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Quotes from the Early Church Fathers on divorce and remarriage

Hermas [A.D. 80]

“What then shall the husband do, if the wife continue in this disposition [adultery]? Let him divorce her, and let the husband remain single. But if he divorce his wife and marry another, he too commits adultery” (The Shepherd 4:1:6 [A.D. 80]).

Justin Martyr [A.D. 151]

“In regard to chastity, [Jesus] has this to say: ‘If anyone look with lust at a woman, he has already before God committed adultery in his heart.’ And, ‘Whoever marries a woman who has been divorced from another husband, commits adultery.’ According to our Teacher, just as they are sinners who contract a second marriage, even though it be in accord with human law, so also are they sinners who look with lustful desire at a woman. He repudiates not only one who actually commits adultery, but even one who wishes to do so; for not only our actions are manifest to God, but even our thoughts” (First Apology 15 [A.D. 151]).

“And so those who make second marriages according to human law are sinners in the sight of our Teacher” (First Apology 250:

Clement of Alexandria [A.D. 208]

“That Scripture counsels marriage, however, and never allows any release from the union, is expressly contained in the law: ‘You shall not divorce a wife, except for reason of immorality.’ And it regards as adultery the marriage of a spouse, while the one from whom a separation was made is still alive. ‘Whoever takes a divorced woman as wife commits adultery,’ it says; for ‘if anyone divorce his wife, he debauches her’; that is, he compels her to commit adultery. And not only does he that divorces her become the cause of this, but also he that takes the woman and gives her the opportunity of sinning; for if he did not take her, she would return to her husband” (Miscellanies 2:23:145:3 [A.D. 208]).

Tertullian [approx 200AD]

And the reason why He has abolished divorce, which “was not from the beginning,” is, that He may strengthen that which “was from the beginning”—the permanent conjunction, (namely), of “two into one flesh:”  for fear that necessity or opportunity for a third union of flesh may make an irruption (into His dominion); permitting divorce to no cause but one—if, (that is), the (evil) against which precaution is taken chance to have occurred beforehand.

Origen [AD 248]

“Just as a woman is an adulteress, even though she seem to be married to a man, while a former husband yet lives, so also the man who seems to marry her who has been divorced does not marry her, but, according to the declaration of our Savior, he commits adultery with her” (Commentaries on Matthew 14:24 [A.D. 248]).

Council of Elvira [AD 300]

“Likewise, a woman of the faith who has left an adulterous husband of the faith and marries another, her marrying in this manner is prohibited. If she has so married, she may not receive Communion—unless he that she has left has since departed from this world” (Canon 9).

“If she whom a catechumen [an unbaptized person studying the faith] has left shall have married a husband, she is able to be admitted to the fountain of baptism. This shall also be observed in the instance where it is the woman who is the catechumen. But if a woman of the faithful is taken in marriage by a man who left an innocent wife, and if she knew that he had a wife whom he had left without cause, it is determined that Communion is not to be given to her even at death” (Canon 10).

Basil the Great [375]

“A man who marries after another man’s wife has been taken away from him will be charged with adultery in the case of the first woman; but in the case of the second he will be guiltless” (Second Canonical Letter to Amphilochius 199:37 [A.D. 375]).

Ambrose of Milan [AD 389]

“No one is permitted to know a woman other than his wife. The marital right is given you for this reason: lest you fall into the snare and sin with a strange woman. ‘If you are bound to a wife do not seek a divorce’; for you are not permitted, while your wife lives, to marry another” (Abraham 1:7:59 [A.D. 387]).

“You dismiss your wife, therefore, as if by right and without being charged with wrongdoing; and you suppose it is proper for you to do so because no human law forbids it; but divine law forbids it. Anyone who obeys men ought to stand in awe of God. Hear the law of the Lord, which even they who propose our laws must obey: ‘What God has joined together let no man put asunder’” (Commentary on Luke 8:5 [A.D. 389]).

Jerome [AD 396]

“Do not tell me about the violence of the ravisher, about the persuasiveness of a mother, about the authority of a father, about the influence of relatives, about the intrigues and insolence of servants, or about household [financial] losses. So long as a husband lives, be he adulterer, be he sodomite, be he addicted to every kind of vice, if she left him on account of his crimes, he is her husband still and she may not take another” (Letters 55:3 [A.D. 396]).

“Wherever there is fornication and a suspicion of fornication, a wife is freely dismissed. Because it is always possible that someone may calumniate the innocent and, for the sake of a second joining in marriage, act in criminal fashion against the first, it is commanded that when the first wife is dismissed, a second may not be taken while the first lives” (Commentaries on Matthew 3:19:9 [A.D. 398]).

Pope Innocent I [AD 408]

“[T]he practice is observed by all of regarding as an adulteress a woman who marries a second time while her husband yet lives, and permission to do penance is not granted her until one of them is dead” (Letters 2:13:15 [A.D. 408]).

