Roberto de Mattei
October 7, 2014
The Synod that has just begun will not go down in history for its documents but for the importance that has been attached to the event itself: i.e., a “laceration” in traditional morality, encapsulated with the formula “the primacy of pastoral practice over doctrine”. This thesis is sustained in deliberately misleading historical and theological articles, like the one by the Jesuit Giancarlo Pani which appeared on the eve of the Synod in the “Civiltà Cattolica” carrying the title “Matrimony and second marriages at the Council of Trent (Quaderno, n.3943, October 4th 2014). In this essay the author summons up the history of “one of the most innovative decrees from the Council of Trent on matrimony, known as “Tametsi” , asserting that in the 7th Canon of the document, the Church while condemning the doctrine of Luther and the reformers, “leaves uncriticized the traditions of the Greeks who, in the case specified, tolerate new marriages.”
The Council Fathers had in fact softened the text, to avoid pronouncing an anathema against the practice going on in some Venetian colonies where the possibility of divorce and new marriages was admitted in the case of adultery, according to the custom established by the schismatic Greek Church. Father Pani who justifies this practice, writes that even a Christian “could fail in his marriage and move on to a new union; this sin, like every sin, was not excluded from the mercy of God, and the Church both had claimed the power to absolve it. This was precisely a matter of the application of mercy and of pastoral forbearance, which takes the frailty and sinfulness of man into account. This mercy has remained in the Eastern tradition under the name of “oikonomia” , while recognizing the indissolubility of marriage proclaimed by the Lord, as the icon of Christ’s union with the Church, his bride, pastoral practice reaches out to the problems of spouses who are living in irrecuperable marital situations. After discernment on the part of the bishop and after penance, the faithful can be reconciled, new marriages declared valid, and communion permitted again. This for Father Pani, is the lesson in mercy that comes from the Council of Trent. He concludes: “it appears extraordinary today that at a Council at which the indissolubility of marriage is affirmed there should be no condemnation of new marriages for Catholics of the Eastern tradition. And yet this is history: a page of evangelical mercy for those Christians who suffer through a failed conjugal relationship that cannot be put back together again; but also a historical event that has clear ecumenical implications.”
However, what is the truth of the facts? The Council of Trent was convoked, as is well-known, to combat Protestantism. Luther and Calvin had denied or emptied the Church’s Sacraments of their meaning - among which was marriage. The Council wanted therefore to reaffirm sound doctrine solemnly, also on this point. On the 11th November 1563 in session XXIV, a decree was promulgated on the Sacrament of Marriage which included 12 Canons. The text of the 7th is this: “If anyone says that the Church errs in that she taught and teaches that in accordance with evangelical and apostolic doctrine the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved by reason of adultery on the part of one of the parties, and that both, or even the innocent party who gave no occasion for adultery, cannot contract another marriage during the lifetime of the other, and that he is guilty of adultery who, having put away the adulteress, shall marry another, and she also who, having put away the adulterer, shall marry another, let him be anathema.”
The Ambassadors of the Venetian Republic had asked and obtained from the Council Fathers, that the canon, even if restating the indissolubility of Marriage, avoided excommunicating explicitly those who said that marriage could be dissolved in [cases] of adultery by one of the spouses. The request arose from concern about creating divisions in the Greek Isles, subject to La Serenissima, where many Christians followed the oriental rites even if they were under the Latin bishops. The importance of this Canon, in its final formulation, however, admits no doubts whatsoever. At that time the enemies to fight were the Protestants, not the Greeks, and the Council anathematized the Protestant declarations which denied the intrinsic indissolubility of marriage. The fact that the oriental praxis was not condemned explicitly does not mean in any way that there was an acceptance of their divorce. The Tridentine Canon, although it anathematized directly only the Protestants, as they accused the Church of error, condemned indirectly also those that opposed it on the level of conduct.
Furthermore, at Trent, the Council Fathers demonstrated that they believed the Greeks dissolved marriage only in the case of adultery, whilst for more than a century the practice of divorce had been spreading. Even before the fall of Constantinople (1453) the Patriarchal Synod conceded divorce for the following reasons: 1) serious illness in one of the two parties; 2) complete incompatibility of character; 3) desertion by one of the two parties for a period of three years, or even fewer; 4) a crime committed by one of the two spouses followed by a sentence involving considerable dishonor; 5) mutual consent in special cases approved by the Patriarch for reasons in which he declared himself the sole judge; Matrimony had therefore lost its character of indissolubility and could be dissolved at will, as again occurs even today. Most of the cases practiced by the Greeks fell directly under the anathema of Canon 5 from the Council of Trent, which established: “If anyone says that the bond of matrimony can be dissolved on account of heresy, or irksome cohabitation, or by reason of the voluntary absence of one of the parties, let him be anathema.”
The other cases fell into it indirectly. It must be remembered in the end, that prior to the promulgation of the Tridentine decree, the Greek practice could have been excused, but after the Council it was considered a grave fault, condemned by numerous pronouncements of the Church. In 1593, Pope Clement VIII (1592-1605) emanated an instruction on the Italian-Greek rites where he established expressly that the bishops should not tolerate divorce under any circumstances and if some had already been approved they had to be declared null and void. Urban VIII (1623-1644) compiled a profession of faith to impose on the members of the schismatic Greek Church who were received into the Catholic Church. This document contains a declaration, that, even if adultery could justify a separation, it did not make contracting a new marriage licit.
Benedict XIV (1740-1758), in his instruction for Italian-Greeks, (1742), repeats, word for word, Clement VIII’s decree. Faced with a laxity in customs, which was continuously being spread in matters of marriage among the Polish, Benedict XIV, himself, with a decree Dei miseratione of the 3rdNovember 1741 ordered that a defensor vinculi, be nominated in every diocese, whose task had to be that of challenging every petition for the decree of nullity; and in case the decree was agreed upon, to make an appeal to a higher court. The principle of the compliant double sentence legitimized by the Code of Canon Law in 1917, was acknowledged by John Paul II through the Apostolic Constitution Sacrae Disciplinae Leges of 25th of January 1983, but today this is being challenged by the Kasper Party.
The writer of the article in “Civiltà Cattolica” overlooks the fact that inside the Company of Jesus, canonists such as Fathers Xaver Wernz (1842-1914) and Pedro Vidal (1867-1938) as well as theologians like Father Giovanni Perrone (1794-1876) had already dealt with the problem that he retains unprecedented, showing how the “Greek” marriages fall back under the condemnation of the Church. Father Perrone, one of the most illustrious exponents of the Roman Theological School of the XIX century, in treating “de Graecorum more ac praxi” , his fundamental work on marriage, explains how the Greek error comes from praxis and not doctrine, although it is not for this less grave, and the Tridentine Council in no way tolerates or can tolerate (nullo modo tolerat imo nec tolerare potest) a practice contrary to the doctrine of the Church ((De matrimonio cristiano, Dessain, Leodii 1861, vol. III, pp. 359-361).
The position of those who deny the indissolubility of marriage is formally heretical. The position of those even if accepting in theory the indissolubility of marriage but admit it in practice is defined by Father Perrone as “near heresy.” Such is the censure, according to the most trusted theologians and canonists, that falls on Cardinal Kasper’s position and of all those that share it.
[Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana]