Divorce and Remarriage in the Church Fathers and Patristic Era Writers (Florilegium)

This is a repost of a florilegium compiled by someone else who has given their permission to repost it and requests they remain unnamed.

A nice collection of additional quotations on saints and patristic era writers who allowed divorce and remarriage but specifically in the West have been kindly compiled by Alura at Shameless Orthodoxy and can be found here and here. This is a living document so if you have quotations that do not appear here, please post them below or email them to ubipetrus2019@gmail.com.

We are sharing this on Ubi Petrus Ibi Ecclesia as there are numerous websites touting the supposed patristic view of the Catholic Church in its generous and obscene use of annulments and banning of remarriage after divorce for any reason. Such collections can be found here, here, here, here, here (has a strange understanding of St. Basil’s views), and here.

From this point on, the words are those of the initial compiler, not my own. Many thanks to him for his labor in supplying us with this.

The views of the Church Fathers and writers of that era lacked uniformity on remarriage after divorce specifically in cases where the wife was guilty of sexual immorality. The term used in Matthew 19 is “porneia” and it means “sexual immorality.” Patristic writers treat it as an action and not a state (therefore, it cannot mean “illicit” or “invalid” though some authors, such as St. Basil the Great. St. Leo, and a couple others handle the topic of illicit marriages separately and do not use the term “porneia” to describe it). “Porneia” is consistently used to translate the Hebrew “zanah” (“sexual immorality”) and both terms could contain within them the double meaning of “idolatry” or “apostasy” (see the Book of Revelation 17:2,4 specifically).

The Fathers can be broken down into several main groups with several more subdivisions:

1) No remarriage ever: St. Athenagoras of Athens.

2) No divorce: St. Theodoret of Cyrrhus, Pope St. Leo the Great, Pope St. Gregory the Great.

3) Divorce allowed, remarriage disallowed:

4) Divorce and remarriage allowed.

5) Remarriage condemned but no specification if that carries over to after the death of a spouse:

6) Divorce allowed from an adulterous wife but no mention of remarriage for innocent husband:

7) Divorce and remarriage is allowed but no mention is made if it is within or after the death of the adulterous spouse:

Patristic Era Writers on Divorce and Remarriage

Shepherd of Hermas (late 1st to mid 2nd century)

“And I said to him, Sir, if anyone has a wife who trusts in the Lord, and if he detect her in adultery, does the man sin if he continue to live with her? And he said to me, As long as he remains ignorant of her sin, the husband commits no transgression in living with her. But if the husband know that his wife has gone astray, and if the woman does not repent, but persists in her fornication, and yet the husband continues to live with her, he also is guilty of her crime, and a sharer in her adultery. And I said to him, What then, sir, is the husband to do, if his wife continue in her vicious practices? And he said, The husband should put her away, and remain by himself. But if he put his wife away and marry another, he also commits adultery. And I said to him, What if the woman put away should repent, and wish to return to her husband: shall she not be taken back by her husband? And he said to me, Assuredly. If the husband does not take her back, he sins, and brings a great sin upon himself; for he ought to take back the sinner who has repented. But not frequently. For there is but one repentance to the servants of God. In case, therefore, that the divorced wife may repent, the husband ought not to marry another, when his wife has been put away. In this matter man and woman are to be treated exactly in the same way.” The Shepherd 2:4:1

St. Justin Martyr (m. 165)

In regard to chastity, [Jesus] has this to say: ‘If anyone looks with lust at a woman, he has already before God committed adultery in his heart.’ And, ‘Whoever marries a woman who has been divorced from another husband, commits adultery.’ According to our Teacher, just as they are sinners who contract a second marriage, even though it be in accord with human law, so also are they sinners who look with lustful desire at a woman. He repudiates not only one who actually commits adultery, but even one who wishes to do so; for not only our actions are manifest to God, but even our thoughts.” First Apology, 15

St. Theophilus of Antioch (d. 183-5)

“He who marries a woman put away by her husband, commits adultery; and he who puts away his wife save for the case of fornication, makes her to commit adultery.” Ad Autolycum ch. 3:13

Athenagoras of Athens (d. 190)

For we bestow our attention, not on the study of words, but on the exhibition and teaching of actions, — that a person should either remain as he was born, or be content with one marriage; for a second marriage is only a specious adultery. For whosoever puts away his wife, says He, and marries another, commits adultery [Matthew 19:9]; not permitting a man to send her away whose virginity he has brought to an end, nor to marry again. For he who deprives himself of his first wife, even though she be dead, is a cloaked adulterer, resisting the hand of God, because in the beginning God made one man and one woman, and dissolving the strictest union of flesh with flesh, formed for the intercourse of the race.” Legatio pro Christianis 33

Clement of Alexandria (d. 215)

“Now that the Scripture counsels marriage, and allows no release from the union, is expressly contained in the law, You shall not put away your wife, except for the cause of fornication; and it regards as fornication, the marriage of those separated while the other is alive. … He that takes a woman that has been put away, it is said, commits adultery; and if one puts away his wife, he makes her an adulteress, that is, compels her to commit adultery. And not only is he who puts her away guilty of this, but he who takes her, by giving to the woman the opportunity of sinning; for did he not take her, she would return to her husband.” Stromata 2, ch. 23

Tertullian (d. 240)

“But, however, since Patience takes the lead in every species of salutary discipline, what wonder that she likewise ministers to Repentance, (accustomed as Repentance is to come to the rescue of such as have fallen,) when, on a disjunction of wedlock (for that cause, I mean, which makes it lawful, whether for husband or wife, to persist in the perpetual observance of widowhood), she waits for, she yearns for, she persuades by her entreaties, repentance in all who are one day to enter salvation? How great a blessing she confers on each! The one she prevents from becoming an adulterer; the other she amends.” On Patience, ch. 12

