Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Dr. William Tighe: Divorce and Remarriage in Historical Anglicanism

Marital indiscipline seems to afflict all Western Christian churches and bodies to some degree or other, and even to an extent those in the East (the theory and practice of the Eastern Churches, which rested originally on a basis quite distinct form that of Western Catholics and Protestants, I will not discuss here) as well. Suffice it to say that, on a theoretical level at least, no Christian church or “denomination,” Eastern or Western ever accepted the practice of “divorce” in the modern sense of the term (that is, the dissolution of a valid marriage with one or both of the parties to that dissolved marriage being free to marry again), however much “pastoral compassion” (or “overlooking, deliberately or otherwise, irregular marital unions”) may, especially in the East, have allowed for the toleration of “marriages” of individuals whose spouses had disappeared some considerable time in the past. At the Reformation, however, all of the leading Protestant Reformers embraced the view of Erasmus that there were circumstances in which a valid marriage might be dissolved and the parties to it, or at least the “innocent” party, be allowed to remarry, which meant remarry in church, as in Catholic and Protestant countries alike there was no other form of marriage (beyond “common-law marriage” in a few countries such as Scotland — but this was a form of “marriage” of which the offspring were technically illegitimate, and so lacked clear inheritance rights). Moreover, Protestant church bodies, both Lutheran and Reformed, quickly came to permit divorce, and remarriage after divorce (hereafter termed DaR for short), in a variety of circumstances, among them, for instance, Scotland, where divorce in the modern sense became legally available in 1560, and has remained so ever since.

In England, however, the position was different, despite some initial irregularities, and the Church of England adopted what can be described as the most severe position on DaR of any Western Christian tradition whatsoever. The historic Anglican position on “divorce and remarriage” is clear enough — a resolute “no, never.”

King Henry VIII was firmly and explicitly opposed to DaR; he never in his life had a “divorce” in the modern sense as defined above (although in the 16th Century the term was used to denote any separation of the parties to a marriage during the lifetimes of them both) as all of his four “divorces” were “annulments” (granted by his complaisant Archbishop Cranmer). Cranmer himself, as a firm Protestant, came to favor DaR in a wide variety of circumstances, and shortly after Henry VIII’s death in 1547 he granted a divorce (in the modern sense) to William Parr, then Earl of Essex, later Marquess of Northampton, who subsequently “remarried.” (He also granted Sir Ralph Sadler permission to remain married to a woman whom he had married over a decade previously, some years after her husband had disappeared, when that first husband reappeared and tried to extort money from Sadler.) Provision for DaR was embodied in Cranmer’s proposed reformed Code of Canon Law, but that proposal was rejected by the House of Commons in 1553 (as it was again in 1571 when reform-minded MPs tried to pass it despite Elizabeth I’s objections). Under the Catholic Queen Mary, Parr was forced to separate from his wife under threat of excommunication and prosecution for bigamy — and while after Mary’s death in 1558 and the succession of her ambiguously Protestant half-sister Queen Elizabeth I he resumed living with his second wife, one of Elizabeth I’s “Ladies in Waiting,” the Queen more than once publicly reproached him for “bigamy” — and when he wished to marry again after his second wife died in 1565, she forbade the marriage and refused to permit it until after Parr’s original wife died in 1571 (Parr survived his third marriage by only a couple of months).
Read the rest here.

Please leave comments at the source. Thanks.

No comments: