Catholic history of marriage challenged


Need a little input here. This history of Catholic marriage is not one of my strong areas. Here’s an interesting challenge I got from someone:

Certainly you can admit that even if one accepts the concept of “annulment” (I’m not going to argue that because we’ll never agree), that annulment are abused by American Catholics. Or do you believe that all of those marriages that ended in annulment weren’t real marriages?

That sounds a lot like the “They weren’t real Christians” argument favored by our friends LaHaye and Jenkins.

An abbreviated history of marriage:

668-690: Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury permits divorce and remarriage.
692: The Council of Trullo - The Orthodox Church permits divorce for reasons of adultery.
752: The Council of Verberie permits divorce and remarriage.
757: The Council of Compiegne permits divorce and remarriage.

“According to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica, up to the eleventh century and beyond, the canon law of the Church “did not require any marraige formalities.” For most people in Western Europe, marriage did not involve a church ceremony, but merely the blessing of the church.”

1215: Pope Innocent II convenes the Fourth Lateran council, which regularizes marriages according to mutual consent, church ceremony, declaration and publication of banns.

By 1500, there were still many peasants who were married by the cohabitation.

1563: Indissolubility enters canon law at the Council of Trent.

“Annulment” began as a way to dissolve marriages between relatives of the 7th degree or less; a famous example is that of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France, who had their marriage annulled after 15 years. There were accusations of infidelity, but the annulment was granted because they were fourth and fifth cousins.

Post-Vatican II: On the advice of a dissertation by John Keating, annulments are permitted for a psychological basis for annulment-- one or both parties may have been “incapable of knowing what they were doing or incapable of assuming the fundamental responsibilities of marriage.”

“Antisocial or narcissistic behavior,” or “whether a person deliberated in a sufficient manner before consenting to marriage” are now considered valid reasons for annulment, as well as “deficiencies (such as) gross immaturity and those affecting in a serious way the capacity to love, to have a true interpersonal conjugal relationship, to fulfill marital obligations, to accept the faith aspect of marriage…”

By those guidelines, the sacrament of marriage and subsequent annulment has very little meaning; I could claim all of those quotes as factors in my own marriage, as could anyone on this message board. Does taht mean none of us have valid marriages?



Sigh. Why do I always seem to run into the oddball questions?

A little more background: The objector is an Orthodox girl. Looking back over her comments, I don’t think that she has shown any kind of contradiction here, but you know how they operate–any change in practice seems to be taken as proof of Rome’s constant contradiction and revisionism. But on this, it seems that the Orthodox have switched things around by permitting divorce and remarriage.


I realize that this is not your primary point, but this statement is by no means certain nor clear to all.
(It is not so to me, for instance)

What I believe makes or breaks no one’s marriage (save my own). What matters is: That is the finding of the several marriage tribunals in the US, and neither you nor I have any standing to contradict them.



Even civil law has a provision for annulments; it’s just a declaration that the marriage ceremony was not properly celebrated. Classic example:

“Do you, Alice, take Bob to be your husband?”
“Do you, Bob, take Alice to be your wife?”
“Uh…” (sound of Alice’s dad’s shotgun being cocked) “Yes!”
“I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

The above wedding is invalid under civil law in every state in the country because it was obtained by coercion. The same is true under canon law: the Sacrament is performed by the bride and groom (not the priest or deacon), and one of the celebrants (the groom) lacked the required intent to perform the Sacrament. So it’s just as invalid as when a priest who is also an actor acts out a Mass in a movie; that isn’t really the Eucharist, because the celebrant lacked the required intent to perform the Sacrament.

The problem in the U.S. is that so many people have no idea what marriage actually involves. If they’re going into the marriage with the thought that “Well, we can always just get divorced if it doesn’t work out,” then the Sacrament is in fact invalid – because the celebrants lacked the required intent to form a permanent union.

Some of the strongest voices in favor of the high number of annulments in the U.S. are the “conservative” (aka orthodox Catholic) theologians, who are arguing that it really is true: all of those weddings were never validly celebrated, because too many American Catholics have no clue what they’re getting into when they get married.

I’d also like to correct your correspondent’s comment about the marriages being “real.” An annulment has to do with whether the Sacrament was validly celebrated, nothing more. A lot of critics of the annulments say something to the effect of “We were together for 20 years and had three children! That’s a valid marriage!” – but they’re wrong. If a boyfriend and girlfriend live together for 20 years and have three children together, they aren’t married; “being married” means that the bride and groom validly celebrated the Sacrament together. That carries a lot of obligations that the boyfriend and girlfriend simply don’t have. But it all flows from the Sacrament having been celebrated validly. If it wasn’t, they aren’t married. And a declaration of nullity reflects that.


This article from New Advent mentions the Council of Verberie and I think the Council of Compeigne in regards to “divorce.” It seems the word, as employed by the Church, has not always meant what most people associate divorce with today.


Maybe you should spell out your question, and add into the writing many assumption which appear to be missing? People marry for many reason truly a large percentage use the wrong reasons as -the other girls are getting husbands-, - she was infatuated with me-, - her family has money- etc, etc. The annulment process looks at actions which indicate the reason for marriage was something other than the Church teaches Did the parties understand Christianity, the purpose of marriage, were they reasonable mature enough to understand the commitment, give free consent, etc… If you married because your were lonely ( depression, fear, insecurity) then your marriage is not a sacramental marriage in the Catholic Church because your promise to become a Husband, Father, Provider, and Life Partner, were really phony promises to hide the fact you did not want to be alone or an outcast. So the Tribunal is looking at actions and statements which indicate from the beginning the Catholic Promises were not sincere, if found the marriage is deemed invalid.

Maybe it would help to flip your question. If a man wants to become a Husband, Father, Provider, and Life Partner why does he leave is wife and children?


DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit