daily biblical sermons


Divorce from a valid marriage and civil remarriage during the lifetime of your original spouse is adultery
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 10th Week of the Year, June 12, 2020
1 Kings 19:9a, 11, 16, Psalm 26, Matthew 5:27-32


Biblical quotation are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted

 

 

 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31).

 

 

Jesus is teaching us today that if you divorce your wife and marry someone else, you commit adultery, because marriage is indissoluble, as Jesus said on another occasion, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one’? So they are no longer two but one. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19:4-6).

 

 

You may separate from your wife for a good reason, but if you do, you must remain single, for you are still married to her, as St. Paul says, “The wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband)” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). If the two separate, they must each remain single, for they are still married to each other and cannot validly contract a second marriage. But if they do attempt a second marriage, it is an adulterous union, not a true marriage, and they are living in the objective sin of adultery.

 

 

People living in grave sin or in a constant state of objective mortal sin, such as people who are divorced from a valid marriage and civilly remarried during the lifetime of their original spouse may not receive the Eucharist as long as they continue to live in an active sexual relationship with one another. The reason they may not receive the Eucharist is because they are living in grave sin and would be unworthy of receiving it, for they would profane the body and blood of Christ, as St. Paul says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).

 

 

St. Matthew’s version of this teaching of Jesus gives an exception in which one can validly divorce his wife and marry another, for Jesus says, “But I say to you that every one who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity [porneias], makes her an adulteress” (Matthew 5:32). The word used here for unchastity (porneia) comes as a surprise, for we would expect Jesus to say adultery (moicheia) if he meant to say that if the wife has sexual relations with another man other than her husband, he may validly divorce her and marry another, for since the wife is a married woman, she commits adultery if she has sexual relations with another man.

 

 

Why, then, did Jesus avoid using the proper word for adultery? The Catholic Church has always answered this question by saying that Jesus is not giving an exception here which would enable you to divorce your wife for adultery and then marry another, but rather he is saying that if you are involved in an invalid sexual union with a woman, a sexual union which never was a true marriage, such as a sexual union between a brother and sister, and you decide to divorce her, after you went through a marriage ceremony with her, you may do so, and in fact you should do so because you are living in an unchaste sinful union, which Jesus calls porneia.

 

 

This is the only exception in the constant teaching of the Catholic Church where you can divorce your “wife” and marry another (the Pauline privilege of 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 is a separate case), for you were never validly married to her in the first place, even if you went through a marriage ceremony, because you cannot validly marry someone who is your brother or your sister. And so if you find another woman not related to you who is free to marry, you should divorce the woman you are living in a sexual union with without being validly married to her, and then you may validly marry another woman, and this will be considered your first marriage.

 

 

This is how the Catholic Church as always interpreted Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:32. The Jews also regarded sexual unions between near of kin as invalid and sinful, for Leviticus says, “None of you shall approach any one near of kin to him to uncover his nakedness. I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:6). Leviticus also says, “You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or born abroad” (Leviticus 18:9). Leviticus also condemns sexual unions between other types of near of kin relationships.

 

 

The problem arises when the Catholic Church allows some divorced and civilly remarried Catholics to regularly receive the Eucharist if they have been accompanied in a discernment process and decide that in their difficult life situation they may validly divorce and remarry and that this is not a sin for them. The problem is that this contradicts both Scripture and Tradition, for this has never been allowed in the Tradition of the Catholic Church, and it is a denial of Jesus’ teaching that divorce from a valid marriage and remarriage within the lifetime of your original valid spouse is the grave sin of adultery.

 

 

This also violates St. Paul’s teaching that those that receive the Eucharist unworthily are profaning the body and blood of Christ, for someone living in a constant state of objective mortal sin in an active sexual relationship with a person who is not their valid wife or husband is unworthy to receive the body and blood of Christ; and if he does, he will be profaning it, for “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27).

 

 

Since April 8, 2016 with the publication of Amoris Laetitia the Catholic Church now allows divorced and civilly remarried Catholics in some cases to receive the Eucharist. This permission is a rupture from the Tradition of the Church, which has always maintained that this is impossible, and rightly so, because that’s what the Scriptures tell us, namely that divorce from a valid marriage and remarriage within the lifetime of your original spouse is the grave sin of adultery, which will then make you unworthy to receive the body and blood of the Lord, for if you were to do so, you would profane it.

 

 

In effect, what this permission of April 8, 2016 is saying is that in some cases people may have sexual relationships outside of a valid marriage without committing any objective sin. But this is clearly false teaching and a violation of both Scripture and Tradition. This is the crisis of the Catholic Church today, namely that it is now denying the age-old Catholic teaching that sexual relations can only be had within a valid marriage and that all other sexual relations outside of a valid marriage are gravely sinful. The Church today denies this by saying that in some cases sexual relations outside of a valid marriage are acceptable and not sinful. This is clearly an error that needs to be corrected.

 

 

This is extremely serious and has caused a major crisis of the Magisterium of the Church, for it is attempting to do what it has no power to do. The Magisterium cannot authentically and validly contradict the Tradition of the Catholic Church, and it cannot validly and authentically contradict the moral teaching of the New Testament, both of which this teaching does. Until this is corrected, we can only say that such Church teaching is not authentic Magisterium, even if the Church claims that it is authentic Magisterium, as it has in this case. It is still not authentic Magisterium for the simple reason that such teaching does not possess the qualities of authentic Magisterium, namely that it never contradict Scripture or Tradition, both of which this novel teaching does.

 

 

So this is the crisis of the Catholic Church today, a crisis of the Magisterium, which is not functioning properly, for it is teaching doctrinal and moral errors and falsely calling them “authentic Magisterium,” which, of course, it is not. Many faithful Catholic theologians have pointed this out over the past four years, but the official Church remains silent, and this silence and failure to correct this erroneous teaching is causing this crisis of the Magisterium.

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