According to Mt 19, 9 Jesus accepts a divorce in case of fornication. How does the church relate to this statement of Jesus? (V.W.)
Dear Mr. W.,
I reproduce the requested text below first of all synoptically, that is, in direct comparison of the evangelists Matthew, Mark and Luke:
Then Pharisees came to him to try him and asked: Is it permissible to dismiss one's wife from the marriage for any reason whatsoever? 4 He answered, "Have you not read that in the beginning the Creator created them male and female 5 and that he said: Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife, and the two shall be one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. But what God has joined together, let not man put asunder. 7 They said to him, "What then did Moses prescribe to give the wife a certificate of divorce and to release her from the marriage? 8 He answered: Only because you are so hard-hearted, Moses permitted you to let your wives out of the marriage. In the beginning it was not so. 9 I say to you: Whoever dismisses his wife, although there is no case of fornication, and marries another commits adultery.
Then Pharisees came to him and asked, "Is it lawful for a man to put his wife out of marriage?? With this they wanted to tempt him. 3 He answered them: What did Moses command you? 4 They said: Moses permitted to ie a certificate of divorce and to release the woman from the marriage. 5 Jesus replied to them: It is only because you are so hard-hearted that he has given you this commandment. 6 But at the beginning of creation God created them male and female. 7 Therefore the man will leave father and mother 8 and the two will be one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 But what God has joined together, let not man put asunder. 10 At home, the disciples questioned him about it again. 11 He answered them: Whoever puts his wife out of wedlock and marries another commits adultery against her. 12 And if she lets her husband out of the marriage and marries another, she commits adultery.
Whoever discharges his wife from marriage and marries another commits adultery; whoever also marries a woman who has been discharged by her husband commits adultery.
At least two things become clear here in my opinion: On the one hand, the comparison of the evangelists proves that only Matthew transmits the "fornication clause"; Mark and Luke obviously do not know it. On the other hand, the reading of Matthew's catch shows that this exception basically does not fit into Jesus' line of argumentation at all. "They are therefore no longer two, but one flesh. But what God has joined together, let not man put asunder" (19:6): How then should a "case of fornication" (19:9) be able to override the creative will of God, which Jesus names and defends in his usual committed manner? Why is it not even distinguished whether the woman is willing to stop fornication or persists in it?? Can this be the will of Christ who, according to Mt 18, already commands seventy-sevenfold – i.e. de facto unlimited – forgiveness in the church?? Should this not be even more true in marriage and its crisis??
So ultimately the question arises for us, wherein then this fornication (porneIa) that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel of Matthew. The renowned "Dictionary of the New Testament" by Bauer and Aland defines it generally as "any kind of illegitimate sexual intercourse" (transferred also as idolatry, which is not completely excluded here, but also not obvious) and for the case of Mt 19,9 as "infidelity of the wife". Although this translation reflects the broad tradition of interpretation, it does not help us to overcome the above-mentioned break in the argumentation in Matthew.
Probably we will never be able to resolve the problem completely without doubt. However, I would like to refer emphatically to a parallel that is found in the so-called "Damascus Scripture", which belongs to the Qumran Scriptures. There in 7. Chapter speaking of men who "convict [are] of fornication because they take two wives in their life" (verse 1). By "fornication" we do not mean adultery as "illegitimate sexual intercourse", but polygamy, which was still taken for granted in the Torah! Not to be underestimated is that the Damascus Scripture justifies its position just like Jesus with the will of the Creator: "And yet it is the principle of creation: "As male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27)" (7:2). If we apply this background of understanding to the prohibition of divorce in Matthew, then the fornication clause would simply say that the man is only a wife shall have and every other may dismiss, yea, shall. By the way, in the world of that time this did not mean to deprive the women concerned of any protection and maintenance, because they returned to the association of their former extended family. Thus the unity of marriage would not be shaken, but on the contrary would be underlined once again; Jesus' argumentation with the Creator's will would remain conclusive. In this respect, I consider this to be the most probable explanation.
I do not want to close without giving the answer to the much simpler part of your question, namely, what the Church's position is on the incest clause: the magisterial and canonical decisions also place the uncompromising consistency with which Jesus argues against divorce above the (supposedly?) Exception. The Catholic Church's authoritative Catechism teaches that "Jesus emphasized the original intention of the Creator, who wanted marriage to be indissoluble. He lifted the tolerations that had crept into the old law [Cf. Mt 19:7]. "Marriage validly contracted and consummated" between baptized Catholics "cannot be dissolved by any human force or for any reason except death" (CIC, can. 1141)" (n. 2382, cf. 2383-2386).
I cordially return your blessings and remain
with many greetings