Pope Paul VI to the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Michael Ramsey

"(B)y entering into our house, you are entering your own house, we are happy to open our door and heart to you." - Pope Paul VI to Dr Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Anglicans and Divorce

As the Philippine House of Representatives begins to tackle a divorce bill (which I think is a political ploy in indecent haste, definitely even more divisive than reproductive health) after the much of the debates on the RH bill, it is now time to look into what has been the historical position of Anglicanism on divorce. Dr William Tighe gives a splendid historical review in the Anglo Catholic blog. 

The Church of England is in the popular perception viewed as founded on divorce. However that is not entirely correct, for Henry VIII sought an annulment from his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. During those times, it was only the Pope who can grant that as a dispensation. However we are viewing the issue with 21st century eyes. In the Medieval period and through the Reformation, any formal break up of a marriage was considered divorce. The legal niceties were just debated by the Doctors of law and theology in the Universities! 

Henry got his annulment from a complacent Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer in 1533 and thus was able to marry Anne Boleyn. But he could only have this union legally recognized if he outlawed all appeals to Rome. Thus he made himself "Supreme Head of the Church in England" in 1536 and was excommunicated. The Church of England was separated from Rome.

The Continental Reformers agreed that divorce may be granted under certain circumstances and the parties may remarry (during this time it meant only remarry in church!) However Henry's Church of England remained resolute in disallowing divorce and remarriage (which included what we know as annulment). Thus the Church of England is the church which has the strictest discipline about divorce and remarriage. In contrast the Presbyterian Church of Scotland recognized divorce in the sense we know it now. The Anglican Church says "no, never" unless one of the spouses has passed away. The Anglican Church would not admit a divorced person to communion. In contrast a divorced Roman Catholic may be admitted to communion if he/she has not remarried.

This has been the stand of the Anglican Church and throughout the history of the British Monarchy, this has been THE BIG issue above anything else. in 1936 Edward VIII wanted to marry the woman he loved, Mrs Wallis Simpson, but Mrs Simpson is a divorced woman. The government advised the King that he cannot marry Mrs Simpson because the Church of England does not allow the remarriage of a divorced person and so he gave his famous abdication speech. And for that he and Wallis Simpson became history's most famous icon of romance.

Much later on 9 April 2009 Charles Prince of Wales (who was divorced from Princess Diana but with her death he could be remarried in church) married Camilla Parker-Bowles in a civil ceremony. He was barred from marrying in Church of England rites since Mrs Parker-Bowles was a divorced person. The Queen did not attend the ceremony due to her position as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. She however attended Charles and Camilla's  Anglican blessing service in Windsor Castle.

And this state of affairs is likely to mean that when Charles ascends the Throne, Camilla will be legally queen, but it is likely she will be known as the Princess Consort rather than queen consort. And this is because of the Church of England's discipline on marriage.

The wedding of Charles firstborn son, William and Kate Middleton last April 29 is a wedding where it was rude to talk about divorce. The young couple were much in love and were single when they tied the knot. But the sermon of the Bishop of London focused on the indissolubility of marriage.  And so did the wedding liturgy.

Even if the Church of England has largely kept its traditional discipline, England's civil law has allowed divorce and remarriage, the Church's recent practice has been found wanting. You can read Dr Tighe's review on what has happened in the Anglican Communion here. This leaves the Roman Catholic Church as the only major Christian body to disallow divorce and remarriage.

But as the Philippines considers civil divorce we are reminded about what the Gospel of St Matthew says

"It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement:
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."

And in St Mark, we are reminded why the Jews allowed divorce because "of the hardness of our hearts"

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