I’m sure most of you are well aware that marriage took its first major hit in the Garden. The consequences of the sin of Adam and Eve are very much in how their marriage was now to be conducted and how fallen human nature would affect marriages from then on.
By the time Jesus is preaching on the subject and raising marriage to the status of Sacrament a lot of poisonous water has gone under the bridge. The last Old Testament prophet, St. John the Baptist is martyred for defending the sanctity of marriage. There is definitely a sign of things to come there, as the Bridegroom takes up His mantel.
Jesus was asked about the Rabbi Hillel’s view that a man should be able to divorce his wife for any reason. Essentially they were asking if “no fault” divorce was allowed by God.
The answer was a very clear “No.” Jesus explained that Moses only allowed divorce because the Israelites were so hard-hearted. I have heard more than one Biblical scholar comment that Moses allowed divorce to prevent the even worse sin of wife murder. Israel became so sunk into the blood thirsty and nasty pagan culture that killing your wife to get a better one would have been a genuine problem had it not been for the “get out clause” Moses allowed.
But Jesus raises the bar again for His Church reminding us of this:
Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female? For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one. Therefore, what God has put together, let no man put asunder.
So a man and a woman who are free to marry (I’ll come back to that) go before God and take their vows and so God puts them together and therefore they cannot be separated. That means that even if they divorce they are still married and not free to remarry. In fact Jesus Himself clarifies that point when He said
Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery.
The “get out” clause that has been overused and misinterpreted has been the “except for unchastity” that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 5:32. I’ll come back to that.
As the Church grew it was well understood and written in the Didache c.80 AD that marriage was a Sacrament and that no Christian couple could divorce and remarry or use contraception (St. Paul called it pharmakai) or abortion.
But things are very different now. What went wrong?