Roman Catholicism and Marriage

Jones Deerstand picThe influence of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) on views of marriage, divorce and remarriage has been profound. As one of the seven sacraments, marriage and its guidelines are based on scripture. However since the church produced the scripture, the church has the authority to interpret its meaning.Specifically, the following scriptures provide the framework for the Indissoluability of marriage:

  1. Broken RingsThe couple is united (glued) together and cannot be separated (Gen 2:24; Matt 19:6).
  2. A second marriage that follows a divorce for any reason is adulterous (Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18).
  3. Only the death of a spouse dissolves a marriage (Rom 7:1-4).
  4. There are only two options after a divorce: reconciling or remaining unmarried (I Cor 7:10-11).

Even the ‘exception’ clause of Matt 19:9 and 5:32 does not break a marriage. While it may define the divorce, the clause does not allow a second marriage. While the couple may be divorced in “man’s eyes” they are still married in the “eyes of God”. If one of them does remarry after the divorce yet prior to the death of their previous spouse, the marriage is not recognized by the Catholic church and is considered adulterous. As such the couple is “living in adultery” and neither is eligible to take communion therefore placing their eternal salvation in jeopardy.

Some of these same concepts are mirrored in other religious groups including some members of the church of Christ. For those who adhere to these views, a couple who divorces for reasons other than marital unfaithfulness are still married in God’s eyes and are only divorced according to man. Without the death of a spouse any future marriage is considered adulterous and as such the couple is living in adultery. In such situations only two options can correct the situation: return to the original spouse or remain single until the death of the original spouse. Generally these two alternatives are not feasible for three reasons. First, the original spouse may have remarried, making reconciliation and returning to the first spouse impossible. Second, the former spouse may not be interested in reconciliation. Third, the desire to be married and physical pressure make a life of celibacy impractical.

In order to navigate these obvious problems and still adhere to their scriptural interpretation concerning marriage and divorce, the RCC has devised a plan to circumvent them—annulment. In such cases the divorced Roman Catholic who desires to remarry petitions the church to annul the first marriage. If the church agrees, the first marriage is not acknowledged because the couple was never really married in the eyes of God. According to the RCC this is the first marriage and the individual is free to marry.

Other religious groups, including the church of Christ, have not been able to scripturally validate the Catholic concept of annulment – yet returning to the original spouse or remaining single are often not possible. Seemingly the only practical solution has been to try and discern the “innocent” and “guilty” spouse and in so doing determine eligibility for a scriptural remarriage. Yet, inherent issues in such a method continually arise. The categories of innocent and guilty have traditionally been defined subjectively—indicating which spouse committed physical adultery or in some cases committed physical adultery first. However this definition often does not fit the reality of life situations. The innocent spouse is often anything but innocent. Church leaders have spent countless hours trying to determine who is guilty and who is innocent. Even after hearing both sides, the real truth is often hard to determine. A person can be abusive, selfish, an addict or neglectful of a spouse and still be considered innocent. The case scenarios are endless yet a very real part of the world we live in. Truly not one of us is truly ‘innocent’. We are all ‘guilty’—just in different ways.

The purpose of this piece is not to resolve the issue of marriage, divorce and remarriage but to encourage more conversation. Perhaps a misunderstanding of the texts in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as well as the influence of the Roman Catholic Church on the topic have contributed to a somewhat flawed view of the subject.


  1. This is so interesting and I hope you will continue this study and share it with us. Many of us have members of our families who are have been in these circumstances. Thanks much.

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