|Prince Charles Addresses the Nation on Divorce and Remarriage (A Dream) by David Holloway|
I have a dream. It is that sometime during this month of March (2005) Prince Charles addresses the nation as did his great uncle, Edward VIII. But it is not to announce his "abdication" as heir to the throne in favour of William. It is to announce that his relationship with Mrs Camilla Parker Bowles has ended. That is because as King he would be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and would have to swear in the Coronation Oath to "maintain and preserve the laws of God and the true profession of the Gospel." He also would have to swear to maintain and preserve "the doctrine, worship, discipline and government" of the Church of England. However, Andrew Parker Bowles, to whom Camilla was married in 1973, is still living, and the relationship between her and himself contributed to the break-up of that marriage. It also contributed to the break-up of his marriage to Princess Diana. So he now realizes that there are theological and practical barriers that prevent him proceeding with the proposed remarriage on 8 April. He also realizes that there needs to be a new culture in the nation that promotes life-long marriage. To that end examples have to be set by those in public positions. He wants to be one of the first to set an example.
So my dream is that the Prince makes a short statement outlining the above. But he then gives a longer address explaining in more detail his new thinking. In Anglican fashion he argues from Scripture, Tradition and Reason, but reverses that order and says something like the following and beginning with the issue of divorce.
The latest UK divorce figures are for 2003 and show an increase of 3.7 percent to nearly 167,000. 44 years ago these were 27,000 (in 1961) and 45 years before that in 1914 they were only 1000. This divorce explosion began in the 1960s. What was happening? Several things. First, there was a new philosophy. In the 1960's "happiness", for many people, came to be seen fundamentally as the result of subjective feelings rather than objective social, familial or economic conditions. There was now talk about "self-esteem", "self-validation", "finding oneself" and "feeling good about oneself". This new expressive individualism then redefined commitment as a form of "self-commitment". Your first and foremost obligation was to yourself. Not surprisingly the family became less and less a place for a mother and father to fulfil their duties of parenthood and more and more as a place for exploring their self-hood unfettered by roles, rules and duties. And divorce had a new "lease of life". Previously it was seen as the last remedy for a failed marriage. Now, in the words of Barbara Whitehead, it was "the psychologically healthy response to marital dissatisfaction."
Secondly, there was the rise of radical feminism, with Germain Greer claiming that "most women ... would shrink at the notion of leaving husband and children, but this is precisely the case in which brutally clear rethinking must be undertaken." Kate Millet went so far as to say "the complete destruction of traditional marriage and the nuclear family is the 'revolutionary or utopian' goal of feminism." Thirdly and less extreme, or so it seemed, were the changes in the law at this same time. One distinguished law Professor has said that these resulted in the "virtually universal understanding that the breakdown of a marriage is irretrievable if one spouse says it is." Fourthly, at the same time in the churches there was a "new morality" teaching that "anything is permitted, if there is love" - but without defining what "love" is. John Robinson, an Anglican Bishop, wrote a best seller entitled Honest to God. It included a chapter entitled "the New Morality" where the bishop dismisses the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage as a relic of an outdated and untenable supernaturalism. Rather it is related to "a world of occult realities". He quoted with approval another new moralist, Professor Joseph Fletcher, who said: "if the emotional and spiritual welfare of both parents and children in a particular family can be served best by a divorce, wrong and cheap jack as divorce commonly is, then love requires it."
