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I recently met a man who says I’m a gift from God to him. But his wife divorced him almost 20 years ago and I’ve been told I can’t marry him in the Catholic Church. It’s not fair. Why would the Church be obsessed with what happened 20 years ago?

Actually, the Church concerns itself intimately with things that happened 2000 years ago, so 20 years is just an eyeblink in the context of that tradition.

As for understanding the sin of divorce, you first need to understand the grace of Holy Matrimony. Just as the Old and the New Covenants that God made with humanity were grounded in God’s unending love for us, so Holy Matrimony reflects God’s love through the union of a man and a woman in their task of establishing a family. Since God’s covenant can never be broken, neither can the covenant of Holy Matrimony.

In fact, Christ was quite explicit in his teachings on divorce. Luke 16:18, Matthew 5:31–32 and 19:1–12, Mark 10:1–12 (and even John 4:18) all speak to the fact that Jesus condemned divorce and remarriage as adultery.

So why do we live in a world 2000 years later filled with “Christians” who think of divorce as about as meaningful as an automobile oil change?

Well, one passage of Matthew (5:32) speaks about an “unlawful marriage” as grounds for divorce. At least, this is what a faithful translation of the Greek says. A scholarly understanding of this text reveals that Matthew was writing to a Christian community within a pagan Greek setting, and so he likely applied Jesus’ basic teaching about divorce, as found in all the other Gospels, to the Greek Christian community—and if you know anything about Greek paganism you know that it was characterized by all sorts of immorality, including incest. So what was the Christian community to do when someone who was married, say, to his step-mother or sister, wanted to convert? Well, he had to divorce his “wife” because the “marriage,” according to Christian morality, was unlawful in the first place.

But the problem doesn’t end there, because this “exception clause” eventually got blown up all out of proportion to Matthew’s original intent.

In the early 16th century, when Henry VIII, the king of England, wanted to get a divorce because his wife couldn’t bear any children, he appealed to the Pope. The Pope essentially said, “No, it doesn’t matter if you’re a king; this is your cross, so bear it.”

Henry, with a pride bigger than his stomach, essentially replied, “Go to hell; I’ll form my own church in which I have the say-so, and I will declare it legal for me to get divorced.” So he set himself up as head of his own church, and he also set about revising the Bible to purge it of anything—especially anything supportive of Catholic doctrine—inconvenient to his desires.

The result of this revision, called the Authorized version of the Bible, was completed by his heir, King James I. That’s right, the King James Bible. And in it, these words, which conveniently justify Henry, are put in Christ’s mouth: “But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Thus Henry was retroactively justified for divorcing his fornicating wife. At least, he accused his wife of fornication (all the while he himself was fornicating with his mistress, mind you)—and his word as head of his own church was as good as God’s, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?

Anyway, once Henry confused civil law with religious law and inserted his authorized corruption into “his” Bible, it was only a short time—400 years or so—before divorce, for any reason, became a household word. The Catholic Church has been left holding the Bible, so to speak—the intact and unpurged Catholic Bible that preserves the true intent of Christ.

So there you have it. You can “authorize” yourself, if you want, and get “married” outside the Church, but to get this eyeblink of a satisfaction, you will pay the dire price of grave sin. Or you can remain faithful to Christ, however inconvenient it might be to your desires. Maybe God did give you as a gift to each other—but not as you want to think. Maybe God gave you to him so that you could witness the true faith to him and help to lead him to a true understanding of religion and marriage.


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