Divorce and Second Marriages. The compliant “Oikonomia” of the Orthodox Churches

by Sandro Magister

ROME, September 26, 2014 – The example of the Orthodox Churches that allow second marriages is an argument enlisted by those who want the Catholic Church to set aside the ban on communion for the divorced and remarried, with Cardinal Walter Kasper in the lead.

Pope Francis gave them a big nudge with the sibylline “parenthesis” that he opened and closed in a conversation with journalists on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro on July 28, 2013:

“But also – a parenthesis – the Orthodox have a different practice. They follow the theology of what they call oikonomia, and they give a second chance, they allow it. But I believe that this problem – and here I close the parenthesis – must be studied within the context of the pastoral care of marriage.”

The commonly held idea is that second and even third marriages are celebrated sacramentally in the Orthodox Churches, and communion is given to the divorced and remarried. And this in continuity with the “merciful” practice of the Church in the early centuries.

But the reality is very far from these fantasies. Second marriages entered into the practice of the Eastern Churches in a later era, toward the end of the first millennium. They entered under the invasive influence of civil legislation, of which the Church was the executrix.

In any case, second and third marriages were never considered a sacrament. They were allowed under various more or less expansive forms in this or that area of Orthodoxy. The dissolution of first marriages was almost always for these Churches the simple transcription of a sentence of divorce issued by the civil authority.

The Orthodox Churches themselves do not help to specify this practice of theirs in a theologically and juridically clear form. The proof of this is the serious difficulty in which pastors in the Catholic Church find themselves in coming to grips with mixed marriages in which the Orthodox party comes from a marriage that has been dissolved on both the civil and religious level.

This knowledge gap is filled in, in the text reproduced further below, by an authority in this field, Archbishop Cyril Vasil (in the photo), a 49-year-old Slovak Jesuit, secretary of the Vatican congregation for the Oriental Churches and a former dean of the faculty of canon law at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.

The text is an extract from the extensive and well-documented article that Vasil dedicated to the theme in this multi-author book to be released in early October in the United States and Italy:

"Remaining in the Truth of Christ. Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church", Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2014.

The book, conceived of as a contribution to the upcoming synod on the family, has ignited lively reactions on account of the presence among its authors of cardinals Gerhard L. Müller, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, Walter Brandmüller, Raymond L. Burke, Velasio De Paolis, and Carlo Caffarra, all of them severely critical of the ideas of their colleague Kasper. Who has counterattacked by asserting that Francis had “agreed” with him on his proposals and therefore “the target of the polemics is not me, but the pope.”

But while the five cardinals had already presented their positions in previous statements - presented again in the book with their explicit cooperation, unlike the inventions that the media chimes in with Kasper’s remonstrations - Vasil’s article on divorce and second marriages in the Eastern Churches is an absolute novelty, on a matter among the least known and most misunderstood, and yet of extraordinary significance and relevance.

Here are the salient passages.

Copyright © Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa for www.chiesa. Posted with permission.

In early October, in addition to “Remaining in the Truth of Christ,” from which the chapter by Archbishop Cyril Vasil is taken, Ignatius Press will publish this other book on the themes of the synod, also critical of Kasper’s proposals in favor of communion for the divorced and remarried:

Stephan Kampowski, Juan Perez-Soba, "The Gospel of the Family. Going Beyond Cardinal Kasper's Proposals in the Debate on Marriage, Civil Re-Marriage and Communion in the Church", Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2014.

The book opens with a combative preface by Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Vatican secretariat for the economy, and will also be published in Italy by Cantagalli.

Both titles are already available as e-books on the website of Ignatius Press:

> Ignatius Press - eBooks

The founder and director of Ignatius Press is the Jesuit Joseph D. Fessio, a member of the Schülerkreis, the group of former theology students of Joseph Ratzinger.


Also on the theme of this article, www.chiesa published a commentary last May 30 by the theologian and liturgist Nicola Bux, a consultant for the congregation for divine worship:

> The Myth and Reality of Second Marriages among the Orthodox

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