth commit adultery; and he who did marry her that hath been put away, doth commit adultery.'

The Church derived and derives from these statements that it is impossible to divorce a marriage during a life of spouses. Yes, this is the main question which should be solved in global Christian debate on divorces.

Can a sacramental marriage cease to exist in the life of husbands another way than through the death of one of them?

These and other similar Jesus' statements note that an allowed reason for a divorce can also be considered so called whoredom, (sexual) immorality, fornification, etc.:

Mat 5, 31: 'Whoever may put away his wife, save for the matter of whoredom, doth make her to commit adultery; and whoever may marry her who hath been put away doth commit adultery.'

No wonder that the translators was clearly puzzled by this term. What is actually in the Greek text? The word "whoredom" corresponds to the Greek word "porneia - πορνεια", which was not only prostitution or a marriage between blood relatives, but any brutal, in original meaning, a sexual act against marriage, see proper Greek dictionaries.

One of my clients used a special term to describe such actions of her husband. I like it too, so I use it by myself: A massacre of a relationship. I think this is what Jesus meant by the word whoredom/porneia. A marriage can be massacred by spouses - of course not only in a sexual way.

I, as marital consultant, use this Jesus' approach other way round too: "Until there isn't a real massacre of your relationship, do not breakup, do not divorce!" A fact that your love already faded away, that you have fell in love with someone else, that you suffer from a time-worn relationship, etc. - Yes, it is truly annoying, but it is not a massacre of the partnership, so you have no sound reason to breakup. You should repair your partnership, but not break it up. A massacre would be: heavy drug dependence, serious gambling, chronic home violence, many years lasting promiscuity, etc.

Marriage is an organism, and so it can be killed

Please note that Jesus explicitly point at Gen 2, 24. He tells us that we should understand a marriage in a biological way:

'For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be -- the two -- for one flesh.'

The contemporary biology would use the term "organism" instead of the term "flesh/body". Jesus emphasizes: Man and woman become one organism, or so called meta-organism. As an ant-hill is a meta-organism, or so called reproduction unit, conf. also 1Cor 12, 27.

If marriage is an organism, it can also be killed, like any other organism. My conviction is that Jesus refers to such a murder of a marriage via "whoredom/porneia". A life of a person, as well as a life of a marriage is given and therefore is also protected by God himself ("What God has joined together, let no one separate.").

Nobody is allowed to kill a man, the same way nobody is allowed to kill a marriage. However, people, such as a Church court, may objectively state a death of a relationship, which already has happened. This is a similar situation to a doctor: He is not allowed to kill a person, but he can state that the person is already dead.

Distinguish the guilty and innocent side

When the marriage collapses, there must be its "killer", someone must be guilty. So, the court should state, as in Orthodox Church, which of the partners had killed it. He should be given a long repentance, epitimia, about 15 years old. The innocent party should have just an extended widow's time of 2 to 5 years. Afterwards he can get married again, assuming the original marriage no longer shows signs of life. The guilty side must ask his bishop for allowance to marry again after epitimia.

Symptoms of marriage life

The main sign of how we can state that marriages - albeit in a bad way - is still alive are in particular: Strong emotions and unresolved accounts between spouses - struggle for children, struggle for property, tense relationships, insulting communication, emotional flashes of hate in memories ('This I will never forgive him!'). As I always remind to the divorcing partners: "Divorce is behind you when your approach to the expartner is as indifferent as to Pythagoras." The proper sign of marital death is kind neutral indifference to the expartner - neither positive, nor negative.

The task of a Church court

A Church court should decide three things:

a) distinguish the guilty and innocent side, or whether they both carry a significant part of the guilt.

b) whether their marriage is still alive, albeit in a bad way. It is something like a doctor's examination of a corpse - he states the death, or sends the patient to a hospital. If the marriage still lives, it cannot be divorced. The applicant for a Church divorce would then have to wait another three years for a new review of his case.

c) to assess the length of repentance, epitimia separately for each of expartners.

A theological concept of a church divorce must correspond to Jesus' point of view

It is clear that I suggest quite innovatory approach to divorces. But the task of the Spirit of truth is to guide us to all the truth (John 16, 13). If we do not want to expel divorced people out of the Church, we must more exactly grasp what really was Jesus' approach to divorces, namely what he meant by the term whoredom/porneia. His disciples understood it very well. That is why they protested: 'If the case of the man with the woman is so, it is not good to marry.' Today we unfortunately have to look for the real meaning of that term...

A link to my book on breakups

If you are interested, check out my book Partners and breakups:

Contact at the author

PhDr. Mgr. Jeroným Klimeš, Ph.D.

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