For Better or Worse

By Elesha Coffman, assistant editor of CHRISTIAN HISTORY

In an attempt to modernize itself, the Church of England this week released new guidelines on remarriage. If the guidelines are approved by the church synod next year, divorcees will be able to get married in the Anglican church if there are no outstanding commitments from a previous marriage and if the new relationship did not cause the divorce. "I don't think we're selling out to the age," said Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt, who leads the group that drew up the new guidelines. "It's a matter of seeking to find a proper way of holding our beliefs in this age."

While the bishops' report, "Marriage in Church after Divorce," contradicts centuries of practice, the Anglican church's struggle with divorce is nothing new. After all, King Henry VIII's divorce is what led to the church's establishment, though an organized church in England had existed at least since 314. And while Henry's story is certainly familiar, it's also quite complicated (as all European church/state matters tend to be).

Shortly after his accession to the throne in 1509, the popular and personable Henry married Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. Because Catherine was his older brother's widow, Henry had to get papal dispensation for the marriage, but he felt the extra effort was worthwhile because he got to keep her considerable dowry, and the new marriage maintained the alliance of England and Spain against France. However, Henry always wondered if the marriage was really lawful in God's eyes.

Henry first threatened to divorce Catherine after Ferdinand betrayed him and made peace with France. Henry's chancellor, Thomas Wolsey, patched up the quarrel, but ...

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