The Fathers on Indissolubility
I have met one couple in my life that has had a marriage that is so beautiful I would warrant they will be saints one day. The last time I brought up the strength of their marriage, I remember asking this man how often he and his wife argued. He looked me in the eye and said that they never argued; they have always been on the same page. He said they have had plenty of hardships, but they have always been on the same page. Little disagreements never turned into full-blown arguments.
I was fishing with my brother-in-laws this week and the eldest of us was talking about another family he knew. He brought up some words of wisdom that I am trying to take to heart. My brother-in-law told us that a friend of his looks at his children every morning with a most serious and stern face and tells them, “God first, your mother second, yourself last”. In this order he has grown and fostered a strong family. If any of those get out of place then all hell breaks loose on the family. My brother-in-law shared this and then related as he knows what it is like to get those three things out of order. I can completely relate as those three things get out of order for me constantly too.
With these thoughts on my mind, I took a moment to look back to try and find some of the earliest writings which confirmed the indissolubility of marriage. Indissolubility means that no matter what happens, there is nothing to justify a validly married couple from separation except for death. I bring this up because I cannot exclaim how grateful, blessed, and thankful that I will be married and united with my wife until I die. I want to look at what some of the Fathers of the Church stated on the indissolubility of marriage to show that no matter what in our marriages, we are to place God first, our wives second, our children and family third, then finally ourselves. That being said I found a nice little excerpt from Marcellinus in approximately the years 300-303 AD at the Synod of Elvira in Spain concerning the indissolubility of marriage:
Can. 9 Likewise, if a believing woman has left her believing, adulterous husband and [wishes to] marry another, let her be forbidden to marry; if she does marry, she may not receive communion unless [the husband] she abandoned has previously departed this world, unless, perhaps, the exigency of illness urges the giving [of it] to her.
This nice little excerpt is from one of the earliest Church Fathers to show how absolute marriage has been from the beginning. I believe that one of the worst things a spouse can do to their spouse in a marriage is have an affair and be adulterous. That is not cause for divorce or annulment in the eyes of the Church. As unfortunate and terrible that sin is, there are many couples who have relied heavily on Christ and have flourished after such unfortunate events. We can never lose hope (and do something about your marriage before you ever even get the temptation to commit such an act. Rely on each other, fall for each other, or get help before it’s too late).
Do not tell me about 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 her husband still and she may not take another [St. Jerome, Letters 55:3 (c. A.D. 393)]. Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may culumniate the innocent and, for the sake of the second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed, a second may not be taken while the first lives [Commentaries on Matthew 3:19:9 (A.D. 398)]. -St. Jerome
I believe St. Jerome adequately was able to place both the husband and wife in the same boat as far as the responsibility and consequences that are concerned within marriage. I think people blame both parties very differently when it comes to adultery or sins in the marriage. St. Jerome addresses both men and women here which is what people need to see sometimes. It’s not always the man’s fault, and it’s not always the woman’s fault. Both are equally capable of sin, and both commit a sin if they divorce and remarry. To end I wanted to quote one of the greatest Church Fathers on just a fraction of his thoughts on marriage:
In matrimony, however, let these nuptial blessings be the objects of our love-offspring, fidelity, the sacramental bond. Offspring, not that it be born only, but born again; for it is born to punishment unless it be born again to life. Fidelity, not such as even unbelievers observe one towards the other, in their ardent love of the flesh. For what husband, however impious himself, likes an adulterous wife? Or what wife, however impious she be, likes an adulterous husband? This is indeed a natural good in marriage, though a carnal one. But a member of Christ ought to be afraid of adultery, not on account of himself, but of his spouse; and ought to hope to receive from Christ the reward of that fidelity that he shows to his spouse. The Sacramental bond, again, which is lost neither by divorce nor by adultery, should be guarded by husband and wife with concord and chastity [Marriage and Concupiscence 1:10:11 (c. A.D. 419)] -St. Augustine of Hippo
The best part of the quote from St. Augustine is that he not only points out marriage in it’s sacramental nature, he points to “unbelievers” meaning, he see the importance of marriage in its natural state. A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give us grace. Out of the seven sacraments, Marriage is the only one that has its roots naturally. Marriage was instituted with Adam and Eve and brought into fulfillment through Christ.
Adultery can happen in marriage whether it be a couple married by a Justice of Peace or a Priest. The bond that is made is a commitment that is of utmost importance and ultimately, unbreakable. It doesn’t matter what you do, if you are married, you are with that person until death. Marriage is indissoluble whether you are Catholic or not. You work out differences, you resolve issues, and you stick it out no matter what. I think a lot of that is lost these days, and the divorce rates prove it.
In conclusion, the indissolubility of marriage has been around for over two thousand years. Just because the going gets tough doesn’t mean you can just leave the bond you’ve made with your spouse and God. Marriage is absolutely beautiful and amazing. The Father’s believed this, and everyone through human history has believed this. People still believe marriage is beautiful and amazing, the respect and honor is where people lose interest. That’s another topic for another day. God Bless.