Is indissolubility of marriage an infallible teaching?

Correct me if I am wrong, as I understand it the Church of Rome is supernaturally protected from error (infallibility) when teaching anything having to do with either faith or morals. Does the belief it the indissolubility of marriage fall under this? In other words, if it were actually true that a valid marriage could end by a ‘church divorce’ (rather then by death), the Church of Rome would be wrong on this point because it is taught that a valid marriage is indissoluble, but my question is if Rome was wrong about this would this prove that the Church of Rome is not infallible? If ‘No’, then why?

Please don’t mis-assume my motives for asking this. I want to believe fully in all the dogma’s of the Church. I am Roman Catholic right now, but I used to be Eastern Orthodox for 25 years. The Eastern Orthodox (as long as there are grounds for divorce, such as adultery) do grant a ‘Church Divorce’ to what they will teach was indeed a valid marriage. Then after the Church Divorce there is usually given the blessing to marry again. And from what I have read, this way of doing things in the East is a custom that goes back even before the 1st Ecumenical Council, which if so means that it is probably OLDER then the way Rome does these things. Now I admit that older does not prove that it is right. But you can see why I’m tempted to believe that the Eastern Orthodox are maybe right on this, and since both views seem to be mutually exclusive, Rome would have to be wrong if the East is right about this.

The Primary thing I want to focus on about this is the dogma of infallibility. I wish to be counted as a believer in this dogma of infallibility, so if I were to believe that Rome is wrong on the issue of the indissolubility of marriage (and the East is right) could I still be counted as a believer in the dogma of infallibility? Is this an issue that MUST fall under the category of morals and thus Rome has to be correct on this?

If I remember correctly, the Fathers of the Council of Trent specifically side-stepped the Orthodox practice of oikonomia.

What do you mean? Are you saying that the Eastern practice may be a valid alternative morally to the Roman practice, but Rome deliberately said they would not say one way or the other about it yet at Trent?

That is a question that is most likely beyond the knowledge base of most people in these forae.

As to the original question, the issue of the permanence of marriage is infallible, as it goes to Christ’s teaching in the Gospels. Note also, whatever references there may be in the epistles as to any related issues (Pauline and Petrine Privilege).

A Decree of Nullity, which is what a tribunal issues, states that there was never a sacrament confected at the wedding. The Catholic Church does not divorce people, as it cannot - it has no authority to do so, per Christ. However, it does have the authority to determine what constitutes a sacrament, and can state where an essential element was missing, indicating that no sacrament occurred. That is what a Decree of Nullity is.

It (the Decree) is often called an “annulment” but that is not the proper term, and implies that the Church “annulled” something, which would be a positive act. It doesn’t “annul” the marriage, it decrees there was never one to begin with. Slightly different, and many people do not understand the distinction.

Pope Celestine III (1191-1198), in his decretal Laudabilem, dissolved a consummated, sacramental marriage. In 2000, Pope John Paul II affirmed that the teaching on the absolute indissolubility of a ratified and consummated marriage is infallible via the ordinary, universal magisterium. See here for my thread on this.

Matthew:[3] And there came to him the Pharisees tempting him, and saying: Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause? [4] Who answering, said to them: Have ye not read, that he who made man from the beginning, Made them male and female? And he said: [5] For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be in one flesh. [6] Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.

Ephesians:[31] For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh. [32] This is a great sacrament; but I speak in Christ and in the Church.

The indissolubility of marriage is identified by the Church and with the passage from Ephesians it is identified as a spiritual union as indissoluble as the union of Jesus with the Church. Jesus said it and St. Paul reiterates it, and that the Catholic Church is the only Church that holds to this goes far in helping prove the Church’s infallibility claims. This does not mean the Church does no wrong, though.

The Church does not dissolve marriages, but determines in the annulment process whether a union was ever in fact a marriage to begin with.

It has not been infallibly taught but it is true, and acceptance of such teaching is required of Catholics.

It is held as infallible as part of the Magisterial teaching of the Church from its inception.

There are three forms or ways of reaching an infallible teaching:

  1. an ex-cathedra statement of the Pope (as defined in Vatican 1);

  2. an infallible statement by the bishops in conjunction with the Pope (as in a Council); and

  3. an infallible statement by the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church from its beginning (an example would be that women cannot be ordained; not defined ex-cathedra, nor defined in a Council, but held since the inception of the Church, as noted by then Cardinal Ratzinger).

the Church has held from its inception that marriage is permanent until death, and the teaching goes back to Christ.

