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

Rick Phillips on Singleness, Marriage, and Divorce

Here are some short, but good posts by Rick Phillips where he answers some specific questions he received at a recent conference. While I would not agree with every jot and tittle, the main teaching is solid.

In this post he addresses why there are so many singles if marriage is so important. All four points are good, but the first one is excellent.

Here he addresses dating a non-virgin. It is a balanced post showing that sexual purity is a goal, but dating (or for me courting) a non-virgin is not automatically a bad thing. I think this is important because in some ways we have made sexual sin a permanent stain. Past sexual sins should be discussed, but the key is the person’s current relationship with Christ, not their past transgressions.

Here he addresses the Biblical grounds for divorce. The post is not ground breaking, but it does give a succinct presentation of what I think is the Biblical teaching on divorce.

Finally, he addresses whether or not Christians should get civil marriage licenses. Again solid teaching here.

Violence and Divorce

Here is short post from the archives.

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America’s military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God’s Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it Biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are simply interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?

Divorce in Reformation Europe

I just finished reading Robert Kingdon’s book Adultery and Divorce in John Calvin’s Geneva. In this book he examines four specific cases of divorce in Geneva and what those cases can teach us about how views on divorce changed during the Reformation. Prior to the Reformation divorce was impossible. There were various ways to get out of a marriage including annulment and legal separation. But there was no divorce.  Calvin and other reformers, including Beza and Vermigli, changed this during the 1500s. However, while divorce was permitted it was still extremely difficult to get one. The only reasons for divorce were adultery and desertion. Here are some thoughts from the concluding chapter of Kingdon’s book.

“Divorce was now possible in Protestant Geneva, however, it remained difficult. A petitioner for a divorce always had to make a compelling case that adultery or desertion had occurred, a case that could withstand the scrutiny of a full trial.  It was never enough for a husband and wife simply to declare that they had become incompatible and no longer wished to live together…Furthermore, an attempt, sometimes quite strenuous was almost always made to persuade the couple to resolve their problems without divorce, to forgive each other, and in token of this fresh agreement to participate in a formal reconciliation ceremony.”

Kingdon goes on to note that most divorces took a long time to be approved. In the four cases described in the book, one took two years, one petition for divorce had to be filed twice, nine years apart, and one man was separated from his wife for eight years before divorce was granted.  He also notes that in the entire period of Calvin’s ministry in Geneva (1541-1564) only twenty six divorces for adultery were granted and far less for desertion. In other Protestant areas divorce, while allowed, was almost unheard of.  Basel had less than three per year. Neuchatel had less than one per year . Zurich was around 5 per year. Kingdon goes on to say that from 1500-1592 there was .57 divorces per 1,000 people per year in Basel. In 1910 the rate was 55.8 divorces per 1,000 people per year. The point here is that despite Protestants opening the door for divorce it was still almost impossible to get one. Kingdon cites one author who notes that widespread divorce rates did not take hold on continental Europe until the early 1800s.

All Protestants felt the innocent party in a divorce was free to remarry. Many, especially Beza who wrote a book on divorce after Calvin’s death, felt that the guilty should remarry as well. It would keep them from sexual immorality.

Kingdon adds that the death penalty was occasionally used on notorious adulterers, which would of course be a de facto divorce. However, this form of punishment was not common in Protestant or Roman Catholic circles.

Social Justice and Divorce

I was reading Malachi this morning and it struck me how the Lord says that He hates divorce because it covers one’s garment with violence. (Malachi 2:16) Today it is fashionable, especially among younger Christians, to freqently discuss the issue of violence, especially as it relates to social justice. Many pastors and scholars call upon Christians to be people of peace, to resist violent solutions to problems around the world. America’s military exploits are placed under the microscope to determine if they line up with God’s Word or not. Exploitation of workers in both America and abroad are deplored by socially conscious Christians. Some of this is a move in the right direction. For too long, the conservative church has merely cheered on the American state instead of challenging it biblically.

However, as I read this passage in Malachi it occurred to me that most of these socially conscious Christians would not take a strong stand against divorce. Which is odd, because the Scriptures explicitly say that divorce is an act of violence. If we are against violence, then we should be against divorce because divorce is violence. However, divorce is rarely if ever preached against. It makes one wonder whether those socially conscious Christians are making biblical arguments against violence or whether they are just interested in going along with current fads in American secular society?