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Marriage and Roman Catholicism

February 2006 | by Richard Bennett

The Bible teaches that marriage is a creation ordinance, belonging to all mankind. As sovereign Lord over his creation, God ordained that male and female should, at an appropriate time, leave mother and father and be married: ‘therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and they shall be one flesh’ (Genesis 2:24).

Mankind cannot put an end to this creation command. God has used families, clans, tribes and governments as instruments to facilitate and watch over the institution of marriage. But because of man’s fallen nature, human societies have never fully followed the divine law of marriage – permanent monogamy. When governments allow marriage to fall into disrepute, they incur God’s judgement.

The Lord Jesus Christ explained how the creation command remains God’s will for his people: ‘what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6). Those who are in Christ Jesus should, as light to a fallen world, reflect their union with their Lord in their marriages.

The true people of God should be the pre-eminent instrument that God uses to uphold marriage because they have the revelation of Scripture and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Ceremonies

The Bible does not prescribe the mode of performing marriage. Ceremonies differ from nation to nation but should never be regarded as anything more than a public recognition of a relationship entered into by a man and a woman before God.

Yet because marriage is important and involves public as well as private obligations, it is appropriate that some ceremony should be performed and that it should be public – so as to leave no doubt as to its reality.

But does this fact give any church legislative power over marriage? Of course not. Yet this is what the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) claims for itself. Let me justify this statement.

Absolute authority?

While the RCC pays lip service to marriage as fashioned by God in its basic meaning and structure, its law and practice tell a different story. The RCC claims to have absolute authority and legislative power over marriage, even with respect to its validity and annulment.

For example, Pope Leo XIII declared, ‘When Christ, therefore, renewed matrimony and raised it to such a great [i.e. sacramental] excellence, he gave and confided to the Church, the entire legislation in the matter’ (The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, Para. 1821).

Rome’s Code of Canon Law # 1671 states, ‘Marriage cases of the baptised belong to the ecclesiastical judge by the proper right’. She is quite definite in claiming that marriage belongs to her.

Secular features

Scripture declares marriage respectable in all its aspects: ‘Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled’ (Hebrews 13:4). This is God’s ordinance, not that of any church. It ought to be so esteemed by all and not denied to any. It is honourable because God instituted it for man from the beginning and blessed the first couple, the first parents of mankind.

This is so abundantly clear that one would expect everyone to agree. But the Church of Rome does not agree. The ‘secular’ or universal nature of marriage implied by Scripture is strongly opposed by the RCC, as we shall see.

This first happened in the twelfth century, when papal Rome gained control over marriage and began legislating on the validity or invalidity of all marriages, whether of kings or peasants.

In its 1983 Code of Canon Law, the Vatican moved to consolidate its power over marriage. We will look at a few of over 110 marriage laws that bind Catholics. Rome’s ‘takeover’ of marriage is one of her most effective tools in controlling Catholics worldwide.

Mixed marriages

The Vatican’s control over marriage is evident firstly in what they call ‘mixed marriages’ – defined by Rome as marriages ‘between a Catholic and a baptised or doubtfully baptised non-Catholic’.The laws controlling such marriages are one of the more successful ways of increasing the numbers of those who submit to Catholicism.

No marriage between a non-Catholic Christian and a Catholic is permitted without a written undertaking that all children born of the union will be brought up in the Catholic Church. This is the Catholic law.

Canon 1124 states, ‘Without express permission of the competent authority, a marriage is prohibited between two baptised persons of whom [only] one is baptised in the Catholic Church or received into it after baptism …’

The clinching law is Canon 1125: ‘The local … bishop, can grant permission of this kind if there is a just and reasonable cause. He is not to grant it unless the following conditions have been fulfilled.

‘1. The Catholic party is to declare that he or she is prepared to remove dangers of defecting from the faith and to make a sincere promise to do all in his or her power so that all offspring are baptised and brought up in the Catholic Church.

‘2. The other party is to be informed at an appropriate time about the promises which the Catholic party is to make in such a way that it is certain that he or she is truly aware of the promise and obligation of the Catholic party’.

Thus the impediment imposed by Canon 1124 can be removed by a formal action of a RC bishop – but only according to the stipulations of Canon 1125. By making laws and then suspending them by her decrees of ‘permission with conditions’, Rome gains control over lives and families.

Divorce

Biblically, when it comes to divorce, there are four main statements by the Lord Jesus Christ. Two of these reflect fundamental opposition to divorce whereas two others indicate acceptance of divorce on certain grounds – and the right of remarriage for the innocent party.

The fundamental divine law is that a man shall leave father and mother and cleave to his wife. The marriage contract means that two persons joined in such a union become one flesh: ‘therefore they are no more twain but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’ (Matthew 19:6).

Husband and wife, being joined together by the ordinance of God, are not to be put asunder by any decree of man. God says that he hates divorce. He safeguards societal order by preserving marriages.

There are only two grounds for divorce and remarriage. When either sexual infidelity or desertion of a believer by an unbelieving spouse has taken place, a divorce can be obtained (Matthew 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:12-15).In such cases, the marriage relationship has already been severed and divorce is a formal acknowledgment of what has already taken place.

What is a valid marriage?

The Catholic Church declares that marriage between baptised people is a sacrament. This is conditioned into the minds of Catholics from childhood and reiterated in canon law: ‘a valid matrimonial contract cannot exist between the baptised without it being by that fact a Sacrament’ (Canon 1055 para. 2).

The Catholic Church teaches that sacraments are means of grace over which she has control. In declaring marriage to be a sacrament, therefore, the Catholic Church means that God gives her control over the institution of marriage.

On this basis Rome sets up a hierarchy of marriages whereby the Catholic marriage as a sacrament takes precedence over other marriages. Thus valid civil marriages can be considered null and void from the point of view of Catholic law.

Thus a marriage of a Catholic to a non-Catholic that did not take place before a Catholic priest is considered null and void – and it is only a matter of time before the parties can be released from their marriage vows.

Annulments

The Catholic Church claims that there can be no divorce for a lawful marriage between consenting baptised parties. However, a closer examination of RCC laws shows that great technical skill and ingenuity is used in ending marriages by dispensing papal ‘annulments’.

The statistics are interesting. In 1968 there were a total of 338 annulments in the USA. In 1992 there were no less than 59,030!

Although, in practice, annulment amounts to exactly the same thing as divorce, it goes beyond the concept of a divorce. In granting an annulment the RCC declares that a marriage never was.

This means that one can end up in the absurd situation of having been legitimately married and having had children – a tangible fact of the marriage – and yet the marriage is declared to never have been!

Further, without an annulment, civil divorce is not recognised as valid by the RCC. This bars Catholics who have divorced without an annulment from the Eucharist (which purportedly imparts ongoing grace) and from sacramental grace when they are dying. Although neither of these concepts is biblical, the fear of foregoing them casts a shadow over anyone concerned.

I will develop this subject of annulments next month.