Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Marriage Matters

<p align=left><B><I>First Ecumenical Council - Nicea, Asia Minor, 325 A.D.<br> Formulated the First Part of the Creed. Defining the divinity of the Son of God.

I'm not sure if you are following this topic - recent discussions on the recent rediscovery of a decision by the Council of Nicea to permit "second marriages" and allow those in them full participation in the sacramental life of the Church.  Some commentators, among them Sandro Magister, have been saying that this reveals that the ancient Church forgave and normalised second marriages for those who were separated or divorced.  As you expect with the Synod on Marriage and Family coming in October, some will seek to use this to push for a change in the Church's teaching on divorce, remarriage and the Eucharist.

However, things are not as they seem.  Given that the Church has not permitted second marriages for people with living spouses without an annulment, it would seem strange that if one of the most important Councils in the history of the Church permitted them why that decision was not implemented.  Well the answer to that is simple: the Council was not referring to the divorced or separated, but the widowed.  The rigorists corrected by the Council were those who believed that only one marriage was permitted for Christians and if widowed they were not permitted to marry again.  The Council of Nicea's decision on "second marriages" was to permit the widowed to remarry with the full blessing of the Church.  The only ones excluded from this was widowed priests who, not permitted the "use" of marriage since ordination (i.e. they were not permitted to have sex even though still married to their wives), were not permitted to remarry should their wives die. 

For more information on this see Ed Peter's blog.  Prof. John Lamot also offers a clarification.  This should serve as a warning to us in these days of debate and dialogue: be careful when it comes to citing Church history, ancient customs and Councils - they tend to be more orthodox and Catholic (and stricter!) that we moderns think.  I remember having a discussion with a young lady on the issue of the ordination of women. She had done a course on Church history, taught by a husband and wife team.  She learned from them that the ancient Church Catholic had ordained women as priests and they had had an active ministry in the Church for some time before being repressed.  I explained that some heretical groups may have had women in a ministerial role, but not the Catholic Church.  No, no, she insisted, it was the Catholic Church.  When I asked her to cite references she had none - but the husband and wife team were competent scholars.  When I asked her to tell me who they were she refused to do so.  

Moral of the story: do not take what dissidents say for granted - look for references, evidence, not in popular works, or the opinions of certain scholars with a particular ideology - evidence in standard historical works, and insist on original sources in their original context.  So many have been led astray by people with a notion relying on scholars with unsubstantiated opinions.

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