Catholic Apologetics

Section VIII of the Syllabus of Errors, Errors Concerning Christian Marriage, is, as with essentially all of the errors condemned in the document, highly relevant to the current age, since the errors described therein have overtaken the world – and stand poised to invade even the Church in unprecedented ways.

This section reads as follows:


65. The doctrine that Christ has raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament cannot be at all tolerated. -- Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.

66. The Sacrament of Marriage is only a something accessory to the contract and separate from it, and the sacrament itself consists in the nuptial benediction alone. -- Ibid.

67. By the law of nature, the marriage tie is not indissoluble, and in many cases divorce properly so called may be decreed by the civil authority. -- Ibid.; Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.

68. The Church has not the power of establishing diriment impediments of marriage, but such a power belongs to the civil authority by which existing impediments are to be removed. -- Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851.

69. In the dark ages the Church began to establish diriment impediments, not by her own right, but by using a power borrowed from the State. -- Apostolic Letter "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851.

70. The canons of the Council of Trent, which anathematize those who dare to deny to the Church the right of establishing diriment impediments, either are not dogmatic or must be understood as referring to such borrowed power. -- Ibid.

71. The form of solemnizing marriage prescribed by the Council of Trent, under pain of nullity, does not bind in cases where the civil law lays down another form, and declares that when this new form is used the marriage shall be valid.

72. Boniface VIII was the first who declared that the vow of chastity taken at ordination renders marriage void. -- Ibid.

73. In force of a merely civil contract there may exist between Christians a real marriage, and it is false to say either that the marriage contract between Christians is always a sacrament, or that there is no contract if the sacrament be excluded. -- Ibid.; Letter to the King of Sardinia, Sept. 9, 1852; Allocutions "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852, "Multis gravibusque," Dec. 17, 1860.

74. Matrimonial causes and espousals belong by their nature to civil tribunals. -- Encyclical "Qui pluribus," Nov. 9 1846; Damnatio "Multiplices inter," June 10, 1851, "Ad Apostolicae," Aug. 22, 1851; Allocution "Acerbissimum," Sept. 27, 1852.


These condemnations contain three main positive assertions:

  • ·          Marriage is a sacrament
  • ·          [True Christian] marriage in indissoluble
  • ·          Diriment impediments prevent the existence of a valid marriage


Marriage Is a Sacrament

That marriage is one of the seven sacraments of the Church is a matter of infallible teaching; it was dogmatized by Session XXIV of the Council of Trent:

“If any one shall say that matrimony is not truly and properly one of the Seven Sacraments of the Evangelical Law, instituted by Christ our Lord, but was invented in the Church by men, and does not confer grace, let him be anathema.”

It was also one of the many truths denied by the “reformers”; arch-heretic Martin Luther, with his typical ignorance of the sacred, commented thusly in De captivitate Babylonica: “Not only is the sacramental character of matrimony without foundation in Scripture; but the very traditions, which claim such sacredness for it, are a mere jest… Marriage may therefore be a figure of Christ and the Church; it is, however, no Divinely instituted sacrament, but the invention of men in the Church, arising from ignorance of the subject.”[1]

(He also stated that, “No one indeed can deny that marriage is an external worldly thing, like clothes and food, house and home, subject to worldly authority, as shown by so many imperial laws governing it" (Von den Ehesachen).  Apparently erudite in the use of circular logic, for Luther the fact that the state regulated marriage proved that it was an invention of the same.)

Trent’s declaration was likely made in response to these “reformers”, but was not the first time an ecclesiastical council had spoken on the subject.

As the Catholic Encyclopedia says in its exegesis of Ephesians 5:22-33, “[Marriage] would not be a solemn, mysterious symbol of the union of Christ with the Church, which takes concrete form in the individual members of the Church, unless it efficaciously represented this union, i.e. not merely by signifying the supernatural life-union of Christ with the Church, but also by causing that union to be realized in the individual members; or, in other words, by conferring the supernatural life of grace.”[2]

Several Fathers, including Tertullian and Augustine, the latter who spoke of “the sanctity of the Sacrament” with respect to marriage[3], testify to its sacramental character, which was apparently never in dispute in Christendom until the arrival of those “reformers”.


Sacramental Marriage Is Indissoluble

As to the indissolubility of marriage, there are few teachings in Scripture more clear.  Certainly any orthodox Catholic source whatsoever[4] acknowledges the fact that Christ’s words in all three synoptic gospels declare that a valid, consummated marriage cannot be dissolved and that “every one that putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and he that marrieth her that is put away from her husband, committeth adultery.” (Luke 16:18).

