Pope John Paul – One Cannot Give Into the Divorce Mentality

The Indissolublty of Marriage

Rome, Italy; Pope John Paul II Address to Roman RotaEdited for length – The essential properties of marriage – unity and indissolubility (cf. CIC, can. 1056; CCEO, can. 776 3) – offer an opportunity for a fruitful reflection on marriage. Today, taking up what I treated last year in my discourse on indissolubility (cf. AAS, 92 [2000], pp. 350-355), I want to examine indissolublity as a good for spouses, for children, for the Church and for the whole of humanity.

Pope John Paul II Blessing a Marriage

Pope John Paul II Blessing a Marriage

Marriage is Indissoluble, It is a Blessing Not a Restriction

A positive presentation of the indissoluble union is important, in order to rediscover its goodness and beauty. First of all, one must overcome the view of indissolubility as a restriction of the freedom of the contracting parties, and so as a burden that at times can become unbearable. Indissolubility, in this conception, is seen as a law that is extrinsic to marriage, as an “imposition” of a norm against the “legitimate” expectations of the further fulfilment of the person. Add to this the widespread notion that indissoluble marriage is only for believers, who cannot try to “impose” it on the rest of civil society.

3. To give a valid and complete response to this problem one must begin with the word of God. I am thinking concretely of the passage of the Gospel of Matthew that recounts Jesus’ conversation about divorce with some Pharisees and then with his disciples (cf. Mt 19,3-12). Jesus goes radically beyond the debates of his day concerning the factors that could justify divorce asserting:  “For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19,8).

According to the teaching of Jesus, it is God who has joined man and woman together in the marital bond. Certainly this union takes place with the free consent of both parties, but this human consent  concerns a plan that is divine. In other words, it is the natural dimension of the union and, more concretely, the nature of man created by God himself that provides the indispensable key for interpreting the essential properties of marriage. The further reinforcement that the properties obtain in Christian marriage by virtue of the sacrament (cf. can. 1056) is based on a foundation of natural law that, if removed, would make incomprehensible the very work of salvation and elevation of the conjugal reality that Christ effected once and for all.

4. Countless men and women of all times and places have complied with this divine and natural plan, even before the Saviour’s coming and a great many others have done so after his coming, even without knowing him. Their freedom expands to the gift of God, both at the moment of their marriage and throughout their entire conjugal life. Yet the possibility always exists of rebelling against that loving plan:  then returns the “hardness of heart” that had led Moses to permit divorce but which Christ definitively overcame. To such situations as these, one has to respond with the humble courage of faith, a faith that supports and corroborates reason itself, to enable it to carry on a dialogue with all who are in search of the true good of the human person and of society. To treat indissolubility not as a natural juridical norm but as a mere ideal empties of meaning the unequivocal declaration of Jesus Christ, who absolutely refused divorce because “from the beginning it was not so” (Mt 19,8).

Marriage “is” indissoluble: this property expresses a dimension of its objective being, it is not a mere subjective fact. Consequently, the good of indissolubility is the good of marriage itself; and the lack of understanding of its indissoluble character constitutes the lack of understanding of the essence of marriage. It follows that the “burden” of indissolubility and the limits it entails for human freedom are no other than the reverse side of the coin with regard to the good and the potential inherent in the marital institution as such. In this perspective, it is meaningless to speak of an “imposition” by human law, because human law should reflect and safeguard the natural and divine law, that is always a freeing truth (cf. Jn 8,32).

Pastoral care entails clarity about indissolubility and the support of marital love and communion
5. This truth about the indissolubility of marriage, like the entire Christian message, is addressed to the men and women of every time and place. In order to make that a reality, testimony to that truth must be given by the Church and, in particular, by individual families as “domestic Churches” in which husband and wife recognize that they are bound to each other forever by a bond that demands a love that is ever renewed, generous and ready for sacrifice.

