*** UPDATED 06/08/10 9:18 PM EST ***
Marital indiscipline seems to afflict all Western Christian churches and bodies to some degree or other, and even to an extent those in the East (the theory and practice of the Eastern Churches, which rested originally on a basis quite distinct form that of Western Catholics and Protestants, I will not discuss here) as well. Suffice it to say that, on a theoretical level at least, no Christian church or “denomination,” Eastern or Western ever accepted the practice of “divorce” in the modern sense of the term (that is, the dissolution of a valid marriage with one or both of the parties to that dissolved marriage being free to marry again), however much “pastoral compassion” (or “overlooking, deliberately or otherwise, irregular marital unions”) may, especially in the East, have allowed for the toleration of “marriages” of individuals whose spouses had disappeared some considerable time in the past. At the Reformation, however, all of the leading Protestant Reformers embraced the view of Erasmus that there were circumstances in which a valid marriage might be dissolved and the parties to it, or at least the “innocent” party, be allowed to remarry, which meant remarry in church, as in Catholic and Protestant countries alike there was no other form of marriage (beyond “common-law marriage” in a few countries such as Scotland — but this was a form of “marriage” of which the offspring were technically illegitimate, and so lacked clear inheritance rights). Moreover, Protestant church bodies, both Lutheran and Reformed, quickly came to permit divorce, and remarriage after divorce (hereafter termed DaR for short), in a variety of circumstances, among them, for instance, Scotland, where divorce in the modern sense became legally available in 1560, and has remained so ever since.
In England, however, the position was different, despite some initial irregularities, and the Church of England adopted what can be described as the most severe position on DaR of any Western Christian tradition whatsoever. The historic Anglican position on "divorce and remarriage" is clear enough — a resolute “no, never.”
King Henry VIII was firmly and explicitly opposed to DaR; he never in his life had a "divorce" in the modern sense as defined above (although in the 16th Century the term was used to denote any separation of the parties to a marriage during the lifetimes of them both) as all of his four "divorces" were "annulments" (granted by his complaisant Archbishop Cranmer). Cranmer himself, as a firm Protestant, came to favor DaR in a wide variety of circumstances, and shortly after Henry VIII's death in 1547 he granted a divorce (in the modern sense) to William Parr, then Earl of Essex, later Marquess of Northampton, who subsequently "remarried." (He also granted Sir Ralph Sadler permission to remain married to a woman whom he had married over a decade previously, some years after her husband had disappeared, when that first husband reappeared and tried to extort money from Sadler.) Provision for DaR was embodied in Cranmer's proposed reformed Code of Canon Law, but that proposal was rejected by the House of Commons in 1553 (as it was again in 1571 when reform-minded MPs tried to pass it despite Elizabeth I's objections). Under the Catholic Queen Mary, Parr was forced to separate from his wife under threat of excommunication and prosecution for bigamy — and while after Mary’s death in 1558 and the succession of her ambiguously Protestant half-sister Queen Elizabeth I he resumed living with his second wife, one of Elizabeth I's "Ladies in Waiting," the Queen more than once publicly reproached him for "bigamy" — and when he wished to marry again after his second wife died in 1565, she forbade the marriage and refused to permit it until after Parr's original wife died in 1571 (Parr survived his third marriage by only a couple of months).
Under Elizabeth DaR was non-existent and illegal in England under both Common and Canon Law. Church courts continued to grant "separations from bed and board" to incompatible couples, but these did not allow, and in fact specifically and explicitly forbade, remarriage of either party during the life of the other. Sometimes it happened regardless: John Thornborough, a clergyman, was granted such a separation from his wife in the 1580s, but went on to contract a remarriage shortly thereafter. In 1592, when he was appointed Bishop of Limerick (in Ireland), seemingly as a reward for his Catholic-hunting activities, the (Calvinist) Archbishop of York, Matthew Hutton, objected violently to Thornborough's appointment, on the grounds that he was an open bigamist — another Elizabethan bishop, Marmaduke Middleton of St. David's, bishop there from 1582, was deprived of his bishopric for such bigamy just a year later in 1593 — but his letters of protest to the Queen seemingly did not reach her, and the consecration went forward (Thornborough died as Bishop of Worcester in 1641, a firm Calvinist and one of the most stalwart opponents of "Laudianism").
In 1604 new canons promulgated in the Church of England ruled out DaR in all circumstances whatsoever, making provision for "separation" and (in very restricted circumstances) "annulments." This remained the formal position of the CofE down to (I think) the 1980s — although in Scotland, by contrast, DaR was available in a wide variety of circumstances from 1560 onwards. From 1670 onwards there was in England there was the phenomenon of "Parliamentary divorce:" an Act of Parliament would grant a couple a divorce, give one (or sometimes both) of them legal permission to remarry, and exempt any clergyman performing the remarriage full exemption from the penalties of the law, both Common and Canon/Civil (the study of Canon Law in England had been abolished in the 1530s, and most of the officials who staffed English church courts thereafter were trained in Roman, or “Civil,” Law): almost 300 such divorces were granted between 1670 (Lord Roos's case) and 1821 (when the farcical public fiasco of George IV's attempt to get such a divorce from his estranged wife ended in failure). Modern-style divorce became available in England only in 1857, and although after that date no legal penalties could be levied upon clergymen who performed such "remarriages," right down to the 1960s clergymen who did so were effectively "blacklisted" by just about every diocesan bishop, and denied all further preferment within the CofE.
Generally, "low church" or "evangelical" clergy tended to favor DaR in this period (in some circumstances), not least because all foreign Protestant churches, both Lutheran and Reformed, allowed it, and "high-church" (later "Anglo-Catholic") clergy to oppose it in almost all circumstances — but in 1670 it was the strenuous support of "Lord Roos's Bill" by the "Laudian" Bishop of Durham, John Cosin, in the face of the opposition of most of the other bishops, that persuaded the House of Lords to pass it.
I am, however, totally ignorant of the practice of PECUSA from 1785 onwards on this matter, although right down to the 1940s/50s divorce was strongly disapproved of in that church, especially for clergy, for whom , with rare exceptions like the notorious Bishop Pike, divorce alone, with or without remarriage, generally ended all hope of a “successful clerical career.”
We are not finished with this subject yet, but already certain implications have begun to emerge. Above all, it is clear that a loose marital discipline, whether tricked out in the robes of alleged "pastoral care" or "meeting people where they are," is no part at all of that "Anglican patrimony" which is seeking to be resituated in and restored to Catholic communion. Rather the contrary: the "Anglican patrimony" is one that has upheld the traditional marital discipline of the pre-Reformation Western Church to a degree that is unparalled among Reformation bodies, and one which was profoundly uncongenial to the Erastian powers-that-be in post-Reformation England — as witness the phenomenon of "Parliamentary divorce." Another is that in the context of this resituated "Anglican patrimony" one of its functions will be to witness to and uphold the longaeval marriage discipline of the Church, as a counterpoint to those sad failings of Henry VIII that led to the original breach between England and Rome, and thus in a way vindicating the stand of Clement VII, Paul III and Cardinal Pole in opposition to that monarch. And finally, although there is the hopeful possibility of the ordination of suitable married men to the diaconate and presbyterate in the soon-to-be-erected ordinariats, it has to be emphasized that there is little or no possibility of those in irregular marital situations, and certainly not in DaR situations, to be ordained or to serve in any clerical capacity in them.
(to be continued…)
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