St. Paul’s inspired words echo those of the Lord with regard to divorce:

“For the woman that hath an husband, whilst her husband liveth is bound to the law. But if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. [3] Therefore, whilst her husband liveth, she shall be called an adulteress, if she be with another man: but if her husband be dead, she is delivered from the law of her husband; so that she is not an adulteress, if she be with another man” (Romans 7:2-3).

(The Pauline & Petrine privileges, of course, deal with non-sacramental, natural marriages, and will not be discussed here.)

The Fathers are also clear in teaching the impossibility of the dissolution of a Christian marriage:

"Therefore the good of marriage throughout all nations and all men stands in the occasion of begetting, and faith of chastity: but, so far as pertains unto the People of God, also in the sanctity of the Sacrament, by reason of which it is unlawful for one who leaves her husband, even when she has been put away, to be married to another, so long as her husband lives, no not even for the sake of bearing children: and, whereas this is the alone cause, wherefore marriage takes place, not even where that very thing, wherefore it takes place, follows not, is the marriage bond loosed, save by the death of the husband or wife.” – St. Augustine

“For He said not, that He made one man and one woman only, but that He also gave this command that the one man should be joined to the one woman. But if it had been His will that he should put this one away, and bring in another, when He had made one man, He would have formed many Women. But now both by the manner of the creation, and by the manner of lawgiving, He showed that one man must dwell with one woman continually, and never break off from her.” – St. John Chrysostom

This brings us to a discussion of Cardinal Kasper’s recent assertion that the Church Fathers were somehow less than clear regarding the indissolubility of marriage, suggesting that they offer ways out of what he calls the “dilemmas” caused by holding to this teaching.

A July 8th, 2014 article in Catholic World Report[5], despite referring to Kasper’s infamous February document The Gospel of the Family as “commendable”, points out that Kasper “somewhat misrepresents the evidence, and does so in such a way as to advance his argument in a certain direction as though it were supported by the sources he cites”.  (This would seem a rather serious indictment of everything Cardinal Kasper has to say on the subject, regardless of the CWR author’s faint praise.)

As the article demonstrates, the Fathers Kasper appeals to – Origin, Basil, and others – gave no hint whatsoever of approving of a subsequent marriage notwithstanding the death of the spouse.  Origin refers to the practice with clear disapproval; St. Basil the Great discusses the completely unrelated questions of consecutive marriages after the death of a spouse (as does Gregory Nazianzen), and consecrated virgins who marry.

Likewise, the councils Kasper appeal to in reality give no hint of support to his entirely novel, unprecedented position with regard to divorce and remarriage.  His exegesis is pure sophistry.

The Main Attacks on the Family


The 20th century witnessed attacks on the family from the state and culture the likes of which had never been seen in Western civilization since the dawn of Christendom, resulting in an outright disintegration of this basic societal corporation in some respects.  These attacks have come in essentially three forms:


  • ·          The normalization of no-fault divorce
  • ·          The normalization of artificial contraception and (related) of abortion
  • ·          Attempts to redefine marriage to include homosexual unions and unions involving more than two people


In 1917, the Blessed Virgin warned the world that Russia’s errors would be spread throughout the world if Her wishes were not heeded.  What are these errors?  That very year, shortly after assuming power, the Bolsheviks made the Soviet Union the first modern nation to remove all impediments to divorce.  They became the first nation to legalize abortion shortly thereafter.  By some estimates, until very recently Russian women had an average of as many as eight abortions each in their lifetimes.


Russia’s root error is atheistic communism, which has always made one of its immediate goals the undermining of the family; the family as the bedrock of society cannot be tolerated by a totalitarian state that demands first allegiance from every citizen.  From this error is spawned the evils of the attacks on the family.


As we are aware, Russia’s errors did indeed spread to the rest of the world.  The family was undermined in Christian societies (though we could arguably refer to the West as post-Christian by the time of the “sexual revolution”) following in Russia’s footsteps in making marriage easily dissoluble and children easy to avoid and easy to dispose of should that fail.


[Perhaps ironically, however, Russia has not led the way in the next phase of the attack on the family, the redefinition of marriage, demonstrating again that the history God writes is rarely predictable.  Rather, Russia’s extremely crafty leader – whether or not this be only a matter of political maneuvering – fiercely rejects the normalization of sodomy the West seeks to impose upon the rest of the world.]


The Role of Vatican II in Undermining Marriage


Sadly, prelates of the Catholic Church have contributed to the undermining of the Sacrament of Marriage.  We cannot attribute such an action to the Church herself, who is the undefiled, spotless Bride of Christ, yet churchmen acting via her official structures have promulgated documents bearing her name, but with no binding teaching.


