The Heresy of Divorce for Remarriage

Jesus especially had in mind the conferral of the baptismal priesthood when he removed Moses’ Deuteronomic concession of divorce. 

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Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful have received the sacramental character that consecrates them for Christian religious worship. The baptismal seal enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of holy lives and practical charity. (CCC 1273) [emphasis added]

At the request of Pope Francis, the head of the Dicastery for Laity, Family, and Life announced that he was working on a document for the divorced who are living in attempted new marriages. On April 22, Cardinal Farrell promised the text would be for those “having a failed marriage behind them, and living in new unions.”

A marriage “behind them”? No matter how pastoral one intends to be, Our Lord’s doctrine of indissolubility should be a barrier to the very phrase, since Jesus is clear that no spouse of a valid marriage can be left behind [them] for a new one. Clarity and witness to our Lord is needed.

On a road paved with good intentions, some progressives suggest that maybe most marriages are invalid because modern couples lacked authentic faith at the time of their vows or never intended permanence. Herein, a clear response to the progressive claim is demanded lest we admit a general apostasy amongst the faithful. 

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First, no one’s faith is perfect, and the vows are dependent on capacity, intent, and truthfulness. Secondly, OK, if they never intended permanence, have them publicly confess that they were scoundrels and liars and never meant to keep their word (something expected even at a level of natural justice). Since the lying during the vows was done publicly, let the repentance be public and bring an end to the abuse. Publish the admission of lying.

But before jumping to the conclusion of lying, instead have the “liar” explain why he bothered trying to keep the marriage together if he never intended permanence in the first place or if he claims he didn’t understand it. In those with capacity (demonstrable by the ability to hold down a job), rather than a liar, you will find only human weakness, suffering, and sin which needs healing; but you’ll rarely find ignorance over the meaning of the vows they made and wanted to keep. Otherwise, courts of law would be meaningless at every level, too.

Simply put, most marriages are in fact valid and should be assumed to be so. To propose otherwise would be to claim implicitly that you believe we are in a time of great apostasy and massive abuse of the sacraments: many entering the Holy of Holies (cf. Hebrews 10:20) in a great abomination of desolation (cf. Matthew 24:15).

If most people are so degraded and lie while swearing oaths before God, we should consider if we are in a time of great apostasy and lawlessness. Apostasy does not happen overnight. It is a slow-cooked and gradual process by which our gradual accommodation to evils (all with the best of intentions and often times cowardice) blinds us to the fact that we’ve eventually allowed the overthrow of Jesus’ very doctrines.

Once we find ourselves directly contradicting Christ, and the sophistries show themselves to be without merit, then the word “apostasy” must be discussed in the midst of such a great “falling away” (cf. Matthew 24:10). Maybe formerly Christian cultures are now thoroughly corrupted and we have not come to terms with an apostasy in which so many baptized Christians ignore the New Covenant laws of fidelity and justice.

Today, we judge the Prophet Ezra (chapters 9-10) an extremist for making Jews leave their invalid marriages. He clearly failed to accommodate the way the world thinks. Perhaps his writings should be banned from Facebook and the legacy media? However, Ezra made possible the Second Temple Judaism into which the Messiah was born and which gave context for recapitulation in Christ. Ezra’s reform saved Judaism for the Messiah. 

Maybe he had a point about leaving invalid marriages if you want to be around the Temple and partake in its sacraments? Is there some other example in Scripture about how to solve invalid marriages—and in accord with the given Covenant—than Ezra’s solution and Jesus’ doctrine of the New Covenant? Committing apostasy for the sake of “mercy” does not resonate like a sound discernment any more than gaining the world and losing one’s soul.

After the confusion of Amoris Laetitiawhich had four devout and learned Cardinals request clarifications in the forms of dubia—it was hoped that the following brief exegesis of Scripture in the Tradition could assist everyone in avoiding further confusions. Since those dubia were never answered, what are we to expect of Cardinal Farrell’s coming text? How do we avoid further confusion? In summary, today’s renewal could benefit from this reminder: Jesus especially had in mind the conferral of the baptismal priesthood (per the above CCC 1273 quote) when he removed Moses’ Deuteronomic concession of divorce. 

The Old Testament laity of Moses’ time could not enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle, so divorce did not matter as much back then for them. It matters now because those who are baptized into Christ can enter the Holy of Holies through Jesus’ Body and Blood in Holy Communion (cf. Hebrews 10:19-22; Revelation 21:14,22; Matthew 18:18). Baptism confers a share in Christ’s priesthood, so the People of God can no longer divorce and remarry as they did in the Old Covenant.

