It is well known that the Constitution and Canon Law of the Anglican Catholic Church state that valid sacramental marriage is indissoluble. This is to say that a marriage concluded and consummated between baptised Christians can never be dissolved; that a bond which is the informed act of the spouses, no matter what problems may arise in the relationship, is from henceforth an irrevocable reality.
But isn't it cruel to deny divorce to people when they are unhappy with their present partners and want to make a new beginning with others? Why can't a wife divorce her drunkard husband? Why should that good woman be saddled with her unfaithful husband? Surely divorce is justified in some circumstances? Aren't there exceptions to all rules?
Against the background of the 'divorce culture' in our western society of today, with up to five out of ten marriages ending in divorce courts and with many non-Catholic ministers willingly marrying couples who have been divorced, some Christians wonder the Church remains so adamant in refusing to remarry those of her members who have gone through the trauma of divorce. And indeed today, in many Protestant denominations the ministers themselves are divorced and remarried.
Why does the Church forbid divorce/ The answer is very simple indeed: because Our Lord Jesus Christ forbids it. The Church could sanction divorce only by being faithless to the teaching of Our Lord.
Here I must make it plain that I distinguish divorce from mere legal separation, which is sometimes necessary in a marriage relationship. I shall use the term 'divorce' in the sense understood by folk today, which is the complete dissolution of the marriage bond with the consequent freedom to marry again.
That Our Lord Jesus Christ forbade divorce is clearly and explicitly recorded by the Evangelists and corroborated by St. Paul. St Matthew records in chapter 19 that when Christ was asked by the Pharisees "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" He replied: Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female. And said, "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they twain(two) shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain (two) but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
"Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? the Pharisees asked. Our Lord replied: "Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives, but in the beginning it was not so. And I say to you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Now the inference has been drawn by some Christians that, when a wife has committed adultery her husband may not only divorce her, but he may remarry. Such an inference, however, is unfounded; for Our Lord declares without any limitation whatsoever: He that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.
This can be true only on the supposition that the previous marriage remains intact, even though her husband separated from his wife because of her unfaithfulness. Hence the meaning of Our Lord's answer to the Pharisee is: In case of infidelity to her marriage vows, a husband may separate from his wife, but if he contracts a new marriage he himself becomes guilty of adultery. But to infer from this text that Our Lord did allow the possibility of divorce (and remarriage) is to present him as being entirely inconsistent.
Our Lord's teaching is made abundantly clear by St. Mark and St. Luke. In St. Mark's Gospel we read that, "And in the house his disciples asked him again of the same matter. And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another, committeth adultery against her, and if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery". (Mark 10: 1012).St. Luke's Gospel is similarly comprehensive. Speaking to the Pharisees, Our Lord says: Whosoever putteth away his wife and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery. (Luke 16:18).
From these texts it is clear that Our Lord made no exception whatsoever. In clear direct language he states that although separation is allowed for the sin of unchastity, remarriage during the lifetime of the other party is never allowed, but such remarriage is, rather, the sin of adultery. He proclaimed that "What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder", and thus clearly taught that no human power whatsoever could dissolve a real and true marriage.
St. Paul bears witness to the teaching of Christ concerning the indissolubility of the marriage bond. He declares to the Corinthians that this teaching is not his, but Christ's. He writes: "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband. (1Cor. 7:10.11).
A valid Christian Marriage creates a lifelong Sacramental Bond between one man and one woman, and in obedience to our Lord's teaching, this Church dedicates itself to the faithful preservation and defense of the historic teachings of Catholic Christianity concerning Holy Matrimony, as received In the tradition of the Church, and affirms the Christian principle that, once a person has contracted a valid marriage, that person cannot enter into a valid marriage with any person other than the original spouse, during the life of the original spouse.
Dearly beloved we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this company, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church: which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence and the first miracle that he wrought in Cana of Gaililee , and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be entered into unadvisedly or lightly; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God. Into this holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. If any man can show just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.
In the marriage service the Priest is directed to
address the persons who are to be married as foIIows
" ... if either of you know of any impediment,
why ye may not be lawfully joined together in Matrimony, ye do
now confess it. For be ye well assured that so many as are coupled
together otherwise than God's Word doth allow are not joined together
by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful".
This means that if an impediment is present at the time of the marriage, it is not a valid marriage at all. When such a marriage ends in divorce and it can be demonstrated that there was in fact an impediment, the Anglican Catholic Church, like the Roman Church, can declare the 'marriage to be null and void, never a real and true marriage 'ab initio' from the beginning, thus leaving the parties free to marry (as if for the first time).