Today we celebrate venerable Bede, one of our most prolific ancient commentators of Sacred Scripture. His reflections have inspired Christians for centuries.
Christ certainly does not leave any ambiguous points about divorce. The tradition of the Catholic church also does not give any indication that divorce is an acceptable solution to a sour marriage. Marriage has been weakened in modern times because of the general lack of spiritual formation – people don’t have a very deep sense of the meaning of human existence. Many people have found themselves caught in a situation where the decisions they have made in a state of immaturity or imprudence have set their lives on a course they would like to somehow alter for the sake of the possibility of happiness. In general, we have lost faith in the fact that happiness is not for this life but for eternal life. The idea that marriage is what is supposed to finally make us happy feeds the illusion and expectation that there is some way of life here on earth that we should not gladly trade for eternal life. There are many goods that a marriage between virtuous people affords, and great experiences of mercy and forgiveness between Christian spouses – the human experience of marriage is only for this earth however, there is no marriage in heaven.
Marriage is not supposed to teach us how human life should be, but rather, in a Christian perspective, to reveal the deeper mystery of how closely united God wishes to be with us. Husband and wife are simply a rough image of Christ and the Church. The Word marries Himself to our humanity, He becomes one flesh with us: the marrow of our bones. The oneness between spouses has to do with their being united in what they will for one another. Our oneness with Christ, even more than we are one with our own flesh, is effected through our being united to His will as His human will is in unison with the Father’s will. Marriage is about this union of wills that can only come about through mutual obedience.
It is a great thing if we can give thanks with great joy. But there is such a thing as giving thanks out of fear, and also such a thing as giving thanks in grief. This is what Job did when, in great suffering, he thanked God, saying: “The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away.” Let no one say that he was not grieving over what had happened to him or that he did not feel it deeply. Do not take away the great praise due to the righteous.… How great is this praise? Tell me, in what circumstances do you bless Job? Is it when he had all those camels and flocks and herds? Or is it when he says: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away”? For the devil also harms us not in order to take our possessions away so that we have nothing left but so that when that happens he can force us to curse God because of it.1
James means: “Bear your temporal misfortunes as Job did, but do not hope for temporal goods as a reward for your patience, such as were returned to him double. Rather hope for the eternal goods which the Lord went before us to secure.”2
God shows his compassion toward us by setting us free from our temptations in this life and by glorifying the living before others because of the constancy of their faith. After their deaths he crowns them in secret, so that the memory which they deserve will not be taken away from them by other people.3
This is the judgment to which Herod fell victim, so that he found that he had either to break his oath or commit another shameful act in order to avoid breaking it.4
Jesus said: “Let your yes be yes and your no, no.” Any more than this is evil. So do not swear for good reason, because that is evil. It is said to be evil because the need of an oath comes from an unsure conscience. It is necessary to extract an oath from one whose sincerity is in doubt, but why should you bind yourself by an involuntary oath when you are bound to show with your lips the sincerity of your heart? Speak the truth from your heart and you will not need an oath.5
Of those who came to Jesus and interrogated him, some put questions to him simply to trick him. If our glorious Savior was tested in this way, should any of his disciples called to teach be annoyed when questioned by some who probe, not from the desire to know, but from the intent to trip up?6
Where are we to find language adequately to express the happiness of that marriage which the church cements, the oblation confirms, the benediction signs and seals, the angels celebrate, and the Father holds as approved? For all around the earth young people do not rightly and lawfully wed without their parents’ consent. What kind of yoke is that of two believers who share one hope, one desire, one discipline, one service? They enjoy kinship in spirit and in flesh. They are mutual servants with no discrepancy of interests. Truly they are “two in one flesh.” Where the flesh is one, the spirit is one as well. Together they pray, together bow down, together perform their fasts, mutually teaching, mutually entreating, mutually upholding. In the church of God they hold an equal place. They stand equally at the banquet of God, equally in crises, equally facing persecutions, and equally in refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other. Neither neglects the other. Neither is troublesome to the other.7
JACOB OF SARUG:
The prophet Moses spoke of man and woman in this way in order to foretell Christ and his church. With a prophet’s penetrating gaze he contemplated Christ becoming one with the church through the mystery of water.14 He saw Christ even from the virgin’s womb drawing the church to himself, and the church in the water of baptism drawing Christ to herself. Bridegroom and bride were thus wholly united in a mystical manner, which is why Moses wrote that the two should become one.… Wives are not united to their husbands as closely as the church is to the Son of God. What husband but our Lord ever died for his wife, and what bride ever chose a crucified man as her husband? Who ever gave his blood as a gift to his wife except the one who died on the cross and sealed the marriage bond with his wounds? Who was ever seen lying dead at his own wedding banquet with his wife at his side seeking to console herself by embracing him? At what other celebration, at what other feast is the bridegroom’s body distributed to the guests in the form of bread? Death separates wives from their husbands, but in this case it is death that unites the bride to her beloved.8
“For a woman is bound, as long as her husband is alive.” As a consequence, therefore, the husband is also bound, as long as his wife is alive. This bond renders any further union impossible without the implication of adultery. Hence, four adulterers are produced of necessity from the two marriages, if the wife remarries and the husband marries an adulteress. However, a more infamous adultery is imputed to the one who remarries after the dismissal of his wife for other than the cause of fornication. Matthew spoke of this type of adultery. Such a one is not the only one who commits adultery, but, as we read in Mark: “Whoever puts away his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; and if the wife puts away her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery.”9
God created marriage. As the union is from God, so divorce is from the devil. But one is allowed to divorce a wife in case of fornication for the precise reason that one never originally wished to have a wife who has not preserved conjugal fidelity to her husband.10
- CATENA. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- LETTERS 140.10. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CONCERNING THE EPISTLE OF ST. JAMES. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 57). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON THE GOSPELS 2.23. Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 59). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- THE TRAINING OF NUNS 29 (19). Bray, G. (Ed.). (2000). James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude (p. 59). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW 14.16. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 127). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TO HIS WIFE 2.8. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 128). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (pp. 128–129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- ADULTEROUS MARRIAGES 2.9.8. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- TRACTATE ON JOHN 9.2.2. Oden, T. C., & Hall, C. A. (Eds.). (1998). Mark (Revised) (p. 129). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.