This is a response to the Orthodox claim that the CC permitted divorce in the undivided Church. It is not intended to malign the Orthodox practice of permitting divorce, but the facts presented here will, speaking for themselves, evince the lack of biblical/patristic support it.
First, a reply to Father Ambrose from the “What’s In A Name” thread. Fr A claimed I was “muddying the waters” by making marriage/divorce an issue of Catholic/non-Catholic Christian. Actually, it was Fr A who tried to sensationalize valid applications of the Pauline privilege into a permissive use of divorce/remarriage. Instead of making a distinction between non-Christian/ Christian cases, he generalized it to a distinction between non-Catholic/Catholic cases (see his posts #215, 229, and 234). The term “non-Catholic” applies to both Christians and non-Christians, making it seem as if the Catholic Church utilizes the Pauline privilege in a marriage between Christians (non-Catholics and Catholics). But far from admitting his error after it was exposed, and not providing documentation for his position after requested, he merely reverts to the excuse that his “true” purpose was to show that divorce is in fact allowed in the Catholic Church.
Now some preliminary definitions and considerations:
We make a distinction between the marriage contract and the marriage bond. The marriage contract is acquired when man and woman in the presence of a validly ordained minister of the Church willfully profess their union. The contract is also between the couple and the Church/God. The marriage bond is not achieved until, as Jesus explicitly stated, “the two become one flesh.” Once achieved, no human agency, not even the Pope, can break this bond. It is obvious from the analogies in Ephesians 5 that the union described in Jesus’ exhortation “what God has joined let no man tear asunder” refers to a validly contracted AND consummated marriage.
Matrimony is a divine institution. The CC has always recognized this and reserves to herself the determination of the laws governing it. The Churches of the East (who eventually became the Orthodox Church), on the other hand, allowed it to be subordinated to the dictates of the State. This is the origin of the Orthodox permissiveness on divorce and re-marriage, as she sought to accommodate herself to the secular law, instead of keeping faithful to the divine law, in regards to Marriage (see post#3 below).
Matrimony being a divine institution, it follows that its laws can be mitigated by other factors of divine origin. Thus it is that the universal Church accepts what is known as the Pauline privilege, established under divine inspiration by St. Paul himself. The Pauline privilege can be utilized to dissolve a marriage contract and bond, but only in the circumstance where a marriage is between a Christian and non-Christian (not, as Fr A suggested, between a Catholic and non-Catholic). Marriage being a serious matter, the Pauline privilege is not lightly given, and has several conditions. These need not concern us now (unless someone asks for them).
The Petrine privilege can never dissolve the marriage bond, but it can dissolve the marriage contract. Thus, the Petrine privilege can only be utilized when a marriage has not been consummated. There is one canonical description for its use (the vow to enter the religious life after the marriage contract has been acquired), but it may be utilized in other extreme circumstances. For instance, if, after the marriage contract is acquired, a spouse falls ill or is called to military service for such an indeterminate period of time that the marriage bond cannot be achieved (i.e., consummated), the Pope may dissolve the marriage contract, and allow a second marriage, while provide that the first spouse be taken care of by the other.