Fifthly, there was also, another and more subtle shift taking place. Prior to the 1960s, as the divorce rate was rising, there was a general feeling that this was very wrong and needed to be restrained. This explains the outcry against King Edward VIII in 1936 and his subsequent abdication. Even in 1947 the famous judge, the late Lord Denning, could say (with his inimitable West Country accent): "some young people approach marriage with the feeling that if it does not work out well they can always get a divorce. If that goes on, we shall be approaching the stage of universal trial marriage. It is a serious state of affairs." But in the 1960's divorce, remarriage and stepfamilies were less and less seen as problems. In fact some saw them as useful resources in the armoury of remaking yourself. It helped you gain competencies such as initiative, assertiveness and a stronger and better self-image. Barbara Whitehead puts it clearly:
"Traditionally, one major impediment to divorce was the presence of children in the family ... This notion was swiftly abandoned after the 1960s. Influential voices in the society, including child-welfare professionals, claimed that the happiness of individual parents, rather than an intact marriage, was the key determinant of children’s family well-being. If divorce could make one or both parents happier, then it was likely to improve the well-being of children as well."But then social science began to see that all was not well with children. However, few were heard publicly saying that the problem related to the assault on the marriage family. In Parliament "right-wingers" were heard to be saying that it was abortion, free contraceptives, illegitimacy and homosexuality that were destroying the family; "left-wingers" were heard to say the problem was domestic violence, economic deprivation and inadequate social service support for single parents. Few mentioned divorce and remarriage. "Right-wingers" probably did not want to alienate their wealthy and libertarian supporters who favoured easy divorce (nor to draw attention to the divorced and remarried leaders in their own ranks). "Left-wingers" probably were unwilling to alienate the large support they had from "feminist" women and single parents.
The result has been that the chattering classes and middle-classes view family breakdown and family problems as something to do with "them" and not "us". It is a problem caused by unwed mothers and those on social security benefits. They often seem blind to the instability of marriage caused by "respectable" families that break-up. Furthermore, this "blindness" has gone along with a new social ethic of commitment to all children in the mass. This is good. But it will be of no avail without the individual responsibility of each mother and father caring for their children.
But change is happening. Nor was this change motored by clergy and the church. No! It was the result of social scientists. A pioneer was Judith Wallerstein who began studying the children of divorce in 1969. Like other experts she expected to find that within months of the trauma the youngest children would fully recover. However, eighteen months after a divorce, she found a high rate of sudden, serious psychological problems. Sixty-five percent of the children who had been functioning well before the divorce began to experience inability to concentrate in school, trouble eating or sleeping, difficulty making friends, and withdrawn or hostile behaviour. At first it seemed that older children coped better than younger ones. But longitudinal studies showed the reverse. Ten years after a divorce, the older siblings showed signs of distress – inability to trust others, and difficulty forming lasting bonds with members of the opposite sex. And on nearly every measure of childhood well-being, children of divorce scored lower than children from intact families. Even ten years after divorce she found, children felt "less protected, less cared for, and less comforted" than children in intact families. Significantly children of divorce are much more likely to divorce themselves. These, of course, are averages. There are shining exceptions. But the averages cannot be denied.
But not only is it children who suffer. Adults also suffer through divorce - physically and emotionally. Indeed, the whole of society is affected. Judith Wallerstein cites Pat Conroy who observed when his own marriage broke up "each divorce is the death of a small civilization." And she says: "Today, all relationships between men and women are profoundly influenced by the high incidence of divorce ... Teachers from all over the country tell me that their students come to school wide-eyed with fear, saying that their parents quarrelled the night before and asking in terror, 'Does that mean they are going to divorce?' Radical changes in family life affect all families, homes, parents, children, courtships and marriages, silently altering the social fabric of the entire society."
Nor does remarriage help. One study has suggested that 62 percent of remarriages among women under age forty will end in divorce, and the likelihood is increased if children are involved. The latest report from the UK Government on divorce statistics says, "demographic factors associated with an increased risk of subsequent divorce include ... having previously been married." There is now a growing body of research that suggests children might be better off in single parent families than in stepfamilies. The UK National Child Development Study, a longitudinal analysis of seventeen thousand children born in 1958, found that the chances for stepchildren suffering social deprivation before becoming adults are even greater than for children living with one divorced parent. However, remarriages and stepfamilies preceded by death are much different to those preceded by divorce. In fact remarriages after widowhood, in contrast to remarriages after divorce, have a lower divorce rate than first marriages.
The effects of this "divorce and remarriage" culture are cumulative. In the 1960's when the "new age" was beginning, a clergy-psychiatrist said this:
"A couple who face the problems of married life are [now] aware that a host of others who failed to solve them got out of them by divorce; and the knowledge adds to their task. Their energies and their emotions are less than fully engaged. They do not 'need' to succeed; and success is therefore more difficult. And the vicious spiral goes on."Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, also described the emotional strain in a divorcing society where husbands and wives nevertheless hope they can maintain their marriage. When divorce is a fairly open door, enormous care to satisfy the other partner and not to arouse his or her suspicions is required. An emotional clutchingness which is very wearing, "an endless incitement to anxious effort," has to do duty for what in former generations was performed by the unshakeable conviction that marriage was permanent. "It was safe to be romantic when there was no real danger that new romances could tempt you away."