Can you please show us where the Church teaches this, meaning, specifically, where the Church teaches she has taught this infallibly? I have not found any such reference. Thanks.

Those are not completely accurate representations of what the Church teaches. Your #3 is nowhere found in Catholic teaching. Your #2 actually covers two different exercises of teaching infallibly (as taught by Vatican II and the Catechism).

Read Vatican II’s Constitution Lumen Gentium para 18-25 and the Catechism para 888-892 for an accurate presentation of how the Church teaches infallibly.

Fundamentals of Catholic Doctrine, Part 3 The Sacraments: 7 Matrimony: Section 4: The Effects of Matrimony: 1 Bond of Matrimony: From the sacramental contract of marriage emerges the Bond of Marriages, which binds both marriage partners to a lifelong indivisible community of life. (De fide.) D 969. (discussion): St Augustine compares the bond of marriage (quiddam Coniugale) “which cn be removed neither by the separation of the marriage partners nor by the association with another,” to the character of Baptism, which cannot be lost (De nuptiis et concup. I 10, 11) (and further discussed).

On the contrary, read John Paul 2’s statement concerning the impossibility of ordaining women, and Cardinal Ratzinger’s answer to the question of whether or not JP 2 was making an ex-cathedra statement.

I was not referring to teaching infallibly in terms of the bishops in union with the college of bishops; I was referring to how the Church infallibly defines matters. The bishops exercise the charism of infallibility when they in union with the bishops of the Church, teach what the Church holds.

The issue is, is the insolubility of marriage a doctrine? The answer is yes; it is part of the magisterial teaching of the Church, comes specifically from Christ, is presented in the Gospels, has been unchanging and unchanged since the inception of the Church, was not defined in a Council, and never declared ex-cathedra. It is the third leg of the stool, if you will, of infallibility.

Let’s try it from another point.

Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (Ott), Introduction, Section 4: 1: Concept:

"… Two factors or elements may be distinguished in the concept of dogma - a) and immediate Divine Revelation of the particular Dogma…, i.e. the Dogma must be immediately revealed by God either explicitly… or inclusively… and therefore be contained in the sources of Revelation (Holy Writ or Tradition).

b) the Promulgation of the Dogma by the Teaching Authority of the Church (propositio Ecclesiae). This implies, not merely the promulgation of the Truth, but also the obligation on the part of the Faithful of believing the Truth. This Promulgation by the Church may be made either in an extrodinary manner through a solemn decision of the faith made by the Pope or a General Council (Iudicium solemne) or through the ordinary and general teaching power of the Church (Magisterium ordinarium et universale). The latter may be found easily in the catechisms issued by the Bishops."

So, I mis-spoke myself, as the indissolubility of marriage is De Fide - from Holy Writ, and not as from the Magisterial Teaching of the Church. The issue of the impossibility of ordination of women is, however, part of the Magisterial Teaching of the Church, is infallibly held, and is neither from a Council nor from an ex-cathedra statement.


And teaching infallibly is…where in this statement?

John Paul II did not say he was making an ex cathedra statement in that teaching.

Whether or not John Paul II taught infallibly in that instance is an open question.

This is sort of a side-issue, but if the Marriage bond is just like Baptism in character, as you say St. Augustine said, then it follows that a Church court could, in theory, find some minor error in the way a Baptism happened and declare a Baptism annulled and such a person then would not even be a Christian even though he may have taken Holy Communion for years, got married or become a priest and even though anything he has done after his baptism was done in good faith and done in a valid way it all would be nothing if his baptism was declared to have actually never happened!

Maybe that could even be a way that a Church court could annul a marriage if they could not find anything wrong with the marriage itself they could turn to the baptisms of the bride and groom and see if they could fine anything wrong with either of them. And if they did find some minor issue with one of the couples baptism they could declare that baptism annulled and then by virtue of this discovery that he/she is not a Christian they then can declare the marriage annulled!

