Guest / Limited Access /

In the early church, many voices addressed the subjects of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, but their message, on the whole, was quite unified. Christian marriage, they said, is an indissoluble bond. Divorce, with the implicit right of remarriage, was not an option for Christian couples (though Origen admits some toleration existed), but permanent separation was. Remarriage after separation was considered punishable adultery or bigamy—sometimes more so for women than men. Even remarriage after the death of one's spouse was viewed by the church fathers and councils with suspicion, as "disguised adultery," in the words of Athenagoras.

In the case of religiously "mixed" marriages, church councils sometimes took a more lenient view, invoking the so-called Pauline privilege of permissible separation (1 Cor. 7) as legitimate grounds for allowing a convert to divorce a pagan spouse and then marry a Christian.

Marriage as a sacrament

Augustine was the first theologian to call Christian marriage a sacrament, or means of grace. He based his argument in part on the use of the Latin word sacramentum for the Greek word mysterion in Ephesians 5. He opposed those who wanted to allow marriage of the innocent party in cases of adultery and made the indissolubility of Christian marriage, even after adultery, the standard of the Western church.

The Eastern churches, under the influence of imperial legislation, were more lenient. They generally permitted divorce and remarriage for adultery and other serious offenses. For a while during the early Middle Ages, a few church councils in the West began allowing remarriage after adultery or lengthy separations.

Augustine's position, however, eventually carried the day in the West, and a medieval ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueNew & Noteworthy Books
Subscriber Access Only
New & Noteworthy Books
Compiled by Matt Reynolds
RecommendedOur Priorities Are Off When Family Is More Important Than Church
Our Priorities Are Off When Family Is More Important Than Church
Jesus' focus was on the family of God, not the biological family.
TrendingWhy Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
Why Most Pastors Aren’t Answering Your Phone Calls
It's one the great mysteries of ministry. Why do pastors have such a bad reputation for answering or returning phone calls? Here are 9 reasons.
Editor's PickHow Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison
How Churches Change the Equation for Life After Prison
One of the hardest days of incarceration may be the day it ends. The church can be there to make a difference.
Christianity Today
Divorce and Remarriage from Augustine to Zwingli
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

August 2000

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.