Since the 1960’s, the divorce rate in America started to rise. In the 1980’s it leveled off and since then, it has slightly decreased. One of the main reasons for a slight decrease is that young people today do not get married right away, but instead live together for a certain period of time as a type of trail marriage. Many of these relationships do not last. So, in our society at large, it seems that marriage is not as sacred as it once was. What about marriage within the Christian community? Is the rate lower for those of us who follow Jesus as our Lord? If it is lower, it is not by much.
So, as a follower of Christ, did Jesus allow for divorce? If we look to the Gospel of Mark, we see just how high Jesus Christ valued marriage. In chapter 10 of Mark, Jesus was tested: “Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ ‘What did Moses command you?’ he replied.
They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.’ ‘It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,’ Jesus replied. ‘But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female.’‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’ When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery’ (Mark 10: 2-12).”
Some people might point to what may seem like an exception that allows a couple to get divorced. In the Gospel of Matthew, he adds to what Mark’s gospel said; “It was because you were so hard-hearted that Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery(Matt. 19: 8-9).” Instead of unchasity, some translations say sexual immorality, or adultery, etc. But, the Greek word that is used here, “porniea,” seems to be a reference to improper marriages that have taken place between close blood relatives (the footnote of the New American Bible with Revised New Testament). In both the Jewish and Christian communities (cf. Lev 18:6-18; 1 Cor 5:1), that would have been an invalid marriage from the start.
The Catholic Church believes that Jesus gave marriage a special dignity. If both people who come together to be married are “baptized” Christians, then their holy bond becomes a sacrament. “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring; this covenant between baptized persons has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament (Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1601).”
The Church honors marriage so much, that it presumes any marriage between 2 baptized Christians is valid. It believes that the bond of marriage is a lasting one, unless it can be proven otherwise. Does every marital relationship meet the standards that our Lord established? In the eyes of the Catholic Church, even a civil divorce cannot dissolve a valid marriage. So, how can we find out if a marriage can be dissolved without the death of one of the parties?
In order to find out if a marriage was indeed valid, the term the Church uses is “Annulment.” The proper name for an annulment is “declaration of nullity.” This is what the Church uses to find out if a previous marriage no longer binds a person spiritually. It does not do anything to the marriage, but it simply seeks the facts to discover if a valid sacramental marriage ever came into existence to begin with. This declaration is purely a religious matter and has no civil effect in the United States. For example, it does not effect property or inheritance rights and also does not effect children’s legitimacy.
“What the Church is trying to do through the marriage nullity process is to: (1) be faithful to Jesus’ clear scriptural teaching that the covenant of marriage is permanent and, (2) to be compassionate to people as Jesus would be compassionate when their own personal woundedness and limitations prevent them from entering into a true marital covenant (Fr. Mario P. Romero, Unabridged Christianity page 355).”
Until next time, God bless.