“But, you allege, Christ forbids divorce: his words are, Whosoever sendeth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth one that is sent away by her husband, is no less an adulterer. So as to forbid divorce on this side as well, he makes unlawful the marriage of a divorced woman. Moses however permits divorce, in Deuteronomy: If any man hath taken a wife, and hath dwelt with her, and it come to pass that she find not favour with him because some unseemly thing hath been found in her, he shall write a bill of divorcement and give it into her hand and send her away from his house. You notice the contrast between law and gospel, between Moses and Christ? To be sure I do. For you have not accepted that other gospel, of equal truth, and of the same Christ, in which while forbidding divorce he answers a particular question concerning it: Moses because of the hardness of your heart commanded to give a bill of divorcement, but from the beginning it was not so—because in fact he who made them male and female had said The two of them shall become one flesh. What therefore God has joined together shall a man presume to put asunder? So by this answer he did two things: he set a guard upon Moses’ regulation, as his own, and set in its proper context the Creator’s ordinance, being the Creator’s Christ. But seeing I have undertaken to confute you from those documents which you have accepted, I will meet you on this ground, as though this Christ were mine. When he forbids divorce, while yet claiming as his father him who has joined together the male and the female, must he not rather have defended than abolished Moses’ regulation? But now, let us suppose that this Christ is yours, giving opposite teaching to Moses and the Creator—provided that if I prove it was not opposite, I may claim him as mine. I maintain that he has here issued his prohibition of divorce under a certain condition—if any man sends away his wife with the intention of taking another. His words are, Whosoever sendeth away his wife and marrieth another hath committed adultery, and whosoever marrieth one sent away by her husband is no less an adulterer—marrying a woman sent away is forbidden for the same reason for which her husband is not allowed to send her away, so that another may be taken: marrying a woman unlawfully sent away is like marrying one not sent away, and the man who does this is an adulterer. So the marriage not properly dissolved remains a marriage: and for her to marry while the marriage remains, is adultery. Thus if it was under these conditions that he prohibited sending away a wife, this was not a total prohibition: and this that he has not totally prohibited he has permitted under other conditions, where the reason for the prohibition is absent. Thus his teaching is not in opposition to Moses, for he in some form retains his regulation—I do not yet say he confirms it. If however you deny that divorce is in any way permitted by Christ, how comes it that you yourself make separation between married people? For you neither allow the conjunction of male and female, nor do you admit to the sacrament of baptism and the Eucharist persons married elsewhere, unless they have made conspiracy between themselves against the fruit of matrimony, and so against the Creator himself. In any case, what in your view does a husband do if his wife has committed adultery? Will he keep her? But, you know, your own apostle does not permit the members of Christ to be joined to a harlot. It appears then that divorce, when justified, has Christ’s authority. Next also Moses receives support from him, for he prohibits divorce under the same heading as Christ does—unless there be found in the woman some unseemly thing. For in Matthew’s gospel Christ says, Whosoever shall send away his wife, saving for the cause of adultery, causeth her to commit adultery and the man who marries one sent away by her husband is no less declared an adulterer. But except for the cause of adultery, neither does the Creator put asunder that which he himself has joined together: for Moses again in another place makes the rule that the man who had married after violence committed, could not send away his wife at any time. But if a marriage enforced inconsequence of violence is to be permanent, how much more shall one contracted willingly and by agreement? This too has the authority of prophecy, Thou shalt not send away the wife of thy youth. Thus you find Christ by himself treading at every point in the Creator’s footsteps, whether in permitting divorce or in forbidding it. You will find him also, in whichever direction you will, taking forethought regarding marriage: while he will not have it dissolved, he forbids separation: and while he will not have it continue under stain he permits divorce. You to your shame refuse to join together those whom your own Christ has joined. To your shame you put them asunder without that just cause for which your Christ also would have them put asunder. It is my next duty to show you also from what source the Lord derived this judgement, and for what purpose he intended it. So it will become more fully evident that he had no intention of suppressing Moses’ ruling by this sudden introduction of the subject of divorce: for in fact there was no sudden introduction, since it had its origin in the aforesaid mention of John. John rebuked Herod because contrary to the law he had married the wife of his deceased brother, who had a daughter by her. The law does not allow this, or give any command of this sort, except when the brother has died childless, so that seed may be raised up to him by his own brother, of his own wife. So John had been cast into prison by that same Herod, and afterwards put to death. So our Lord, having made mention of John, and in effect of what led to his death, did under the figure of adultery and unlawful marriage make this attack upon Herod, when he pronounced an adulterer even one who has married a woman sent away by her husband. In this way he could pass sterner censure upon Herod’s godlessness, who had married a woman sent away by her husband by death, which is a sort of divorce, even though this was his brother, who had a daughter by her—on which account his action was illicit, suggested by lust and not by the law—and therefore had put to death that prophet who censured his breaking of the law.” Against Marcion, Bk. 4:34, Translation by Evans Marc

“When Marcion deprives his faithful—I say nothing of his catechumens—of cohabitation in any form, demanding divorce even before marriage, whose judgement does he follow, Moses’ or Christ’s? And yet when Christ too commands the wife not to depart from her husband, or, if she does depart, to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband, he gives permission for the divorce which he does not out and out prohibit, and sets his approval on the matrimony of which from the first he forbids the dissolution, and if perhaps there has been dissolution desires its restoration.” Against Marcion, Bk. 5:7

“Now, recognizing the fact of human frailty, let us turn our attention to an alternative course of action [i.e., remarriage to Christians]. We are led to do this because of the conduct of certain women who, when given an opportunity of practicing continence by reason of a divorce or the death of a husband, not only rejected the opportunity of living so good a life, but, in contracting a second marriage, were not even mindful of the prescription that they should “above all marry in the Lord” Ux. 2.1.1 (CCSL 1: 383, trans. William P. Le Saint, ACW 13, 23)

During his Montanist phase:

“They [the pagan Romans] enter into adulterous unions even when they do not put away their wives, we [Christians] are not allowed to marry even when we put our wives away.” De Monogamia, ch. 9

“A divorced woman cannot even marry legitimately; and if she commit any such act without the name of marriage, does it not fall under the category of adultery, in that adultery is crime in the way of marriage? Such is God’s verdict, within straighter limits than men’s, that universally, whether through marriage or promiscuously, the admission of a second man (to intercourse) is pronounced adultery by Him.” De Monogamia, ch. 9

Origen of Alexandria (d. 254)

“But now contrary to what was written, some even of the rulers of the church have permitted a woman to marry, even when her husband was living, doing contrary to what was written, where it is said, A wife is bound for so long time as her husband lives, and So then if while her husband lives, she shall be joined to another man she shall be called an adulteress, (Rom. 7:3) not indeed altogether without reason, for it is probable this concession was permitted in comparison with worse things, contrary to what was from the beginning ordained by law, and written.” Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 14, ch. 23

Just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Savior, he commits adultery with her.” Commentary on Matthew, Bk. 14, ch. 24

St. Cyprian of Carthage (m. 258)

In the first Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians: But to them that are married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not be separated from her husband; but if she should depart, that she remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and that the husband should not put away his wife. Treatise 12, Bk. 3, ch. 90

Council of Elvira in modern day Spain (c. 305-6)

“Likewise, women who have left their husbands for no prior cause and have joined themselves with others, may not even at death receive communion.” Canon 8

“Likewise, a woman of the faith [i.e., a baptized person] who has left an adulterous husband of the faith and marries another, her marrying in this manner is prohibited. If she has so married, she may not at any more receive communion–unless he that she has left has since departed from this world.” Canon 9

“If she whom a catechumen has left shall have married a husband, she is able to be admitted to the fountain of baptism. This shall also be observed in the instance where it is the woman who is the catechumen. But if a woman of the faithful is taken in marriage by a man who left an innocent wife, and if she knew that he had a wife whom he had left without cause, it is determined that communion is not to be given to her even at death.” Canon 10

Lactantius (d. early 4th century)

“Lest anyone think that he can circumscribe the divine precepts, there are added those that take away all calumny and occasion of fraud; he is an adulterer who marries a divorced spouse, and he who dismisses his wife commits adultery (Mt. 5:32) for God is unwilling to dissociate the body. (The Divine Institutes, Bk. 6, Chap. 23)

