Can a single man marry his brother’s widow?

Recently Jesus was asked whose wife would she be in heaven who married 7 brothers. It reminded me about something my mother said many years ago that a single person cannot marry a deceased sibling’s spouse. My godfather wanted to marry his deceased brother’s widow and he wasn’t allowed. This happened back in the 1940s.
Is this true?

My maternal grandfather married his sister in law after his wife passed away, and it sort of led to his family leaving the Church from what I understand. I believe the priest didn’t approve. I’ve never been told the whole story but that’s the gist I got from what I’ve been told.

This won’t answer your question because I don’t know anything about the Church’s teaching on the matter, but Levirate marriage doesn’t really have any purpose in the non-Jewish world. It was a way of maintaining the inheritance of each family in their respective tribal allotments. To my recollection it’s no longer permitted by Jews, though I don’t know if it might not be done by some small sect of Sephardim somewhere. I think some still do the rite of chalitzah (spitting in the shoe) though.

Look at the mess it caused with Henry VIII a few centuries back.

There really never was a divorce in that split.

Instead, he got theologians to assert that not even the pope could grant a dispensation to marry his brother’s widow, and he was therefore not free to marry, and had been living in sin . . .

My understanding of the ancient Jews practice was that it wasn’t so much a regular marriage, but a duty to the widow to father a son for her (without which she was in really bad shape in that time and place . . .)

It could be. This relates to the “impediment of affinity.” I only partially understand it, but I found this article which may be helpful. Among other things, it mentions that the canon law concerning the impediment of affinity was changed in 1983.

P.S. I found this article by searching CAF for keyword “affinity” and examining a few threads from the search results.

To be more specific, the article you cite says that while marrying the brother, sister or cousin of a deceased spouse was prohibited in the 1917 code, it is not prohibited in the currently-binding 1983 code of canon law.

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There are a few impediments to marriage, which include consanguinity and affinity.

CIC

Can. 108 §1. Consanguinity is computed through lines and degrees.
§2. In the direct line there are as many degrees as there are generations or persons, not counting the common ancestor.
§3. In the collateral line there are as many degrees as there are persons in both the lines together, not counting the common ancestor.

Can. 109 §1. Affinity arises from a valid marriage, even if not consummated, and exists between a man and the blood relatives of the woman and between the woman and the blood relatives of the man.
§2. It is so computed that those who are blood relatives of the man are related in the same line and degree by affinity to the woman, and vice versa.

Can. 1091 §1. In the direct line of consanguinity marriage is invalid between all ancestors and descendants, both legitimate and natural.
§2. In the collateral line marriage is invalid up to and including the fourth degree.
§3. The impediment of consanguinity is not multiplied.
§4. A marriage is never permitted if doubt exists whether the partners are related by consanguinity in any degree of the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line.

Can. 1092 Affinity in the direct line in any degree invalidates a marriage.

CCEO

Canon 918 - Consanguinity is calculated through line and degrees:
1° in the direct line, there are as many degrees as there are persons, not counting the common ancestor;
2° in the collateral line, there are as many degrees as there are persons in both lines together, not counting the common ancestor.

Canon 919 - §1. Affinity arises from a valid marriage and exists between one spouse and the blood relatives of the other.
§2. A blood relative of either one of the spouses is related by affinity to the other spouse by the same line and in the same degree.

Canon 808 - §1. In the direct line of consanguinity marriage is invalid between all ancestors and descendants.
§2. In a collateral line of consanguinity, marriage is invalid up to and including the fourth degree.
§3. Marriage is never permitted if there is any doubt whether the parties are related through consanguinity in any degree of the direct line or in the second degree of the collateral line.
§4. The impediment of consanguinity is not multiplied.

Canon 809 - §1. Affinity invalidates a marriage in the direct line in any degree whatsoever; in the collateral line, in the second degree.
§2. The impediment of affinity is not multiplied.

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@irishcolleen45, there are three possible answers to your question. If you’re asking about canon law, that can vary from time to time, as @PetraG has pointed out. If you’re asking about civil law, that can vary not only from time to time but also from place to place. Finally, in Jesus’ answer in Matt 22:24, the question is about Levirate marriages. Under Jewish law at the time, in the case of a married man who had died childless, his brother had the duty to produce a posterity for him.

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My father-in-law has a cousin whose mom died in child birth. His uncle later married his late wife’s sister.

My great grandmother married her brother-in-law after her husband died. Granted it was in the late 1800’s.

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This was also my understanding. It was an old rule, now abolished.

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Thank you. This gives a good explanation of the current law. I wonder if my godfather could have received a dispensation back in the 1940s? It’s too bad he couldn’t or thought he couldn’t. His brother died in WWII and left a wife and son. He always treated his nephew as a son.

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It would certainly have been a theoretical possibility but I guess we may never know the practical circumstances (such as, was a dispensation requested, was it denied and if so, why, etc).

Dan

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