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Sacrament of Matrimony Series

The Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.


Introduction: The Institute on Religious Life presents these lectures on Catholic doctrine by Father John A. Hardon of the Society of Jesus to give impetus to the new evangelization called for by Pope John Paul II. This series on the Sacrament of Matrimony part II was given during the fall semester, 1993 at Dominoes Farms, Anne Arbor, Michigan.

First a couple of announcements: I forgot to comment on my latest book, “Retreat with the Lord” published by Servant Publications. This is to be a basic text for those who will make the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. In different parts of the country I am finding that lay people are very interested, to put it mildly, in making the Spiritual Exercises over a period of thirty days. Three meditations a day, at least a half-an-hour each meditation - better one hour three times a day for thirty days. This then is the basic text for making the spiritual exercises. For example, in Seattle Washington, ninety lay people have signed up. And I would say within the next month or less you will have information for people who want to make the exercises, mainly in their home, continue with their regular duties. This is the way Saint Ignatius began. Long before we had a telephone or the modern means of communication, and the purpose as you know of making the exercises is first to know where I stand before God. What are my liabilities, what are my assets? Then having honestly evaluated my own position before God, then to find out through prayer, reflection - four hundred years of experience behind it, of what God wants me to do for the rest of my life. In any case, these are on sale in our bookstore, and I think the cost is $8.99. That is number one.

Number two: Thanks to the Benedictine Sisters we have a copy of the “Code of Cannon Law” on marriage, and may I ask you to say one rosary for the Benedictine Sisters, would you, sometime in the near future? No charge, you don’t pay anything, you just pray. So is it ok, five decades? That is the cost of this little publication. And as you noticed, it is all in English, and I consider this a better translation than the American, but we will need this for your course. Then, it just became more clear to me what Father Downey was saying when he announced that on Thursday at 7:30. I had visions of myself coming here to Anne Arbor, but no I am staying at the University but giving this one hour lecture to different cities of the country and the subject “Contraception and Eternal Death”. I promise it will be worth listening to. Am I correct? Would it be here and some kind of amplifier available? If you come, thanks by anticipation, but say a prayer that the message will get across.

By now you have two pages of an outline which I would like to, if we could, finish in class today.

By now we have talked about the indissolubility of marriage, both this year and in former years, who know how many times. But I thought we should have in class exclusively on the, “Unity and Indissolubility of Marriage”. Let me tell you, this is the test of authentic Catholic Christianity. We begin by way of introduction. I will read and then comment briefly as we go along.

The whole vision of marriage, on Catholic terms, rests on the Church’s faith in the unity and indissolubility of Marriage. Nor do we say, the Church’s faith, the primary object of our faith as Christians is revealed mysteries we call them, “strict mysteries”. Christian marriage is a strict mystery, as I am sure you married people will agree. And remember our definition of a mystery. A mystery is that which is rationally inconceivable before revelation and rationally incomprehensible even after revelation. Don’t try to figure out the mystery of marriage, it is a mystery. And I dare say, for most Catholics they would accept the Trinity as a mystery any day, compared to believing in the unity and indissolubility of Christian sacramental marriage.

These two essential properties and they are two: unity and indissolubility are the clearest test of the Catholic Church in our day. By now I have told so many people that the Catholic Church will survive only where there are still people who believe that there are to be just two people faithful to one another until death, and their union is not dissolvable by any human authority.

Now some terminology: the unity of marriage means that a man may have only one wife and a woman only one husband. Unity in marriage means monogamy, the opposite of polygamy. That is unity, just two people and no more. The indissolubility is not the same as unity. This means that this bond of two people cannot be dissolved by any power on earth. We say that there are two kinds of forms of indissolubility: intrinsic- which means that it cannot be dissolved by the married partners and extrinsic- which means that a valid marriage is dissolved by some outside authority, if it can be dissolved by an outside authority.

What is our thesis? In other words, what do we believe on faith? We believe by divine law that a marriage must be monogamous. That polygamy cannot be a valid marriage. More than two people, and both need I say it, are the same gender. They must be man and woman free to marry in the first place. Once they have so married those two, and no one else may enter their bond. And every marriage between baptized persons is intrinsically by its very nature- indissoluble. It cannot be dissolved. That is the thesis.