One cannot give in to the divorce mentality: confidence in the natural and supernatural gifts of God to man prevents that. Pastoral activity must support and promote indissolubility. The doctrinal aspects should be transmitted, clarified and defended, but even more important are consistent actions. Whenever a couple is going through difficulties, the sympathy of Pastors, and of the other faithful must be combined with clarity and fortitude in remembering that conjugal love is the way to work out a positive solution to their crisis. Given that God has united them by means of an indissoluble bond, the husband and wife by utilizing all their human resources, together with good will, and by, above all, confiding in the assistance of divine grace, can and should emerge from their moments of crisis renewed and strengthened.

6. When one considers the role of law in marital crises, all too often one thinks almost exclusively of processes that ratify the annulment of marriage or the dissolution of the bond. At times, this mentality extends even to canon law, so that it appears as the avenue for resolving the marital problems of the faithful in a way that does not offend one’s conscience. There is indeed some truth to this, but these eventual solutions must be examined in a way that the indissolubility of the bond, whenever it turns out to be validly contracted, continues to be safeguarded. The attitude of the Church is, in contrast, favourable to convalidating, where possible, marriages that are otherwise null (cf. CIC, can. 1676; CCEO, can. 1362). It is true that the declaration of the nullity of a marriage, based on the truth acquired by means of a legitimate process, restores peace to the conscience, but such a declaration – and the same holds true for the dissolution of a marriage that is ratum non consummatum or a dissolution based upon the privilege of the faith – must be presented and effected in an ecclesial context that is totally favourable to the indissolubility of marriage and to family founded upon it. The spouses themselves must be the first to realize that only in the loyal quest for the truth can they find their true good, without excluding a priori the possible convalidation of a union that, although it is not yet a sacramental marriage, contains elements of good, for themselves and their children, that should be carefully evaluated in conscience before reaching a different decision.

7. The judicial activity of the Church, which is always at the same time genuinely pastoral activity, draws its inspiration from the principle of the indissolubility of marriage and strives to guarantee its effective existence among the People of God. In effect, without the proceedings and sentences of ecclesiastical tribunals, the question of whether or not an indissoluble marriage exists would be relegated solely to the consciences of the faithful, with the evident risk of subjectivism, particularly when the civil society is experiencing a profound crisis concerning the institution of marriage.

Every correct judgement of the validity or nullity of a marriage contributes to the culture of indissolubility, in the Church and in the world. It is a very important and necessary contribution:  indeed, it has an immediate practical application, since it gives certainty not only to the individual persons involved, but also to all marriages and families. Consequently, an unjust declaration of nullity, opposed to the truth of the normative principles or the facts, is particularly serious, since its official link with the Church encourages the spread of attitudes in which indissolubility finds verbal support, but is denied in practice.

At times, in recent years some have opposed the traditional “favor matrimonii” in the name of a “favor libertatis” or “favor personae“. In this dialectic it is obvious that the basic theme is that of indissolubility, but the antithesis is even more radical with regard to the truth about marriage itself, more or less openly relativized. Against the truth of a conjugal bond, it is not right to invoke the freedom of the contracting parties, who, in freely consenting to that bond, were bound to respect the objective demands of the reality of marriage that cannot be altered in the name of human freedom. Judicial activity must therefore be inspired by a “favor indissolubilitatis“; that clearly does not mean prejudice against just declarations of nullity, but an active conviction of the good at stake in the processes, together with the ever renewed optimism that derives from the natural character of marriage and from the support of the Lord for the spouses.

8. The Church and every Christian must be the light of the world: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5,16). Jesus’ words have a special application today to the indissoluble nature of marriage. It could perhaps seem that divorce is so firmly rooted in certain social sectors that it is almost not worth continuing to combat it by spreading a mentality, a social custom and civil legislation in favour of the indissolubility of marriage. Yet it is indeed worth the effort! Actually, this good is at the root of all society, as a necessary condition for the existence of the family. Its absence, therefore, has devastating consequences that spread through the social body like a plague – to use the term of the Second Vatican Council to describe divorce (cf. Gaudium et spes, n. 47) – and that have a negative influence on the new generations who view as tarnished the beauty of true marriage.