It has been widely noted that Gaudium et Spes, Vatican II’s “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World”, seems to deny a perennial teaching of the Church regarding the two ends of marriage – namely, that the unitive purpose is subordinate to the procreative.  The document’s section on marriage & the family stretches some 3,000 words, but makes heavy use of the imprecise language that is characteristic of the documents of this “pastoral” council.  Nowhere is the procreative aspect of marriage taught as being its primary end, as the Church has always taught, and, in fact the opposite is taught:


“While not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: that the couple be ready with stout hearts to cooperate with the love of the Creator and the Savior… (emphasis mine)”[6] 


That the Church before Vatican II taught without ambiguity that procreation is the primary end of marriage cannot be doubted.[7]  For but two of the more recent references, Casti Connubii states clearly, quoting Canon Law, that, “The primary end of marriage is the procreation and the education of children”.  Then there is the well-known decision of the Holy Office under Pius XII from 1944.  This Office considered the question “Can the opinion of certain writers be admitted who either deny that the primary end of marriage is the procreation and rearing of offspring, or teach that the secondary ends are not essentially subordinate to the primary end, but are equally principal and independent?" and answered negatively, with this decision given “in a manner that admits of no possibility of any future investigations that will alter the present Catholic doctrine on the matter.”[8]  (So much for that!)


The fact that the fathers of Vatican II sought to deny (or at least obscure) procreation as the primary end of marriage is simply another example of the pandering to the world of this council that proudly ushered in “the Cult of Man” in the Church (as Paul VI put it).  Procreation is an eternal end since its purpose is to result in souls glorifying God eternally; conjugal love is a worldly end – still a good, to be sure – but worldly nonetheless.[9]


It is, in a manner related, also another example of the Protestantization of the Church by, since, and through this pastoral council that sought to reconcile the Church with the world (heedless of the latter’s “prince”).  The gross errors of Protestantism, clearly and forcefully anathematized by Trent, have finally taken root in the Church.


Finally, even though no Vatican II document can be reasonably interpreted to undermine the sacramental nature of marriage, or its indissolubility, or support its redefinition to something unholy, its focus on the temporal, consistently vague and even intentionally contradictory language[10], and support for “religious liberty” can easily lead to such errors.


The Vatican II program of progressivism, with its leap from religious to moral “ecumenism”, has aroused even long-slumbering conservatives to public criticism of and opposition to the upper hierarchy and even the pontiff, from Fr. Longenecker to German Grisez.




Speaking of the false charity of religious ecumenitis, the great Dietrich von Hildebrand asked, in The Devastated Vineyard, “How can I love somebody and not desire that he become acquainted with Jesus Christ, the begotten Son and Epiphany of God, that he be drawn into His light, believe in Him and love Him, and know that he is loved by Him?”  The same with the new moral ecumenism: It is not true charity, but rather malice, that seeks to confirm a soul in his sins and keep him from knowing and loving Truth.  “O how have I loved thy law, O Lord!” exclaims the psalmist, as must we all.


Dr. von Hildebrand also notes that, "No sooner has one forgotten that the eternal salvation of our neighbor has to be our main concern for him than real love of neighbor becomes impossible.  No sooner does one cease to understand that love of neighbor does not seek fulfillment of all his wishes than this love becomes a weakness and a way of giving in (emphasis mine).”  Could any words be more accurate or more poignant as this crisis continues to unfold around us?


Returning to the subject of diriment impediments to marriage, while it is no doubt true that a great many (if not the vast majority) of annulments currently granted are granted for invalid reasons, it is also true that no trivial number of today’s Christian marriages are invalid due to impediments such as refusal of children, exclusion of fidelity, and, probably to a lesser extent, [actual] psychological immaturity.  Especially the first case is not at all uncommon in today’s society, even among the baptized.


By definition, such impediments invalidate marriage; the possibility exists for some civilly divorced Catholics to have another marriage blessed by the Church.


However, of course, such situations are not at all the focus of Cardinal Kasper and his allies, who seek instead to cast aside and trample underfoot core Catholic moral doctrine.  It is a sad, sad situation for Mother Church, who finds herself ever more enveloped by the diabolical disorientation of the upper hierarchy.  Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.



[2] Ibid


[4] Catholic Answers, for one:


[6] Further, at least some Catholic priests have used Gaudiem to justify blessing intentionally childless marriages with the logic that the Church now teaches that the unitive end is sufficient in itself.

[7] Even EWTN seems to agree that Gaudium et Spes contradicts established Church teaching:, as does the anti-traditionalist Catholic Culture:


[9] “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.”