“Therefore let it be observed in all the duties of life, let it be observed in marriage. For it is not sufficient if you abstain from another’s bed, or from the brothel. Let him who has a wife seek nothing further, but, content with her alone, let him guard the mysteries of the marriage-bed chaste and undefiled. For he is equally an adulterer in the sight of God and impure, who, having thrown off the yoke, wantons in strange pleasure either with a free woman or a slave. But as a woman is bound by the bonds of chastity not to desire any other man, so let the husband be bound by the same law, since God has joined together the husband and the wife in the union of one body. On this account He has commanded that the wife shall not be put away unless convicted of adultery, and that the bond of the conjugal compact shall never be dissolved, unless unfaithfulness have broken it.” Epitome, 66

“Whoever marries a woman who has been divorced by her husband is an adulterer, as is the man who divorces his wife in order to marry another woman, except if she is guilty of adultery. For God does not want the body to be separated and torn apart.” Inst. 6.23 (CSEL 19: 569-570)

Council of Arles (c. 314)

“As regards those who find their wives to be guilty of adultery, and who being Christians are, though young men, forbidden to remarry, we decree that, so far as may be, counsel be given them not to take other wives while their own, though guilty of adultery, are yet living.” Canon 10

Council of Nicea (325)

“Concerning those who call themselves Cathari, if they come over to the Catholic and Apostolic Church, the great and holy Synod decrees that they who are ordained shall continue as they are in the clergy. But it is before all things necessary that they should profess in writing that they will observe and follow the dogmas of the Catholic and Apostolic Church; in particular that they will communicate with persons who have been twice married, and with those who having lapsed in persecution have had a period [of penance] laid upon them, and a time [of restoration] fixed so that in all things they will follow the dogmas of the Catholic Church.” Canon 8

St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 367)

“For whereas the law had conceded the liberty of effecting divorce by the authority of instruments, now the Evangelical Faith has not only enjoined upon the husband the desire for concord, but has judged him guilty of compelling his wife to adultery, if she is married anew to another through the stress of his desertion, prescribing no other ground for ceasing from wedded life than the defilement of a husband by the society of a prostituted wife.” Commentary on St. Matthew 4:22

Council of Laodicea (c. 365)

“It is right, according to the ecclesiastical Canon, that the Communion should by indulgence be given to those who have freely and lawfully joined in second marriages, not having previously made a secret marriage; after a short space, which is to be spent by them in prayer and fasting.” Canon 1

St. John Chrysostom (m. 407)

“‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ See a teacher’s wisdom. I mean, that being asked, Is it lawful? He did not at once say, It is not lawful, lest they should be disturbed and put in disorder, but before the decision by His argument He rendered this manifest, showing that it is itself too the commandment of His Father, and that not in opposition to Moses did He enjoin these things, but in full agreement with him. But mark Him arguing strongly not from the creation only, but also from His command. For He said not, that He made one man and one woman only, but that He also gave this command that the one man should be joined to the one woman. But if it had been His will that he should put this one away, and bring in another, when He had made one man, He would have formed many Women. But now both by the manner of the creation, and by the manner of lawgiving, He showed that one man must dwell with one woman continually, and never break off from her.” On the Gospel of Matthew, 62:1

“If he has one who is a harlot and adulteress he is not forbidden to cast her out. For whosoever shall put away his wife except for the cause of porneia maketh her to commit adultery. So that on account of porneia it is lawful to put away.” Homily II, Against the Jews

“[T]he husband, though he have a wife more intolerable than all besides, must needs be content with his bondage, and cannot find any release or escape from this arbitrary sway…” Treatise on Virginity, 28

“Let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. … What then if he will never be reconciled? one may ask. Thou hast one more mode of release and deliverance. What is that? Await his death. For as the (consecrated) virgin may not marry because her Spouse liveth away, and is immortal; so to her who hath been married it is then only lawful when her husband is dead.” Treatise on Virginity, 40

“Look at the propriety of the words which are used by Paul. He says that she is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, so that even though he gives her a write of separation, or leaves the house, or lives with another, she would still be an adulteress. And do not tell me that the civil law allows such practice. Because you will not be judged in accordance with the civil law, but according to those which the Lord Himself has established.” Homily on 1 Corinthians 7

“Indeed, just as when a woman who is married to one man has intercourse with another she commits adultery in consequence, so if a man who is married to one woman takes another wife, he has committed adultery. Therefore, such a man will not be an heir to the kingdom, but will fall into hell. . . . If it is not permitted for a man who has divorced his own wife and separated from her to have relations with another woman—for this is adultery—how great a wrong does the man commit who brings in another woman while his wife is still living with him? . . . For Scripture says: . . . “If anyone puts away his wife, save on account of immorality, he causes her to commit adultery.” .. . Do you not know that those who, after the death of their wife, marry another, are censured by many for this, even though the procedure does not merit punishment? Yet you take another wife while yours is still living. What lust does this not betoken? Learn what is said of such men as these. “Their worm dieth not,” Scripture says, “and the fire is not quenched.” Homily on the Gospel according to St. John

St. Basil the Great (d. 379)

“That it is necessary for a husband not to be divorced from his wife nor a wife from her husband unless one of them should fall into sexual immorality orbe a hindrance to godly piety. Matthew: “It was also said, ’Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, makes her an adulteress; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery’ (5.31-32) Luke: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters – yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.’ (14.26) Matthew: ‘And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery.’ (19:9) 1 Corinthians: ‘To the married I give charge, not I but theLord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) and that the husband should not divorce his wife.’ (7:10-11) That neither is the one who has divorced himself from his wife permitted to marry another nor the one divorced from her husband to marry someone else. Matthew: ‘And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. And he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery (19.9).’” Ethica 73.1-2

“If a man living with a wife is not satisfied with his marriage and falls into fornication, I account him a fornicator, and prolong his period of punishment. Nevertheless, we have no canon subjecting him to the charge of adultery, if the sin be committed against an unmarried woman. For the adulteress, it is said, being polluted shall be polluted, Jeremiah 3:1 and she shall not return to her husband: and He that keeps an adulteress is a fool and impious. He, however, who has committed fornication is not to be cut off from the society of his own wife. So the wife will receive the husband on his return from fornication, but the husband will expel the polluted woman from his house. The argument here is not easy, but the custom has so obtained.” Letter 199, canon 21

“The widowed slave is not guilty of a serious fall if she adopts a second marriage under color of rape. She is not on this ground open to accusation. It is rather the object than the pretext which must be taken into account, but it is clear that she is exposed to the punishment of digamy.” Letter 217, canon 53

“A woman whose husband has gone away and disappeared, and who marries another, before she has evidence of his death, commits adultery.” Letter 199, canon 31

“In the case of a man deserted by his wife, the cause of the desertion must be taken into account. If she appear to have abandoned him without reason, he is deserving of pardon, but the wife of punishment. Pardon will be given to him that he may communicate with the Church.” Letter 199, canon 35

“Soldiers’ wives who have married in their husbands’ absence will come under the same principle as wives who, when their husbands have been on a journey, have not waited their return. Their case, however, does admit of some concession on the ground of there being greater reason to suspect death.” Letter 199, canon 36

“The woman in widowhood, who is independent, may dwell with a husband without blame, if there is no one to prevent their cohabitation; for the Apostle says; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:39) Letter 199, canon 41