All this may seem so harsh. So we must be very careful how we all react. First we must show gentleness and compassion to individuals who find themselves in broken homes and broken marriages. Many of them are there through no fault of their own and no choice of their own. But to quote Glen Stanton:
"we must also rediscover a sense of moral outrage at the devaluation of marriage as an institution. We must rouse ourselves and find the courage and ability to make moral judgments. When a culture does not permit itself to make value statements about one thing being qualitatively better than another, that culture has removed the primary organ allowing it to make progress and better itself."And we must be outraged not because this new "divorce culture" fails to live up to some nostalgic ideal, but because people, including children, are being damaged.
That is why we must all work to re-establish a strong marriage culture. That will require two things. It will require personal commitment and societal expectation. Over the last forty years we have lost our social ethic. Marriage is fundamentally a social reality that relates the individual to the wider society. It is, as the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer calls it, "an estate". It is a little "society" within which relationships can be worked at and made to thrive. And the knowledge that it is unbreakable and should be exclusive until death enables a level of freedom for the relationship to be honest and so more healthy. "If love and marriage," says social scientist Ann Swidler, in Habits of the Heart, "are seen primarily in terms of psychological gratification, they may fail to fulfil their older social function of providing people with stable, committed relationships that tie them to a larger society."
So how do we go about re-establishing a marriage culture? Certainly we need to rethink our "relationships' education" strategy. Our educational focus needs to shift from trying to prevent out-of-wedlock births to preventing out-of-wedlock sexual activity. We now know that sex before marriage and cohabitation reduces the level of permanency in marriage, as well as the fact that children of cohabitees also score less well than the children of married parents over a range of developmental indicators. Also the increase of sexually transmitted diseases will only be assuredly reversed with a policy of "wait until marriage". Far from reducing sexual satisfaction, we also now know that the ethic of sex exclusively within marriage is the best way to physical and emotional sexual fulfilment. Other sexual ethics produce, as has been said, "more frustration, disappointment and pain."
We also need to change our laws. No-fault divorce laws which we now have in the UK effectively abolish traditional marriage in a legal sense. From a legal point of view, it seems that ultimately the only factor that now holds a marriage together is the simultaneous commitment of two individuals. While that personal commitment is vital, marriages need social and legal support. That must be restored if marriages are to be restored - for the good of children, adults and society at large. And we need our churches to rediscover a marriage ethic. Too many have bought into the "me" culture of expressive individualism. "Pastoral counselling," we are told, for some time has taken "a client-centred approach that required clergy to stay within the client's 'value system'. Pastors (and congregations) retreated from theological challenge to an individual's values on the psychotherapeutic ground that such a challenge would be damaging to the individual's selfhood and would come across as 'preachy' and 'moralistic'." Not surprisingly in the United States where much better research has been conducted than in Britain, researchers have discovered that 25 per cent of "conservative Protestants" - those who would claim to be "bible believing" - have been through divorce, exactly the same percentage as those in the total population. Then, finally, there needs to be the example of high profile figures in public life. There needs to be a new role-modelling.
The tradition of the early church was almost unanimous on divorce and remarriage. It was this that gave the Christian community its identity over against the Roman world that had a much laxer sexual code. One scholar summarizes the early church Fathers' position like this:
"in the first five centuries all Greek writers and all Latin writers except one agree that remarriage following divorce for any reason is adulterous. The marriage bond was seen to unite both parties until the death of one of them. When a marriage partner was guilty of unchastity, usually understood to mean adultery, the other was expected to separate but did not have the right to remarry."Also in the early centuries of the church, the Fathers followed the New Testament in teaching equality of sexual rights in marriage. That was in contrast to the Old Testament, Jewish and Roman law. These gave more freedom to married men than married women. In the Old Testament a married man could have more than one sexual partner without being guilty of adultery against his first wife. But a married woman had to be totally faithful to her husband. Also Roman men could have concubines as well as a wife.
