In Their Own Words:  The Early Church and Marriage
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In Their Own Words: The Early Church and Marriage

In Their Own Words: The Early Church and Marriage

In recent months there has been much discussion as to what the first Christians believed about marriage and the discipline of the sacraments. Faith magazine thought it would be helpful to allow some of those influential voices of the Early Church to speak for themselves.

“Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”     

Jesus Christ, Gospel of St Luke 16:18

“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. ” 

Justin Martyr, AD 151

“Thus a married woman is bound by law to her husband as long as he lives. … Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive.”    

St Paul, Letter to the Romans 7:2–3

"That Scripture counsels marriage, however, and never allows any release from the union, is expressly contained in the law.

Clement of Alexandria, AD 208

“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.”     

Hermas, AD 80

“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 Saviour, he commits adultery with her. ”

Origen, AD 248

“Likewise, women who have left their husbands for no prior cause, and have joined themselves with others, may not even at death receive Communion.”     

Canon 8, Council of Elvira, AD 300

“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.”     

Jerome, AD 396

“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.”    

Ambrose of Milan, AD 387

“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.”  

Augustine of Hippo, AD 419

“The 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.”    

Pope Innocent I, AD  408 

Faith Magazine