The marital covenant and mercy

It is true that the issue of “remarried divorcees” is mainly a Western concern.

It is also true that it has drawn a great deal of media attention.

On the one hand, Instrumentum laboris, the summary of topics for discussion at the Synod, presented a highly superficial view.

On the other hand, the issue is revealing.

It is one of the most controversial points dividing Church (or Gospel) teaching from contemporary culture.

Is it permissible to enter into a marital bond more than once?

How are we to behave towards those who have contracted a new bond after divorce?

It is unfortunate that, in general,

  • those who argue in favor of the indissolubility of the marriage bond also argue against any attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation towards those who have transgressed the rule, whereas
  • those who argue in favor of an attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation often argue against the rule of indissolubility.

Yet these two notions are not on the same plane.

It is possible to assert both, which is the purpose of this opinion piece.

The Church has reasons for affirming the indissolubility of the marital bond – first of all, ethical reasons, i.e. human, philosophical reasons. The marital covenant is a bond for life, even under civil law.

Furthermore, as surveys repeatedly confirm, children want their parents to “stay together” and not divorce.

Moreover, Jesus’ teaching is very clear on this: the prohibition against remarriage (after repudiation) is one of the most original points in the word of Jesus.

“The prohibition against divorce may even be the most clearly attested teaching in what we call the ‘halakhah’ (the practical law) of Jesus,” writes John P. Meier, an historian who is currently the acknowledged authority in this field.

In one of the oldest texts in the New Testament, St. Paul writes:

“I give this command (not I, but the Lord)” (1 Corinthians 7:10). Whatever laws the Church may adopt, they obviously cannot be contrary to the word “of the Lord.”

From a sacramental standpoint (assuming that the marriage contract is “valid”), things are even clearer: the marital bond is the locus of God’s presence, the “yes” is pronounced before and with God and the grace received through the sacrament is what I call “binding grace”; the relationship to one’s spouse and the relationship to God are interconnected.

Remarriage and mercy

The situation becomes more complicated if there is a divorce (i.e. a severing of shared life) and remarriage.

In this case – remarriage – there is clearly a transgression of the prohibition St. Paul attributes to the “Lord.”

But does that mean there can be no mercy or forgiveness?

In his apostolic exhortation Familiaris consortio, Pope John Paul II recommended (without further clarification) “the different situations be distinguished.”

He also declared: “Reconciliation in the sacrament of Penance can only be granted to those who [have repented for] having broken the sign of the Covenant.”

My question is simply this: Is sexual abstinence (which I acknowledge can have meaning and be serenely accepted by some) the only way to show that they have repented for having “broken the sign of the Covenant”?

Is this act (or non-act) the sole condition for gaining access to the sacraments? Continue reading (Global Pulse: Subscription may be required.)


  • Xavier Lacroix is a philosopher and theologian who spoke at Mission (Impossible): The Couple Symposium in Bordeaux.
  • Praedicatho
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