Ratzinger On the Indissolubility of Marriage and Pastoral Practice

Not much notice has been taken of Ratzinger's article on the dogmatic-historical aspects of the indissolubility of marriage and their relevance to present teaching and pastoral practice: "Zur Frage nach der Unauflöslichkeit der Ehe: Bemerkungen zum dogmengeschichtlichen Befund und zu seiner gegenwärtigen Bedeutung" in Ehe und Ehescheidung: Diskussion unter Christen, Kösel-Verlag, München, 1972. Perhaps that is to some degree because many communities and pastors "solve" the problematic simply by ignoring the Church's teaching and directives.

Unlike the 1970 letter on celibacy, of which Ratzinger was a co-signer, which simply called for a re-consideration of the discipline of celibacy, not for a change in it, as has often been claimed, this article actually seems to suggest that a change in discipline (not doctrine) is appropriate, inasmuch as the Church should allow for some flexibility in certain cases in dealing with persons living in a second marriage.

Ratzinger traces two lines in the Church's doctrine and practice: on the one hand, the consistent conviction that a sacramental marriage cannot cease except by the death of one or both of the spouses, thus excluding the possibility of a second marriage; on the other hand, a recurring toleration of illicit (and invalid/non-sacramental/non-Christian) marriages in order to avoid still worse evils.

He sees the Orthodox way, in which these tolerated exceptions become the norm, as mistaken, yet nonetheless proposes that some room for such pastoral toleration of second marriages should be given. Concretely, he proposes that when the marital life of the first marriage cannot be restored, a second "marriage" has existed for a long time, with children and the resulting obligations to them, and in which the life of faith is manifest, it should be possible for a pastor and a Church community to permit this couple to receive Holy Communion.

Read the entire article: On the Question of the Indissolubility of Marriage

3 thoughts on “Ratzinger On the Indissolubility of Marriage and Pastoral Practice”

  1. As far as anyone can tell, however, Ratzinger no longer believes that this is a good idea.

    A concrete supporting argument for this, i.e. that in fact it is not a good idea, is that even if in the end it is true that the remarried couple are doing as well as they can, i.e. separation would be wrong and abstinence is a practical impossibility, it does not follow that they should be admitted to communion, because this would be a cause of scandal. It would cause scandal precisely because it would lead others to suppose that if they divorce and remarry, in the end the Church will accept it, and therefore such acceptance will lead others to fall into this sin. For the sake of the common good of the Church, therefore, it is better not to admit them to communion, even in fact the situation cannot be improved.

    1. There is in fact evidence that he no longer believes it to be possible for the Church to take a position such as he proposed, as you can from the two more recent posts. It is difficult to say for sure, however, since even in that article he says that the Church "can, of itself, only live and teach 'according to the teaching of the Gospel and the Apostle' ".

      The argument you make seems certainly true. However, it does not seem specific to marriage, but to be equally an argument against many kinds of reconciliation, yet not a decisive argument. E.g., it seems an equally valid argument against allowing reconciliation through penance for particularly serious crimes of a kind that tend to be performed deliberately, rather than out of passion, or against allowing reconciliation multiple times through penance for serious crimes, as, indeed, St. Augustine explains the justification of the early Church's single allowed public penance: "for reasons of prudence and for the sake of the salvation of souls the Church's discipline provides opportunity for humbling oneself in penance only once, lest the medicine be seen as cheap, and thus less useful for the sick, seeing as the less it is despised, the more salvific it will be" (St. Augustine, Epistle 153)

      The second of the reasons in fact given in Familiaris Consortio and in the CDF's statement seems to be more proper to marriage, and for that reason probably stronger: namely that allowing such reconciliation would occasion or lead to erroneous opinions about the indissolubility of marriage.

  2. Sorry run that one by me again:

    "…namely that allowing such reconciliation would occasion or lead to erroneous opinions about the indissolubility of marriage…"

    Wow! I thought mind reading was impossible. And future mind reading doubly impossible!!

    Also to say that reconciliation ("breaking down the barrier that lies between us") is wrong – is wrong.

    Example argument by parallel: "Well we can't have sinners getting reconciled with God, in case someone, somewhere, in the future thinks wrong thoughts – so lets stick with making sure sinners can't reconcile with God".

    If your worried that people are/may get-the-wrong-end-of-the-stick . . . talk to them. You never know, it might work.

    Yours

    Old-English Ascent

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