Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Would Jesus Do? A Guide For Troubled Conservatives!

My eye was struck by article in the Press this morning. I can't find that precise article on the internet but here is a close relative. About that jokey but now EXTREMELY SERIOUS question, for some Catholics at least, Is the Pope a Catholic?

I notice a certain cunning in the way some public comment is circulating in conservative Catholic circles: really, there hasn't been a "proper" Pope since Pius XII in the 1950s. Clever deflection from making it all about Francis or looking like wistfulness for Benedict. But I don't recall this angst running through the college of cardinals during the reigns of Pius' successors. Only the SSPX rose to that particular improper pope anxiety. Otherwise it was mutterings about Vatican 2.

Of course the specific issue today is Francis' intransigent ambiguity on eucharist for the remarried divorcees. On the one hand I get it that there is a logic to Roman teaching on marriage and eucharist, with the "get out of jail" card called Annulment, which proscribes reception of the host by one who, according to that logic is a continuing adulterer. On the other hand, I do not see many Kiwi Catholics particularly discomforted by Francis' pastoral approach to the matter. Nor, of course, is there a lot of evidence these days of assiduous adherence to Humanae Vitae.

In short, Francis may be canonically wrong but pastorally attuned to the life situation of the laity.

I continue to think about these things, including preparing for a recent opportunity to teach on 1 Corinthians 5-7.

My simple question concerns what Jesus himself would do in this situation. That, surely, is worth examining while reiterating the canons and reviewing whether the Pope is Catholic.

Briefly, I cannot get from Jesus in, say, Luke 7:36-50, or John 8:1-11, to the rigor of discipline that offers no repentance for the divorced and remarried person (save for strict celibacy within marriage) and no share in the eucharist. And I still cannot find Annulment as a way round Jesus or Paul's teaching on divorce.

In those few sentences I am not pretending to have advanced a case to overturn the full weight of canonical, catechetical teaching (as if ...) but I wonder if those sentences might take us to the heartbeat of Francis?

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

*Religion as authoritative austerity* is in eclipse, for now. Though its few devotees do thrive in the dark, and will emerge from it in good time, for now they complain. Lamentation is their energy, what they do.

Meanwhile, *religion as participation in God* is still dim in the occidental sky. Its devotees seem like toddlers playing with toys their hands are too small to grasp. They giggle and sing, and that is not a bad thing, but we do not feel that their game is His play.

This void-- God's self-hiding?-- is what troubles most people, and maybe Francis too.

Bowman Walton

Father Ron Smith said...


"In short, Francis may be canonically wrong but pastorally attuned to the life situation of the laity." - Peter Carrell -

Thank you for this statement, Peter. I cannot help but feel that 'the life situation of the laity' is really what the Church on earth is all about. Here is another insight - from the recent 2017 'Inclusive Church Lecture by Dean Ison of Saint Paul's Cathedral - which I think, in like manner, speaks of the true vocation of the Church Catholic:

"The Church is a bonfire not a box.
The creeds and the dogmas which defined the Church over against the
pagans and heretics in the fourth century, and defined the Church of England
against Roman Catholic and Reformed Churches at the Reformation, are
boundaries around a mystery, not an IKEA manual for how to be a faithful
follower of Jesus Christ. At the heart of the Church is the burning love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord: and like a bonfire, the heat and light don’t stop at a boundary, but spread out a long way around so that people can be drawn inwards and warmed up and lit up for Christ. If we burn with the love of God, people will be drawn in. If we burn with zeal for defining the boundary definitions, we have missed the point of the Gospel."

The full text of the Lecture by the Dean of St.Paul's Cathedral can be found on my blog at kiwianglo.

Anonymous said...

Right in what he affirms, wrong in what he denies.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Jonathan, watch this. ECO is a Presbyterian example of mitosis, and John Ortberg will make your heart sing--

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG8I3Wz9UuM

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Peter; I don't know any conservatives who are sede vacantists. Even traditionalists like SSPX recognise Francis as a valid pope. The problem with Francis is that his pastoral approach can logically apply far wider than to the remarried. It could certainly apply to those in same sex relationships. So the pope is Catholic, but we might need a way to correct his error when his pontificate is over. See this, for example http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/news/2017/08/18/leading-theologian-change-canon-law-to-correct-papal-errors/
Despite criticism by conservatives, Francis does hold Catechism true views on abortion and transgenderism.
To return to the divorced and remarried, the key is that people are to turn from sin and sin no more. This is, after all, the standard that evangelicals (and Catholics) apply to LGBITs. If LGBITs are to go and sin no more, why should there be a different standard for the divorced?

Nick

Anonymous said...

"On the one hand I get it that there is a logic to Roman teaching on marriage and eucharist, with the 'get out of jail' card called Annulment..."

To be clear, Anglican canons in some, if not most, provinces do provide for annulment. Since few if any bishops require annulment for remarriage, this fact is well hidden.

Annulment safeguards the shape of marriage, especially with respect to the innermost intentions of the marrying parties. As odd as it is to hear that a Catholic has gotten an annulment after several years of marriage that looked pretty real on the outside, it is no less odd to hear in confidence some candid explanations of what people in trouble thought that they had contracted when they got married--

* An observant Christian woman from Eastern Europe marries an American man to get a Green Card and expects that he knows, without her saying so, that if she wants a Green Card then she does not want sex.

* An observant Christian woman marries an observant Christian man because she believes it is proper to have a husband, but does not acknowledge to this man eager to start a family that she does not want to have children.

Not to be cynical, it is not unusual for our kind to make decisions wearing rose-coloured glasses. And some strong-willed people, especially when young, only gather their thoughts and face the truth when they are in some kind of trouble. I cannot help but note that the average age for completion of the human brain's decision-making circuitry is around 28. Wherever churches still do not practise annulment or betrothal, they are effectively relying on social class to do the work of the Church.

Bowman Walton

Anonymous said...

Jonathan,

A postscript to yesterday's link to John Ortberg explaining ECO.

The congregations of the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO) are nearly all from the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA). There is no doubt that SSM in PCUSA has greatly increased the interest of evangelical congregations in ECO, which does not permit SSM. Schism then? No, mitosis.

First, ECO is not dissociative. It does not deny that PCUSA is a church, nor does it require churches to leave PCUSA to join ECO. ECO is broadly committed to unity with Presbyterian and other churches. To a large degree, it has avoided the toxic mindset of schism, even as it disagrees with the liberal leadership of the PCUSA (which is close to that of TEC).

The contrast with the whinging, dyspeptic haters who dominate so many conservative Anglican circles is frankly embarrassing, but also refreshing. ECO runs, not on the negativism of its members' disagreements with PCUSA leadership, but on the healthier energy of its own positive convictions. Obviously, ECO will not be doing SSM, but rather than circling around the walls of the PCUSA and waiting for them to crumble, they have simply moved on to the next thing.

Second, the stated rationale for ECO is missional unity-- new churches, growing churches, more effective churches, churches that do not look like churches, churches that reach well beyond the usual Presbyterian demographic. Achievement of those goals cannot be achieved without working alliances with many individuals, groups, and institutions outside of PCUSA (Ortberg mentions Fuller Seminary and InterVarsity Press) and those relationships need a responsive centre to hold them together. In telephony, when a region has a heavy volume of calls and a proliferation of numbers, it needs an area code. In winemaking...

The search for alliances that measurably contribute to mission along a broad front is entirely different from splitting a closed club over longstanding differences in churchmanship or over some error inflated to justify a schism. The missional rationale also leads to a more fitting organisational concept than the mere replication of an old denomination.

Third, the ethos of ECO is apologetic, theological and cohesive. Although PCUSA and ECO have the same confessions, decades of strained accommodation in the PCUSA have diluted proficiency in thinking with them. In their place, a heart-less pragmatism that resolves conflicts but weakens the Spirit-led ethos of the whole has prevailed in much of the PCUSA. ECO is more theological-- it has a greater hunger for ideas generally, and a greater desire to keep scripture and theology in the centre of them. ECO is also more cohesive-- clergy and seminarians are reading more of the same books, and speak a current theological language (compare Fulcrum's *open evangelicalism*). ECO is launching innovative service to a hurting world, not cognitive comfort for the tired and lazy.

In contrast, schismatic groups are not so open to and hungry for fresh ideas. Having spent a generation fixated on the reasons why they have been right and the other side wrong, their leaders are often arguers rather than thinkers or prayers, and out of their depth on matters of broader concern (eg eternal subordination of the Son).

Fourth, the mindset of ECO is progressive, not restorationist or preservationist. ECO's heartland is here-and-now Southern California; its leaders are in no way stuckist or passive-aggressive or nostalgic or reactionary, although they are open to re-appropriation of practises that could be helpful today (eg Richard Foster on spiritual disciplines). So much presentism may be crazy-making in an altogether different way, but the defensive crouches of most churches are plainly not going to take territory for Christ.

Schismatic groups often do rally around a status quo or status quo ante. But this makes them conservative populist uprisings rather than missional churches with long-term viability.

Anonymous said...



PPS-- A final consideration.

Because the Primates have rejected SSM, new evangelical missions will be sponsored from outside in any place that does not prevent SSM or SSB. These missions will aim to replace Anglican churches practising SSM with others that do not. Common sense: they will not compete with liberals for liberal Christians; they will compete with established evangelicals for everyone else. Some neglected souls might be reached-- hooray!-- but this could get done with some ugly side effects. One perverse result could be a divided community of Anglican evangelicals, as well as a division of local bishops and dioceses that the ancient canons forbid.

If I were an evangelical in ACANZP, I would be comparing the local need for evangelism and service to the church's present arrangement for meeting them. If the latter is not very responsive to the need, then I would press for whatever flexibility is required to put some Anglicans there on a truly missionary footing. If missional thinking takes you to some point short of mitosis, fine. But if you have to act more boldly, so be it.

Blessings,

Bowman Walton

Liturgy said...

Peter,
If you "cannot find Annulment as a way round Jesus or Paul's teaching on divorce", are you not leaping over central Anglican history (Henry VIII springs to mind, cf Charles & Camilla) right to our own church's (relatively-recent) pastoral practice where we affirm that our doctrine is clear "marriage is for life" but deny that in our "pastorally permitted" practice? ie. we seem fine that our canons conflict with our doctrine (the "Francis Approach"?)
Bosco

Father Ron Smith said...

" The problem with Francis is that his pastoral approach can logically apply far wider than to the remarried. It could certainly apply to those in same sex relationships. So the pope is Catholic, but we might need a way to correct his error when his pontificate is over." - Nick (Roman Catholic) -

Not quite what the majority of Roman Catholics around the world might think about their beloved Pope Francis. But then I guess it's easier nowadays for lay Catholics to express their dissatisfaction with the Pope. At one time, this would have been considered heretical.

Perhaps it needs an Anglican to appreciate the inclusive ministry of the current Successor of Saint Peter - compared, say, to the exclusion of some of our own hierarchy in our Church. Thank God for Pope Francis! His eirenic outlook encourages many more Christians than are contained in his own flock.

Anonymous said...

Peter; Fr Ron really needs to read comments in full before he responds. Along with others here, I look forward to that day. I provided a link to an eminent Catholic theologian Fr Aidan Nichols (whose holy orders I accept without question.) The learned priest humbly suggests in the link that the pope is in error. This view has been echoed by numerous priests and bishops of the Latin rite. Francis has not spoken with our Roman infallible formulae, so Fr Aidan's view is more than persuasive . The pope will have to take such adverse comment on the chin. In some respects it's his own fault. Fr Ron then suggests that I, a mere Roman layman (as is Fr Ron in Roman eyes) accuse the pope of heresy. If the pope is a heretic, that is for the College of Cardinals to determine, not me. I look forward to Francis's resignation, but like most Catholics, I will not break communion over issues that could die with this papacy.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
I am trying to read Ron carefully! I don't see where he described you as calling the Pope a heretic. What I see is a comment about lay people being dissatisfied these days with the Pope and that once upon a time such lay dissatisfaction was heretical.

If I understand the situation re marriage and divorce and remarriage correctly, I and other Anglicans can envisage a situation in which a valid, consecrated marriage breaks down, subsequently there is repentance for contribution to that breakdown, restoration is impossible, and a new marriage is entered into, with laudable creation-consistent aims, such as a desire to begin a family (which as I recall, involves non-celibate marriage). But Roman law cannot, unless the first marriage can be found to justify annulment. If Francis is allowing that the former situation might be supported and affirmed by the church (at the least by sharing the Sacrament with the new couple) then he is allowing for repentance and amendment of life. I myself cannot see why this would logically involve a change in approach to same sex sexual activity which is viewed as wrong ethically, and biologically is never made virtuous by its procreative intent.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco
I get very confused by Henry VIII and the many comings, goings, and beheadings of his wives.
But I think I know enough to know that his example and the bishops who, so to speak, egged him on, including Blessed Cranmer, is not one to be followed in settling the canons of the church. Nor would I, for one, place much store on Charles and Camille as a couple by which to set one's canonical or theological compass (unless it were in a particularly multi-faith direction!).
In the life of our own church we may have some canonical and constitutional straightening out to do, right after the last block of stone or brutal concrete is laid for the future cathedral in the Square!
In the meantime, as a pastor, I am happy to marry a divorced person where there is no hope of restoring the previous marriage, there is repentance for contribution to the breakdown of the marriage and there is a desire to marry for the purpose of bringing children into this world.
Jesus was rather keen on repentance and new beginnings and I trust we can find a way to write our canons so that we are as clear that marriage is for life as we are that Jesus knew of no unforgivable sin except that of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.

Anonymous said...

Peter, you know from previous comments that I question the legitimacy of some annulments. For example, I find it hard to believe that north americans (the leaders in the annulment race) have particular problems understanding consent. My scepticism is not uncommon. It does show however that I don't fall for any old annulment argument. When I apply that to your comment, I am more than happy to accept that a person can repent of his/her part in a marriage breakdown. In my view (obviously not shared by some north american Catholics) unless the annulment is for a reason mentioned by Christ, a person is still married. It has nothing to do with unforgivable sins; it is a question of whether a person is married or not. No matter how forgiven you are, if you are married and separated you are still married. Similarly homosexuals may be fully forgiven but that does not produce freedom for sex anymore than it does for the separated married person who is sorry and forgiven.
Nick

Anonymous said...

Evangelicals and liberals have something in common after all. They are both struggling with Larry Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma.

While studying giant corporations that had been humbled by small changes in technology, Christensen recognised that the only way that they could have held on to their markets was for them to be first to launch an innovation that directly threatened customer loyalty to their brands. But obviously doing so is very risky; it requires that they push their own established products into obsolescence, and transforming the whole organisation to do it. Bluntly stated, the innovator's dilemma is-- doing nothing risks death; sponsoring innovation risks chaos. And either way, people who dislike change will offer a host of minor fixes that cannot avoid either death or chaos, but are much less radical to contemplate.

Many Anglican evangelicals have launched a happy clappy worship far from the Prayerbook ethos because they were convinced that aesthetic change would eventually make past glories unsustainable. And when Anglican liberals were less polarised and bitter, their case for SSM was similarly a defense of traditional marriage and the fast-eroding morality anchored in it. Both recognised that some cherished bathwater needed to be thrown out; the question is whether they have kept the Baby in doing so. From time to time, Catholics face the same dilemma. Mistakes will be made-- have been made-- by all.

Bowman Walton

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Nick
Yes, I do recall thatre annulment and with appreciation.
Yes, objectively a person remains married to that first spouse, but then the Matthews and Pauline exceptions raise questions whether we require that the extinction of that first marriage requires an objective process such as canonical annulment or could be measured in another way (such as the two parties agreeing that the marriage is at an end, and the priest of the party wishing to remain a communicant agreeing that this is ok (I think this is the pastoral journeying that Francis' famous footnote is referring to).
I am, of course, going beyond the Matthean and Pauline exceptions, by introducing the notion of repentance etc.
I also, thinking of this in the night, raise this thought: if a spouse forgives the other spouse for her role in the marriage breakdown, might not the church on behalf of God also so forgive?

Father Ron Smith said...

"Peter, you know from previous comments that I question the legitimacy of some annulments." - Nick -

Are you actually admitting,. Nick, that there are others in the One. Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church (or that part of it claimed by the Roman constituency) that has erred - besides the present Pope.? In this case, whom can you trust to be 'orthodox' in your eyes?

What most Christians will have realised by now is that The O.H.C. & A. Church is capable of error - despite the R.C. claims to infallibility. There was only one infallible human being ever born into this world and that was the Christ - and even Jesus had to learn how to include non-Jews into the Kingdom of God (see last Sunday's Gospel about the Canaanite woman!)

Father Ron Smith said...

Peter, I cannot but commend you for your last sentence on this important subject. We humans often want to condemn, when Christ Himself came to redeem - and in that action must surely retain the right to judgement - not us mortals!

Again and again, I come back to the famous Father Faber Hymn "There's a wideness in God's mercy" - a depth and width that some of us will not own!

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter, I'll answer Fr Ron first. Amoris Laetitia, as an exhortation, is not an infallible document. So if the pope has erred, it's not a big deal for papal infallibility. I do question why North American Catholics are granted more annulments than anyone else. I am by no means the only sceptic and it does not shift my strong confidence in my local bishop. Finally Fr Ron, the OHC and A church is infallible. Is the Apostles' Creed being amended at St Michael's? Turning to the spouses who forgive each other, I cannot see that they are somehow unmarried. The Matthean exceptions seem only to consider fornication as warranting remarriage. No amount of forgiveness seems to legitimise any other reason for remarriage.

Nick

Andrei said...

"What most Christians will have realised by now is that The O.H.C. & A. Church is capable of error"

Wrong Fr Ron - The O.H.C. & A is infallible, it is the people within it who are not

Thus when The O.H.C. & A teaches Jesus Christ is God incarnate it is a true teaching

When Bishops within The O.H.C. & A Church cannot agree on the appropriate way of dealing with fallen human nature as in failed marriages that is a symptom of fallen human nature

The Church is given to us to help guide us to salvation and it is a matter of debate whether the spiritual welfare of an individual is best served by saying they should not receive communion because of marital irregularities or whether it is not.

The current Pope in his wisdom has suggested that whether or not someone in an irregular relationship should abstain or partake is a matter best left to the individual and his spiritual adviser (confessor) to determine rther than having an inflexible rule

In fact whether or not anyone should receive communion on a particular Sunday or Sundays should be a matter of conscience perhaps with advice from a spiritual counselor and not something done as a matter of routine and ritual

Peter Carrell said...

(With apologies for delay, travelling, making use of a Saturday to dig the garden ...)

Hi Nick,
We could here, perhaps, all agree [Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox) that a marriage is a marriage is a marriage; and thus a second marriage is a difficult thing for Christians to consider, both because of what Jesus taught and because of the sheer logic that a marriage to another spouse while the first spouse lives is a contradiction ("adultery") of marriage exclusivity. In that sense, the repentance/forgiveness line I have taken here does not, as you point out, in and of itself undo a marriage while each spouse remains alive.

Nevertheless for all sorts of reasons, including deeply embarrassing ones (cf. Henry VIII etc!), churches have reckoned with the reality that marriages as a working, living relationship between two people come to a practical end and, at least in some circumstances, a new marriage is worth a church celebration and prayers for it. For the Orthodox such a second marriage receives a slightly different form of service. For Protestants, generally not so, though the minister's sermon might emphasis the importance of really, really working at this new marriage. For Catholics there is either (i) no way for this to happen; or (ii) an annulment might be sought and, after due inquiry, granted.

