So Nothing Worse Happens

Epiphany 6 Friday

Matthew 5:31-32

“It also has been said: Anyone who divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce. But I tell you: Anyone who divorces his wife–except for adultery–makes her commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

Regarding the question as to how marriage and divorce should be treated today, I have said that this matter should be left to the jurists and the secular government, because marriage is a completely worldly, external matter, like wife, child, house and farm, and other matters that pertain to the political government that is subject to reason, Genesis 1. Therefore, we should leave it at whatever the authorities and wise people decide and ordain according to what is right and reasonable. For Christ, too, does not establish or ordain anything here as a jurist or ruler over external matters. He only instructs consciences as a preacher so that people would use the law concerning divorce properly, that is, not for knavery and wantonness against God’s commandment…In Deuteronomy 24:1, it says: “If someone has taken a wife for marriage and she finds no favor in his eyes because of some displeasure, let him give her a certificate of divorce and release her in this way.” But the catch is that the same man cannot take her back if he would have her back later on, Deuteronomy 24:4…The Jews asked Christ in Matthew 19:7-8, why Moses permitted such divorcing. Christ answers them: “He permitted it because of your hardheadedness. That Moses permitted divorce does not mean that divorce is the right thing to do; rather, because you are such evil and cloddish people, it is better to permit this than to let you do something worse, causing misery and murder, or to let you live in constant, perpetual hatred, discord, and enmity with one another.” Accordingly, it would be good advice–for the sake of some strange, obstinate, stubborn people who cannot tolerate anything and who are not cut out for marriage–that the political authorities should let them get a divorce. For because of the wickedness of the people, one cannot govern in any other way. One must often attenuate the law’s demands, even if it is not done well, just so nothing worse happens. It is decided, then, that those who want to be Christians should not get divorced, but that each should keep his spouse, endure and bear good things and bad things, even when things are strange, odd, and infirm. Or, if they separate, they should remain without marriage…But if you ask: “Is there no reason why husband and wife may divorce?” Answer: Christ, here and in Matthew 19:9, establishes only this
one reason, adultery. He draws this from the law of Moses which punishes adultery by death, Leviticus 20:10. Now, since death alone severs the bonds of marriage, Romans 7:2-3, an adulterer is already divorced, not by men, but by God himself…We neither command nor object to such divorce but command the political authorities to act; we are satisfied with what secular law ordains here. But those who want to be Christians are advised that it would be better if both parties would be admonished and encouraged to remain together and the innocent party would be reconciled to the guilty party (if the latter is willing to humble himself and to do better) and would forgive out of Christian love…Besides adultery, there is another reason for divorce: When one spouse deserts the other, e.g., when one spouse runs off out of pure malice…But where these two reasons are not, other shortcomings and failings should not get in the way or divorce a marriage, as, e.g., anger issues or other misfortune. But if they separate, says St. Paul, both parties should remain unmarried, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11.

St. Louis ed., 7:449-455

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