12 March 2009

Questions about Remarriage after Divorce

This (Thursday) morning's Gospel, from St. Luke 16, has me thinking about divorce and remarriage. Jesus specifically says that "Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery."

I didn't include any references to this part of the Gospel (St. Luke 16:10-18) in my sermon, but I got to thinking about it.

I'm wondering what conscientious confessional Lutheran pastors do with this passage. The norm has become allowing remarriage of the divorced, provided there is some sort of stated repentance. I have even followed this norm myself.

Yet it was not always so. Our forefathers did not permit remarriage, and in some traditions, as I understand it, that remains the case. That was (is) the interpretation of this passage by others.

On the other hand, Moses permitted divorce, and Jesus did not chide him for doing so. And even going back as far as the 12th century, the venerable Hugh of St. Victor indicated that the remarriage of the divorced is sometimes permissible, since God has called us to live in peace.

So I'm wondering what's the prevailing opinion among us, or if there is one. I'm aware of the divergence of interpretations of this passage, and that, though the norm in our own day may be to permit remarriage, it was not always so.

So, some queries:

Do you remarry divorcees? Do you remarry divorcees even if they are clearly guilty in the divorce? If you do, how do you interpret this passage? Does it bother you?


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

No one has responded, so in the interest of discussion, I will be bold and take a stab.

You ask Do you remarry divorcees? Do you remarry divorcees even if they are clearly guilty in the divorce? If you do, how do you interpret this passage? Does it bother you?

I think in general (and I haven't been tested on this, so it is hypothetical for me) some thought would have to be given to how recent a divorce is in terms of the divorcee'.

I would argue that in all cases of divorce (even though many would disagree with me), the goal should be reconciliation and even ideally remarriage. What God has joined together should be and remain together until death separates. Marriage to another nullifies any hope or chance of reconciliation of the previous marriage - the door is closed completely - the break is moved beyond all hopes of repair.

As such, that plays into how I would give counsel to the divorcee who seeks to be marry another. Is the former relationship destroyed beyond all hope? Generally this can be said if the ex has remarried (and thus any claim to the divorcee are completely dropped). In that case, freedom is restored - treat them like one who is widowed.

Perhaps the same can be said even after enough time has passed. What is that time length. . . enough where there is no thought of "I am one who is divorced" but rather "I once was married but that was a part of the past - not something that impacts the present" - where the first marriage is no longer present tense, or even perfect tense, but simple past. Then it is something that is gone. Then reconciliation does not even come into play.

At this point, it is as though the first spouse were dead, and then the usual for the remarriage of widows or widowers would swing into play. With divorce it would still be a mess - but sometimes we make do with messes in a sinful world. At this point, the guilt of the first marriage becomes. . . not a moot point, but a point of the past beyond reconciliation.

Also, there is a difference in allowing a remarriage and the counselling of one who is divorced to go "hit the scene" and try and "find someone new". I would always hesitate to encourage one to find someone new (lest it is a case of support being needed, especially in a case of abandonment). But, if it happens that they run into someone else - then you are dealing with messy facts that have already occurred.

And of course, the usual mitigating circumstances apply (pregnancy and the like) - if you are divorced but then there is a pregnancy involving a new person - let's try and sort out this current problem (it now takes precedence over the former one).

Thoughts? Comments?

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

I have struggled with this question myself, considering the fact that I married a divorcee. In her case, I don't think there was ever much of a "marriage" to begin with. She abandoned him, but not maliciously. She had, in my opinion, good reason to do so. He was abusive, verbally and (increasingly) physically. She realized after marrying him (about two weeks into it) that she should never have done so.

I didn't struggle with Jesus' words about remarriage so much before we were married (didn't really think about it actually) as I did after we were married. Should this marriage have taken place? Her pastor thought that it was for the best and did not forbid it (Something for which I am extremely thankful!).

But it has caused me to think about this in some depth. I even did a paper on divorce and remarriage in seminary. I like what Dr. Scaer said to me once: The Church in this life can only begin to reflect the perfection of Eden. We must in the Church, I believe, deal with a lot of imperfection. When I came to my current assignment, there were men and women on their 2nd and 3rd marriages. What is one to do?

