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Chapter V. Adultery And Divorce

Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery.

Matthew 19: 9

It might be supposed that because the principal purpose of marriage is that there should be a conjugial union of love and wisdom, therefore all marriages which fail in this respect should be dissolved. But from what has been said concerning external communion it is clear that such a procedure is neither desirable nor wise, even supposing it were possible to know for certain in any marriage, except the obvious misfits, that the conjugial union could not be achieved. Moreover, such action would be disastrous to the social order which depends mainly upon the preservation of family life. It is for this latter reason that divorce is not allowed in many countries except for very weighty reasons, such as infidelity, cruelty and desertion. Until a few years ago, divorce in England could only be obtained for adultery; but, since the passing of the Matrimonial Causes Act in 1937, it is granted also for desertion, cruelty and incurable insanity. No doubt these other grievances seem serious enough to justify divorce; yet they should rather be regarded as causes for separation only, as the following teaching implies: The one and only cause of divorce is whoredom, according to the Lord's precept in Matthew 19: 9. To the same cause also belong manifest obscenities which banish decency . . . also malicious desertion which involves whoredom and causes the wife to commit adultery (Matthew 5: 32). CL 468.

And it is added:

The reason why whoredom is the one and only cause of divorce is that it is diametrically opposite to the life of conjugial love, and destroys it even to extermination.

Further, we read that for other objectionable things, such as insanity, mental deficiency, cruelty, criminal conduct, coarse behaviour, neglect of the children, drunkenness, also certain chronic and loathsome diseases which make living together distasteful in the extreme, separation is permitted. CL 252, 253.

As for the interior reason why whoredom, thus adultery (for whoredom on the part of a married person is adultery), is the only sufficient ground for divorce, the following explanation is given:

The soul of every human being is celestial by reason of its origin; wherefore it receives influx directly from the Lord, for it receives from Him the marriage of love and wisdom. . . . Conjugial love, which is in the soul in its spiritual holiness and purity, flows down from the union of souls in marriage into the life of the whole body and fills it with blessed delights, so long as its channel remains open, which is the case with those who are made spiritual by the Lord. That nothing hut adultery closes and blocks up this seat, origin or fountain, and its channel of conjugial love, is evident from the Lord's words that it is not lawful to put away a wife and marry another, except on account of adultery (Matthew 19: 3-9); and also from what is said in the same passage, that he who marries her that is put away commits adultery. CL 482.

From all this it follows that as "the conjugial principle is the jewel of human life" (CL 457) adultery should be abhorred as "the complex of all evils" (CL 356) because it proceeds from a rooted contempt for all that is pure and good. Wherefore, we are also taught that:

As soon as a man actually becomes an adulterer, heaven is closed against him. CL 500

But this applies to adulterers of set purpose; for there are varying degrees of this evil, some being more hurtful to the soul than others. For so we read:

There are mild adulteries, grievous ones, and more grievous ones; and each kind is estimated according to its opposition to, and consequent destruction of conjugial love. CL 454

Those which are accounted mild are such as are committed either in ignorance or from strong incitement, and not from deliberate intent. Thus, a youth who does not know that intercourse with a married woman is a greater sin than fornication commits adultery from ignorance; so, too, does anyone who is extremely simple or mentally deficient. Such persons do not necessarily close heaven against themselves. Neither do those whose guilt consists solely in being overcome by strong seductive enticements; so long, of course, as they afterwards repent. In such cases the sin of adultery is not confirmed in the understanding, and so can be forgiven. The judgment in these cases is the same as that which the Lord pronounced on the woman taken in adultery; "Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more." John 8, 11.

Adulteries of the grievous kind are those which are done with the full consent of the understanding; thus when they are not regarded as sins. And those which are more grievous still are such as are committed from an utterly depraved will. (See CL 486-494.) In these cases wrongdoers are basically evil; they lose all spirituality of mind, and on entering the other life they come into the hells where there are no marriage unions, but only the sensual attachments of harlots and libertines.

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