Catholics and Protestants, alike, usually want to know what the biblical
foundation is for the Catholic Church's stance on marriage, and particularly,
the practice of granting declarations of nullity of marriage. And so, we
would like to walk through a number of passages of scripture and explain the
Power of the Church
If your brother sins [against you], go and
tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you
have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others
along with you, so that 'every fact may be established on the testimony
of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell the
church. If he refused to listen even to the church, then treat him as you
would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind
on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall
be loosed in heaven.'
The above passage from Matthew shows that Christ gave the Church authority
to settle disputes. St. Paul further elaborates on this and tells us that the
Church should set up a court system to judge cases.
How can any one of you with a case against
another dare to bring it to the unjust for judgment instead of to the
holy ones? Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If
the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law
courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday
matters? If, therefore, you have courts for everyday matters, do you seat
as judges people of no standing in the church? I say this to shame you.
Can it be that there is not one among you wise enough to be able to
settle a case between brothers? But rather brother goes to court against
brother, and that before unbelievers?
I Cor 6:1-6
Divorce in the Bible
The Old Testament never commands divorce. Rather, it treats divorce as an
unfortunate reality which has arisen due to the hardness of people's hearts.
In fact, God says:
You must then safeguard life that is your
own, and not break faith with the wife of your youth. For I hate divorce,
says the Lord, the God of Israel, and covering one's garment with
injustice, says the Lord of hosts.
Jesus reveals to us that not only is divorce unfortunate, but in fact,
divorce has no power to break the bond between man and woman. Jesus reveals
that if a couple divorce they are still tied to one another through the
unbreakable bond of marriage:
He set out from there and went into the
district of Judea [and] across the Jordan. Again crowds gathered around
him and, as was his custom, he again taught them. The Pharisees
approached and asked, 'Is it lawful for a husband to divorce his wife?'
They were testing him. He said to them in reply, 'What did Moses command
you?' They replied, 'Moses permitted him to write a bill of divorce and
dismiss her.' But Jesus told them, 'Because of the hardness or your
hearts he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of creation,
'God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his
father and mother [and be joined to his wife], and the two shall become
one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God
has joined together, no human being must separate.' In the house the
disciples again questioned him about this. He said to them, 'Whoever
divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and
if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries
another commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from
her husband commits adultery.
It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife
must give her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you, whoever divorces his
the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever
marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
When Jesus finished these words, he left
Galilee and went to the district of Judea across the Jordan. Great crowds
followed him, and he cured them there. Some Pharisees approached him, and
tested him, saying, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any
cause whatever?' He said in reply, 'Have you not read that from the
beginning the Creator 'made them male and female' and said, 'For this
reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two, but one
flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must
separate.' They said to him, 'Then why did Moses command that the man
give the woman a bill of divorce and dismiss [her]?' He said to them,
'Because of the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed you to divorce your
wives, but from the beginning it was not so. I say to you, whoever
divorces his wife (unless
the marriage is unlawful) and marries another commits adultery.'
[His] disciples said to him, 'If that is the case of a man with his wife,
it is better not to marry.' He answered, 'Not all can accept [this] word,
but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage
because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others;
some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of
heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.'
St. Paul teaches the same basic reality: divorce does not separate the
couple, they are still bound to one another:
To the married, however, I give this
instruction (not I, but the Lord): A wife should not separate from her
husband—and if she does separate she must either remain single or become
reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his
I Cor 7:10-11
This does not mean that divorce is always to be avoided. Sometimes,
divorce is necessary to preserve one's physical, emotional, or spiritual
wellbeing. But if divorce occurs, it is governed by the biblical principle so
clearly taught above, namely, that divorce does not destroy the bond of
Nevertheless, this principle only applies to true marriages. Reason tells
us that if two people were only pretending to marry, then this biblical
principle does not apply. Moreover, if the people were legally incapable of
marriage, then the biblical principle does not apply. There are many possible
reasons why a marriage could be "invalid," as we say.
The Church, having been given Christ's own power to judge, is the only
body capable of determining authoritatively whether a given marriage was a
true marriage or not.