I think you have to look at it on a case by case basis. Is the person repentant? Does the next marriage seem like one that will last? I don't think that we should treat divorce as though it is some unforgiveable sin. Yet, if we are too lenient, then it will be difficult to tell anyone "no" who wants to remarry. I wonder if Rev. Benjamin Mayes could weigh in on this since he just finished his Ph.D. dissertation on "Cases of Conscience" and how different theologians and territories in post-REformation Germany handled such things.

Pr. H. R. said...

First, let's find the clear cases, then deal with the muddles.

Clear case: a couple who became a couple while one or both were married to other people. These people should never receive the church's blessing - as they are most certainly living with unrepentant sin. And repenting means turning away from sin - so they can never be together. Repentance in their case means going their separate ways: or in the case that they have been civilly married, it means that they "live as brother and sister" for the rest of their days before they are received back into fellowship.

Second, Fr. Beisel brings up the issue of invalid marriage - annulment. I have had many of the same thoughts he notes there, and the book _The Invalid Marriage_ was a big help to me in thinking this through. It's a papist resource, but fascinating and informative.

The information can be summed up like this: The next time you are treating with a person who is divorced and wants to marry another (for the sake of simplicity, let us say the other is never married), ask yourself what sin this person has to repent of.

Pastor: So I see here from the information sheet that's you've been married before, Magdelena. Can you tell me about that?
Magdelena: Well, I was 19 and he was shipping out to Iraq in a couple weeks so we got married in front of a judge. By the time he got back, it was clear we really didn't belong together.
Pastor: No kids?
Magdelena: No - we never wanted kids and made sure we didn't have any.

Is Magdelena's sin divorce - or is it pretending to be married when she never was? Did she sinfully put asunder what God hath joined - or did she mouth those words in front of the judge never intending to be joined as God hath designed? Can a person go into marriage with a sizable mental reservation against one of the purposes of marriage and still contract a valid marriage? Was she little more than play acting? Etc.

At any rate, the book is certainly worth a read. Some of it is pure scholastic papism - and some of it is the reasonable stuff that got highjacked by scholasticism and that we toss aside to our peril when we toss the baby out with the bathwater.

Of course, Rome has the advantage of having a central clearing house for these questions: the local priest can pass the buck. In our polity, each presbyter-bishop is very much on his own (what if the guy at a sister parish down the road agrees to marry them after you won't?). But that just means that each of us individually should be considering the sorts of questions that Father Vatic N. Too can pass upstream. . .


WM Cwirla said...

Our Lutheran Confessions call "unjust" the tradition which forbids an innocent person to marry after divorce (Treatise 78, Tappert 333) though Luther states in the Large Catechism under the 10th commandment, "in the New Testament" married people are forbidden to be divorced" (LC I.306).

Our Lutheran tradition (since Gerhardt) has recognized two legitimate grounds for divorce, namely adultery (in view of Jesus' "exception clause" (Mt 5:32; 19:19)) and abandonment of the marriage (on the basis of 1 Cor 7:15).

How one interprets and applies Luke 16:10-18 hinges on how one harmonizes the parallel passages, especially Mt 5:32 and 19:19, and also how one makes the connection to Genesis 2:24 which lies at the core. If one tracks the citations of Gen 2:24 in the NT (Mt 19:5-6; Mk 10:8; 1 Cor 6:16; Eph 5:31), one finds that the "one flesh" union of Gen 2:24 refers not to the marriage contract per se, but to the sexual union of man and woman (see especially 1 Cor 6:16 where marriage is not in view). Marriage is a legal, civil covenant intended to protect this sacred one flesh union from adulteration. I believe this is the best way of understanding what Jesus is saying. To establish a new one flesh union with another adulterates the prior one flesh union.

Certainly, the proper pastoral approach is not with fine distinctions but with repentance and grace in Christ who makes all things new.

Rev. Paul Beisel said...

Pastor Cwirla, good thoughts. The "one-flesh" union is precisely why incest and marriage of close relatives is forbidden I think too.

Your last statement should not be taken lightly. Christ...who "makes all things new." "Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new."

