"There was a marriage in Cana of Galilee: and the mother of Jesus was there.
And Jesus also was invited, and His disciples, to the marriage."--John 2: 1-2

(by Monsignor Matthew Smith, 1921)

The Catholic attitude on marriage is not debatable for anyone who is really willing to live by the doctrine of the Scriptures. Here are some of the Biblical references to marriage: "Whilst her husband liveth she shall be called an adulteress if she be with another man" (Romans vii, 3). "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her" (Mark x, 11). "What God hath joined together let no man put asunder" (Matt. xix, 6). "Everyone that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery" (Luke xvi, 18). "To them that are married, not I, but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband: and if she depart, that she remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife (I Cor. vii, 10-11). "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but, if her husband die, she is at liberty: let her marry to whom she will: only in the Lord" (I Cor. vii, 39).

The reason why Christian marriage is monogamous is because Jesus has made it a figure of the union of Christ with His Church. The union of the Master with the Church is extraordinarily close. We are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones, to use the striking words of St. Paul in Ephesians. The Church is the bride of Christ. Marriage is defined in the Scriptures in this fashion: "A man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall be two in one flesh" (Genesis ii, 24). Christ merely restored marriage to the pristine condition God intended it to have from the very beginning. Because of the hardness of men's hearts, God permitted divorce to the Jews; but there is absolutely nothing in all the Christian dispensation that gives the Church permission to grant any divorce in Christian marriage with the right to remarry.

All the loose legislation on divorce in the dissenting denominations rests upon the assumption that it is impossible to live a happy or decent single life. Separation has to come in some marriages. If a man is always abusive, a drunkard, or a libertine; or if a woman is an adulteress or a spendthrift who cannot manage a home; or if there are other grave reasons, a divorce without the right to remarry is permissible. But it is possible for these people to live both happily and virtuously without remarrying. The Catholic Church knows; she has had plenty of experience with celibates, far more than any other organization. God never commands what He does not give the strength to accomplish; there is no question about the fact that He has definitely commanded the Catholic legislation on Matrimony.

Many arguments can be brought forward to show that, from a social welfare standpoint, the Catholic legislation is ideal. But the reason why we obey it is not particularly for these reasons, but because Christ commanded it. Our chief concern is to save souls. We are not running after mere earthly goals. We are not conducting a Church simply as a sociological experiment. We are glad, indeed, that Catholicity in action turns out to be the best sociology; but that is incidental.

We obey Christ because we deem Him to be God. We are here for a brief space on probation, and then we are to be judged. Our happiness or sorrow throughout eternity depends on the way we now obey Him. Hence the argument that we hold before the man or woman struggling with the question of obedience or disobedience to the Christian law of marriage comes down simply to this: Are you willing to jeopardize eternal happiness for a few brief years of tarnished happiness in this world? That, after all, is the only question that must be answered.

Those who oppose our marriage legislation try to make out that the Church has no right to interfere in such delicate and purely personal matters. Inasmuch as Christ is God, and Christ said that she has, we side with Christ. Modern man did not make the world; God made it; God made the laws, natural and supernatural, by which we will be judged. Christ taught that we should center our attention on the next world, not on this. He did not make Christianity a worldly religion in any sense; He often declared that it is wholly opposed to the spirit of the world. He compared the living of a Christian life with His carrying of the Cross to Calvary. We do not promise easy salvation to anybody. It is far easier to damn one's soul than to save it; but, nevertheless, a sincere attempt to save one's soul brings such peace that Christ was able to call the yoke sweet and the burden light.

Matrimony is the sacrament that unites a Christian man and woman in lawful marriage. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden (Gen. ii, 24) and Christ raised the contract among baptized people to the dignity of a sacrament. The primary object of marriage is the procreation and education of offspring; the second purpose is mutual assistance and the remedy for concupiscence. Large numbers of people outside the Catholic Church put the secondary purpose above the first, and this explains why marriage is falling more and more into contempt among them. The essential qualities of marriage are unity and indissolubility, which in Christian marriage receive their peculiar firmness by reason of the sacrament.

St. Paul in Ephesians v tells what a Christian marriage should be like. "So also," he says, "ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever hateth his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, as also Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones. 'For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.' This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular love his wife as himself: and let the wife fear her husband."