Now who are the enemies? The term we use are adversaries. Now this thesis: First among non-Christians: Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, members of tribal religions, Mormons - they are against monogamy on principle. And I would say, and it should be heard, one of the main reasons why Christ was crucified is because of his teaching on monogamy. Am I clear?

For the first time in the history of the human race, shall I say a would-be religious leader. He was condemned to death and crucified. Not much of a leader by human standards, but he taught that there can be only one man and one woman marrying, and then no human power can dissolve that union. There has never been in the history of the human race any religion that taught this. There is no religion on earth today, none, except Catholicism, and in Catholicism only authentic Roman Catholic, Papal, Pontifical Catholicism believes that. Nobody else does.

The Muslims and Mohammed arose in the seventh century. He saw wide spread promiscuity of the people of the Near East in his day. So because of the widespread promiscuity he decided that there would be marriage and it would be observed, however more than one wife would be allowed to a husband. And a prophet, like himself, could have up to nine wives. The average Muslim had to be satisfied with only four.

I did tell you, didn’t I, about the couple I was instructing? She a Catholic and he a Muslim. A Jesuit friend of mine at the University asked me, “John, would you mind taking over this couple to council them?” So I did. First thing I asked, “What is your religion?” She said, “I am a Roman Catholic.” I asked him. “I am a Muslim.” “You’re a what!” “I am a Muslim.” “And you are getting married!” And the girlfriend just kept on smiling. But the man, remember I told you? He said, “Father don’t get us Muslims wrong. We don’t put away our wives, we keep them all.” I looked at the girl. Talk about love being blind, in this case it was deaf!

After about three meetings, they didn’t even have the nerve to come to the regular meeting. She called me up, “Father we found another priest who is more sympathetic.”

“Oh, I will pray for him and I will pray for you!”

Hindus, tribal religions, Mormons, to this day as I am sure you know the Mormons settled finally in Utah. They traveled from New York to Utah in one place after another. The men in the vicinity, well, they were just angry with the Mormons because they realized that their daughters and wives were not safe with these Mormons. Finally, they got as far as the tip of Missouri, Illinois and there Joseph Smith was murdered by angry men whose wives and daughters had been stolen by the Mormons. And to this day there is a huge statue commemorating the place where Joseph Smith was martyred.

Martyred- my eye! The Mormons divided. Some formed a branch of the Mormons minus polygamy and they stayed in the section Southern Illinois and in Eastern Missouri, and the others kept moving and moving until they got to Utah. Finally after years they applied for citizenship, but they still had polygamy. Imagine what has happened to our country. They were denied the right to become a state and be accepted into the union unless they declared officially that they were not polygamists. They signed the document, but much has happened since the Mormons were denied state’s rights by our Supreme Court. Isn’t that something! The same Supreme Court that one hundred years later legalized the murder of unborn children.

Now professed Christians: On principle, thousands believe in successive polygamy. That is the Church’s vocabulary by the way, for divorce with the right to remarry- successive polygamy, since that they believe that every marriage can be dissolved and remarriage is permissible. So professed Christians- notice this is regarding the unity of marriage. I should say, which is not in the notes, but even though on page two of your notes I put the orthodox as adversaries. They should also be adversaries of the first part on principle, because for the Orthodox, they too believe that you can divorce and remarry. And if you please, and your second marriage is also a sacrament, so they claim. We go on.

Against indissolubility: Notice part one is the unity of marriage, which therefore, excludes polygamy - having more than one wife or husband simultaneously. Indissolubility is the Church’s teaching that a valid monogamous marriage cannot be dissolved. And we repeat ourselves, among the non-Christian’s universal belief from the earliest recorded history that marriage is dissolvable with the right to marry. This and we could close the course today. This is the heart of the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage.

And I repeat God has not marked; only He knows how many of the canonical annulments that are being given are valid. And people who have had a marriage annulled they ask me, especially after I give a lecture, talking the way I am talking now, “Father, what should I do. I got an annulment in *diocese.” I tell them, “Trust that your annulment was valid.” There is such a thing as a valid annulment. So many people marrying nowadays, “marrying” do not really enter into an indissoluble union. For one thing, they must want children. Another couple, same thing, I was asked to talk to them. Same thing my council lasted about a month. Same thing they found somebody else to continue - she was Catholic and he had no faith. So we talked and I said, “You know, to be validly married you must want children.” “Oh, we do want children eventually.” “What is that eventually?” “Well, several years.” And they were both from well to do families. So I did everything I could to discourage them. Evidently I did not succeed. But we are living in a world where an indissoluble marriage is a dream. It is not even an ideal - it is unrealistic.

