- What does the Catholic Church teach regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage? How does the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage, divorce, and remarriage differ from some protestant denominations teaching on this subject?
I know this seems harsh, but the Church believes that matrimony is a sacrament, one where two people stand before God and make a solemn oath to give of themselves to each other totally and faithfully, forever. God responds by blessing the union and granting the couple a sacramental grace that they can draw from when times are difficult. These two people brought God into their arrangement. The Church takes that very seriously. As with any oath, if you are going to invoke the name of the Lord, you better make sure you mean it.
As for annulments, some people think they are basically the equivalent of "Catholic divorce," but they are not. An annulment basically acknowledges that certain circumstances were in place that invalidated the sacrament that was celebrated. In other words, it has been determined that a valid sacrament was never celebrated, in which case the man and woman are free to marry someone else.
St. Paul says that the union of man and woman is a great mystery that pertains to Christ and His Church. What he means is that the union of man and woman in a way points to the union between Christ and His Church, the Bridegroom and His Bride. Just as Christ is utterly faithful to his bride, even "jealous" over her, so must the husband be faithful to his wife. Just as God demanded complete faithfulness from Israel, and described her idolatry as a type of adultery, in which she "played the harlot" instead of being singularly His, so to is the wife called to be singularly devoted to her husband. The married couple has the opportunity to work with the Creator of all things in bringing new life into the world, and they are called, in their marital embrace, to be an image of the Trinity.
Yes, that's right, an image of the Trinity. Within the Trinity is a community of persons, one in which the Father completely loves the Son, the Son completely loves the Father, and their love is itself a third Person, the Holy Spirit. Similarly, in the marital sex act, the husband gives of himself completely to his wife, the wife gives of herself completely to her husband, and their love creates a third person, the child that they bring into the world.
That's what the Catholic Church teaches about marriage. My impression of Protestantism on the other hand is one in which marriage is viewed as a simple contract or promise between two people. It is certainly not a sacrament (a source of grace) or an oath made before God. Rarely do I see Protestant theology draw it's understanding of marriage from the relationship between Christ and the Church, or from the community of persons that exists within the Trinity, or from the nature of Adam and Eve's relationship before the fall. This I think explains why so many Protestant churches condone divorce and remarriage. They simply do not have the same exalted view of marriage that the Catholic Church has. Of course, I am really in no place to speak for Protestantism regarding matrimony. I also realize that many denominations do in fact hold matrimony in high regard.
Would you be willing to read what the Catechism has to say about the Sacrament of Matrimony? It really is an eloquent and beautiful meditation upon this topic. See nos. 1601-1666.