Divorce and Reconciliation During the Reformation

Divorce Cake.jpg

Here is a quote on how marriage and divorce was handled in Geneva from Kingdon and Witte’s book. 

A marriage, once properly contracted, consecrated, and celebrated was presumed permanent. The married couple was expected to maintain a common home. Both parties could be called to account for privately separating-particularly if there was suspicion of adultery, harlotry, concubinage, or sodomy. Couples who ‘wrangled and disputed with each other’ were to be admonished by the Consistory to ‘live in peace and unity’-with severe cases of discord reported to the congregation for popular reproof or to the Council for criminal punishment. Husbands were forbidden to ‘ill treat,’ ‘beat,’ or ‘torment’ their wives, and were subject to severe criminal if they persisted. These sanctions became increasingly severe in later years as the Consistory and Council sought to clamp down on domestic abuse. The [Marriage] Ordinance made no provision, even in extreme cases, for the traditional halfway remedy of separation (without divorce). An ethic of perpetual reconciliation of husband and wife coursed through the Ordinance, with ministers, magistrates, and members of the broader community all called to foster this end.

What is meant here is not that the rulers would allow a wife to stay in a physically dangerous situation. What he means by “separation” is the freedom to live apart from one another without ever getting a divorce. This was common in the Middle Ages because the Roman Catholic church believed divorce could not be granted for any reason. Therefore husbands and wives often separated without ever divorcing. Protestant leaders would remove a woman from a dangerous situation, but this was not a permanent solution, unless it led to divorce. In every case, the assumption was the parties would either reconcile or divorce.  Continue reading