Quotes About Divorce and Remarriage

Quotes about divorce and remarriage from throughout Christian History.

[Christians] marry, as do all others. They beget children, but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. (Anonymous. Letter to Diognetus 5)

Justin Martyr, c. A.D. 155

Concerning chastity, [Jesus Christ] uttered such sentiments as these: "Whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart before God." ... And, "Whoever shall marry a woman divorced from another husband commits adultery." ... So all who, by human law, are twice married are sinners in the eye of our Master along with those who look at a woman to lust for her. (First Apology 15)

A certain woman lived with an intemperate husband. She, too, had formerly been intemperate, but when she came to know the teachings of Christ she became sober-minded. She tried to persuade her husband to be similarly temperate, citing the teaching of Christ and assuring him that there shall be punishment in eternal fire inflicted upon those who do not live temperately and conformably to right reason.

     Nevertheless, he continued the same excessive living and alienated his wife by his actions. For she considered it wicked to live any longer as a wife with a husband who sought in every way means of indulging in pleasure contrary to the law of nature and in violation of what is right. Thus, she wished to be divorced from him.

     She was dissuaded by her friends, who advised her to stay with him, with the idea that at some time or other her husband might provide hope that he would amend his ways. She did violence to her own feeling and remained with him.

     But when her husband had gone into Alexandria and was reported to be conducting himself worse than ever, she—so that she would not, by continuing in matrimonial connection with him and by sharing his table and his bed, become an accomplice in his wickednesses and impieties—gave him what you call a bill of divorce and was separated from him. But this 'noble' husband of hers ... when she had left him against his will, brought charges against her, affirming that she was a Christian. (Second Apology 2)

Hermas, A.D. 160-170

"If a wife or husband die, and the widower or widow marry, does he or she commit sin?"

   "There is no sin in marrying again," said he," but if they remain unmarried, they gain greater honor and glory with the Lord. But if they marry, they do not sin. Guard, therefore, your chastity and purity, and you will live to God." (Shepherd of Hermas. Commandment V. Ch. 4.)

I said to [the Shepherd], "Sir, if anyone has a wife who trusts in the Lord, and if he detect in her adultery, does the man sin if he continue to live with her?"

   He said to me, "As long as he remains ignorant of her sin, the husband commits no transgression in living with her, but if the husband knows that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime and a sharer in her adultery."

   I said to him, "What then, sir, is the husband to do if his wife continue in her vicious practices?"

   He said, "The husband should put her away and live by himself. But if he puts his wife away and marries another, he also commits adultery."

   I said to him, "What if the woman put away should repent and want to return to her husband? Shall she not be taken back by her husband?"

   He said to me, "Assuredly. If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and he brings a great sin upon himself. For he ought to take back the sinner who has repented, but not frequently. For there is but one repentance for the servant of God [i.e., baptism]. In case, therefore, that the wife might repent, the husband ought not to marry another when his wife has been put away. In this matter, man and woman are to be treated exactly the same way. (Shepherd of Hermas. Commandment 4th. Ch. 1.)

Theophilus, A.D. 168

"He that marries," says the Gospel, "her that is divorced from her husband commits adultery. And whoever puts away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery" [Matt. 5:32] (To Autolycus III:13)

Irenaeus, A.D. 183 – 186

Our Lord was compassionate to that erring Samaratian woman, who did not remain with one husband, but committed sexual immorality by contracting many marriages. (Against Heresies III:17:2)

Tertullian, c. A.D. 200

Where is that happiness of married life, ever so desirable, which distinguished our [Roman] earlier manners, and as the result of which for over 600 years there was not among us a single divorce? ... Now, women ... as for divorce, they long for it as though it were the natural consequence of marriage. (Apology 6)

But Christ prohibits divorce, saying, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her that is divorced from her husband also commits adultery" [Luke 16:18]. In order to forbid divorce, he makes it unlawful to marry a woman that has been divorced. (Against Marcion IV:34)

I maintain, then, that there is a condition in the prohibition [Christ] now made of divorce. The case being supposed is that that a man put away his wife for the express purpose of marrying another. His words are, "Whoever puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries her that is put away from her husband also commits adultery" [Luke 16:18]. "Put away," that is, for the purpose that a woman ought not to be dismissed, which is that another wife may be obtained.

   He who marries a woman who is unlawfully put away is as much of an adulterer as the man who marries one who is un-divorced. Permanent is the marriage which is not rightly dissolved. To marry, therefore, while marriage is undissolved is to commit adultery. Since, therefore, his prohibition of divorce was a conditional one, he did not prohibit absolutely. And what he did not absolutely forbid, that he permitted on some occasions, when there is an absence of the cause why he gave his prohibition. ...

