Newsletter #18: Orthodox second (and third) marriage
Today's newsletter: second marriage in Orthodoxy, academic publishing, and God's nets
Happy Tuesday! Here’s what else is in the newsletter today:
Orthodox second (and third) marriage
Contra “traditional marriage” (and contra academic publishing)
What I’m reading: God’s nets
Orthodox second (and third) marriage
A friend recently made me aware of the practice of second (and third) marriage in the Orthodox Church. As the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America outlines: “A second marriage is an extension of the Church’s mercy due to human failings and frailty.” It does not occur after an annulment (as would be required in the Roman Catholic Church), but is understood as a practice of oikonomia, a sort of discretionary deviation from the letter of the law in the spirit of the law and of charity.
The Rite of Second Marriage in Orthodoxy is similar to the Rite of Marriage in some ways, but differs in others. Both rites are a full sacrament, and they include the exchange of rings, the rite of crowning, and the sharing of the common cup. But the Rite of Second Marriage has a particular penitential emphasis. The bride may not wear a white gown, the father does not give her away, there is no bridal possession, and the clergy traditionally do not attend the wedding dinner or reception.
Prayers in the Rite of Second Marriage include petitions for forgiveness and also refer to 1 Corinthians 7:9:
“Do thou the Fashioner and Creator, who knowest the weakness of human nature, cleanse our sins, and forgive the transgression of thy servants, calling them to repentance, granting them remission of iniquities, cleansing of sins, and forgiveness of transgressions, whether voluntary or involuntary. O thou who didst forgive Rahab the harlot, and didst accept the repentance of the Publican, remember not our sins of ignorance from our youth up. For if thou shouldest mark iniquity, O Lord, Lord who should stand before thee? Or what flesh should be justified before thee? For thou only art righteous, sinless, holy, plenteous in mercy, of great compassion, and who turnest away from the evils of men. Do thou thyself, O Master, who hast taken unto thyself thy servants N. and N., unite them to one another in love; grant unto them the conversion of the Publican, the tears of the Harlot, and the confession of the Thief, that, through repentance with all their heart, doing thy commandment in peace and oneness of mind, they may be counted worthy of thy heavenly kingdom…
O Lord Jesus Christ, Word of God, who wast lifted up upon the precious and life-giving Cross, and didst thereby tear up the handwriting against us, and didst deliver us from the violence of the devil: Do thou cleanse the transgressions of thy servants, for, unable to bear the burden of the day and the burning of the flesh, they have come to a second communion of marriage, in accordance with that which thou hast lawfully appointed by thy chosen vessel, Paul the Apostle, saying, because of our humble state, ‘It is better to marry in the Lord than to burn.’ Do thou thyself, as thou art good and the Lover of mankind, have mercy, and pardon, cleanse, cast off and forgive our debts, for thou art he that tooketh our infirmities upon thy shoulders. For there is none that is sinless or without defilement for as much as one day of his life, save only thou, who, without sin, didst bear flesh, and who bestowest upon us eternal passionlessness. For thou art God, the God of them that repent, and unto thee we ascribe glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever, and unto ages of ages.
There is also a Rite of Third Marriage, with a few additional restrictions.
Currently, the Roman Catholic Church will not recognize a second marriage without an annulment, though Pope Francis has expressed an openness to studying the question. During a press conference on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro for the 28th World Youth Day, Pope Francis was asked about the possibility of change in the Church’s discipline regarding reception of the sacraments by the divorced and remarried. Pope Francis commented on how “this is the season of mercy” and emphasized that “the Church is a mother: she has to go out to heal” and must never tire of forgiving. And he said:
“I believe that we need to look at this within the larger context of the entire pastoral care of marriage. And so it is a problem. 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.”