The wider culture of the early centuries of the Church was similar to today's culture. Even after the accession of Constantine, the first "Christian" emperor, Roman marriage law hardly changed. With full divorce freely available, some within the Church drifted away from Church teaching and were divorced and remarried. But this did not alter that teaching. Rather such people were disciplined - so seriously did the Church treat obedience to Christ regarding marriage. As today there were people who tried to justify their behaviour. Augustine of Hippo tells us of one man who said that the adulterous partner should be considered as dead; and so the innocent partner should be permitted to remarry on the basis that death terminates a marriage. Augustine disagreed.
Of course, the church Fathers ruled that there could be separation, when needed, "from bed and board" (separatio a thoro et mensa). There was also the concept of an absolute "annulment" of a marriage, or "nullity" by insisting that from the outset the marriage had not lawfully been contracted. It had never been a marriage in the first place - for example when marrying within the "forbidden degrees", that is to say, when marrying a close relative. Over the mediaeval period, however, the "grounds" for such annulments grew in number. This led to much abuse in the eyes of reformers. It made a mockery of the teaching of Jesus. It was a legalistic way of having easy divorce while telling yourself you were upholding strict church teaching. In the Roman Catholic church Erasmus worked for reform by arguing for the right to remarriage after separation through reinterpreting key texts. His arguments, however, did not convince.
Many of the Protestant Reformers also wanted reform regarding divorce, such as Luther in Germany, Calvin in Switzerland and Knox in Scotland. They accepted the traditional interpretation of the marriage texts, but they argued for divorce by resurrecting the argument similar to the one Augustine rejected. Wenham and Heth summarize Luther's position as this:
"His starting point is that only death can dissolve the marriage tie and leave the partner free to marry again. The act of adultery, however, makes the offender as dead in his relationship both to God and to his partner ... Moses demanded that the adulterer be put to death and he believed that the existing civil powers should do likewise. If this was not done, the adulterer was still considered as dead in the eyes of God."Similarly both Calvin and Knox argued that the adulterer or adulteress was to reckoned as a dead man or woman. Death, they said, dissolves the marriage bond. If the guilty party was not punished but allowed to go on living, that was the fault of the civil authority. The Church could not be held to ransom by the state failing to do its duty.
This Calvinistic position is reflected in the teaching of the 17th century Presbyterian Westminster Confession, XXIV.5: "In the case of adultery after marriage, it is lawful for the innocent party to sue out a divorce, and, after the divorce, to marry another, as if the offending party were dead." That is why remarriage in the Church of Scotland is possible today.
But the Church of England took a different position at the Reformation. While some wished to allow for divorce and remarriage following the Continental Reformers, the mainstream of the Anglican Reformers decided to return to the patristic tradition of the early church. So the doctrine and practice of the Church of England became that of the Canons of 1597 that were incorporated into the Canons of 1604. Canon 106 provided only for "separation a thoro et mensa, or for the annulling of pretended matrimony [nullity]". Canon 107 was entitled "In all sentences for Divorce, Bond to be taken for not marrying during each other's Life." It said this:
"In all sentences pronounced for divorce and separation a thoro et mensa, there shall be a caution and restraint inserted in the act of the said sentence, That the parties so separated shall live chastely and continently; neither shall they, during each other's life, contract matrimony with any other person. And, for the better observation of this last clause, the said sentence of divorce shall not be pronounced until the party or parties requiring the same have given good and sufficient caution and security into the court, that they will not any way break or transgress the said restraint or prohibition."The Church of England was more concerned about remarriage even than about divorce. It saw that sometimes a "separation from bed and board" was inevitable (and biblical). But it refused to sanction divorce a vinclo (from the bond of marriage) with the right to remarry.
There were, of course, as today differences of opinion. But for good or ill - and the judgment of history is surely that it was for good - the Church of England developed a unique position in Christendom regarding divorce and remarriage. Returning to the ethic of the early church, it got rid of the abuses of the nullity system of the Roman Church, while resisting the desire to relax the teaching of Christ to allow more easy divorce, as happened in some of the non-Anglican Protestant Reformed churches.
