Second Marriages in Venice for “La Civiltà Cattolica”
In support of the ideas of Cardinal Kasper, the magazine with the papal imprimatur dusts off a concession granted by the Council of Trent for Catholics in the Greek islands under Venetian rule, some of whom remarried according to the Orthodox rite
by Sandro Magister
ROME, October 4, 2014 – “La Civiltà Cattolica” has waited until the eve of the synod to break the silence that it had maintained until now on the most controversial question: whether or not to allow second weddings after a failed marriage.
And in taking the field it has fully espoused the cause of the innovators, with Cardinal Walter Kasper in the lead, who is cited from the very first lines as a beacon of reference.
“La Civiltà Cattolica” is not just any sort of magazine. Written exclusively by Jesuits, its drafts pass inspection by the Vatican authorities before publication. Pope Francis and the current director of the magazine, Fr. Antonio Spadaro – who has by now become the prince of his interviewers and interpreters – have the closest of working relationships.
In order to call the synod to “openness” on second marriages, “ La Civiltà Cattolica” has made a surprise move. It has dusted off the Council of Trent, precisely that Council which more strictly than any other reaffirmed the unity and indissolubility of the bond of marriage.
That same Council, however – as “La Civiltà Cattolica” recalls – abstained from formally condemning second marriages as practiced in the Eastern Churches, not only among the faithful of the Orthodox rite, but also – in some areas of mixed confession – among Catholics in union with Rome.
What induced the fathers of the Council of Trent to make this gesture that the magazine calls one of “ecumenism” ahead of its time was the case of Catholics living in the Greek islands of the Republic of Venice, who with the permission of their Latin bishops attended Orthodox churches and services. The Venetian ambassadors asked the council to allow these Catholics to maintain their “rites,” including the possibility of contracting second marriages in the case of adultery.
After an animated discussion, the council fathers approved the request with 97 votes against 80, and reformulated the canon that reaffirmed the indissolubility of marriage, avoiding any direct condemnation of the Eastern practice of second marriages.
The author of the article, Fr. Giancarlo Pani, a professor of Christian history at the University of Rome “La Sapienza,” reconstructs the debate that took place at the Council of Trent with a wealth of details and with all the references to the passages from the Gospels and from the Church Fathers made by the bishops and cardinals who spoke at the Council.
But when his turn comes to examine the practice of the undivided Church of the first centuries, Fr. Pani falls back entirely on the reconstruction made by Giovanni Cereti in the 1977 book “Divorce, new marriages, and penance in the primitive Church” – which was also the main, if not the only, source of reference used by Cardinal Kasper in his address to the consistory in February of 2014 – ignoring all of the subsequent studies conducted by illustrious patrologists like Henri Crouzel and Gilles Pelland, also Jesuits, who tore this reconstruction to shreds.
The thesis that emerges from this article of “La Civiltà Cattolica” is that Trent made a gesture of “evangelical mercy” that the synod that is about to open should adopt and reinforce, on behalf of “those Christians who suffer through a failed conjugal relationship.”
In reality, there was no beginning of “openness” to second marriages at Trent, but simply the decision not to enter into direct conflict on this point with the Orthodox Churches, with a prudence that was also exercised over the previous centuries and maintained afterward.
The exceptional case of the Greek islands of the Republic of Venice was extinguished with the loss of those islands at the hands of the Ottoman Empire. And it was not reproduced again in the communities that switched from Orthodoxy to union with the Church of Rome, which were asked for a preliminary confession of faith with the express indication of the impossibility of a second marriage.
The following is an extract from the article in “La Civiltà Cattolica.”
MATRIMONY AND “SECOND MARRIAGES” AT THE COUNCIL OF TRENT
by Giancarlo Pani S.J.
Marriage seems to have become a sign of contradiction in the Church: if on the one hand there is the highest praise for the value of the sacrament, the dignity of conjugal love and the beauty of the family, on the other we are witnessing the dramatic reality of families destroyed, and also the suffering of those who are living in a marriage that has failed, in both spiritual and human terms, and cannot be put back together again.