“The woman who unwillingly marries a man deserted at the time by his wife, and is afterwards repudiated, because of the return of the former to him, commits fornication, but involuntarily. She will, therefore, not be prohibited from marriage; but it is better if she remain as she is.” Letter 199, canon 46

“There is no law as to trigamy: a third marriage is not contracted by law. We look upon such things as the defilements of the Church. But we do not subject them to public condemnation, as being better than unrestrained fornication.” Letter 199, canon 50

“A woman whose husband has gone away and disappeared, and who marries another, before she has evidence of his death, commits adultery. … The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery; Matthew 5:22 thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man?” Letter 199, To Amphiliochius, canon 48

“If this marriage be thus manifest by witnesses and processions and in every way, but her husband be not, I say, dead; then such an one commits adultery, committing adultery thus throughout her life, if her husband continue to live; or rather abandonedly playing the harlot for the enjoyment of pleasure, but also, because her husband is living, committing adultery in transgression of the law.” On True Undefiledness in Virginity

“In the case of trigamy and polygamy they laid down the same rule, in proportion, as in the case of digamy; namely one year for digamy (some authorities say two years); for trigamy men are separated for three and often for four years; but this is no longer described as marriage at all, but as polygamy; nay rather as limited fornication. It is for this reason that the Lord said to the woman of Samaria, who had five husbands, he whom thou now hast is not your husband. He does not reckon those who had exceeded the limits of a second marriage as worthy of the title of husband or wife. In cases of trigamy we have accepted a seclusion of five years, not by the canons, but following the precept of our predecessors. Such offenders ought not to be altogether prohibited from the privileges of the Church; they should be considered deserving of hearing after two or three years, and afterwards of being permitted to stand in their place; but they must be kept from the communion of the good gift, and only restored to the place of communion after showing some fruit of repentance.” Letter 188, canon 4

“The sentence of the Lord that it is unlawful to withdraw from wedlock, save on account of fornication, (Matthew 5:32) applies, according to the argument, to men and women alike. Custom, however, does not so obtain. Yet, in relation with women, very strict expressions are to be found; as, for instance, the words of the apostle He which is joined to a harlot is one body (1 Corinthians 6:16) and of Jeremiah, If a wife become another man’s shall he return unto her again? Shall not that land be greatly polluted? (Jeremiah 3:1) And again, He that has an adulteress is a fool and impious. Yet custom ordains that men who commit adultery and are in fornication be retained by their wives. Consequently I do not know if the woman who lives with the man who has been dismissed can properly be called an adulteress; the charge in this case attaches to the woman who has put away her husband, and depends upon the cause for which she withdrew from wedlock. In the case of her being beaten, and refusing to submit, it would be better for her to endure than to be separated from her husband; in the case of her objecting to pecuniary loss, even here she would not have sufficient ground. If her reason is his living in fornication we do not find this in the custom of the church; but from an unbelieving husband a wife is commanded not to depart, but to remain, on account of the uncertainty of the issue. For what do you know, O wife, whether you shall save your husband? (1 Corinthians 7:16) Here then the wife, if she leaves her husband and goes to another, is an adulteress. But the man who has been abandoned is pardonable, and the woman who lives with such a man is not condemned. But if the man who has deserted his wife goes to another, he is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who lives with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her.” Letter 188, canon 9.

Ambrosiaster (between 363 and 384)

“‘For this reason shall a man leave father and mother and cleave to his wife and they shall be two in one flesh.’ To commend this unity he supplies an example of unity. Just as a man and a woman are one in nature so Christ and the Church are recognized as one through faith. ‘This is a great mystery — I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.’ He means that the great sign of this mystery is in the unity of man and woman…. Just as a man forsakes his parents and cleaves to his wife, so too he forsakes every error and cleaves to the Church and subjects himself to her Head, which is Christ.” (In Ephesians 5:31)

“The husband may marry, if he have put away an offending wife; the husband not being bound by the law as the wife is; for the head of the woman is the man. It is not permitted to a woman to remarry, if she have sent away her husband by reason of fornication or apostasy … because the meaner part has not quite the same rule to abide by as the more dignified.” Commenting on 1 Corinthians 7:10-11

St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 390)

“For I think that the Word here seems to deprecate second marriage. For, if there were two Christs, there may be two husbands or two wives; but if Christ is One, one Head of the Church, let there be also one flesh, and let a second be rejected; and if it hinder the second what is to be said for a third? The first is law, the second is indulgence, the third is transgression, and anything beyond this is swinish, such as has not even many examples of its wickedness. Now the Law grants divorce for every cause; but Christ not for every cause; but He allows only separation from the whore; and in all other things He commands patience. He allows to put away the fornicatress, because she corrupts the offspring; but in all other matters let us be patient and endure; or rather be enduring and patient, as many as have received the yoke of matrimony. (Oration 37, 8)

No mention in the oration is made of it being in regard to widowhood, but it speaks on the difficulties of marriage and how to deal with a difficult wife as well as both men and women being required to follow through with avoiding adultery. Additionally, the first sentence of the quote is in regard to Christ depreciating second marriage, which, considering second marriage is allowed for widowers and widows, can only be in reference to second marriages while one spouse still lives. Further, in the same oration, he defines adultery thusly:

“For it is not only bodily sin which is called fornication and adultery, but any sin you have committed, and especially transgression against that which is divine. Perhaps you ask how we can prove this: – they went a whoring, it says, with their own inventions. Do you see an impudent act of fornication? And again, they committed adultery in the wood. See you a kind of adulterous religion? Do not then commit spiritual adultery, while keeping your bodies chaste. Do not show that it is unwillingly you are chaste in body by not being chaste where you can commit fornication.” Oration 37:19

St. Ambrose of Milan (d. 397)

“No one is permitted to know a man other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. ‘If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce’; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another.” De Abraham 1:7:59

“Anyone saying that one is free to marry a wife that has been put away is not a Christian; he is a Jew.” Commentary on Luke, Book 8

“You dismiss your wife, therefore, as if by right and without being charged with wrongdoing [by the civil law]; and you suppose it is proper for you to do so because no human law forbids it. But divine law forbids it. Anyone who obeys men ought to stand in awe of God. Hear the law of the Lord, which even they who propose our laws must obey: ‘What God has joined together let no man put asunder.’” Commentary on Luke, Book 8

“I must first, I think, speak of the law of marriage so as to treat afterward the prohibition of divorce. Certain persons think, in fact, that every marriage is of God, especially since it is written, “What God has joined man must not separate.” So then, if every marriage is of God, it is not permitted to dissolve any marriage. Why then has the Apostle said, “If the unbelieving spouse departs, let him depart?” His discernment here is admirable. He wanted no motive for divorce to remain available to Christians, but showed that not every marriage is of God. For it is not by God’s authority that Christians marry pagans, since the law forbids this. … In his wonderful way, he did not want the cause of divorce to lie with Christians; and at the same time he showed that not every marriage is from God. Christian women are not joined to pagans by the judgment of God, since the law forbids it.” Commentary on Luke, Bk 8