This comment is perhaps less controversial than it may sound. In 1990, the USCCB published A Pastoral Statement on Orthodox/Roman Catholic Marriages. The statement notes some key differences between Catholic and Orthodox marriage, such as the Orthodox requirement that a sacramental marriage requires the blessing of an Orthodox bishop or priest (while Catholic sacramental marriages may not necessarily require a bishop or priest). It also discusses the Orthodox Church’s toleration of the remarriage of divorced persons, while the Catholic Church does not permit this. The statement says:
“The Orthodox Church, following Mt 19:9 (‘whoever divorces his wife except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery’), permits divorce under certain circumstance, not only in the case of adultery but also of other serious assaults on the moral and spiritual foundation of marriage (secret abortion, endangering the life of the spouse, forcing the spouse to prostitution and similar abusive situations). Out of pastoral consideration and in order better to serve the spiritual needs of the faithful, the Orthodox Church tolerates remarriage of divorced persons under certain specific circumstances as it permits the remarriage of widows and widowers under certain specific circumstances. The Roman Catholic Church has responded in other ways to such difficult situations. In order to resolve the personal and pastoral issues of failed consummated marriages, it undertakes inquiries to establish whether there may have existed some initial defect in the marriage covenant which provides grounds for the Church to make a declaration of nullity, that is, a decision attesting that the marriage lacked validity. It also recognizes the possibility of dissolving sacramental non-consummated marriages through papal dispensation. While it true that the Roman Catholic Church does not grant dissolution of the bond of a consummated sacramental marriage, it remains a question among theologians whether this is founded on a prudential judgment or on the Church's perception that it lacks the power to dissolve such a bond.”
The final sentence is interesting, in that it clarifies that Catholicism does not have a fixed theological position on whether valid marriages can be dissolved. Shortly after, the statement says that the Second Vatican Council called for a renewal of the Church’s approach to its teaching on marriage and that the council “implicitly recognized that teaching on marriage had frequently proceeded from a biological and juridical point of view rather than from an interpersonal and existential one.” This is an interesting point, given that much traditional marriage advocacy in American Christianity has tended to emphasize biological arguments.
Contra “traditional marriage” (and contra academic publishing)
On a related note, I recently published an essay exploring changes in the institutions of marriage and friendship in Western Christianity. Among other things, I argued that, in the Catholic tradition, (1) marriage is not a form of friendship (at least, in its highest sense), (2) friendship is a higher good than marriage, and (3) changes to canon law over the last century anticipate changes to civil law in the last half-century, moving from a vision of marriage focused primarily on biological procreativity to a vision focused on a more generalized love, care, and commitment.
Because of the essay’s length, and the amount of research that went into it, I had originally intended to publish the essay in a peer-reviewed journal. Such journals can help one’s work to be taken seriously in certain circles. And peer-reviewed publication is a way to have one’s work introduced to college classrooms. (Because it was published in Logos Journal, my essay on homoerotic desire has been included in syllabi for a handful of college courses.)
I did submit the essay to a journal, and received an invitation to revise and resubmit. The comments were very helpful. Reviewers recommended reframing some of my discussion of Augustine, adding some citations for a few of the claims, increasing critical awareness of some of the works relied on, and being careful not to treat the Christian tradition as more homogenous than it is (and doing the same with this tradition’s critics). The reviewers also questioned the extent to which the authors I relied on were truly representative of their positions. (Is Matthew Vines sufficiently representative of the sort of “liberal” position I was discussing? Is Cormac Burke representative of the “orthodox” Catholic position?) These comments were very helpful, and speak to the value of the peer review process. These concerns continue to speak to weaknesses in my essay, and are a helpful reminder to readers that there is much more to say.
A second set of critiques played a gatekeeping function. Multiple reviewers noted that the essay was light on references to secondary literature, which would need to be remedied. On a related note, another reviewer noted the lack of women authors cited. I think they were right in noting that the essay lacked a comprehensive vision of discussions on these topics by contemporary scholars. In general, I would say that the essay, while intellectually serious, lacked a demonstration of the type of research expected by most of the academy. While it had the substance of an interesting essay that contributed to a difficult discussion (as recognized by those reviewers), it lacked a number of the formal expectations of academic research.
