Divorce (chr.)

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(Turk. Boşanma)

The core thought behind the Christian understanding of marriage is the teaching of the indissolubility of marriage that traces to the prohibition on divorce enunciated by Jesus (Mk 10.2-‑12). In ancient Israel, if certain conditions existed a husband was permitted to issue his wife a certificate of divorce and to release her from the marriage (Deut 24.1-‑4). Jesus criticises this practice as a consequence of human hardness of heart and contrasts it with God’s will, under the order of Creation, for life-long love and fidelity between spouses, a phenomenon irreconcilable with adultery and divorce. In the churches of the East, and in Lutheran and churches of the Reformation, this expression by Jesus has been given a fundamentally pastoral interpretation oriented around the notion of God’s mercy – with all these churches acknowledging the possibility of divorce and remarriage following a period of atonement and remorse – in the Catholic Church since the 16th century it has been interpreted and applied as a strict legal precept. According to the latter interpretation, a valid, consummated marriage between baptised Christians cannot be dissolved by any human authority or for any reason other than death. Spouses may be separated in cases in which the grounds are sufficiently grave – although the bonds of marriage remain intact – but remarriage is not permitted. If divorced Catholic Christians remarry as a matter of civil law, they are no longer permitted to participate in the Eucharistic meal. The Catholic Church links this strict practice with the hope for a strengthening of the institution of marriage. The teaching of the indissolubility of marriage can contribute to this strengthening by bringing to bear the insight that living together in a marriage can only succeed through the support of commitment in a spirit of partnership encompassing not only the present but also the future and hence the imponderable and incalculable elements of every human relationship. For several decades now, however, contrary to a strict and legalistic application of the prohibition on divorce as enunciated by Jesus, even in the Catholic Church an increasingly conciliatory approach has been sought with regard to people who have been divorced and remarried. The call increasingly heard is for a practice that does not, on the one hand, render negotiable Jesus’ pronouncement concerning the indissolubility of the bonds of marriage, yet, on the other, does not close its eyes to the failure of many marriages and that takes seriously the fact that failings and sin are regretted and can be forgiven as Jesus has promised.

Hans-Günter Gruber

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