I looked through the thread you provided a link to and I noticed that most posters said that even if Pope Celestine III actually did try to dissolve a consummated, sacramental marriage that he could not do so. Most seemed to think that not even a pope had the power to dissolved a consummated, sacramental marriage. So I think it is safe to assume that most would also believe that the Eastern Orthodox could not dissolved a consummated, sacramental marriage either (even though this practice existed before 325 AD and mention of it is made in the 1st Ecumenical Council). But just because most Roman Catholics today believe that no authority in the Church can dissolved a consummated, sacramental marriage does not make it a moral issue that the Church has spoken on infallibly.

I am trying to set aside my personal bias in this matter and, if I need to, change my belief in this matter if I can know for sure that the Church in fact has spoken infallibly saying that all marriages (consummated, sacramental marriages) dissolved by any Church authority are not in fact not dissolved because it is dogma that it is impossible for any consummated, sacramental marriage to be dissolved. Has the Church (not just someones opinion) taught that this is so?

Pope John Paul II said (see here):

It seems quite clear then that the non-extension of the Roman Pontiff’s power to ratified and consummated sacramental marriages is taught by the Church’s Magisterium as a doctrine to be held definitively, even if it has not been solemnly declared by a defining act. This doctrine, in fact, has been explicitly proposed by the Roman Pontiffs in categorical terms, in a constant way and over a sufficiently long period of time. It was made their own and taught by all the Bishops in communion with the See of Peter, with the knowledge that it must always be held and accepted by the faithful.

This isn’t specifically directed at Mr. Diggerdomer, but is just a question as to why this “infallibly defined” designation is so often requested. Does the question of “infallibly defined” indicate that, if not defined as such, we are free to either: 1. ignore and dissent if we want, or 2. judge the particular teaching as a lesser teaching?

Why would we need in this case a defined statement of infallibility when Matthew 19:6 [Therefore now they are not two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder.] is clear.

The intrinsic value and nature of marriage in and of itself, and as such is thus indissoluble would seem to me to fit with the essence of who we are as creatures made by the Author of all values, essence, and virtues. Dissolving a valid marriage would mean that the value and nature of marriage itself is deficient, or at least subservient to the persons involved. This is where we are in most of the non-Catholic Christian world when it comes to marriage and it is mostly a disaster.

Lifelong marriage may not always be what we want to do but it fits in with who we want to be in the light of Christ. This is what the Church says and if the marriage was valid to begin with, it should not be dissolved. Why would we need to be compelled with a definition of infallibility to keep this value intrinsic to marriage?

You seem to be speaking with considerable sarcasm here, but there have been a few “baptism annulments” recently, though there is no formal process for doing so because it is deliberately very hard to screw up a baptism.

A few years back, some parishes were found to be baptizing “in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier” in an attempt to avoid the masculine titles “Father” and “Son.” Once the situation made its way all the way to Rome, the decision came down that the words used are not valid form, and thus those incorrectly baptized would have to be rebaptized.

I’ve seen a reaction similar to yours from some Orthodox on the boards, who seem to regard the Catholic annulment process as ludicrous and quite possibly fraudulent. It’s certainly true that there are more declarations of nullity granted today than in the past, and for a wide variety of reasons, and even many Catholics see that as a serious problem.

One problem is that the validity of matrimony rests in large part (in Catholic eyes, at least) on the intentions of the bride and groom at the time the sacrament was celebrated. A combination of extremely poor understanding of the commitments entailed by marriage on the part of many would-be spouses, and an expanded understanding of human psychology and motivation on the part of society in general (including marriage tribunals) has led to a profusion of declarations of nullity granted for reasons that are open to interpretation and questioning, rather than for obvious reasons like bigamy or consanguinity.


I’m sure you know that all that comes down to us from the apostles is not contained only in the Holy Bible but also in Holy Tradition. Since it is a fact that a second marriage has been granted commonly in the Church from very early days without any such thing as an annulment of the first marriage and that this practice is even referred to in the 1st Ecumenical Council wherein it says that Novations (who did not believe that there can be more than one valid marriage) are instructed that they must agree to commune with those who are “twice married” if they are to be allowed into Catholic unity. So either this is a valid practice handed down from the apostles of it is wrong and the pope should have by now said one way or the other to the whole Church if it be an acceptable Catholic practice morally and done so infallibly to end this long held controversy.

Can you cite an early example of a marriage being dissolved and then a second marriage being permitted? I had not heard of this before.

Does “twice married” definitely mean “married again after a divorce,” while the first spouse is alive, or could it mean “married again after the death of the first spouse”?


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