Even if we set aside the extravagant generosities of the North American approach to annulments, in my limited Kiwi experience of such matters, the granting of an annulment is possible for a marriage of many years and several children as fruit and sign thereof. I can only surmise that such annulment makes a distinction between two kinds of marriages: marriages and proper (Sacramental?) marriages. So long as an (actual, legal, consummated) marriage can be deemed less than proper, then annulment might (all factors considered) be granted. (Or, have I got that wrong?) Thus an annulment declares that what everyone who knew the couple concerned thought was a marriage was not a proper marriage.

But is this not a legal (canonical?) fiction in respect of a marriage is a marriage is a marriage? Entering into a first proper marriage while there is a living spouse from the first marriage (perhaps an ever-living reminder because that spouse is the mother of children from the first marriage) involves the legal cuteness of participation in the eucharist as one who is not unfaithful to a person who is not considered a spouse yet who was a spouse.

This is a long way of making a simple point: is it possible that Orthodox and Protestants have an approach to remarriage after divorce which is honest and straightforward on the matter of a marriage is a marriage, even if it is also in contradiction of our Lord's teaching?

Anonymous said...

"I can only surmise that such annulment makes a distinction between two kinds of marriages: marriages and proper (Sacramental?) marriages. So long as an (actual, legal, consummated) marriage can be deemed less than proper, then annulment might (all factors considered) be granted. (Or, have I got that wrong?) Thus an annulment declares that what everyone who knew the couple concerned thought was a marriage was not a proper marriage." -- Peter

When Helmut sold his pretty daughter Brunhilde to Hans to be the latter's wife, everyone in the village square knew that Hans and Brunhilde were married. They knew mainly because they saw the men shaking hands on the deal at the barber's chair in the square, but also because Helmut would not stop bragging about his new gold coins to anyone who would listen (and indeed some who would not). They also knew because they saw the families escort Brunhilde through the winding village streets from her father's house to her husbands, crying, as women often do when their fathers marry them off to someone who is boring and properous. As it happened, Brunhilde's tears were not joyful ones, but that had nothing to do with the matter until the village priest-- a shameless revisionist-- had the audacity to publish to the whole diocese the banns for the solemnisation of Brunhilde's marriage to Gunter on the west steps of the village church.

Enraged, Helmut and Hans went to the priest to demand satisfaction for his insult to their honour. But liberal that he was-- he was a master of arts from Paris-- he explained that, for the mortal sins of procurement, rape, and threatening a man of God, the Almighty was going to cast them both into the lake of fire, there to suffer excruciating torment for all eternity. He blandly advised repentance. At once terrified and outraged at this divination from the sacred book, the two rode through the night to the cathedral to appeal it to the bishop, who, on hearing them out, promptly muttered some Latin at them annulling their sale as not a marriage in due form, and then in the vulgar tongue excommunicated the two rich peasants for being so damnably uppity to God's anointed when he was eating his breakfast.

Anonymous said...

On the day of the solemnisation-- an auspicious day in the opinion of the cathedral's best astrologer-- the priest with Gunter and Brunhilde stepped out onto the west steps and looked down onto the village market below. Women old and young paused from pinching fruit and weighing eggs, speechless with excitement. Old men continued feeding caged peacocks and unrolling bolts of cloth, bored and impatient to get back to business. Young men were eager to see whether their friend Gunter would get his love, or whether the older and richer men would keep all the pretty young women for themselves. Frisky lambs and ewes seemed ready for an occasion less solemn.

In a loud voice, the priest asked Gunter and Brunhilde three questions to which everyone already knew the answers--

What is your name?
Do you desire to be married?
Do you desire to be married to this (wo)man?

--and duly recorded their replies in a great codex. An old woman cried up the steps, "Are you the only one here who does not know the answers? Why are you doing this?"