Augustine [AD 419]

“Neither can it rightly be held that a husband who dismisses his wife because of fornication and marries another does not commit adultery. For there is also adultery on the part of those who, after the repudiation of their former wives because of fornication, marry others. This adultery, nevertheless, is certainly less serious than that of men who dismiss their wives for reasons other than fornication and take other wives. Therefore, when we say: ‘Whoever marries a woman dismissed by her husband for reason other than fornication commits adultery,’ undoubtedly we speak the truth. But we do not thereby acquit of this crime the man who marries a woman who was dismissed because of fornication. We do not doubt in the least that both are adulterers. We do indeed pronounce him an adulterer who dismissed his wife for cause other than fornication and marries another, nor do we thereby defend from the taint of this sin the man who dismissed his wife because of fornication and marries another. We recognize that both are adulterers, though the sin of one is more grave than that of the other. No one is so unreasonable to say that a man who marries a woman whose husband has dismissed her because of fornication is not an adulterer, while maintaining that a man who marries a woman dismissed without the ground of fornication is an adulterer. Both of these men are guilty of adultery” (Adulterous Marriages 1:9:9 [A.D. 419]).

“A woman begins to be the wife of no later husband unless she has ceased to be the wife of a former one. She will cease to be the wife of a former one, however, if that husband should die, not if he commit fornication. A spouse, therefore, is lawfully dismissed for cause of fornication; but the bond of chastity remains. That is why a man is guilty of adultery if he marries a woman who has been dismissed even for this very reason of fornication” (ibid., 2:4:4).

“Undoubtedly the substance of the sacrament is of this bond, so that when man and woman have been joined in marriage they must continue inseparably as long as they live, nor is it allowed for one spouse to be separated from the other except for cause of fornication. For this is preserved in the case of Christ and the Church, so that, as a living one with a living one, there is no divorce, no separation forever” (Marriage and Concupiscence 1:10:11 [A.D. 419]).

“In marriage, however, let the blessings of marriage be loved: offspring, fidelity, and the sacramental bond. Offspring, not so much because it may be born, but because it can be reborn; for it is born to punishment unless it be reborn to life. Fidelity, but not such as even the unbelievers have among themselves, ardent as they are for the flesh. . . . The sacramental bond, which they lose neither through separation nor through adultery, this the spouses should guard chastely and harmoniously” (ibid., 1:17:19).

Of this bond the substance // undoubtedly is this, that the man and the woman who are joined together in matrimony should remain inseparable as long as they live; and that it should be unlawful for one consort to be parted from the other, except for the cause of fornication. For this is preserved in the case of Christ and the Church; so that, as a living one with a living one, there is no divorce, no separation for ever. (

Thomas Aquinas [approx 1250]

Article. 4 – Whether it was lawful for a divorced…I answer that, According to the first above mentioned opinion, she sinned by marrying another husband after being divorced, because her first marriage still held good. For “the woman . . . whilst her husband liveth, is bound to the law of her husband” (Rom. 7:2): and she could not have several husbands at one time. But according to the second opinion, just as it was lawful by virtue of the Divine dispensation for a husband to divorce his wife, so could the wife marry another husband, because the indissolubility of marriage was removed by reason of the divine dispensation: and as long as that indissolubility remains the saying of the Apostle holds. (

Article. 5 – Whether a husband can marry again… I answer that, Nothing supervenient to marriage can dissolve it: wherefore adultery does not make a marriage cease to be valid. For, according to Augustine (De Nup. et Concup. i, 10), “as long as they live they are bound by the marriage tie, which neither divorce nor union with another can destroy.” Therefore it is unlawful for one, while the other lives, to marry again. (

Article. 1 – Whether it is lawful for a husband…I answer that, Our Lord permitted a man to put away his wife on account of fornication, in punishment of the unfaithful party and in favor of the faithful party, so that the latter is not bound to marital intercourse with the unfaithful one. There are however seven cases to be excepted in which it is not lawful to put away a wife who has committed fornication, when either the wife is not to be blamed, or both parties are equally blameworthy. The first is if the husband also has committed fornication; the second is if he has prostituted his wife; the third is if the wife, believing her husband dead on account of his long absence, has married again; the fourth is if another man has fraudulently impersonated her husband in the marriage-bed; the fifth is if she be overcome by force; the sixth is if he has been reconciled to her by having carnal intercourse with her after she has committed adultery; the seventh is if both having been married in the state of unbelief, the husband has given his wife a bill of divorce and she has married again; for then if both be converted the husband is bound to receive her back again. (


From the high view of marriage, and also from an ascetic over-estimate of celibacy, arose a very, prevalent aversion to re-marriage, particularly of widows. The Shepherd of Hermas allows this reunion indeed, but with the reservation, that continuance in single life earns great honor with the Lord. Athenagoras goes so far as to call the second marriage a “decent adultery.”

The Montanists and Novatians condemned re-marriage, and made it a subject of discipline.

Tertullian came forward with the greatest decision, as advocate of monogamy against both successive and simultaneous polygamy.

He thought thus to occupy the true middle ground between the ascetic Gnostics, who rejected marriage altogether, and the Catholics, who allowed more than one.

“Non prohibemus secundas nuptias, ” says Ambrose, “sed non suademus.” None of the fathers recommends remarriage or even approves of it. Jerome represented the prevailing view of the Nicene age. He took the lowest view of marriage as a mere safeguard against fornication and adultery, and could conceive of no other motive for second or third marriage but animal passion. “The first Adam, ” he says, “had one wife; the second Adam had no wife. Those who approve of digamy hold forth a third Adam, who was twice married, whom they follow” (Contra Jovin. 1). Gregory of Nazianzum infers from the analogy of marriage to the union of Christ with his church that second marriage is to be reproved, as there is but one Christ and one church (Orat. XXXI). (

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