FOR MANY of us living i n a largely post-Christian and permissive society of more than 56 million people in which Catholics (not all of whom are practising their Faith) are a minority of perhaps six million, it is becoming increasingly difficult to convince others that a Christian marriage is indissoluble.
More to the point, in the face of general public attitudes expressed in fearsome divorce statistics and the influence of the media, how may a Catholic deepen his or her conviction that there is no place for divorce in a sacramental marriage?
This is no academic question. More and more we may find ourselves living cheek by jowl with friends and neighbours whom we often regardhighly and turn to in times of trouble, but who are simply incredulous when Catholic couples experiencing marital difficulties explain that as a last resort only separation is tenable.
For priests there is the growing problem of tactfully explaining to Catholics who may have in fact gone through the divorce courts that, if they are desirous of continuing to receive the Sacraments, they may only do so provided they do not re-marry.
Given these situations therefore it would seem pertinent to ask whether it is enough (necessary though it be) simply to be fully aware of the texts found in Mark 1 0:2-1 2, Matthew 5:32 and 19:9 and Luke 16:18?
These are the verses, after all, which the Church takes as forbidding divorce and which it sees as something quite distinct from finding grounds for declaring that between a particular couple there never was a marriage in the first place.
It is obviously possible to know these texts by heart and to understand the context in which Jesus uttered these words. It is not too difficult, either, to read up all the learned authorities regarding the various interpretations given to the so-called "fornication" clause found in Matthew.
Equally one may he conversant with the thought of such Fathers as St Augustine, with Church doctrine as propounded
at the Council of Trent, with the teaching of Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubi and the uplifting description of marriage found in Humanae Vitae — often ignored in the issue over contraception. Undeniably, without such knowledge much of one's utterances may be based on ignoran ce . But will such knowledge alone withstand "modern" values or rather a climate where values are lightly regarded?
More importantly, will it help in the midst of practical, downto-earth conflict between a husband and wife? In the face of infidelity, personality clashes, problems of housing and unemployment or the upbringing of children, how does one retain a deeply-rooted conviction of the need of maintaining one's original marriage vows'? Under the circumstances it would seem vital to attempt to understand what Jesus considered to be the cornerstone of a holy, wholesome and happy marriage.
If we knew this it would surely account for his response to those who questioned him about divorce and why he referred them back to the state of affairs pertaining to man and woman in the beginning — before, as he says, Moses allowed divorce because of man's weakness..
According at least to the German theologian Rudolf Schnackenburg in "The Moral Teaching of the New Testament", it was in Jesus' reverence for the dignity of women that one can find the basis of his teaching on
cmitiaegneanacneddoivfohrcise.rTefoustahlostoe ourrnrr ied about the future of family life in this country it might pay them, therefore, to examine Schnackenburg's
more important, one theses. E ven
could with profit study St Paul's I I verses which conclude the fifth chapter of his Letter to the People of Ephesus. There it is clear that it is the living out of a Christian marriage in the manner that Christ dwells with his Church that strengthens the Case for indissolubility. Is it conceivable, after all, that Christ would ever divorce himself from his Church?
Fr David Forrester