Then shouting to all in the square, the priest asked whether anyone knew any just reason why Gunter and Brunhilde could not be man and wife. At this, the conservative mayor Breitbart pressed his way to the front of the crowd to tell the plain truth to the upstart's face. "It is common knowledge that Hans has taken Brunhilde to be his wife, and that she has been found in that act to be a virgin." Taking the word *virgin* as a signal, the women of Hans's family proudly waved a bloody sheet above the heads of the admiring crowd. "And Jesus himself has taught us that there can be no divorce. Gunter and Brunhilde can not marry; the thing is impossible." In a tone of mock unction, Breitbart added, "What God has put together, let no man cast asunder." However, strong men did pull a lamb from a ewe he had chased to the steps.

Taking the word *God* as his own cue, a drunken Helmut staggered up to the priest and demanded to know how God could have made him guard his daughter's virginity for so many years, only to make him a laughingstock in the end. Sinking to his knees, he grabbed the priest's knees and cried. But Breitbart curtly interrupted his self-pity to demand the young priest's answer to his unanswerable objection. The chariot of the sun had passed overhead and begun his descent toward the West.

Anonymous said...

For all his experience of disputations, the *magister artium* hesitated under the bright sun to take in what had been said. A canon from the cathedral stepped up from the crowd to read aloud in Latin a writ that annulled the agreement between Helmut and Hans as not a proper marriage between Brunhilde and Hans under the laws of the Romans. But the law of the Romans was not the law of the barbarian tribes. From a nearby tower, a voice rang out-- "Marriage by Roman Law? Fake news. Sad!"

Then Hans also objected. The priest had omitted to ask the essential question behind every wedding, what man presents this woman to be married? This, of course, was true; the master of arts had correctly assumed that the father would not present the bride. But how can a woman present herself to be married under any law? Breitbart's grim visage broadened into a smile of victory as this second front opened in his battle against the faithless priest.

That was premature. Hans, having paid Helmut a high price for Brunhilde, was not only reduced to at least temporary poverty, but was also unable to avail himself of the blessings of matrimony on penalty of everlasting fire. Thus, ironically, he was relieved when the resourceful young Gunter paid him (what he had intended to pay foolish Helmut) to present his good-for-nothing wife at the church steps for the solemnisation of her marriage to Gunter. Which Hans did.

This prompted the women of Gunter's family to vindicate the virginity of the woman in question yet again by waving a bloody sheet of their own. Out of regard for the bride's honour, we pass over the spirited reaction of the women of Hans's family. The bride herself was relieved that her veil concealed her reactions to these discussions.

As the sun passed below the treetops of the village square, most people and their livestock drifted away. The priest and canon took counsel on the church steps, hastening to decide before vespers. The question was Brunhilde's true status, and as an exercise, the reader may enjoy reconstructing the casuistry with which the learned clerks attempted to determine it. Here, we give only the public result. Being a master of Paris rather than of Bologna, this priest finally ruled thus-- Hans would present Brunhilde, and the solemnisation of her marriage to Gunter would proceed.

To the mayor, red-faced with rage, he tactfully explained. On one hand, even if Brunhilde had been married to Hans, and even if the bishop's annulment of that marriage was itself null and void, it would then be the case that she was passing from husband to husband with no time during which she was divorced by any man. On those suppositions, she was never divorced, and therefore Christ's commandment was never violated. On the other hand, if the annulment was valid, then it returned her to the status that she had before Helmut and Hans struck their bargain. And if Brunhilde had been secretly married to Gunter even before that, then Hans was without blame for what he could not have known, and the day's solemnisation was needed to establish among men what Christ and the angels already knew-- at some point, notwithstanding what everyone had once assumed, Brunhilde had been married to Gunter.

-- from the Chronicle of Cockaigne, circa 1150.

Father Ron Smith said...

re Nick's fixation with (aided and abetted by our Host) - "A marriage is a marriage is a marriage". -

If this is so; what is the rationale behind the Roman Catholic process of so-called annulment? Does this mean that a marriage never took place? If not, what exactly is being annulled?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Ron (and Nick)
Please don't use words like "fixation" when a commenter here properly gives an apologia for the canons and doctrines of his or her church!