The tradition of the Pilgrim Fathers, for example, undoubtedly has left a negative mark on the United States (for all the good that tradition undoubtedly represents). In New England the colonists objected to the restrictive English divorce laws. "The Puritan dissenters," writes one commentator, "took issue with the conservatism of the Church of England in retaining Roman Catholic doctrines respecting divorce. Not surprisingly, the Puritan strongholds of Massachusetts and Connecticut had the most liberal provisions for divorce as well as the most divorces in the seventeenth century."
The Anglican tradition, however, held firm in England. With the Ecclesiastical Courts granting divorce only a thoro et mensa, the only way for a divorce a vinclo with the permission to remarry could be by Act of Parliament. From 1670 (the date of the first such Act of Parliament) to 1857 (the date of the Matrimonial Causes Act that set up a special court empowered to dissolve marriages a vinclo on the grounds of adultery) there were 317 Acts passed. That is to say, only three divorces (as we understand them) every two years. Conservative Christians, like Keble, the Oxford Tractarian, were opposed to the 1857 Act. Liberal Churchmen like F.D.Maurice welcomed it. Middle-of-the-road churchmen like Mandell Creighton said: "We as Christians abhor divorce, but when divorce has been judged necessary are we to refuse any liberty to the innocent and wronged party?"
But the mainstream of the Anglican tradition judged that the loving action was not to go with the "liberal drift" but to stand firm. So the Lambeth Conference of 1908 affirmed that the remarriage of neither the guilty nor the innocent party should receive the blessing of the Church. The 1920 Lambeth Conference reaffirmed as "our Lord's principle and standard of marriage a lifelong and indissoluble union". The 1930 Lambeth Conference went further. It said no marriage of a divorced person with a partner living should be celebrated with the rites of the Church and that where an innocent party had remarried and desired to receive Holy Communion, the case should be referred to the bishop. It was this 1930 resolution that formed the basis for all subsequent pronouncements and discipline in the Church of England until 2002. The summary of this Anglican position was given by a former Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher. He said:
"the attitude of the Church of England, shortly put, is a) no marriage in church of any divorced person with a partner still living, since the solemnizing of a marriage is a formal and official act of the Church, and the Church must not give its official recognition to a marriage which (for whatever cause) falls below our Lord's definition of what marriage is: b) but the relation of such people to the Church or their admission to Communion is another matter, one of pastoral care for the sinner and properly a matter of pastoral discretion."But the appointment in 2002 of a new Archbishop of Canterbury with a liberal stance on sexual morality gave a new confidence to "theological liberals" in the Church of England. So it was not surprising that centuries of Anglican tradition were voted down by the General Synod in 2002, with the bishops leading the way. While 32 percent of the laity opposed the change and 24 percent of the clergy, only 4 percent of the bishops present and voting did!
In one sense the doctrine of the Church of England remains the same. The current Canon B 30 that states marriage should always be undertaken as a "solemn, public and life-long covenant between a man and a woman" remains in place. Nor, according to the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 - and this is most important - is the Church of England permitted to depart from the doctrine of marriage implied in the Book of Common Prayer. This does not provide for remarriage. Rather in that service the couple are asked: "Wilt thou ... live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony ... in sickness and in health; and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as you both shall live?" And the oaths are "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health ... till death us do part".
However, the General Synod has now given clergy the freedom to do what they like - to remain faithful to the Anglican tradition or to "bless" the new divorce culture. New guidelines from the bishops are recognized as being unworkable by the clergy who have neither the time nor the statutory powers to determine matrimonial cases fairly. The future, therefore, of the Church of England without some clear leadership will probably be a split between those who remain "traditional" and those who will embrace the modern "divorce culture" and a free-for-all. It is, of course, the duty of any Supreme Governor of the Church of England not to define doctrine but to see that the church remains "legal" and so true to its "established" doctrine as defined by Canon A5. This says:
"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."