“Because it not being lawful for her in her husband’s lifetime to contract a new marriage, sinful desire may gradually prevail against her. Suppose her to marry. The blame of the constraint she lay under is upon you: and what you account to be marriage is adultery. For what does it matter whether one commits that crime with open avowal of it, or as one who is an adulterer under the mask of a husband. Only that it is more grievous to have contrived a law to warrant crime than a secret perpetration of it.” Commentary on Luke 16:18

St. Asterius of Amasea (d. 410)

“These things were spoken to the Pharisees; but do you hear them now, you who do such things as these: you who change your wives as readily as your garments; who build bridal chambers as often and as easily as you build booths for feasts; who marry money, and deal in women; who if provoked a little immediately write a bill of divorcement; you who leave many widows while you are yet alive; believe me, marriage is terminated only by death or adultery.” Homily V, On Divorce

St. Jerome (d. 420)

“Tell the sister, therefore, who thus enquires of me concerning her condition, not my sentence but that of the apostle. Do you not know, brethren (for I speak to them that know the law,) how that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband, so long as he lives; but if the husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then, if, while her husband lives, she be married to another man, she shall be called an adulteress. (Rom. 7:1-3) And in another place: the wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. (1 Cor. 7:39) The apostle has thus cut away every plea and has clearly declared that, if a woman marries again while her husband is living, she is an adulteress. You must not speak to me of the violence of a ravisher, a mother’s pleading, a father’s bidding, the influence of relatives, the insolence and the intrigues of servants, household losses. A husband may be an adulterer or a sodomite, he may be stained with every crime and may have been left by his wife because of his sins; yet he is still her husband and, so long as he lives, she may not marry another. The apostle does not promulgate this decree on his own authority but on that of Christ who speaks in him. For he has followed the words of Christ in the gospel: whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced, commits adultery. (Mt. 5:32) Mark what he says: whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery. Whether she has put away her husband or her husband her, the man who marries her is still an adulterer. … Therefore if your sister, who, as she says, has been forced into a second union, wishes to receive the body of Christ and not to be accounted an adulteress, let her do penance; so far at least as from the time she begins to repent to have no further intercourse with that second husband who ought to be called not a husband but an adulterer.” Letter 55, to Amandus 3,4

“For he [i.e. St. Paul] ordains, according to the mind of the Lord, that excepting the cause of fornication, a wife must not be put away, and that a wife who has been put away, may not, so long as her husband lives, be married to another, or at all events that her duty is to be reconciled to her husband.” Against Jovianus, I.10

“Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may calumniate the innocent and, for the sake of a second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed a second may not be taken while the first lives.” Commentary Matthew 3:19:9

“The laws of Cæsar are different, it is true, from the laws of Christ: Papinianus commands one thing; our own Paul another. Earthly laws give a free rein to the unchastity of men, merely condemning seduction and adultery; lust is allowed to range unrestrained among brothels and slave girls, as if the guilt were constituted by the rank of the person assailed and not by the purpose of the assailant. But with us Christians what is unlawful for women is equally unlawful for men, and as both serve the same God both are bound by the same obligations. … She [i.e. Fabiola] did not know the full force of the gospel in which every pretext for marriage is taken away from a wife so long as her husband is alive.” Epist. 77, To Oceanus, 3

St. Epiphanius of Salamis (d. 403)

“But can be tolerated the laity as a concession to weakness – even remarriage after the first wife’s death by those who cannot stop with the first wife. And the husband of [only] one wife is more highly respected and honoured by all members of the church. But if the man could not be content with one wife who had died or if there has been a divorce for some reason – fornication, adultery or something else – and the man marries a second wife or the woman a second husband, God’s word does not censure them or bar them from the church and life, but tolerates them because of their weakness. The holy word and God’s holy church show mercy to such a person, particularly if he is devout otherwise and lives by God’s law – not by letting him have two wives at once while the one is still alive, but allowing him to marry a second wife lawfully if the opportunity arises, after being parted from the first.” Against Heresies, Bk. II, Haer. 59

Notice that death and divorce for valid cause are put on a “either or” status meaning that one does not need to wait for the death of the first spouse if they had been an adulterer.  

St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444)

“It is not the letters of divorce that dissolve the marriage in relation God but the errant behaviour” Migne 72:380

“”In the matter of the second wife, the Gentile church, the blessed Baptist was employed as a kind of mediator with regard to her. Accordingly, signifying to us this spiritual and divine marriage, he said, “He who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly on account of the voice of the bridegroom. Therefore, my joy has been made full. He must increase, but I must decrease.

“Mercy and faithfulness were wedding gifts for the bride. For the one coming from above, the heavenly bridegroom, said through the mouth of the prophets to the church taken from the Gentiles, “I will betroth you to myself for ever; indeed, I will betroth you to myself in righteousness and justice, in mercy and compassion. I will betroth you to myself in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.” As I said just now, he took to himself the elder woman before the Gentile church. The manner, however, of the betrothal and the strength of the union were not to be everlasting. For he also said elsewhere concerning her, “She is not my wife, and I am not her husband,” and again, “I put into her hands a certificate of divorce.” She was cast off as one who had committed sexual immorality and who stands condemned on the grossest indecency. For he said in one place concerning her, “If a man divorces his wife, and she leaves him and becomes another man’s wife, will she indeed return to him once more? will not that woman be utterly defiled? You played the harlot with many shepherds, yet you returned to me, says the Lord. Raise your eyes, look before you, and see where you have been defiled. You sat for them by the wayside like a crow in the wilderness. You polluted the land with your immorality and wickedness. You had many shepherds who were a stumbling block to you. You had the countenance of a harlot, you acted shamelessly towards them all. Have you not called me your family, your father, and the guide of your maidenhood? Weill he he angry for ever? These matters concerning the elder sister. The younger Rachel, however, that is, the gentile church, was betrothed to him permanently.

“In saying “to myself,” this may be understood in the following way. When he betrothed to himself the synagogue of the Jews, it was through Moses acting as a mediator. But when he was united with the church of the Gentiles, he invited her into this union with his own voice, appearing as a man, as one who lives upon the earth. He in fact granted what the bride asked for when she cried out, “Show me your face, and let me hear your voice.” For the people of old heard him speaking only through Moses or the prophets. In these last days, of the world, however, the Son has spoken to us himself, as the wise Paul also testified.”