And among professed Christians this was the key premise for the separation of the Eastern Orthodox from union with Rome. Starting from the seventh and finally standardized in the thirteenth century. All kinds of annulments the Eastern Bishops were giving their people. The Pope kept telling them, warning them, but they wouldn’t listen. He would remove a bishop, then the next bishop would do the same thing. The Catholic Church in the United States will survive only, “solo” in Latin, only where there are still parishes and diocese where Catholics believe that once they enter a sacramental marriage and that marriage is consummated by natural intercourse no power on earth, no bishop, no conference of bishops, no pope, can dissolve that union. And that is why I told the people in Tulsa, yesterday, the days of America are numbered. And now I could quote the Holy Father. Remember? “Pray” said the Holy Father in Denver “otherwise America will loose its soul.” What is the soul of America? Christianity. And America is loosing its soul. That is why we are here by the way. Isn’t that why we are having these meetings. Thanks for coming. It strengthens my faith.

This was the basic issue over which Protestantism came into existence in the sixteenth century. Luther broke with Rome in 1517. By 1521, oh, the droves of people that were getting divorces and being “remarried” among his followers.

Did I ever tell you about my Episcopalian friend? I must have. *Burns Seeley? Well I had his wife in class in Western Michigan. I can’t believe it, in 1963. Can you imagine thirty years ago. Well she came to me after one of the classes, I had mentioned about Anglican orders not being valid. “Gosh, I thought my husband was a priest (an Episcopalian minister or pastor married)”. So we talked. Well, in 1970 to commemorate the centennial of Papal Infallibility being defined, Bishop of Joliet, Illinois had me organize a series of lectures, commemorating Papal Infallibility. And among the men I got to speak during gymnasium full of people was my Episcopalian pastor. The bishop called me up, “It says here he is an Episcopalian, we’re talking about Papal Infallibility.”

“Yes, I know Bishop. This male will defend Papal Infallibility better than many Catholics.” Then I must have said this before, but at least somebody may not have heard it. When he got up, he told the Catholics, “Hold on to your Papal Infallibility. That is what has kept me sane.” An Episcopalian said that!

“Couples come to me”, said the Episcopalian pastor, “they want to get remarried, they just had a divorce and they have the wedding date set and everything - all the formalities and they want to make wedding arrangements. I tell them, I cannot marry you. ‘What?’ No. I don’t believe in divorce and remarriage. Well, they stormed out of the rectory and complained to the bishop.”

And this Protestant Episcopalian pastor told me, “How many times I have been called in by the Bishop ‘Burns remember, we are not Roman Catholics, we are Episcopalians. We give divorce and the right to remarry.’” Finally, *Burns couldn’t take it any longer, he had to become a Catholic.

So this was the basic issue over which Protestantism came into existence in the sixteenth century. And this is the growing position of dissident Catholic writers and activist urging a change in Catholic teaching.

One of the great joys in working even over the unexplicated edition of the English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. It does need a lot of “cleaning up” (Cardinal Law’s translation), but English could not be clearer. In other words, once you marry, you are baptized, your partner is baptized, you have natural intercourse after marriage. That is it! And this is going to be the fate of the Catholic Church in our country-no question about it, unless someone does something soon.

Now the proof: How do we know that marriage in Christianity was attended by Christ to be monogamous? It is in the gospels; and specifically Matthew 19:4-5. So Matthew and Luke, Mark too, very clear. In other words, from the very beginning - that was Christianity. Then Saint Paul, I have got three passages from Saint Paul, he assumes monogamy. In the early centuries, that is what Christians were.

Question from audience: “Father in chapter nineteen of Matthew verse nine, it says, ‘I tell you anyone who puts away his wife except for immorality.’ Can you explain that?”

Yes, well we have touched on that more than once. It is a favorite text in Protestantism. Every Protestant knows that by heart. In other words, from the very beginning the Church has understood that the marriage remains intact, even one or both partners maybe unfaithful to their spouse. Infidelity does not dissolve the marital bond. What does it do? It justifies the innocent partner in a marriage to separate and even for a lifetime. Separation from bed and board as the expression goes. So infidelity justifies the Church teaches, justifies even permanent separation. And by the way, one reason for that permanent separation is it is a powerful motive against infidelity. In other words, the spouse will think at least once if not twice, when say the person is tempted to be unfaithful.