Marriages can be annulled (albeit precise laws nations etc being followed). I am not questioning that (e.g. someone discovers they married their half-sister by mistake; deceit is involved re a con man cheating his way into marriage as an immigration scam). What I am questioning is what it means to deem, even by a well laid out process, that a marriage which is not otherwise with a "rogue" element, and moreover is accepted as a marriage by all and sundry, is not a (proper) marriage, and thus capable of annulment. In such cases it seems - at least to outsiders - that the grounds for annulment look quite like grounds for divorce ...

Anonymous said...

Hi Peter; I am not a canon lawyer and annulment is not straightforward. Nevertheless, you are correct that some people will appear to be married only to find that the RCC considers their marriage invalid. An example is the Catholic who, without permission, marries someone who is not baptised. Regardless of any children, such a person is likely to be able to "remarry". There is then the Pauline Privilege where one of two legally married non-Catholics converts. As long as the non-Christian spouse is given the opportunity to convert (declines and consents to separation), an annulment is possible. Other grounds follow the concept of capacity to consent. This is where creativity could produce less than credible results in some (not all) cases. So, I cannot exclude that where someone claims a lack of capacity, the reasoning could be falling out of love or whatever. The key is what the person really thought they were doing. Regardless of an annulment, an annulment granted on exaggerated grounds will not break the bond. God after all is not mocked.

So, where does that leave us? Probably no closer. If the Catholic consent grounds are honestly made out, there is no meeting of minds in a contractual sense and there is no marriage. Where the grounds are not met, the couple is still married regardless of the annulment or whether Anglicans/Orthodox are more honest about lack of grounds. The Gospel is the standard, not man made rules.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Nick.
I think I get all that.
Obviously in a small world such as NZ I cannot go into details of situations, all too easily recognised by readers here, where I think the nexus of gospel "standard", church canons, and grounds for/against annulment is less than pastorally helpful to sincere Christians seeking a new start in family life and likely even, in my subjective view (the Pope's also!?), to be unwarranted when compared to that other great gospel standard, Christ's love for the beaten up and woebegone of this life.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, appeals to Christ's love have become, for some, a way of justifying a lowering of the bar. A pastoral approach is one thing, ear tickling and not wanting to offend those in error (no matter how sincere) Is quite another. Francis's problem is that he is unclear. That is pastorally unhelpful to say the least and produces the type of comments from the Australian schools you linked to on today's post.

Nick

Peter Carrell said...

Indeed, Nick.
What I like about Francis' approach (acknowledging ambiguity etc) is that it does encourage a case-by-case approach to a significant journey or companionship in pastoral care.
In my own experience of pastoral care (and not confined solely to questions of relationships) there are situations in which rules/canons/rubrics are simply unhelpful and unfruitful, and the wise pastor works, sensitive to the Spirit, to find a way forward for people in need.
Jesus himself did this!
And Paul, when we read him carefully, tended to set out principles and policies rather than prescriptions, acknowledging that life is complicated and the church often has to work out ethics in changing situations as it gos along.

Liturgy said...

Dear Peter
I think we are talking past each other (my comment August 24, 2017 at 9:48 AM; your reply August 24, 2017 at 10:31 PM). My point was simply that divorce and remarriage, rather than annulment, is relatively new within Anglican history. Until that relatively recent change in practice, Anglicanism was one of the strictest Christian groups in marriage discipline. Annulment has much, much longer been an option within Anglicanism – though rarely applied.
Blessings
Bosco

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Bosco,
Yes!

Father Ron Smith said...

I'm still awaiting an answer to my question - re annulment.

If the 'Marriage' was not legal (or licit) in the first place; what, precisely is being 'annulled'? Is it a marriage or a non-marriage?

Anonymous said...

Fr Ron, annulment is no different from any other legal process where one or both parties are arguing that there is all form and no substance.

Nick