Jesus Christ Himself said, when asked (Matt. xix) whether divorce was to be permitted by Him (it had been allowed by Moses because of the hardness of the Jews' hearts), "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." When His questioners argued with Him, He went on to say that anybody who put away his wife and married another committed adultery, and whoever married her that was put away committed adultery. In Matt. v, Jesus also warned that whoever put away his wife, except for good reasons, was to be held equally guilty of whatever adultery she might commit. "Whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery."

The Catholic Church holds that a married couple can separate when grave spiritual or temporal good of either party demands it. Christ mentions only fornication in the instance above, because it is the chief reason for which this separation is permitted. But remarriage of either before the other's death is not allowed.

Owing to the exceptions made by Christ in regard to fornication, in Matt. xix and v, many non-Catholics hold that absolute divorce with remarriage is permitted to the innocent party in a case where adultery has occurred. But this has never been the teaching of the Catholic Church. Other texts in the Bible prove that Christ did not intend the permission of absolute divorce in any consummated Christian marriage. The Council of Trent has settled this matter for Catholics. Christ was referring to simple separation, not to absolute divorce, when speaking of fornication.

If the texts are to be used in justifying remarriage of the innocent party in divorce cases growing out of fornication, remarriage of the guilty person would also have to be legalized. But this is so foreign to all other texts about divorce in the New Testament, and to the spirit of Christianity in general, that the question is not debatable. Furthermore, the saving phrase in the text "excepting for the cause of fornication," refers only to the first clause, not to the second.

Jesus, in Mark x, 11, 12, made the unqualified statement that absolute divorce is not allowable. "Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery against her. And if the wife shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery." Again in Luke xvi, 18, Jesus is quoted as absolutely forbidding divorce with remarriage. "Every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put from her husband committeth adultery."

St. Paul in I Cor. vii, 10-11, also makes it clear that divorce of Christians with remarriage is forbidden. No exception whatever is made. "But to them that are married, not I but the Lord commandeth, that the wife depart not from her husband. And if she depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And let not the husband put away his wife."

Again, in verse 39, St. Paul declares the same truth, making no exception whatever: "A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but, if her husband die, she is at liberty: let her marry to whom she will; only in the Lord." In Romans vii, 2, 3, St. Paul again explicitly states that a woman who is fulfilling marital relations with another man while her husband is living is an adulteress, but a wife is free to marry again when her husband dies.


Separation of Married Couples

Married persons are obliged to live together in conjugal relations, unless a just cause frees them from this obligation. If one of the two commits adultery, it is reason for the other to live apart, unless the party that wishes to leave consented to the crime, or was the cause of it, or committed the same crime himself or herself. Tacit condoning of the crime means living in marital relations with the guilty person, without bringing legal accusation or leaving the person within six months.

Other reasons that justify separation are: If one party joins a non-Catholic sect; educates the offspring as non-Catholics; leads a criminal and despicable life; creates great bodily or spiritual danger to the other party; or if through cruelties he or she makes living together too difficult; and for other such reasons, which are to the innocent party so many legal causes to leave the guilty party by authority of the Bishop, or also by private authority, if the guilt of the other party is certain beyond doubt, and there is danger in delay.

Except in case of adultery, the common life must be restored when the reason for the separation ceases. But, if the Bishop pronounced the separation for a certain time or indefinitely, the innocent party is not obliged to return during this allotted period or until the Bishop orders it. In case of adultery, the innocent party is not under compulsion ever to readmit the sinner. The innocent one, however, has the right to take back the sinner, and even compel him or her to return, unless the sinner in the meantime has, with the consent of the innocent party, embraced a state of life contrary to marriage, like going into a religious community.


Catholic Sources in Defense of the Indissolubility of Marriage

"The union of husband and wife has from the very beginning had stamped and impressed on it two peculiarly striking characteristics in order that it might more adequately correspond with the wise counsels of God; these are unity and perpetuity. . . . This we see declared and patently confirmed in the Gospel by the Divine authority of Jesus Christ Who testified to the Jews and to the Apostles that Matrimony, even from the time of its institution, ought to be only between two, a man and a woman, that of those two were made one flesh, and that the marriage bond was by God's will so intimately and closely knit that it can be neither dissolved nor broken by any man: 'A man . . . shall cleave to his wife and they two shall be in one flesh. Therefore now they are not two but one flesh' (Mt. xix, 5-6).