Because by divine law, permanent lifelong separation is legitimate if the spouse is proved to have been unfaithful. Of course, the spouse may if he or she wants to accept the married partner and forgive.

At Western Michigan at the university one day the mother of one of my students (Protestant woman) came to my office and told me she just found out her husband had been unfaithful for a period of sometime to his wife. And she was not a Catholic, but took literally Christ’s teaching. And the upshot was she took the husband back.

But the Catholic Church’s interpretation of that passage which you quoted has been unanimous. And in fact, the Council of Trent defines as an Article of Faith, that in the case of a sacramental consummated marriage where both are baptized before they marry and have had natural intercourse after marrying, the Church has defined that no one may dissolve that bond and the bond holds and it is part of the definition does not give the right to remarriage, even to the innocent partner in the case of infidelity.

The Church could not be clearer. And this, this, this is the test of the Catholic Church’s credibility. And the Catholic Church has survived in spite of this teaching for nineteen hundred years. It will survive only where there are still bishops, as the member of rotary in Rome told me, “Our problem in Rome is you got bishops that no longer believe that sacramental consummated marriage is indissoluble.” And since then the man working at the rotary (we are good friends) has become a bishop. It is not easy to insist on this teaching. And without identifying a large archdiocese, where reputation all kinds of annulments. So I had dinner with the head of the marriage board who give annulments. I ask him, “What principle do you operate on?”

“Oh very simple. We assume every one who applies for an annulment has a right to get one.” Oh it is on the tip of my tongue to identify the archdiocese, one of the hardest hit in the country, where churches are being closed - this is the reason! In the name of God, people remain Catholics when the Church to which they belong is still the Catholic Church! You don’t play with the laws of God and expect people like sheep to still come to Mass on Sundays if they don’t hear the Truth preached! And the Truth insisted on, even though it means lots of mazuma.

The universal teaching of the Magisterium on unity then indissolubility: Remember this is not the same as unity. Unity means when monogamy. Indissolubility means that a sacramental consummated marriage cannot be dissolved with a right to remarry. The teaching of Christ here Matthew 19, Matthew 10, Luke 16 and Matthew 5. St. Paul again, and notice the Romans and those converts among the Romans, in Corinth, converts among the Greeks. And they had problems, naturally, because naturally two human beings naturally, cannot remain faithful to each other and love one another until death. Not that it is hard, it is impossible. That is why Christ had to establish the Sacrament of Matrimony.

Now some implications: The implications are enormous. First of all, the duty we have to clearly, unambiguously, uncompromisingly, understand our Catholic faith. Book after book is being published under nominally Catholic auspices. Magazines, may God forgive them, the Saint Anthony Messenger- may God forgive them. The United States Catholic- may God forgive them; The National Catholic Reporter, and pray for the editors of the Catholic Register. Did I tell you what the last issue has? The last issue of the Catholic Register the whole last page, one big ad sponsored by the Seamless Garment Incorporated. In other words, signed by hundreds of people and about forty organizations. And I almost wept when I saw the name- Joan Andrews. Do you know who Joan Andrews is? Oh Lord! In other words, putting on the same level of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment. That nobody should be against abortion unless they are also against capital punishment. Isn’t that insane?

In the Old Testament polygamy was practiced. Men did divorce their wives and remarry in the Old Testament. The only question is, “On what grounds?” In other words, what is the justification theologically for the Old Testament recognized practice of polygamy and dissolubility of marriage? There are two basic explanations that the Church has given over the centuries.