This may be one of the signs of the times that Saint John XXIII urged all not only to read and interpret, but also to take to heart. His talk on the signs of the times ended with a surprising statement: “The Church is not a museum of archeology.” […]
In this perspective, there is a singular history behind one of the most innovative decrees of the Council of Trent: the one on marriage, called “Tametsi.” […] The intention here is not to recount the history, but to take note of an unusual question that led Trent to express itself in an unexpected direction.
In the debate over the marriage bond, the fathers had to come to a decision on the possibility of second marriages for Greek Catholics of the Republic of Venice, in the islands of the Mediterranean. These Catholics had “singular” forms of connection with the Eastern community. At the time, the bishops were mostly Venetian and followed the Latin rite, while the priests of the local clergy were Orthodox. These communities had adopted the practice, on the part of Latin bishops, of allowing the faithful to live according to the Orthodox rites, apart from the declaration of obedience to the pope, which had to be renewed three times a year.
These rites included a custom that allowed the possibility of contracting new marriages in case of the adultery of the wife, founded on a very ancient tradition. The Eastern Church rigorously affirmed and recognized the indissolubility of marriage; nonetheless, in some particular cases, with the discernment of the bishop, it tolerated a penitential rite for those who, if their marriage had failed with no possibility of rebuilding it, went on to new marriages. […]
The Council of Trent
The question appeared for the first time at the general congregation of October 15, 1547. […] In 1563, when the Tametsi decree was drafted, the issue returned.
On July 20, during the definitive phase of the formulation of the decree, the council fathers were given the canons to be approved, including one, the sixth, which later became the seventh in the final draft. It affirmed:
“Let him be anathema who says that marriage can be dissolved on account of the adultery of the other spouse, and that for both spouses or at least for the innocent one, who did not cause the adultery, it is licit to contract new marriages, and that he does not commit adultery who remarries after repudiating the adulterous woman, nor the woman who, after repudiating the adulterous man, marries another.” […]
The request of the Venetian ambassadors
One new development appeared at the congregation of August 11, with the reading of a request from the Venetian ambassadors.
The introduction solemnly declares the faithfulness of ‘La Serenissima’ to the Apostolic See, and sincere devotion to the authority of the Council. Then comes the demand: the latest version of the seventh canon is unacceptable. It creates concerns for the Catholics of the Republic of Venice, situated in Greece and in the islands of Crete, Cyprus, Corcyra, Zakynthos, and Cephalonia, and brings grave harm not only for the peace of the Christian community but also for the Eastern Church, in particular for that of the Greeks. This, although it dissents from the Church of Rome on some points, obeys the prelates appointed by the Apostolic See. Now, for the Orientals it is customary in the case of adultery on the part of a wife to dissolve the marriage and contract a new one, and there even exists a very ancient rite of their Fathers for the celebration of new weddings. This custom has never been condemned by any ecumenical Council, nor has it been the target of any anathemas, even though the practice has always been known to the Roman Catholic Church. The ambassadors therefore ask that the canon be modified where it excommunicates anyone who says that the Church teaches that marriage cannot be dissolved for the adultery of the spouse, and that even the innocent spouse may not remarry. […]
The arguments of the Venetians
From the proposal of the Venetian ambassadors the council fathers got the impression that in the Greek territories of Venice some sort of ecclesial communion of the Orientals with Rome had been reached, and that the Greek Catholics were distinguished only according to some of their rites. For them, the term “ritus” has a broader meaning than it does in the West, in that it also includes the celebration of new marriages following adultery. […]
The intention was, in essence, to prevent the Catholics present in the Venetian republic, under the authority of bishops in communion with Rome, from being condemned for a very ancient practice concerning marriage: a particular “Greek rite,” which however contrasts with the indissolubility of marriage sanctioned by the Council. Out of fear of a schism, it was proposed that the canon be modified in such a way as to excommunicate not those who accept the Eastern rite, but only those who reject the doctrine of the indissolubility of marriage. In this way those who deny the authority of the pope or of the magisterium of the Church are affected, not the Greek Catholics who recognize them.