"Christ restored marriage to its state of primitive excellence when He condemned the morals of the Hebrews who had many wives and who misused the permission to put away their wives; for He sternly forbade anyone to dare dissolve what God had bound by a perpetual bond of union. When He had solved the difficulties alleged from the decisions given by Moses, He, in the Person of the Supreme Lawgiver, laid down this law for married people: 'And I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery, and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery. (Mt. xix, 9).

"A Christian marriage which has been consummated is complete in every respect, and should therefore possess more firmness and more stability than any other. If God had so willed, it could have been made dissoluble by adultery, as the Greeks and Protestants claim it is. But the Catholic Church has always maintained that there is no evidence of any such divine disposition, and consequently the principle holds good: "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

"The Church is the best interpreter of the law of Christ and when she teaches that a ratified and consummated marriage, and this alone, is absolutely beyond human power to dissolve, it is a certainty. The ultimate reason must be sought in the Divine Will. Its sacramental character alone would not give it this firmness, but in addition the contract must be consummated. The Church has defended this doctrine always even against powerful princes and in the face of serious temptation."

(Excerpts from Leo XIII, Arcanum divinae Sapientiae, Feb. 10, 1880).


St. Augustine, De Adulterinis conjugiis, i, 9:

"If, then, we were to say: "Whosoever marries a woman put away by her husband for any other cause than fornication commits adultery, we should certainly be saying what was true; yet it does not therefore follow that we can pronounce him innocent who marries a woman who has been put away because of her fornication; we have not the remotest doubt but that they are both of them adulterers. And in the same way we pronounce him an adulterer, who for some other cause than fornication, puts away his wife and marries another; yet we do not on that ground pronounce innocent of adultery a man who puts away his wife because of her fornication, and then marries another. We regard both of them as adulterers, although the sin of one is graver than that of the other." (P.L., xl, 456.)

St. Augustine, De Nuptiis et Concupiscentiis, i,10:

"Now since not only fecundity, whose fruit is offspring, nor chastity, whose safeguard is fidelity, but also a certain nuptial Sacrament is set before the married members of the faithful, for the Apostle says: 'Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church' (Ephes. v, 25), it follows that the 'thing' of this Sacrament consists in husband and wife remaining inseparable for the rest of their lives once they have been joined in wedlock, and in the unlawfulness of separation between partners except it be because of fornication (Mt. v, 32). But if a man has done so (taken another wife during the lifetime of his former partner) then by the Gospel law he is guilty of adultery, as also is the wife if she marries another (Mt. xix, 8-9), though not so by the law of this world whereby, owing to divorce, marriage can be added to marriage and no legal crime incurred; in fact, as the Lord Himself testifies, even holy Moses conceded this to the people of Israel owing to the hardness of their hearts. Between married people, then, there remains, so long as they live, a certain conjugal bond which neither separation nor subsequent union with another can remove. But this bond then remains, not as a bond of fidelity, but as the penalty of a crime; just as the soul of an apostate who withdraws from Christ's espousals, even though his faith has gone, does not lose the Sacrament of faith which he received in 'the laver of regeneration.'" (P.L., xliv, 420.)

"No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. 'If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce'; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another." (St. Ambrose--A.D.387)

"Do not tell me about the violence of the ravisher, about the persuasiveness of a mother, about the authority of a father, about the influence of relatives, about the intrigues and insolence of servants, or about household financial losses. So long as a husband lives, be he adulterer, be he sodomite, be he addicted to every kind of vice, if she left him on account of his crimes he is still her husband still and she may not take another." (St. Jerome--A.D. 396)

"The practice is observed by all of regarding as an adulteress a woman who marries a second time while her husband yet lives, and permission to do penance is not granted her until one of them is dead." (Pope Innocent I.-- A.D. 408)

"Just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Savior, he commits adultery with her." (Matthew 14:24--Origen A.D. 248)

"That Scripture counsels marriage, however, and never allows any release from the union, is expressly contained in the law: 'You shall not divorce a wife, except for reason of immorality.' And it regards as adultery the marriage of a spouse, while the one from whom a separation was made is still alive. 'Whoever takes a divorced woman as wife commits adultery,' it says; for 'if anyone divorce his wife, he debauches her'; that is, he compels her to commit adultery. And not only does he that divorces her become the cause of this, but also he that takes the woman and gives her the opportunity of sinning; for if he did not take her, she would return to her husband." (Clement of Alexandria--A.D. 208)


Trent, Sess. xxiv, De Sacramento Matrimonii:

"Can. v.     If any one shall say that the bond of matrimony can be dissolved for the cause of heresy, or of injury due to cohabitation, or of willful desertion; let him be anathema."

"Can. vii.     If any one shall say that the Church errors when she has taught, and now teaches, that according to the doctrine of the Gospels and of the Apostles the bond of Matrimony cannot be dissolved owing to the adultery of one of the partners, and that neither party, not even the innocent party who has not by committing adultery given any ground (for separation), is free to contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other partner, and that he who after putting away his adulterous wife marries another, commits adultery, or the wife who after putting away an adulterous husband marries another, let him be anathema."

Pius IX, The Syllabus, Condemns the following assertion:

"The marriage bond is not indissoluble by the law of nature, and in various cases divorce strictly so-called can be sanctioned by the civil authorities."--Condemned

(Acta Pii IX, I, iii, 703)

Explanation of Canon 1069 of the 1917 Code of Cannon Law:

Persons who attempt marriage while bound by the impediment of the bond of previous marriage are declared to be infamous by the Code; after due warning they are to be punished by the ordinary with excommunication or personal interdict.(30) By a decree of the III Plenary Council of Baltimore,(31) automatic excommunication is visited upon those who dare to attempt marriage after a civil divorce. One guilty of this offense is also suspected of heresy as if denying the dogma defined by the Council of Trent regarding the unity of marriage.(32) If he actually thought he was free to enter the second marriage and contumaciously affirmed this, he would be a heretic and subject to the penalties visited upon heretics in canon 2314. Such a criminal is also irregular.(33) Unless his action is occult, he is also a public sinner, to be denied admission to the sacraments(34) and to associations of the laity,(35) as well as Christian burial.(36) Outside the case of urgent necessity the delinquent cannot be given absolution merely on the promise to put away the person with whom he is living in adultery; actual reform and cessation of concubinage is required.

30. Cf. can. 2356.
31. Acta, no. 124. Cf. II Plen. Council of Baltimore, Ada, nos. 326-27.
32. Gasparri, op. cit., no. 559; ct. Conc. Trident., sess. XXIV, de matrimonio, can. 2;
      Schroeder, Council of Trent, p. 181.
33. Cf, commentary on can. 985, 3.
34. Cf. commentary on can. 855.
35. Ct. commentary on can. 693, 1.
36. Ct. commentary on can. 1240, 1, 6.

Prayer in an Unhappy Marriage

O God, Lord and Director of my life, You have placed me in the state of marriage. In it I hoped for joy and happiness, but alas! I experience only tribulation upon tribulation. But this is Your will. O Heavenly Father, may Your will be done! You place before my eyes Your only, Your well-beloved Son, Whose whole life here below was the hard way of the cross. You call upon me to follow Him. I will do, 0 Lord, what You demand of me. I thank You from my heart for Your love in treating me as You treated Your well-beloved Son, eternal with Yourself, and equal to You in essence. But behold my weakness! Have pity on my cowardice! I know that, without Your special grace, I shall be unable to bear my cross as I should. Give me what You demand of me, and then ask what You will. Give me Your most amiable Son, as You gave Him to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, that He may be always with me, to counsel and assist me, to preserve and daily confirm me in Your love. Place me in the open wound of His Heart. Fill me with His meekness and humility.

Grant me a share in His fortitude, and I shall be able to endure all things. Lord, send me sufferings, trials, and tribulations as numerous and as heavy as seems good to You; but, at the same time, increase my patience and resignation. Teach me, after the example of my sweet Savior, to repay evil with good, angry words with silence or gentle replies; to merit Your favor by a strict fulfillment of duty, and, by ready obedience and constant, faithful love, gain my husband's (wife's) heart for You. Preserve us, Almighty God, from the deceits of the evil spirits and from the malicious, or perhaps well-meant, though foolish language and counsels of silly people. Grant us peace and harmony, true affection and forbearance, devout sentiments and holy fear, that we may cheerfully labor, pray, and suffer with and for each other. May we tread together the way of Your holy Commandments and together reap the reward of our good works for an endless eternity! Grant us this, Heavenly Father, for the love of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as also of all the saints who, in the married state, sanctified themselves and attained eternal life. Amen.

Other related links to the Sacrament of Matrimony