An article appeared this morning on the Vatican Insider website which seems to be one last salvo in an effort to change the way marriage is handled in the west.
The Council of Trent did not condemn Eastern marriage practices
The article make the point that the council did not condemn certain Greek Catholic communities who had retained the Eastern custom of oikonomia in dealing with second marriages. This is the canon originally proposed by the council fathers.
If anyone saith, that marriage may be dissolved on the grounds of adultery committed by the other spouse, that it is licit for both spouses, or at least for the innocent party who has not committed adultery, to contract another marriage and that a man who remarries after he has repudiated an adulterous woman or vice versa, a woman who remarries after repudiating an adulterous man, is not committing an act of adultery; let him be anathema.
This would have posed considerable difficulty for the Greek communities which had never been in schism, holding as they did to the ancient practice regarding second marriages. Under pressure from their Latin bishops the canon was changed as follows.
If any one saith, that the Church has erred, in that she hath taught, and doth teach, in accordance with the evangelical and apostolical doctrine, that the bond of matrimony cannot be dissolved on account of the adultery of one of the married parties; and that both, or even the innocent one who gave not occasion to the adultery, cannot contract another marriage, during the life-time of the other; and, that he is guilty of adultery, who, having put away the adulteress, shall take another wife, as also she, who, having put away the adulterer, shall take another husband; let him be anathema.
In other words, the council affirmed the traditional teaching regarding the indissolubility of marriage while avoiding the outright condemnation of the Greeks under their care. Two things need to be noted here. First, the practice is neither approved nor condemned by the council. Second, the practice had been taking place at a fairly low level amongst Greek communities under Venetian jurisdiction. These communities did not have their own bishops but were reliant upon Latin bishops.This situation mirrored the way in which the oikonomia issue was handled in the Council of Florence some years earlier.
In the preliminary declaration before the Council of Florence (1439), the Roman Catholic Church assured Eastern Churches that, in the case of reunion, it would not oppose their practice of oikonomia and the corresponding interpretation of the indissolubility of marriage. During the Council of Trent, the bishops of the Republic of Venice, who came from territories where the union still existed, succeeded in preventing a revocation of this assurance. Hence it can be said that, from the point of view of dogma, the oikonomia practice is reconcilable with Roman catholic doctrine, provided of course, that it does not exceed the proper limits. At the same time the issue of oikonomia remains as a key problem regarding the reconciliation of Eastern Churches and the Roman catholic Church.What should prove most instructive for our present situation is the documentation from the Council of Florence which is echoed in Trent and no doubt will be mirrored in the current Synod on the Family.
The seventh is the sacrament of matrimony, which is a sign of the union of Christ and the church according to the words of the apostle: This sacrament is a great one, but I speak in Christ and in the church. The efficient cause of matrimony is usually mutual consent expressed in words about the present. A threefold good is attributed to matrimony. The first is the procreation and bringing up of children for the worship of God. The second is the mutual faithfulness of the spouses towards each other. The third is the indissolubility of marriage, since it signifies the indivisible union of Christ and the church. Although separation of bed is lawful on account of fornication, it is not lawful to contract another marriage, since the bond of a legitimately contracted marriage is perpetual.What can we learn from all this?
1. There will be no change in doctrine. The canons of Trent and Florence will be upheld.
2. The principle of oikonomia is an act of mercy carried out in specific pastoral circumstances and will never be enshrined in law nor does it constitute a precedent. It is an exception which two ecumenical councils have declined to comment on.
3. The practices of some isolated Greek communities did not result in changes to doctrine or to the practices of the western church. What may have worked in these communities would likely be the equivalent of giving an alcoholic the keys to the liquor cabinet in the west.