So what does the Bible teach about divorce and remarriage? And what did the earliest Christians in the Apostolic age remember about Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage? For a number of years the first converts were dependent on an oral tradition before the four Gospels were written. So what did the early teachers pass on as Jesus' teaching? Fortunately we know the answer from Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. This was written before any of the four Gospels and so is a particularly good tradition. 1 Corinthians 7.10 and 11 gives this as a summary of Jesus' teaching:
"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord [i.e. Jesus]): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife."Jesus taught that there should be no divorce once a marriage had been contracted. However, if for some reason there had to be separation (from bed and board) there must be no remarriage. It could not be clearer. So, how did that "memory" fit in with the Gospel accounts when they came, a little later, to be written? Mark (which some think the earliest Gospel) says this in chapter 10 verses 6-12:
"[Jesus said], 'at the beginning of creation God "made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.' When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, 'Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.'"Luke's report of Jesus on divorce and remarriage in chapter 16 verse 18 is short but similar:
"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."But then there is Matthew chapter 19 verses 3-12 which people argue about:
"Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?' 'Haven't you read,' he replied, 'that at the beginning the Creator "made them male and female," and said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh"? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.' 'Why then,' they asked, 'did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?' Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.' The disciples said to him, 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.' Jesus replied, 'Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."Is Jesus here allowing remarriage? Is Matthew contradicting Mark and Luke? It would seem unlikely. The early Christians in the church in the period following the age of the Apostles did not take this as a contradiction and allowing remarriage. So what did Jesus mean? "Marital unfaithfulness", as a translation of the Greek porneia, may be misleading. Porneia is not the word for "adultery" [moicheia]; rather it covers a wide range of sexual misconduct. Now, the context for this questioning of Jesus was a debate among Jesus' Jewish contemporaries over divorce. Some said that divorce should only be for something serious like adultery (the School of Shammai), while others took a more liberal line (the School of Hillel). They believed that divorce could be for almost anything. If, however, Jesus was saying divorce and then remarriage was possible for adultery (as some interpret Matthew), he would be no different to all those who followed the teaching of Shammai. But the disciples seem to be taken aback at the rigour of Jesus' teaching. It is unlikely, therefore, that he is just siding with Shammai. Also, the word porneia is not the word used by Shammai for his exception. He used the words of Deuteronomy chapter 24 verse 1 which, in the Greek version are different - aschêmon pragma ['something indecent']. So it looks as though Jesus is more "rigorous" than Shammai. It, therefore, makes more sense to try to see how the gist of Matthew agrees with the gist of Mark and Luke. How could this be?
It is quite probable that the word porneia here means "marriage within the forbidden degrees" (i.e. marriage to a close relative, as in Leviticus 18 and English Law). There is then a "nullity" (and, if no previous marriage, a right not to remarry but to marry). Certainly porneia has that meaning in 1 Corinthians chapter 5 verse 1: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality [porneia] among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father's wife." It also seems to mean that in Acts chapter 15 verses 19-21. And also the "forbidden" marriage of Herod and Herodias was the context for Jesus' questioning by the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 19. Jesus is now in Perea, Herod's territory, "the other side of the Jordan" (19 verse 1). This "marriage" was a huge scandal for the Jews. John the Baptist was beheaded for condemning its illegality. Matthew chapter 14 verses 3 and 4 say: "Now Herod had arrested John and bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, for John had been saying to him: 'It is not lawful for you to have her.'" So in Matthew 19 Jesus is saying that in cases of such "forbidden marriages", or such porneia, there is a nullity requiring a separation. He is agreeing with John the Baptist.
On the other hand, some scholars say porneia does mean "marital unfaithfulness", but Jesus is only allowing divorce or separation, but not remarriage; and it is this saying that gives rise to that memory recalled in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 10 - namely "a wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." Jesus' followers knew, including Matthew, that Jesus allowed for separation when there was, say, some form of sexual violence or other sexual sin. But this Matthean exception qualifies only divorce, for the phrase "except for marital unfaithfulness" [mê epi porneia] comes after "divorces his wife" and not after "marries another". Whatever the correct understanding, Matthew surely has to be interpreted in the light of Mark and Luke and not vice-versa.