Glaphyra on the Pentateuch Volume 1, 4.7. Trans. Lunn and Hillis, CUA Press 2019

Apostolic Constitutions (c. 375-380)

“But neither sort of them is without its punishment in its own proper nature. For the practitioners of one sort attempt the dissolution of the world, and endeavor to make the natural course of things to change for one that is unnatural; but those of the second sort— the adulterers— are unjust by corrupting others’ marriages, and dividing into two what God has made one, rendering the children suspected, and exposing the true husband to the snares of others.” Book VI, Ch. 28

“Nor let it be esteemed lawful after marriage to put her away who is without blame. For says He: You shall take care to your spirit, and shall not forsake the wife of your youth; for she is the partner of your life, and the remains of your spirit. I and no other have made her. For the Lord says: What God has joined together, let no man put asunder. For the wife is the partner of life, united by God unto one body from two. But he that divides that again into two which has become one, is the enemy of the creation of God, and the adversary of His providence. In like manner, he that retains her that is corrupted is a transgressor of the law of nature; since he that retains an adulteress is foolish and impious. For says He, Cut her off from your flesh; for she is not a help, but a snare, bending her mind from you to another.” Book VII, ch. 14

“If a layman divorces his own wife, and takes another, or one divorced by another, let him be suspended.” Book VIII, #48

11th Council of Carthage (408)

“We decree that according to the evangelic and apostolic discipline neither a husband dismissed by his wife nor a wife dismissed by her husband may marry another; but they are to remain as they are or to be reconciled to one another. If they despise [this law] they are to be subjected to penance and on this subject an imperial law ought to be promulgated.” Canon 8 of this council, but listed as 102 of the African canons

Pope Innocent I (d. 417)

“The practice is observed by all of regarding as an adulteress a woman who marries a second time while her husband yet lives, and permission to do penance is not granted her until one of them is dead.” Epist. ad Vict. Rothom xiii, 15

“Your diligence has asked concerning those, also, who, by means of a deed of separation, have contracted another marriage. That these on both sides are adulterers, is evident. Letter to Exsuper, Bishop of Toulouse. c. vi, n. 1

Synod of St. Patrick (c. 456)

“A Christian woman, having accepted a man in honorable marriage and afterwards departed from her first husband and joined herself in adultery, for having done so must be excommunicated.” Canon 19

“Hear the Lord saying, He that is joined to a harlot is one body: again, Let the adulteress be stoned- that is, let her die for this offence – that she may fail to increase, who does not fail to commit adultery: again, if the woman has become an adulteress, is there any return to her first husband? Again, It is not lawful to dismiss a wife except for fornication, as if He would say he may do it for this, therefore if a man marries a second wife as if the firs were dead, let them not forbid it.” Canon 26

Council of Vannes (465)

“Those also who have abandoned their wives, except for the cause of fornication, as the Gospel says, without proof of adultery, and have married others, we decree are to be excommunicated, lest the sins overlooked through our indulgence entice others to the license of error.” Canon 2

St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430)

“Nor is it clear from Scripture whether a man who has left his wife because of adultery, which he is certainly permitted to do, is himself an adulterer if he marries again. And if he should, I do not think that he would commit a grave sin.” On Faith and Works ch. 19:35

“The inference from all this is, that, whether dismissed or dismissing, she ought to remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband.” Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount, Bk 1. 48

“This we now say, that, according to this condition of being born and dying, which we know, and in which we have been created, the marriage of male and female is some good; the compact whereof divine Scripture so commends, as that neither is it allowed one put away by her husband to marry, so long as her husband lives: nor is it allowed one put away by his wife to marry another, unless she who have separated from him be dead.” On the Good of Marriage, ch. 3

“To such a degree is that marriage compact entered upon a matter of a certain sacrament, that it is not made void even by separation itself, since, so long as her husband lives, even by whom she has been left, she commits adultery, in case she be married to another: and he who has left her, is the cause of this evil.” On the Good of Marriage, chapter 6

“And, this being the case, so strong is that bond of fellowship in married persons, that, although it be tied for the sake of begetting children, not even for the sake of begetting children is it loosed. …” On the Good of Marriage, ch. 7

“[W]ho is there but it must make him attentive to learn, what is the meaning of this so great strength [i.e. indissolubility] of the marriage bond? Which I by no means think could have been of so great avail, unless some sacramentum of a much greater reality were at work in this fragile human mortality, a sacramentum which remains unbroken for the punishment of those who desert their marriages and wish to dissolve them. Seeing that the compact of marriage is not done away by divorce intervening; so that they continue wedded persons one to another, even after separation; and commit adultery with those, with whom they shall be joined, even after their own divorce, either the woman with a man, or the man with a woman. And yet, save in the City of our God, in His Holy Mount, the case is not such with the wife. But, that the laws of the pagans are otherwise, who is there that knows not; where, by the interposition of divorce, without any offense of which man takes cognizance, both the woman is married to whom she will, and the man marries whom he will. And something like this custom, on account of the hardness of the Israelites, Moses seems to have allowed, concerning a bill of divorcement. In which matter there appears rather a rebuke, than an approval, of divorce.” On the Good of Marriage, ch. 7

“That marriage can take place of persons first ill joined, an honest decree following after, is manifest. But a marriage once for all entered upon in the City of our God, where, even from the first union of the two, the man and the woman, marriage bears a certain sacramental character, can no way be dissolved but by the death of one of them. For the bond of marriage remains, although a family, for the sake of which it was entered upon, do not follow through manifest barrenness; so that, when now married persons know that they shall not have children, yet it is not lawful for them to separate even for the very sake of children, and to join themselves unto others. And if they shall so do, they commit adultery with those unto whom they join themselves, but themselves remain husbands and wives.” On the Good of Marriage, ch. 17

“Therefore the good of marriage throughout all nations and all men stands in the occasion of begetting, and faith of chastity: but, so far as pertains unto the People of God, also in the sanctity of the Sacrament, by reason of which it is unlawful for one who leaves her husband, even when she has been put away, to be married to another, so long as her husband lives, no not even for the sake of bearing children: and, whereas this is the alone cause, wherefore marriage takes place, not even where that very thing, wherefore it takes place, follows not, is the marriage bond loosed, save by the death of the husband or wife.” On the Good of Marriage, ch. 32

“You must not have wives whose former husbands are living; nor may you, women, have husbands whose former wives are living. Such marriages are adulterous, not by the law of the courts, but by the law of Heaven. Nor may a woman who by divorce has withdrawn from her husband become your wife while her husband lives. Only because of fornication may one dismiss an adulterous wife; but in her lifetime you may not marry another. Neither to you, O women, is it granted to find husbands in those men whose wives have quitted them by divorce: such are adulterous, not marriages.” Sermon 392, ch. 2

“This [good of marriage] is three-fold: fidelity, offspring, sacrament. Fidelity means that one avoids all sexual activity apart from one’s marriage. Offspring means that a child is accepted in love, is nurtured in affection, is brought up in religion. Sacrament means that the marriage is not severed nor the spouse abandoned, not even so that the abandoner or the abandoned may remarry for the sake of children.” De Genesi ad litteram, Bk 9, ch. 7