First it is a “divine concession”. Maybe that God did indeed make concession in favor polygamy and dissolubility of marriage. Now theologians who hold that, however (now this is crucial) if indeed God did make a concession allowing polygamy and dissolubility in marriage in the Old Testament then we must say that monogamy and indissolubility are binding by the divine law indeed, but not intrinsically. The language we use, in other words that intrinsically in the deepest essence that a marriage need not be either monogamous or need not be absolutely dissoluble. But God can (so the theory goes) prevent the evil consequences of polygamy and of remarriage. Which if he allowed in the Old Testament then what God did in the Old Testament He prevented the evil effects from following. But that, I repeat, that is a theological theory, but that then monogamy and indissolubility are not inherently intrinsically in the very essence they must be binding by the divine law. Like for example, we couldn’t possibly say that God could allow perjury, God could allow blasphemy. Do you see the distinction? Perjury, blasphemy are sins which by their very nature are contrary to the divine law, but in this theory then, the monogamy and indissolubility are binding in the divine law not inherently or intrinsically, but only because of the effects which follow. And if God wants to He can prevent the bad effects as, so the theory goes, He allowed in the Old Testament.

The other theological position, which is the one that I hold, is that neither polygamy nor divorce with remarriage was ever sanctioned by the divine law. Am I clear? So there are two positions in theology regarding Old Testament polygamy and dissolubility. Either God prevented the evil effects of polygamy and remarriage or He never allowed it in the first place. They just did it. And Christ does not say that God allowed it, He says that Moses allowed it. In any case, so much for the Old Testament.

Number three: Seeing that the state has *the Church’s authority and please correct the misspelling of authority. I can spell, but sometimes my pen runs ahead of my mind. Number three is the single most important lesson that we Catholics should learn from what has happened since the state took over marriage in the western world. In other words, once Luther broke with the Catholic Church, he denied that marriage is a sacrament. Then in effect he had his followers place marriage in the hands of the civil government, and that is where it has been ever since. No words can describe, and as a priest it is part of my responsibility to work with couples that are having marital problems; once the state enters anything can happen, and just about everything does happen. A husband declared psychotic officially by the government. He is psychologically sick. Why? Because he goes to Mass on Sundays and says his rosary, and his ex-wife (as the expression goes) charged him with being mentally deranged. In other words, the state has taken over marriage in our countries with disastrous consequences.

Number four: The risk of mixed marriages. How many people even give a second thought to marrying someone who is not of the Catholic faith, and I am sure the larger the audience the greater the percentage of mixed marriages in any group that I speak to. And as you know there are two kinds of mixed marriages - there are those that one partner is baptized a Catholic and the other is not even baptized. In the other case, there is what we call “mixed religion”. In the first case, where the mixed marriage partner is not even baptized, that marriage is not even a sacrament. Oh, the need for priests and teachers to know their faith. They marry - it is a valid marriage, but if one of them is not baptized then neither one receives the sacrament. And the very purpose why Christ instituted the sacrament is in effect nullified. But then, even what they call “mixed religion” and again as a priest this is part of my duty. The wife married a man who converted just a few months before they married. Shortly after the marriage he converted back to his fundamentalist high bound Protestantism. His minister is an ex-Catholic. He just hates the Catholic Church. One morning, she is carrying the child, staying a little longer in bed, just heard crashes in the house, breaking glass. The husband got up before the wife did and broke every statue, religious picture, everything in the house. It sure made a lot of noise! They are living apart, she calls almost every day. She wants the children to be brought up as Catholic, but he has the state on his side. In this case, his argument is that she is mentally deranged.

The prejudice (what a mild term) of so many non-Catholics against the Catholic Church should be a warning to those who enter marriage, what we call casually a “mixed-marital” union. I may have told you this, in Germany some years ago the bishops of Germany pleaded with their people not to enter into mixed marriages, and they said we can prove by the third generation all the children of mixed-marriages are lost to the Catholic faith.

Five: Need for solidarity of faith between the spouses. As you married people, how well you know, even sharing the same faith but necessarily being two different persons. And the definition of person is, “An individual intelligent being”. We are different just because we are persons. It is hard enough for two Catholics, but once they have a different religion or one has no religion and for the children just torn down the middle. I watched it; I have seen it, forty-six years in the priesthood!

Number six - prudence in the choice of friends. In other words, if marriage is to remain firm you must associate with people who respect the unity and indissolubility of marriage. We are deeply affected by the people who we call, “our friends”.

Seven: Need for a constant supernatural light and strength and therefore prayer. That is why, oh how I would like to sit on the tallest structure in Michigan and shout. Broadcast on radio and television for those who are Catholics and married, “Attend Mass as often as you can, if possible everyday. You need the grace! And expect unacceptance and opposition even from your own married partner.”

Tape continues with Father Hardon answering hand written questions from the audience.

Copyright © 1996 by Inter Mirifica

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