I recently delivered an emotional, first hand appeal to Christian parents and couples to avoid divorce — no matter what.
Now, I’d like to take a look at divorce from a more objective, theological view.
The big question is this: Is it ever okay for Christians to get a divorce?
Short, safe answer? No, it isn’t. It’s expressly forbidden by Christ in Matthew 19:
‘…they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”
And it is deemed wholly immoral by the Catechism:
Divorce is a grave offense against the natural law. It claims to break the contract, to which the spouses freely consented, to live with each other till death CC 2384
Long answer? Still no, but it requires some explanation.
Before we can dive any further into this question, we have to understand marriage and divorce from the Church’s perspective.
When God brings a man and woman together in holy matrimony, they form a bond, a covenant, with the Father. Marriage is a way for God’s love to manifest itself between two people, and together they share that love — but God should always be at the center of it. When we divorce, we’re not just breaking that bond with each other, we attempt to break the bond with God as well.
However, divorce, unlike marriage, is of human construction, and we would be foolish to think that we can do anything to destroy something that God created. Therefore, divorce cannot truly break the marriage bond; it only opens the doorway to adultery.
I say to you,* whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.”
No matter what a piece of state-issued paper might say, once two Christians are married, they remain married in the eyes of God forever. That’s how it was meant to be.
Between the baptized, “a ratified and consummated marriage cannot be dissolved by any human power or for any reason other than death.” CC 2382
But are there ever any exceptions? What about in situations of domestic violence, abuse, or the safety of the children?
In these cases, the Church does allow for civil divorce, which applies solely to the legal and physical separation of spouses. Citing legitimate, safety concerns, this is permissible and not intrinsically sinful.
At the same time, it can happen that one spouse is a victim of divorce as decreed by civil law, meaning that they were abandoned by their husband or wife through no fault of their own. Therefore, there is no sin on the part of the abandoned party.
Neither of these present a contradiction of Church teaching, however, because even if a physical or legal separation is justified, the two are still bound by the marriage bond. Therefore, were either spouse to begin another relationship or marriage, they would still be committing adultery. The only options are to reconcile the marriage, live a chaste life, or for Catholics, seek an annulment.
And despite what you may have heard, an annulment is not a “Catholic loophole” for a divorce. To believe such is nothing more than simple ignorance of Catholic doctrine.
An annulment of a marriage is not a divorce. An annulment is a statement by the Church that the marriage was never valid to begin with.
Marrying outside of the Church, marrying someone who has been married before, marrying because the woman is pregnant, or marrying someone of a different faith (or no faith) are examples where an annulment may be granted.
The annulment process is a long and excruciating journey, and far more complex than any legal dispute.
The Church must launch a full investigation into the marriage, and this has been know to take years to complete. Those who have been through the process cite it as one of the most emotionally debilitating times of their lives.
Even then, the Church will not always grant an annulment. In situations where the couple are just tired of one another or feel that they have fallen out of love, the Church will find the marriage valid and encourage the two to work together and reconcile with one another.
Unlike divorce, annulments don’t exist to provide a way out of a failing marriage. They aren’t a back up plan, and the Church doesn’t hand them out too easily or too often.
The divorce rate in our country is heartbreaking, and it continues to rise. We can find stats, studies, and reports that all try to pinpoint why, but I believe the true reason is the fact that we have simply forgotten about God. We have forgotten about the dignity and sanctity he placed on matrimony. We have forgotten to seek His will before our own. We have taken God out of marriage.
I pray for all those Christians struggling in their relationships, that they will remember God’s place, seek his council, and turn away from the pain and destruction of divorce.