“It is certainly not fecundity only, the fruit of which consists of offspring, nor chastity only, whose bond is fidelity, but also a certain sacramental bond in marriage which is recommended to believers in wedlock. Accordingly it is enjoined by the apostle: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) Of this bond the substance undoubtedly is this, that the man and the woman who are joined together in matrimony should remain inseparable as long as they live; and that it should be unlawful for one consort to be parted from the other, except for the cause of fornication. (Matthew 5:32) For this is preserved in the case of Christ and the Church; so that, as a living one with a living one, there is no divorce, no separation forever. And so complete is the observance of this bond in the city of our God, in His holy mountain — that is to say, in the Church of Christ — by all married believers, who are undoubtedly members of Christ, that, although women marry, and men take wives, for the purpose of procreating children, it is never permitted one to put away even an unfruitful wife for the sake of having another to bear children. And whosoever does this is held to be guilty of adultery by the law of the gospel; though not by this world’s rule, which allows a divorce between the parties, without even the allegation of guilt, and the contraction of other nuptial engagements, — a concession which, the Lord tells us, even the holy Moses extended to the people of Israel, because of the hardness of their hearts. (Matthew 19:8) The same condemnation applies to the woman, if she is married to another man. So enduring, indeed, are the rights of marriage between those who have contracted them, as long as they both live, that even they are looked on as man and wife still, who have separated from one another, rather than they between whom a new connection has been formed. For by this new connection they would not be guilty of adultery, if the previous matrimonial relation did not still continue. If the husband die, with whom a true marriage was made, a true marriage is now possible by a connection which would before have been adultery. Thus between the conjugal pair, as long as they live, the nuptial bond has a permanent obligation, and can be cancelled neither by separation nor by union with another. But this permanence avails, in such cases, only for injury from the sin, not for a bond of the covenant. In like manner the soul of an apostate, which renounces as it were its marriage union with Christ, does not, even though it has cast its faith away, lose the sacrament of its faith, which it received in the laver of regeneration. It would undoubtedly be given back to him if he were to return, although he lost it on his departure from Christ. He retains, however, the sacrament after his apostasy, to the aggravation of his punishment, not for meriting the reward.” On Marriage and Concupiscence, Bk 1, ch. 10 [11]

“In marriage, however, let the blessings of marriage be loved: offspring, fidelity, and the sacramental bond. Offspring, not so much because it may be born, but because it can be reborn; for it is born to punishment unless it be reborn to life. Fidelity, but not such as even the unbelievers have among themselves, ardent as they are for the flesh. . . . The sacramental bond, which they lose neither through separation nor through adultery, this the -spouses should guard chastely and harmoniously.” On Marriage and Concupiscence, 1:17:19

“Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others. This adultery, nevertheless, is certainly less serious than that of men who dismiss their wives for reasons other than fornication and take other wives. Therefore, when we say: ‘Whoever marries a woman dismissed by her husband for reason other than fornication commits adultery,’ undoubtedly we speak the truth. But we do not thereby acquit of this crime the man who marries a woman who was dismissed because of fornication. We do not doubt in the least that both are adulterers. We do indeed pronounce him an adulterer who dismissed his wife for cause other than fornication and marries another, nor do we thereby defend from the taint of this sin the man who dismissed his wife because of fornication and marries another. We recognize that both are adulterers, though the sin of one is more grave than that of the other. No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery.” On Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9

“A woman begins to be the wife of no later husband unless she has ceased to be the wife of a former one. She will cease to be the wife of a former one, however, if that husband should die, not if he commit fornication. A spouse, therefore, is lawfully dismissed for cause of fornication; but the bond of chastity remains. That is why a man is guilty of adultery if he marries a woman who has been dismissed even for this very reason of fornication.” On Adulterous Marriages 2:4:4

“Because of the sacrament of marriage, what God has joined man must not separate.” On Original Sin, Bk 2, chapter 39

Theodoret of Cyrrhus (d. 457)

“And he [St. Paul] strives indeed to keep the bond of marriage unbroken, but condescending to men’s weakness, he puts the person separately himself under a law of continence, in this way forbidding the dissolution of marriage. For by barring connection with another he compels the party, whichever it be, to return to the former marriage.” Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:10, 11

“As to the question of digamy, I have followed my predecessors; for Alexander of blessed and sacred memory, the ornament of this apostolic see, as well as the very blessed Acacius, bishop of Berœa, ordained Diogenes of blessed memory who was a ‘digamus;’ and similarly the blessed Praylius ordained Domninus of Cæsarea who was a ‘digamus.’ We have therefore followed precedent, and the example of men well known and illustrious both for learning and character. Proclus, bishop of Constantinople, of blessed memory well aware of this and many other instances, both himself accepted the ordination, and wrote in praise and admiration of it. So too did the leading godly bishops of the Pontic Diocese, and all the Palestinians.” Letter 110

Law of Emperor St. Justinian (525-534)

“In addition to this, We direct that any profits obtained by either the wife or the husband through a dowry or an ante-nuptial donation, shall be subject to the same rule, in case of repudiation, and after the second marriage of either of the parties, shall be preserved indiscriminately for the benefit of the children who are the issue of the former marriage, just as in the case of divorce or death; nor can any attempt be made to call the divorce in question, or to institute any other inquiry concerning the matter.” Liber V, Caput IX, Concerning Second Marriages, the same to Menna Praetorian Prefect

“Where it is proved by other evidence that a dowry was given without the execution of dotal instruments, it is established that, after a divorce has taken place, the dowry of your former wife should be restored to her in accordance with good faith, for if the documents are lost, any other legal proofs which may be introduced will undoubtedly not be considered void.” Liber V, Caput XII, Concerning the law of dowries, The Same Emperors and Caesars to Ulpian

“If you permitted your wife to take the crops of the land which you received as dowry, during the time of marriage, and she consumed them, you demand without reason that they shall be restored to you, after a divorce has taken place. If, however, she was enriched by them, she can be sued for the excess.” Liber V, Caput XVI, Concerning donations made between husband and wife, and by parents to their children, and concerning ratification, the same to Leo

“We decree that legal marriage may be contracted by consent, but this having once been done, that it cannot be dissolved unless by notice of repudiation, for the favor to which children are entitled demands that its dissolution should be rendered more difficult.

(1) We clearly enumerate the causes of repudiation by this most salutary law, for as We (with proper limitations) forbid marriage to be dissolved without good cause, so that where one of the parties is compelled by necessity, or the other is oppressed by some misfortune, We desire that he or she shall be liberated by Our aid, when this becomes necessary.

(2) Therefore, if a woman should ascertain that her husband is an adulterer, a homicide, a poisoner, or one who is plotting anything against Our government; or has been convicted of perjury or forgery, or is a violator of sepulchres, or has stolen anything from sacred buildings; or is a robber or a harborer of robbers, a cattle thief or a kidnapper; or, in contempt of his house and of her, or in her presence, has consorted with dissolute women (which is especially exasperating to females who are chaste) ; or if he has attempted to deprive her of life by poison, or by the sword, or in any other way; or if she should prove that he had beaten her (which is not allowed in the case of freeborn women), We then grant her permission to avail herself of the necessary aid of repudiation, and to present legal reasons for divorce.” Liber V, Caput XVII, Concerning repudiation and the abolition of the action de moribus, The Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian to Hormisdas Praetorian Prefect

English Council of 673

“Regarding marriages: no one is to have any but a legally recognized marriage. No one is to commit incest. No one is to abandon his own spouse unless, as the holy Gospel teaches, he does so because of fornication. But if anyone dismisses a spouse joined to him legitimately in marriage, if he wishes truly to be a Christian, he is to be united to no one else, but is either to remain as he is or to be reconciled with his own spouse.” Canon 10

12th Council of Toledo (681)

“It is the command of the Lord that a wife must not be dismissed by her husband except for the cause of fornication. Therefore whoever goes beyond the guilt of the crime mentioned above and leaves his wife for any reason whatsoever . . . is to be deprived of ecclesiastical communion and excluded from the community of Christians until such time that he returns to the society of his abandoned wife.”