   Divorce, therefore, when justly deserved, has even in Christ a defender. So Moses, in the future, must be considered as being confirmed by him, since he prohibits divorce in the same sense as Christ does, if any unchastity should occur in the wife. ...

   You find [Christ] also protecting marriage in whatever direction you try to escape. He prohibits divorce when he will have the marriage inviolable; he permits divorce when the marriage is spotted with unfaithfulness. (Against Marcion IV:34)

It needs to be noted that Tertullian wrote most of the following quotes as a Montanist. Montanists believed that they had revelation from the Holy Spirit that God had put an end to the allowance for widows and widowers to remarry. They believed such remarriage was allowed for the same reason certificates of divorce were allowed under Moses, for the hardness of men's hearts.

Since time had passed, almost 200 years since Christ's death, the church had grown up and no longer needed such an allowance.

Therefore, Tertullian's quotes on this subject should be read as stricter than the catholic churches (meaning the churches that were in communion with the churches started by the apostles).

What course should be followed by a holy woman when her marriage has, in whatever way, been brought to an end? Let us now turn our attention to ... certain ones, who when they were offered an opportunity to practice continence, by divorce or by the decease of their husband, not only threw away the opportunity of attaining so great a good, but even in their remarriage they chose not to be mindful of that rule that "above all" they "marry in the Lord."  (To His Wife II:1)

The Lord holds it more pleasing that marriage not be contracted than that it should at all be dissolved. In short, he prohibits divorce except because of fornication, but continence he commends. Let the one, therefore, have the necessity of continuing, the other, further, even the power of not marrying. Secondly, if according to the Scripture those who are "apprehended" [i.e., found] by the faith in Gentile marriage are not defiled—for this reason, that together with themselves others are also sanctified, then without doubt those who have been sanctified before marriage, if they commingle themselves with "strange flesh," cannot sanctify it if they were not "apprehended" in it. The grace of God sanctifies what it finds. Thus, what has not been able to be sanctified is unclean, what is unclean has no part with the holy, unless to defile and slay it by its own nature. (To His Wife II:2)

A divorced woman cannot even marry legitimately, and if she commit any such act without the name of marriage, does it not fall under the category of adultery because adultery is the crime in the way of marriage? Such is God's verdict, within narrower limits than men's, that universally, whether through marriage or promiscuously, the admission of a second man [to sexual relations] is pronounced adultery by him.

   For let us see what marriage is in the eyes of God, and we shall learn what adultery equally is. Marriage is when God joins two into one flesh, or else finding them joined in the same flesh, have given his seal to the conjunction. Adultery is this, when the two have been, in whatever way, dis-joined, other ... flesh is mingled, that is, flesh concerning which it cannot be confirmed that "this is flesh out of my flesh, and this bone out of my bones." (On Monogamy 9)

[The Romans] indulge in promiscuous adulteries, even without divorcing; to us, if we do divorce them, even marriage will not be lawful. (On Monogamy 9)

This quote is included as an indication that in the catholic churches in general, at least by the early third century, men in leadership (bishops, elders, & deacons) were not supposed to remarry after being widowed.

Grant now that you marry in the Lord, in accordance with the law and the apostles ... With what face do you request a matrimony which is unlawful to those of whom you request it: a monogamist bishop, of elders and deacons bound by the same solemn engagement, and of widows whose order you have in your own person refused? (On Monogamy 11)

"But if you have taken a wife, you have not sinned" [1 Cor. 7:28] because to one who, before believing, had been "loosed from a wife," she will not be counted a second wife who, subsequently to believing, is the first. For it is from believing that our life itself dates its origin. (On Monogamy 11)

And so, "a woman, if she shall have married, will not sin," because he will not be reckoned a second husband who is, subsequently to her believing, the first ... And so truly this is the case, that he adds "only in the Lord" because the question in agitation was about her who was married to a heathen and had believed subsequently to losing him. (On Monogamy 11)

The following quote is included because it establishes that Tertullian had become a wholehearted Montanist by the time he wrote On Monogamy, as he states that it is "the New Prophecy" that forbids the right to marry after being widowed.