Indissolublty is Cornstone of Society

9. The essential witness to the value of indissolubility is given through the married life of the spouses, in their fidelity to the bond, through all the joys and trials of life. However the value of indissolublty cannot be held to be just the object of a private choice: it concerns one of the cornerstones of all society. Therefore, while all the initiatives that Christians, along with other persons of good will, promote for the good of the family (for example, the celebrations of wedding anniversaries) are to be encouraged, one must avoid the risk of permissiveness on fundamental issues concerning the nature of marriage and the family (cf. Letter to Families, n. 17).

10. I entrust to the intercession of Mary, Queen of the Family and Mirror of Justice, the heightening of everyone’s conviction of the good of the indissolubility of marriage. To her I also entrust the zealous work of the Church and of her children, together with that of many other men and women of good will, in this cause that is so crucial for the future of humanity.

With these wishes, as I ask divine assistance on all your activities, Prelate Auditors, Officials and Advocates of the Roman Rota, I warmly impart my Blessing to you.


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7 comments to Pope John Paul – One Cannot Give Into the Divorce Mentality

  • I agree, but my daughter endured such a marriage, a marriage that was unloving with her doing most of the child rearing & other responsibilities in the marriage, she didnt believe in divorce & stuck it out till the end. I truly believe the stress of such a marriage caused her to die at a young age, 55. She was very religious & often told me, if it wsent for her faith she could not have remained loyal to her marriage vows. She had her purgatory her on earth & Im pretty certain she is in heaven with Jesus & is happy & at peace at last. Even though I miss her terribly, she is in a better place

  • annonymous

    No one goes to the altar anticipating failure. Marriage is an institution and a sacrament, true, but those are words that in themselves do nothing to address the painful issues faced by some. Marriage entails a “relationship” between two people, this cannot be whitewashed. If two people do not attain that emotional and spiritual bonding (become ONE), the boat will take on water. Doing acts of obedience are not what I refer to as love – this is DUTY. Duty is the thread that weaves a Christian life and it is quite often performed without feelings of love.

    However, without feelings a marriage becomes just duty, and over time the spirit dies and withers, the heart aches, and loneliness becomes a quiet scourging. If one lives to a ripe age, the duration of suffering becomes an unending purgatory. The Church does not seem interested in the cement that holds a marriage together – the relationship. Without a deep relationship the bond becomes a mere contract. These souls that are hurting yearn for what some of you have. I know I do. I want the kind of marriage I’d walk through fire to keep. If any of you have that, you are very fortunate, maybe it was luck that you found the right person for you. So many of us did not ask God who is the right person?

    We should all walk in each other’s shoes for a time, then we might see with new clarity how best to offer healing.



  • We pray for all married couples by calling upon the powerful intercession of Saint Joseph for Divine Protection and Guidance for them.

    As Saint Faustina suggested we pray in Honor of St. Joseph while seeking his help:

    One Our Father
    One Hail Marry
    One Glory Be

    R. Spellman
    Fatima Prayers Ministry

  • this is what we the Catholics in the pews need to hear from the pulpit. most priests wont say it. they are afraid to “offend”. many spouses unfortunately after years of marriage get dissolussioned and then think they can be a “good” Catholic despite abandoning their vows/deciding to seek out a “new” spouse. Married couples need support from our church to hang in there., work THROUGH the rough times, persevere.
    Marriage is forever. Our goal in marriage is to get our spouse to heaven , and to glorify God through loving them even when we dont “feel” like doing it. but we do it because we promised we would . to them and to our Lord himself on our wedding day.

  • anonymous

    Precious Words to live by.
    I always knew marriage was forever, Though my dad thought nothing of it.
    When faced with satan’s attack i stuck-it-out.
    Now i believe i will wear a special crown in heaven if i remain true, and the benefits here on earth are fantastic to say the very least. True LOVE is so so so incredible. When you battle the devil for the love of GOD. He will reward his servant!

  • I pray for all married couples because there are so many attacks against the family today. Holy families produce holy vocations and the Church is in dire need of good holy Priests.

    God bless

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