Trullo (691-2)

“She who has left her husband is an adulteress if she has come to another, according to the holy and divine Basil, who has gathered this most excellently from the prophet Jeremiah: If a woman has become another man’s, her husband shall not return to her, but being defiled she shall remain defiled; and again, He who has an adulteress is senseless and impious. If therefore she appears to have departed from her husband without reason, he is deserving of pardon and she of punishment. And pardon shall be given to him that he may be in communion with the Church. But he who leaves the wife lawfully given him, and shall take another is guilty of adultery by the sentence of the Lord. And it has been decreed by our Fathers that they who are such must be weepers for a year, hearers for two years, prostrators for three years, and in the seventh year to stand with the faithful and thus be counted worthy of the Oblation [if with tears they do penance].” Canon 87

Council of Fruili (791)

“It was decreed that when the marriage bond is loosed because of fornication the husband may not lawfully take another wife so long as the adulteress lives, nor may she take another husband, whether he whom she hath shameless wronged be living or dead.”

Council of Paris (829)

“They who, when their wives have been dismissed for the cause of fornication, marry others are pronounced to be adulterers by the sentence of the Lord.” Canon 6

St. Theodore of Tarsus, Archbishop of Canterbury, Synod of Hertford (672)

“If a man’s wife commits fornication, he may dismiss her and marry another… She, if she is willing to do penance for her sins, after five years may marry another husband.” Canon 5

“Lawful marriage may not be dissolved without the consent of both parties.” Canon 7

“One may give the other leave to serve God in a monastery and then marry again, if they are in a first marriage, according to the Greeks, yet it is not according to the canons. If, however, they are in a second marriage, they may not marry again so long as the husband or wife are still alive.” Canon 8

“Exceptions” of King Egbert of Wessex (d.839)

“…if, however, on account of theft and fornication, or any sin, the wife, if she had not been married before, may after a year take another husband; if she have been twice married, she may not.”

“If a woman leaves her husband because she despises him, and will not return and be reconciled to her husband, after five years, with the Bishop’s consent, he may marry another.” Canon 19

“If a wife is carried away captive and cannot be redeemed the husband may marry another after a year.” Canon 20

“If a man’s wife have been carried off by the enemy, and he cannot get her back, he may take another; for this is ‘better than fornication.”Canon 23

“If afterwards his wife returns, he must not take her, if he has another, but she may take another husband to herself if she had one before.” Canon 24

St. Benedict the Levite

“That during the lifetime of husband and wife neither of them be united in another marriage …. And if she have committed fornication, and her husband desire it, she is to be dismissed, but another wife may not be taken in marriage during her lifetime, because adulterers will not possess the kingdom of God, and her penitence is to be accepted.” Benedict the Levite 3:73

Council of Verberie (752)

“…That husband can put away that wife, and, if he will, let him take another. But let that woman who made the plot undergo a penance and remain without hope of marriage.” Canon 5

“…If he has no hope of returning to his own country, if he cannot abstain, he can receive another wife with a penance.” canon 9

Council of Compiegne (757)

“If a man have divorced his wife, and has given her leave to enter a monastery for the sake of religion, or to take the veil outside a monastery for the sake of religion, or to take the veil outside a monastery for the sake of God, the man may take a lawful wife. Similarly in the case of a woman.” Canon 13

Allows for the dissolution of a marriage from a man who has contracted leprosy. The woman might remarry. Canon 16/19

Roman Synod (826)

“No man, except for the cause of fornication, may leave the wife who is joined to him, and then unite with another. In other cases it is expedient that the transgressor be united in his former wedlock.”

Reconfirmed by Pope Leo IV in another Roman synod in 853

Pope Gregory II

“The Apostle himself speaking on this matter says: Thou art bound to a wife, seek not to be loosed; that is, while they wife is alive, do not desire to pass to concupita with another woman.” Capiulare Gregorii Papae II

“… As to what a man shall do if his wife is unable through illness to allow him his marital rights, it would be better if he remained apart and practised continence. But since this is practicable only in the case of men of high ideals, the best course if he is unable to be continent would be for him to marry. Nevertheless, he should continue to support the woman who is sick, unless she has contracted the disease through her own fault.” Letter to St. Boniface

Pope St. Leo the Great (d. 458)

“Since we know that it is written that “a woman is joined to her husband by God,” and since we also acknowledge the command that “What God has joined together let no man put asunder,” it is necessary to hold that the bonds of legitimate marriage be re-integrated, and that, having removed the evils caused by the hostilities, to each be restored what he legitimately had and for each it be effectively carried out that he receive what is his own…Therefore, if the men who have returned after a long captivity still retain the love for their wives and desire their wives to return to them in cohabitation, then that union which necessity caused must be terminated and judged inculpable, and restored must be the one which fidelity demands. But if some of the wives have been so captivated by the love of their second husbands that they prefer to remain with the latter rather than to go back to the legitimate union, then they are justly to be condemned, even to the point that they be excommunicated. They have chosen to contaminate with a crime a matter held excusable, thereby manifesting their predilection.” Letter to Nicetas, Bishop of Aquileia

Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604)

“For if they say that marriage can be dissolved on the grounds of religion, let it be known that while the human law has conceded this, the divine law forbids it. For Truth says: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” It also said: “It is not lawful to dismiss a wife except for fornication.” Who then is to contradict this heavenly legislator? We know that is written: “They will be two in one flesh.” If, therefore, the husband and wife are one flesh, and on the grounds of religion a man dismisses his wife, or a wife dismisses her husband while he remains in the world or even goes over to matters immoral, of what value is that conversion in which part of one and the same flesh passes on to a life of chastity while the other part remains in a life of pollution.” Letter to Theoktist

Council of Nantes (658)

“If a man’s wife shall have committed adultery and this has been discovered and made public by the man, let him dismiss his wife, if he wants to, because of the fornication. The wife, however, is to do public penance for seven years. But the husband cannot in any way marry another while his wife is alive. But he has permission to be reconciled with his adulterous wife if he so chooses. In this case, however, he must do penance with her and after penance has been completed, after seven years both may go to communion. The same procedure is to be followed by the wife if her husband committed adultery against her.” Canon 12

Patriarch Alexius of Constantinople (d. 1043)

  1. “No clergyman is to be condemned for giving the benediction at the marriage of a divorced woman, when the man’s conduct was the cause of the divorce.”
  2. “Women divorced by men whose conduct has been the cause of the divorce are not to be blamed if they choose to marry again, nor are the priests to be blamed who give them the benediction. So, too, with regard to men.”
  3. “Whoever marries a woman divorced for adultery is an adulterer, whether he has himself been married before or not, and he must undergo the adulterer’s penance.”
  4. “Any priest who gives the benediction at the second marriage of parties divorced by mutual consent (which is a thing forbidden by the laws) shall be deprived of his office.”

Special thanks to the people who have helped add to this florilegium, among them:

Thibault Montgomerie

4 thoughts on “Divorce and Remarriage in the Church Fathers and Patristic Era Writers (Florilegium)

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