The conciliar discussion
The conciliar debate was not brief and was prolonged, in various stages, from August to November. […] The statements make it clear that most of the Council fathers agreed with not censuring the practice of the Greek Church. […] Only a small group spoke out against the validity of the testimonies adopted for a new formulation of the seventh canon and wanted to keep it as it was, because they did not think that it was only a matter of canon law, and not of divine law. […]
In the end, there were 97 votes in agreement with the Venetian ambassadors and for the approval of the petition, against the 80 opposed to the Eastern practice, but divided in their reasoning. This does not mean that the majority of the fathers wanted to bring the indissolubility of marriage into question: the intention was only to discuss the form of the condemnation. The fifth canon stood firm, with its reasons against divorce. […]
Here the aforementioned seventh canon came into play:
“If anyone says that the Church is wrong when it taught and teaches, according to the doctrine of the Gospel and of the apostles, that the bond of marriage cannot be dissolved on account of the adultery of one of the spouses; that neither of the two, not even the innocent one, who did not give any motivation for the adultery, can contract another marriage, with the other spouse still alive; that the husband commits adultery who, after driving out the adulteress, marries another, and the woman who, after driving out the adulterer, marries another, let him be anathema.”
The formulation is singular, in that on the one hand it condemns the doctrine of Luther and of the reformers who despised Church practice on marriage, and on the other leaves uncriticized the traditions of the Greeks who, in the case specified, tolerate new marriages.
Here there appears an important correction with respect to the previous draft: it does not say “marriage,” but “the bond of marriage.” The canon deals only with the internal indissolubility of marriage, meaning the fact that the marriage is not dissolved ipso facto, not by the adultery of one of the spouses and not even when the spouses decide with regard to this according to their consciences.
Moreover, the Council does not say anything about the question of whether the Church does or does not have the possibility of pronouncing a sentence of dissolution of the bond (this would be a matter of the “external indissolubility” of marriage). In this way the canon respects the practice of the Orientals, who, although affirming and recognizing the indissolubility of marriage, do not admit that it should be the spouses who personally decide on their marital bond; the Orientals, nevertheless, after a discernment on the part of the Church and a penitential practice, allowing new marriages. […]
The ancient Church
But what did the ancient Church mean by “indissolubility?” In the early centuries this opposed to the civil legislation, which considered repudiation and divorce legitimate, the evangelical demand of not violating the marriage and of observing the precept of the Lord “not to divide what God has united.”
Nonetheless, even a Christian could fail in his marriage and move on to a new union; this sin, like every sin, was not excluded from the mercy of God, and the Church both had and claimed the power to absolve it. This was precisely a matter of the application of mercy and of pastoral forbearance, which takes the frailty and sinfulness of man into account.
This mercy has remained in the Eastern tradition under the name of “oikonomia”: while recognizing the indissolubility of marriage proclaimed by the Lord, as the icon of Christ’s union with the Church, his bride, pastoral practice reaches out to the problems of spouses who are living in irrecuperable marital situations. After discernment on the part of the bishop and after penance, the faithful can be reconciled, new marriages declared valid, and communion permitted again.
One contribution to such a tolerant tradition may have come from the interpretation of the Lord’s command on indissolubility (Mt 19:4-6), understood as an ideal ethical norm toward which the Christian must continually tend, as not as a juridical norm. Moreover, in the Church of the early centuries, which considered adultery one of the most serious sins together with apostasy and murder, the bishops had the power to absolve all sins, even those relative to conjugal infidelity and to the conclusion of a new union. […]
The page of the Council of Trent illustrated above seems to have been forgotten by history. Most of the time it is not mentioned at all. And there is an eloquent silence in the diaries of the Council published along with the “Acta,” a silence on the part of the secretaries themselves, who were always present, scrupulous, rigorous in documenting every episode. And yet this page is missing. A “damnatio memoriae”? It appears extraordinary today that at a Council at which the indissolubility of marriage is affirmed there should be no condemnation of new marriages for Catholics of the Eastern tradition. And yet this is the history: a page of evangelical mercy for those Christians who suffer through a failed conjugal relationship that cannot be put back together again; but also an historical event that has clear ecumenical implications.
The issue of the magazine with the article by Fr. Pani:
On the state of the research concerning marriage and second marriages in the ancient Church:
One of the most important essays on this subject, highly critical of the reconstruction made by Giovanni Cereti and revived by Cardinal Kasper, is just now coming to Italian bookstores, published by Cantagalli:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.