But what, says someone else, about the so called Pauline exception? In 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 15-16 Paul writes this:
"But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound [literally, 'enslaved' - dedoulôtai] in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"It does not look as though Paul is saying there is freedom in this case to remarry. The freedom seems to be that the Christian partner is free not to fight at all costs to stop the non-Christian partner leaving and feeling guilty once a separation has happened. Paul's argument is not that "God allows us to remarry" but "God has called us to live in peace". Also it may be significant that the word translated "bound" is not the same word that Paul uses for the release that death brings to the marriage. Paul says later in 1 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 39:
"A woman is bound [dedetai] to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord."And this is the word he uses in Romans chapter 7 verses 2-3:
"by law a married woman is bound [dedetai] to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man."It does seem that the Anglican tradition is the tradition of the Bible, as our Anglican Reformers taught. But is this compatible with the Jesus we read about in the rest of the New Testament? The answer has to be, "Yes". While Jesus was most compassionate, he was also, when necessary, most strict. In the passage that follows the divorce passage in Matthew chapter 19 we read about the Rich Young Man to whom Jesus had to say: "Go, sell your possessions and give to the poor" (verse 21). The disciples seemed shocked as in the case of no remarriage. Here we read "when the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (verse 25).
On both the issues of money and sex Jesus showed great compassion and great friendship to those who made mistakes. He ate with the (hated) Tax Collectors - modern day fraudsters. And he went out of his way to minister to a Samaritan woman who had remarried four times and was currently cohabiting with some other man (John chapter 4). So Jesus recognized remarriages that were contracted by the state, while knowing that from God's perspective the first marriage had not been dissolved. For, as Andrew Cornes (a biblical scholar and Anglican clergyman) says, by calling remarriage adultery it shows that "in his eyes the original marriage still exists. It may have been dissolved in the eyes of the law, it may have come to end emotionally a long time ago, but the marriage still exists in God's eyes. That is why Jesus can say that remarriage is 'committing adultery against her [the first wife]' (Mark chapter 10 verse 11). If the first marriage was dead and gone, it would be impossible to commit adultery against one's first wife. But if the first marriage is still a reality in God's eyes despite the legal divorce, then to remarry is to commit adultery."
The issue ends up by being very simple - do we believe Jesus? The Church of England has said we ought to. For as God the Son, the Second Person of the Divine Trinity, he is our maker as well as our redeemer. He not only loves us but knows how we work best. He knows that a divorce and remarriage culture will not be for our good. But supposing we are remarried. What do we do? To conclude here is Andrew Cornes again:
"Christ is not asking you to say my present marriage is a disaster. We frequently get into situations which we were mistaken in getting into, and yet which God meets us in and blesses us in. So God is not saying to you that you are to regard your marriage, your second marriage, as a disaster. Rather thank him for how he has blessed you in your new wife, and in the way that he has used you together. Yes, some things are closed to you, when you are divorced and remarried. But you should not renege on your second marriage. To say, 'I shouldn't have married in the first place, therefore, I should now separate from my second wife,' is wrong. You have new commitments to your second wife. It would be adding insult to injury and committing a second evil, to repudiate a wife to whom you have made solemn vows. However, the logic of Christ's position is, first, that you need to admit your remarriage was something which at the time, had you understood Jesus' teaching, you should not have entered. Secondly, you need to admit that you have a continuing relationship with your first wife. You should not invite her to live in your marital home; but you do have, in God's eyes, a continuing relationship with her, which is a married relationship, though it cannot be expressed fully. It is therefore required of you to be reconciled to her to the extent that that is possible, in terms of forgiveness, of re-establishing communication if necessary and possible, and of fulfilling any financial responsibilities. Particularly all this is important for any children of an earlier marriage and your commitment to them. But, of course, you must, at the same time, take account of your commitment to your second wife."These things are difficult. But as Jesus said to the Rich Young Man, "with God all things are possible." And, remember, through Jesus' Cross there is forgiveness for all sin. That includes sexual and marital sin. As Jesus said to the adulterous woman in John chapter 8 verse 11: "neither do I condemn you." But he added, "Go now and leave your life of sin."
There my dream ends. Why should not Prince Charles say something that at least fits in with all that? It would be a miracle. But it would have an amazing effect on the nation and the entire world. Why not pray for a miracle?
For more Coloured Supplements visit http://www.church.org.uk