The new law [re: Heb. 7:12] abrogated divorce ... the New Prophecy second marriage, no less a divorce of the former marriage. But "hardness of heart" yielded to Christ more readily than "infirmity of the flesh." The latter claims Paul in its own support more than the former Moses. That is, if indeed claiming him in its support when it catches at his indulgence, but refuses his prescript, eluding his more deliberate opinions and his constant "wills," not allowing us to render to the apostle that which he "prefers." How long will this most shameless "infirmity" persevere in waging a war of extermination against the "better things"? The time for its indulgence was until the Paraclete [the Montanists claimed a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit given to Montanus] began his operations. (On Monogamy 14)

Hippolytus, c. AD 215

This quote is included as a witness from silence. Note the thoroughness and strictness of the examination of a man or woman who desires to hear the Word and join the church. Yet, despite the probing questions about marital status and career, there is no question about whether the candidate is divorced and remarried, even though it was a common occurrence in Rome.

If a man has a wife, or a woman has a husband, let them be taught to be content, the husband with his wife, and the wife with her husband. If there is a man who does not live with a woman, let him be taught not to fornicate, but to either take a wife according to the law, or to remain as is. ...

   They will inquire concerning the works and occupations of those are who are brought forward for instruction. If someone is a pimp who supports prostitutes, he shall cease or shall be rejected. If someone is a sculptor or a painter, let them be taught not to make idols. Either let them cease or let them be rejected. If someone is an actor or does shows in the theater, either he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone teaches children (worldly knowledge), it is good that he cease. But if he has no (other) trade, let him be permitted. A charioteer, likewise, or one who takes part in the games, or one who goes to the games, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. If someone is a gladiator, or one who teaches those among the gladiators how to fight, or a hunter who is in the wild beast shows in the arena, or a public official who is concerned with gladiator shows, either he shall cease, or he shall be rejected. If someone is a priest of idols, or an attendant of idols, he shall cease or he shall be rejected.  military man in authority must not execute men. If he is ordered, he must not carry it out. Nor must he take military oath. If he refuses, he shall be rejected. If someone is a military governor,a or the ruler of a city who wears the purple, he shall cease or he shall be rejected. The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God. The prostitute, the wanton man, the one who castrates himself, or one who does that which may not be mentioned, are to be rejected, for they are impure. A magus shall not even be brought forward for consideration. An enchanter, or astrologer, or diviner, or interpreter of dreamsb, or a charlatanc, or one who makes amulets, either they shall cease or they shall be rejected. If someone's concubine is a slave, as long as she has raised her children and has clung only to him, let her hear. Otherwise, she shall be rejected. The man who has a concubine must cease and take a wife according to the law. If he will not, he shall be rejected.(Apostolic Tradition 15:6-7; 16:1-16)

Julius Africanus, d. c. A.D. 240

[Attempting to reconcile the genealogies produced by Matthew & Luke]: These two, Jacob and Heli, were brothers ... the fathers of those two, Matthan and Malchi, having taken the same woman as wife in succession, bore children who were uterine brothers [i.e., same mother, different father], as the Law did not prevent a widow, whether such by divorce or by the death of her husband, from marrying another. (Epistle to Aristides 3)

Lactantius, c. A.D. 310

As a woman is bound by the bonds of chastity not to desire any other man, so let the husband be bound by the same law, since God has joined the husband and wife together in the union of one body. Because of this he has commanded that the wife shall not be put away unless convicted of adultery, and that the bond of conjugal compact shall never be dissolved, unless faithfulness have broken it. (The Divine Institutes epitome:67)

Constitutions of the Holy Apostles, 4th century

We have already said that a bishop, an elder, and a deacon, once they are ordained, must be married only once, and that it is not lawful for them, if they are unmarried when they are ordained, to be married afterwards. Or, if they are married at that time, to marry a second time, but to be content with my wife which they had when they came to ordination.

   We also charge that ministers, singers, readers, and porters shall be married only once. But if they entered into the clergy before they were married, we permit them to marry, if they have an inclination to do so, lest they sin and incur punishment.

   But we do not permit any of the clergy to take as a wife a courtesan, a servant, a widow, or one that is divorced, as also the law says. Let the deaconess be a pure virgin or at least a widow who has been once married, faithful, and well-esteemed. (VI:3:17)

17. He who has been twice married after his baptism, or has had a concubine, cannot be made a bishop, elder, deacon, or indeed any of the sacerdotal catalogue [i.e., of the clergy].

18. He who has taken a widow, a divorced woman, a prostitute, a servant, or one belonging to the theater, cannot be either a bishop, priest, or deacon, or indeed any of the sacerdotal catalogue.

19. He who has married two sisters or his niece cannot be a clergyman.

...

48. If a layman divorces his own wife and takes another, or one divorced by another, let him be suspended. (VIII:47, "Ecclesiastical Canons of the Same Holy Apostles" 17-18)

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