I guess as a pastor I believe in new beginnings where there is a repentant heart. I will say this--there is a burden and a cross that comes with remarriage. There is a previous relationship and sexual union to be considered, and this is not easy for a person to deal with, especially if the other person has never been married. Anyone who is considering marrying a divorcee ought to think seriously about these things before getting married, as well as what role he or she will play in the lives of the other spouse's children, if there are any. Complications can include legal battles for children, among other things.

There are truly less complications when both have never been married and never been sexually active before.

Anonymous said...

What would you say to a couple who divorced after 15 years of marriage, had a child, and are still living together a few years after their divorce?

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...


I'd have to know more specific details, of course, since many questions arise. Why did they divorce, and why don't they remarry? But unless there's some explanation I can't think of, it sounds to me as though such a couple is making a mockery of the institution of marriage, possibly twice. Such a couple would need to repent, precisely of that.

WM Cwirla said...

What would you say to a couple who divorced after 15 years of marriage, had a child, and are still living together a few years after their divorce?

Matters of casuistry are always tricky and require full knowledge of the circumstances.

In a sense, this example is also making a mockery of divorce. The certificate of divorce (Gittim) that Moses speaks of in Deut 24 was a serious, legal document. Even today, as I understand it, it is witnessed by a tribunal of three rabbis and the person must say to the other face to face three times "I divorce you." Divorce was one legal act that could not be transacted by a shaliach, by the way.

In the example above, there is ambiguity presented to both society and the church. Are they married or not? If not, they should not be living together. If so, they should nullify their divorce. The underlying sin needs to be repented and the ambiguity of their circumstances corrected, in my opinion.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

I'm reminded of the old Disney movie "The Parent Trap." Divorced parents are tricked by their twin daughters into rediscovering their love, and decide to remarry. A bygone day, to be sure.

Anonymous said...

You ask Do you remarry divorcees?

I've noticed more and more people getting married/re-married and not even telling their pastor or congregation that it happened.

WM Cwirla said...

"I've noticed more and more people getting married/re-married and not even telling their pastor or congregation that it happened."

This is most certainly true. Repentance is messy. Why deal with it when you can get legally married by an Elvis impersonator in Vegas?

Rev. Wright II said...

Most of my thunder has already been taken away. That’s what you get for waiting to post.
I would like to take a little different approach to answering this question. It seems that divorce and adultery in the Old Testament were treated differently. It is our Lord who shows us that divorce and adultery are in fact connected and equally bad/sinful. Our Lord is making the point of using the estate of marriage to point to the relationship between the Lord and His people. When we seek after other things to replace God, we are an adulteress people, whoring around trying to fulfill our sinful wants and desires.
We can apply this text to who we are and where we are now in the Church. When situations arise such as can a divorcee remarry, we have a wonderful time and chance to point the people in our care to what marriage is and how it is to be used and most of all what it is to symbolize, the relationship of God and His people. When the marriage “fails” this is yet another chance and time to teach and show people the faithfulness of God as we walk the couple through confession and Holy Absolution. Here is the messy part. Can a divorcee remarry? Of course. Should they is another question. I have never been put in this situation and I pray that our Lord would give me the words and actions to handle this according to His will.
Thanks for a wonderfully thought provoking question!

Rev. Benjamin Mayes said...

I've dealt with many if these questions in my dissertation on the basis of the Dedekenn-Gerhard "Thesaurus Consiliorum et Decisionum", an enormous collection of casuistry and adjudication from Lutheran Germany of the 16th and 17th centuries. In general, all Lutherans allowed an innocent party in a divorce to remarry, whereas the Roman Catholics did not allow it. As for remarriage of the guilty party, there was not uniformity on how to handle it. Some pointed to the Lord's words from Matthew and forbade such remarriages; some territories executed adulterers and so the question of their remarriage was moot; others allowed a remarriage to the guilty provided they were banished from the territory where they had previously been married. Under no circumstances was one permitted to marry one's quondam partner in adultery. There were many other factors which I can't go into here.

Search Your Bible said...



Divorce + Remarriage = Adultery

Why I Repented Of A Marriage That God Called Adulterous!