I do feel a bit sorry for this. There is a lot of interesting academic work happening with regards to these questions. And I would love to have the time to seriously engage that work and rely upon it in my own writing. But unfortunately, academic scholarship is not my full time job, and I don’t have access to all of the resources of a professional academic. (Most people in non-university jobs don’t. The people practically in a position to publish in these journals is small in number. This may be related to the reason why their readers are so small in number.) I do believe my readers deserve well-researched, thought-out arguments. But I also know that, if I took the time to write the sort of essay that could be published in that journal, I wouldn’t have time to sleep. While my readers are entitled to good writing from me, they are not entitled to an unhealthy lifestyle to make that happen. So they’ll be reading on my substack instead of from that journal. (Actually, they wouldn’t be able to read it from that journal without paying a subscription fee.)
But I do believe in the value of writing that is intellectually serious not not in the category of “academic scholarship.” People who would have entered the academy but did not (for whatever reason) should still engage in intellectually serious work, and be proud of it. My essay doesn’t meet the expectations of academic scholarship, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taken seriously. I’m proud of it. And I hope that, with the continuing decrease in academic positions, there will be more and more writers who write from this middle ground — academically serious, but for more popular consumption.
What I’m reading: On God’s Nets
“And when he’d finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out to the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch.’ But Simon answered by saying, ‘Boss, we worked hard the entire night but took in nothing. But I’ll take your word for it and let down the nets.’ And once they did this, they closed them around a huge mass of fish, and their nets were starting to rip. So they gestured to their companions in the other boat to come help them; and they came, and they filled both boats until they began to sink. And when he saw this, Simon Petros fell down at Iesous’ knees, saying, ‘Get away from me, because I’m a wrongdoer, master!’ He and all the others with him were naturally overcome with awe because of the fish they’d caught and taken in, and so were Iakobos and Ioannes, the sons of Zebedaios, who were partners with Simon. Then Iesous said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid! From now on, you’ll be capturing human beings—so that they don’t die!’ And they brought the boats ashore, left everything behind, and followed him.”
- Luke 5:4-11 (trans. Sarah Ruden)
Reading Ruden’s translation of the Gospels has helped me appreciate the limitations associated with reading the Bible in translation. For example, the New American Bible (the translation owned and used by the USCCB) translates that last remark of Jesus as: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Luke 5:10 in Greek is, “ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν.” The last word, ζωγρῶν, may be translated as “catching” or as “taking alive.” The translation might be, “And now you will be taking/catching alive human beings.” So while the USCCB translation may be literally correct in one way, it misses the clever joke that Ruden highlights: in contrast to the fish caught in the nets that will die, Jesus’ disciples will be catching men who will live after they are caught.
I discussed this passage a few months ago with a small group from my parish, as part of our Archdiocesan Synod process. During our discussion, one member of our group pointed out another feature of the passage: when the nets come up empty, Jesus says to cast a wider need, to go out deeper into the water.
This is consistent with a number of parables, such as the parable of the banquet in Luke 14, where a man put on a feast and his invited guests had excuses for not attending. So he invited “the beggars and the mutilated and the blind and the crippled” from the streets. And when there was still room, he commanded his servant, “Go out to the country roads and paths and force them to come in, so that the house will be full to bursting.” (Ruden adds in a footnote that, rather than the urban beggars, these will be “notoriously poor rural laborers.”) Rather than the “small pure Church” some may speak about in popular discourse, Jesus calls for a full banquet, with a house “full to bursting.” When the house is not full, when the net seems empty, Jesus insists on going out further into the deep, and casting a wider net.
As I reflected on this passage, and on my own life, I realized that this wider net was not just meant to be wider for more people, but also to be wider for each person. I have struggled, at various points in my life, with believing that I truly belonged in that net. I had been convinced that certain parts of my life, or certain sins, would leave me outside of the net that Christ was casting so that we might live. But each time I thought that I fell outside that net, I had an experience of the net being cast more widely, and finding myself within it once again. That is to say, there is no sin or “lifestyle” which will prove too far beyond the breadth of the net. So far, I have found that the net is ever widening.
You can follow along with my current reads at Goodreads.
Now accepting submissions!
If you like what I’m doing here and want to join in this developing project, I’d love for you to submit an essay, poems, or a short story for consideration. You can learn more here.