Jesus told His future disciples—those who would receive the new priesthood of Sonship by baptism—“unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20; cf. Revelation 20:6). This righteousness to exceed the scribes and Pharisees is not from man’s power but from faith in Christ which the Spirit accomplishes in all who believe in Jesus. Invitation to this righteousness and participation in the kingdom was followed by Jesus’ teaching against divorce. 

To abide in Jesus and be refreshed through Communion with Him (in His Kingdom), the priesthood of the baptized in Christ would have to abide in Christ’s love and faithfulness (cf. Ephesians 5:28-32). This meant no divorce. It meant committing to loving others even when others cease to love you: “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?…You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:44-48). 

“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity [porneias] makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32). The term porneias is simply a reference to illegal marriages that were never valid.1 It has nothing to do with the sad and sorrowful situation of a spouse cheating on the other after a valid marriage has occurred. As seen in Luke 16:18, the point is clear: there is no longer divorce and remarriage for the baptismal priesthood. 

Separation was permitted for those validly married, but not remarriage—because unlike the Levitical priests and Old Testament laity, Jesus’ disciples were about to start participating in the actual Holy of Holies, in Holy Communion. This is the context for the new priesthood, new laws for the new priesthood (cf. Hebrews 7:12), and teachings against divorce and remarriage for those who wish to participate in Jesus’ Body and Blood. Separation was permitted for those validly married, but not remarriage—because unlike the Levitical priests and Old Testament laity, Jesus’ disciples were about to start participating in the actual Holy of Holies, in Holy Communion. Tweet This

Soon after reaffirming the Sermon on the Mount’s teaching against divorce in Matthew 19, Jesus overthrew the moneychangers’ tables (Matthew 21) in view of implementing His Body and Blood at the Last Supper.2 Jesus was foreshadowing His replacement of the Levitical priesthood and temple with His glorified Body, Holy Communion, and the baptismal priesthood. There were unique laws concerning marriage as regards Levitical priests, and divorce was forbidden them also (cf. Leviticus 21:13-15; Malachi 2:14-16). God did not say, “I hate divorce” (Malachi 2:16) in the last prophet of the Old Testament listing just to be ignored. How much more so would divorce and remarriage be forbidden the new priesthood of the baptized who can now enter the Holy of Holies in the Temple of Jesus’ risen Body and Blood (cf. Hebrews 10:19-20; Revelation 20:6, 21:22). 

Jesus wants mercy, and discernment is necessary—but never at the cost of apostasy and direct contradiction of the Lord, who forbade divorce except for invalid marriages which are a form of fornication [porneias]. Invalidity is the exception and not the rule. Jesus shed His blood to cleanse the new Temple and the royal priesthood of the baptized which He founded. Jesus’ teachings on marriage are intrinsic for the permission of that priesthood to be allowed into the center of the New Jerusalem in Holy Communion (cf. Revelation 21:22, 21:14). 

Jesus can demand no divorce and remarriage of the new priesthood which His covenant established. He has mandated love in the likeness of God because the Holy Spirit has been poured into our hearts. Jesus promised a Cross, not an easy path to glory. Without faith, the cross will destroy us. With living faith, the cross will save us and our marriages.

No one can change the Messiah’s laws of love because God is love (cf. 1 John 4:16); and no one can enter God without living in that likeness of love: loving others before they love us and when they don’t love us. To pretend or do otherwise is to deny the sanctuary which Jesus has become: “profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 11:27). The great apostasy of the Old Testament occurred when the Levitical priesthood betrayed Jesus, the True Temple. Is the great apostasy of the New Testament when the ministerial priesthood and the baptismal priesthood conspire to violate the Holy of Holies?

[Photo Credit: Catholic News Agency]


  • Matthew A. Tsakanikas

    Dr. Matthew A. Tsakanikas is a professor at Christendom College. His publications can be found in: Communio: International Catholic Review, Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, Catholic World Report, and his Substack,

  1. See the study by Paul Mankowski, “The Dominical Teaching on Divorce and Remarriage: The Biblical Data,” in Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, ed. Robert Dodaro (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2014), pp. 36-63, at 62.
  2. cf. Rabbi Jacob Neusner in Thomas Lane, “The Jewish Temple is Transfigured in Christ and the TempleLiturgies are Transfigured in the Sacraments,” in Antiphon: A Journal for Liturgical Renewal, Volume 19, Number 1, 2015, pp. 14-28 at 21 [Project Muse].

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